HL Deb 24 March 1987 vol 486 cc119-40

3.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Davidson, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

The Question is that Clauses 1 to 10 stand part of the Bill?

Baroness White

I wish to speak on Clause 5 stand part.

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness White

I should like to draw attention to Clause 5. It seems to me that the Government are giving the Secretary of State power that if certain companies have not produced schemes that are satisfactory to the Secretary of State—and I read from Clause 5(1)— the Secretary of State may himself prepare an abandonment programme for the installation or pipe-line concerned". One has a charming picture of the Secretary of State sitting at his desk working out his plan for the abandonment programme. However, this seems to me to touch upon a matter that was mentioned at Second Reading. Unfortunately, I was not able myself to be in the House for Second Reading. I have of course read the Hansard of the debate. The question of research was raised by several noble Lords, in particular by my noble friend on the Front Bench. One must assume that if the Secretary of State—whether in person or by delegation—decides that he is to produce a plan which is either an alternative plan to one already submitted, of which he did not approve, or a plan to be complied with because no plans at all had been submitted, that must surely rely upon the results of adequate research. Otherwise his plan is not likely to be satisfactory.

When the matter of research was raised, not very much attention was paid to it by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, who was replying for the Government. But he made clear in his reply at col. 1004 that there is at least one programme researching into wells shut down, debris removal, environmental and fisheries implications, explosives technologies including safety aspects, metal and cutting technology and removal of gravity structures. One might suppose that to be a fairly good programme. He went on to reveal that towards this comprehensive programme the Department of Energy was contributing the munificent sum of £70,000. This was to be towards a programme supported by the Science and Engineering Research Council. The total cost was given by the noble Viscount as £570,000.

As I have some concern with university research programmes, and as we are very much dependent in certain areas upon the Science and Engineering Research Council, I took some pains to find out who paid the remainder of this sum. It appeared to me that for a programme of this importance and magnitude, on a subject covered by the Petroleum Bill, a contribution from the Department of Energy of £70,000 should not even be counted in peanuts. Grains of sand would be more appropriate for such a minuscule amount. However, I find the breakdown of the figures for what I take to be the programme referred to, which is being carried out by the recently hived off Marine Technology Limited, a subsidiary of some kind of the Science and Engineering Research Council, to be as follows. The Department of Energy indeed is contributing £70,000, and 11 industrial firms are contributing £15,000 each; that is, £165,000 in all. All the rest of the money is coming from the very much restricted resources of the Science and Engineering Research Council.

Anyone conversant with what is happening to university research at the present time, and more especially the SERC sector of it, will appreciate that within the last week or two, the SERC has indicated that simply to update the equipment of the research centres for which it has some responsibility would in its estimation require £40 million over the next three years—just to replace obsolescent equipment. I ask noble Lords to consider the comparative orders of magnitude.

Further to that claim on funds for replacing outdated equipment, the five research councils among them have to find £13 million per annum in order to meet the recent university salary settlement. They have been told by the Government that no additional money is to be made available for that claim upon their resources. In consequence of that, the Science and Engineering Research Council has issued a warning to the university research departments for which it takes some responsibility that it will be unable to fund any new research for the next grant period and may even have to slow down on some of the existing programmes on which it has already embarked.

I am raising the matter at this point because it appears to me that the research situation in relation to the Bill which is before us in Committee is such that it should be looked at with the greatest possible care. After all, we are dealing with arrangements for one of the richest industries in the world, the offshore oil industry. The Government are taking responsibility for much of the expenditure which is involved in this Bill, but they have already creamed off substantial sums under the various headings which were discussed on Second Reading.

It seems to me that for this kind of research, which is vital—in fact not just for this one programme to which I think reference was made on Second Reading but for other programmes which are also essential—there should be reconsideration of how one obtains adequate funds, of what the responsibilities should be and of why the Science and Engineering Research Council should be expected to carry such a large proportion of a programme which, I understand, is drawing to a close in October of this year.

The programme is expected to be renewed. It would therefore be entirely appropriate for a proper investigation to be made between now and next October into how such matters should be funded, by whom and whether industry is making an adequate contribution. (I have mentioned the derisory sum of £15,000 from each of the 11 industrial firms), as well as whether under this Bill some other arrangement might not be made for this extremely important programme of research in an area where technology is changing with almost frightening rapidity.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Perhaps I may reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady White. I am grateful to her for having raised this on clause stand part. As she said, at Second Reading, together with other noble Lords, I raised the question of research. We are talking about 6,000 rigs all over the world which will need to come down at some point. We are talking about a cost of something like £6 billion for our own offshore rig dismantling.

When I spoke on this and the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, replied (which is to be found at col. 1004 of the Official Report for 10th March), I know that he was somewhat shamefaced when he mentioned the figure of £70,000. We are talking of a broad scope and the possibility of this being a major industry—the dismantling of rigs all over the world. There is sufficient time; there will be a gradual build-up, particularly for those overseas.

Although there will be a great deal of basic science involved, there is also much applied science, into which the Government are particularly concerned to direct research. I hope they will recognise that the dismantling of rigs all over the world provides an opportunity to build up a totally new sector and what could be a very lucrative industry. I hope that they have some plans, that the £70,000 which was mentioned in the Second Reading debate is only the beginning and that they will be much more imaginative about this matter which will pay great dividends to the nation in the future.

Lord Glenarthur

I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for their comments about research and development. I am acutely aware from some personal experience of the North Sea of what is involved both in the establishing of rigs and in the work which will be necessary before they are finally dismantled.

