HL Deb 25 June 1980 vol 410 cc1681-713

6.47 p.m.

Lord BUXTON of ALSA rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, now that they have taken new initiatives to deal with oil spills in the North Sea after they have occurred, they will now seek to prevent spills before they occur by creating, in agreement with our European partners, new sanctions against substandard vessels and substandard crews. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the third time I have spoken on this subject in about 18 months and, remarkably, looking up the file this morning, the last time was on 25th June last year: exactly a year ago. On this occasion it is important that I make it clear that the issues have been narrowed down and I am raising only one specific aspect on the North Sea problem. I have worded the Question somewhat laboriously and explicitly to concentrate only on the 15 per cent. of the world's tanker fleet which is the predominant and prevailing danger to traffic in the North Sea and everywhere. Secondly I am not part of an anti-oil or anti-trade lobby; the reverse is the case.

The importance of North Sea oil to our economy and the need to export it from the North Sea in the foreseeable future clearly has to be accepted by any realistic conservationist, and even bird- watcher. But, in addition to endeavouring to save birds and marine life and people living by and on the sea, it is also to save the Government from embarrassment and difficulty in the future that we have to be relentless and persistent about this problem. I shall continue to be so, my Lords, perhaps even on the 25th June again next year. The Government Departments concerned must not hide behind the skirts of IMCO and international negotiations and make them an excuse for inertia and slow progress. Nothing is easier than to say we cannot do this or we cannot do that until we have got international agreement, and then until ratification by individual states; but that takes years, and a far more effective way to speed up the process is if pacesetters, especially the United Kingdom and other North Sea countries, implement essential policies as an example, or even as experiments, rather than deliberately move at the pace of the slowest.

Other countries, in particular France and Sweden—and I must add the Shetland Islands Council as an exception—are already more thrusting and purposeful than the United Kingdom as a whole, and our official sluggishness in surveillance and control over sub-standard tanker shipping might soon become an embarrassment to the British public when the next major disaster occurs, and another after that.

The questions that will in due course be asked, in my view, will not be, "How is it going to be cleaned up and how much damage will it do?", but, "How did the captain get his certificate, who gave it to him and what training and experience did he have? Was his registration Greek, Liberian, Panamanian or Cypriot?" Further, I want to make it clear that my arguments are favourable to oil companies and oil company-owned tankers, and to properly managed shipping lines if they own tankers, and they, also, should be behind the drive to eliminate the substandard spot charter tankers from the North Sea.

To turn to sub-standard crews, there are IMCO conventions concerning constructional and equipment requirements for tankers, but there are, as yet, no comprehensive international manning standards in force concerning the experience, ability and numbers of crew. This is a very serious gap in international legislation, and accounts for much of the trouble that the oceans are suffering around the world today. The primary cause of the high proportion of serious incidents caused by tankers, many sailing under flags of convenience, has been proved to be poor manning: in other words, just plain human inadequacy and unjustified economy. At least 75 per cent. of all incidents at sea are due to human operational failure and error.

It is therefore clear that what is lacking is adequate international standards for crews but since it will be many years, if not decades, before these could be agreed and ratified by all nations, including flags of convenience, or perhaps forever, it is obvious that we and our North Sea neighbours have got to be more resourceful and aggressive. We cannot wait for final international agreement, or there will be a continuous and worsening situation with disasters around our shores.

For a start, as I said in the last debate a year ago, the North Sea must be recognised in IMCO as a special case, as the Mediterranean is by international agreement. Even the Baltic is regarded de facto as a special case by the States concerned, and more stringent joint controls apply there than we exercise in the North Sea. There is simply no room for argument that the North Sea is a special case. It is obvious to everybody that it is, being a shallow shelf, partly enclosed and partly cut off from the rest of the oceans. The waters do not interchange freely with the deep oceans in a semi-landlocked situation. You do not have to be a scientist to understand that. All you need is a bucket and spade, and if you go down on the beach at low tide you can work it out very swiftly.

The North Sea is a special case. The only question is whether the Government are disposed to recognise it and to claim it as such. One thing the Government cannot do is say that the North Sea is not a special case. Why then, if it is a special case—and we have to agree that—must we take the risk and permit a small minority of inadequate and unqualified crews to use the North Sea?

As background, I quote from a recent report by the Netherlands Maritime Institute: Control over this total maritime safety concept is in the hands of the national shipping authorities. At present such control is most strict over construction and equipment requirements, and weakest over the human element, especially the operational part … The measure of control exercised by national authorities over these standards is not uniform. Some nations have strict controls and may even go beyond IMCO requirements. Others exercise hardly any control at all. A few nations are not associated with IMCO, and let owners under their flag set their own standards". That is a recent publication.

Oil company-owned tankers do not, in general, tolerate low standards in manning. There are, indeed, many worthy tanker operators who maintain respectable manning standards. The absurd thing is that every time we get a "Torrey Canyon" or an "Amoco Cadiz" a flurry of new rules and regulations is proposed at international level. But that is exactly like proposing new legislation to cover all road traffic simply because two unaccompanied L-plate drivers collide on an open road. Such legislation is unnecessary for the majority of drivers and, furthermore, it does nothing to prevent a similar occurrence with other unaccompanied L-plate drivers quite soon afterwards. The "Torrey Canyon", in particular, led to a flood of international maritime legislation, yet this did nothing to prevent similar disasters thereafter, such as "Amoco Cadiz" Eleni V", "Argo Merchant" and so on, because it is not legislation, but surveillance, policing, discipline and enforcement which are the first requirement.

The logical step, of course, is to ban the equivalent at sea of unaccompanied L-plate drivers, but that is easier said than done; and in the case of tankers, to enforce strict standards for captains and crews, and that is easier said than done; and, until these measures are agreed internationally through IMCO, to effect ways, either direct or indirect, of preventing access to the North Sea. After all, this will be necessary anyway, because some countries are not associated with IMCO and allow operators under their own flags of convenience to set their own standards. This lax category of operators must ultimately be totally excluded from the North Sea, because they will be around to menace the place even after IMCO conventions have been ratified by all its adherents. So we may just as well get on with it now.

The group we are concerned about is not the tankers owned by oil companies, which are, in general, above criticism, nor are we primarily concerned with independently-owned tankers chartered to oil companies over long periods. The problem is the third category, only 15 per cent. of the whole, which is independently owned tankers chartered for short periods and used for spot-chartering.

