HL Deb 23 January 1997 vol 577 cc859-84

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, having been informed of the purport of the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 1: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause— MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL HIGH RISK AREAS ("—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as appropriate in relation to—

  1. (a) the identification of marine environmental high risk areas in the territorial seas and pollution zone of the United Kingdom; and
  2. (b) the introduction of necessary measures to safeguard—
    1. (i) maritime safety, and
    2. (ii) the environment of marine environmental high risk areas from pollution by matter from ships, offshore installations or submarine pipelines,
  3. whilst respecting rights of transit passage in international straits and freedom of navigation.
  4. (2) In making the regulations and subsequent identification of marine environmental high risk areas, the Secretary of State shall inform the International Maritime Organisation of—
    1. (a) the identity of such sites;
    2. (b) the significance of such sites for recognised ecological, sociological or scientific reasons and the vulnerability to damage by shipping activities; and
    3. (c) the necessary measures to safeguard safety and the environment.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, although we have traversed this ground before, there are one or two additional points on which I seek the Minister's response. The new clause deals with the identification of marine environmental high risk areas and the introduction of measures to minimise threats to those areas from shipping.

At Report stage the Minister said that, we already have powers to implement the definition of MEHRAs which was proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson".—[Official Report, 13/1/97; col. 23.]

While that is true, would it not be better and more desirable to see active measures to reduce shipping risks within particularly sensitive sites? If, for example, an oil terminal is located within or near to a MEHRA, tug escorts could be identified as being required at the site. If there was a lack of co-operation on the part of terminal operators to co-operate on a voluntary basis, would not the Minister agree that some regulations—perhaps some enabling power in primary legislation—may be required? And if changes in primary legislation were to be required, surely now would be the best time to consider them.

There are a number of other measures that could be considered for MEHRAs on a site-by-site basis. There is the risk that if we let this opportunity pass by or the Minister says that he will give the matter further consideration when the Bill reaches another place, the Minister could be delimiting the range of options that he has to protect those special areas.

The Minister was right when he said, on the same day at col. 25, that measures may only be taken which are consistent with international law or which have been agreed by the IMO in relation to the UK's pollution zone. But that surely does not apply within our own territorial waters where we would be able to utilise tug escorts for laden tankers entering terminals inside MEHRAs without the consent of the IMO.

The Minister referred to PSS As—particularly sensitive sea areas—a concept developed within the IMO. It is a concept he supported, and I support it also on behalf of the Opposition. But it is virtually unused. The only PSSA of which I am aware—he can correct me if I am wrong—is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The concept, while self-evidently a good one, has not been particularly well received by other states at the IMO, certainly as far as practical application is concerned. Everybody is always prepared to accept the principle; it is however the practical application that matters.

The Minister said that the amendment we were then considering was premature, and he raised all sorts of arguments relating it to the PSSA, of course, and also to developments within Europe. However, the PSSA concept, while it does exist, is in fact hardly one which has been adopted, as I have already indicated, with any alacrity by anyone. Therefore, to rely on that is to some degree misleading. Indeed, a MEHRA once established could be submitted to the IMO as a candidate for the PSSA. I believe that I am right in saying that. Why should the two concepts be mutually exclusive?

The IMO is unable to endorse any PSSAs until they have been submitted by individual states. The Minister acknowledged that the European Union, as I have already said, has been considering a somewhat similar concept: MESAs—Marine Environmentally Sensitive Areas—but I see no reason why MEHRAs could not be submitted to the European Union, because concrete proposals on MESAs have not yet been produced. If the Minister is concerned at being rapidly overtaken, or quickly overtaken, as he put it, by international measures, perhaps this could be avoided by the United Kingdom taking the lead in the designation and protection of such sites. There is a case for amendment here, and I am sure that if the Minister rejects that view at this stage it will be a point taken by my honourable friends in another place.

I wish to ask the Minister about the discussions that have taken place regarding PSSAs, and I believe that the last major discussions took place at the IMO in July of last year. Can he give some resume of the intervention that was made on behalf of the United Kingdom in the course of those discussions? Can he also state what proposals he is able to put forward to ensure that progress is made with PSSAs at the IMO and also, on a similar basis, what particular proposals he has regarding the introduction and implementation of MESAs through the European Union?

The Minister referred to the radar surveys of various routeing measures in United Kingdom waters. Of course, ship routeing is one of a number of active measures which could be undertaken inside a MEHRA, but it would be helpful if we were able to see a copy of the radar survey results. Some of the surveys were, as I understand it, undertaken something like three years ago. They included Skomer, the Isles of Scilly, Shetland and Fair Isle. Since the results are reputedly representing good news, perhaps the Minister can indicate whether he will put a copy of those results and an interpretation of them into the Library of the House.

I end on this note, that I believe the Minister has certainly made good progress in this field. My ambition is to assist him, not to make a difficulty for him. The purpose of this debate is to discover not only responses to the points I have made but also to give the Minister an opportunity to indicate to the House what progress has been made in relation to the other matters which I have raised. I beg to move.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned in his opening remarks, we have had a full debate on this issue at earlier stages. That was very helpful in highlighting the areas of concern and giving the House information about this important subject.

At earlier stages of the Bill, I emphasised our support for the sentiment behind this amendment and the similar ones that were moved at earlier stages. I wish to re-emphasise that support today. However, I did at those stages state that there were specific reasons why the Government could not support the amendment at that stage and, indeed, those hold good for why we cannot support the amendment today. However, the noble Lord has asked me some interesting questions, and there are some additional details that I could provide to him.

First, as I have mentioned previously, we already have the powers to do much of what is proposed in the amendment. In general, our powers are the maximum that we are entitled to under international law. When we are considering the subject, it is of course vital that we keep well in mind our international obligations. This amendment would go beyond those powers and therefore could lead to inconsistency with international law. The amendment is also premature, as work on protecting environmentally sensitive areas is being carried forward both within the Government and internationally. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, probed further on the subject of prematurity, and it is worth emphasising the work that is going on within government. I will come on to that in a moment.

Without repeating all the details of the speech that I gave at an earlier stage, I would like to clarify a possible misconception about what a MEHRA is. The term was coined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, in his report Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. He proposed that MEHRAs should be, comparatively limited areas of high sensitivity which are also at risk from shipping". The noble and learned Lord also recommended that, in the first instance, we should protect MEHRAs through publicity. He stated: Providing owners, Masters, shippers and insurers with information on the existence, significance and location of MEHRAs is the vital first step". If publicity did not achieve sufficient results, the noble and learned Lord proposed that MEHRAs should be protected through a variety of protective routeing measures. These could include protected headlands, protected areas, compulsory areas to be avoided and compulsory routes.

