HL Deb 04 March 1993 vol 543 cc741-3

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to prevent pollution by shipping to the seas and coasts of the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, following the announcement on 4th February and subsequent discussions, a paper was submitted to the secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation last week for consideration at the maritime safety committee meeting in May. The paper contained details of a number of interim measures to protect the United Kingdom coast. A voluntary code for tankers in UK waters is being developed which will also be submitted to the International Maritime Organisation for consideration at the maritime safety committee.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, do the Government consider that inspections of seagoing ships are adequate and satisfactory? Are they satisfied that ships registered under flags of convenience comply with international maritime law?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we are very much in the lead in Europe in implementing the memorandum of understanding. In 1987 17 foreign ships were detained while in 1992 the figure was 124. Therefore, we are playing a leading role to try to correct the weaknesses in the shipping industry.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, can my noble friend say how the press contributed to the recent "Braer" incident?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it was obviously an interesting incident for the press. I must admit to your Lordships that sometimes I thought that the press were looking at a different incident from that at which I was looking. However, it is well worth remembering that it was a press man who ran over one of the otters.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that plutonium nitrate—a most hazardous cargo—is to be shipped in the old converted "Aberthaw Fisher" through the Minch from Dounreay to Sellafield? Is he further aware that it is mad to consider barring oil but to permit plutonium? Is his department crazy? Is the Minister doing anything about that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that he is out of date. The cargo arrived safely at its port of destination. As the noble Lord will be aware, the cask in which the cargo is transported is subject to the most stringent safety tests.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, are the United Kingdom authorities monitoring and, where there is evidence, bringing prosecutions against the owners of those vessels causing deliberate pollution by releasing oily wastes from their tanks at sea?

The Earl of Caithness

Yes, my Lords. That is much harder to detect, but if the patrols find and identify an offending vessel, then action is taken.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not the case that there are other hazardous cargoes apart from oil? Does not the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, illustrate that? Should not the voluntary embargo be extended to many of those other cargoes?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords. As the noble Lord will know, the voluntary code is an interim measure designed specifically to deal with oil tankers on various parts of the coast. The inquiry set up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, will look at wider issues.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Marine Insurance Act 1906 states that there is an implied warranty that all vessels should be seaworthy? That seaworthiness is guaranteed by being passed by Lloyd's or one of the other shipping classification bureaux. The television programme "Panorama" claimed that many of those bureaux were producing different standards. Is there any government policy to try to ensure that universal standards of seaworthiness are maintained by all the classification bureaux?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the classification societies are aware that some societies are not meeting the high standards of other societies. We are auditing all the societies in this country so that they come up to the appropriate standard.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, in view of the general interest in this matter, will the Government consider publishing the memorandum which they have sent to the IMO?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, a copy is already in the Library.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I welcome the steps being taken by the Government. However, is it not a fact that only a small proportion of oil spilled at sea —about 12 per cent.—emanates from disasters? As to safety standards in our own merchant fleet, with the Budget coming up shortly, will the Government now take the fiscal measures which the Merchant Navy requires to enable it to order new ships and thereby maintain the standards described by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in his excellent report, as second to none?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct on the first point. Oil goes into the sea, and has done for millions of years, from a variety of sources. There is natural seepage from under the sea itself. There is oil that has been taken down by rivers and oil that comes in from the atmosphere. The pollution from oil that occurs as a result of accidents —the subject of the Question—is a small proportion of the whole. As regards the noble Lord's second point, he will have to wait for the Budget.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, do the measures which the Government have undertaken, or contemplate undertaking, include a comprehensive review and possible amendment of routeing arrangements around United Kingdom coasts? Have the Government any proposals to ratify the international convention on salvage of 1989 which is an important measure? Will the Government consider increasing still further the number of inspections being carried out—creditable though the situation in this country is by comparison with other European Community countries, or other signatories to the Paris Memorandum—and the thoroughness of those inspections?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we hope that when the voluntary code is agreed it will contain recommendations for navigation in the Pentland Firth, the Minches, the North Channel, Off Smalls and Grassholm Channel, the Scilly Isles, the Needles Channel, the English Channel, the Dover Straits and the Firth of Forth. Once a legislative opportunity is available we shall ratify the salvage convention. However, that would have made no difference in the case of the "Braer" incident because the same rules applied.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the IMO should be invited to introduce an international regulation that all ships using coastal waters should be fitted with transponders for recognition and surveillance purposes?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that question has been discussed at length in the IMO. At the moment there is no agreement but I know it is also a subject that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, is considering in his inquiry.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, what enforcement provisions will be included in the voluntary code when it is accepted?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, the whole point is that we have no compulsory powers under international law. This is a voluntary agreement. To make it as workable as possible we have discussed it with international and national shipping interests.

Back to