The oil companies used to own nearly half the world's tanker fleet. Now this has dropped to 38 per cent. and it is still falling. So that other categories are increasing, and this means that short-term spot-chartering is on the increase, and the situation is getting steadily worse. There are numerous reasons, commercial and financial, why the balance is shifting unfavourably but there is no doubt that if only the oil companies could put their house in order and cut out spot-chartering of sub-standard tankers they would be doing a service to mankind and to the environment and would deserve, and earn, universal acclaim. May I ask them to think about it?

The oil companies do not get good marks for being holier than thou with their own tanker operations, and then spoiling it all by spot-chartering substandard vessels from independent owners over whom they impose no standards before charter. The sub-standard tankers are easy to find. It is always hazardous to generalise, but in this case there is ample and convincing evidence from all sources that the main culprits are tankers flying the flags of Liberia, Panama, Greece and Cyprus. These four flags account for almost two-thirds of the number of incidents investigated by the Netherlands report over a recent five-year period. The accidents and incidents caused by these four flags are way above the world average, and these accidents were only rarely caused by technical failure; almost invariably by human inexperience, incompetence, the shoddy management of the owner-company concerned or unjustified cost-cutting.

One problem is that these flags of convenience tend to be symbols for lack of control and lax standards for masters' certificates. They therefore attract substandard tanker owners and those with low crewing and manning intentions, who turn to these flags for registration. It is a kind of bad club, which offers cover for rogues. The worst cases tend to happen in these clubs.

Because of the seriousness of this aspect of the matter, I ask your Lordships' indulgence if I quote the case of the Greek tanker "Scenic", which you may know was a disgraceful case in Shetland last January. Thanks to the robust initiative of Shetland, an unacceptable situation was dealt with with commendable and forthright intervention. The first report came out in the Shetland Times only last week, and I must ask your Lordships to allow me to paraphrase it, because it should now be on record and it is a most incredable example of what has happened in our own waters.

The Greek tanker "Scenic" berthed at Sullom Voc on Wednesday, 9th January. The next morning there were already two violations of the terminal safety regulations and loading had to be suspended. The violations included smoking in unauthorised places, the non-availability of fire extinguishers, leaking scuppers (I am not sure what those are) and it was discovered that the vessel's anchors were still secured by wire and chains, and therefore could not he used in an emergency.

Next morning, the oil pollution control officer reported that the vessel was in an extremely dirty condition, both on the decks and within the accommodation, and that an uncontrolled build-up of water on the decks was such that it was overflowing the sheer strake angle and running down the ship's side into the sea, causing a sheen to appear on the water.

Loading was resumed in the afternoon and, shortly after, an oil spill of crude oil occurred. Loading was again suspended and the oil was cleaned up. The vessel was refused permission to load until daylight hours the following morning, and would not have been allowed to load at all but for stability problems caused by slack tanks. Loading was completed around 1600 hours. However, instructions had to be issued to port control that the vessel was not to sail during darkness hours for safety reasons, due to the general poor husbandry and condition of the ship.

It was then reported by the terminal operator that the vessel was overloaded in excess of 4,000 tons. The cause was due to "segregated" ballast having been retained on board. The terminal operator took samples of the "segregated" ballast which were found to contain 18 ppm of oil content. Permission for this to be discharged into the harbour was refused—also, permission for the vessel to shift or discharge any ballast, cargo or bunkers until an inspection had been made by the DOT. On Sunday, the port officer was dismayed by the general state of the vessel, the decks being covered in a thin layer of oil making it difficult to walk. The accommodation was dirty and in a general state of disarray and disrepair. The "Scenic's" master stated that he suspected the main cargo tanks were leaking into the segregated ballast, and he had decided, in order not to risk further pollution, that the ballast be retained on board until the vessel had put to sea. Mark that, my Lords! The master was instructed that his vessel could not sail until either the excess ballast or cargo was discharged ashore. A plea to pump the ballast into the Voe was also rejected.

The officer and the DOT surveyor, on a brief inspection of some of the vessel's fire-fighting and safety appliances, were shocked to find again a state of general dilapidation. The port lifeboat engine would not start and in the process of attempting to get it started a small electrical fire occurred of sufficiently large proportions to have ignited any hydrocarbon gas in the vicinity. Fortunately, there was none. One of the gas-tight covers of the lifeboat emergency lights was unhinged due to negligence and lack of attention, exposing a naked electric light bulb. Old fire extinguishers were lying around ad hoc. Crude oil was discovered to be leaking from a deck hatch which had been improperly sealed. The impression was that absolutely no attention whatsoever had been paid to the safety and firefighting appliances on hoard the vessel and there appeared to be a complete disregard for such matters as oil pollution. The excess oil was discharged back to the terminal, as the sooner the vessel left Sullom Voe the safer the port would be. Subsequently there was an engine room explosion on the "Scenic" 30 miles away. After three days the vessel was towed to Rotterdam and one hopes will never be seen at Sullom Voe again.

I am sorry about the length of that description, but it is very important that it should be on the record because we do not need anything further to describe to us what we mean by the third category of sub-standard charter and spot charter tankers. The fact that it is Greek really must not inhibit one from giving it the maximum publicity. If it had been British I would have been making a much bigger fuss about it. But the fact that it was Greek means that it belongs in this category of the four flags which cause most of the damage.

While the main cause is bad management or crew failure, we must not ignore the technical failures of the 15 per cent. Take the case of the tired tanker. This is a very recent report from the Daily Mirror. It refers to another case, the "Tanio". The Daily Mirror wrote: Large-scale oil pollution will become an increasing threat to South of England and Brittany beaches unless rapid action is taken to keep a close check on oil tankers using the Channel. This warning has been given by French experts following the breaking up of the 18,000 ton tanker ' Tanio ' off their coast 10 days ago … The Tanio ' was 23 years old when she snapped in two, and Captain Michel Bougeard, who once served on it, says: 'She was broken up by heavy seas that any tanker should be able to withstand. She was already a tired old ship 10 years ago '". There we have two examples of this category that we are talking about, and I should like to give a third. We have had the case of the badly managed and badly crewed ship and we have had the case of a ship which cannot even stand up to normal seas. The third is all the more remarkable.