The actual recommendations made in the report for MEHRAs do not require new primary legislation. That is an important point in our consideration of this issue. The agreement of the International Maritime Organisation would be required for mandatory routeing measures. But there is no need for additional provisions in this Bill to implement such routeing measures once IMO agreement has been obtained.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, inquired further about what the Government are doing to take forward the recommendation on the subject. As recommended in the report, we are holding a series of meetings with other government departments and indeed with outside organisations on the criteria that may be applied to define such an area. At the Government's request, the joint nature conservancy councils have been working on possible criteria, following meetings that were held some time ago. I am confident that this is the most appropriate and effective way to take forward this important work.

As I explained at Report, this is a matter on which considerable care is needed because hastily defined MEHRAs could cause more harm than good to the marine environment and other marine interests, especially if the designation does not earn the respect of mariners. The report said that: Identifying the key sensitive areas is extraordinarily difficult". The noble and learned Lord also said: The more numerous and the larger the areas highlighted as particularly sensitive, the greater the risk of assumptions that the remainder is of no environmental significance—which cannot be true". The Government certainly agree with this sentiment. All of our coastline is important. We are therefore seeking to make as rapid progress as possible, taking account of the dangers of acting too hastily.

The amendment would give quite wide powers, which could go beyond the concept of MEHRAs as proposed by the noble and learned Lord. It would give us powers to introduce "necessary measures" to safeguard maritime safety and the environment. The measures allowed under this amendment are undefined and give a very wide scope on the type of the measures which could be introduced. I would like to say a word or two further about that in the light of the speech of the noble Lord.

Following my earlier remarks, the House will be aware that coastal states do not have unlimited discretion on the controls which can be imposed on foreign ships. The wide powers envisaged by the amendment would apply within the territorial sea and within the United Kingdom's pollution zone. However, under the Law of the Sea Convention, measures may only be taken in the pollution zone which are consistent with existing international law or which have been agreed by the International Maritime Organisation. Again, it would not be sufficient just to inform them.

I have already explained that we have powers to implement the concept of MEHRAs as proposed, but there are in addition a number of other measures which can be taken to protect individual sea areas. For example, we are already taking steps to designate special areas around the UK coast under the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. These areas would severely restrict the substances which may be discharged from ships into the sea. Again, we do not need additional primary legislation to implement these special areas. We already have powers under Section 128 of the 1995 Act to implement these areas through secondary legislation.

Those arguments address the specific points contained in the amendment. However, the noble Lord went slightly wider in his speech and perhaps I may say a few words about those points. He suggested various other measures which might be taken in a MEHRA or very close to a MEHRA with regard to, for example, an oil institution. He mentioned in particular the question of tug escort. Tug escort into an oil terminal in a MEHRA can be made a condition of port entry under harbour by-laws and regulations. No primary legislation is needed. However, we need to define the criteria for the MEHRA: first, the environmental criteria and also the risk criteria. Harking back to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, actually proposed as the definition of MEHRAs, the use of compulsory tug escorts outside the vicinity of a port could go beyond what is permissible under our international agreement. That is an important point and one on which the noble Lord touched.

The noble Lord referred to particularly sensitive sea areas. I can tell him that proposals for other PSSAs are currently before the IMO. Indeed, one of them may have regard to Cuba.

I hope that the points which the noble Lord raised take our argument on MEHRAs further forward. He raised one additional point concerning the radar surveys. The noble Lord is right. A good deal of good news came out of those in terms of the degree to which merchant shipping was abiding by the routes which we had set. I understand that work is going on to bring together the results of those surveys in a suitable form for publication. When that work is done I shall ensure that copies are placed in the Library of the House.

The amendment is not needed to implement MEHRAs. We are working positively to take forward this concept. The amendment seeks to give wider powers which are in part already provided by international law and in part inconsistent with international law. For those reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed response. I am very glad that once the radar surveys have been reduced to a position in which they can be made readily available the department will ensure that they will be. I say the "department" advisedly. That is encouraging news. I do not know what timespan the Minister has in mind but I am sure that it will be done as rapidly as possible.

I am glad about the proposal for the PSSA around Cuba. I was thinking of something nearer home than Cuba, but it is important that this concept should be implemented with much greater rapidity than has been the case so far. I garnered from what the Minister said that he shares that view. He did not indicate what specific initiative the United Kingdom Government have taken. However, I shall not press him on that now because it does not arise directly out of what we have been saying. He may wish to drop me a line about that in due course.

I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say about prematurity and about having too many MEHRAs. I shared that view and said so at Second Reading. One could find the situation becoming very confusing if we had a proliferation of MEHRAs. That is therefore something to be avoided. However, I am not looking for that. I am looking for some progress in relation to them. I think the Minister has been characteristically helpful in defining the Government's position. I am not entirely sure about the legalities, but that is a matter which no doubt my honourable friends in another place will want to consider.

I close by saying that the Minister has been very open indeed about these matters. I am grateful for that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Powers of intervention where shipping accident threatens pollution]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, line 11, leave out ("imminent").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and in the names of my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the definition of an accident does not lead to a delay in intervention by being unduly restrictive. I said last time that I took the view that the word "imminent" could be unduly restrictive and that that in consequence could undermine or at least constrain at least the intervention powers which would be available to the Secretary of State when the Bill is enacted.

Perhaps I may give an example of what I mean. If a tanker were to lose its engine power offshore and winds threatened to blow it ashore within a relatively short period of time—say, 36 hours—the master might feel that he was placed under a good deal of pressure to argue that the situation did not constitute an imminent threat of material damage to the ship or to its cargo. This amendment would avoid that possible anomaly because the Secretary of State could avoid situations where masters delayed requests for help in order to avoid being held responsible by the shipowner for incurring rescue costs.

I know the Minister will say that what he is doing is to follow the wording that has been agreed internationally. However, would the word "imminent" undermine the position that already obtains under such agreements? I do not think it would. It would lead to a better definition of the circumstances in which the Secretary of State could intervene. That clarity would be of enormous help. I hope the Minister will feel that my point is worthy of further consideration. I beg to move.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I understand the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is deploying. I see what he is driving at. I believe that I can reassure him. I have looked at the matter again between the various stages of the Bill and I have taken legal advice.

