HL Deb 02 April 1987 vol 486 cc745-51

7.2 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 11 [Regulations]:

Baroness White moved the following amendment: Page 7, line 26, at end insert (", taking account of such relevant international standards or guidelines as may have been adopted or recommended by the International Maritime Organisation or other appropriate organisations").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment to Clause 11 standing in my name.

This amendment is a modified version of the first amendment tabled at the Committee stage by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I am sure all noble Lords will regret that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has had to go into hospital again tonight for further tests and is not therefore able to be present.

This amendment has been drafted in such a way as to avoid any reference to a statutory duty to consult international organisations or interests. It requires only that the government of the day should take account of international opinion and sensitivities in determining how they will carry out their duties under the provisions of Clause 11. No international organisation is even mentioned by name, save only the International Maritime Organisation based in London which is universally recognised as the senior and most comprehensive organisation for maritime affairs, including safety—a major consideration when dealing with abandoned oil rigs. As I mentioned in Committee, it is the United Nations headquarters organised for this purpose.

Other important bodies which might have been mentioned include the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Commissions for the Oslo and Paris Conventions, and for the London Dumping Convention, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has responsibilities for fisheries, while the European Commission is also involved. There is no reference to any of these organisations in the amendment which is now before the House because one wanted to leave the responsibilities of government as open as possible and therefore the organisations concerned, which may of course be added to in the effluxion of time, are simply referred to collectively as appropriate organisations.

It is up to the department to decide whether or not in its view they are appropriate for the purposes of this clause. It is surely reasonable that, if such organisations to which the United Kingdom is party in each case, have adopted standards or recommended guidelines which, as the amendment suggests, are considered by the department to be relevant, the department should be required to inform itself of such standards or guidelines and should subsequently take account of them even if it then decides not to adopt them for reasons which to the department seem adequate.

Frankly, I cannot see any difficulty in the noble Viscount accepting this amendment. We have done our utmost to put it in the most convenient terms for the department. However, I am afraid that the Department of Energy is not an outward-looking department. At the Committee stage I suggested that that department was taking a lamentably blinkered view of its responsibilities towards the research required before one could adequately deal with abandoned rigs at various depths in various sea conditions, and so forth. This point was brushed aside, although my point of view was very well supported in general terms in The Times leader of today's date.

By inserting this modest amendment into the Bill, one is simply endeavouring to acknowledge that the United Kingdom is a member of the international maritime community and should therefore be prepared to take cognisance, where appropriate and relevant, of the views which have been expressed by these international bodies of considerable standing and to which, I repeat, we, as a country, are a party.

I am much strengthened in my support for this amendment by the fact that for three years I was chairman of the European Economic Community Scrutiny Committee in your Lordships' House and I am still a member of the environment sub-committee. I know only too well how our Continental partners in particular find it difficult to accept the stand-offish attitude of the United Kingdom Government in matters of this kind. Last week this view was very much enhanced when I had the pleasure of attending part of the large international conference held in the premises of the International Maritime Organisation, although it was organised by our own Water Research Centre. That is our main water research organisation in this country. We had present some 300 maritime scientists of various kinds—oceanographers, biologists, and so forth—studying the problems of the North Sea.

I listened not only to the set speeches but to the questions and comments made. I also saw some of the illustrations shown on the screen, including one that I can only call a caricature cartoon of the United Kingdom as "the dirty man of Europe". I am not suggesting for one moment that I would necessarily endorse that view, but it is a view which is held by some of our European partners. Therefore it is particularly unfortunate if, in a situation of this kind, the United Kingdom is stand-offish to such a degree that it is not even willing to take account of propositions made by major international maritime organisations to which we internationally adhere. It is mainly for this purpose that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and myself and certain organisations to which we belong—and I include one organisation, the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea, of which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is a past vice-president and I am a past-chairman—have raised this matter. It is an endeavour to improve our image as much as anything else, which is important because if one does nothing to try to induce in our partners, whether European or more widely international, the view that we really care about these matters, it makes the negotiations in these various spheres just that much more difficult.

