§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/1146/76 and R/105/76 on Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and Dumping of Waste at Sea".I welcome the opportunity provided by the Scrutiny Committee to debate the proposals in the Draft Directive on Dumping at Sea, R/105/76, and the proposals in Commission Document R/1146/76, for a Council decision on the conclusion of a convention on the protection of the Mediterranean against pollution and its protocol on the prevention of pollution of the Mediterranean by dumping from ships and aircraft.
I shall be brief, but it is important to get the Government's views on the record. This matter is important, and I ask the House to bear with me while I explain the situation.
The United Kingdom is fully conscious of the need to protect the marine environment and the living resources it supports from the consequences of uncontrolled disposal of wastes into it. Before the enactment of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974, control over dumping was on a voluntary basis with the co-operation of industry. The Radioactive Substances Act 1960 gave us the legal basis for the control of deep sea dumping of low level radioactive materials. The expertise which we have gained has enabled the United Kingdom to play a prominent role in the negotiation of two international conventions for the control of dumping at sea, the Oslo and London Conventions, and subsequently within the regulatory bodies of these conventions.
The purpose of the draft directive is to harmonise within the Community the application of four conventions for the control of dumping at sea, but each convention relates to a different sea area, each with widely differing characteristics. These are the Oslo and London Conventions previously mentioned and the Helsinki and Barcelona Conventions. The Oslo, Helsinki and Barcelona Conventions are regional conventions tailored to the characteristics of the sea areas to which they relate. The London Convention is global in extent but envisages 1907 regional conventions. Only the Barcelona Convention is open for ratification or accession by the European Economic Community, and that is the subject of the draft decision in R/1146/76.
Member States of the Community have accepted their international obligations for the protection of the marine environment from any adverse effects of dumping, both for those waters of direct concern to them and globally. The aim of the draft directive is to harmonise the application of these conventions, and for this purpose it has been modelled by the Commission closely on the Barcelona Convention.
The United Kingdom accepted in the First Environment Programme that the rules for the implementation of international marine pollution conventions should be harmonised so far as is necessary for the proper operation of the Common Market and the execution of the environment programme. Her Majesty's Government are not, however, convinced that it is necessary to harmonise the application of the conventions in the manner proposed in the draft directive. In our view, it is badly conceived scientifically in that it does not recognise the differing characteristics of the sea areas concerned and would, moreover, be unnecessarily wasteful of manpower resources by the duplication of controls with those of the regulatory bodies of the international conventions.
The Commission has modelled the annexes of the draft directive on those of the Dumping Protocol to the Barcelona Convention which is tailored to the needs of the Mediterranean, but the criteria used are not necessarily appropriate to the Baltic, the North Sea or the deep Atlantic.
The three existing regional conventions have been worked out deliberately on a localised basis to reflect the different sea conditions. To select one of them for uniform application is going completely against the philosophy of international action in recent years. In meetings in Brussels it has been pointed out by representatives of member States that the warm, non-tidal Mediterranean needs a different scale of protection from the turbulent, tidal waters of the North sea, or the cold deep waters of 1908 the Atlantic; and the Baltic States have concluded that there should be no dumping in the Baltic.
The Commission has sought to justify the need for a draft directive on the ground that, without harmonisation of procedures and practices, there will be distortion of competition. The draft directive purports to avoid distortion of competition by imposing uniform standards, but in Her Majesty's Government's view it would create distortion of competition by imposing standards which are unnecessary environmentally and wasteful of economic resources. The siting of manufacturing plants to take advantage of favourable environmental conditions is only one economic factor among many.
Each of the four conventions for the control of dumping at sea has a regulatory body. The Commission proposes that it should become a fifth regulatory body carrying out functions identical to those of each of the other bodies. There would, therefore, be considerabe duplication of effort throughout the Community. In addition, the draft directive is the first instalment of many others which would be needed to interpret the annexes. Each of the other regulatory bodies will be similarly interpreting its convention in relation to the particular sea area to which it relates. As the Commission will seek to harmonise these rules uniformly, there will be further unnecessary duplication of effort and possible clash of competences.