Clearly, in many respects it is in the UK's interest for the intervention powers to be as wide as possible. However, we need to take account—as the noble Lord read my mind—of existing international law. Both the Intervention Convention 1969 and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 allow states to intervene when there is an imminent threat of material damage to a ship or cargo. The amendment would remove the word "imminent" and so make UK legislation inconsistent with international law.

The notion of an imminent threat of damage is also used in the international conventions on compensation for pollution damage caused by ships. Compensation is only available for reasonable measures taken to prevent an imminent threat of damage. The retention of the word "imminent" will therefore strengthen our case when arguing that the cost of our response to an incident should be compensated because the action taken was reasonable in the circumstances.

There is an important argument that we should keep the language of our domestic legislation as close as possible to international law in this area for the reasons I have outlined. The only reason for not doing so would be if we felt that our powers were unduly constrained because of not doing so. I am confident that retaining the word "imminent" would not unduly restrict our powers to intervene at the appropriate moment if we thought it necessary. For those reasons—I do not expect that the noble Lord will totally agree with me—I do not believe that we are being unduly restricted by the word "imminent". I have looked at the matter carefully. Therefore, on consideration, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I readily agree that the argument for maintaining total consistency with international legislation, which is relevant to this issue, is a powerful one. Perhaps the noble Viscount, with the leave of the House, will respond to this point. Obviously, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I ask the department to maintain a careful watch on the situation to see whether circumstances do arise similar to those which I referred to earlier and where the word "imminent" might operate as a difficult fetter as far as the intervention powers of the Secretary of State are concerned.

I ask the noble Viscount to indicate whether it is his view that it would be an advantage, after appropriate consideration of the implementation of the scheme, to ascertain within, say, a year, or two years at the outside, whether there would be a case for reconsidering the position. If the Minister is right and no constraints are seen to be operating, that will be very comforting. However, if doubts begin to develop it might be appropriate for the matter to be held under close review.

If I am right in the example I have quoted—and there may be others—then serious damage could arise where a delay on the part of a master to make a request for assistance occurred. I cannot ask the Minister to go further than that at the moment. I recognise that it is important because negotiations have taken place, the package has emerged, and it is important to give it a chance to operate. I hope that the debates that we have had will highlight a potential difficulty that may arise. I am sure that the Minister will feel that the debates have been of advantage.

Perhaps he will also indicate whether, if a difficulty were to arise, the Government would feel it appropriate to raise the issue once again in the International Maritime Organisation and the other fora to which he alluded. I recognise that this is speculative. I ask the Minister to intervene once again to answer the specific point as to whether he believes that the department should hold the issue under review to see whether my anxieties were becoming very real in practice. I believe that that is a reasonable request to make, and I hope that the Minister will answer in the affirmative before I withdraw the amendment.

7.15 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be helpful if I respond to the specific point that the noble Lord raised. The fact that the word "imminent" occurs in the Bill should be taken in the context that we are already familiar with its terminology in intervention matters. The word "imminent" is known and understood. I am sure that if there had been any feeling within my department or the Coastguard Agency that people are, or would be, unnecessarily fettered by that word it would have been brought to my attention. I have inquired further and that is very definitely the case—that is to say, there is not a feeling that we are unduly fettered by having the word "imminent" in our legislation.

Our policy is to take action and move equipment when it is clear that a threat exists. That is one of the lessons of the "Braer". When we have taken action, for example, escorting the super tanker "Mimosa", with which the noble Lord is familiar, we have passed the test imposed even with the word "imminent" being present. We would not want to have causes for delay. I would certainly like to draw the matter to a conclusion.

I am reluctant to say that all these matters will be kept under review, but I can say this to the noble Lord. During the passage of time and with the experience which I hope we will not have of incidents which require intervention, if we felt that we were unnecessarily hampered with the word "imminent" I would certainly want to take action to ensure that the wording was changed. However, I reinforce the fact that I do not believe that that is likely. I believe that the legislation stands up well and gives us the right powers to intervene quickly in circumstances where danger exists.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, once again I appreciate the Minister's intervention, with the leave of the House. I believe the assertion that he has made about the department maintaining a careful watch on the situation and ensuring that, if my apprehensions were to be fulfilled in any way, then action would be considered. I do not believe that I can ask for anything more. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 26, leave out ("137(1)") and insert ("137").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 at the same time. They are all minor technical amendments. Amendment No. 3 is consequential on earlier amendments to Clause 2 made in your Lordships' House. It broadens subsection (6)(b) of Clause 2 so that it refers to the whole of Section 137 rather than Section 137(1) alone. Subsection (1) is no longer the only subsection amended in Clause 2.

Amendment No. 10 corrects a drafting error in Clause 25. As currently drafted, there is a reference to a section where there should be a reference to a subsection. In order to avoid ambiguity, the amendment will substitute the correct reference.

Amendment No. 11 is a simple correction to the commencement provisions of the Bill. It adds Clause 29, which deals with the extent and application of the Bill, to the clauses which come into force immediately on Royal Assent. I beg to move.

On Question amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Waste reception facilities at harbours]:

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 4: Page 7, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert ("The master of a ship shall—").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 16.

We have covered many of the issues raised in these amendments at earlier stages, but it is perhaps worth pointing out that Amendment No. 4 seeks to give a departmental officer the power, on the face of the Bill, to require the discharge of waste from ships in ports where that officer has reasonable cause to consider it necessary. Currently, the Bill includes that only as an enabling power.

To some extent, the amendment reflects what the Minister said on Report when considering a similar amendment. The noble Viscount said: The powers could be a useful addition to existing powers to enforce pollution regulations … a power to require waste to be discharged would provide only part of the answer".—[Official Report, 13/1/97; col. 46.]

Perhaps I may turn that round the other way and say that the power therefore provides part of the answer. The amendment does not aim to put a universal requirement for mandatory discharge on the face of the Bill because we acknowledge that much more thought and consultation is required before such regulations may be drafted. However—this comment applies to all the amendments to which I am speaking—we are concerned about the exceptional cases. An exceptional case could be that of a vessel which has made an illegal discharge in the past and which is proposing to leave a port with a full waste tank.

In conclusion on Amendment No. 4 and Amendment No. 5, which is consequential upon it, perhaps I should point out that the provisions are also in line with a statement made by the Minister in a recent letter to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis in which the noble Viscount stated: As regards a failure to comply with the requirement to discharge waste, the best deterrent for ship operators is the threat that the ship could be detained in port, and therefore prevented from trading, until the waste has been discharged".