Perhaps I may confirm what my noble friend Lord Davidson said at Second Reading; that is, that the Department of Energy is contributing £70,000 to the SERC programme, which, as we have heard, represents a total of £570,000 on the abandonment of offshore structures. I can also confirm the list which the noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned and the topics it covers.

The overall aim of the programme is to identify those activities in the decommissioning, abandonment and dismantling of structures where technological development is a prerequisite or where such development leads to major cost savings and to identify where safe, efficient and cost-effective removal strategies can be established.

Perhaps I may say to both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that the first two-year phase of the programme will be completed this summer, but also that a further two-year programme is under consideration. The objectives, the content and particularly the funding of any such further programme will depend on the results of the initial programme.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that both applied and basic science will inevitably be required. So far as the more general funding of the Science and Engineering Research Council goes, I do not think that I can do more than take note of the remarks of the noble Baroness and refer them to my right honourable friend in another place.

Because this is going to be something for which it takes time to develop a sound science—it has not yet arisen and will require a great deal of work—probably the figures which are being talked about, coupled with the amount of money which is coming from oil companies and contractors, will be enough certainly to cover the first phase. As I said, further work will need to be done to assess the programme before the second phase is complete. But I note the reservations which both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have.

The Earl of Lauderdale

Perhaps I may pursue that point with my noble friend. I understood from what he said that the £70,000, or the total £570,000 investment, is simply the cost of a pilot research programme, or it might even be called a pre-pilot research programme, to discover what will be needed when the whole movement gets under way. Perhaps that might put it more in perspective.

Lord Glenarthur

I believe that to be the case. I cannot conceive that it would be practicable on that budget to do the engineering that would be required. That is why I mentioned the second phase; so piloting is perhaps a way of describing it.

Baroness White

Would the noble Lord not agree that because the second phase is now under consideration this is the very moment at which he should speak not only to one but to at least two of his right honourable friends? In a recent debate on civil research and development in this Chamber, we drew attention to the fact that there is too little coordination among different government departments on civil research. This is an excellent example of where a department with major responsibility—that is, the Department of Energy—is contributing an absolutely minuscule amount, whereas the Department of Education and Science under the research budget has to contribute a much larger amount for an industry which ought itself to be able to pay for it.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Baroness has raised an important point. Perhaps I can do as she suggests and ask both my right honourable friends in another place whether they can take a further look at it. I do not think I can go further than that at this stage.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 10 agreed to.

Lord Kennet moved Amendment No. 1: Page 7, line 26, at end insert ("taking account of such international standards and guidelines as may have been adopted by the International Maritime Organisation and other relevant organisations").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together. They do not have the same effect and they do not apply in precisely the same part of the Bill, but their general intention is so similar that it will be easiest to put forward the argument for them both together, unless Members of the Committee object.

In the briefest recapitulation of the general background, the Bill as it stands appears to be in conflict with the Government's obligations under the 1958 convention on the continental shelf. That convention says that when oil rigs, platforms, pipelines and installations have come to the end of their economic life, they shall be completely removed. On the other hand, the Bill provides for all the steps that the Secretary of State may and must take when devising plans for the partial removal of such objects at the end of their life. The Government have said, rightly, that since 1958 the technology of sub-sea oil exploitation has greatly changed, and there are now objects so vast that to require complete removal would be unrealistic and unnecessary.

Our submission is that if there is a law which lays a duty on an individual or government, and which used to be sensible and generally agreed but by the march of technology is no longer sensible and no longer generally agreed, it is wrong simply to pretend that the law says something different and to go ahead. The right course of action is to admit that the law says what it does and seek to change it as soon as possible.

The Government are in difficulties in this respect because they have chosen not to adhere to the new all-embracing United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and therefore they cannot work within that for the reform of international law. The Government's arguments to the effect that they are not bound by the 1958 convention have not met with widespread acceptance, and I believe that they will not.

When one is faced with a Bill that is in conflict with international law, and when it would clearly be insufficient to stand and shout, "Obey the law, obey the law!", because we know that the Government will not, it is the duty of Parliament to take any minor steps that it can to make it easier for the Government to keep close to the law, and if necessary even to oblige the Government to keep as close to the law as they can. That means keeping them in touch with international opinion and with generation after generation of international regulations and guidelines which will be coming.

The first amendment provides that the Secretary of State may take account of: such international standards and guidelines as may have been adopted by the International Maritime Organisation and other relevant organisations". As a matter of detail, I made a mistake on Second Reading which was courteously pointed out to me in a letter from the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson. To cut a longish story short, he pointed out that subsection (5) as drafted makes it mandatory for the Secretary of State to consult with UK organisations and does not preclude consultation with appropriate organisations outside the UK. That is right, and I stand corrected. I would have answered the noble Viscount, but I was ill last week.

The purpose of my amendment is to make sure that the same degree of obligation falls upon the Secretary of State to consult in respect of overseas organisations as in respect of domestic organisations. If it is mandatory for him to consult UK organisations, I submit that it should be mandatory for him to consult the relevant international organisations. I believe that that is the effect of the amendment as I have tabled it.

The second amendment leaves out the words "in the United Kingdom". The Bill as drafted reads: Before making regulations under this Section"— that is, regulations about the abandonment of rigs, pipelines and so on— the Secretary of State shall consult organisations in the United Kingdom appearing to him to be representative of those persons who will be affected by the regulations". The amendment reads: leave out in the United Kingdom'". Therefore he will be obliged to consult organisations both inside and outside this country whose members will be affected by the content of such orders or regulations that he may make.

