HL Deb 01 March 1982 vol 427 cc1131-68

4.8 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

rose to move, That this House takes note of the recommendations of the Eighth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on Oil Pollution of the Sea (Cmnd. 8358) and the reports of the European Communities Committee on the Action Plan for the Mediterranean (30th Report, 1980–81 H.L. 200) and Marine Pollution (31st Report, 1980–81 H.L. 201).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are here dealing with three reports on pollution of the sea. The subjects of the reports are interconnected and it makes good sense that they should all be considered together. The report of the Royal Commission is the result of a searching investigation into the whole subject of oil pollution under the able chairmanship of Sir Hans Kornberg, and I am glad that two distinguished members of the commission are to speak in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the no be Lord, Lord Nathan. The other two reports are from the Select Committee on the European Communities; they are on particular matters affecting Europe and I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, who was in the chair of the sub-committee which examined those EEC plans, is also to speak in this debate. I again declare an interest: for several years I have worked with one of the large oil companies. Another interest, not pecuniary, is that I have been regarded for most of my life, in Scotland at least, as a naturalist and something of a pundit on birds. I hope that means that 1 can form judgments with a reasonable sense of proportion.

The Royal Commission report contains a prodigious amount of relevant information, and it also has wise advice. For anyone seeking enlightenment or help with finding solutions I strongly commend the Royal Commission's contribution. The subjects include sources of pollution, compensation, methods of tackling spills and the related equipment; also the complex, but vital, matter of determining and arranging beforehand the placing of responsibilities in all situations that are likely to arise. In the time available today I propose to address myself only to some of the principal topics requiring discussion and decision. In Appendix 2 to the commission's report it is recorded that evidence was given by me, among others. I was glad to have the privilege of being invited to make a very modest contribution in that way.

Why must we as a country take very seriously the recommendations in the report? The answer, I believe, is that there is no other country in the world which has so much at stake. There can be very serious effects on our long and exposed coastline and on wildlife, such as damage to amenity, local tourism and the fishing industry. I know that the commission pointed out that not many fish are killed by oil, but unfortunately the taint which continues and the distrust of consumers cause damage to fishermen.

The mutilation and death of wild birds can occur many miles from land, as well as on the coast, depending on their movements and concentrations. The outraged reaction of most of the British public when they hear of the plight of oiled birds is fully justified. Their plumage loses its insulating and waterproofing properties and the birds become helpless and unable to resist death from exposure.

Another reason why we in Britain must be especially concerned is that we are now in the first league of oil-producing countries. We are an oil nation, and most of our oilfields are below the sea. Although the first oil from the North Sea sea started to flow less than seven years ago, we are now self-sufficient. We need that oil—it is an important clement in our economy, and we are now being, reminded of that almost daily when the question of changes of price is being discussed.

That leads to a further reason for our concern as a country. Oil in tankers is being carried in vast quantities through our home waters not far from our coasts. Recently many of the tankers have been very large. Our islands are close to the routes taken by oil supplies to other European countries. Indeed, tankers passing our shores, not calling at United Kingdom ports, have caused much of the pollution around our shore in recent years. Therefore it is very much in our national interest not only to devise the best possible systems for preventing pollution, and dealing with it if it occurs within our own jurisdiction, but also to procure international agreements which will be effective.

The report deals with the whole world, but I intend to concentrate on threats to the British Isles and the seas around them. The report helps to put the facts into perspective. It confirms that about 60 per cent of the oil in our seas arrives from sources on land. That is a high percentage, and it should be kept in mind. At the same time, the commission does not find that that gives rise to any serious problem, owing to the circumstances of individual emissions, dispersal and absorption. Twenty per cent. of the oil comes from tankers, and the remaining 20 per cent. from miscellaneous sources, including other shipping and offshore oil.

I should like to consider first our own North Sea oil. Small quantities of oily material are discarded from platforms and rigs at sea in normal working operations. The commission affirms that no harm is caused by that and that it is negligible. What then are the risks of serious pollution from offshore oil operations? First, there is the risk from pipelines, from damage or corrosion. There has been only one significant incident so far in the United Kingdom sector of the North Sea, and that, the House will remember, was two years ago when a pipe connecting the Thistle and Dunlin fields was damaged by a heavy anchor. Although there was a considerable leak, no oil came ashore; it was far out to sea. When such incidents occur, the flow in the pipes should be cut off very quickly; this is part of modern technology.

The second way in which risks of pollution arise is through mishaps when tankers are taking on oil, or transferring oil at sea or at terminals. This may happen because there is faulty equipment—for example, hoses—or inefficient procedure. It should be noted that the spill which occurred at our biggest oil terminal, at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Isles, did not involve North Sea oil. It involved the "Esso Bernicia" at the end of 1978, and the spill was from her own bunker oil. The accident was caused by a fault in one of the tugs, which caught fire and therefore had to disengage. As a result, the tanker hit the jetty, and her fuel caused the large spill.

Fortunately, nothing has so far occurred in the United Kingdom sector concerning the third category of risk, which I now come to—the blow-out, causing an uncontrolled flow from a well into the sea until the operation of tapping can be carried out. Against this dreaded offshore accident every precaution is taken; it is a calamity for the industry and for the company concerned. The event may never happen on our continental shelf—and I hope that it will not. However, because it is the most serious of these risks, we must be fully prepared for it. The Norwegians have had one experience. Because that was far out to sea the coasts were not affected. A blow-out caused the largest ever oil spill in the world. That was in 1979 at the Ixtoc Well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Britain we cannot fail to be concerned about oilfields near our coastline. We now have one only a dozen miles from Sutherland—the Beatrice Field, within the Moray Firth. It recently started producing oil, which flows by pipeline to a terminal on land nearby. I cannot overemphasise the care needed to avoid a spill there. The effects on the surrounding shores of the firth could be very serious. As more blocks nearer our coastlines are licensed for exploration, and later as oilfield development plans are approved there, special care should be exercised to reduce to the minimum risks of spills.

I turn now to tankers. They cause about half the oil pollution from sources at sea. The gravest threat to beaches arises from the possibility of major accidents. The "Torrey Canyon" and the "Amoco Cadiz" spilled huge quantities of oil and gave grim warnings to us all about damage that may be inflicted on the environment. These accidents are caused by human and mechanical errors. They should not happen, but, as with blow-outs, we must be prepared for them.

I draw attention to one factor which qualifies my statement about human error: the incomplete state of the charts of seas around our shores. I support with vigour the Royal Commission's plea that the Government should make more resources available to enable the programme of hydrographic survey to be carried out more quickly. This survey work has historically been performed by the Admiralty, and then the Ministry of Defence. However, all kinds of shipping have been able to use the products and so benefit. Now, in the 1980s it is needed not so much for naval ships as for mammoth tankers and bulk carriers, the draught of which is such that they may be scraping the bottom where in the past ships have not needed to worry. The departments with responsibilities for shipping, safety and pollution of our coasts should press for their interests in this, and be prepared to contribute resources in addition to those of the Ministry of Defence.

Serious accidents to tankers also occur in harbours. In 1979 the "Betelgeuse" suffered a fire and explosion in Bantry Bay, with the tragic loss of 51 lives. One of the causes was excessive stress owing to incorrect positioning of ballast. A few months later another tanker broke in two at Rotterdam, a fracture having been caused by oil being pumped out of the centre tanks while the tanks fore and aft were left full. In the "Betelgeuse" case there was no calculating instrument to control cargo and ballast distribution and check stresses. in the Rotterdam case the ship did have a calculator but it was not being used, apparently because its instructions were in Norwegian, a language which could not be understood by the captain, or the crew, who were Chinese. There were no casualties, fortunately, and no fire in that case, probably because the vessel possessed an inert gas system. That safety precaution had been absent in the case of the "Betelgeuse".

Spills are also the unwelcome trademarks of inadequate tankers with slovenly practices and crews. What, my Lords, is a substandard tanker— an expression often used nowadays? I can best convey what is meant by the following example. In January 1980, while a certain tanker was being loaded with North Sea oil at a British terminal, members of its crew were found to be smoking on deck. Loading was suspended and matches and lighters were confiscated. When loading was resumed, a spill of 200 gallons of oil occurred. Loading was again suspended until it had been cleaned up. It was then discovered that the vessel was overloaded by more than 3,000 tons. The cause was supposed to be ballast, described as segregated. When the ballast was examined, however, it was found to contain a substantial amount of oil. The master asked for permission to discharge this into the harbour, which was of course refused; and 3,000 tons of oil had to be pumped out of the ship again.

On inspection by the Department of Trade the following defects were then found: one lifeboat engine would not start, but in the attempt to start it a small fire started instead; the gas-tight covers of emergency lights were open; and oil was leaking from a deck hatch. On the day after leaving harbour, an explosion occurred in the tanker's engine room and she then drifted at sea for three days out of control. That tanker, the "Scenic", had a record of similar incidents elsewhere in the world. It is not surprising that among those concerned with that incident in this country the vessel has been referred to as the "Obscenic". I do not think I need say more to illustrate the kinds of deplorable practice and low standards which must be eliminated. Until this can be achieved internationally, we must at least try to keep such vessels away from our ports and coasts.

My Lords, I have been speaking of accidents, mishaps, errors and leaks. The discharges from tankers requiring even more of our attention and vigilance are those effected at sea on purpose. Such deliberate discharges, known also as "operational", have in the past been normal practice on the high seas, for example, in order to wash out ballast tanks or to empty ballast at sea before loading. The results have been oily water and slicks. Near coasts these can cause bad pollution. Recently there have been international efforts to reduce and eventually bring to an end these practices. I would remind your Lordships that among the methods that have been adopted for recent internatonal agreements are those called "load on top", "crude oil washing" and "segregated ballast tanks ". There are also facilities at ports for oily ballast to be transferred ashore.

The 1973 Convention of Marine Pollution, known as MARPOL, is to come into effect soon, and that will constitute a substantial advance in international co-operation in preventing pollution from ships. Nonetheless, because of the loss of time and the inconvenience which can sometimes be caused to ships if they are to carry out the correct procedures, there is a temptation to masters to release oily ballast hoping not to be identified. If an area becomes polluted by one such incident or a larger spill, it has been known for other, passing tankers then to carry out such ballast operations in that area knowing that they are likely not to be identified. We had a case of that in Northern Scotland three years ago, your Lordships will remember. That kind of conduct I can only describe as diabolical.