I turn now to Amendment No. 6, which seeks to delete the reference to arbitration and compensation. That would be replaced by making the power subject to Section 261 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which includes provision for the detention of the ship by the serving of a prohibition notice, as well as including provisions for arbitration and compensation. Again, I believe that the amendment incorporates comments made by the Minister on Report, particularly on the question of arbitration. The addition of new Section 130C(2) to Schedule 6 makes it explicit that the arbitration and compensation procedures which already apply to other improvement and prohibition notices under Section 261 would also apply to this additional power. It could be argued that that has already been achieved by the Minister's amendment to Schedule 6, adding new Section 130A, but I believe that the specific mention of Section 130C(2) eliminates any uncertainty.

The Minister and others have commented on the desirability of achieving the use of waste reception facilities through persuasion and consultation. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that that is a desirable objective when dealing with the whole industry, but we must accept that it is unrealistic when dealing with the small number of operators who repeatedly and deliberately commit offences. It is the behaviour of unscrupulous operators—who will probably not be influenced by waste management plans or the introduction of the inclusive fee systems—which we shall be discussing in a moment, on which we must concentrate.

We share the concern that any unilateral increase in pollution control powers which would make British ports less competitive would be undesirable. However, I do not believe that measures such as this would deter responsible ship owners from entering UK ports. I repeat that the provisions are targeted at those whose operations threaten the UK coastline and waters and add to the costs of those such as local authorities who have to deal with the clean-up. I hope that I have summarised the provisions of the amendments. I beg to move.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the package of amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just spoken has the same intention as a number of amendments which were tabled at Report and on Committee. They would seek to remove the flexibility in the Bill to make regulations on the discharge of waste from ships.

As I explained at Report stage, it is vitally important that we do not act too hastily on this issue. If we impose requirements on ships which are too onerous, there is a danger that some shipowners may be tempted to discharge their waste into the sea in order to avoid disproportionate costs, as the noble Lord acknowledged in his introduction. None of us wants to see that. The Bill therefore provides enabling powers which could be used following full consultation with all interested bodies. The noble Lord quoted back at me my own remarks at an earlier stage—that is always a powerful tool to use—when I said that that was only part of the answer. Yes, it is a part—and it is a part that we can use through the enabling powers. The crucial question is whether it should be an enabling power or whether the flexibility should be removed.

It is important that the provisions on discharge of wastes from ships are considered as elements of an overall strategy. We should not impose any one measure without considering the effect it will have on the others. In particular, we should be careful not to require shipowners to discharge wastes into port reception facilities until we are sure that those facilities are adequate. That is why we intend to take action first on waste management plans. We have had very good debates on that subject at earlier stages.

The concept of requiring ships to discharge wastes is a relatively new one. Although claims have been made about the effectiveness of such a strategy, it is unproven and risks greater damage to the environment. We are determined to proceed prudently and with the benefit of consultation and the experience gained from waste management planning.

The amendments would also remove a number of safeguards which Clause 5 provides for the regulations. For example, Clause 5 currently requires that there should be full consultation with interested parties and that the regulations would need to be approved by both Houses. It also stipulates the offences for non-compliance with the regulations. The noble Lord's amendments would have the effect of exempting mandatory discharge from these provisions.

The noble Lord has proposed that we should delete lines 18 to 25. That would have the effect of removing provisions relating to arbitration and the payment of compensation by the Secretary of State if the arbitrator finds that a direction was unreasonable. While I do not anticipate that there will be many cases which will be referred to arbitration, it is essential for the sake of the shipping industry as a whole that such a system should exist. There would seem to be elements of natural justice in that.

Again, as with so many of our discussions on this Bill, I do not believe that the noble Lord and I are far apart. It is a question of flexibility. If we are to introduce such regulations, I would prefer to do so after we have pursued full consultation and with the additional safeguards that are built into the Bill as it stands. I do not believe that the noble Lord strongly disagrees with those arguments. Although it is a great presumption to anticipate the noble Lord's words, I anticipate that his desire is more a determination to take the measure forward. Our determinations are shown by the Bill as a whole. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I share his view that we have had an interesting debate. We have made progress in discussing the end objectives which I suspect that we are all seeking and the different means by which we might achieve them. As the Minister said, I am not far from him on any of them.

I hope that the various regulations will be brought forward as quickly as possible following full consultation and that that will not happen too late in view of anything that might happen in the future. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]

7.30 p.m.

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7: Page 7, line 29, after ("of) insert ("direct").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7. I shall not detain the House long. The amendment concerns the comparatively small matter of the provision of waste reception facilities and charging for them. During Report stage the Minister said that the Bill allowed for regulations to prevent direct charges from being levied for the use of waste reception facilities. But subsection (4)(a) makes reference to prohibiting charges and not direct charges. This may be a small and irrelevant point, but it is a matter of slight concern that the regulations may prevent any charges being made at all. I am sure that that is not the intention of the Minister. Completely free waste facilities were not one of the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. I am sure that the Minister will provide an explanation that puts my mind at rest.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I believe that this amendment is unnecessary and in one way may be counter-productive. It would reduce the flexibility provided by Clause 5. New Section 130C(l) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 provides that regulations may enable harbour authorities to recover the costs of providing waste reception facilities through port dues.

New Section 130C(4) allows the regulations to prohibit the imposition of charges at the time that the waste is deposited. This is consistent with the recommendation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson.

As Clause 5 is currently drafted, we would be able to outlaw any charging mechanism which acted as a disincentive to the use of port waste reception facilities. On the one hand, we would be able to outlaw direct charging because "direct" comes within the larger set of charges. However, the amendment of the noble Lord could create a loophole. It could mean that we would be unable to prevent a harbour authority from imposing indirect charges which discouraged the responsible use of port waste reception facilities. I suggest that that would be undesirable.

In conclusion, I do not accept that the noble Lord's qualification of the word "charge" is necessary. There could be circumstances in which a wider definition would be helpful and I believe that I have described those circumstances. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I believe that I understood most of it. But I am not sure that he has fully explained whether the regulations could prevent any charges being made at all. However, I shall not detain the House any longer. I shall study this matter carefully. If I still have concerns I shall pass them on to colleagues in another place. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Increased penalty for causing pollution, etc.]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 8: Page 9, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) In section 131(3) of the 1995 Act (fine on summary conviction of offence of discharging oil into certain United Kingdom waters), for "person" there is substituted "master". (1A) After section 131(3) of the 1995 Act (fine on summary conviction of offence of discharging oil into certain United Kingdom waters) there is inserted— (3A) An owner guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £250,000; or
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8. I return to the issue of differential maximum penalties, which apply only in courts of summary jurisdiction. I do so unashamedly. In no way do I give up hope that I may still at this last moment, at least in this House, persuade the Minister to reflect further on the matter, and even to change his view.