It is much easier if there is a feeling of co-operation and understanding, which does not mean that one has to be in any way sloppy or unbusinesslike or unscientific in one's negotiating posture. It just makes life easier and more satisfactory. However, it is an area in which I can only suppose that the Department of Energy is unaccustomed to working and where it possibly does not realise the kind of sentiments which make life easier for those who have to negotiate international agreements.

It is primarily for those reasons that I put before the House a carefully drafted amendment to which I cannot see how the department can rationally or sensibly object. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady White, has mentioned that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is in hospital. I am sure that we all hope that the tests will go well and that he will very soon be restored to good health. He must be particularly disappointed not to be here because he set much store on this Report stage.

Over the years I have been part of, or in touch with, the organisations which he was consulting about this Bill. I have been asked at short notice to make two points which he would have raised, and I shall do so briefly. However, first I should like to give my own impression of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. It sets out what I believe the Government intend should happen. We are all likely to agree with its purpose. It certainly reflects what both Ministers have said on this subject in your Lordships' House at earlier stages of the Bill. One must assume that succeeding governments will take the same view. However, whether the Government can accept the amendment is for my noble friend to tell us. I realise that there may well be difficulties.

I am encouraged that the Government are taking an active part in international discussions on the subject and that they will continue to do so. The United Kingdom is one of the 10 nations in the working group of the International Maritime Organisation, the IMO, which produced in January the set of draft guidelines and standards for the removal of installations and structures.

The first point which I should like to record, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is that it should be clear what the principal international organisations and conventions which are involved in abandonment on the United Kingdom continental shelf are. It is not suggested that every one of these organisations will be involved in every case. Besides the International Maritime Organisation, the IMO, they are the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the FAO, which is a specialised agency of the United Nations particularly concerned with sea fisheries; the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP; the Commission of the European Economic Community, the EEC; the Oslo and Paris conventions and the London Dumping Convention.

The second point is that Clause 11(5) makes it mandatory for the Government to consult organisations in the United Kingdon which they consider represent persons affected by abandonment. Important among these are fishermen's organisations. Throughout the course of this Bill through both Houses of Parliament the Government have clearly recognised that the fishermen will be affected and that their representatives must be consulted. I have welcomed this. I was the Secretary of State who set up the first machinery for discussions between the Government and the oil and fishing industries when oil was first discovered in the North Sea.

Within the last 10 years a substantial reorganisation of fishermen's organisations has occurred in the United Kingdom following the major changes in the composition of the industry caused by changes such as the great reduction in the distant water fleet. As a result, virtually all the categories of Scottish sea fishermen are now represented by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, the SFF. In England and Wales a large number of fishermen's associations are now within the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which is also a fairly recently formed body. The national federation has accordingly become a body which can speak realistically for many of the fishermen in England and Wales.

These two bodies, the SFF and the national federation, had hoped that there would also be included in the Bill provision for an independent appeal body to hear cases where fishermen's representatives considered that their interests and livelihoods were not being properly recognised or catered for. That provision has not gone into the Bill and I feel therefore that it is even more imperative that future governments should ensure that there is full consultation and consideration for those engaged in sea fisheries round our shores.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I shall be very brief. I should also like to add my condolences to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his illness and hope that he will be back with us fairly soon.

Perhaps it is just as well that we are able to have another shot at this amendment on Report. There is a difficulty with amendments such as this and I am sure that the Government will be quite legitimately concerned about which organisations are the appropriate organisations. It is always difficult to try to narrow down the appropriate organisations. However from what my noble friend Lady White said and particularly from the list that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, with the special mention of the fishermen's interests, I am sure that the Government will get the drift that there are many important bodies that should be consulted.