Man, however, cannot be blamed for all the oil in the sea. Oil slicks are also formed, in a few parts of the world, from natural sources; for example, by seepage from deposits below the sea bed. This does not happen, however, anywhere near our coasts. Indeed, oil pollution of the sea is comparatively recent and was virtually unknown until the last 60 years or so. If I may divert the House for a moment, in the time of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his Ancient Mariner was astounded and awestruck to see that: the water, like a witch's oils, burnt green and blue and white". Today's mariner would simply presume that he had sailed into an oil slick. It is a melancholy thought, too, that the nightmare world of fantasy in which, slimy things did crawl, with legs, upon the slimy sea, would immediately be recognisable now as a flock of stricken sea-birds caught on the oily surface.

As for catching the culprits, the ships causing such horrors, it is striking a high average (to borrow again from Coleridge) if one "stoppeth one of three". What about detention and enforcement? Too many spills are still unattributable. Surveillance and monitoring have nonetheless had an improving effect. I agree with the Royal Commission that trying to maintain a 24-hour watch everywhere would not be worthwhile or practicable, because almost the same result can be achieved if it is made known that several agencies and systems, including aircraft and equipment such as infra-red devices which can see at night, are in use. This is the principle which disciplines drivers on the roads when they see a notice "Police radar in operation". They slow down if they are speeding, although they know that the monitoring cannot be 100 per cent. effective.

Official photographs taken from the air of vessels in relation to slicks have already had a salutory effect in deterring masters who previously were less than scrupulous in these matters. The result has been fewer ballast incidents. A captain does not know when an aircraft may appear from nowhere and within a minute or two record his offence. Besides the special surveillance aircraft, I suggest the Government should make it clear that their RAF Nimrod aircraft, which spend most of their flying time over the seas round our shores, are very well equipped to report and record tankers' actions.

Sometimes it is difficult to bring transgressing ships to book. However, the full weight of public opinion in this country will rightly be aroused against masters and owners who try to get away with acts which place our coasts and wildlife in jeopardy. That is one sanction against offenders which they should not underestimate. Experience has shown that formal enforcement is more successful if carried out through the port at which a ship calls or is lying rather than through the flag state. The trend towards international adoption of the port-state jurisdiction is something to be welcomed.

A very important recommendation of the Royal Commission is that the United Kingdom territorial sea should be extended from three miles to 12 miles. This has been agreed at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. It would extend the jurisdiction for prosecution under United Kingdom law and would enable our Government to intervene up to 12 miles in shipping incidents threatening our coasts. The Government have started preparing the legislation, anticipating, in the same way as we did over fishing limits, what has been agreed and will be in a convention. I would ask the Government to bring in the legislation if they can in the next Session. I cannot foresee that there will be any opposition in Parliament, and little of the Government's parliamentary time is likely to be taken up.

Probably the most important subject in the commission's report is that of organisation for dealing with major incidents. Three years ago, the Marine Pollution Control Unit was established in the Department of Trade. Theirs is the responsibility for preparations and for collecting the expertise and also for quick and sensible action when an emergency occurs. The commission suggest that this unit should be strengthened and they suggest how Government departments should take on various responsibilities. There is not time to consider now the pros and cons of those proposals. Whether one agrees or not with the proposals, these responsibilities need to be allocated, decisions need to be taken. When crises occur, with the best intentions the wrong actions sometimes are taken.

At an international conference recently I heard a scientist state that because of the spraying of marshes in Brittany after the "Amoco Cadiz" incident, those marshes will take a hundred years to recover instead of 15 years if they had been left alone. Nearer home, after the "Eleni V" had been crippled by collision at sea, quantities of dispersant were sprayed, although no effect could be caused on the very heavy fuel oil which was spilled in that case. It simply made the situation worse. The trouble is that Government, central or local, have felt that they must be seen to be doing something in an emergency. That is a natural reaction. In future, public confidence should be built up to the extent that decisions can be taken soon —and everybody will know that they are being taken—with expert knowledge and without the need for flamboyant, visible action which may be misguided. Dispersants in certain circumstances can be as harmful as oil, and sometimes even more harmful.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook will speak on the two Select Committee reports. On the 30th Report, I hope the Government will be more forthcoming in their interest and contribution to the Mediterranean Plan. In Report No. 31, the Select Committee (of which I am a member) advised caution on establishing an EEC centre for data, for example, on tankers liable to pollute. The classification societies, such as Lloyd's Register, can already provide all the information that could possibly be needed. In addition there is Mardata International Computer system. There seems no need to make a central inventory of all the equipment owned by member countries. This should be limited to such help as can be applied to neighbour countries and be made available.

My Lords, I hope that I have shown that oil is important to this country and that prevention of pollution is important, too. We are still one of the world's leading shipping nations. If the Government have been waiting for the Royal Commission Report they can now proceed with confidence to secure, first, a fully effective organisation to protect our coastal areas and to handle emergencies and, secondly, international agreement and co-operation to reduce pollu- tion. No other country has a greater interest in pursuing these aims. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the recommendations of the Eighth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on Oil Pollution of the Sea (Cmnd. 8358) and the Reports of the European Communities Committee on the Action Plan for the Mediterranean (30th Report, 1980–81 H.L. 200) and Marine Pollution (31st Report, 1980–81 H.L. 201). —(Lord Campbell of Croy.)

4.35 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for having introduced this subject. The Royal Commission, as lie said, has performed an important service in producing in the Eighth Report a very comprehensive report of over 300 pages. It is timely that we are considering the reports of the Select Committee on European Communities and we are indebted to its chairman and members for their deliberations, and we are glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, here for his contribution later. The first report was issued in 1971, over a decade ago, and it may be appropriate to say that a lot of dirty, oily, slimy water has passed under our bridges since then. In fact, we are dealing with a problem of many decades but the sophistication of our shipping industry has made matters worse, to some extent, as time has gone by, because our precautionary measures have not matched the pace of science.

The noble Lord made reference to some of the changes, the load-on-top system and the crude oil washing, which is an improvement on the old system of dumping at sea; and now there are provisions for discharge when getting to port. The report reminds me of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster of 1967 because I had the experience, as a Member of the other place, of being a member of the subcommittee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology dealing with the "Torrey Canyon" at that time. One had the experience of flying over the "Torrey Canyon ", of helicoptering round the beaches and coasts of Devon and Cornwall and being aware of the problems of accessability facing the local authorities having to clean up the beaches. That is of great importance to them. We also interviewed many local authorities and the people concerned with the design of ships and the procedures of shipping. Later on, as Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, one was concerned with the "Amoco Cadiz" and the "Eleni V" of 1978.

I mention these points because our attention has been concentrated on the problems of oil pollution and marine pollution for some years. If I were to put into brief summary some of the things I should want to say or the impression I want to leave, it is that there has been a lot of work done in getting information for the eight reports (and the Eighth Report is the document we are discussing today) and also in getting the recommendations of the Select Committee on the European Communities which have given us very sane advice and good recommendations. The main question to the Minister is what the Government think of the present situation and what action will be taken to carry out the recommendations. I believe we are also helped in this report—and some of us individually have had submissions from them, as I am sure has the Minister —by the General Council of British Shipping and also the Association of County Councils; because all these authorities are intimately concerned.

I was interested in the summary and conclusions, having read much of the report beforehand on which they were based, and it seems that this report seeks to put the problem of pollution into perspective. The effects of oil pollution at sea are widespread, affecting fish, wildlife, sea birds, animals and beaches with the possibility of chronic oil pollution of the sea, with short-term or longer-term effects.

While it is reassuring to know that there may be no long-term or permanent effects on the marine environment, we should realise that even short-term effects can lead to suffering and death for birds and for wildlife generally. It is interesting to know that most of the oil reaching the sea comes from discharges from the land—and I believe the noble Lord made this point. About 60 per cent. of the discharge is from land areas, including effluent from rivers and by direct deposition of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, originating, for example, from motor vehicle exhausts and so on.

At the same time, while there is this maximum amount of pollution coming from land areas, it does not in any way minimise the seriousness of the matter of marine pollution which concerns us at this time. Tank operations seem to account for 20 per cent. of the accidental or deliberate discharge at sea, and the rest from general shipping operations. The effect on our beaches, on our public amenities and the environment, can be serious. They seriously affect tourism as well. I am sure many noble Lords have seen the effects of oil pollution around our beaches. There are problems in getting rid of all this dirt and muck within a short time when there are visitors and holiday bookings have been taken, and so on. These are considerable difficulties.

There seems to be, according to the report, some satisfaction about discharges of the land-based sources of oil, controlled, as they are by the Control of Pollution Act 1974. But there is the other problem which I hope the Minister mentions when he speaks—the problem of waste effluent discharge from our coasts. There is need for greater co-operation between Government and water authorities.

I wonder whether the Minister will say later to what extent the Government and local authorities' cuts and restraints will affect the prospects for improvements and for dispersal of some of these problems. I have in mind particularly the problems of Merseyside where much of the pollution around the coast is man-made. Crude sewerage is there and it affects the environment to a large extent. That aspect may not be covered by this report; but it is still a very serious problem which needs to be dealt with by the local authorities—one hopes with help, financially and with other resources—from the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has mentioned offshore oil development. It is accepted that this must result in some operational discharges of oil—accidental of course—when pipelines and offshore storage facilities are damaged. I should like the Minister to say what action is likely to be taken to prevent blowouts when large quantities of oils are released into the sea.

There is the concern expresssed by the Royal Com mission about the protection of pipelines and the use of large sea tankers for storing oil in hostile conditions in the North Sea. I wonder whether the Minister can say also whether the sale of BNOC's assets will mean less control if profits to be made by the new owners after privatisation are probably to be the main criterion. One may wonder whether some of these important aspects with which we are concerned may not have the kind of attention and action which they deserve. Will this be a matter for control when licensing takes place?

It is rather interesting when one considers the number of incidents—and they are relatively few although serious when they do happen—like the "Torrey Canyon", the "Amoco Cadiz" and other disasters to which reference is made in the report. Of course, hundreds of vessels go through the English Channel at night and at other times and about which we hear very little when nothing serious happens. Enforcement is a very difficult problem, and the report refers to the need for traffic lanes—a matter which is also referred to by the Chamber of Shipping.

Regarding the report in other aspects concerning costs of marine oil pollution and compensation, I notice that the local authorities and the shipping interests are interested here because it is recognised that the existing limits for compensation under the two conventions are unsatisfactory because of inflation. Surely this is another matter of concern to the Government.

Under the same heading, there are considerable costs to local authorities incurred on these occasions and indeed in keeping the safeguards and precautions going all the year round in case of spillages at any time around their coasts. It may well be that present restraints in the form of cutbacks may affect the kinds of precautions which ought to be maintained at all times. One wonders whether the necessary financial and other resources will be found to clean up the beaches, and so on. I said earlier, tourism is a very important aspect which should cause us concern.