The Minister has extended considerable courtesy to me and other Members of the House in dealing with amendments. I had a meeting with him on this issue. He has written to me. I shall refer to that letter and to the points that he raises in it seriatim in dealing with matters that I believe to be extremely important. Having said that, I disagree with the Minister on a number of issues to which he makes reference in his letter. There are however points on which we are able to agree. Clearly, acts of oil pollution are serious. Where a case is established against a defendant it must be dealt with severely, but the severity must be proportionate. There is no doubt that very serious matters should be referred to the Crown Court, and there is a point of agreement in that regard.

There is also common ground in the following area. I am delighted that the Minister regards some of the penalties imposed thus far in the magistrates' courts as inadequate. I agree with him in that respect. I understand that the Minister's letter was placed in the Library.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, with the leave of the House, the letter was certainly copied to all noble Lords who spoke at any stage of the debate.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure that any noble Lord who is interested in this issue will have the letter before him.

The inadequacy of penalty that both he and I believe has occurred is not a matter in respect of which he can take very firm action. But the Minister has indicated to me that he proposes to write an article in the Magistrate about the Government's campaign on the illegal discharge of waste from ships, presumably once this Bill has been enacted. I welcome that, too. That is the most that the Minister can do. Although I am not very optimistic, I hope that magistrates will treat the situation as seriously as he and I do.

Further common ground is represented by the Minister's assertion on the second page of his letter—this is the second point that he makes under this head—that the Government's general policy is to seek to impose penalties on owners rather than masters. He says that a master will be prosecuted only in certain circumstances, such as where the negligent or deliberate actions of the crew result in an illegal discharge, despite the owner taking all reasonable steps to prevent it. However, action against the master would not mean that a parallel prosecution could not be brought against the owner. So far so good.

In the next paragraph the Minister states correctly that courts have to take account of a defendant's means in determining the fine to be imposed, and that they can distinguish between the responsibilities of owners and masters in fixing the appropriate fine. All of that is fine. But the point of difference lies in the Minister's refusal to offer any differential between the master's responsibility and that of the owner in terms of the maximum fine that can be available in the magistrates' court. I stress that here reference is being made to the magistrates' court. In other cases the Crown Court has much wider discretion as to penalty by way of fine and the possibility of imprisonment.

The Minister goes on to argue the case for giving courts flexibility in imposing effective penalties under Clause 7. I wish to examine that main element of the Minister's case and state why I believe that his reasoning is wrong. He argues that he has some statutory precedent for not enabling any differential to be recognised in the law. He cites the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. He says that there is no precedent for a two-tier system. The mere fact that those Acts have not established a precedent does not mean to say that a precedent cannot be established now. In believe that the law requires to be taken seriously. The law has to be realistic and maximum fines have to be realistic too.

It must be remembered—and I know that the Minister concedes the point—that when we were dealing with those particular enactments we were looking at much smaller fines. Now we are considering a maximum fine in the magistrates' court of £250,000, which is a very different animal indeed.

I concede immediately and have never disputed the fact that it is right to increase the maximum fine against the owner. I believe that masters must take their responsibilities seriously and I am sure that the overwhelming number of them do so. But fines even described as maxima must bear some relationship to what is practicable and the Minister's argument here collides with a rock of reality.

If he argues that in a very high profile case, where the consequences of the master's acts were so grave that the courts should consider a far more draconian penalty and therefore there should be the flexibility of increasing that penalty to £250,000 in the magistrates' court, I would submit that the reality is that the prosecution would not seek to have the case tried in the magistrates' court but would elect trial in the Crown Court. Clearly, that would be the preferable course and I do not believe that the Minister's argument stands up.

Perhaps we may take an example of a situation comparable to that of the "Exxon Valdez", a case which the Minister raised with me in our discussions. I shall disclose nothing further about those discussions. Is it conceivable in a case of such high profile the prosecution will say, "We are happy to deal with this in the magistrates' court"? Of course not. Therefore that argument is not sustainable.

Past practical experience of cases in which the maximum fine has been much lower is that the magistrates' courts have nowhere near approached the available maximum penalty of £50,000 in dealing with an aberrant master. Even if the magistrates' courts concur in some way in the suggestion of higher fines, it is remote in the extreme, if not entirely impossible, to conceive of a maximum fine coming close to £50,000. We must look at what has happened in the courts. Even if courts were to be encouraged by the superlative article—as I am sure it will be—in the Magistrate to change their direction hitherto, it will not change the real facts of the situation as regards this issue.

It is not altogether inconceivable that a master's responsibility might be deemed to justify a fine substantially in excess of, say, £10,000. However, I see nothing likely to occur which will change the situation all that materially. A totally different situation pertains to the owner, who is likely to be a person of substance. Therefore, I believe that it is appropriate to increase the penalty to £250,000. I argued previously, and I stand by it, that the unscrupulous owner might put the master under such intense pressure that the owner virtually instructs the master to commit the relevant offence. I believe that that is a material factor which must be taken into account.

In the second paragraph of the final page of the Minister's letter he states in regard to security: A further factor which must be borne in mind is the relationship between Sections 131 and 144 of the 1995 Act. Section 144 provides for the detention of a ship on suspicion of an offence under section 131. Subsection (4) provides for the release of the ship on payment of a security. The amount of security is related to the size of the fine which may be imposed on summary conviction under section 131. Any amendment to section 131 could therefore create difficulties as regards the application of section 144(4)". I do not believe that the argument adduced is sufficiently substantial to defeat the points that I am seeking to make. I understand what the Minister is saying: that the amount of the security is related to the size of the fine when addressing the issue of the release of a ship detained under this section. However, we are dealing with a case which is dealt with summarily. I believe that it is a purely academic point and unreal as regards actual practice. I wish to ask the Minister whether any difficulties have arisen in the past under this provision. Has the question of security been undermined by the fact that we have had a fine of only £50,000? In any event, does it really relate to the responsibility of the master, or is it not the responsibility of the owner?