In dealing with this matter, I should like to ask the Government a number of questions of which I have given them notice. I am sorry that I was able to give notice only this morning, but I was sick last week. I urge the House to listen carefully to the answers and to proceed on the amendment in the light of the judgment that each noble Lord may make on their validity.

First, do the Government stand by their earlier claim, made in the House of Commons in respect of the Bill, that they may interpret the 1958 Geneva convention on the continental shelf? Is that still government policy? Secondly, is there not a conflict between the Government's intention to breach unambiguous international law, with regard to the phrase "entirely removed", and their stated intention to observe international guidelines later? How much faith can we place in their intention to observe international guidelines if they are now breaking international law as it is clearly written down? Why are the Government now proposing to British fishermen reductions to the depth of 55 metres or 75 metres in the installations being demolished before this Bill is in place or the international guidelines are agreed? How can they justify reaching those figures without an Act of Parliament behind them to give them the authority or, more important, without the IMO guidelines yet agreed and in place?

Thirdly, is it the Government's intention to reach binding agreements with the oil companies on what should be done before the international guidelines to which I have referred, and which are being negotiated, come into effect? They are guidelines under Article 60.3 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Fourthly, do the Government continue to claim that the IMO is concerned exclusively with navigation? They have been making that claim. Is it a considered claim? If so, why? I put the same question in another form: do the Government argue, with full consciousness of the implications, that the IMO has no legal or environmental competence? Have they ever argued that way before? What about the IMO's marine environment protection sub-committee on which Her Majesty's Government have a representative who does sterling work? What about the legal committee on which the Government are also represented?

Next, do the Government argue that only the coastal state has competence in relation to fisheries? That argument has been made. Do the Government argue that only the coastal state has competence in relation to environmental and pollution matters? That argument has been advanced, although this Government have been tireless in their argument against the general inflation of coastal state rights. There appears to be some incompatibility in relation to that matter.

What is the great hurry about the Bill? I say "great hurry" because the Opposition parties have been under some pressure to agree to a shortening of the standard procedures on the stages of the Bill. The Government did not properly discuss, as they should have done, the Bill's provisions in advance with the British fishing industry. The British fishing industry is completely at variance with the Bill and very heavily at odds with the Government. There is a wide gap which remains to be bridged somehow or other.

The Government did not discuss the Bill, the measures or the approach with the European Commission in view of the common fisheries policy. They did not discuss it with the European Commission in view of its transport competence, by which I mean shipping and navigation. They did not discuss it with the European Commission in view of the European Commission's environment competence. I understand that nor have they discussed it anywhere near adequately with the International Maritime Organisation in view of the IMO's competence under Article 60.3, of the UNCLOS text, to which I referred just now, which the Government approve, refer to and endorse. Although they are not a signatory of UNCLOS, the Government like Article 60.3. Bearing all that in mind the same question arises. I see that the noble Lord is shaking his head, but I took the trouble to give these questions to his officials. I see that he is indicating that he did not shake his head. I am sorry to misrepresent his gesture. I gave the questions twice over to two different officials, as I was asked to do. I know that they are complicated.

Article 60.3 of the UNCLOS text is one which the British Government laboured manfully over decades to bring to its present satisfactory condition, but then they threw away all the fruits of their labours by going along with President Reagan in boycotting the convention as a whole when it was completed.

In short, and to sum up all the questions, are the Government today arguing that Article 60.3 of the UNCLOS text places all maritime interests, save navigation alone, under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the coastal state throughout the exclusive economic zone and throughout the water column above the continental shelf? If they are not arguing that—and I do not believe that they can seriously be arguing that—what possible objection can there be to the amendments which simply bind them to consult foreigners on matters which concern foreigners? I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Croy

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has done the Committee a service by raising these two points in the amendments and by taking them together, because there is a relationship between the two. As regards his first amendment, he is seeking to be told how the Bill relates to the present state of international law. As regards his second amendment, he suggests that consultations in respect of that part of the clause to which the second amendment refers should be wider than just with bodies in the United Kingdom.

When the 1958 convention was concluded there was only a prospect of gas and perhaps oil being discovered off the shores of Britain and elsewhere in comparatively shallow water. The gas platforms that were in place or in prospect at that time were very small structures compared with what has been built since. As far as the United Kingdom was concerned, the platforms were being built and put in place in the southern basin of the North Sea where the gas had been discovered off East Anglia and Lincolnshire. It was later in the early 1970s that oil was discovered in the northern basin of the North Sea in very much deeper water requiring entirely different platforms—in many cases enormous platforms. Clearly, had the convention been agreed in the late 1970s it would have been of a different kind.

The question which we now face is whether the world should get together in amending and bringing up to date the 1958 convention, or whether that can be done while individual countries, such as ours, grapple with the problems that face us today.

The International Maritime Organisation working group produced a draft report after its meetings in January this year. It is perfectly clear from the draft recommendations that the majority of nations concerned—indeed, it looks as though it is all of them—accept that all of the structures do not have to be removed. The first paragraph of the draft guidelines says: Abandoned or disused offshore installations or structures are required to be removed, except where non-removal or partial removal is consistent with the following guidelines and standards". There then follow a number of' considerations and standards which, on the whole, are in line with the principles of the Bill.