The other aspects include the discharges of offshore oil operations. The noble Lord has made reference to that and I shall not go into it further except that it is very important that we should maintain high standards in our vessels: maintenance, operational conditions and safeguards and crew competence. I thought the reference to crew competence was an important aspect because on occasions when thousands of tonnes of crude oil are being carried by these vessels, sometimes the safety precautions are not all that they should be. We can possibly anticipate at some time the worst possible situation where a vessel is blown up with a considerable explosion. Certainly new problems would be before us on those occasions.

The report's recommendations seem reasonable about the aspect of discharges from offshore operations. One always wonders whether even more enforcement can be carried out, and how soon it can be made much more effective. Regarding substandard ships, the noble Lord made reference to problems of enforcement. No matter how sensitive and how considerate we are as a nation in dealing with some of these problems, one gets the main query about the effectiveness of enforcement by other countries and internationally, and whether the checks and inspections are really adequate.

Mention has been made about the 12-mile limit with the recommendation that territorial limits should be extended to the 12-mile limit as in some other countries. The Minister might let us have his views on that. One aspect which has been touched on already, and which is fundamental to the report, is the hydrographic mapping. One thinks back in the past few years of the recognition that many of these maps are grossly out of date and hardly give any real indication of the state of the seabed, so there are inherent dangers to our shipping around our coasts.

The Chamber of Shipping are not very happy about having forbidden areas. This means that we shall have to do something more very soon, although the cost could be quite significant—if that is the better word to use—but the amount invested for up-to-date maps may certainly be a very good investment indeed when one considers the consequences of not having them. Traffic separation schemes are advocated—the "rule of the road". One issue which concerned me and my colleagues all those years ago was the need for us not only to have traffic lanes, but also to have some knowledge of what cargoes were being carried and what action should be taken about the toxic and other effects in the case of spillage. The knowledge about any hazardous cargoes is something which should be concerning us at the present time.

The Select Committee on the European Communities' report—which I think is extremely helpful and gets down to the main issues of the Royal Commission's report—spotlights the main areas of concern by its studies since the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster in March 1978. They point out two main proposals: a communication from the Commission concerning the combating of pollution, and measures for enforcement in respect of shipping, safety and pollution prevention. They also deal with the policy implications. The value of the Community system depends on the extent of the effectiveness of the action taken. It is important that there should not only be general agreement between countries as to what needs to be done, but some way of ensuring that the recommendations which are generally accepted are carried out, because without that there is no safeguard whatsoever.

Paragraph 13 of the report refers to the small number of incidents—half a dozen a year—and reference has been made to this. But of course there is continual and widespread discharge affecting the local areas. This really is a continuing problem despite the headline-making disasters to which we have made reference. Many local areas can be affected by discharge around our coasts and beaches. The fact that some of us had to see some of these beaches by helicopter because the cliffs were so steep and access from the sea was almost impossible, shows the problem of trying to deal with spillages once they have come inland into the areas where people often bathe or go on foot.

So the Select Committee also questioned other things, such as the wisdom of keeping a comprehensive list of various pieces of equipment available "around the shores of Brussels", as the report puts it. One can well imagine the usefulness of that, particularly at weekends when many of these accidents happen. For example, the "Torrey Canyon" disaster occurred at a weekend and very often the list of equipment which is needed is not readily available just when it is needed. It would he far better for there to be a national register and also regional registers—maybe even at county level as well—so that greater access to them is available when the need arises. It is vital to know these factors and especially details of the cargoes of vessels and how to deal with them in case of spillage. I believe there is very good reason for the committee to be concerned about the duplication of Community action. There is always the problem of having gaps which are not attended to by anyone and, on the other hand, the possibility of work being duplicated by authorities nationally and internationally as well. These are some of the main points for consideration.

The report indicates that the machinery for dealing with oil spills is inadequate. There are many government departments concerned; local and national authorities, often with conflicting interests, are also involved and are especially concerned with cleaning operations. The report is, I think rightly, wide-ranging on these national and international aspects. I believe all the information that we surely need is already available in order to come to very sensible conclusions on this report, but there are certain occasions when some aspects are referred to committees. That may be justified, but, generally speaking, if we have more and more reports we then await their reports before more action is taken. Action should be taken urgently.

As I have said, I believe that much work has been done, but there is much more to be done in the coordination of effort and as regards what has to be done and who will have to do it. The Royal Commission has performed a valuable service in producing this report and the Select Committee has also performed a valuable service in summarising the main conclusions. In their reply I hope the Government will indicate to the House and to the country what action has to be taken in readiness for any other eventuality which may come along.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, as a member of the Royal Commission, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for introducing this debate, not only because it gives an opportunity for discussion of the report but also because the noble Lord himself has great knowledge in the field.

I had the honour to serve on the Royal Commission throughout its study of marine oil pollution and I shall confine myself to that report. During our study a number of incidents occurred, one of which, in part, I witnessed. I thought it might be helpful to your Lordships if 1 confined myself to that, which focuses attention on certain of the matters on which we reported and recommended, rather than to have a more wide-ranging review.

A product tanker, the "Tarpenbek" of about some 1,700 dead weight tonnes, was involved in a collision off Selsey Bill while carrying a variety of lubricating oils. Virtually no oil was spilled on the collision and the cargo tanks were not ruptured. The state of the wind, sea and tide made it not only dangerous to life to attempt to transfer the cargo of oil but, if that had been attempted, there was severe risk of some spillage which could have severely affected fishery, ecological and amenity interests—for example, Selsey Bill itself (where inshore are the nursery grounds for much of the sole found in the Channel), Pagham, Chichester and Langstone harbours, which are great conservation centres, and the popular beaches, of course, in the area.

The "Tarpenbek" capsized, again virtually without leakage of oil, and this made it all the more urgent and necessary to seek a sheltered haven where the oil could be transferred in calm waters with far less risk to life and less risk of pollution. Sandown Bay at the east of the Isle of Wight was selected, and the inverted "Tarpenbek" was towed there. Thereupon the local authorities—South Wight Borough Council and the Isle of Wight County Council, as well as hoteliers—sought a High Court injunction to remove her from the bay. The application was rejected on terms as to anti-pollution measures to be taken. In due course the oil from all tanks was pumped out without spillage while she was inverted and, after some difficulty she was then turned upright ("parbuckled" is, I believe, the technical word) and the remaining cargo oil pumped out. During this whole operation no cargo oil escaped, but a small amount of bunker diesel did.

I sailed out and was able to see this remarkable operation and to witness the presence of only small quantities of diesel on the sea, which were being effectively sprayed by two aircraft— one of which, incidentally, unfortunately crashed at the foot of Culver Cliff. However, the pilot was not hurt and he jumped out and swam ashore. Skill, coupled with good luck, made this an outstandingly successful operation.

We recommend in our report the designation of sheltered havens. If designation is coupled with a power for the Department of Trade to bring stricken vessels there, the corollary must be that the department, in consultation with local and other interests, must initially bear the cost of preventive measures such as booms, and carry out the pay for any clean-up operations. Claims for compensation should be met centrally and should not be a burden on the local authority. The claims, with the risk of failure in making them, the cost of the claims and the cost of delays in recovery of the claims from shipowners or insurers must, in our view, and certainly in mine, be borne accordingly.

In the case of the "Tarpenbek" the initial pollution risk was severe, endangering East and West Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Therefore it would have been quite inequitable that the costs should have been borne by the Isle of Wight alone and that they should have suffered the risk and the cost of making the claim and the cost of the delay, which is so often experienced in obtaining recompense.

The risk which originally existed, of severe pollution affecting areas of high nature conservation interest and amenity, raised a further issue, to which we also refer. Areas such as Pagham Harbour, Chichester Harbour and Langstone, are enjoyed by a great number and variety of people who come specially to visit them, as well indeed as those who live locally. If such areas are damaged by oil pollution there can in general be no claim for compensation. Wild birds and fish are generally not the subject of ownership and their loss cannot therefore generally form the basis of a claim; nor generally can the loss of amenity. Further, such losses will probably never be quantifiable in terms of money. Yet there is no doubt that a loss has been suffered by the community.

In the United States some attempt has been made to address these problems, under which the Federal Government would claim as parens patriae on behalf of the community for damage to environmental resources. In this country, from mediaeval times, the Crown has acted in that capacity—for instance, in the case of charities—and still does, through the Attorney General. If, as will usually be the case, the damage is not readily quantifiable, there is ground for considering a claim for general damages.

If one of us were unfortunate enough to leave this building and be run over by a car and have both legs broken, we should, in principle, be entitled to claim for the specific medical and other expenses which we incurred—which are called special damages—and general damages for loss and pain and suffering. These general damages are for assessment by the court; general damages are also awarded in libel cases. The idea of general damages is, therefore, well embedded in our law.

It seems to me that there are strong grounds for securing that the community, no less than the individual, is entitled to compensation for damage which it has suffered. Of course, this proposition does not relate to oil pollution alone. For example, it would apply to chemical pollution or, possibly, the effects of a great explosion, such as occurred at Flixborough, or the widespread and enduring pollution such as occurred at Seveso in Italy. Nevertheless, I raise it in this debate, as we have in our report, as one requiring study by an expert group. It represents a gap in our law which recent developments have made far more relevant than hitherto and of great concern.

One objection which has been raised is as to the destination of the compensation received. Compensation is not a penalty. The answer must depend on circumstances. But it is easy to envisage that, in some circumstances, it could be applied to reinstate the area affected and, in others, to substitute another area. This, likewise, is clearly a matter for study, but not, I suggest, a ground for rejection.

I refer finally to the extension of the territorial sea to 12 miles, which has already been raised by both of the previous speakers. It appears that the Government, after some hesitation, have now accepted that this is desirable. This is not surprising, since over 100 states, including major maritime nations such as Japan, the USSR, France and Italy, already claim territorial seas of 12 miles or more. In the context of oil pollution, an extension from the existing three miles to 12 would have several advantages. ft would extend the area in which offences committed by foreign vessels would be subject to prosecution under our law and compensation for oil pollution could be claimed. Most important, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned, would be the extended area in which the United Kingdom would have power to intervene in shipping incidents which pose a pollution threat to our shores, to which I shall refer further in a moment.

At one time, it seemed that the Law of the Sea Convention which specifically provides for such extension might come into force quite shortly, and in those circumstances it was obviously preferable that we should await that event and make the extension pursuant to the convention. Now, however, the timing of its adoption has become much more uncertain. It is clearly desirable that the Government should act now. At the same time, it is important that the Government should resolve to exercise effectively their powers of intervention within territorial waters when a real risk of oil pollution off the coast is threatened.