I do not believe that the Minister's point undermines my arguments. I believe that there is a perfectly reasonable case to be made for a differential approach between the master and the owner. I do not believe that anything in the law prohibits that approach. I should be very surprised if it were unknown to the law at the present time. I believe that it is wrong that signals should be given to the magistrates' courts which are misleading. The magistrates should be guided in the direction of recognising the major difference of responsibilities which are appropriate to a convicted master and to a convicted owner. The availability of a fine following summary trial must bear some relation to reality. I believe that the Bill as drawn does not achieve that very important goal. I beg to move.

7.45 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, at the Report stage I undertook to reconsider this issue. At that stage and again today the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, spoke with great feeling about what he considers to be a problem with the maximum level of fines that we have established in this new Bill. I am not persuaded by the noble Lord's argument. I have gone into considerable detail and carried out research in consultation with other government departments and, indeed, as the noble Lord said, I have had a meeting with him again to see whether we could find more common ground on this issue.

We have no difference at all as regards the fact that we both desire to send out strong signals that the UK is tough on pollution and that we have levels of fines which are appropriate to the severity of the offence. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton Davis, referred to a letter which I wrote to him and copied to other noble Lords.

If it is not already there, it should be put in the Library of the House for the benefit of future historians who perhaps may seek to follow our debates and who may be puzzled without sight of that carefully worded document.

Indeed I said both on 19th December in this House and in correspondence that our policy is to seek to impose penalties on owners rather than masters and that we should prosecute masters only in certain circumstances. I gave the example of where negligent or deliberate actions of the crew result in an illegal discharge despite the owner taking all reasonable steps to prevent that.

I went on to refer—and the noble Lord recognised that—to Section 18 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which places a duty on the courts to take account of the means of the defendant when seeking to impose any fines. That is very important indeed if we are concerned about the two strands of the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, puts forward. The first is the question of potential of unfair or unreasonable fines, if that is the correct terms, on masters. The second thrust of his argument, on which I felt he dwelt more, was the question of the law; that it should appear reasonable; and that we should not wish to do anything to bring the law into disrepute by imposing unreasonable penalties.

That is why we should bear in mind very closely what Section 18 of the 1981 Act says. Therefore, for a comparable offence, we should expect that the courts would generally impose a lower fine on a master than on an owner. Of course, it is for the court to decide on the differential, taking into account the individual details of each case.

The key point here is that we believe that it is important to maintain the flexibility to impose effective penalties for as wide a range of circumstances as is practicable. The current drafting of Clause 7 achieves that.

Perhaps I may raise another point in passing. I should not wish to create a situation where it was in the shipowner's interests to see the master prosecuted in order to reduce the overall exposure to fines. I mean that the master is prosecuted rather than the owner and not that they are both prosecuted.

The noble Lord said that I had raised the question of precedent. There are two points in that regard. First, I have not been able to identify any precedent for a two-tier system, and certainly not in merchant shipping legislation. The second is as regards any precedent which mirrors the approach that we are taking in this Bill. I gave the examples of Sections 3, 5, 98 and 163 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and Section 11 of the Sea Fisheries (Conservation) Act 1967. Again, we could not find a precedent for such a two-tier system. The sections that I described were for lower total maximum fines than those we are considering in this case.

The noble Lord rehearsed also the argument which I advanced with regard to security. That is not an argument which we can dismiss lightly. It is important and we must bear it in mind closely when considering the question of making sure that we are able and in a position to impose the relevant penalties when the time comes.

For those reasons, I believe that it is important that we impose the same high maximum level of fines for masters and owners. In the course of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was concerned that we might send misleading signals to magistrates. I certainly do not wish to do that and, as the House knows already, I intend to produce an article which the noble Lord is confident will be one of supreme clarity. We shall endeavour to provide satisfaction on that point. That article will provide information to magistrates. Of course, it is for them to take a decision in the final analysis. It will provide also information with regard to the situation where there is an illegal discharge of waste from ships.

The noble Lord's argument is primarily that we should not wish to set an unrealistic level of fines. I have responded by saying that I could envisage circumstances in which this level of fines would be suitable. There is no precedent for such a two-tier system. We are able to cover the perceived down-side which the noble Lord suggests as regards signals to the industry and security.

Having discussed those points and the arguments with the noble Lord previously, I know that he takes a different view. It may well be that we shall have to agree to disagree on this point. But we have covered this ground very thoroughly indeed. I have had consultation with other government departments which have considerable experience as regards the question of fines in the magistrates' courts. For those reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full expose of his case. I am sorry that we are not able to agree. I noted that some of the documents, the letters that have been written, may well go to the archivist at the request of the Registrar General, who will not be able to keep them under Clause 22. I noted too that the Minister said that the United Kingdom had to be tough on pollution. He forgot the last part of the phrase and that is, "and the causes of pollution".

I hope that nothing that I have said will encourage the Home Secretary, who does not need much encouragement in that respect, to misconstrue my arguments so that he thinks that I am not being tough on crime for electoral purposes in the weeks ahead. I just think that one must be realistic about such matters.

I do not wish to see a master being used as a shield by an unscrupulous owner to protect that owner from prosecution. I just do not believe that that situation is one which would justify the very large fine that can be imposed upon the master, because there is no certainty that the owner will indemnify the master. Is that unscrupulous boat owner going to fork out some £250,000 or some other very large fine? Again, I think that the Minister is not being entirely realistic.

As to the question of the precedents which have been established, if a case can be made for change, then change should be made and one should not dwell in the land of saying that it is an unprecedented situation. During our last debate on this matter I had the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I say as a lawyer that I believe that there is nothing to avoid that course being taken if a case for it is made out.

The Minister did not deal with the point I have made on a number of occasions in previous debates and today about the distinction between cases of very high profile, of international besides national significance. I do not know why he did not deal with that point, but he did not. In such instances and where the consequences of the negligent or deliberate action which led to prosecution are so serious, almost inevitably the prosecution would say that because of its seriousness, such a case would have to go for trial. As the Minister himself said, on conviction, the penalties available to the Crown Court are more draconian. Consequently, that is a much more realistic way of looking at the matter.

Your Lordships will be happy to know that I shall not seek to divide the House tonight. Indeed, we have had our victories this week and we must not overdo such things. Nevertheless, I know that I would carry all noble Lords with me, apart from the Minister and the Whip—

Baroness Trumpington: Noble Baroness!

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am sorry, my Lords; I should have referred to the noble Baroness. I still cannot get out of the practice that I followed in another place.

Having said that, I am sure that my honourable friends will want to return to the point and press it. I do not know what will happen to the Bill in the course of the next few weeks. Much, of course, depends on the timing of the election. But it is perhaps one of those issues about which the Minister will, perforce, have to think again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 p.m.