A young student at the Bremen Maritime School, training to be a ship's master, went to the Panamanian Consulate in Bremen where he bought a ship's master's certificate for 50 Deutschemarks. And here it is. It is valid. It has not been cancelled. It entitles a young man of 21, who was only a student at the Bremen Maritime School, by paying and giving a few details, to a master's certificate. It entitles him to be the master of any ship on the ocean.

The danger to our shores around the British Isles is vastly accentuated by the fact of the English Channel. There have surely been enough disasters already, including the "Amoco Cadiz", to convince anyone that the Channel cannot reasonably be open freely to all tanker shipping which cares to use it as it pleases, when 15 per cent. of them are rogues in the spot charter category.

Pilot boats should be stationed at both ends of the Channel and it should become compulsory for every tanker to take on a pilot for the trip. I understand that electronics also are becoming available for checking the contents of tankers and dangerous cargoes. When available, these should be mandatory. Inspections should take place of any vessel suspected of not meeting stringent standards, and offenders should be refused passage. Sometimes corners are cut to save money.

A good example, although it was not in the North Sea, occurred in Sweden. A few months ago, noble Lords may remember, a large ship went down a river and demolished a bridge, several cars and lorries going into the river, which seems an incredible thing to happen. I have now had a full report on that. It happened simply because the master did not wish to hire tugs in order to take him down the river. Therefore, he economised, cut corners and went straight into the bridge.

My hunch is that if strict disciplines were introduced by Britain and France, there would be an instinctive tendency for sub-standard tankers to avoid the Channel route, and without further ado to set sail round the West and North. This would keep the offending vessels out of the vulnerable areas of the Channel and the inner North Sea, but we have to take note of the fact that that is certainly not desirable from the seabird point of view.

The only answer is to get rid of bad tankers altogether. The French are more aggressive than we are, following the "Amoco Cadiz", and now, even worse, the "Tanio", and take more forthright and effective action against would-be offenders. Wisely and logically, they have extended their territorial limit to 12 miles, out of 22 at the narrowest point. The United Kingdom, on the other hand—slow, bureaucratic, and hiding behind the snail-like progressions of IMCO—have stuck with a three-mile limit leaving a pointless open breach in the Channel of seven miles, over which nobody has any strict control. This is, surely, the most footling aspect of all in this complex problem. When it comes to being positive, the Shetland Isles are a shining example for Whitehall, and we must not be petty and proud and shrink from following their example.

Greece is anxious to enter the EEC and is, I believe, now amenable to representations regarding sub-standards on tankers and crews. I think that they are very anxious to brighten the shop window. However, I fear that that may simply push the offending traffic elsewhere and that new flags of convenience will soon be available in other parts of the world. There is apparently some prestige to be gained in the world as a flag of convenience, and there may be many aspirants ready to hoist new flags, even when the existing ones have corrected their ways.

We and other industrial nations give encouragement to flags of convenience and therefore to lapsed standards for mariners. We are compromised, in a way, for allowing it, and are morally responsible for their prosperity. The only way to deal effectively with this problem is not to permit access, through the Channel or to North Sea ports and terminals, to vessels and crews which do not have certificates of the required standard, or to tankers like the "Scenic" which should never have been allowed within sight of our shores. Nor should they be insured. There are certainly ways of preventing reputable insurance from giving cover. We should introduce strict and irksome disciplines, as a first step, for all those who insist on passage, and this in itself may deter the worst and keep them away. Secondly, as I said last year, there must be persistent surveillance and aerial scrutiny, preferably in co-ordination with defence and with NATO and their activities. We do not allow rogues in the air, and we do not allow rogues on the roads, or on the railways. Why do we allow them on the sea?

The reason is that in the case of air, roads and railways there is the obvious factor of human casualties, without a threat to the human environment. But are we really so blind that we cannot recognise the long-term threat to the human and natural environment, an infinitely greater threat to the future of this country for generations to come? Furthermore, it is sheer folly to shrink from protecting our environment for fear of reprisals in some distant sea. Surely no nation today could seriously and openly fight in favour of pollution at sea.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think we on these Benches should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, for introducing what is a prophylactic debate, in the sense that we are concerned about the problem before it arises and not after the event. I am certainly impressed by the examples he has given. This debate, even though it is one of many that we have had before, is timely, as I think still more assurances are required from Her Majesty's Government that all possible is being done to prevent the sort of disasters we have had in the past. There is only one point where I think I might disagree with the noble Lord, although I think not in any serious degree. In his final sentences he said, with regard to pollution, that the human casualty aspect seems to have been overlooked, and it is this side that I want to emphasise.

We have had a number of debates in this House which have covered virtually all aspects of oil pollution and methods of prevention in the past. In particular I recall that about a year ago, I think perhaps in the debate referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, regarding the effects of pollution on wildlife on the shores of Orkney and Shetland, I remarked that while serious attention should be given to preventing this kind of shoreline pollution it was a very different kind of pollution that was taking place in South-East Asia. It was not seabirds, it was broken boats and human flotsum that were being washed ashore on those beaches. I said that to emphasise the varying conditions and standards of acceptability of what is considered to be pollution in different parts of the world. This may be one of the reasons which makes international regulations so difficult to accept and to implement.

Returning to the question of oil spills in the North Sea and the subsequent damage to the shoreline and environment and wildlife, I should like to quote two statistics produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in their report entitled Marine Oil Pollution and Birds. It would appear from the society's survey that in 1978 there were 10,937 bird casualties around out coasts. In the following year that figure fell to 8,358. It is statistics of this kind, which are given so much publicity in the media and are often accompanied by rather grisly photographs, that create a public demand for something to be done by the Government as soon as it has happened.

However, there is another set of statistics which, unfortunately, do not receive similar publicity but which, I believe, may help to put the whole question of oil pollution into proper perspective. In 1978 the total world oil spillage from large tankers amounted to 282,350 tonnes, with a resulting loss of life at sea of 29 men. In the following year the total spillage fell by approximately half that figure to only 105,000 tonnes from large tankers, but deaths at sea directly connected with those spillages rose to 177. In the two years I have taken, the total oil spilled from tankers of all kinds, both large and small, amounted to 450,000 tonnes, with a total loss of life of 397 souls. For those who are interested in statistical information, it would appear from these figures that currently every 881 tonnes of oil spilled at sea represents the loss of one human life. It is this statistic that I find quite unacceptable in the context of pollution. Any regulations and their enforcement must surely be framed to prevent tragedies at sea, which not only cause loss of life but create a situation which results in most of the shoreline pollution in the world and accounts for most of the seabird casualties I have quoted.

