Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.



Wednesday 5 May 1993


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Barry Jones

Arbuthnot, Mr. James (Wanstead and Woodford)

Austin-Walker, Mr. John (Woolwich)

Bennett, Mr. Andrew F. (Denton and Reddish)

Butler, Mr. Peter (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Clarke, Mr. Eric (Midlothian)

Denham, Mr. John (Southampton, Itchen)

Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evennett, Mr. David (Erith and Crayford)

Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough)

Grylls, Sir Michael (Surrey, North-West)

Hendry, Mr. Charles (High Peak)

Kennedy, Mrs. Jane (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick (New Forest)

Montgomery, Sir Fergus (Altrincham and Sale)

Norris, Mr. Steve (Minister for Transport in London)

Prentice, Mr. Gordon (Pendle)

Wallace, Mr. James (Orkney and Shetland)

Walley, Ms Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Mr. F. A. Cranmer, Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 5 May 1993

[MR. BARRY JONES in the Chair]

Draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) (Amendment)Order 1993

10.30 am

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) (Amendment) Order 1993.

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) (Amendment) Order 1993.

Mr. Norris: The two orders have been laid before the House, seeking amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) Order 1983 and the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) Order 1988, to incorporate respectively resolutions MEPC 14(20), MEPC 42(30), MEPC 47(31), MEPC 51(32), MEPC 52(32) and MEPC 48(31) made by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organisation. The orders are necessary to implement amendments to the International Convention for the prevention of pollution from ships 1973 and its protocol of 1978, known as MARPOL 73/78, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. The orders will enable amending regulations to be made to reduce further the threat of pollution of the sea by oil and by garbage. One of the most important changes covered by the amendments is the proposed alteration to the design and construction of oil tankers to prevent or to minimise oil pollution in the event of collision or stranding. Resolution MEPC 52(32) requires all oil tankers of 600 tonnes deadweight and above for which a building contract is in place on or after 6 July 1993, or which will undergo a major conversion after that date, or which will be completed after 6 July 1996 to be built to new standards. Oil tankers over 5,000 tonnes deadweight must have double hulls or be constructed to an approved alternative design that will ensure at least the same level of protection against oil pollution in the event of collision or stranding. Oil tankers of between 600 tonnes and 5,000 tonnes deadweight must have double bottoms. Any form of construction other than that described in the resolution would require approval in principle by MEPC. Although there is currently no proposal from the International Maritime Organisation to limit the size of tankers, the resolution does include revised calculations to limit the size and arrangement of individual cargo oil tanks. The measures I have described will go a long way towards ensuring that new tankers carry oil in safety. However, it will be several years before the safeguards are in widespread use. That being so, the International Maritime Organisation also considered measures to 4 enchance the safety of existing oil tankers and the same resolutions requires that crude oil tankers of 20,000 tonnes deadweight and above and product carriers of 30,000 tonnes deadweight shall be subject to a more stringent programme of inspections. Such tankers over five years of age shall have on board a complete file of the survey reports and structural work carried out, to be accompanied by a condition evaluation report. In addition, a phase-out conversion schedule will be introduced for tankers above a certain age. An oil tanker that is 25 or more years old must either meet the rules for new ships or have protective double-bottom or wing tanks. If those conditions are met, or other operational or structural arrangements that can be shown to provide an equivalent level of protection are made, the requirements to comply with the regulations for new ships will be deferred until the vessel is 30 years old. Despite the improvements in tanker construction to prevent oil spills, it is accepted that accidental discharges of oil will continue to occur. The damage caused by oil spills may be compounded by ill-considered actions by those on the scene immediately after the event. To minimise that risk, resolution MEPC 47(31) requires that every oil tanker of 150 gross tonnage and above and every ship, other than an oil tanker, of 400 gross tonnage and above shall carry on board an oil pollution emergency plan, written in the working language of the master and officers. The plan must include procedures for reporting an oil pollution incident and a detailed description of the action to be taken immediately by persons on board to reduce or control the discharge of oil. For United Kingdom registered ships, those plans will be subject to approval on behalf of the Secretary of State. Great concern has been expressed about the effect on the marine environment of the operational discharge of oil into the sea from ships. The MEPC has acted on the issue and resolution 51(32) halves the permitted rate of discharge of oil from tankers to 30 litres per nautical mile. For discharges from the machinery spaces of all ships, the maximum permitted discharge of oily mixture is substantially reduced from 100 parts per million to 15 parts per million of oil in water. That leads me to the remaining amendment to the order which makes the Antarctic sea below 60 deg south a special area for the purposes of annex I of the MARPOL convention. For some years, there has been international concern about the pollution of Antarctica and under this amendment, the discharge of oil or oily mixture into the sea in the Antarctic area below 60 deg south will be prohibited. It will be the responsibility of the Government of the party to the convention at whose ports ships depart en route to, or arrive from, the Antarctic region to ensure that adequate reception faculties for oil and oily mixture are available. It will be the responsibility of flag states to ensure that vessels registered with them are fitted with tanks of sufficient capacity on board for the retention of oil and oily mixtures before entering the Antarctic special area. The Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) (Amdt) Order 1993 covering resolutions MEPC 42(30) and MEPC 48(31) confirms Antarctica as a special area for the purposes of restricting garbage disposal under annex V of MARPOL. The discharge of garbage from ships is prohibited, with the exception of food wastes, in areas needing special protection, which are defined in the convention. Strictly limited discharge of food wastes is permissible within a special area, but the MEPC has 5 resolved that the Antarctic area should be regarded as an exceptional case and resolution MEPC 42(30) prohibits the dumping of any garbage into the seas of the Antarctic special area. Again, ships entering the special area must ensure that they have sufficient capacity to store garbage while operating in the area and must conclude arrangements to discharge it at a reception facility outside the special area. The other amendment to the order designates the wider Caribbean a special area for the purposes of garbage disposal. The wider Caribbean area will be subject to restrictions similar to those applied to special areas which prohibit all garbage, other than treated food waste, from being discharged into the sea close to land. All other waste must be stored on board for disposal at a port reception facility. In conclusion, I believe that the orders will make a significant contribution to the prevention of pollution at sea by oil and garbage. The prohibition of the disposal of any waste in the environmentally sensitive antarctic region is especially welcome.

