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International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992 (Immunities And Privileges) Order 1996

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 1 May 1996

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9.1 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th April be approved [17th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992 (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1996 be approved.

A protocol amending the 1971 Fund Convention was agreed in 1992 and this will establish a new International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. This will be a separate legal entity to be known as the 1992 fund. However, for practical purposes it will have the same director and staff and will work in much the same way as the existing fund. The intention is that the 68 member states to the existing fund will gradually denounce the 1971 Fund Convention and ratify the 1992 protocols, until eventually the existing fund is dissolved. Under the transitional provisions of the protocols, the United Kingdom will be a member of both funds simultaneously for a period of up to two years, before being required to denounce the 1971 Fund Convention.

The existing fund has its headquarters in the International Maritime Organisation's building in London, where it operates under the provisions of the IOPCF (Immunities and Privileges) Order which this House approved in July of that year. The 1992 fund will be based there too when the protocols come into force.

The draft order is necessary to give effect in UK law to the draft headquarters agreement negotiated in respect of the 1992 fund. I should like to indicate to the House that the privileges and immunities accorded are the same as those approved by your Lordships in July 1979 for the existing fund. I should also emphasise that we consider that they are no more than is necessary for the effective operation of the 1992 fund in the United Kingdom. They are granted in accordance with the limitations imposed by the International Organisations Act 1968, as amended, under whose provisions the order is made.

The scale of privileges and immunities is broadly similar to that accorded to most of the other international organisations having their headquarters here, except that the fund's immunity from suit is more limited in certain significant respects. For example, actions may be taken against the fund in the courts of this country in relation to the compensation provisions of the convention.

The order needs to be formally made at the meeting of the Privy Council on 15th May 1996, so that the headquarters agreement which will enter into force on signature, and the order, can come into force on 30th May. It is for that reason that the order is before your Lordships today.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered the draft instrument and had no comments.

I very much hope, therefore, that your Lordships will approve this draft order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th April be approved [ 17th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord Chesham.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the explanation of the draft order. We on this side of the House fully support it. It is timely that the new fund should come into operation and we hope that the department will succeed in achieving that very quickly.

It might be useful at this stage, though not directly material to the point that the Minister made tonight—I gave him notice of this point and we agreed that it was perhaps a useful thing to do—to ask the Minister, in relation to the existing International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, what is happening in relation to the damage that was caused by the "Sea Empress" incident recently. I know that the fund's executive committee, which met shortly after the "Sea Empress" incident, decided that the fund should make no compensation payments until the situation was clarified regarding the total amount of the claims. Then, I understand, the Government intervened and were able to broker an arrangement whereby compensation amounting to something like nearly £¼ million overall was paid. That certainly is a step that we believe it was proper for the Government to take.

On 16th April there was a decision made by the committee that the fund could start paying compensation to claimants after all, but that was restricted to 75 per cent. of the damage suffered on the part of any claimant; and, of course, what was material was the advice of the experts of the fund at the time that a payment was made. I believe that there was another intervention on the part of the Government which enabled a rather better arrangement to be made in the interim and a meeting was held at Milford Haven on 25th April, which was designed to take the matter further.

I should like to know whether the Minister is in a position to tell the House what happened on 25th April and whether any conclusions were reached that would enable further compensation to be paid.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving me notice of his question. As he stated, it is slightly outside the remit of the order. I do not have details of what happened after 25th April. However, I shall make him aware of whatever I may do at another time, if I may do so. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seven minutes past nine o'clock.