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Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4 December 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, first, let me set these regulations in context: they concern the protection of the marine environment from ship-generated waste. Ships must be able to rely on being able to discharge their waste at reception facilities available in ports. These facilities must be easy to use and cost-effective so as to deter operators from disposing of their wastes at sea.

Recognising this, the United Kingdom has had legislation in place for many years to put this principle into effect. After the UK had put its legislation in place, a proposal for European Community legislation was initiated. The UK played an active role in the development of this measure and the outcome was Directive 2000/59/EC on port waste reception facilities. The directive placed a responsibility on ports to provide adequate facilities for the disposal of waste and a responsibility on ship operators to deliver that waste rather than dispose of it at sea. The ship-generated wastes which fall under this directive are oily water, garbage and sewage. This directive was transposed in the UK by the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003. Article 16 states that the implementation of the directive in respect of sewage would be suspended until 12 months after the entry into force of Annex IV to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships currently known as MARPOL. This annex is now in force, so we can implement the remaining part of the directive, which are the regulations I am moving today.

These regulations also transpose EC Directive 2007/71 which amends the notification form which ships’ masters are required to fill in and send to the harbour authority before they enter the port indicating what quantities of which types of waste they are planning to deliver to the port. Although the transposition date for this directive is June 2009, we have taken the decision to transpose it early as it will bring welcome clarity for the industry on the provisions for disposal of sewage at sea.

The regulations will come into force 14 days after the day on which they are made. This will allow some time for the industry to consider the published guidance. The industry has already been extensively consulted and will be fully aware of the new regime. These regulations amend the 2003 regulations, and the amendments include adding sewage in the definition of ship-generated waste. Sewage is defined as: drainage and other wastes from any form of toilets or urinals; drainage from medical premises via wash basins, wash tubs and scuppers located in such premises; drainage from spaces containing living animals; and other waste waters when mixed with any drainage referred to previously.

The regulations also include amendments relating to requiring ships to deliver their sewage to port waste reception facilities. The amendment will oblige ports to ensure the availability of some facility for the reception of ship-generated sewage, although this may be as straightforward as providing the contact details for a contractor. As I mentioned earlier, the regulations also amend the notification form in Schedule 2 to the 2003 regulations to include sewage. They take account of the consultation exercises which we have carried out, as well as discussions with the European Commission and other member states. My department conducted a full public consultation exercise in 2005 and a further exercise in 2008. I commend these regulations to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, for bringing these regulations before the House today. There is much to support in the earlier measures within them relating to oily water and garbage. Efforts to clear up the environment and methods to ensure that the environment stays clean are naturally to be welcomed, and we on these Benches welcome them very much. We continue to support them, particularly the provisions within the 2000 regulations.

My comments today will not therefore be in the nature of opposition—indeed, there is very little to oppose. I will instead invite the Minister to answer one or two questions on the consequences of these regulations. I hope that he can answer them and in so doing provide reassurances that I know the industry might want. The Minister might have suggested part of this in his introduction, but will he provide greater context to the Government's decision vis-à-vis the timing of this instrument? Why has it been introduced at this stage? He did say a bit about that, but as the notes point out, these provisions were contained within the original regulations in 2000, and they amend the 2003 regulations. Nine years seems an awfully long time to wait for them to come into force. Perhaps the Government have been kind to industry, or given operators extra time to ensure that they have established the appropriate sewage reception facilities. Has the industry enjoyed a period of grace? Perhaps the Minister might further explain that.

The Chamber of Shipping's response to the consultation on these regulations suggests not. A survey of its members revealed that:

“Very few have any shore based reception facilities nor had they any plans to install suitable size tanks ashore”.

I would like to understand a little more about why this is the case. Will the Minister provide some context on this? What is the reason for this?

I also invite the Minister to outline to the House what sort of research the Government have conducted to assess the preparedness of the industry for the enforcement of these regulations. What has that research revealed? Do the Government agree with the Chamber of Shipping's consultation submission? For example, what proportion of UK ports have facilities to process sewage? Which ports are they, and, equally importantly, which ports do not have appropriate facilities in place? If the Chamber of Shipping is right and a significant number of ports do not have the facilities in place, there will almost certainly be a number that will fail to comply with the regulations. Many others will incur significant costs in establishing the necessary facilities, especially now they are running against the clock. What type of penalty regime will the Government enforce for ports that do not have the facilities in place because they cannot afford them or because they do not establish the facilities in time for other reasons? Will the Minister provide more detail on how the Government expect to penalise offenders, at what rate and how they will enforce these regulations?