I should like to take this opportunity of reminding the House that despite recent technological advances the sea still remains a hostile environment for all those who make their living from it, and oil tanker crews and crews of other vessels carrying dangerous cargoes are perhaps at even greater risk than those who ply the sea for pleasure or for fishing or for commerce. Therefore, in my view, the safety regulations should be designed as far as possible to prevent loss of human life at sea, and by so doing thereby reduce the risk of creating shore pollution as a result of a maritime tragedy, rather like the kind which the noble Lord described. This does not include those who deliberately pump oil into the sea for one reason or another, and those cases of deliberate scuttling and foundering of the vessel.

Current legislation is focussed on the Inter-Governmental Marine Consultative Organisation (IMCO), the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Marine Pollution Convention (MARPOL), and every responsible skipper and shipowner knows about these conventions and wishes to implement the recommendations of them. It is when these recommendations have not been implemented, due to neglect, or through cost-cutting by speculative charterers, that the problems arise.

What I believe to be the most helpful development in international regulations is the recent acceptance by some nations of what is known as port state jurisdiction; this is the concept that the administration of any port that is visited by a ship should have the right to check on the standards laid down by the conventions the noble Lord and I have mentioned. This concept is novel and could be significant for the future. If port state jurisdiction is accepted internationally there is some point in pursuing legislative solutions to the problems of marine safety. This concept could perhaps be taken even further, in that a Lloyd's certificate would not be granted unless these regulations were adhered to. Lloyd's agents in the various ports could perhaps act as inspectors, certainly for insurance purposes, on these occasions. I think it is worth adding—as I am sure the noble Lord who is to answer for the Government is aware—that the National Union of Seamen strongly support the concept of port state jurisdiction. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government will take note of this fact when promoting this concept in their future international negotiations on oil pollution.

Although I have not personally been given a reason why the NUS are supporting this kind of thing, I feel it is the safety of their crews at sea which is their concern, and indeed it is our concern from these Benches, because if that is protected then ensuing oil pollution risks should be reduced. There is, of course, one practical problem, which is the lack of Government inspectors qualified to enforce even the existing regulations. It would be helpful if the Government in their reply could indicate what steps we in this country are taking to improve the situation by engaging more qualified inspectors. I am told that perhaps the reason for the difficulties arising in this area is the very poor terms of salary that such inspectors are getting. Perhaps the Government could take this into consideration when they are trying to recruit more inspectors.

I think it would be useful also if the Government would indicate what action they propose to take to shorten the extraordinary length of time being taken by member Governments of IMCO to ratify the conventions that have been collectively put together. The tanker industry claims, perhaps rather smugly, that it has a far better record than that of Governments in ratifying its own recommendations.

Finally, and perhaps on a more depressing note, it is only possible to implement rules and regulations for those operators who are members of the International Chamber of Shipping or similar organisations. But the tanker market has moved, as the noble Lord indicated, for a number of commercial reasons, away from the traditional large shipping companies to those who can be described as fringe operators or one-off charterers. I believe it is the latter who now make up more than 50 per cent. of the carriers of oil, and the majority of these are not members of the International Chamber of Shipping.

I would take up one point touched on by Lord Buxton. One way, perhaps, of meeting this problem is through electronic surveillance. It seems to me that if it is possible for yachts racing in a trans-Atlantic yacht race to have a transmitter put on the cabin top to indicate to those ashore the position of the yacht at any time, it is possible that some similar form of transmitter, through a satellite link, could be put on board all carriers, all vessels carrying oil and other dangerous cargoes.

It occurs to me that one of the problems is that nobody knows where these ships are located to blame them either for some pollution that may have occurred, or indeed for some deviation in course for various other reasons of a criminal nature that have taken place or are alleged to have taken place recently. I know that that is looking perhaps a little to the future, but in many cases the problems have arisen because nobody quite knows where these vessels are and it is impossible to keep a proper track of them. I believe that the technology is available for this to be done, and I do not see why organisations such as NATO, or any other defence organisations, should not have the facilities or be able to monitor this situation and make the movements of those type of vessels known to those concerned on the shores. That is all that I wish to say on this aspect, and I hope that the noble Lord in his reply on behalf of the Government will take up some of the points which have been mentioned.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, for returning to the problem of oil pollution of the North Sea. Indeed, I am grateful to him for concentrating on this particular aspect at a time when we might be beginning to develop some complacency about the general picture.

As the report of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea (ACOPS) showed, around the coast of this country we had, last year at least, a reduction of spills and so forth. We could in fact—as we did in ACOPS—take some satisfaction in that reduction because it was partly due to our constant vigilance and the pestering of Governments, if I may put it that way, that we began to improve the surveillance and the cleaning-up process. It means that we may—and I hate to say this grudgingly—have been fortunate. In fact, somebody asked me the other day whether there would be another major oil disaster. I said that of course there would be one.

This particular industry is increasing. There is a vast increase in traffic and at every stage the risks about which we have been talking are being multiplied by the number of ships, including the substandard ships, to which the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, drew our attention. However, we had a reasonable record and also an achievement in the sense that in this country we have now set up Admiral Stacey's marine pollution unit in the Department of Trade. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, pointed out, we shall be able to move quite smartly when a disaster occurs. But what I and I hope everyone in your Lordships' House are concerned about is to ensure that these disasters do not happen.

Therefore, preventive measures have been neglected. People involved, certainly those involved in ACOPS, have been stressing for years the need for a sea-use policy. The sea-use policy must encompass and incorporate all departments of Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, properly pointed out, the Department of Trade is concerned with shipping and ships. The ships are its clients and it is up to the department to make shipping and ship trading possible. So there is no justification in my opinion—and I have said this emphatically—for the Department of Trade being the supervisory agent to the exclusion of, in many cases, even discussions with the Department of the Environment or with the Foreign Office.