Therefore, one enquires: who is demanding that all structures should be removed from all parts of the seas and oceans, however deep? As far as I know, at present no maritime nation in the world is requiring that, although that is what the 1958 convention still stipulates. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, knows of any nation making such a request we should be interested to know about it.

If one reads the details of the IMO working group's report—I shall not read out the details now—one sees that individual countries are reported as expressing views, but all their views accept that parts of some of these structures will either have to be left in certain cases on the floor of the ocean or not completely dismantled in other ways. The working group recommends that each case should be considered individually on its merits. I gladly give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Kennet

I should like to answer the noble Lord's question. No, I do not know of any nation that is demanding complete removal. The question of whether any nation demands it is totally irrelevant to the effect of my amendment, which, as the noble Lord will observe, merely writes into the Bill the very guidelines which he is praising.

Lord Campbell of Croy

That is a point. It seems to me that the noble Lord has rightly pointed out that at present there is an inconsistency between international law as it stands and what is being proposed in this country, in the discussions in the International Maritime Organisation (one of the world organisations concerned with this matter) and in other countries. Some may say that it is an academic matter. However, I recognise that it is not an academic matter.

Some of the problems have been dealt with in the past—especially when the law of the sea has been concerned—by introducing customary law. In 1976 and 1977 a Bill went through this House to extend fishery limits to 200 miles. The same action was being taken in other countries at the same time, if they felt like taking it. In that way customary law was introduced, which has had the general effect of extending the fishery limits throughout the world to 200 miles, even though the 1982 convention had not been signed then. It was happening at the same time. That is quite a good precedent. It was eventually enshrined in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. I suggest that there were the same kinds of problem as we have now.

Everyone has accepted that these very large structures must be considered on a case by case basis and, provided they are not causing any damage to fisheries or other interests and are not and could not be an obstruction to vessels using the sea, there should not be a blanket requirement that they should all be completely removed. The question is how we can carry forward this accepted principle in the world and at the same time bring up to date international law on the subject so that it is legal.

4 p.m.

Baroness White

I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in supporting these two amendments. One can do so, it appears to me, with perfect good sense and rationality without necessarily taking a view as to how, or if and when, one amends the 1958 Geneva Convention, because I do not profess to be an international lawyer and I would have no personal opinion on that matter.

The reason why I am concerned that the Committee should accept both these amendments is that neither of them puts any undue burden on Her Majesty's Government. They are not asking the Government to do more than to take, account of such international standards and guidelines as may have been adopted", in particular, of course, by the International Maritime Organisation, which is the recognised international body for matters concerned with traffic on the sea. One has to put in, and other relevant organisations", because, for example, the IMO has no competence over fisheries, and there are other appropriate international organisations for fisheries, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation on a global basis, and also of course we have obligations under the European Community arrangements for fishery management.

It makes us look quite unnecessarily insular. We are indeed an island, but there is no need to be insular about it.

A noble Lord

Oh, I do not know.

Baroness White

Come, come. I cannot believe that the noble Lord really wants to confine himself and take no notice at all of the rest of the world in such an international enterprise as shipping.

Both these amendments are directed to indicate that we are aware that there are international matters and that they concern nations other than ourselves and their shipping enterprises and so on. In particular, the International Maritime Organisation—which incidentally, is the only United Nations organisation whose headquarters is in the United Kingdom; it is just across the road over Lambeth Bridge—is a highly respected organisation. It does thorough research work and has wide membership for its discussions.

It is at the present time, as has already been said, concerning itself in particular with the subject of the Bill before the Committee. It has its own working arrangements and maritime safety committee, but also. as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned, it has its own legal sub-committee, its marine environment protection sub-committee, and so on. It will he meeting again on 27th April in order to work further on the matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.

I have had discussions with the International Chamber of Shipping which is very much concerned with the substance of the Bill. It is extremely anxious that both these amendments should be accepted by the Government because, as it rightly point out, shipping is international, and we should be concerned and knowledgeable about what is going on in other parts of the world in shipping and other marine resources which enter into this. It tells me in no uncertain terms that it very much hopes that both these amendments will find favour.

It felt that this was broadening the intentions of the Bill without binding the Government—I repeat—in any way to an obligation beyond taking account of, and possibly even condescending to consult with, other bodies outwith the United Kingdom itself, including of course the European Community and the members of the Oslo Convention which also take part in the IMO discussions. I cannot see that so far as the amendments as printed are concerned there could be any reason at all why any Member of the Committee should feel uncomfortable about accepting them.

This does not mean that one necessarily goes in for all the legal arguments about a Law of the Sea Convention to which we are not a party or a Geneva Convention which is now technologically out of date. I do not think that those two aspects, interesting and important as they are in their own right, in any way impinge upon the desirability of indicating that we recognise not only that we have certain international obligations but that we have certain international interests.

For example, the International Chamber of Shipping pointed out that on the technological side we simply do not know how shipping enterprises are going to develop during the next few years. We already have certain types of submersible; subsurface marine machines of one sort or another. That is a technology which is developing quite rapidly. It may develop more rapidly in the future. Again it is important that we should know of, and take some part in, the international discussions as to how one deals with changing circumstances.

Such vessels—I do not know whether that is the right term for a submersible—could be much affected by the way in which the provisions of this Bill are implemented, including in the future of course the much deeper waters which at the moment are not greatly exploited by submersibles or other vessels but which may be so exploited in the not too distant future.

It is for such reasons that I feel that it would be highly desirable that this Committee should accept the two amendments on the Marshalled List, which simply indicate that we recognise that there is in particular the IMO which is the universally recognised body for discussions of this kind and that we are concerned here with standards and guidelines which we should take into account. Surely this is something that we ought to be able to contemplate with reasonable equanimity.

