HL Deb 29 November 1990 vol 523 cc1114-7

6.40 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order amends the Merchant Shipping (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Order 1987, which enabled regulations to be made to give effect to Annex II to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973. The order will empower the Secretary of State to amend these regulations so as to incorporate updated requirements which have been adopted by the International Maritime Organisation. It will also empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to give effect to Annex III to the convention.

I should perhaps explain that the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships—better known as the MARPOL Convention—is the principal international instrument for controlling pollution from ships. It contains five annexes dealing with oil, noxious liquid substances in bulk, packaged dangerous goods, sewage and garbage. It is revised by the International Maritime Organisation as the circumstances dictate, and this enables its provisions to keep up with newer practices and reflect current public concerns. The convention commands wide international support and it is only through its regulations that we can improve the cleanliness of the seas.

Annex II to the MARPOL Convention sets out the measures for preventing the pollution of the sea from noxious liquid substances in bulk. It categorises these substances into four groups according to their potential for pollution, prescribing for each category how it should be controlled and monitored. The list of substances is continuously assessed by internationally recognised experts and, in the light of discussion in the International Maritime Organisation, the severity rating of some substances is altered and new substances are added to the list.

Annex III to the convention deals with the prevention of pollution by marine pollutants carried in packaged form. It has been decided by the International Maritime Organisation that for convenience and good order Annex III should be implemented by incorporation into the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. This code was developed for substances which are dangerous, rather than for pollutants. But the general precautions that need to be observed—whether a substance is dangerous or is a pollutant—are the same and indeed in transporting these substances on board ship the trade does not differentiate between the two. A completely new edition of the code has therefore been developed by the International Maritime Organisation which now incorporates pollutants and applies to them for the first time requirements on packaging, marking and labelling, documentation, stowage and segregation.

Annex III, though ratified by the United Kingdom as long ago as 27th May 1986, is not in force internationally because the number of ratifications by member governments of the International Maritime Organisation is just short of that necessary to bring it into effect. The delay is a cause for concern. The International Maritime Organisation has urged member states to implement the annex in advance of it coming into force internationally and Ministers at tending the North Sea Conference in March of this year agreed to give effect to the new edition of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code by 1st January 1991.

Regulations made under this order are being prepared to give effect to Annex III. They will incorporate broadly the same duties and responsibilities as are to be found in the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Regulations. They will include a variety of ancillary provisions and will apply not only to ships registered in the United Kingdom but also to foreign ships while they are in the United Kingdom's territorial waters.

I feel sure that the House will appreciate the need for this order, which is intended to help make cleaner the seas and oceans around the world. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee] —(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the manner in which he introduced the order. I welcome the order very much, although one notes with some concern the dilatory process of the entry into force of so many international agreements in this field. Usually such agreements are motivated by a disaster. How much preferable it would be if the international community began to anticipate environmental problems rather than simply react to them in a costly way later on.

It has, of course, been through the International Maritime Organisation that substantial progress has been made in developing international efforts to prevent pollution of the sea from oil. But marine casualties like the "Torrey Canyon", the "Argo Merchant" and the "Amoco Cadiz" have played a major role in improving international regimes to control oil pollution. More recently the "Exxon Valdez" catastrophe on 24th March 1989, with its resultant disastrous oil spill, focused worldwide attention on the massive resources required to combat a large spill, particularly in a sensitive and sometimes hostile environment.

We are talking in a sense of a package that arises under the MARPOL convention. An exception to the delays has occurred this very day. I understand that the plenary session of the International Conference on Oil Preparedness and Response at the International Maritime Organisation adopted a convention which, when it comes into operation, will fill a major gap in the international framework of treaties dealing with marine pollution. That in itself is one of the annexes to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. By IMO standards it is something of a record that some 90 governments participated in the conference leading to the adoption of the convention. It was only in October 1989 that the IMO assembly adopted a resolution directing the IMO to convene an international conference on the issue. It is remarkable that the convention has emerged in just over a year. It would be a great example to others as well as being in the best interests of the United Kingdom if the Minister could indicate today that the Government propose to ratify the convention as rapidly as possible, so helping to facilitate its swift implementation.

Having said that, the customary situation is to wait for years to see conventions of this kind secure the necessary number of signatures and ratifications to bring them into effect. And having hailed the fact that today there seems to be something quite different, one has to remember that it was in 1973 that MARPOL was hailed as a signal achievement, regulating as it did for the very first time all aspects of ship generated pollution. Notwithstanding that, some of the five annexes, including Annexes II and III on which this order is based, are not yet in force internationally. That is a matter for great regret. Consequently, I wish to take this opportunity to stress that the United Kingdom and our European Community partners need to continue to exercise considerable diplomatic pressure on other countries to ratify IMO conventions far more expeditiously. I wonder whether the Minister would like to say a word or two about that.

As a result of the slowness in preparing for diplomatic conferences which are designed to adopt international law, and with the further delay which always follows in relation to their entry into force, the international community should not blind itself to the principal causes of marine pollution. These are much less ship based and much more land based. We support wholeheartedly the powerful efforts that have been made by the IMO over so many years to regulate various aspects of vessel-source pollution. Indeed, as a Minister, I was a great admirer of the IMO and have continued to be so since. We need to recognise that worldwide pollution from that source accounts for only about 10 per cent. of maritime pollution. The figure comes from a report by the Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, which brings together scientists from the United Nations and various United Nations agencies.

The fact remains that there is little in international law that attempts to redress the problem of land based sources of pollution. The report asserts that a wide range of land activities, either directly or via rivers and the atmosphere, contribute far more than sea-borne activities. Pollution is not confined to the Continental Shelf. Coastal waters are most at risk from the destruction of habitats, microbial contamination of seafood and beaches and, indeed, from fouling in general. That makes it clear that we need to try to encourage much greater respect for quick action by the IMO and by other environmental organisations. We can only proceed on the basis of international co-operation in facing so many of these problems.

I hope that the Government will put full force behind securing such objectives. Important through the order is—and it is important—it must be viewed against the wider perspectives which I have raised. It is to be hoped that the Government will use their best endeavours. I join the Minister in commending the order to the House.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for welcoming the order. I too welcome the conclusions of the oil pollution preparedness and response conference. We shall of course have to study and consult on the convention and naturally we shall ratify it as soon as possible if it is seen as desirable to do so. As I said in my opening remarks, we have a very good record in ratifying IMO conventions.

In talking about this particular MARPOL convention, I believe that the noble Lord said that Annex II is not yet in force. If my assumption is correct, I must point out to him that he is mistaken. That annex came into force in 1987. Annex III which is also dealt with by the order is, however, not yet in force. We hope that it soon will be. It has at present been ratified by 40 states but has not yet achieved the 50 per cent. tonnage which is required. I understand that legislative time is being urgently sought in the United States and that if that is successful it would be sufficient to overcome the impediment of ratification. I hope, therefore, that we shall see the annex coming into force before very long. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to make further progress. We shall of course continue to do so.

On Question, Motion agreed to.