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Marine Safety Bill

Volume 405: debated on Friday 16 May 2003

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Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.20 pm

I am pleased to reach this stage of the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on their success today, and I hope that my Bill will be similarly successful to complete the hat trick and give the other place some more work.

The Bill is greatly needed, as I shall explain. In the past 20 years or so, three major sea disasters have shaken the nation, resulting in the Government having to sit up and take notice and introduce legislation. The first was the disaster of the Torrey Canyon in the western approaches. The nation heard about that disaster, which polluted many beaches and caused havoc for a long time, for weeks on end.

That took place in March 1967 and was followed by a second major disaster, which involved another oil tanker, the Braer, in the Shetland islands in 1993. It resulted in a report by Lord Donaldson, which was followed by legislation. Various measures were taken, including the establishment of four emergency towing vehicles around the coast of Britain. Our coastline is 10,000 miles long: for a small island, we have one of the most extensive coastlines in the world. Following the Braer disaster, a key recommendation of Lord Donaldson's 1994 report, "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas" was the provision of year-round emergency towing vehicles for the UK coast. They were initially provided only for the winter months in some areas.

Following the subsequent report, "Review of Emergency Towing Vessel Provision around the Coast of the UK", published in 2001, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency now has four tugs on standby all the year round. The risk-based approach in the report identified the need for emergency towing vehicles in the northern isles, the Minches, the south-west approaches and the Dover straits, which, incidentally, is run on a joint management and finance basis with the French authorities. So ETVs are now on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to respond to shipping incidents in their areas.

The Sea Empress disaster occurred in Milford Haven sound in 1996. That led to a second report by Lord Donaldson—"Review of Salvage and Intervention and their Command and Control"—with many recommendations, which were taken up in successive legislation. The important legislation that ensued was the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997. One of the most important recommendations of Lord Donaldson's second report was to establish a Secretary of State's representative—SOSREP—based in Southampton in the offices of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Lord Donaldson had recommended that, when a major disaster occurred at sea, one person independent of the Government should take control, if it proved necessary, of the major incident, bringing under his control all the agencies that are involved in dealing with disasters at sea—the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, local authorities, ship owners and so forth. That post was established in late 1999. The first occupant, Robin Middleton, was appointed in October 1999 and is still in post.

Mr. Middleton has provided me with some data of incidents that he dealt with up to 31 December last year. The regions where those incidents occurred cover the entire British coastline. Obviously, in the south-western approaches and the main shipping lanes of the English channel, there are, pro rata, more incidents than round the rest of the coast. In the south-east region there were 42 incidents in the period of the SOSREP's report, in the southern region 34, and in the south-west region 33, out of a total of 262 incidents that he had dealt with up to the end of last year.

The SOSREP, independent of the Government, has the power to direct the ship's owner, the harbourmaster or whoever he needs to direct in dealing with the incident. There are various directions that he can give. In the 262 incidents with which he has been involved, he has given 30 directions. The incidents occur in both summer and winter. During the period that I mentioned, there were 134 incidents during the summer and an almost equal number, 128, in the winter.

The incidents put lives at risk, and can also result in pollution. All ships carry bunker oil, which if they are holed or otherwise damaged on rocks or cliffs can result in an oil pollution incident. Of course, oil tankers are at greatest risk of polluting the marine environment. Of the 262 incidents, 30 resulted in oil spillages greater than half a litre. The vessels involved include every type of vessel imaginable—53 general cargo vessels, 23 bulk carriers, 45 fishing vessels, 34 oil tankers, as well as aircraft carriers, factory vessels, salvage vessels, timber carriers and yachts. Almost every type of vessel that sails the seven seas has been involved in those 262 incidents.

The types of incidents included 52 groundings, the most recent being the Mulheim, which ran aground a few weeks ago off the coast of Cornwall, resulting in the spillage of plastic chips into the sea. Mr. Middleton has been dealing with the Mulheim incident for six weeks. There have been 38 collisions, 65 engine failures, 25 fires, 16 sinkings, a number of explosions, some steering problems and incidents of ships taking on water. The SOSREP has dealt with every kind of incident imaginable.