If we decide that they are not suitable for us, neither of these two amendments makes it incumbent upon the Government to follow in every detail what may be suggested, either their standards or guidelines. But it means that the Government must indicate that they can take account of what is going on in the rest of the maritime world, and not give the impression that all wisdom is to be found exclusively by consultations within the United Kingdom. I hope very seriously that Members of the Committee and the Government in particular will feel that they are doing themselves no harm if they accept these two amendments.

The Earl of Lauderdale

I want to say only a few words. First of all, I am sorry to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has been ill between the Second Reading, when he spoke with great vigour, and the Committee stage that we are now starting. and so ill that he could not put in his questions until this morning. I am glad that he is better, but it is rather hard lines on the Government to have had a string of questions like this at the last moment, although he did on Second Reading give us an idea of the drift of the amendments he proposed to put down.

I have sympathy with these amendments, but I have less sympathy with their purpose than with their effect. I feel that the purpose is rather to try to fossilise international law as it stands, or the existing conventions as they are, when we all know that they are outdated by technological developments. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy made this clear, and I support him in that. Therefore. I think that the intention to try to fossilise IMO guidelines on the one hand and outdated international conventions on the other is mistaken.

We have been told—I was quite shaken to hear this—that the shipping world desperately wants these two amendments. It may want them desperately. However, I do not know whether other Members of your Lordships' Committee have received any information from the shipping world about it, but I have not had a single bit of paper. Considering the piles of paper that descend upon us now, thanks to the television cameras really—that is why the world notices us—and considering the shoals and sheaves of paper that descend upon us by every post, I am amazed that I have had nothing whatever from the shipping world about its support of these amendments. I do not say that it does not support them, but I am rather surprised that in the past fortnight we have had no indication.

I should like to ask one question. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, can explain this. When he spoke on Second Reading, he said that he wanted the Government "to have regard to" such international standards and guidelines. He has now chosen the term "taking account of". There may be some inwardness, some subtlety, about that difference of which I know nothing. However, if, as I sense, the term "taking account of" is less mandatory than "to have regard to", I should approve of that.

The second amendment, to leave out "in the United Kingdom", is a very gentle amendment. It still leaves the matter permissive to the Government. This is, in any case, an enabling Bill rather than anything else. With those comments, I express my sympathy with the wording of the amendments, although less sympathy with their purpose.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I have listened with care to the points made by all those who have spoken about the amendments and to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy who has expressed something of a different point of view. In relation to Amendment No. 1, the Government are aware of, and accept that they are bound by, all their obligations under international law, and abandonment is no exception whatever. The provisions of the Bill will be applied in accordance with those obligations. Quite honestly, it is inconceivable that otherwise could be the case. We could not approve a programme whose proposals did not allow us to satisfy our international obligations, whatever they might be at the time.

Similarly, any regulations that the Secretary of State came to draw up under Clause 11 would be made in the light of the United Kingdom's obligations under international law. That is why we propose to take powers to make regulations about abandonment in Clause 11 rather than attempt to put into the Bill detailed technical provisions and specification.

International standards have not yet evolved. We need to be flexible to respond to them in the way that I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would wish. If we had planned to ignore international standards, we could have invented our own and set them in stone in the Bill. That, of course, is precisely what we do not want to do. I have to say to the noble Lord and indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady White, that the United Kingdom Government respect their international obligations.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me a number of questions. I am grateful for his giving notice that he proposed to ask them. First, he asked whether the Government intended to stand by their claim that the 1958 Geneva Convention can be reinterpreted, indicating that in his eyes it was as though we were reinterpreting it. The Government stand by their view that the 1958 convention has to be interpreted in accordance with its purpose, namely, to prevent unjustifiable interference with other users of the sea and recognising that in 1958 all existing platforms, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, were in shallow water and relatively easy to remove. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea reflects international consensus that the purpose of the 1958 convention can be achieved without the need for the entire removal of all installations.

It is not a question of Her Majesty's Government reinterpreting the 1958 convention, but of interpreting it in the light of its purpose and in accordance with subsequent developments in international law. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that the 1958 convention must be interpreted in accordance with the object of the convention and of customary international law. Many of the answers on this point were given by my noble friend Lord Davidson to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his Written Answer of 23rd February. It is certainly not the case that the Government have stated that the convention of 1958 can be ignored. Far from it. What we have said is that it has to be interpreted.

I could elaborate a little further, but I think that I would be going over old ground. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will accept from me that what I have said is in fact the case. He might be interested to know that there are a number of recent cases of international tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, interpreting the terms of the four 1958 conventions in the light of customary international law.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, went on to ask about the proposed removals to 55 metres and 75 metres which the department is discussing with fishermen. These are the United Kingdom's proposed clearance depths which have been used during discussions with the oil and fishing industries. These clearance depths, I must stress, are still under discussion and are in any case subject to anything decided by the International Maritime Organisation.

The noble Lord went on to ask why the Government are coming to binding agreements with the oil companies before international standards are in place. The Government are not coming to any such agreements. We have of course discussed with the industry the sort of clearance depths that we should prefer to see established in international standards. There is awareness of the work going on in the International Maritime Organisation. When international standards are agreed, these will of course be reflected in the regulations that it is proposed to make under Clause 11 of the Bill.