Clause 12 [Preparation of plans under International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 9: Page 14, line 19, leave out from beginning to ("include") in line 21 and insert ("An order under subsection (1) above in pursuance of paragraph (d) of that subsection may").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment would improve the drafting of Clause 12. On Report, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said that the phrase, without prejudice to the generality of was unnecessary. On further consideration, I now share that view. The amendment would, therefore, remove those superfluous words from the Bill.

For good measure, and in keeping with the objective of the noble and learned Lord of keeping unnecessary words out of the statute book, the amendment would also delete a further three superfluous words; namely, the phrase "also in particular". I beg to move.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount and particularly to the draftsperson because, undoubtedly, this is one of those statutory phrases which has got into the draftsman's office computer, and anything that gets into that computer becomes like tablets of stone brought down from the holy mountain of the Medes and the Persians. Great openness of mind and flexibility has been shown in consenting to reconsider the matter.

I have written to the noble Viscount putting the matter on a rather broader basis because my conclusion on looking further was that in only one very remote circumstance were those words necessary in order to preserve the generality when a particular was mentioned. I certainly hope to have the views of the draftsperson on this in due course. In the meantime, I express my gratitude.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I shall certainly be responding in due course to the point that the noble and learned Lord raised in correspondence. I am grateful for his kind words with regard to the change that we have proposed as a result of his earlier intervention.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 25 [Piracy]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 10: Page 22, line 40, leave out ("section") and insert ("subsection").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 3. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 30 [Short title, interpretation and commencement]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 11: Page 24, line 21, leave out ("and 27") and insert ("27 and 29").

On Question, amendment agreed to. Schedule 2 [Funding of maritime services]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 12: Page 28, line 37, leave out ("so incurred") and insert ("required to be so recovered").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15. We have had considerable discussions on Schedule 2 resulting in extensive amendment to paragraphs 3 and 12 of Schedule 2. The amendments have clarified the circumstances where the operation of the General Lighthouse Fund might be changed and how those changes would operate. The general lighthouse authorities, represented by Trinity House, have written to the department to indicate that they are, largely content with the GLF provisions of Schedule 2".

However, the consideration of two additional minor points has been requested. We have agreed in discussion that further minor improvements are possible.

Amendment No. 12 makes it clear that the amounts within paragraph 3 relate only to costs which must be transferred out of the scope of the General Lighthouse Fund as a result of an international agreement. It cannot be used to transfer more than is strictly necessary to fund the transferred services. I have already given assurances to that effect in a response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on Report.

Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 ensure that any collecting authority under the schedule has the power to seek information. Amendments at Report stage made provision at paragraph 9(2) and paragraph 13 of Schedule 2 for the GLAs to collect additional charges. These amendments to paragraph 7 will ensure that, for example, in the event of the GLAs collecting additional charges, they would be empowered to seek any necessary information.

I am very pleased that the amendments I have tabled today—if accepted by the House—together with the earlier amendments that I brought forward on Report, have allowed us to reach agreement with the GLAs on this important schedule. With those words, I beg to move.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I can only express my thanks to the Minister for bringing forward these amendments. The noble Viscount has gone a long way towards allaying the fears that the GLAs had regarding certain parts of the Bill. The amendments that the Minister brought forward at the last stage of the Bill went a very long way towards allaying those fears. The fact that he is still bringing forward amendments at this late stage to tidy up those last little niggling fears is a matter of both delight and gratitude. I am most grateful to him.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15: Page 30, line 13, leave out from ("provide") to ("with") in line 14 and insert ("any collecting authority"). Page 30, line 14, leave out ("he") and insert ("the collecting authority"). Page 30, line 16, after ("paragraph") insert—(""collecting authority" means—

  1. (a) the Secretary of State,
  2. (b) a Departmental officer, and
  3. (c) a general lighthouse authority;").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Viscount Goschen

I beg to move the privilege amendment:

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, during the course of the Bill I have objected to two small statutory phrases as being unnecessary. One has been conceded; the other is reference to "the consent of the Treasury". I hope that all your Lordships who are much younger than I will live to see that phrase disappear too. This privilege amendment really falls into the same class as being a drafting nonsense. What it says is quite untrue. It says—I summarise—that nothing in the Bill infringes the prerogative of financial privilege of the other place. There are, of course, frequent provisions in the Bill which do precisely that. We have just dealt with Schedule 2, about which my noble friend Lord Greenway spoke and about which my noble friend Lord Cooke was about to speak, which dealt very much with matters of finance. What is said in this amendment is quite untrue. However, this Bill is not peculiar in that respect because the privilege amendment is only moved in circumstances where what it states is untrue.

I do not expect the noble Viscount to withdraw the amendment on my ipse dixit but I raise the matter in the hope that the Procedure Committee will look to see whether there is not some more economical way of deferring to the privileges of the other place. There is, of course, a message procedure. During the course of this evening a number of messages have gone from the Clerks' Table to the other place. That would be a much more economical way than moving an amendment, printing it in Hansard, printing it in the Third Reading report, putting a black line against it, the other place then taking the amendment out and removing the black line. Is that not a waste of money? I do not ask the noble Viscount to withdraw the amendment. I ask your Lordships to recognise and take note of its absurdity.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for not asking me to withdraw the amendment pending further consideration. I do not feel I am in a position at the moment to offer a comment on the noble and learned Lord's argument but merely to suggest that his "hit" rate has been alarmingly high during the course of the Bill.

On Question, amendment (privilege) agreed to.

8.12 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill now pass. The Bill reinforces our longstanding commitment to the highest standards of maritime safety and vigilance to prevent the pollution of our waters and coast and to increase the safety of life at sea.

As the House is aware, the Bill has presented an opportunity to put in place a number of important measures which reduce the risk of pollution. It implements those recommendations in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, entitled Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas which required legislative change.

We have also taken the opportunity to make a number of other significant changes to merchant shipping legislation. We are taking power to implement a number of international agreements. The Bill also provides the necessary legal framework to implement the package of anti-pollution measures which I announced last year.

One important element of the Bill is the provision in Schedule 2 to implement a user pays policy in the maritime sector. The user pays principle has widespread support but concerns have been expressed about the implications of such a policy if implemented in the UK alone. I wish to take this opportunity briefly to restate our assurances on that point. The Government accept that if user charges were introduced unilaterally this could have adverse implications for the competitiveness not only of UK ports and shipowners but also for our exporters and importers. We take these issues seriously as I stressed at Second Reading and at other stages. I assure the House that the Government would not introduce charges unilaterally without first carrying out a full evaluation of compliance costs for business and of adverse effects on competitiveness. Our preferred approach remains to achieve international agreement, and we are making every effort to achieve that. It is my intention to consult with the industry on services which may be charged for in preparation for international discussions. The Government have said that they do not envisage charging for search and rescue services and I am happy to repeat that assurance now.