I shall give one or two examples. On 7 November 1999 the Dole America was carrying 10,000 tonnes of fruit cargo when it crashed into the Nab tower, which is a pretty big obstruction, and ran aground, prompting fears of heavy pollution as oil gushed from the stricken vessel. The vessel had 440 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 70 tonnes of diesel on board. Five tonnes of lubricating oil were lost from the vessel and the SOSREP had to establish a 500 m temporary exclusion zone, and all salvage and passage plans were authorised by him.

On 29 October 2000, the MV Havlys, a chemical tanker, was involved in an incident. The vessel was known to be leaking hydraulic fluid from her steering machinery and there was concern that that could lead to a reduction in her manoeuvrability. She was on passage from Houston to Hamburg carrying a cargo of propylene but in view of her problems she proceeded to Falmouth. The SOSREP instructed one of the coastguard emergency towing vehicles to stand by in case the vessel got into greater difficulty. As I pointed out earlier, there have been 262 incidents.

Clause 2 deals with fire risks, which can be especially great for oil tankers. In the 10 years between 1991 and 2001, a total of 340 ships have been involved in fires at sea, within the 12-mile maritime limit for which we are responsible.

The introduction of the post of SOSREP has met with worldwide acclaim. I have several newspaper articles on the subject. Hans van Rooij, the managing director of Smit Salvage, a major Dutch salvage firm, praised Lord Donaldson's recommendation that there should be a Secretary of State's representative. Britain is the only country to give such powers to an individual. So far, the SOSREP has dealt successfully with 262 incidents.

Most countries are keeping a close eye on what Britain is doing. We are setting a model for maritime safety that will, hopefully, be adopted by many other countries, resulting in a huge saving of life, as well as minimising the risk of pollution when ships are involved in collisions.

One could speak for two or three hours about the impressive performance of our Secretary of State's representative, Mr. Middleton and about the whole jigsaw with which he is involved. However, two small pieces still need to be slotted into place, and then our procedures will be excellent. That is what the Bill is about.

One difficulty for the SOSREP is that he has no powers over the riparian owners of wharves, jetties, piers and other items. For example, on the Thames—the closest navigable water to the House—all those facilities, from the estuary to the limits of navigation, are in private ownership. If a ship of any size got into difficulty in the River Thames, perhaps through catching fire, the SOSREP would have no power to park it at a wharf or at the end of a jetty without the permission of the owners who might not be readily available in an emergency. The same is true of harbours and along the entire 10,000 miles of our coastline.

Obviously, it would be preferable for the SOSREP to have power to instruct riparian owners to allow him to deal with incidents, especially a major disaster; for example, to bring an oil tanker with engine problems to a jetty and unload the oil, rather than risk the disasters that we have seen off the French and Spanish coasts. I refer, of course, to the Prestige.

Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that the Bill will not go far enough to prevent a Prestige-type disaster occurring in this country? Is he satisfied that the powers exercised by Mr. Middleton would be sufficient?

That is a good point. The master of the Prestige asked the Spanish authorities whether he could go to a place of refuge from the gale to unload the oil before a major disaster occurred. The wrangling that occurred between the Spanish authorities and the ship's master, and presumably the Spanish Government, did not enable the Prestige to berth in a place of refuge, so it had to go out to sea, where it split in two, shedding thousands of tonnes of oil, affecting not only the Spanish coast but the French coast. That incident is continuing. The SOSREP told me only last week that thick oil is still coming out of that ship and polluting the whole of the marine environment.

If my Bill is enacted, the Secretary of State's representative in this country could ensure that a ship of that kind could be brought into a safe place of refuge and dealt with, hopefully by unloading the oil and preventing a huge marine disaster. Clause 1, with its associated schedule, is an important clause.

There is also a difficulty with firefighting at sea. The legal limits for a fire authority are the county boundaries for that authority and the low-level mark of the sea. Beyond that, the fire authority has no legal jurisdiction. There have been one or two cases where a fire authority has been airlifted on board a ship and fought the fire successfully—one fire was on a passenger ferry crossing the English channel not that long ago, and that was dealt with by the Suffolk coastal fire authority—only to be unable to recover costs.

