HL Deb 12 December 1985 vol 469 cc409-10

7.18 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 6th November be approved. [2nd Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Protection of the marine environment from pollution by oil from ships is considered by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organisation. At its 20th session held on 7th September 1985 amendments were adopted by Resolution MEPC 14(20) to annex 1 of the protocol of 1978, relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 (known as Marpol 73/78). The amendments come into force on 7th January 1986 and the order will enable changes to be made to the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) Regulations 1983, which gave effect to annex 1 of Marpol 73/78.

It is the desire of parties to the Marpol 73/78 Convention to aim for the complete elimination of intentional pollution of the marine environment by oil and the minimisation of accidental discharge. These amendments are yet a further step in realising those objectives. In general, the amendments make provision for improvements in ship construction, pollution prevention equipment and operational procedures. The United Kingdom, which is particularly active in IMO proceedings, were responsible for initiating certain of these amendments.

The powers for making the order are contained in Section 20 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979. In particular, Section 20(1)(d) empowers the Secretary of State for Transport to give effect to any international agreement ratified by the United Kingdom so far as the agreement relates to the prevention, reduction or control of pollution of the sea or other waters by matter from ships. Under Section 20(6) of that Act the order is required to be laid under affirmative procedure.

The making of this instrument, which supplements existing legislation, is yet another important step toward reducing oil pollution of the marine environment and is in keeping with the United Kingdom's international obligations. The requirements are necessary and in continuance of our policy in this field. I therefore recommend them to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6th November be approved. [2nd Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Caithness.)

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for explaining the order in such a clear way. We welcome the provisions contained in it. Dare we hope that the other measures which are to follow are those which need to be taken if we are to move positively towards better control of oil pollution around our shores?

It is unfortunate that Her Majesty's Government have refused to sign the Law of the Sea Convention. Because of their dislike of Part 11, which deals with seabed mining, the valuable provisions in other parts of the convention are not being implemented. There appears to be no legal reason why Her Majesty's Government should not incorporate the environ-mental provisions of the convention into United Kingdom legislation now if the will is there. Other countries have acted in advance of the convention, so why not us? For example, the three-mile limit is established by customary right, but many nations have already adopted the 12-mile limit which is part of the convention that we have not yet signed. The implications for pollution control are obvious and this would be a useful weapon in our fight to protect our seabirds and to protect our beaches from pollution.

I have one final small point. Article 218 of the Law of the Sea Convention makes it possible for states to prosecute ships in certain circumstances for discharges of oil outside territorial waters. We have established a precedent in dealing with fishery offences within the 200-mile zone and there is a real need for us to implement port state jurisdiction over oil pollution offences also, in an effort further to reduce the burden of oil pollution. I wonder whether the Minister will tell us if any of these further measures might be considered in the near future. With that said, we welcome the order.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful for the welcome to the order given by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. She took me rather wider than the order into the Law of the Sea Convention. I heard clearly what she said and I shall certainly pass it on to the right quarters.

The noble Baroness also mentioned other matters that would follow from this order. It is possible that further and tighter controls will be agreed at the IMO in due course and these will come through in further amendments if and when they are agreed. But as I said in my opening words on this, much of the order we are discussing tonight was initiated by the United Kingdom. We have a very good record in this field and we shall continue to press for a further tightening of controls.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.26 to 8 p.m.]