As to the suggestion that the Government are arguing that the IMO has no competence in anything except navigation, and on the point about the work that the IMO has already done on environmental and fishery matters, I can say this. It is clearly the case that the IMO is the recognised international authority on issues concerning the safety of navigation. However, on other matters, such as fishing and environmental aspects, there are other international organisations which have a major interest, such as the Oslo commission and the parties to the London dumping convention. Preliminary discussion have already taken place in these bodies on abandonment issues in which the UK Government have been involved. The Government's concern is that discussions in the IMO should take account of the position of these important other organisations.

The noble Lord asked why the Government argue in the context of the Bill that Article 63 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea places everything accept navigational interests under the exclusive jurisdiction of the coastal state. The Government accept that where international organisations of which they are a member set standards in relation to abandonment, the Government will, in exercising their jurisdiction, act in accordance with any treaty or other obligations under international law. For example, the Government comply and will continue to comply with their environmental obligations under the two conventions mentioned, the Oslo convention and the London dumping convention.

As to the suggestion that the Government are in a very great hurry to progress the Bill, may I say this. It is important to set in place now a proper framework of legislation to control the preparation of abandonment operations, the carrying out of the operations themselves and the regulations that will govern such obligations.

Although the bulk of abandonments will not take place for a number of years, oil companies are anxious to know what their obligations will be. The Bill sets out the procedural hoops through which companies will have to jump, although as far as standards are concerned essentially it is, as has been mentioned, an enabling provision. But the framework will be in place for giving rapid legislative effect to any standards recommended by the IMO and the passage of the Bill will not preclude further consultation on standards with fisherman and the oil industry in concert with discussion on standards in the IMO.

The noble Lord went to to ask about consultations with fishermen. There have been numerous meetings with British fishermen over the past 18 months. My right honourable and honourable friends and officials have put a lot of effort into those consultations. Nothing in the Bill precludes international consultation. We have already made clear our intentions to act in accordance with international law. There has been considerable consultation within government on transport, environmental and other matters and we have agreed to consult the. Nature Conservancy Council when regulations on oil pollution are being drawn up.

Having answered what I hope to be the questions which the noble Lord asked, perhaps I may turn to the second amendment because it is one on which I had hoped my noble friend Lord Davidson had set at rest the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. As the noble Lord rightly says, consultation is vital. We accept that, and a number of interests are involved both within the United Kingdom and beyond. This Bill is itself the product of over a year of consultation between the Government and interested groups. Clauses 1 and 11 both contain provision for further consultation.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady White, are concerned that consultation with interested groups outside the United Kingdom is specifically excluded by Clause 11(5). I hope I can assure them that this is simply not the case. As my noble friend Lord Davidson has indicated, the effect of Clause 11(5) is to make it mandatory for the Secretary of State to consult United Kingdom organisations representative of persons likely to be affected by the regulations. It does not preclude consultation with appropriate organisations outside the United Kingdom. As he said at Second Reading, we shall continue to participate in discussions on abandonment in the International Maritime Organisation and in other appropriate international fora.

That seems to meet the noble Lord's point. He suggested that it would not add a burden to do what is suggested in this amendment (which was a point also stressed by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale), but that is far from being the case. It would compel the Secretary of State to consult any interested party anywhere. This would be a most colossal administrative and practical nonsense to have to deal with.

I hope the noble Lord will agree that the Government's commitment to consultation and their clearly stated assurance that they intend to act in accordance with international law and standards are the sensible way to go. That consultation can go ahead. There is nothing whatsoever to preclude it. I believe that I have given about as full an assurance as it would be possible to give to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness that there is nothing intended here which would undermine the need for the sort of consultation that he seems to think we would not conduct. I hope that with those assurances and the answers to the questions he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness White

Before the noble Lord decides what to do, can the Minister indicate why he thinks the reference to the International Maritime Organisation in the first amendment would be out of place? It is the major international organisation for these matters; we are party to it. The other organisations that he mentioned, the Oslo Convention and the London Dumping Convention, all take part in the discussions in the IMO, as does the Food and Agriculture Organisation. They have a status there although they also have their own jurisdiction.

I can see the point about the United Kingdom, although I do not think that is necessarily a final interpretation of that clause. Is there any reason why the Government cannot accept the words—which is all they are asked to do— taking account of such international standards and guidelines"? International law is not necessarily all-embracing. At the moment it is in a state of flux. With great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, it is not a question of fossilising it; otherwise there would be no need for some of the discussions that are taking place in IMO at present. We are trying to see how a changing situation can best be met. All we are asking is that we should indicate that we recognise that there are international bodies working, as it happens, in London and that we make some bow in their direction, if I may put it that way.

It is important that we should recognise that these international organisations to which we are party are working very hard on guidelines, for example, which are not legally binding in the sense that international law is. To say that we are observing our legal obligations does not mean that we are necessarily being adequate internationalists in this sphere. I cannot see why the noble Lord cannot accept at least this first amendment.

Lord Glenarthur

I am sorry if I have not made myself clear to the noble Baroness. I hope that she will accept from me that we understand what our obligations are and that we could not, as I said, approve a programme whose proposals did not allow us to satisfy them. It seems to me that if the amendment were made we should end up with a number of different items in Clause 11(2) being included which would not be matters upon which it may be appropriate necessarily to consult internationally.