The Bill has attracted support from all sides in this House, and indeed outside from the shipping and ports industries, from environmental organisations, unions and others, which reflects a general desire to see these measures put into practice at the earliest opportunity. I am grateful for the support of those organisations and for their contributions to the consultation process.

I suggest that the Bill was an ideal candidate for the Moses Room procedure at Committee stage. A less formal procedure worked well for this uncontroversial Bill. I thank the Opposition in the form of the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Berkeley, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for agreeing to that procedure, for welcoming the Bill and for their constructive and helpful interventions on a wide range of issues. The Bill is undoubtedly better for the changes made in Committee and during the subsequent stages. The level of agreement and co-operation from the Opposition Benches and from all sides of the House is appreciated by the Government.

One issue which caused considerable debate concerned the provisions relating to the General Lighthouse Fund in the event of an international agreement. At Second Reading I stated my regret that lack of consultation had caused unnecessary alarm for the general lighthouse authorities. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, and indeed to my noble friend Lord Cochrane of Cults and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for elucidating their concerns and for their help in determining the satisfactory and agreed solution which we now have in the Bill.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, for his helpful interventions, particularly in the field of drafting and constitutional matters. I must also thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for his help and support during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. I know that he is not able to attend the debate this evening but his knowledge and experience have proved invaluable in our debates. I reserve a special word of thanks for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, not only for his contribution to the passage of the Bill in this House, but also for the outstanding work which resulted in the publication of his report, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. I know that those sentiments are echoed on all sides of your Lordships' House.

I also wish to thank my team of officials who have worked long and hard on the implementation of the Donaldson recommendations and on the Bill from its inception. In bringing forward the Bill we have taken another significant step towards the implementation of the report's well-founded recommendations. Finally, as the Bill leaves your Lordships' House, I am sure the whole House will join me in hoping that it makes speedy progress in another place and reaches the statute book as soon as possible.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Goschen.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I join in many of the comments the Minister made. This has been an important and a fascinating Bill. It is vitally important in terms of merchant shipping and the protection of life and the maritime environment. As the Minister rightly said, the House and on a wider sphere—nationally and internationally—all of us should be enormously indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and his committee, on whose recommendations this Bill is so largely based.

It has not been a politically contentious Bill although we have had interesting arguments about certain technical matters. Undoubtedly, the Minister is right in saying that the procedural experiment, as it were—although it was not quite an experiment, it was as regards transport issues—of considering the matter in Committee in the Moses Room was interesting. Of course the Bill was not changed there, but I think the deliberations we had there caused the Minister to introduce some important amendments. While we may have disagreed about some of the solutions to the problems raised, virtually all the issues identified common concern. There was no division between us as to the objectives of the Bill. However, one thing is clear: we shall no doubt go on learning from experience. We must not be complacent. There must be an ability to keep the situation under close review and to introduce changes wherever the necessity for a change is established.

I believe that the scrutiny of the Bill in this House has been useful. It has been impressive. In another place other issues may well arise. I gather that an amendment may be introduced by one of my honourable friends from the Back Benches enabling an injured person or those representing the interests of a deceased person to call for a public inquiry. That follows the case of the "Marchioness". Perhaps I should have deployed that issue in this Chamber; I would not have pursued it to a Division. However, it is a matter that will no doubt come before the Minister.

The Bill has attracted widespread interest on both sides of the shipping industry and from environmental concerns. The Minister has behaved almost impeccably. He would have behaved impeccably if he had accepted Amendment No. 8. However, before and during our debates he showed himself to be flexible. He introduced amendments where he was convinced that the Bill would be improved. We owe him a great debt of appreciation. I have said that before. I have been very impressed indeed—I have quite a lot of experience in this field—by the way that the noble Viscount has handled the Bill. I would not have said that had he been standing for election—it might have been quoted!

Apart from thanking the Minister, I wish, too, to thank a number of people who have given me and my noble friend Lord Berkeley a great deal of assistance. It is invidious to name people, but I shall do so because they deserve special mention. Mr. Adrian Hughes of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea gave us valuable legal help. Mr. Edmund Brookes of the Chamber of Shipping, Mr. Graham Hicks of NUMAST, Daniel Owen and Mary Painter of the RSPB, and Gordon Johnson of the United Kingdom Major Ports Group were all readily available to help us; and there is the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, whom I thank for his constructive assistance. They were able to attend meetings with us and to give us the benefit of their expert opinions. That was invaluable in the course of our debates.

In particular, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley who has performed with exceptional ability in the short time that he has taken on the role of assisting me in transport affairs. He performed extremely well on this occasion. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, also gave me the benefit of his help and support, which, I fear, came to nothing in respect of my amendment that we debated today. But I thank him, too. The noble and learned Lord was able to gain useful concessions as well. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, always takes an interest in these matters and long may he continue to do so. I am sure that I have left out certain people. However, before I conclude it would be remiss of me indeed if I were to forget the research office of the Opposition, and Mr. Robert McGeachy in particular, who worked incredibly hard in the course of the Bill.

I look forward to the Bill being enacted as rapidly as possible. It is a good Bill. It is a Bill which enables Britain to exercise, I believe, an important influence in the counsels of world shipping. We are doing something practical to implement the promises on the part of those operating in the counsels of world shipping. That, I believe, is very important.

I join with the Minister in everything he said. I hope that the Bill will receive a speedy passage in another place.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cooke of Islandreagh unfortunately had to rush to catch an aeroplane. However, he asked to be associated with the brief words that I shall say.

I join entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in thanking the Minister for the courtesy he has shown throughout our proceedings on the Bill, the flexibility that he has shown, and the hard work that both he and his department have undertaken in helping to satisfy the initial concerns of the general lighthouse authorities, to almost everyone's satisfaction.

We all wish to see the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. I wish it a speedy passage through another place.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have spoken for their kind words, and in particular the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, with regard to the general lighthouse authorities. That gives me an opportunity to recognise and acknowledge the work that they undertook towards the agreement that we now have.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his kind words, in particular in view of the fact that he had previous responsibilities for this area of policy. I commend the Bill.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.