My hon. Friend has described clearly why the Bill is so important to the maritime industry and to seafarers, but is he aware that Kent fire brigade has a proud record of service for protecting not just the Dover strait but the whole area of coastal waters around it, and that only yesterday its chiefs were saying how appreciative they were of the Bill because it was becoming more and more difficult to maintain that flying squad of trained firefighters to protect our coasts?

My hon. Friend has much greater experience of the sea than I will ever have, and he is absolutely correct.

Because of the difficulty that the Suffolk fire brigade had in recovering the costs—it failed to recover its costs in court, because the judge ruled that it had been outside the limit of its legal jurisdiction—clause 2 extends that legal jurisdiction to enable coastal firefighting authorities that have dealt with major disasters of that sort to recover their costs.

Only 10 fire authorities around the coasts of Britain—my hon. Friend mentioned one—are willing to do that very dangerous work now, and I understand that without clause 2, their number is likely to decrease further, because the cost of fighting fires at sea is obviously much greater than on land. First, the men and women of the fire brigade must receive specialised training. They must be lifted on to the ship, which is extremely costly, with all their equipment—fighting a fire on a ship requires equipment specially designed for the purpose. That clause is desperately needed, to put in place the second of the two jigsaw pieces that will give the Secretary of State's representative in Britain—the first in the world, let us remember—the complete paraphernalia to deal with major disasters at sea. I hope that that will result in the saving of life and, equally, prevent major pollution disasters at sea, of which I have mentioned only three of many.

I commend the Bill to the House.

1.39 pm

The Bill has two factors in common with the Aviation (Offences) Bill, which we discussed a few minutes ago, from my perspective at least. First, again, this is an essentially laudable measure in what it seeks to achieve and, secondly, I declare that I have something of a constituency interest, which I shall explain for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), the Member in charge of the Bill.

On the River Crouch, which is part of the northern border of my constituency, there is still a wharf in commercial operation. [Interruption.] If the Minister will allow me, I shall say why I refer to it. Ships still regularly come into that wharf to unload their cargo. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that those vessels are normally in the 500 to 1,000-tonne class, so I am not talking about major supertankers being brought into the River Crouch. I say that straight away to reassure my constituents.

Nevertheless, some commercial seafaring traffic comes in and out of my constituency by virtue of that facility, which is located at a place called Hullbridge on the southern bank of the Crouch. If one looks across the river into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), one sees Burnham directly on the other side. Burnham has powerful connotations to anyone in the yachting community, not least because of the wonderful festival, Burnham week, which is sometimes referred to as eastern England's answer to Cowes. So I have something of an interest.

Having looked at schedule 1, in particular, I am gratified to note that the hon. Gentleman has taken considerable care in drafting the Bill. He makes specific provision so that, if a direction is made that orders a vessel to come into a berth or a wharf, perhaps carrying some form of dangerous cargo, and damage is done as a result of that direction to the detriment of the wharf's owners, they can be compensated for any damage done, perhaps in an emergency. Even if the wharf's owners were reluctant to accept that vessel, they would have to comply with the direction that they were given. In such a hypothetical scenario, at least the owners or operators of that wharf would have a right to compensation when the emergency has died down and the dust has settled. That is a valuable provision.

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I omitted to say that the Bill contains compensation rights for the riparian owners, to whom I referred. If an oil tanker came in and had to be dealt with for several days, that might prevent several other oil tankers from unloading. That would put the owner of that jetty or wharf at serious financial loss. My Bill will enable the Government immediately to compensate owners for the kind of incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and the Government would then deal with reclaiming the compensation from the ships' owners at a later date. I hope that that will encourage riparian owners to cooperate with the Secretary of State's representative.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. Given the way in which the maritime industry operates in the 21st century, he will no doubt be aware that a lot of ships, particularly tankers—the example that he uses—operate on tight schedules. Their operators want to transport and unload their cargoes and to turn round their ships as fast as possible, and then get straight on to the next contract. Therefore, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, the scheduling times are quite tight, particularly for some of the larger facilities—larger than those in my constituency, I confess. If, as he posits, an emergency were to throw that timetable out of kilter for some unforeseen reason, the owner of the berthing facility or wharf could suffer considerable financial loss and therefore might, understandably, object to an order.