I raise these points because all the evidence from the consultations is that the industry is in a desperate position. Freight rates for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have, I am informed, fallen to virtually zero, and the industry faces sustained pressure from foreign competition. I am concerned about what effect this measure may have on the industry's ability to compete. Will the Minister reassure the House that other countries are also adopting these regulations and that our industry will not be hit hard by overzealous application of the regulations or by overpenalisation? Now is not the time to hinder the industry, but to support it. My final question will dwell a little longer on the penalty regime. What does the Minister expect the policing of these regulations to cost and how will they work in practice?

I do not want to detain the House any longer. We do not oppose these regulations, but we have concerns about their implementation, their practical application and the devil contained in the detail. I hope the Minister will reassure me and the industry in his response.

My Lords, reading this order through, the only question is why this was not done a while ago. Not discharging sewage at sea seems rather hard to oppose. However, are there ports that are incapable of taking this on? This is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and it deserves some consideration. There is usually a way of transferring even the most foul and noxious substances to places where pumping facilities are available. Is that what is going to happen? Is the rest of Europe more prepared than us, or as prepared as we are? I do not think there is a major question about disadvantaging most shipping, because it is local and this is a Europe-wide order, but it would be interesting to know the state of preparedness. Are the Government reasonably satisfied that with reasonable adaptations most ports can comply with these regulations? The principle is solid, so is there a way round the practical problems?

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their broadly positive responses. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is concerned about burdens on the industry and asked whether, in the time of economic stringency that we face at the moment, it is unreasonable to expect ports to build sewage reception facilities and whether our industry would be at a disadvantage compared to those of our partner countries within Europe.

I should stress to the House that the regulations I am proposing today do not require ports to build any new facilities; they merely require them to ensure that facilities for the reception of ship-generated sewage are available to those port users who need them. That can be achieved through arrangements under which one or more licensed contractors have access to the port and provide a commercial service to users. Therefore, we do not think that the measure is unduly burdensome. We have worked closely with the industry to keep the burdens to a minimum, and the provisions will apply throughout the EU, as other member states must comply with the directive.

I should also stress that the provision of port waste reception facilities is one of the requirements contained in MARPOL, the international convention which, as I said at the outset, is intended to prevent pollution from ships. The MARPOL annexe, which addresses ship-generated sewage, has been ratified by more than 120 states worldwide. Accordingly, all those states should be taking steps to ensure that sewage reception facilities are available to users of their ports.

The noble Lord asked what proportion of ports already have facilities. We do not have accurate figures on that, but, as I said, there is no legal obligation to build sewage treatment plants, so it is not an issue of direct concern here. Although the number may not be high, there is no obligation to build facilities, provided that contracting arrangements are in place.

The noble Lord asked about enforcement. Enforcement will be on the same lines as for oils, waste and garbage under the existing 2003 regulations. There will be no new enforcement regime. He asked why it had taken so long to produce the regulations, considering that annexe 4 of MARPOL came into force in September 2003. The answer is to do with the nature of the consultation that we have undertaken. We initially consulted on the regulations in 2005. After considering responses to the consultation from the industry, we felt that further discussion with the European Commission and other member states was needed to clarify the intention of the 2000 directive about sewage. Directive 2007/71/EC provided the helpful clarification needed. Once the 2007 directive was introduced, we were able to publish further consultation with amended regulations for the industry to consider. It is to try to accommodate as best we can the concerns of the industry that we have undergone this second consultation process and the process of clarification with the Commission.

I think that we have met most of the points of concern raised. We have sought to keep the new burdens to a minimum. I stress again that the new burdens do not require ports themselves to build sewage treatment facilities, but require them to have contracting arrangements in place to comply with the new requirements. On that basis, we think that this is a fair way to meet our international obligations.

Motion agreed.