I am sure that the bodies and the organisations that have been mentioned so far will have sufficient clout to make sure that the Government pay attention. I am glad that we have had this other bite of the cherry on Report if for nothing other than to emphasise the importance of adopting some sort of international standards and guidelines and for us not to be considered, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, suggested, the dirty people of Europe.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, first I should like to echo the noble Baroness, Lady White, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, and express my regrets that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, cannot be here this evening and add my sincere wishes for his speedy recovery.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for tabling this amendment as it gives me an opportunity to state the Government's feelings on it. The noble Baroness, Lady White, has again, and with her usual persuasive charm, put forward her case for including in the Bill the requirement that the Secretary of State should, in drawing up regulations under Clause 11, take account of relevant international standards or guidelines. As my noble friend Lord Glenarthur made clear when a similar amendment was debated in Committee, the Government accept unreservedly that they are bound by their obligations under international law and it is the Government's intention to reflect in regulations dealing with standards for removal, the results of deliberations in the International Maritime Organisation.

We recognise that other organisations, such as the Oslo Commission and the London Dumping Convention, have an interest, and the Government will also participate in discussion in those bodies. The noble Baroness may ask why, if it is our intention to do precisely what her amendment demands, we are so reluctant to include something in the Bill. My answer must be that, since these are our intentions, it is unnecessary to burden the Bill with redundant verbiage. Moreover, there are sound legal reasons for not doing so.

The noble Baroness has, I know, attempted to make the amendment as open as possible by referring to such relevant international standards or guidelines as may have been adopted or recommended by the International Maritime Organisation or other appropriate organisations". While this may appear to have the merit of enabling the Secretary of State to choose which standards and organisations are relevant or appropriate, the amendment would, with due respect to the noble Baroness, introduce a considerable measure of uncertainty into the Bill.

What is the difference, for the purposes of the amendment, between a standard which has been adopted by an international organisation and a guideline which has been recommended? Yet, if the amendment formed part of the Bill, it would be open to a person to claim that the deliberation of a particular foreign organisation has been overlooked. The wide wording of the amendment could, therefore, open the regulations to the real possibility of a challenge in our courts on the grounds that account had not been taken of some relevant standards or guidelines proposed by such a body.

This is not the only difficulty which would result if this amendment were to be made. The amendment refers to international standards or guidelines although I am not entirely clear whether these are to be taken as alternatives or not. An international standard which has been adopted by an appropriate authority may well be regarded as binding, but this will surely not be the case with a guideline which is simply recommended. Guidelines may be helpful in this as in other areas but may not be intended to have any binding force at all. The amendment, however, would require that regulations under Clause 11 take account of relevant standards or guidelines, implying that the substance of them be reflected in some way in the regulations themselves. How could it be appropriate for regulations under Clause 11 to contain provisions reflecting something which was not intended to be binding in the first place?

When framing domestic legislation it is the practice to take account of our international obligations without making specific reference to them, and we see no need to do so on this occasion. The Government have given repeated assurances as to their intentions and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was pleased to welcome the "forthright statement" by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur in the Committee. The Government will consult widely on regulations and will continue to work with the IMO, and other international bodies, in developing the standards which will be reflected in the regulations.

I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government are extremely keen on international co- operation. The United Kingdom has a long history of constructive participation in the work of the IMO, and the Department of Energy played a major part in the discussions on abandonment in the IMO's working group on abandonment in January, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has mentioned.

There has been thorough debate both in this House and in another place of our international obligations on abandonment. The Government's position has been made absolutely clear. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness White

My Lords, I am naturally much obliged to the noble Viscount for the reason that he has given for not being able to accept the amendment. I do not wish to pursue the matter in a tiresome way, but I must confess that I am rather disappointed that having endeavoured, as he said, to improve an amendment which at the most asks that account should be taken, and no more, of the views of others, it is still not acceptable.

All I shall say is that I do not wish to press the matter to a Division. I shall ask leave in a moment to withdraw the amendment, but I give due notice that the behaviour of the Department of Energy in this matter will be watched very closely indeed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Beaverbrook

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

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.25 to 8 p.m.]