I have in mind the case of the "Athina B", which occurred while we were in the course of our study. It was a ship of some 3,500 deadweight tonnes, which got into difficulties in bad weather about a mile off Shoreham Harbour. The offer of assistance from a tug was rejected by the master. I understand that the coastguard reported that, if no action were taken, the ship would be driven on to Brighton beach within six hours. This happened as predicted. There was no intervention by the authorities. She was carrying about 300 tonnes of bunker fuel, her cargo being pumice. By good fortune, no oil was spilled on the beach. But, had the tanks been ruptured, very severe damage could have been caused to one of our major beaches. It may be said that this ship was exercising her right of innocent passage through territorial waters. Innocent, it certainly was. But the passage from close inshore on to Brighton beach scarcely comes within the ancient rights of freedom of the seas. It is essential that extension of the territorial sea should be combined with a determination to exercise within proper limits the rights of intervention which exist.

I have touched upon a number of matters—sheltered havens, compensation for environmental damage and extension of the territorial sea. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord the Minister could give the House some guidance as to Government policy in relation to them.

5.6 p.m.

Viscount Chandos

My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of the noble Lords who have spoken before me in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for initiating this debate. At the same time, I should like to pay tribute to the work which the noble Lord has done in this field, and to say for my own personal reasons how pleased I am to be able to speak in the debate introduced by him. I should also like to join other noble Lords in acknowledging the contribution made by the members of the Royal Commission in producing the report which is the principal subject of today's debate.

I am sure that most readers of the report will be reassured, as I was, that the commission found that the risks of long-lasting damage to the marine environment through oil pollution were insubstantial. None-theless, the visible growth of offshore oil exploration and production, along with the continuing increase in shipping traffic, on the one hand, and industrial waste, on the other, give rise to widespread and understandable concern. I believe, also, that in certain circumstances, such as when oil is combined with another pollutant such as herbicide or sprays, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, significant damage can still be done. I am sure, therefore, that the efforts on the part of the Government and other interested parties will not be reduced on the grounds that the potential harm is insignificant or transitory. As the report observed, moreover, the short-term consequences of oil pollution can be, and are, serious—I think that the report used the word "offensive" in one context—and the very visibility of the effects will ensure that public interest remains at a very high level.

The detailed recommendations of the Royal Commissions' report have been generally welcomed by your Lordships' House, and it is to be hoped that they will be put into effect as quickly as possible, with those relating to preventive measures and the improvement of safety in offshore installations and ships an obvious priority. Since the noble Lords who have spoken before me have already covered so effectively the principal points of the Royal Commission's report, as well as those of the Select Committee reports, I should like to pick up just one point arising from the commission's report, although not, perhaps, one strictly within its own terms of reference.

The problem of establishing compensation for environmental damage was raised in the report and has already been highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who spoke before me. I believe that your Lordships' House should strongly support the commission's recommendation that an expert body be set up to consider the way in which environmental damage might, in some way, be assessed, quantified and thereby compensated in specific instances of pollution. But I feel that, even if the expert body was successful in devising an acceptable system of compensation, there might still be more that could, and should, be done.

For instance, the commission reported that in 1979, of the reported unattributable incidents of oil pollution, less than 10 per cent. involved spillages of more than one tonne, and that the clean-up costs incurred by local authorities in respect of these unattributable spills were generally insignificant. Nevertheless, I suspect that unattributable spills, reported and unreported, each one small by the standards of a major disaster but still causing substantial amounts of pollution and damage, account for a significant proportion of the unquantifiable loss to the environment and people's enjoyment of it. But by the very nature of the loss and of the unidentifiable causes of it, it is difficult to know whom to compensate, by how much and at whose expense. Nonetheless, I believe that if the true impact of pollution on the marine environment and the coastline is being considered we should at least make an attempt to solve this equation, full of unknowns.

In trying to identify where financial support was most needed, I was struck by the various references made in the report to research. Both the Royal Society and the NERC gave evidence that oil should not be accorded a high priority in research expenditure. The NERC was shown to allocate only 2 per cent. of its marine research budget in one year to projects specifically concerned with oil pollution. It is possible even for the layman to see how other pollutants, such as radioactive waste and toxic heavy metals, can be so much more dangerous and harmful and, hence, why research into these pollutants should be accorded a higher priority. But when, for instance, there is no effective dispersant for heavy fuel oils such as that spilled by the "Eleni V" off the coast of Norfolk in 1978, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, it is tempting to feel that there may be scope for increased research if resources were available. If, by some chance, this has not been the case in the past there is some possibility of it being so in the future, particularly if the National Maritime Institute, which I believe has been a significant contributor to research on pollution generally, becomes another guinea pig in the Government's privatisation programme.

I believe therefore that there is likely to be plenty of scope for funds being usefully employed in increased research both directly in connection with the prevention and the mitigation of oil pollution and indirectly, perhaps, in connection with the preservation of species which are vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Looking at the broadest aspect of the unquantifiable damage to the environment which pollution can cause, I believe that increased expenditure in many other indirectly related spheres—the preservation of the coastline, for instance—could be justified.

It seems to me, therefore, that while the commission rejected the idea of establishing a fund to assist local authorities with the costs of dealing with unattributable spills, there may be a case for establishing a rather different fund which might, less directly, compensate for the effects of pollution. If it could be financed by formal levies on the oil and shipping industries, then its funding would clearly be assured. But it might even be possible to set the fund up on a voluntary basis, with the major oil and shipping companies supporting it—not as an admission of any negligence or specific instance of pollution but as an acknowledgment that their activities carry an inevitable cost for the marine environment. They might, perhaps, effectively be consolidating and, one would hope, increasing the individual contributions to research or environmental causes that each company currently makes. It might be said that many commercial enterprises put a lot into the sea, in one sense. This might be one way of putting a little bit back in another. I hope that this suggestion does not seem too idealistic. It is clearly vital that any proposal such as this should in no way jeopardise or delay a more satisfactory system of compensation for specific, attributable instances of pollution or any of the other principal recommendations made by the commission.

It emerged from the report that in some instances there was not always satisfactory co-ordination between different Government departments. The Government have, I believe, recently given assurances that maritime policy generally will be properly co-ordinated. I am sure that your Lordships' House would wish, notwithstanding the reassuring general conclusions of the Royal Commission, the Government to act swiftly, wherever possible, concerning the report's recommendations. At the same time, I hope that some way might be found for those whose commercial operations do insidiously harm the marine environment to make a balancing contribution to the environment's wealth.

5.16 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I had the pleasure of listening to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, after which, as the convention is, one said that one hoped he would be heard frequently in this House. I am sure that the speech which he has made this afternoon fully establishes him as a very welcome recruit to those of us who are concerned with the matters we are now debating.

As a member of the Royal Commission during the study of the report which is the main subject of this debate but now as no longer a member of that commission, perhaps it comes appropriately from me to express my appreciation of the work done not only by my colleagues but also by our chairman, Sir Hans Kornberg. Although it is unusual to mention a civil servant by name, I should like to say how grateful all of us who were members of the Royal Commission have been to Mr. Lionel Rutterford, the secretary to the commission. In fact, four of the eight reports produced in the last decade by the Royal Commission on Pollution were very largely his work, in the sense of the drafting, and a great deal of the official work which had to be done in order to produce them was also carried out by him. Without Mr. Rutterford, certainly the reports would have been less acceptable than I hope they have proved.

On a more melancholy note, one of our colleagues, Dr. Alfred Spinks, the chairman of ACARD, has died within the last few weeks, as has Lord Ritchie-Calder, the chairman of the advisory committee on pollution of the sea— and also Ruth Sharpe, one of the founders of that organisation, for whom a memorial service was held a few weeks ago in St. Margarets. They will all be very much missed by those of us who are concerned with these matters.

As the report has 95 recommendations and conclusions, it would be unreasonable to expect the Minister to deal comprehensively with them. However, it would be comforting if after much laborious work, usually for no material reward, members of Royal Commissions could hope for some positive and helpful action within a reasonable time. That indeed would be their best reward. As a member of the Royal Commission for some seven years, I have been struck by the way in which during the preparation of our reports one receives ample assistance from the departments concerned. But after the report has been delivered the dialogue then ceases. All that one sometimes receives is a rather thin white paper from the department, usually on a highly selective basis. Otherwise, if it is a standing Royal Commission, all that happens is that the chairman from time to time writes a plaintive note to the department asking when we are to hear the results of their consideration of our recommendations. With certain reports—I have in mind, for example, the fifth report of the Royal Commission on Pollution which dealt with atmospheric pollution and the relationship of the Alkali Inspectorate to it—one may wait for five or six years for a response. So we have to fall back on Parliamentary occasions such as this, and we are very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for initiating today's debate.

Therefore I hope very much that when he replies the Minister will bear these thoughts in mind. Some of us have given a great deal of time and effort to the preparation of certain of these reports. As I have already said, it can be very disappointing if then one has a most dilatory response from the department concerned. In fact, I have often thought that it would be far more useful to discuss lengthy and technical reports, such as the one we are currently reviewing, in a Committee context rather than on the Floor of this House, but that may be too difficult a constitutional conundrum. Therefore, we must hope on this occasion for a constructive and reasonably comprehensive reply from the Minister to the number of points which have already been raised during this debate.

Clearly, one of the major issues in the report is the recommendation, over which the commission wrestled for many weeks, as to the present division of control in major emergencies—in particular, the division between a sea-based and land-based response. We felt that this division should cease and that the Marine Pollution Control Unit should have increased responsibilities. I hope very much that on this major recommendation at least, the Minister will be able to give us a substantive reply. We would welcome further news about the extension of United Kingdom territorial waters to 12 miles, which has been referred to by a number of speakers. There was a welcome statement made in July, but I hope that the Minister will now be able to bring us up to date.

We would also be glad to know just where the Government now stand on port state jurisdiction. There was a consensus on guidelines recently in Brussels, but I am not quite sure how far that really takes us or what the Government hope to do about it. It is clear to any of us who study these matters that one cannot expect to have adequate control over near shore incidents (and some of them are not accidental at all, and this has been made very clear, but are quite deliberate) unless we have extended territorial waters and some effective port state control. One would also be happy to learn that there may have been some consideration of what might be done about substandard ships. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, gave one illustration which, had it not been serious, would have been ludicrous. I have come armed with another. It is a description contained in the advisory committee's 1980 annual report, which I would recommend to any Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in these matters, because it gives an international oversight of the various incidents which occurred in the year under review.

