HL Deb 26 July 1999 vol 604 cc1341-3

1 After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—

(" .—(1) The Secretary of State may, in relation to offshore installations, by regulations make provision which, subject to any modifications that he considers appropriate, corresponds or is similar to any provision made by, or capable of being made under, sections 137 to 140 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (powers to prevent and reduce pollution, and the risk of pollution, by oil or other substances following an accident) in relation to ships.

(2) In this section— offshore installation" means any structure or other thing (but not a ship) in or under—

  1. (a) United Kingdom territorial waters, or
  2. (b) any waters mentioned in section 5(9)(b) or (c),
which is used for the purposes of, or in connection with, the exploration, development or production of petroleum; petroleum" has the meaning given by section 1 of the Petroleum Act 1998; ship" has the same meaning as in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

(3) Regulations under this section may—

  1. (a) contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary, transitional or saving provisions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and
  2. (b) make different provision for different cases, including different provision in relation to different persons, circumstances, areas or localities.

(4) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a) the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland;
  2. (b) such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of owners or operators of offshore installations as he may consider appropriate; and
  3. (c) such other bodies or persons as he may consider appropriate.

(5) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercised by statutory instrument.

(6) No regulations shall be made under this section (whether alone or with other regulations) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

As I have mentioned during earlier debates on the Bill, the Government intend to use it to make improvements to the offshore environmental regime. That includes implementing one of the recommendations in the recent report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, which was published on 15th March this year, and was instigated following events surrounding the "Sea Empress" oil tanker incident in 1996. I have referred to the report at earlier stages of the Bill.

The work of the noble and learned Lord concerned the control and salvage of shipping and offshore installations in situations where there is a significant threat of pollution. He reached four basic conclusions.

The first was that incidents that threaten to cause or actually cause marine pollution are so many and varied that the involvement of Ministers in operational decisions is not a practicable option. Ministers are entitled to be kept informed and may subsequently be accountable to Parliament. However, while operations are in progress, Ministers must stand aside, and be seen to stand aside, leaving operational control in the hands of a Secretary of State's specially trained appointed representative (to be called, in the jargon, SOSREPs).

The second conclusion was that the "trigger" point at which the Government, in terms of their statutory powers and responsibilities, become entitled to give directions is where there is a threat of significant pollution to the UK's pollution control zone, territorial waters or coastline.

The third conclusion was that officers from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as a whole should play a much larger part in operations in response to a significant threat of pollution than had been the case in the past.

The fourth conclusion was that the government response to the threat of significant pollution from or involving an offshore installation must be compatible with their response to such a threat from a shipping casualty. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry should, therefore, be given powers and responsibilities in relation to offshore installations which are similar to those of the Secretary of State for the Environment. Transport and the Regions under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

I have given the first three conclusions as background. However, it is only this fourth conclusion that these amendments are designed to implement. They are a lengthy set of amendments and it might be useful if I briefly run through them.

Subsection (1) of the new clause provides the Secretary of State with powers for offshore installations equivalent to those for ships contained in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Subsection (2) seeks to define an offshore installation both by type and geographic location. Subsection (3) seeks to ensure that any regulations made may be tailored to the particular circumstances and various types of offshore installations and that regulations sit well with existing provisions. Subsections (4), (5) and (6) would ensure that consultation takes place with statutory bodies, industry and others prior to the introduction of regulations and that these be made by affirmative resolution of both Houses.

Amendment No. 4, which is a relatively technical amendment, provides that the powers to make and enforce regulations extend to Northern Ireland. The other amendment in this group reflects the fact that the Petroleum Act 1998 consolidated a good deal of earlier oil and gas legislation, including the Oil and Gas Enterprise Act 1982. These are, therefore, tidying-up amendments.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Whitty.)