I highlight that part of the Bill because it is very important that the hon. Gentleman has included that compensation facility. I hope that, in an emergency, people would not quibble over money—to put it bluntly—and that they would do whatever was practical and necessary to try to alleviate that emergency as best they could, particularly if there were a risk of loss of life or an environmental disaster. Wherever a financial bottom line is involved, people sometimes tend to be a bit sticky—that tends to be human nature. So that provision is a very important.

Clearly, safety is paramount and the safety of people's lives is paramount, but we are also sent here by our constituents to protect the interests of taxpayers. Has my hon. Friend seen any analysis of the kinds of costs in terms of compensation that may be have to be forthcoming out of the public exchequer as a result of this Bill?

I have not seen such analysis, and my hon. Friend is correct that we have a responsibility to the taxpayer at all times. I should have thought, however, working purely from first principles, that this might be the kind of example in which the Government could compensate from the contingency fund—[Interruption.] I appreciate that that is still taxpayer's money, but this is an example of a contingency, almost by definition. I see that the promoter of the Bill wishes to intervene, and I suspect that he has an answer.

Those matters are indeed covered in the Bill, so the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) need not have any fears.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reassurance.

That leads me to the second area that I wish to explore. Clearly, the whole Bill touches on matters relating to insurance. I wonder whether there is some way in which the House can be given some feel for what negotiations and discussions have been undertaken, and in what depth, with Lloyd's, which, clearly, has an important interest. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a member of Lloyd's or of a syndicate, but, clearly, it would potentially have a significant interest in this legislation. Its view and advice on such a technical matter would be important. I would therefore be interested to know what liaison or consultation there has been with Lloyd's of London in relation to this piece of legislation. That information might be valuable to the House.

The third area that I wish to raise relates to rescue and evacuation. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is talking about fire safety in certain clauses of his Bill, and also about the recouping of costs for fire authorities that are involved in fighting fires on vessels, either offshore or when they have been brought into berth in the United Kingdom. With all the other budgetary pressures that there are on fire authorities—I do not wish to stray out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—all Members will be aware that a number of our fire authorities, for various reasons, are not exactly flush with cash. Again, therefore, it is important that the hon. Gentleman has provided in the Bill that fire authorities that must undertake these perhaps unexpected tasks might be given adequate financial compensation.

There is also a related issue of rescue. Before I go any further, I declare an interest as a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Has there been much consultation with the RNLI about whether the hon. Gentleman's Bill will have any implications for its operations? Those are the people who will, and who do, day after day and in all weathers, to their immense credit, go out to sea and rescue seafarers who are sometimes in the most tremendous peril. We must be aware whenever we touch on these matters, that there is a history of volunteers giving their lives for the cause of maritime safety. It is to the immense credit of the RNLI that it has that proud tradition, down the centuries. As it will be part of its business, sometimes, to go out to sea, perhaps at night, and in awful weather, to rescue people, perhaps from a ship that is on fire, what liaison and discussion has there been with the RNLI in terms of its input into this Bill? It occurs to me that it would have a legitimate interest in this area, and that it might have some beneficial experience to offer to the hon. Gentleman.

In summary, I welcome the point about provision, not least as it might one day affect a relatively modest operation in my constituency. I wish to reiterate the point about liaison or otherwise with Lloyd's of London, as it may have experience to offer. I would also be grateful to be advised regarding any liaison or discussion that may have taken place with the RNLI, as it has the potential to offer valuable experience. With those three points, I draw my remarks to a close.

1.49 pm

I rise to support the Bill. Several of my colleagues represent constituencies that could be directly affected by it, and I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) is a sponsor. The Isles of Scilly get a specific mention in the text.