The "Christos Bitas" foundered off the Welsh coast. It was under charter to one of our most reputable oil firms; one must suppose "sight unseen", because how they could possibly have chartered a ship in this condition boggles the mind. It is quite true that once the incident had occurred, they did everything with great speed and efficiency to try to put matters right. They were, fortunately, aided by the weather and were able to off-load a considerable proportion of the oil. The vessel was Greek registered and the Greek Government did for once undertake an investigation, although the full results were not published—but these are obtainable by other means.

The state of this ship, which was carrying a large cargo of oil, indicated the following defects. First, the ship's main radar—a 19-year old model—was not working. The second radar broke down about five hours before the ship grounded. The radio direction finder had not been adjusted for four years and its margin of error had grown so wide that it was not used. The ship's gyro compass was working, but the repeaters on the bridge were not, and so the man on the bridge could not rely on them. The distance run indicator dial on the bridge was not working. The ship did not carry a Decca Navigator system, but relied instead on another system which was not so accurate in European waters.

Despite this ineffective equipment—and here we come to another point, which is the quality and training of the crew—the ship might well have cleared the rocks were it not for the master's behaviour. Although his radar had broken down and his visibility was restricted by fog, the captain did not order any reduction in speed. He did not sound the appropriate signals to warn other vessels of his presence, not did he post adequate look-outs. Although the ship's echo sounder was working, the master did not make use of it. And so on—I could go on for another paragraph or two.

That man is still free, so far as we know, to sail the oceans of the world, completely unrestricted. The ship was ultimately towed away and sunk in a deep part of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a recent instance of our combined international and national efforts being utterly ineffective to prevent a ship in that state, and subject to no adequate inspection, sailing the seas. And a man obviously unsuited to be in charge of it is still going scot-free without restriction, possibly to repeat the follies, but one hopes not, of that particular incident. If anyone thinks that some of us are given to making undue complaint, that is just one of the incidents which should convince the indifferent that we have something to complain about.

I hope very much that if the Government have been able to consider any way in which this matter of substandard ships can be more effectively dealt with, they will enlighten us. I will not comment on another gap in our navigational aids—the hydrographic survey—because this has been debated in this House on a number of occasions. I hope very much, and possibly the Minister can reply specifically to this, that the Government do not have in mind anything in the nature of what we understand are some of their intentions in regard to Ordnance Surveys. The hydrographic work depends very much for its ultimate effectiveness on inter-governmental co-operation, and I hope there is no intention of a privatisation exercise so far as this is concerned.

Unless we can make progress in these matters, it will remain very difficult to deal with those vessels which ignore their social and legal obligations not to dis-charge oil or oily water which subsequently finds its way ashore. I am very conscious that the Royal Commission was unable to propose a solution to the difficulties which have worried local authorities over a number of years; the problem touched upon by the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, of non-attributable spills, where one cannot identify the sinner and where the "polluter pays" principle cannot be effectively exercised. I recognise that this is a very difficult problem, and although we in the Royal Commission ultimately agreed, as one of our 95 recommendations that we could really find no solution, I will only say that out of 95 recommendations one does not take equal satisfaction in all of them and this was one that I found rather more difficult to accept than most of the others.

I am also very glad that other noble Lords have found as interesting as I have the proposition that some way should be found of obtaining compensation for damage to amenity. I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, with his considerable legal experience, touched on this and suggested ways in which this intractable problem might be solved. I hope that on this occasion at least, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, will be able to deal with the European aspects of this matter. I believe that there has been a considerable amount of work done in Brussels in the past few years on the subject of pollution by hydrocarbons, and that there have been a number of studies, among those mentioned, one of them by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on the provision of a data base of relevant information. I share his satisfaction that they have decided that commercial institutions already have a great deal of the necessary information at their disposal and it would be really foolish to duplicate effort in obtaining it by other means.

There are studies in hand on methods of monitoring, which the Minister might enlighten us on. As I understand it, there is to be a study in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands some time this year. We are also gratified to learn that the Government themselves have been taking action on designating locations in this country for disposal of the oily waste in vast quantities which can be the result of a major spill. There are a number of other points which one could raise, but I hope we shall be receiving from the Minister quite specific answers to the ones already emphasised in this debate.

5.31 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the noble Baroness, Lady White, with her very wide experience in this environmental field, as a member of the Royal Commission on Pollution responsible for the Eighth Report and also of course as chairman of the Select Committee on European Communities. I hope my noble colleague, if I may call her that, will not accuse me of an indiscretion if I reveal that the date of the debate tonight is a sign of a slight weakening of her negotiating powers, but your Lordships will agree that it is an honour to have her present on St. David's Day and hope that she manages to get away to join in whatever festivities there are for the Welsh tribes this evening.

It has also been a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, whose own expertise in the field is unmatched, and whose treatment of the topic was illuminating in the extreme. I join my congratulations to the Royal Commission for an extremely important report. I speak personally from my strong concern for biological conservation and also, to some extent, in my capacity as chairman of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on European Communities responsible for the two additional reports that are the subject of tonight's debate.

As a biologist, I was surprised when I read the Eighth Report to realise what a very large proportion of marine oil pollution was land derived. According to the global figures published in the report, only 40 per cent. by weight of the polluting oil derives from seaborne sources. When I look at Table 2.2 in the report, I find that in United Kingdom waters of the annual input of petroleum hydrocarbons to the sea of some 50,000 to 56,000 tonnes, some 31,000 to 41,000 tonnes, which is 62 to 73 per cent., derive from land-based sources. If we add those deriving from atmospheric sources, 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes, this leaves only 11,000 tonnes, or 20 per cent. by weight, attributable to accidental and non-accidental discharges in the sea where United Kingdom waters are concerned.

The report of the Royal Commission points out that there have been progressive reductions in oil pollution from land-based sources which are commendable. The figures appear to give hope for an ultimate reduction of pollution from these sources—that is, chronic pollution from land-derived sources—to tolerable environmental levels. This reduction will be possible only with the introduction of Part II of the Control of Pollution Act, and I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the fact that this is now to be brought into effect. We must recognise the problems of aged installations which are discussed in paragraph 5.11 of the report. I personally as a conservationist hope the water authorities will nonetheless act with progressive firmness to ensure that this source of marine oil pollution gradually withers away to acceptable levels.

Although this figure of something between 60 and 70 per cent. of the marine oil pollution derives from the land, as other noble Lords have pointed out, the residual 20 per cent. of the total annual tonnage of oil pollution that originates from marine sources can cause very serious damage to wildlife and amenity. The Royal Commission report, not unfairly, stresses the localised nature of this damage on shore. The report also summarises evidence, of interest to biologists, showing that the wildlife, by which I mean living marine organisms, plant and animal, can recover within a comparatively short time varying from a couple of years to 10 years. On the other hand, the original communities of wild plants and creatures may not be restored in their full complement. The Royal Commission makes comparison in this case with spontaneous population fluctuations which occur as a result of natural environmental events. This is dealt with in paragraphs 3.75 to 3.80. I hope this argument will not lead to complacency. If it does it is a dangerous argument. It is an argument that is clearly applicable to any kind of local pollution accident; anyone can say it merely parallels natural disasters, such as volcano or tidal wave and so on. But I do not believe this argument can be built on constructively in conservation terms. All environments, except the most chronically polluted, show some capacity to recover after a crisis.

I would tend to turn this argument around. I would like to record my opinion that populations of organisms which are known to be susceptible to large natural perturbations in numbers must be regarded as especially vulnerable to the added risk of pollution accidents. In the environment of these creatures pollution is an extra imponderable in a delicate balance. This argument must be applied to many of the more susceptible kinds of marine wildlife, and in particular to birds, notably the auks.

From this standpoint, I especially welcome the recommendations of the Royal Commission's report for consultation with relevant conservation bodies in an attempt to designate areas where on environmental grounds oil exploration and development should be excluded. One must be realistic and perhaps admit that the possibilities of achieving such agreement may be slim, but I would like to ask my noble friend whether he can assure me that the Government would be prepared to go into discussions with an open mind.

I also welcome the suggestion that formalised and thorough environmental impact assessments should be prepared by operators or marine oil extraction. 1 would not follow the Commission in limiting the sites which are to be subject to such assessment to those which are within 50 kilometres of the shore. More and more nowadays is known about the circulation of waters in the North Sea and the North-West Atlantic, and the movements of the pelagic marine creatures that live in them. It is clear that no part of those seas can be treated as a self-contained area. In the ultimate view, all are one ocean. Environmental impact assessments should cover all potentially polluting operations whatever their actual distance from a coastline.

I am not a lawyer, but I recognise clearly that the distance from the coastline does affect the legal standing in many cases. In particular it affects the jurisdictive capacity of the local authorities as development controllers and planners. It is, therefore, appropriate—and in this respect 1 firmly agree with the Royal Commission report—that national bodies rather than local bodies should adjudicate on marine environmentaly issues. From the Government side that would naturally be the Nature Conservancy Council. However, 1 note with interest that the Royal Commission report also recommends that there should be consultation with non-Governmental organisations. As regards the structure of our non-governmental conservation organisations it is a fact that, on the voluntary side in this country, a great deal of regionalism exists. The strongest bodies tend to be the county naturalist trusts. Therefore, some form of co-ordination between them is necessary in order to ensure that their voice is properly heard. I believe that involvement in the problems of marine environment requires a national liaison body of some kind. I should have thought that the Royal Society for Nature Conservation could perhaps play that role. I hope that the Nature Conservancy Council will make attempts to identify and to encourage an appropriate liaison committee in which certainly all the coastal counties, and probably all the county naturalist trusts, would wish to be involved.

One other point of particular concern that I wish to raise is the effect of dispersants of oil on marine life. They are dealt with in paragraphs 9.16 to 9.24 of the report. These dispersants themselves are, as the report recognises, pollutants. They can be as poisonous to sensitive aquatic organisms as the oil itself. As has been recognised by noble Lords who have spoken before me this evening, there can be a danger of overenthusiastic application of remedial measures including the application of dispersants in cleansing operations which are aimed at only superficial effects. There is strong pressure, for instance, from tourist industries to clean up the beaches visibly and superficially. This may not be the best long-term action and may not be wholly beneficial for the living organisms in the coastal regions.

The Royal Commission is satisfied that the testing requirements for dispersants are adequate, but I believe that vigilance is needed and I would back the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, in urging that research in this, as in other fields, should be pursued.

As a non-lawyer, I am a little worried when I hear the term "compensation" bandied about. I recognise fully that there must be some mechanism for defrayment of the financial costs involved, for instance, in cleaning up by local authorities. But I wish to utter a warning that this financial compensation may be totally inadequate to restore the living resources of the environment after an oil spill accident. As regards cleaning up the Royal Commission notes in paragraphs 10.26 to 10.29: that there arc varied "arbitrary and capricious" local authority holdings of clean-up resources.