10.37 am

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I do not wish to detain the Committee unnecessarily, but I believe that any proposals to improve the problem of marine pollution must be taken seriously and approved as quickly as possible. We are concerned about the piecemeal approach to safer seas, with statutory instrument after statutory instrument. Where is the overall co-ordination of policy to ensure safer seas, which this country knows that it needs, especially following the Braer disaster? We welcome the orders, which will be helpful, but we believe that they do not go far enough in view of what needs to be done. One problem is that the Minister responsible for shipping matters sits in another place. It is difficult to have a co-ordinated approach to maritime policies and to the prevention of marine pollution when we cannot question the relevant Minister in a Committee such as this. Why must we wait so long for the approval and ratification of an International Maritime Organisation convention on salvage, which my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) has been pressing the Government to adopt through his private Member's Bill? I know that going through those channels was ruled out of order by the Whips, but I understand that we have received undertakings from the Minister that the convention will be introduced as quickly as possible. Why, therefore, do we have this piecemeal approach? Why do we not have a concerted strategy which would do what is needed? The statutory instruments raise the issue of Europe. I welcomed the emergency meeting on environment and transport in Brussels on 25 January 1993, and I was interested to read the detailed proposals and recommendations that arose from it. What progress have the Government made with those recommendations? Another question on the orders needs to be put to the Government. We are concerned about improving the design of ships and about the way in which the requirements for such improvements are incorporated in legislation. What is the Minister's reaction to the well-known fact that the average age of ships in the merchant fleet is a minimum of 15 years? The Minister must tell us not only how the Government are progressing with the 6 problems dealt with by the statutory instruments, but how we can hope to deal with those problems if we are not renewing the few merchant ships left in the British merchant fleet. All those issues must be taken on board. I find it difficult to understand how we can consider the statutory instruments in isolation and how we can ensure that everything that needs to be done post-Braer will be done. What progress are the Government making with the series of IMO ratifications and with the beginnings of the maritime transport strategy that is coming out of Europe? Subject to the Government's undertaking that they would be prepared to examine those wider issues, we should welcome any improvement in maritime pollution and we believe that that is addressed by the statutory instruments.