One point about the recovery of the charges of fire services requires clarification. Under clause 2, the ability of fire services to charge will be confined to England and Wales. I take it that that is because provisions for such charges in Scotland will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Will the Minister clarify whether there is or is likely to be such a provision? If the Bill comes into force, fire authorities in Scotland might be disadvantaged. However, if it is just a matter of devolving the issue to the Scottish Parliament so that it can deal with it in due course, that will be fine. However, clarification would be helpful.

The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has provided a comprehensive record of the incidents that have happened over the years and that have damaged or threatened our coastlines with pollution. He specifically identified the role of the Secretary of State's representative and the unique value of that. In the hon. Gentleman's speech, he made it clear that the value of having someone with such power is that it will enable an immediate response to take place at times of crisis and will not require for negotiation with different Departments, agencies and authorities when a disaster is unfolding by the hour and by the minute.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Braer incident off the Shetland islands several years ago. We were fortunate that nature took care of the consequences of the incident rather better than we did and rather better than many people feared. The wind and the flow of the sea took the oil deep off the continental shelf and did not lead to the pollution that people had anticipated. Nevertheless, people recognised that that was a matter of good luck and not of good management given that the incident occurred at all and given the difficulties of dealing with it.

Some of our coastal areas are remote and extremely exposed, and the weather conditions there can be severe. I do not demur from the view that having someone to tackle such incidents is desirable, but the circumstances are often such that it is difficult to find a resolution to them. However, when there is a fire or the threat of major oil pollution, having the opportunity to mobilise all the available facilities to take a ship away from our waters and from where it can do damage or, alternatively, to bring it in to deal with the fire or potential pollution in a controlled manner has much to commend it. In that sense, the Bill adds a dimension to the existing regime to enable the Secretary of State's representative to operate with greater efficiency.

We have had a short debate on the implications for insurers and commercial interests. Although such markers should be put down—the Bill should deal with them directly—we must recognise that time is not on our side when incidents occur. The owners may not be available or face a clash of commercial interests. As long as they understand what the law requires of them and there is proper compensation, there will be recognition of the greater good.

I notice the reference in the Bill to the European convention on human rights. I have a particular interest in the issue, as I am a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. However, I am persuaded by the reference that the interference with the right of owners to the possession and use of their property—a fundamental right in article 1—can be derogated if greater good can be achieved by using their facilities to prevent damage to the wider community. On that basis, I commend the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East on the detail addressed by the Bill. He has clearly thought through the implications of the provisions, no doubt in consultation with the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State's representative, and on the basis of experience over the years.

The Bill would increase our power to respond to the disasters that inevitably threaten the shores of an island community with so much coastline, much of which is exposed to severe weather and around which there is so much traffic. The Bill is not a definitive solution and I know that people who live in Shetland and other exposed areas would like more agreement among those involved in merchant shipping so that risks can be avoided. I must say, with regret, that too many ship owners operate to standards of seaworthiness and seamanship that fall well below what reasonable society has the right to expect. The incident involving the Prestige showed the problem of an unseaworthy vessel being compounded by the inability of relevant national authorities to respond quickly and appropriately, which led to an ongoing disaster of major proportions.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East does not pretend that the Bill is a definitive solution to such problems, but it would allow the United Kingdom to deal with the threat of disaster around our shores. The Bill would be practical and effective and deserves the House's support because it would save lives and avoid pollution.

1.56 pm

We, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on promoting the Bill and on stimulating such a genuine and timely debate. We heard interesting contributions from hon. Members this afternoon, in Committee and on Second Reading. I must note the contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who cannot be present. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) on their notable contributions.

The Bill would confer powers on the Secretary of State to give a direction to a person in charge of land next to, or accessible from, United Kingdom waters or to a person in charge of facilities used by ships such as berths, wharfs and jetties. That direction could require the person in charge to allow persons to land and/or make facilities under their control available, with the object of reducing or preventing risks to safety and risks of pollution. Secondly, it would allow fire authorities to make a charge for firefighting services at sea outside the area of every fire authority. We support both measures, and it is a tribute to the excellent work of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East that no amendments to the Bill have been tabled. However, I shall briefly raise several issues.