The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, quoted some shocking examples of pollution which we can multiply a hundred times. Substandard ships, incompetent manning and so forth are not only putting those ships at risk—it is rather like two hot rods colliding on a road; you write them off and say, "Well that was their fault"—but at sea substandard ships are exposing the main traffic to hazard as well.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, that the North Sea is a special case. We are all preoccupied—as we are at present, in the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea—with the redefinition of freedom of the seas and so forth. There is a great deal of jealous guarding of the freedom of the seas. I can assure your Lordships that there is now no legitimate freedom of the sea—there cannot be, because we have now reached the stage where we must have rules and regulations. We must give up some of our fundamental rights in order to have jurisdictional control or proper control. It is rather similar to saying quite definitely that we have the right to walk where we want to walk. We can walk in the middle of the road, but it would be rather awkward if we did not observe the basic rules of the road. So, we have to give up our fundamental rights for conventional laws and we must ensure that this increasingly happens. That applies to every aspect of traffic in the North Sea, because that is a virtually enclosed sea.

There must be controls over the inlets and outlets. There is, at present, as far as we can judge, only a supervisory system—which is quite inadequate—via Her Majesty's Customs around the Channel. There is a certain amount of inspection or at least calling up and trying to check all around there. Also, there are the Shetland Islands—good luck to them!— struggling very courageously to deal with the problem which they did not ask for, but which they are now trying to remedy. They are doing what we, as self-respecting people, and as a nation should be doing: they are taking action against what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, called "the rogues". That again was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw.

There is no argument: we must get to a port state jurisdiction instead of a flag state jurisdiction as at present. We must make it a port state jurisdiction whereby, if people do come into our harbours and into our waters and they are what they are—high risk vessels—we ought to be able to take charge of them and see that they do not cause any more harm. We ought to be able to prosecute them for all the sins that they commit in terms of oil pollution and so forth. We must get port-state jurisdiction.

The other matter that is paramount is that while we are waiting for a total global marine policy in the shape of UNCLOS—I do not know when we shall get it, but I seem to have been living with it for most of my life—we must come to terms with what we have. We have a great body of insight as regards laws of the sea in the shape of IMCO, with all its unratified delays and so on. Nevertheless, it is all there—what we are talking about is there. Why we, as intelligent human beings, cannot put into practice the manifest advantages of practical use of these things, I do not understand.

The other matter which is obvious is that we must, not just through the Bonn Agreement, but by very effective agreements between the EEC countries, and particularly the North Sea members and Scandinavia, make sure that we have a common set of rules and practices, and that people will not get in and out as they are doing at present; it must be the corporate responsibility of the nations. That is what we are trying to achieve now in the Mediterranean, where Govern- ments are accepting mutual responsibility for the practices within the Mediterranean.

This is something which is urgent; it is plain. All the experience has shown that there are delays in getting international agreement—and I totally agree that these things should be achieved by international agreement and by consolidation of international agreement. But, in the meantime, at least let us be sensible. Let our Government have another look at what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has been saying.

There is no reason why we should not have surveillance and why we should not have what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, is suggesting, including electronic equipment; certainly we could use infra red equipment sufficient to detect oil spills and so forth, even at night. But you do not have to detect them all. It is rather like operating a radar trap on the roads; if people know that these traps are in operation, they will know that they are liable to be caught, and they will be discouraged from doing the sort of things that they do now.

It is merely a question of organising our capacities; of organising our ships at sea: of getting our responsible oil people—and the big oil companies are responsible—to get rid of these cut-price charterers who, as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, pointed out, apparently just go out to the taxi rank of the seas and pick up what is offered to them, and then degrade the whole of the industry.

So we want to discourage this type of chartering, which is thoroughly disreputable. We want to ensure that the supervisory operations in the North Sea enable us to deal not with a disaster—and we would be better able to deal with such disasters if we knew what the ships were carrying—but that we do not have any disasters; we want to stop them, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is proposing tonight.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for jumping in, but I have listened carefully to this debate and I think that we owe a great debt to my noble friend for raising this desperately important matter, as subsequent speeches have proved. When I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who called the debate a "prophylactic debate"—and this sort of prophylaxis is extremely important—it crossed my mind to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether the Government keep in close contact with the Worshipful Company of Master Mariners, because they seem to me to be a source not only of infinite advice and experience but also of inspectors—if, indeed, it is possible to increase the numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, this debate seems to have taken the usual form so far of debates about sea pollution and, indeed, about the management of the sea in general; that is to say, that all those who speak in them are unanimously agreed in their general approach and on most of the details. I cannot believe that even the shipping industry itself would disagree with very much that has been said this evening or, indeed, in our last debate on sea mismanagement or in either of the other two debates which the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has initiated. If it had disagreed with what was said, no doubt it would have found noble Lords to voice its disagreement.

Commonly at the end of such debates the Government get up and say, "We agree too, but unfortunately we cannot do anything". I probably express the feeling of the whole House in hoping that tonight the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who is yet another new face—and a very welcome one—on this subject, will be able to say, "Not only do we agree, but we shall do something, and it is the following."

I said that I agreed with every word of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, but there is one implication in the wording of his Motion with which I do not go along, and it is in the sentence: … now that they— the Government— have taken new initiatives about cleaning up oil spills. Very well, perhaps they have: but things are not getting better there, and the Government have halved the budget of the Warren Springs Laboratory where the governmental research work on clean-up was done. So far as I can make out, they did that for completely ideological reasons. There was no saving of money. They simply decided that half the money was to go to universities and non-governmental bodies, and that only half was to remain at Warren Springs. Result: demoralisation in the Government institution. Why? I hope that even now the Government may be able to think again about that.

Things are not right. Mention has been made of the Channel system, the system of the control of vessels coming up the Channel. Two things are wrong there. First, it is not observed very well, even as far as it goes; that is to say, one ship a week carrying a dangerous cargo—whether it be oil, natural gas or chemicals —flouts the regulations, of course with impunity. The regulations are only enforced in the French half of the Channel, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, or the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, pointed out. I understand that this is having the effect of sending the worst vessels, the most sub-standard dangerous carriers, round the North Cape to gain entry into the North Sea, which is not in itself a desirable result. I shall come to the cure, which is obvious, in a minute.

Things are not getting better. British shipyards are still building sub-standard ships. This emerged from an Answer to a Question which I tabled only a week or two ago. I asked: Are we seeing to it that every tanker or bulk carrier built in a British shipyard and destined for dangerous cargoes is built either to present or, preferably, future IMCO standards?