10.42 am

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): I support what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) said. We shall support measures to improve safety at sea and to enhance ship design and the marine environment. I wish to raise several detailed matters with the Minister which relate to the prevention of oil pollution under the order. The Minister said that there would be requirements for the design and construction of new vessels. That is welcome. Many people have identified the problem of existing vessels being floating accidents waiting to happen. The Minister said that there are provisions for vessels that are more than 25 years old. As the hon. Lady said, many vessels are not as old as that and have an average age of 15 years. There are concerns that the age of the fleet is increasing. The Committee might be encouraged by learning what steps the Government are taking to improve the safety of the middle-aged vessels. Although it is a matter for conjecture until the publication of the report of the marine accident investigation branch of the Department of Transport, I suspect that even if the construction regulations had been in force, they would not have made much difference to the Braer incident. Other measures have been suggested, such as transponders which would keep track of ships. Such measures are making slow progress through the IMO and we should like to know what the Government are doing to speed up progress. I note that MEPC 47(31), which is referred to in the order, relates to requirements for an approved shipboard oil pollution emergency plan. The Minister said, I believe, that the documentation must be written in the language of the master and officers. What about the language of the crewmen? The regulations do not seem to take that into account. That may present problems, which will need to be addressed. In addition, the order was adopted on 4 July 1991. Why has it taken until 5 May 1993 for Parliament to have the opportunity to approve it? Perhaps the Minister can offer an explanation for that delay. The other order aims to prevent pollution by garbage, with which annex V of MARPOL is concerned. I understand that it extends the definition of "special area" to the Caribbean and to the Antarctic. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that the North Sea is already designated as a special area for the purposes of the convention, but I should like to ask him what is meant by the word "garbage". He may be aware that in May last year, the port authority of Shetland Islands drew to the attention of his Department copious evidence—to whit, 7 statements and a video—that a vessel was discharging coal dust into the waters around Shetland. It was assumed that the discharge of coal dust would contravene annex V of MARPOL, to which the order relates. I believe that coal dust should be covered because, as the Minister said, the order covers operational discharges and because the Minister gave the Committee the impression that the order covered everything except waste food. However, a letter from the Department of Transport to Shetland Islands council states: "The interpretation of the law of the United Kingdom is not necessarily the same as the interpretation of Marpol 73/78." That is the convention with which we are concerned. The letter continues: "The Courts in the United Kingdom apply their own rules of construction to the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) Regulations 1988. 'Garbage' is defined in Regulation 1(2) as 'all… the normal operation of the ship…'. That definition is capable of a wide and a narrow meaning." The Department went on to say that, in any prosecution, the canon of construction that would apply in the English courts would be the narrow definition which, in the view of the Treasury Solicitor, did not include the coal dust that was being discharged. That is serious because coal dust pollution is the sort of pollution that many people thought the convention was designed to cover. Indeed, I think that the Department of Transport accepted that, in other jurisdictions, the word "garbage" might cover coal dust. Incidentally, the Department of Transport could not say what would happen if the case was taken to a Scottish court. It is interesting that a United Kingdom Department could not say what the position would be under Scottish law. Furthermore it is rare to have evidence. We have many regulations, such as the ones before us, but, as I am sure the Minister and his officials know only too well, the problem is often finding evidence with which to prosecute. In that case, we had evidence, but the Department was reluctant to assist in bringing the matter to court. The name of the vessel was the MV Tigris and the Department said that it was taking the matter up with the Greek authorities. I should be interested to know what sort of response the Greek authorities gave. It is all very well for us to sit here passing regulations and to think that we are doing a good job of cleaning up the seas, but there is visual evidence that the regulations are being broken and that very little can be done to bring the alleged perpetrators to account. I hope that airing the matter today will result in a tighter regime to enforce the provisions, in addition to simply passing them.

