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This has been a useful debate. The Minister might like to comment on just one other point. Are the Government proposing to remove winter-only tug charterers at Dover, Stornoway and Falmouth? If so, why? In what way would that be an advantage? If the Minister says that there are no such plans, I shall be delighted. However, that was reported in the press and that is the reason I pursue the matter.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I had intended to remain silent during this debate because I did not take part in previous debates on the Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised a point that I should like to support.
I accept the Minister's comment about the inappropriateness of a long discussion of a leaked report, particularly if we are to have a chance to discuss the report once it is published. I should like a reassurance that tide tables and navigational charts are kept continuously under review.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I join in the welcome that was given to government Amendment No. 7. It is essential that the power should extend to harbour authorities and harbourmasters, and also to pilots. Let me make it clear that, although I suggested that it should extend to cargo owners, I am not in the least bit troubled by the fact that that has not been done--not least because in most pollution cases, the pollutant is oil. Most oil is carried for the oil majors, who in their own interests in terms of public relations and other more financial matters will co-operate to the full. I just thought that in terms of comprehensiveness it would be no bad idea. However, as I say, I am not in the least troubled by that omission.
I am a little troubled by the general remarks made by the Minister that it did not follow that intervention powers would be used in every case--I agree that they would not necessarily be used in every case--and that it was the intention to continue with co-operation. I wholly support that. A large number of people are involved in these incidents each of whom has expertise, and co-operation is essential. However, the bottom line is that the Secretary of State, through his official on the spot, is responsible whether he intervenes or whether he does not intervene. He is either responsible because he did not intervene or responsible because he did do so. But what is absolutely clear is that that official cannot stand by while arguments are taking up valuable time. He cannot stand by and concur in the form of not exercising intervention powers in a plan with which he is not in total agreement. If he is not in total agreement, he simply has to intervene. There are no two ways about it.
At one stage I gently enquired, in a quite different case, whether intervention powers were contemplated and I was told that they were contemplated. But I gained the impression, which may be wrong, that the exercise of intervention powers was thought to involve some formality--some drafting or drawing up of documents. I hope that is not the correct view. I see that the Minister agrees that that is not the correct view and I am delighted.
There have been various references to keeping charts and tide tables up to date. Obviously that is important. But there is a limit to the extent to which charts can be corrected. The shingle bank which is not far from where I live is, I am told by the Southampton Port Authority, permanently on the move. One cannot produce charts every six months. Tide tables are at best a very crude guide to how much water there will be under the keel at any particular time, since the depth of water depends on atmospheric considerations of one kind or another.
The plain answer surely is that it is desirable that major changes should be recorded on charts but subject to that it is for masters of ships to allow a wide margin before they try to plot a course and if they want up-to-date and precise information to communicate with the harbour authority, who will undoubtedly have tide gauges and other means of giving him more precise information.
Apart from that, the only very minor point that I want to mention--I am sure that there is very good reason for it--concerns the definition of "pilot". I had always understood that traditionally the master had the conduct of his vessel--he was responsible for it--and the pilot was his adviser. It may very well be that this is taken from a succession of pilotry definitions, in which case I have nothing further to say about it. Indeed, I have nothing further to say about it anyway because we must get this Bill through and no doubt everyone will know what is meant by a "pilot", even if this is not a very good description.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps I may just ask the Minister another question. I am sorry but I forgot to put the point. In the review that is to be undertaken of the national contingency plan, will the national wildlife contingency plan which is currently in preparation by country conservation agencies in association with the MCPU be taken into account?
I turn to the general points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, first with regard to the "Sea Empress". He was absolutely true to his word and did not engage in anything that would be inappropriate, given the draft nature of the report about which we have heard. I shall repeat again: clearly, it is in everyone's interests that the investigation is completed and the report issued as soon as possible. But what I find particularly distressing about the events over the weekend and the reportage of a leaked document is not only that the document was leaked and issued to those affected in confidence but also that it is in draft and this is very much part of the investigative procedure. The MAIB interviews witnesses, takes a great deal of information into account and then puts its report to those who are affected directly for comment. That is the opportunity quite rightly for those who are affected to make representations. If the MAIB does not accept them, it is for them to submit alternative texts.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, made a number of points more generally. The first was about the issue of tugs and a letter which I wrote to NUMAST. I do not have a copy of the letter in front of me but I know the correspondence to which he refers. We are in agreement in saying that tugs were an expensive outlay and any such very considerable expense has to be justified. It has to be weighed up against potential benefits and other options of how money can be spent on combating marine pollution and saving lives. That, essentially, is what I have always maintained and what I said in my correspondence with NUMAST.
The noble Lord asked about the cost of the tugs. In round terms--there are contractual details here--the cost is some £3 million per year now for three tugs, bearing in mind that these are for the winter period only. So it is approximately £1 million per tug per winter period. Those are the sums about which we are talking. They are very considerable sums indeed when put against other search and rescue assets.
The noble Lord concluded by asking me whether I had any proposals to remove the tugs. Clearly, when one is spending very considerable amounts of taxpayers' money, one has to be absolutely convinced that they are good value for money and they are achieving their aim. I have nothing at the moment to suggest that that is not the case. Very shortly a technical report will be published detailing what the tugs were tasked to do in their first two trial periods of operation. One has to recall that only three years ago there were no government paid-for tugs of any kind around the coast. To my understanding, this kind of very large salvage tug had never been chartered on a stand-by basis by the Government at all. So this is new territory that we have gone into. We have spent a great deal of money on this and I believe it is right that the lists should be analysed very properly. But I do not think there is anything between the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and me on that subject. Certainly, he should not read anything into any correspondence with NUMAST which indicates anything other than that. The tugs have been extremely useful and have demonstrated their ability as a valuable asset.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, returned to the amendments which deal with the definition of "accident". He is quite right in that we have gone as far as we can within our international obligations in coming up with a definition which we firmly believe enables us to react in a proper manner where there is the threat that we have established. For that reason, I prefer our amendment to that of the noble Lord. My advice is that the government amendment would cover ships drifting without power where there is a threat of pollution as defined in the amendment. But Amendment No. 8 could prevent the UK from acceding to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.
On the question of tides and charts, the problem was dealt with extremely thoroughly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, in terms of the changing nature of the seabed and the effects of the atmospheric conditions on any specific day on tides and the amount of water available for navigation. The Hydrographic Office has a good reputation for its work. My understanding is that it was not sent a copy of the MAIB's draft report. One has to draw one's own conclusions from that. It is not for me to make specific statements on that until the report is with Ministers and published.
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