We welcome the implementation of Lord Donaldson's main recommendation that one person should take control of all incidents—an appointment was made in October 1999. I declare an interest in that I served for six days on HMS Cumberland as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Three lady Members made the visit, which was the first visit to such a warship made by any hon. Member. We were told that fire is the biggest risk faced by any merchant or naval ship. We were asked to dress into firefighting equipment, in its various shapes and forms, which took us a considerable time—I do not think that we managed it. If one thinks that a firefighter on a ship can do that in minutes and seconds, one pays tribute to firefighters and fire brigades serving throughout the country and at sea for being prepared to undertake such responsibilities.

I agree with my hon. Friend and enjoyed her recollections of her brief stint as a Wren. As someone who comes new to the Bill, can she tell me how it affects the Navy's military vessels, or are they covered by previous legislation? Do they have the right to dock at any facility if they are in trouble? If not, does the Bill include them in its scope? If she does not know the answer, perhaps the Minister could clarify that in his response.

It is an interesting point. We found a loophole in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill in a similar regard. I shall leave it for the Minister to respond to my hon. Friend's excellent question. If the Navy does not have such rights, the Bill will need to be amended.

I join the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East in recognising and paying tribute to the excellent work of the SOSREP, Mr. Middleton, who has powers to direct the ship owner, harbourmaster and others. I declare an interest in that I have close friends who were involved in the Prestige disaster, one of whom now runs the Spanish fisheries department. They have had a monumental task to recover from that disaster. In addition to the environmental damage to the coast and the effect that that had on wildlife, those who sustained their livelihood from fishing in that area suffered a dramatic, and regrettable, economic loss. There are serious lessons to learn from the Prestige disaster. I welcome the confirmation by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East that the Bill's measures will go far enough. I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm that if such a disaster occurs in our waters, the Bill closes any possible loopholes.

The British coast has a number of environmentally sensitive areas. Spillages and other pollution would have a devastating effect on the fish and birds in those areas. It emerged from the debate in Committee that there is a problem with the legal limits of the fire authority. I seek confirmation that those will be broadened and the jurisdiction extended. I also hope that the provisions address the difficulty of recovering costs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge asked in Committee whether a vessel in French territorial waters could ask for the Kent or any other UK fire service to deal with a fire on board. Could UK fire brigades fight a fire outside our territorial waters, and would they be compensated for that? That is fundamental to the Bill's success. I am alarmed to read that in Committee the Under-Secretary said only 10 firefighting authorities provide a maritime service. We want that closely monitored. He also explained that from Essex to the highlands and islands in the north of Scotland, which covers my region, only two authorities—in Lincolnshire and Humberside—provide fire cover. That is very worrying.

Fire authorities have no duty to fight fire at seas. I do not know to what extent such a duty is imposed by the Bill. It would be helpful to find out. The Under-Secretary said in Committee that in light of the distances involved, the specialised training and equipment that is required makes it an expensive firefighting service. If it is increasingly likely, as he said, that fire authorities will not engage their brigades at sea unless they can recover the costs, does the Bill sufficiently extend the provision to recover those costs in full? If so, from which budget will the recovery of those costs be paid? Is new money being made available for that?

Further to that point, may I ask another question to which my hon. Friend may have an answer? If there were a fire on a boat in international waters, and the captain had to decide whether to take his stricken vessel to Britain or France, what would be the state of the law in that situation? Might we not, by our excellent law in this country, encourage stricken vessels to come to our walls and jetties, where we are enjoined to make provision for such incidents, whereas that may not be the case in France? Should we not find out the state of the law in other countries?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Minister has chastised me on a number of occasions for seeking to perform not only the role of the official Opposition but that of the Government, so with the Minister's permission, I draw his attention to my hon. Friend's remarks and invite him to respond when he sums up the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East on securing a place in the ballot, and I pay tribute to him for his hard work on Second Reading, in Committee and today. I repeat that we broadly welcome the Bill's main provisions and the role that it may play in complementing the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Like my hon. Friend, I support the Bill's general provisions, but I have still not had a satisfactory answer about the costs that may flow from it to the public Exchequer. It has been made clear that in some cases, such as those mentioned in the debate, we may be looking at millions of pounds of compensation. Is my hon. Friend aware of any assessment by the Government of the possible impact on taxpayers?

