Skip to main content

International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation (Legal Capacities) Order 2022

Volume 817: debated on Thursday 13 January 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation (Legal Capacities) Order 2022.

My Lords, this order will allow the UK to recognise the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities, or IALA, and assist in the completion of its transition from a non-governmental to an intergovernmental organisation. The IALA may not be familiar to some noble Lords, but its work is fundamental to maritime safety and, given that 95% of all of our import and export tonnage is transported by sea, the wealth and prosperity of our island nation. The IALA is and will remain a technical, not-for-profit body whose key aim is to co-ordinate

“improvement and harmonisation of marine aids to navigation and related services to the benefit of … navigation, efficiency of shipping traffic and protection of the environment.”

It brings together marine aids to navigation authorities, manufacturers, consultants and scientific and training organisations from all parts of the world, providing a vital forum for the exchange of views, expertise and experience.

The UK was a founding member of the current organisation when it was first established in 1957. Our illustrious maritime heritage and continued leadership on aids to navigation through the work of our general lighthouse authorities—Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board and Irish Lights—means that we have played, and continue to play, a significant role in all its achievements. These include the introduction of a single buoyage system, which replaced the more than 30 different types in use worldwide as late as the 1970s. Many of these had confusing and, worse, often conflicting rules. As a result, many ships were wrecked and lives lost simply because there was no consistency and mariners were often unable to fathom intended meaning.

This represented a significant barrier to the improvement of navigation safety and was the biggest challenge faced by the IALA when it was first formed. Although there was a clear need for consolidation and an internationally recognised consistent method of marking and wayfinding at sea, agreement on the details remained difficult. The IALA managed to navigate a path through these problems and created the IALA maritime buoyage system in 1976, adopted by the IMO in 1977. It remains a fundamental cornerstone of maritime navigation today, and has had an immediate and long-lasting impact on maritime safety.

The IALA continues to set international standards for all marine aids to navigation, make recommendations and deliver guidance. It has been instrumental in facilitating the delivery of enhanced navigation safety—for example, in facilitating the introduction of purely electronic aids to navigation, the transition from filament bulbs to LED lighting and the delivery of new power sources, such as solar. It also advises on challenges to navigation safety, such as offshore windfarms, and new technologies, including autonomous vessels.

The UK’s maritime heritage, although at times painful and tragic, means we have an obligation to others to incorporate and share our learning regarding safety in all of the IALA’s outputs. This is vital if we are to prevent the reoccurrence of the mistakes and tragedies that litter our history. That is why this order is so important. It will facilitate the IALA’s richly deserved transition to intergovernmental status.

The order is a very simple SI that confers the legal capacities of a body corporate on IALA in the UK. Article 1 provides that the order may not come into force until the future intergovernmental organisation comes into existence for the UK. If the UK is one of the first 30 states to ratify, this will be 90 days after the date of the deposit of the ratification instrument of the 30th state. If the UK ratifies after the convention is already in force, it will be on the 30th day after it deposits its instrument of ratification. This article also provides that the order’s provisions extend to the whole of the UK.

The UK was a founding member of IALA when it was first established in 1957. We are very keen to be at the forefront of its transition to an intergovernmental organisation. As I have noted, there is a process that things have to go through, and we need this order for the process to really get going and for us to be able to recognise IALA. I commend the order to the Committee.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this order. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an Elder Brother of Trinity House, the general lighthouse authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. As the Minister said, Trinity House has been closely involved with the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation since its formation in 1957 under its previous name, the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, which is where the acronym IALA comes from.

At a meeting in Spain in 2014, IALA agreed that the best way forward to develop and improve marine aids to navigation for the benefit of the maritime community and the protection of the environment would be to seek international intergovernmental organisation status as soon as possible through the development of an international convention. Three subsequent diplomatic conferences were held to thrash out a draft convention, and it was finalised and adopted at a fourth conference held in Kuala Lumpur in February 2020. Just under a year later, the convention was opened for signature in Paris, where IALA is headquartered, and some 20 countries have now signed. Five of these—Singapore, Norway, Japan, Malaysia and India—have since ratified.

The convention will lead to increased international acceptance of standards, enhancing harmonisation, and will raise IALA’s status at the International Maritime Organization from merely consultative to equal partner, facilitating direct links with the experts working at the sharp end of research and development and thereby obviating difficulties that have arisen in the past when dealing with some governmental bodies.

Despite the huge technological strides that have been made in the aids-to-navigation sector over the past 20 or so years—here Trinity House has played a major role—the importance of such aids is as great now as it ever was, arguably more so due to the greater emphasis being given to environmental concerns. Bearing in mind our close association with IALA, I sincerely hope that the Government will see their way to ratifying the new convention at the earliest opportunity.