10.50 am

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian): I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I welcome the moves appertaining to the design of new ships, but I am worried about the overall argument. We have been lobbied by shipowners and others. Why do the Government not have a scrap-and-renew policy? Other Governments have such policies and we want the safest, newest and best ships to sail around our shores. We can control that with the shipowners of this country. The argument concerns equality with other shipping lines within—not outwith—the EC and involves tax relief and so on, which could have a positive effect on standards. 8 I hope that the Minister will pay attention to me—I know that he is conferring. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the running of a proper ship and to consultation between the crew and officers. Are any moves afoot concerning the efficiency and competence of crews on foreign vessels around our shores? Much bulk transport is carried out by ships with flags of convenience and we have only international agreements with the owners, not overall control. We have suggested that such ships could be evaluated by the pilots when the ships are in our territorial waters. If crews are not competent, ships may run aground with environmental consequences. I worry about the amount of bunkerage water that is polluted and discharged into the sea. Many bulk carriers carry bunkerage water that is polluted, usually with oil. A few years ago, the separation plant at Dalmeny on Hound point on the Firth of Forth was the most northerly such facility. How do tankers deal with bunkerage water? Do all hook-up points in the United Kingdom now have separation plants and are ships encouraged to use them? The only way in which to encourage such use is to impose heavy fines if the seas are polluted by ships discharging a mixture of oil and sea water. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the matter. I hope that the Minister will treat seriously any reports of ships discharging polluted bunkerage water and that he will deal with the owners severely. Ships should be encouraged to hook up to separation points to discharge such mixtures and to take on board cleaner water. I welcome the provisions. We have learnt lessons from disasters in the past—much mining legislation followed disasters—but it is a pity that disasters must occur before Governments will act. I hope that the Government will be as constructive as possible following the Braer disaster and that they will tighten up the legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said, we want overall policy to be discussed instead of piecemeal changes being made through statutory instruments. An overall maritime policy would be welcomed by Opposition Members and by everyone within and outwith the industry.

10.55 am

Mr. Norris: I shall address the issues raised by Opposition Members, many of which are not strictly relevant to the orders. None the less, I shall address those issues in the spirit of co-operation which is the hallmark of these Committees and with the indulgence of my hon. Friends, whom I am delighted to see in such numbers and whom I thank for their assiduity. I am aware of the interest that they take in these important matters. The comments made by the hon. Members for Midlothian and for Stoke-Trent, North ended where they began, with references to the desirability of an overall strategy for implementing merchant shipping orders. We are aware of that reasonable point. As the hon. Member for Midlothian knows, subject to the Committee's approval of the orders, we shall shortly consider orders to ratify the salvage convention, the order on oil pollution liability compensation and the order on oil pollution preparedness and response. I recently confirmed that in a letter to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North. I assure the hon. Lady and her hon. Friend that we have every intention of considering all those matters to ensure that standards in this country are brought to an acceptable level. 9 The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned the delay between the original proposals and the laying of the order. Our hallmark has been a willingness to consult the industry and a determination to ensure that what we do is in the interests of the industry and of this country. That is what has determined the pace of the debate.

Ms Walley: In view of what the Minister has said, I should like to press him a little more. He has said, and we have accepted, that he will introduce and ratify the IMO's convention on salvage as soon as possible. What is the timetable for that? Is it weeks or months?