The answer that came back was: The decision on standards to which ships are built in British shipyards lies with the purchaser of the ship. Things are not getting better.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, can tell us what happened at the European Community Transport Ministers' Meeting yesterday. We know that the French have this great proposal for a major new crackdown on sub-standard shipping in the Channel. What is the status of the world meeting on sub-standard ships and crews which France has proposed for later this year and which we understand was accepted at yesterday's EC meeting as a European Community objective?

What is the news about the proposed Community directive from the Com- mission which would mean that substandard ships would not be allowed to leave Community ports until they have proved that they are complying with IMCO and International Labour Organisation standards? What is the news of the proposed European Community data bank on individual vessels?—where one would simply be able to press a button showing the name of the vessel and receive its history, its type of construction and also its history of infringements, if any, of any regulations anywhere, which would be an enormous safety measure in itself because it would be available not only to port authorities but also to charterers.

We blame the oil companies for chartering sub-standard vessels. They do not always know which are the substandard vessels. I think they have a shrewder idea than they admit, but sometimes they do not know, and if they are stuck for a quick taxi with a load waiting somewhere and money wasting, they may in all innocence take a substandard vessel. Such a system would stop that. This register would be of use to salvage operators, to tug operators of all sorts so that they would know what they were going out to tug, to pilots and to harbour masters. If it could be computerised on to a terminal, so that one could receive instant information, half the battle would be won. I verily believe this. What is the news of that EEC proposal? In so far as it applies to the North Sea, of course Norway must be part of it and presumably this elementary point is not being neglected.

I have a certain sympathy with the Government. They have so many platforms on which to stand; there are so many foundations laid upon which the edifice of marine safety might be set up. There is The Hague Memorandum of Agreement, which is not inter-governmental; it is between maritime authorities. But it is useful as far as it goes in the exchange of information and as a system of reporting sinners between port authorities. In some respects it goes beyond the present UNCLOS text, which is good, One could build on that. There is the Paris Convention, the Oslo Convention and the Bonn Convention. These three European conventions taken together cover oil pollution by run-off from land, oil pollution from ships, oil pollution from fixed installations in the North Sea and general oil pollution, and of course, taken together, cover the oil pollution from a ship which is tied up to an oil rig. Is that a ship or an installation? I believe in law it is part of the installation, but as soon as it moves it becomes a ship again with the possibility of falling between stools.

Most of this is exchange of information, but one could go further and build enforcement and regulation on that platform. For myself, I welcome the gossip I hear, that although the signatories of the Oslo and Paris Conventions have not even met for the last 18 months, yet there is a prospect that the secretariats of all three agreements, Bonn, Oslo and Paris, should be unified just behind the Law Courts in London. A unified secretariat, even if the spread of signatories of the three conventions concerned is not identical, could be a good foundation to build on.

Can we not do more about insurance? Sometimes I am amazed by the tiny load insurance carries in preventing pollution and in compensating the victims of pollution in the world. Beyond a certain point it falls on the state. If the insurance industry were to devote half the ingenuity to identifying and analysing the risks that it was insuring against, that it now devotes to spreading the risks among the reinsurance clubs and systems that it has, I believe that we should quickly see an automatic raising of standards because the substandard people could not get cover.

Of course, there is the glaring fact which is brought out again and again in this House and elsewhere, that liability is related not to the amount of damage your cargo can do but to the tonnage of your ship, which is an unjustifiable scandal that continues year after year. There is no need to repeat it yet again. Possibly the most expensive clean-up case ever in the history of oil pollution arose from a 10,000 ton East German tanker which sank off the coast of France a couple of years ago.

Presumably beyond all that we have to look at the jurisdiction question, and this is the nub of the matter. Let us remind ourselves of our three old friends: flag state jurisdiction, port state jurisdiction and coastal state jurisdiction. Flag state jurisdiction is what we have: it is what we have always had. It means, broadly speaking, that any sin, crime, infringement, tort, or whatever committed by any ship on the high seas can only be reported to the flag state and action against it can only be taken by the flaa state.

This becomes more and more ridiculous every year. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, showed us a flag state master's licence bought for 50 Deutschemarks by a boy of 21. If you want to register a ship with several of the flag state Governments now offering registration you do not even have to go to that country. You go to its agent, who is very likely to be in London, or he may be in New York. The agent is sitting there making his own rules because his patron Government knows nothing about the matter; and he is sitting there settling his own fees because the patron Government takes no interest in how much he earns for himself or for them, and you buy your registration.

It is of course worthless because the ship never goes to Panama, the owner of the ship never goes to Panama, the master of the ship has never seen Panama in his life; the presence of Panama on the scene is a pure fiction, and when it comes to reporting an infraction of some regulation to the Government of Panama the hope of action is what we all know it to be. The Panamanian flag fleet has increased by 60 per cent. in the last year. Things are not getting better.

We turn now to coastal state jurisdiction. There has to be some of this because Governments have to have the right to stop a ship and say, "Who are you? Where are you going? What is your cargo?" Some ships do not answer if you call them up on the RT. That is coastal state jurisdiction. More than most other countries in the world, ships go through our coastal waters without touching us, because of our narrow seas. We have not got it.

Port-state jurisdiction is the trump card; the ace. It is only the port state which can really enforce any regulation which can be made because that is the next state which will have physical power over the ship. We have to get to a situation where a coastal state, or a flag state, can report an infraction to the port state where the ship is going and where we can be certain that that ship will be held until the matter is settled, and no nonsense about it. This is a matter of international law.

The Government will say, I know, that they cannot take port state jurisdiction to this country because it has not yet been agreed in any convention coming out of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. It is not yet international law. Let me run ahead of the argument. I would then say to them, "Why was it that they were able to take a 200 mile fishery protection zone when that was not yet international law?" It was customary international law, and they took it.

The Government will then answer, I believe, "In that case we were not the first to take it. Several other countries had done so before. We do not like to lead the pack". To which I would answer to the Government, "Why should we not lead the pack in this matter?" We have in fact led the pack on inserting into the draft negotiating text at UNCLOS the concept of port state jurisdiction. We have been among the leaders of the pack. It is there. It has survived several drafts. There is consensus on it. UNCLOS now has a programme. It is meeting again at the end of this year and again at the beginning of next year, and that is virtually certain to be there.