For example, if the noble Baroness looks at subsection (2) she will see that it reads: Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), regulations under this section may", and paragraph (d)reads: make provision for inspection, including provision as to the payment of the costs of inspection". It seems to me that, as we are talking about structures which will be in a particular part of, let us say, the North Sea—which will mostly be concerned with the United Kingdom where they do not cross the median line—it would be appropriate for that work to be conducted by the United Kingdom, and there would not necesarily be a need to take if further in the way that the noble Baroness suggests.

I go further and say that it probably could be taken to include other items in paragaphs (b)to (e)as well. As far as paragraph (a)is concerned I understand the argument, but for the others I am afraid I do not. That is to go hand in hand with the fact that it would be inconceivable for us not to consult our international conventions. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Kennet

If I may for convenience take up the last point first, it seems to me that the noble Lord has advanced a point which does not speak against the amendment at all. If the department looks at the international regulations which are in force and finds they have nothing whatever to say about the matter, then they will have taken them into account and that is that, and then they go on under subparagraph (d)or whatever it is to do exactly what they wanted to do in the first place. There is no obligation on anybody to take account of anything which does not exist, like an international obligation, to do something which is entirely your own national affair. I hope that I make myself clear.

We have had a good and worthwhile debate about the matter. We have progressed a long way forward in general understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, devoted most of his speech to the undesirability of carrying anything into the Bill which would cause unthinking and literal obedience to the terms of the 1958 convention. I quite see his point, as I am sure all your Lordships do; but that would not be the effect of either of the amendments before the Committee and so I have to conclude that his excellent speech was a bit of an Aunt Sally.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who suggested that the purpose of these amendments was to fossilise international law as it stands now, that the purpose is rather to the contrary. It is to encourage the Government to take account of international law as it changes under successive generations of regulations which do not yet exist. The noble Earl also told us that the IMO guidelines were outdated; but they are still being discussed. They have not even been agreed yet and if they are outdated before that happens it is a pity; but I have not heard this particular allegation before.

As for the difference between the two phrases, "have regard to" and "take account of", the noble Earl is quite right. In our minds, too, the words "take account or are a little less draconian than "have regard to", although perhaps neither phrase is extremely fierce in the choice of words. I was very glad to hear the noble Earl say that he was in agreement with the purpose of the amendments and supported them, as I understand it.

I come now to the speech of the noble Lord who replied for the Government. I was delighted to hear his forthright statement that the Government regard themselves as bound by international law on the abandonment of installations. After that he took off into a fairly lengthy argument about the interpretation of treaties. He did not mention the convention on the interpretation of treaties; because there is international law about the interpretation of international law, as of course he knows. The rather complicated things that he was saying deserve to be read with care and compared against former government statements upon this Bill. However, delighted and surprised I was that the general thrust of his remarks seems to have been more positive than has appeared hitherto in this context.

It was also reassuring to know that the proposals for dismantling down to 55 metres in parts of the North Sea and to 75 metres in other parts were only proposals. However, the noble Lord knows as well as I do—indeed, probably a good deal better—that there are those in the shipping industry, not only of this country but of others, including the Soviet Union and, I think, Norway, who are worried about depth down to 1,000 metres. That is a different matter, and while for the moment 55–75 metres may sound quite sensible, it would be important to make sure that we keep up with reality because the march of technology has not stopped in the year 1987. The fact that there are no binding agreements with industry is good news although not entirely unexpected. I imagine that discussions with industry have opened and I was just raising a faint question mark over that matter.

Another complicated legal point made by the noble Lord concerned the difference in the degree of competence which may be claimed by an international organisation which stands alone in dealing with a given subject matter, as compared to the degree which may be claimed by one which stands alongside others in dealing with a given subject matter. That is interesting and needs studying. I should not like to try to say anything more about it without further study and briefing, but I take the point at the provisional level.

On the question of hurry, of course people are anxious to know their obligations, and any Government is naturally anxious to take legislation through with all due dispatch. We on this side share the anxiety of the Government to get Bills through with all due dispatch; but there has been in the air what I would describe as a departure from the procedures of normal dispatch. There has been a certain element of special urgency. I was very glad to hear that the noble Lord did not have anything to say about that today and I take it that we shall be able to have the normal gaps between the stages of this Bill.

On the question of consultation on environment and transport, as opposed to navigation, my point was that the Government had not consulted the European Commission, who have competence on environment and shipping matters. It was therefore of little comfort to us on this side of the Committee to hear that the Government had consulted very fully within their own corridors. However, we were glad to hear the noble Lord say that consultations are of vital importance.

The noble Lord said he thought that my noble friends and I were worried about Clause 11(5)—that is the one addressed by Amendment No. 1—precluding consultation outside the United Kingdom. As I explained earlier this afternoon, we are not worried about that. As I explained then, we are worried about the different degree of obligation falling upon the Secretary of State to consult within the United Kingdom from that which falls upon him to consult outside the United Kingdom. We remain worried about that. I believe it is also wrong to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said, that Amendment No. 1 would compel the Secretary of State to consult any interested party anywhere. The wording of the Bill does not quite say that: the wording of the Bill as drafted is, shall consult organisations … appearing to him to be representative of those persons". For myself, if I were Secretary of State it would appear to me that I need only consult, for instance, the European Commission and/or the IMO and not every little environmental body, and so on, throughout the world, but that the consultation would be with the prime international organisations, up towards whom those concerned will have delegated their interest in the countries, for instance, round the North Sea. It is as simple as that. No very onerous obligation is being laid upon him.