My Lords, I welcome this order. As the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, it is well overdue but is certainly going to happen. It appears to be going at a faster rate than on ballast water, perhaps because it will be based in France; we can conjecture on that. However, that is not really what I want to ask the Minister about.

As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, Trinity House is responsible for the lights and other navigation aids in England. It must have been more than 10 years ago that the shipping industry got very upset because it was paying its light dues for when ships use British ports—the light dues go to maintaining the lights—and we discovered that the lights being maintained included all the lights around the Irish Republic as well as those around England and Scotland. I recall that at the time my noble friend Lady Crawley, who was a Minister, was having great trouble negotiating with the Irish Government on the rather simple idea that they should pay for the maintenance of their own lights. She said, “They’re not very keen to negotiate”. That was not a very good answer from the Irish Government.

It was finally sorted out, and the other thing that was sorted out was that Trinity House and the Government together found a way of becoming much more efficient, as they are now, and therefore reducing the light dues applied to ships coming into this country. I am very pleased with the way it has gone, but can the Minister confirm, if not today then in writing, that there is no question that any of the money from ships coming into UK ports and paying light dues goes towards funding anything to do with lights in the Irish Republic?

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this important measure on maritime safety. I am very pleased to see that someone in the Department for Transport has been much more enthusiastic about signing up to this new convention, opened to signature by the French Government only a year ago, than was the case with the previous convention. It is good to see the UK in an enthusiastic leadership role after recent years when we have been—from the perspective of an internationalist, as I am—withdrawing from our international responsibilities. The development and maturing of international organisations is always good to see, especially one as practical and useful as this one.

I had written down two questions, one of which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has partly answered for the Minister—but I shall still ask it in part. Can the Minister update us on the progress on the other signatories? Are we in good company? The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, gave us some names, but is this regarded by the Government as good progress for something that they clearly support? Since this is a French-based organisation, does the EU join as a group, as one organisation, or do the individual EU countries join—and, if so, what is the progress with that?

I note that IALA will remain consultative. I move on to paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which says:

“Membership of IALA … will allow the United Kingdom to continue to play an active role”,

et cetera. This question is linked to my previous question. Did our withdrawal a year ago from the EU mean that we were put at a disadvantage in relation to this issue of international maritime safety? Did our previous relationship link in any way with our membership of the EU, and therefore leave us out in the cold somewhat? Was that an important—and very good—reason for wishing to join this convention as soon as possible?

My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this instrument to help to facilitate and recognise the new International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation. The Committee will be aware that this new organisation is a transition from the previous International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities, which has functioned since 1957. First, given that only five other nations have ratified the related convention, can the Minister provide the House with an estimate of when the transition will be completed? Secondly, can the Minister confirm whether the support and resources given by the UK to the new organisation will in any way differ from the support and resources given to its predecessor? Finally, can the Minister briefly explain the UK’s strategic aims for engagement in the organisation, as well as related bodies such as the International Maritime Organization?

We fully support the work of the new International Organization for Marine Aids for Navigation, and I am therefore pleased to welcome this order.

My Lords, once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate on this order. I particularly welcome the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. It is very good to have somebody in the Room who has such expertise.

I will give a little more information on the timeline from the UK’s perspective. All being well and subject to the agreement of your Lordships’ House and it being passed at the other end—I cannot recall whether it has yet—this order will go to the Privy Council in February. This would be the ratifying document that will then go off to Paris at the end of February or in early March.

I am really pleased that the United Kingdom will join a good list of people—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has already mentioned the countries that have ratified or accepted the IALA convention. The other point to note about that is that it has also been signed by 20 different countries, too. The process is therefore well on its way. Looking down the list of countries that have already signed it, there are a large number of heavy hitters—ones we would really want to be associated with. The EU does not really have a locus here. There is no impact of EU withdrawal on this. Looking at the countries that have signed, we have Belgium, France, obviously, the Netherlands, and all sorts of different countries. I do not think that is a fruitful or relevant area to discuss further.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that we need to make sure we have an enthusiastic leadership role in the maritime sector. I know that the Maritime Minister is very keen that we do. We have a lot of expertise on maritime aids to navigation. The general lighthouse authorities will continue to represent the UK at the intergovernmental organisation when it is established. Any member state obligation, should it arise, will be met by the Department for Transport in the first instance with FCDO input. In essence, our involvement will not change too much in terms of resources. Indeed, we will save ourselves around £15,000 a year on subscription costs. That is clearly beneficial.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whether the Irish pay for their own lighthouses. Yes, my Lord, they do. The Governments of the UK and Ireland have an agreement that all work by Irish Lights in the Republic of Ireland is paid for by the Irish Government.

If there is anything else I will write further, because I am at the end of what I have been briefed to say, but I will check back through Hansard to make sure that there is nothing else. Otherwise, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 2.23 pm.