Mr. Norris: I fear that for once I cannot give the hon. Lady a more precise answer. As she will know, it depends on there being space in the legislative programme and on the preparation by officials of the relevant orders, which are complex and require much detailed work. I undertake to write to the hon. Lady—I shall send a copy of my letter to her hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian who takes a keen interest in these matters—to elaborate on my earlier commitment to define more precisely the possible time scale. On reflection, it might benefit the House if the hon. Lady tabled a question eliciting that information. I shall endeavour to arrange for my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to answer it. I think that the hon. Lady will be aware that the recent European Community communication is concerned mainly with the identification of substandard ships in European waters and with the proper enforcement of international standards, such as MARPOL. The Commission has always recognised that the IMO is the preeminent body in setting standards. We are concerned today with setting standards rather than with the enforcement of standards. I agree that enforcement is important and we are pledged to play a full part in that. The hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North and for Orkney and Shetland raised the important issue of vessels that fall outwith the two specific categories that I mentioned in my opening speech. All vessels will be subject to an enhanced programme of inspections. The IMO is finalising inspection guidelines, to be introduced in 1995, which will implement a detailed inspection of all ships, including those in the categories to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred. The Braer was raised in the context of the pollution order, although the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was right to say that the regulations before us would not be strictly relevant to that disaster. Had the regulations been in force, they would not have prevented that accident. The hon. Gentleman should know that the Government will urgently consider the other IMO measures, to which he referred, as well as any other suggestions that may be made as a result of the Donaldson inquiry. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken part in the investigation process and we shall carefully consider what Lord Donaldson proposes. The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about MEPC 47(31) and about the working language of officers and crew. Of course, it is ultimately for the master of a vessel to satisfy himself that he is able adequately to communicate with his crew. The order incorporates the relevant provisions of the convention, which at least endeavour to ensure that master and officers understand what they have to do. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is familiar with marine law, will appreciate that thereafter it is the master's job to ensure that instructions 10 on important issues, such as safety, are transmitted to his crew. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the problems of multilingual crews and he was right to say that just writing the instructions in the master's native language is not necessarily sufficient. But, ultimately, that is a matter for the master. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right in believing that the North Sea is included in the special areas contained in annex V of MARPOL. I have some sympathy with his view on the normal definition of "garbage". I emphasise that the advice to which he referred was the advice of the Treasury Solicitor on the likely construction of the courts—namely, that they would use the narrow definition. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, in the matter of strict interpretation, it cannot be for Ministers to determine, other than on the face of legislation, what shall constitute a definition of "garbage". I not know whether defining "garbage" is an especially appropriate task for Members of Parliament. Suffice it to say that, in technical terms, it would be extremely difficult to arrive at such a definition. The hon. Gentleman will know that the important words are, "all the normal operation of the ship", which are referred to in the 1988 order. I reiterate that in prohibitions on dumping garbage of any sort, it is for the court—be it a Scottish or an English court—to determine on the facts whether a discharge constitutes garbage. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the matter will, ultimately, have to be tested in that way. On the questions raised by the hon. Member for Midlothian and, in particular, in relation to the competence of foreign crews, the training and qualifications of seafarers are regulated by the STCW—the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping. The United Kingdom is a party to that convention and United Kingdom qualifications are highly regarded. However, the hon. Gentleman made a fair point and the IMO is reviewing the convention to ensure that its provisions are adequate. On the question of bunkerage water, annex I already regulates the discharge of ballast water from oil tankers under the provisions for segregated and dedicated ballast tanks and under the arrangements for crude oil washing. The order does not regulate ballast water discharges from other ships nor does it deal with the concern being expressed about the introduction of harmful organisms into United Kingdom coastal waters. That issue is being considered by the IMO, as well as by this and other Government Departments, to consider what further action or research may be necessary. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue. The scrap-and-renew policy to which he alluded is very much a matter for owners. I appreciate that owners will have much to say about the rates that they are able to charge in the marketplace and about the subsequent propensity to allow a scrap-and-renew policy. However, it is not a policy over which the Government would wish to claim control. I have answered as many as I can of the points raised by the hon. Member for Midlothian—most went wide of the orders. I express the fervent hope that at some time in my career I may move an order that is relevant to my responsibilities rather than to those of my right hon. Friend in another place. I hope that the Committee will accept the orders.


Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) (Amendment) Order 1993.

Draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) (Amendment) Order 1993 12

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) (Amendment) Order 1993.—[Mr. Norris.]

Committee rose at five minutes past Eleven o'clock.


Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)

Arbuthnot, Mr.

Butler, Mr.

Clarke, Mr. Eric

Denham, Mr.

Evans, Mr. Nigel

Evennett, Mr.

Garnier, Mr.

Hendry, Mr.

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Norris, Mr.

Prentice, Mr. Gordon

Riddick, Mr.

Wallace, Mr.

Walley, Ms