Why do we not take port state jurisdiction along with our friends? Although whether we define our friends in this case as being the European Community countries or the so-called maritime group which work together in UNCLOS is something that I would not like to decide. Once again, I recognise the Government's difficulties in choosing between all these foundations to build on.

We are all agreed that one thing is certain, and that is that as long as it is profitable for shipowners to run, and for charterers to charter, substandard vessels, and as long as we allow them to insure against the fines which may be inflicted upon them, and as long as we let them off full liability for the damage that they do by gearing into their tonnage and not to the damage they do, so long will society be subsidising substandard vessels and so long will our seas be polluted.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that we on these Benches would join with other noble Lords, and indeed the whole House, in expressing our indebtedness once again to my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa for raising what I have found to be a fascinating Question on oil pollution of the sea by ships, which is undoubtedly a matter of continuing public interest and concern, and above all of especial concern to your Lordships' House.

It is exactly a year since we discussed this broad theme at my noble friend's initiative. Indeed, I was grateful to have the kind comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about a further fresh face. I do not quite know whether he was hoping that I would still possibly be at this Bench in another year's time. Certainly I look forward to possibly breaking the happy chain that we have had a different fresh face answering this particular debate every year. I hope that if there is another debate I might have the chance of answering it, and above all of listening and learning about the particular subjects that have been raised this evening.

We are not necessarily directing our attention primarily to the questions, as we have been in past debates, of our contingency arrangements for dealing with the oil pollution and indeed oil slicks. But I hope that the House will feel it right that I should place on record that the Department of Trade has its marine pollution control unit and how it is continuing to improve those particular and especial arrangements. I should like to mention in particular that the two so-called caches of salvage equipment, which are still to be located at Rosyth and Pembroke Dock, will be fully operational later this year.

Aircraft operators, I would stress, have been invited to put forward costed proposals for a nationwide airborne dispersant spraying capability, which of course will take care of pollution once it has happened. I wish that to be very much on the record.

Coming to the question of the prevention of pollution, I would begin by emphasising the need to consider the whole of shipping matters against the worldwide perspective. I hope the House will not forget—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned this—that we still are very concerned with shipping matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, also pointed out, we have a major merchant fleet which operates and straddles the entire globe. The North Sea, to which my noble friend Lord Buxton directed our particular attention, is not necessarily our private pond, nor indeed the exclusive preserve of the seaboard States. It is part of the ocean, a sea, used by the ships—and not just by tankers—of all the nations of the world.

One of the fundamental tenets of our maritime policy is that shipping is inherently an international industry. This operates most effectively within a single regulatory framework established on a worldwide basis, and we have heard a great deal about that this evening. The best forum for establishing that framework on technical matters in covering pollution, the prevention of pollution and other matters referred to by noble Lords—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned electronic surveillance—is, we believe, the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, which we know as IMCO. It is the specialised agency of the United Nations and we are happy to have it established here in London.

We are pleased to be able to say that in the year that has passed since my noble friend last brought these matters to our attention in your Lordships' House, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, which is the cornerstone of IMCO's pursuit of safety, has been brought into force. Also in the last year, the United Kingdom became the first major maritime power to ratify the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973, which is known in its acronymic form as MARPOL, and the 1978 protocol to that. It is these instruments that symbolise IMCO's resolve to safeguard our oceans and especially the North Sea.

There is only one major IMCO convention relating to maritime safety and pollution prevention that we have so far not ratified, and that is the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping 1978. If my noble friend should think, once again, of celebrating the anniversary of this debate this time next year, I have every confidence, and I am sure your Lordships share that confidence, that the Government will have ratified that convention as well. That is a brief record of our ratification of conventions, and we believe it compares very favourably with that of the international community of nations at large.

We also welcome the decision last November of IMCO's governing assembly to concentrate this year and next on bringing into force the many conventions that have already been developed and the accumulating evidence of an increasing pace of ratification by other countries. We look with a sense of achievement at this creation of a worldwide framework of technical standards to meet our reasonable wishes as regards marine safety and pollution prevention, and we look forward with confidence to the entry into force of instruments that embody those standards.

That still leaves us with the question of enforcement, on which my noble friend properly focuses our minds this evening. We must not lose sight of the fact that many seafarers and shipowners—indeed, I believe the great majority of these categories—are every bit as concerned as we in your Lordships' House are to promote safety and protect the environment. Both shipowners and seafarers are anxious to be guided by rules which are sensible, reasonable and enforceable, and all of those make an indispensable contribution towards developing all the relevant provisions. But as in all fields of activity, especially by humans, the problems which we and they face are the deeds and the misdeeds of the minority. My noble friend attempted to put a reasonable figure on what he regarded as the sinners—the minority who cause pollution—and it is on that minority that we should focus our attention.

There has been discussion in close detail about the question of flag state and port state enforcement and jurisdiction. The Government do not regard port state enforcement or jurisdiction as a substitute for, but rather as a complement to, flag state enforcement, because we believe that the flag state is generally best placed to enforce standards when a ship is built or registered (I take the point made in this connection by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet) and, once the ship is built and registered, to continue that supervision on a regular, sustained and consistent basis, particularly as regards structural requirements.

To give an example: port states are unlikely to wish to put a passenger or cargo ship into dry dock for inspection, whereas the flag state is required to make an inspection annually under the International Convention for the safety of Life at Sea 1974, to which I referred earlier. We believe that port states can help to maintain standards, not least by confirming that ships' equipment is still in full and effective working order.

It is in this general field that there is scope for regional collaboration. Action on a Community, and indeed on a North Sea, basis is certainly one possibility. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and others referred to The Hague Memorandum of Understanding which is intended to facilitate concerted and consistent port state enforcement among the eight North Sea states, and that offers another avenue; and indeed it has the advantage of involving both Norway and Sweden. Our minds are still open to the potential of all these approaches.

I will now try to cover some of the other detailed points raised by noble Lords. I received prior notice of some of the questions noble Lords have raised. My noble friend Lord Buxton mentioned the territorial limits which we in the United Kingdom have. We share the view of our predecessors that maritime problems are best dealt with by international agreement. We hope for agreement at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, referred. We believe there is broad agreement on a draft article which would recognise a territorial sea of 12 miles.