My hon. Friend repeats a question that I asked earlier, and he reinforces my point. I am sure that the Minister would want to give us both satisfaction on that, so I welcome my hon. Friend's helpful intervention.

I recognise the tremendous role that shipping plays in this country; after all, Great Britain is an island nation. Ninety per cent. of our overseas trade and 7 per cent. of our internal trade is carried by sea. As the Minister is aware, I am particularly wedded to the concept of short sea shipping. That, too, may be worthy of mention in his summing up of the debate. [Interruption.] Indeed, in our fair deal for everyone, we hope that coastal shipping will not be left behind.

The Government must do everything possible to protect our environment from damage caused by pollution that falls within the terms of the Bill. Clause 2 will allow fire authorities to charge for firefighting services at sea, outside the area of every fire authority. I ask again which budget that money will come from and whether new money will be allocated. I pay tribute to the extensive, thorough work currently being done on the role of fire brigades in marine incidents. The Minister might have waited for the results of those research projects, and the findings, having become clearer, could have been incorporated in the Bill. He may want to give the House a brief overview of that research.

We must ask again why these provisions were not deemed suitable for inclusion in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, which deals with certain maritime provisions. In the Minister's view, does this Bill sufficiently cover the problem of pollution that has reached the coast? A key recommendation of the Donaldson inquiry into the Braer disaster of 1993 and the inquiry into the Sea Empress disaster of 1996 'was that local authorities should have a statutory duty to plan to undertake shoreline clean-ups following marine pollution incidents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge made a positive, skilful contribution in that regard on Second Reading and in Committee. He also asked whether the role of the local authority in cleaning up after a maritime disaster will be recognised and what funds will be made available. I am mindful of the fact that the responsibilities of local authorities are increasing while their budgets seem to be reducing. There seems to be no recognition of additional responsibilities, and that is especially true for emergency planning—the so-called national contingency procedures. I recognise the role played by Hawkhills college, near Easingwold in the Vale of York, in that regard.

What will happen to emergency planning funding under the Government's forthcoming national contingencies legislation, particularly as regards maritime disasters? I understand that ring-fenced grants currently provided by the Government to local authorities will cease. How will emergency planning for marine disasters be financed by local authorities in future?

I pay tribute to SOSREP, welcome his appointment by the Secretary of State and welcome the fact that he can act independently. I also pay tribute to the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, whom I recently visited to receive an excellent briefing. He will shortly retire, and I pay tribute to all his work in many capacities, most recently as chief executive of the MCA.

I want, finally, to raise the role of the MCA. On what advice will the Secretary of State make the directions cited in the Bill? Will it be on the advice of the chief inspector of marine accidents or will it be on the advice of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? How will we know what directions have been issued by the Secretary of State? Will they be reported to Parliament, perhaps through the new tool of the written ministerial statement, and will they be subject to debate?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East, and I wish the Bill a fair wind.

2.12 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on the way in which he has handled his Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and today. He spoke with considerable passion and commitment in prosecuting his powerful arguments. He has, I know, worked hard to secure the Bill's passage, and it is a tribute to him that it remains unamended from the form in which it was introduced five months ago. I am grateful for the positive and constructive support that the Opposition parties have given it.

The Bill is small but very popular. In certain instances, the changes that it brings about in our legislation may be significant. As my hon. Friend said, the United Kingdom has 10,000 miles of coastline, and it is adjacent to some of the busiest sea lanes in the world. For example, the straits of Dover lie off the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), who is present, where there are 400 vessel movements a day. Because of that, we have always placed maritime safety and prevention of pollution among our top priorities.

Ten years ago, we suffered the Braer incident in the Shetlands. The Braer was fully laden with 84,000 tonnes of crude oil when she went aground on the rocks of Garths Ness, off Shetland, after losing power. She also had some 1,600 tonnes of heavy fuel bunkers. Oil began to escape in large amounts as soon as she went aground. She eventually broke up a week later, spilling all her remaining cargo and bunkers. Nine beaches and other sites had to be cleaned, and one fifth of salmon farms were threatened with closure. Salmon from affected fish farms, even when healthy, were tainted, and they had to be destroyed.