I understand that there have been recent developments at the Department of the Environment—to which my noble friend on the Front Bench will perhaps be referring—which may lead to greater co-ordination and to improvements in the holdings of resources for the cleansing of beaches. Central Government clearly have a role to play in this respect. In response to the Community document COM(80)361 our question was: What role precisely should the European Community play in attempting to solve the many problems that arise from oil pollution? One of the features of the Royal Commission report is the listing of the plethora of international treaties, conventions, agreements and so on that already exist. Is it really necessary that the European Community should apply yet another tier? Personally, I think that it is, and I speak for your Lordships' Select Committee who arc firmly convinced that the capacity of the European Community to legislate effectively in these fields gives an added dimension and added strength to the Community environment and, on the whole, it should be welcomed.

Our 31st Report replies to a Commission document which envisages a strong role for the Community, a role particularly in providing a central co-ordinating point. The Community intends to provide a permanent inventory of staff, equipment and products for combating hydrocarbon pollution of the sea, and an up-to-date compendium of national regional contingency plans. Secondly, the Commission also envisages that there will be a centralised compendium of hydrocarbon properties; and thirdly, that there will be a centralised oil tanker file containing information on the identity of tankers, their owners, their operators, structural features and so on. So the Commission in the document which your Lordships' Select Committee examined envisages a three-pronged approach to the problem.

I understand that the Council of Environment Ministers on 3rd December 1981 adopted a decision which will effectively establish the first two—that is, an information system which will enable the Commission to collect information on the means of combating oil pollution and on national and regional contingency plans; and also on the properties and the behaviour of hydrocarbon oils under various conditions. I understand—perhaps my noble friend will be able to make a fuller statement about this—that the third prong, the proposal for the information file on oil tankers, is being treated separately. I also understand that an essential element of this agreement is that the Commission will report to the Council and to the European Parliament on the operation of the system at two-yearly intervals. Your Lordships' Select Committee were worried that the Commission would, in this field, be duplicating the activities of existing organisations and thereby, at unnecessary expense, be doing work that others were already doing.

It was the feeling of your Lordships' Select Committee that Community action would be sufficient if it were to ensure that member states all had adequate plans for dealing with pollution. There was a strong feeling among members of the committee, which echoes the words of the report of the Royal Commission, that information dealing with oil spills is most useful if it is held locally and available locally at disperse stations, where there is a recognised danger of oil spills, rather than at a central facility which—as 1 think the noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned just now—on an off day might find itself closed in Brussels. The committee certainly believed that the effectiveness of any system set up by the European Community should be tested, and I think that the committee would welcome the proposal that there should be regular monitoring and retrospection every two years.

The 30th Report dealt with an action plan for the Mediterranean. Apart from the fact that this broadly concerns the topic of pollution, including oil pollution, the link with this afternoon's debate is admittedly somewhat tenuous. Nonetheless, this is a point on which your Lordships' Select Committee have strong feelings. The explanatory memorandum, which was received by the Select Committee, appeared to oppose the Commission's proposals from principle rather than on a pragmatic basis. Members of your Lordships' Select Committee felt that the subject of the environmental protection of the Mediterranean was a matter of concern to all member states of the Community and not merely to those which have a Mediterranean coastline. Indeed, as I said earlier, in the end all seas are one. Your Lordships' Committee saw a danger in building up a North-South polarisation within the Community, which would surely be objectionable. Your Lordships' Committee felt that the Mediterranean is a natural area of interest for the European Community and that the European Community should support the less prosperous nations of the Mediterranean region in their endeavours to control the growing pollution of this important, more or less land-locked, sea.

What was asked was an increase in contribution to the action plan for the Mediterranean from the European Community, an increase that would raise it from a comparatively token level to a substantial level of some 27 per cent. of the total budget. The reason for this increase being necessary is the withdrawal of the UNEP from support of this programme. The UNEP had announced, in its original involvement, that it would ultimately be withdrawing from this programme in the hope that the action plan would subsequently be self-sustaining. It seemed to Members of your Lordships' Committee natural that the European Community should play a significant part in this area of its interest, should support the action plan financially and, in supporting it financially, should thereby gain a powerful voice in the management of that action plan, ensuring that the spending is properly directed and that the objectives are worthwhile.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne will be able to make some sort of statement clarifying the position of Her Majesty's Government on this issue. I understand that, in fact, the sum has been voted by the European Parliament and that the item now stands in full in the European budget. I have tried to pull together comments on three particular reports and, in due course, I look forward to hearing the reply, from my noble friend on the Front Bench.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Soames

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for many minutes. Indeed, as someone who is rather naive on these matters compared with the great knowledge possessed by many who have taken part in this Royal Commission and who have contributed to this debate, there is just one point that I wish to make. Immediately, I must express an interest, inasmuch as I am a ratepayer in the county of Hampshire, along whose shoreline pass many ships from many nations. The point arises as to who should pay for what. As I see it, I think that prophylactic measures to prevent pollution along coastlines are a very proper form of expenditure for a local authority. That is the first point that I would make.

Secondly, of course, we must look for the fullest possible international agreement on anti-pollution disciplines. Then comes the question, what should he demanded and expected of a local authority in the event of these disciplines not being maintained?—of, say, a ship discharging her oil, emptying her bilges, in home waters, and then sailing on with no one knowing the cause of the pollution. If I am not mistaken, I think that the Royal Commission seemed to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, who should pay for pollution brought about by a single incident, where the origin of that pollution was known, and who should pay for a small oil slick which, perchance, happens through wind and tide to land up on particular beaches or a particular part of the coastline. As I understand it, that becomes the responsibility of the local authority. This seems to me to be rather hard on the ratepayer, and I wonder whether it is fair and proper that such a responsibility should rest upon the ratepayers.

This leads one inexorably to the question, if it is not the ratepayer, who should pay? I believe that the Royal Commission gave consideration to whether some national fund should be set up which could be treated like an insurance fund, where insurance assessors would go down and view the damage caused, and agreement could be reached with them as to how much could be drawn on the fund in order to repair the damage caused by the pollution. That is one way in which one could envisage a solution—a national fund. Of course, better still, there could be a fund in the European Community covering all the shores of the Community. However, having had some experience of these matters, having lived and worked for four years in the Commission in Brussels, I should not like to put too much money on that being agreed too soon by 10 nations.

Therefore, I would suggest to Her Majesty's Government and in particular to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, who is to reply, that steps be taken to set up some form of national fund which could be drawn upon, in agreement between the local authority concerned and whoever is responsible for the fund—which would presumably be the Department of the Environment—in the event of unforseen pollution from goodness knows where. There is too much pollution around not to have this sort of safeguard.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, owing to an error in the channels of communication, I am afraid that my name did not go on the list of speakers, although, in fact, I had been intending to speak for some time. Therefore, I beg your Lordships' pardon for that error; I do not think that it was anyone's fault in particular. However, I am grateful for an opportunity to speak in this debate on behalf of my party. I am grateful to the Royal Commission, its chairman and its members, and I am grateful to the committee of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. Above all, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for having initiated the debate.

The function of the Royal Commission has been to give us the whole background to the problem and also to make a number of recommendations, with almost all of which I certainly agree and I hope that the Government will be able to put them into operation. We were very reassured to read what they had to say about the long-term ecological effects of oil pollution in the sea, but I was not really surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, uttering some words of caution on this matter. He of course is an expert, and I have no specialist knowledge whatsoever, but it seemed to me that there was a slight blandness in some of the references to the damage that might be done. In these matters it is certainly a good thing to take more precautions rather than less.

There are just two areas where it seems to me that it is worthwhile my inserting a slight political input from these Benches into what is proposed, in the hope that the Government will take them aboard and pay some attention to them. On the whole, and particularly on the first one, I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos. His speech was a valuable input into the course of this debate, and one reason why my speech will be much shorter than it might otherwise have been.

There are two places in the recommendations of the Royal Commission where they discuss the possibility of setting up funds to deal with pollution, or to deal with some of the costs of pollution, and come down in thinking that to set up such a fund would not be justified in practice. One is Recommendation No. 17, where they say: A scheme to recover the overhead costs of clean-up arrangements from tanker owners or the oil industry, while attractive in principle, would not be justified in practice". The other one is Recommendation No. 20, where they say: The establishment of a fund to meet local costs for dealing with unattributable spills, while attractive in principle, would not be justified in practice". I suspect that those are two recommendations which should be looked at again. Certainly if there was any doubt as to whether such funds should be set up, I think the balance of decision should go on the side of setting them up. The "polluter pays" principle is one which we have accepted very largely in this country and in the European Community, and it is an important and valuable one to continue to uphold.

There are also the problems that there are always more costs and more problems arising from incidents such as we have been discussing than actually end up in the final bill. I think there would be no hardship, and there would be no injustice done, if we were to try to see that the industry as a whole—some of whose practices we have heard really terrible examples of tonight, although I know that the enormous majority of operators are responsible—was made to foot the bill, and preferably to set up the funds which would deal with it. We are often being told that we should allow industries to run and to police their own operations. The setting up of such funds is a good way of ensuring that they do.

Another recommendation made by the Royal Commission where in this case I would probably agree with them, but where I want to come down on the same principle, is when they talk in Recommendation 63 about control in port areas and talk about the vigour with which the port authority is prepared to prosecute offenders. I know how difficult it is in some of these cases to find and bring to book offenders, but I think that that recommendation should run the whole way through our treatment of this report. Where there really are these cowboys, they should be corralled.

That was one of the two matters 1 wanted to comment on. The second was in dealing with the reports of the sub-committee, both of which by their nature deal with the European dimension. Again from these Benches I would say that if we have a choice as to whether matters should be dealt with nationally or by the Community, we would have a slight preference for seeing that the Community at any rate was fully considered. This is particularly so in this field where not all members of the Community are as responsible as we are.

One of the horror stories we heard this evening was of a Greek ship, and, with Greece in the Community, there are obviously nations which are weaker as well as others which are stronger in their attitude to these matters. I should like to see the European dimension brought in as much as possible. In some cases it is not a question of either or, it is a question of both, and I could not quite follow some of the arguments that were going on about whether the information should be kept in data banks in the Community or locally.

In these days one of the things we are progressing with extremely fast is the quick transfer of information. On the question of the duplication of data banks, I see absolutely no reason, and I should not have thought that there was any reason, why the data banks should not be kept both at Brussels and locally. This would be an advantage. If, as someone suggested, there is a problem in case someone at Brussels, or wherever it is, should close down over the weekend when the data bank is not available, the more places in which this information is available the better.