Regarding the objection that he advanced to the amendment that it is all going to be a bit of a bore for the officials, yes or course it is; but living in an increasingly international world is a bit of a bore. It implies a bit more work and I am glad to say that there are a few more officials to do it, in most departments if not all, and so I do not take that objection too seriously. The noble Lord invited me to withdraw these amendments, and subject to anything my friends might—

Lord Campbell of Croy

I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way as we are in Committee and he has referred to me. I should like to explain that in my contribution I was commenting on the emphasis which he put in his opening speech on the 1958 Geneva convention. I recognise that he spoke at some length on that and I understood the reasons for his doing so, although it is not in the first amendment. As regards the first amendment, which mentions the International Maritime Organisation and which would therefore be included in this part of the Bill, I think it is relevant that the United Kingdom is one of 10 countries which form the working group that has produced the first draft.

My noble friend the Minister may not feel that the words are necessary. However, in this case perhaps actions are speaking louder than words, because our country has been involved in the working group producing the first draft of guidelines and standards. I very much hope that the United Kingdom will continue as the proposals go forward within the IMO, since it has made a considerable start in helping on that international organisation. Therefore, I hope that it may not be necessary to include the words in the Bill.

I hope that my noble friend can assure us that the United Kingdom will continue working as it has within the group, because it may well be that the customary law which results from the work of that group will eventually become international law. As the noble Baroness, Lady White, said earlier on, international law is at present in flux. In this field, it will be the results of the working group and the IMO's final recommendations which will help towards the fomulation of customary law on the subject.

Lord Kennet

It is quite a familiar situation for a Committee in either House of Parliament when somebody argues that the Government are doing the right thing and that the Government are even taking the lead in doing the right thing. What need is there to lay an obligation on the Government to do the right thing? The answer is always the same. This Government, like all governments, are mortal and may be succeeded by another government who will be less likely to do the right thing—or perhaps I should say even less likely to do the right thing. This is the reason one wishes to spell things out in legislation. I therefore believe that it would be good to carry these words into the Bill.

With regard to procedure, we have had weighty and complicated arguments from the Government Benches which deserve study. I should like in those circumstances to do the normal thing. The Minister has already stated that he will inform and consult with his right honourable friends on several points in the Bill—

Lord Glenarthur

With respect, I did not say that I would inform and consult. I said that I would draw my right honourable friends' attention to the specific point which the noble Baroness, Lady White, raised with regard to funding. I did not say that I would be consulting; I said that I would bring it to the attention of my right honourable friends.

Lord Kennet

We see how important it is to be crystal clear about consultation and about who is prepared to consult whom and when. I note that and the Committee can forget about it. On the assumption that the Bill will follow the normal pattern and that there will be a Report stage about two weeks from now, I suggest that the amendments be withdrawn. Before formally asking the leave of the House to withdraw them, I should like confirmation from the noble Lord that that will be the case.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord seeks to withdraw his amendment, as I understand it, in the way in which I suggested might be prudent. He then goes on to discuss other matters which are not, as I understand it, before the Committee.

Lord Kennet

I am willing to withdraw the amendment if there is no question of departing from the normal and standard procedure in the Red Book concerning intervals between stages on a Bill. It may be that after further discussion and briefing we on this side of the Committee will conclude that something like these amendments should be put to the vote. There were discussions through the usual channels yesterday and, as I understand it, the last word from the Government was that there would be no unreasonable refusal of a separate Report stage and no unreasonable departure from the standard intervals. I believe that something of that sort was agreed.

Lord Glenarthur

I think that we have had a particularly thorough examination of the proposals which the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have brought forward. The timetable and progress of legislation are largely for the usual channels. As I understand it, it is the normal practice to receive the Report immediately when there are no amendments to a Bill. I have heard what the noble Lord has said. However, in this case I feel that the Bill has had a most thorough scrutiny and that all the points raised have been answered. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has, on this occasion, supported the Government. I also believe that my noble friend Lord Lauderdale understands the point which has been made. It is therefore for the noble Lord to consider whether what he proposes is correct. I shall say no more.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Perhaps I may intervene briefly at this point. I can understand that the noble Lord would like to have a full two weeks before Report stage. On the other hand, having listened to the Minister, it seems that he wishes to have the Report stage immediately. We have had an exhaustive debate on the two amendments. However, the Minister surely accepts that the answers were full and extremely complicated. I should like to have at least some time to look at them, although perhaps not a full fortnight. Our debate has so far lasted 66 minutes and we have had intricate discussions concerning international law and the law of the sea. It is asking a great deal to move straight to Report stage, if that is what the Minister suggests.

Lord Denham

May I tell the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that it is unusual and exceptional, when there has been no amendment passed to a Bill at Committee stage and when there has been a very short Committee stage, to have the Report stage separately? That is only done with good reason, either because something has been raised during the course of debate and there has been no time for consideration of the point or because something is not clear.

If noble Lords feel very strongly about this matter, we shall of course allow a separate Report stage. I think that perhaps a good compromise would be to have that stage some time during the course of next week. I do not think that it needs to be a very long stage. However, 1 should not like that compromise to be a precedent. It must be right that in this House we only actually come back on Report stage when it is obvious that it is right so to do. Therefore, without any commitment for any other Bill, we shall do as the House wishes because the House is master of its own business.

Lord Kennet

I am obliged to the noble Lord. I think that the course of action which he has proposed is right. Many new things were brought up during the 66 minutes of debate which we have had. Many complicated new legal points appeared for the first time and the one thing which did not happen was an amendment. Therefore, I think the Chief Whip is to be congratulated on the liberality and wisdom with which he has interpreted the text. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.