The treaty as a whole is still under negotiation and we have found that there are difficult problems which have yet to be resolved on other parts of that text. The Government will keep the case for an extension of our territorial waters under review against the background of that conference and, I am confident, against the background of this evening's debate.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord—


I have more to say on that subject, my Lords, and if the noble Lord will be patient he may find that I will cover the point he has in mind. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was kind enough to give me some notice of his question about the EEC transport Ministers meeting and of the French Government's memorandum on marine safety and pollution prevention.


. My Lords, the noble Lord has actually left the point I had in mind and I should be very grateful for an opportunity to interrogate him. He said that the Government believed in proceeding by international agreement in the context of extending the territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles. Can he tell us why the Conservative Opposition were perfectly happy when the Labour Government proceeded without international agreement to take a fisheries protection zone of 200 miles? If I remember rightly, the Tory Opposition were quite pleased about that.


My Lords, I do not think that I can deal with that question tonight. Possibly I can deal with it later. I took the noble Lord's point when he was speaking, but this is probably a more detailed point than I am able to answer in the context of this particular Question this evening.

The noble Lord referred to the French Government's memorandum on marine safety and pollution prevention, which was discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will have read in today's issue of Lloyd's List that the Community's transport Ministers supported the French initiative for the holding of an international conference in Paris later this year, and that the United Kingdom Minister responsible, my honourable friend Mr. Norman Tebbit, has already emphasised the need for the European maritime states to discuss joint problems of both safety and pollution. My honourable friend stressed the need not to cut across any of the work being done by IMCO, and he hoped that the conference would reinforce this. I hope that your Lordships will agree that this demonstrated a very positive attitude to this initiative on the part of Her Majesty's Government. However, I wish to add one word of caution, which I understand was expressed by my honourable and right honourable colleagues themselves; namely, that the conference should be properly prepared on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned one particular point, in regard to which we were grateful, and indeed it was mentioned by other noble Lords. I think it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa. So far as port state enforcement and jurisdiction is concerned, I understand that this, too, was mentioned in the Lloyd's List report of the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg. We believe that port state enforcement is complementary to flag state enforcement, but we welcome this opportunity to discuss the issue with any of our Community partners, and we hope to examine the Commission's latest proposals, which were put before a meeting of the Commission earlier today. I think that that is as far as I can go tonight on the question of port state jurisdiction.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned a point about Government marine surveyors, which we were able to take on board. I understand that there is one example of port state jurisdiction that we have ready to hand. It is that last year we carried out 1,195 general inspections in port, including 615 inspections on foreign ships. But how much we can do in this particular area depends on resources available, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, acknowledged that.

Certainly one indication of the importance that we attach to marine safety and pollution prevention is that we are planning a small increase in our complement of marine surveyors at a time when we are determined substantially to reduce the size of the public sector as a whole. This was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. This is one aspect of the matter that we regard as especially important, and we hope that in some way it might compensate for the noble Lord's sadness regarding the Warren Springs research laboratory.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, raised one especial point about the responsibility and the role of the Department of Trade in regard to maritime matters. I hope that I am not going over what the noble Lord might regard as old ground. I say this because as your Lordships are aware, I am the fresh face in this debate, and looking around the Chamber this evening I am reminded that many of your Lordships are experienced seafarers, at least in this particular matter, and possibly "oilfarers", too, ploughing through the pollution. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will accept that possibly he has directed himself a little in the wrong direction in regard to the particular role of the Department of Trade. He appears to place emphasis—but we wonder whether he has placed enough emphasis—on the long-standing Department of Trade role in ship safety and in the prevention of pollution from ships. However, most importantly, whatever this Department does either nationally or internationally, it acts in full consultation with all other departments of the Government, and indeed it implements an overall Government policy so far as pollution, shipping trade, and other aspects of trade are concerned.

My noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa raised in particular a point which I believe was the theme of his contribution to the debate this evening, relating to substandard crews. He spoke of the "rogues". He called them the "L-drivers", rampaging around in an unsupervised fashion. My mind boggles at the thought of unsupervised tanker captains with 50 Deutschemark licences at the helm of what I understand are called very large container carriers—the LCCs. The Government are indeed concerned with the subject of sub-standard crews. We plan to ratify in September 1980 the ILO Minimum Standards for Merchant Ships Convention No. 147, and among its other provisions it will require ratifying states to have laws, regulations, or industrial agreements on the standard of crew safety, including standards relating to competency, medical fitness, hours of work, accident prevention, and manning.

Article 4 of this particular convention will allow states to investigate complaints about non-compliance by visiting foreign ships in their ports; and this will be an important addition to port state jurisdiction. It will enable these states to report ships which contravene the convention and rules to the flag states and to the ILO, and, where the deficiency represents a clear hazard to safety or health, to require it to be rectified before the ship in question leaves. I hope that that will go at least a small way towards meeting the particular point raised so graphically by my noble friend in connection with the tanker in the Shetlands on 9th January this year. I believe that that is about as far as I can go this evening in answering any of the major questions raised by your Lordships.

It should be noted that, apart from the regular surveys of our own ships, last year the Department of Trade with its marine surveyors carried out spot checks on nearly 1,200 ships, including over 600 foreign ships. We were able to discover various faults. We aim to continue to make these inspections, as resources permit. We were very pleased last month to act as host to the most recent meeting held under The Hague Memorandum of Understanding, and we look forward to increased collaboration on a regional basis. I was interested to hear of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for a new secretariat. Was it mentioned that it will be situated behind the Law Courts? That would be a particularly apt place—


My Lords, it is not my proposal. It is simply something that I have heard might happen, and I thought it was a good idea.


My Lords, I am sorry if I misinterpreted what the noble Lord had said. Perhaps it was not his proposal, but no doubt if such a thing were to come about, we should all be very happy. However, I have certainly heard nothing about it so far. If I receive any news about it, I can let the noble Lord know, and I can also make reply to him on his question about the large limits.

My Lords, we in this country do not have an easy task in combating the menace of oil pollution around our shores, but I would take this opportunity to assure my noble friend Lord Buxton that the Government will continue to maintain their efforts to improve international shipping standards in general, and especially, as far as it is feasible, to minimise the risk of environmental damage caused by oil pollution around our coasts. That is as far as I can go.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him to assure me that he has taken on board my suggestion of contacts with the Worshipful Company of Master Mariners?


My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend for that omission. I had a note from the winged messengers that the Worshipful Company of Master Mariners are consulted, along with a large number of other bodies.

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