Those were the two points I wanted to make: that we should try to be as tough as possible in trying to see that these incidents do not happen, but also try to bring home to the offenders the results if they do happen, and that we must emphasise the European dimension. Lastly, T should like to ask the Minister one question about the signing of the convention on the civil liabilities from oil pollution damage from offshore installations. As I understand it, the Government have not yet signed this nor have any Governments done so, and I would hope that that is something which could be done as soon as possible.

We cannot be too careful in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, quoted some very apposite verses of Coleridge who, as he said, quite clearly must have seen a major oil disaster before writing The Ancient Mariner. But the problems of dealing with these disasters were probably better noticed by Lewis Carroll.

"'If seven maids with seven mops Swept it for half a year, Do you suppose,' the Walrus said, 'That they could get it clear? 'I doubt it,' said the Carpenter, And shed a bitter tear".

6.10 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for enabling us to consider once more the serious and important topic of oil pollution of the sea. It is a subject to which your Lordships have turned your attention on several occasions in recent years, but the documents which are the subject of today's debate provide us with a welcome opportunity to review the position across a broad front. Before commenting on the main issues raised by the documents and responding to points made in the debate, I wish to add my tribute to that of the noble Baroness, Lady White, to the late Lord Ritchie-Calder, whose death has deprived us of an eminent, authoritative and expert spokesman on a great range of issues. Knowing his keen interest in these matters, I feel especially sad that he has been denied the opportunity to participate today.

The task have of responding to the debate is not an easy one. First, the scope of the subject matter is extensive; secondly, the fact that we have three documents of a rather different nature before the House, although all related to the theme of oil pollution, presents some difficulty; and thirdly, although an early debate on the report of the Royal Commission is valuable—and I assure your Lordships that I have taken careful note of the comments and suggestions—the Government are still at the stage of formulating their views on many of the detailed proposals in this major document. I shall be as comprehensive as possible, but I must be selective for fear of detaining your Lordships far into the night. I propose to deal with each of the documents in turn, responding to as many of the points raised as I can, and if I do not succeed in covering everything, perhaps I may be allowed to write to the noble Lords concerned. In any event, I doubt whether this will be the last occasion on which the House considers this topic.

Before embarking on the body of my remarks, I wish to deal with a matter which was raised by a number of noble Lords; namely, the suggestion that national or possibly EEC funds should be made available to help local authorities to deal with particular pieces of coastline affected by serious oil pollution, especially where the polluter could not be traced. Unattributable spills are almost always small in scale and pose relatively few problems. United Kingdom local authorities spend a total of only £100,000 or so per annum dealing with them, and the Royal Commission has in effect recommended against special funding to deal with them.

Although local authority associations have argued in a similar vein to noble Lords, I should be very surprised if local authorities could not cope from their own resources, with the help of the special, though small, allowance which is in any case made in the rate support grant settlement for coastal authorities, including, I imagine, Hampshire, which particularly concerned my noble friend Lord Soames. Otherwise they may like to consider taking out private insurance. The premiums should not be large in relation to the relatively small costs involved and the extent of the risk. Major spills are of course another matter; the polluter should always be traceable and then of course can be called upon to pay.

Incidentally, I would mention that while I was at the Department of Trade, up to September of last year, I spent a good deal of time thinking about how we could track down the rogues in these matters, and a good deal of research is being done into detecting tankers which pump their bilges out as they sail past my noble friend's property, for instance, so they can be subsequently apprehended and prosecuted. Quite a lot of progress has been made in that area.

I will now deal in sequence with the documents we are considering; first, the Select Committee report entitled Action Plan for the Mediterranean. We in the United Kingdom have fully supported the efforts of the United Nations Environment Programme Secretariat in planning the Regional Seas Programme. Both this and previous Administrations have regarded it as an excellent example of that organisation's catalytic role. Provision to assist and encourage a group of nations to come together to develop plans of mutual interest strikes us as an excellent and appropriate use of what is called the UNEP Fund. The Mediterranean action plan is the first plan prepared under the programme. In the few years of its existence it has been very successful. From the technical and environmental point of view, it illustrates the merits of a regional approach. It also has great political merit; I wonder where else representatives of states of such diverse interest as Israel and Libya have sat down together? I understand that only Albania does not participate. Indeed, as many of your Lordships will know, the Albanians do not care to participate in any international meetings. I am told, however—and here I digress—that at certain meetings a place is always assigned to them. At one such event in recent years, a murmur of interest went round when someone was seen to take their place. Apparently it was merely a novice delegate from another country who was lost and needed a rest.

The period of UNEP's financial support for the action plan has come to an end, and Her Majesty's Government do not support the proposal that the European Community should help to bridge the gap. But there is no anomaly. UNEP funds are provided on the understanding that participant countries will take on the burden after the first few years. In this case, the only Community countries involved are France, Italy and Greece. For the EEC as such to contribute to this plan could set a precedent for Community contributions where this would be even less appropriate. Moreover, a Community contribution would not increase the total sum of money available for such plans. It would simply reduce the participating states' liability, including the liability of states which are not Com- munity members—hardly an appropriate use of Community funds. Finally, there is the consideration that in pursuit of our overall aim of a rationalisation of the Community budget, we and our Community colleagues are scrutinising every proposal for new expenditure with great care. Of course, I appreciate that the Mediterranean is dear to the hearts of many north as well as south Europeans, but the primary responsibility for safeguarding its future must surely lie with the Mediterranean nations themselves.

I now turn to the Select Committee's report, Marine Pollution. This deals with one of two proposals submitted by the Commission of the European Communities to the Council in response to the declarations made by the European Council in 1978 following the grounding of the "Amoco Cadiz" in March of that year. It will be noted from the report that the two proposals have already been discussed in another place, in a debate on shipping standards and prevention of oil pollution last May. While not wishing to go into the particular details on the individual proposals, the House may wish to be aware of the developments which have taken place since that debate and since the publication of the Select Committee's report.

First, the Council of European Environment Ministers has now approved a decision establishing what is called the Community Information System for the Control and Reduction of Pollution caused by Hydrocarbons Discharged at Sea. This Council decision will enable the Commission to collect and make available to the competent authorities in the member states information on the means of combating such pollution, on national and regional contingency plans, and on the properties and behaviour of oils under certain conditions. Member states will forward to the Commission the information in question before the end of this year and subsequently every January. The preparation of the first United Kingdom contribution is now in hand.

Your Lordships will note that the decision does not provide for the so-called "oil tanker file", which formed the final element of the Commission's original proposal and which would have set out specific information about tankers likely to call at Community ports, including details of age, tonnage, ownership, physical characteristics and certification. The main problem is that the file would have duplicated to a large extent proposals for an information system forming part of another Commission initiative in this field—a draft directive on the enforcement, in respect of shipping using Community ports, of international standards for shipping safety and pollution prevention. This draft directive was submitted by the Commission to the Council in July 1980, but its consideration was overtaken by the major initiative taken by the French Government in 1980 in convening a meeting in Paris of the Ministers responsible for maritime safety in 13 countries of Western Europe for the purpose of devising concrete proposals for improving the safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

As a result of that first meeting, in which the EEC Commission participated, proposals were drawn up for a harmonised and co-ordinated system for the inspection of foreign ships calling at European ports, for the purpose of detecting those which failed to meet the standards laid down in international con- ventions, securing the rectification of deficiencies and discouraging the operation of such vessels. These proposals were adopted at the second ministerial conference held in Paris on 26th January 1982, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, which will come into effect on 1st July 1982. It was my honourable friend Mr. Sproat, the present Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade, who attended that meeting on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

The House will note that the countries which have signed the memorandum include the nine Community maritime member states, plus Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Commission also played an active part in the conference and will be represented on the committee which is to be set up to monitor the operation of the new scheme.

As part of these arrangements it is envisaged that an information system will be established to exchange the results of inspections. An interim scheme is already being devised, based upon a computer operated by the French Ministry of the Sea. But studies are also in hand to develop a more permanent and convenient arrangement, which may form the basis of an information network operating between all the European maritime Administrations.

In approving the new scheme, the Government have made it clear that they will be ready to implement the new inspection system immediately, and in full, from the date of operation; and that they expect to achieve in 1982 a volume of inspections very close to the total prescribed for the United Kingdom by the memorandum, even though formally that is not required until the end of an initial 3-year period. They have also made clear their support for the development of an efficient computerised information system as soon as possible. We consider that the new arrangements together with the measures taken by the Community in the fight against maritime oil pollution will make a significant contribution to the safety of life at sea and to the continuing efforts to prevent pollution of the seas around the coasts of Europe.

1 now turn to the document which has provided the main stimulus for this evening's debate, the eighth report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on oil pollution of the sea. This was published last October and has rightly attracted much public attention. 1 should like at the outset to join my noble friend and other noble Lords in paying tribute to the members of the Royal Commission and their supporting staff for the evident thoroughness of their work. The report is an impressive and authoritative analysis of the problem and as such has won not only praise here, but admiration in other countries, too. I would certainly like to think that its impact will be widely felt, since much of what the Commission says is of general application.

A report of this size and complexity requires time for study and reflection, and I know that the House would not expect me at this stage to set out the Government's considered views on it. Some noble Lords have asked that I should do that this evening, but I regret that I shall not be able to oblige them. The process of consultation which we set in hand immediately following the report's publication in October is only now being completed, and many of the recommendations in the report propose changes in resources and organisation which will take time to evaluate and agree. But I undertake that the Government's response will be formulated and published as quickly as possible.

Although this evening I can give no more than a preliminary reaction, the report highlights a number of important aspects of marine pollution. I should like to offer some general observations and to take the opportunity to outline briefly what the Government have already done, or are doing, to tackle the problem. I want to give due prominence to the latter—what we are doing—because it is too frequently assumed that the Government, the oil industry and the shipowners are indifferent to marine pollution and are unwilling to take action. The Royal Commission report is itself evidence that that is not so. What the Commission is concerned about—and rightly—is how all the parties involved can do more to control and reduce the nuisance of pollution and to eliminate its repugnant effects.

One great service which the Royal Commission has performed is to place the seriousness of the problem in its proper perspective. Its analysis, backed by expert evidence, is clearly set out in Chapters II and III, and I trust that these findings will be given as full and careful attention as the rest of the report. It would not be profitable to repeat all that the Commission has to say on the subject, but there are two points which are worth mentioning on this occasion because of the way in which they help to define the nature and character of the response which is required. The points are as follows.

First, operational discharges from ships, which apart from accidental spillages, represent perhaps the worst instances of marine pollution, have been greatly reduced in recent years through the adoption of environmentally acceptable techniques, such as "load on top", crude oil washing, and the use of segregated ballast tanks. Secondly, there is the fact that oil pollution from ships or other sources does not constitute an overwhelming or permanent threat to the marine environment or to man.