After the Braer incident, we all saw pictures of dead birds covered with oil—in fact, 1,500 sea birds were found dead, and I am sure that many others were never found. Otters and seals were also treated for contamination. I give those details because we must not cannot underestimate the damage that incidents of that sort do to marine life and the environment. A pollution incident of such magnitude inevitably caused major hardship for many people. Some of the oil was blown off the sea on to houses. It is a tribute to the resilience of the people of Shetland—I had the pleasure of visiting it last year and talking to some of those who were affected 10 years ago—that they coped so well with the traumatic consequences of that devastating incident on their small community.

On the sad anniversary of the spillage 10 years ago last January, I made a written statement outlining all the measures that have been put in place since then. I will not run through them today, but they are available in the statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East has previously outlined the provisions of the Bill in detail. At present, the necessary powers are significantly lacking—a damaged vessel may be directed into a port area, but if there is a refusal by private owners and facilities to offload the vessel or bring it alongside so that a fire can be fought from the shore, the risk presented by the casualty will remain. Such delays could result in precious time being wasted and the situation deteriorating, thus increasing the risk to the coast and the community.

There are two cases in which vessels have been refused access to port facilities in the past three years, one of which involved the MT Framness. Last July, she was refused access to her privately owned discharge facility in the port of Milford Haven, when it became known that her engines had stopped and may have needed repairs before they could be restarted. In that condition, she returned to sea in worsening weather, thus risking becoming a casualty and producing massive pollution. The SOSREP, to whom my hon. Friend referred, was powerless to prevent that situation, and had to rely on his powers to require the provision of tug support for the vessel so that repairs could be effected.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) who is now sitting on the Front Bench—he has promoted himself—asked about fair compensation for facility owners. The Bill ensures that in the first instance the Government pay compensation which, if necessary, will be reclaimed from ship owners through insurance. The hon. Gentleman also asked about Lloyd's of London. I can assure him that it was consulted in Lord Donaldson's review of command and control, on the recommendation of which the Bill was introduced. It is important to recognise that the cost of compensation for riparian owners is small in comparison with any pollution and loss of life.

No, because the hon. Gentleman was not here at the beginning of the debate.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) made an interesting point about Scotland. Merchant shipping issues are reserved in Scotland, but the legislation is UK-wide, as that is necessary for the international nature of merchant shipping. However, fire service issues are devolved, and the Bill's fire provisions apply only to England and Wales—the geographical area covered by the Fire Services Act 1947. I hope that is helpful for the hon. Gentleman. As for naval vessels—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is not listening to my answer, so perhaps he would break off his conversation with the hon. Member for Rayleigh. We do not give any directions to naval vessels, but harbours and riparian facilities could be directed to accept a naval vessel if that was deemed necessary.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about extending the jurisdiction of fire authorities. UK legislation extends only as far as UK territorial sea and applies to UK ships wherever they are. The Bill does nothing to extend that jurisdiction or the statutory duties of the fire authorities, but it gives them an incentive to provide a service to fight fires at sea by allowing them to recover costs.

The hon. Lady asked also about budgetary provision. In any instance where money is paid out by the Government in compensation, we shall seek to recover that money from the ship owners or their insurers. We shall have to make provision available so that there are proper contingency funds, if necessary, for an emergency response. I would anticipate that most of those funds would come from the owners of the ships.

This has been a useful debate. It is a worthy Bill, and I thank the officials for their hard work and commitment in preparing the Bill and for giving advice to myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East in helping us to introduce the measure. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.20 pm

With the leave of the House, I wish to thank various people, including the sponsors, those who attended consideration of the Bill in Committee—it was an excellent attendance—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the representative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has been very helpful to me, officers of the Department for Transport, who have also been extremely helpful, and the person who drafted the Bill. It has been drafted in an excellent manner because no one has found a significant loophole, and it has not been amended.

Finally, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have attended this debate. I hope that eventually the Bill will be enacted after its passage through the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.