I should not wish to be misunderstood on that. I am not making a case for complacently accepting the present state of affairs. Too many vessels continue to discharge carelessly and often illegally, The local effects of oil spillages are, of course, very serious. I find it as unacceptable as do your Lordships that large numbers of sea birds should be killed, especially in winter, by the thoughtless or callous actions of ships' masters, and I have great sympathy for those local authorities which are confronted with the problem of cleaning the coastline. The Government accept the need for further action. But there is still reassurance to be drawn from the fact that we are dealing with a problem, not a crisis. It is a problem which the Government believe can be reduced to manageable and acceptable proportions by a combination of international co-operation and domestic measures. This is very much in line with the Royal Commission's own thinking.

I should like to illustrate the direction of the Government's approach, linking it where appropriate to the conclusions of the Royal Commission, under a number of broad headings. First, there is international action We are glad that the Royal Commission recognised the important contribution made by international organisations, especially IMCO, through the formulation and negotiation of international agreements on the prevention of pollution and on the maintenance of safety standards. Her Majesty's Government have played a full and leading part in this work, and we are doing all that we can to ensure that the latest pollution convention, MARPOL 73/78, comes into force as soon as possible. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, raised that matter. Among other things, the convention lays down new and more rigorous technical requirements, extends the powers of port states to enforce standards and requirements, and expands reporting and documentation procedures. In the expectation that the level of international ratification required will soon be achieved, the Department of Trade is already drafting regulations to ensure that this country is ready to apply the new requirements and standards from the very first day of operation.

Secondly, there is the question of application of standards. I have referred to the progress which has been achieved in Western Europe in evolving a new, harmonised scheme of port state control. In this way a basis has been laid for more effective regional co-operation to tackle the problem of the substandard ship, whatever flag it may fly. The concerted efforts of the Western European states should not only prove a severe discouragement to the unscrupulous and irresponsible owner, but will give other flag states an incentive to ratify and apply the conventions.

Thirdly, there is the competence of crews. Many marine casualties are attributable to the human factor, and there is general recognition of the need to concentrate accident and pollution prevention on the human element and to secure high standards of training and competence. As the Royal Commission noted in its report, the IMCO convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping lays down special requirements for the training and qualification of tanker crews. The United Kingdom has ratified that convention, and regulations implementing its requirements are in force, or in the course of preparation.

Fourthly, there is safety of navigation. We have taken careful note of the proposals made by the Royal Commission which relate to the safety of navigation, and we are giving them urgent attention. I would just mention in this connection that in December we implemented an EEC Directive on deep sea pilotage. We are taking a most active part, together with the other members, in the work of the North Sea Pilotage Commission. The Government arc fully aware of the need to bring charts of United Kingdom waters up to the highest standards of accuracy that modern hydro-graphic techniques have made possible. A number of noble Lords have raised this point. This is particularly important in those hitherto quiet sea areas which are now heavily used by tanker traffic from Sullom Voe, especially west of the Outer Hebrides and in the Minches. This work is going ahead well, and should be completed at the end of next year. I had ministerial responsibility for civil hydrography, and I fully appreciate its high importance. As always, there are difficult problems because of limited resources, but I can assure your Lordships that the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade are working in the closest cooperation.

The fifth important aspect now is jurisdiction. The Government agree with the Royal Commission that if polluters are to be deterred it is important to ensure that, where possible, we are able to take action ourselves under our own anti-pollution legislation. As many noble Lords have mentioned, the Government have set in train the necessary preparations for legislation to extend our territorial limits from three to 12 miles, and we hope that it will be possible to introduce legislation in the context of the results emerging from the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference.

On the question of detection and prosecution, which has been raised by a number of noble Lords, together with the extension of our territorial jurisdiction the Government would like to see an improvement in the detection and prosecution of offenders. There is, I would stress, no lack of will on the part of either the department or the harbour authorities to bring offenders to book; but there are many problems in detecting offences, securing evidence and bringing successful prosecutions. r referred earlier to the question of increased detection.

The Government have noted what the Royal Commission have had to say on this subject, and two particular aspects will be actively considered. The first is the possibility of using the most modern techniques of aerial surveillance, including the practicability of employing advanced equipment such as infra-red line scanning and side-looking airborne radar. Secondly, we shall also look seriously at ways of overcoming the problem of prosecuting foreign owners in United Kingdom courts. This is a difficult area, as recognised by the Royal Commission. We are also conscious that your Lordships would be the last to suggest that we should adopt arbitrary procedures which would be at variance with our normal standards of justice, but we shall be examining the possibilities very carefully.

On the question of compensation, the Government attach great importance to the question of compensation to victims for damage suffered as a result of spills of oil at sea. it is clearly right that the arrangements for providing compensation should be speedy and effective, and that they should reflect clean-up costs running into many millions of pounds that can arise following a major tanker spill. It is for these reasons that the United Kingdom has been participating actively and constructively in the negotiations now in progress under the auspices of IMCO to renegotiate the two international conventions relevant in this field and to bring into effect, as soon as possible, improvements in both their levels of compensation and scope of coverage.

My Lords, I come now to the organisation of cleanup operations, referred to by more than one noble Lord this evening. The Royal Commission have paid substantial attention to the way in which counter-pollution operations are organised within central and local government, and I will not attempt to rehearse everything they have suggested. Suffice it to say that they express broad satisfaction with the arrangements for operations at sea under the direction of the department's Marine Pollution Control Unit, but express concern about the absence of a similar structure for clean-up operations on shore. Indeed, they go further and propose a single responsibility exercised by the MPCU for all clean-up operations, with, on the one hand, statutory powers of direction over local authorities and, on the other hand, central Government meeting all the exceptional costs of the incident.

My Lords, such a brief summary illustrates how fundamental are the questions raised by the Royal Commission's recommendations. They go beyond the immediate questions of how best to organise counter-pollution operations—and these are difficult enough. They reach into the whole area of relationships between central and local government, local autonomy and so on. I make no excuse for saying that these issues, in particular, demand very careful consideration in the light of a whole range of factors, including what has been said in this House today. I hope I may be forgiven if I do not hazard an opinion at this stage on when or what Government conclusions are likely to emerge.

My Lords, may I deal finally with one or two of the specific points which have been raised and which I do not think I have covered so far. First, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred to the question of sheltered havens. Although the Secretary of State for Trade has powers to direct ships to sheltered havens, his legal powers vis-á-vis harbour authorities are less clear-cut. This issue is being considered interdepartmentally within the Government, and so is the question of guaranteed compensation for damages arising from the use of an area as a sheltered haven, although this, too, is not without its difficulties; but it certainly forms part of the overall consideration of the Royal Commission's report, to which I have referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, again, the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, and I think at least one other noble Lord asked about general damage arising from environmental losses, particularly in the context of No. 19 of the Royal Commission's conclusions. The question of the scope of damages following an oil spill is a matter on which the Government are still consulting with the interests concerned. Under the present arrangements the concept of compensatable damage is not defined; it is left to the courts of the countries suffering pollution to interpret them. In most countries the concept of damages has been the subject of some development over the years, and no doubt it will continue to evolve in the future. Although existing international compensation schemes will allow for this, the present indications are that the international community is not receptive to any significant extension of the scope of compensatable damage at present. Even so, we must clearly re-examine the possibilities, maybe through an expert group, as the Royal Commission suggests.

The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and my noble friend Lord Cranbrook mentioned the question of pollution from land-based sources. The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, rightly drew attention to the extent to which there is coastal pollution from land-based sources, and he was inquiring whether the water authorities are being encouraged to tackle the serious problems involved, perhaps with special assistance from the Government; and my noble friend Lord Cranbrook mentioned the same subject from a slightly different viewpoint. My Lords, the progressive implementation of Part II of the Control of Pollution Act which was announced by my noble friend Lord Avon on 15th February will be a great help in this context. It will extend the powers available to water authorities for the control of discharges both to estuaries and direct to coastal waters, and I am sure that we can look to a general improvement over time, not least in relation to Merseyside, which was particularly in the mind of the noble Lord. The Government will do what they can to assist the water authorities with this work, though, as I have said so often from this Box, I fear public funds are limited and the work will doubtless have to be phased.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Cranbrook referred to the question of resources specifically for beach cleaning. Local authorities themselves decide what clean-up resources to hold, taking account of many factors, including the degree of risk to their coastline and the nature and extent of that coastline. It is therefore not surprising that the level of local provision varies around the coast. The equipment held by the Department of the Environment provides a back-up to these local resources, but the Government have standing arrangements with the oil companies and, indeed, other Governments to supplement local authority and DoE resources in case of need; for example, when there is a major catastrophe.

My Lords, may I say again, in conclusion, how much I have valued this debate. The points made by your Lordships have been noted and will certainly be studied, and they will be taken carefully into account in the Government's consideration and formulation of their response. Although, as I have said, I cannot at this stage give a date when that response will be forthcoming, I will end, if I may, by repeating the undertaking which I gave earlier, that it is our firm intention that it should be as soon as possible.

6.39 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. They have raised matters which I could not because I could deal only with some of the main subjects in these reports. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for example, for speaking on questions of compensation. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, and my noble friend Lord Soames spoke about unattributable spills, and also, in the case of Lord Soames, the possibility of a European scheme and fund to provide compensation. Although the Royal Commission did not come out in favour of that, I believe that we can consider these matters in future now that we seem to be winning the battle against deliberate operational discharges from tankers at sea. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Trefgarne confirm that there has been a great reduction in those.

As the noble Baroness, Lady White, informed us one of the matters with which the Royal Commission has wrestled for long periods was that of the allocation of responsibility among Government departments and local authorities, particularly when dealing with emergencies and major incidents. That does not surprise me at all and I am sure it does not surprise other noble Lords, because it is an exceeding complex but very important issue. I can do no more than draw attention to the importance of settling that matter. I draw attention to the need for preparations being so clearly made that public confidence will be widely won, so that in future decisions will be taken quickly and they will be correct decisions and the Government and local authorities will not go out and do something just because they feel that they have to be seen to be doing something, very often the wrong thing.

I am grateful particularly to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. He told us as much as he was able to tell us today. The report, a very voluminous one with many comments and recommendations, was published only in October. He recognised clearly that action is required, for example, on the recommendation concerning the speeding up of the hydrographical survey and also the extension of the territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles.

I hope that on these matters, and also on our recommendations and comments of the Royal Commission, my noble friend will pursue within the Government the points that we have raised in your Lordships' House today.

On Question, Motion agreed to.