In the preliminary discussions of the draft directive in Brussels, these points of principle have been put to the Commission. There has been no real attempt in these early discussions to consider the directive article by article. The Government feel that these fundamental issues of policy should be settled first. Other member States have also pointed out to the Commission the difficulties they would have in trying to agree to a directive as at present drafted. The Commission has been asked to justify its argument on the need to avoid distortion of competition. There has however been no discussion of the proposals since last June.
I turn now to the proposal that the Community should conclude, or ratify, the Barcelona Convention and its protocol 1909 on Dumping from ships and aircraft. Here we have a different matter to consider. We welcome the aims of the convention and fully support the implementation of its protocols. We accept the need for the limits on what may be dumped in the Mediterranean to be strict but, as I have already made clear, we do not accept that those limitations should be applied in the name of harmonisation to all of the seas surrounding the Community.
One aspect which has concerned the Scrutiny Committee is whether the Community could claim, as a result of its ratification of them, to have gained competence in matters of dumping or any other source of pollution covered by the instruments. The Barcelona Convention is unusual in that participation in it depends upon the State concerned becoming at the same time a party to one of the protocols. It is also a "mixed convention", that is to say, one to which both the Community and member States can be parties because the competences relating to the subject matter of the instrument may lie with either the one or the other.
One of the stated aims of its First Environment Programme, to which the United Kingdom has agreed, was to harmonise the rules for implementing international conventions in so far as is necessary for the proper operation of the Common Market and the execution of the programme. But the Community can become a party to both the convention and the protocol without implying necessarily Community competence for any particular part of the totality and in particular for any part of the protocol. The Barcelona Convention is a mixed convention, to which the Community and certain member States of the Community particularly concerned with the area of the convention are parties. It leaves open how far the provisions on a given subject, such as dumping, fall within the competence of the Community or that of the member States. Nevertheless Her Majesty's Government thought it prudent when the Council agreed upon Community signature, as opposed to ratification, to make clear in the Council the United Kingdom's views on this point, which we could repeat if it were decided to conclude the convention.
1910 Our policy is to try to resolve these differences of view concerning competence pragmatically in discussion within the Community. It seems unlikely that insoluble problems will arise in this connection.
Although there has been no meeting of officials in Brussels since June, there has been an interesting debate in the European Parliament. On 19th November the European Parliament passed a resolution which noted that all member States had signed the London Convention, but that not all had ratified it, and that various member States had signed the Oslo, Helsinki and Barcelona Conventions but that not all of these member States had ratified them.
It recognised the need for every member State to apply and enforce the rules and criteria for dumping as laid down by the international convention appropriate to the sea area in question. It recognised also that the provisions of the various conventions may vary according to the different characteristics of the sea areas to which they apply. It invited the Commission to amend Annexes 1 and 2 of the draft directive so that the lists of substances for which dumping is restricted coincide exactly with the provisions in the international conventions appropriate to their various sea areas. It also invited the Commission to ensure that its proposed enforcement procedures do not conflict with or in any way duplicate the enforcement procedures of the various international conventions.
Her Majesty's Government think that this is a constructive point of view, the principles of which can be wholeheartedly supported. In particular it recognises that some sea areas have a greater capacity for the absorption of wastes than others. This point of view is now more widely accepted and there are indications that it is acceptable to the Commission.
Ratification of a convention carries with it an undertaking to comply with it and the interpretation placed upon it by the regulatory body. The Oslo Commission has already made progress in this direction and the procedures are binding on contracting parties. Amendment of Annexes 1 and 2 of the draft directive in the way suggested would bring it into line with the wording of the various conventions, but further directives would be 1911 needed to interpret the annexes in the same way that the regulatory bodies have decided. This seems to be unnecessary duplication.
In the forthcoming discussions with the Commission and in the light of any further proposals which it will make to reflect the views expressed, the Government will continue to play a constructive rôle. Subject to the views expressed in the House, we propose to continue the examination of the directive, taking full account of the problems which I have outlined.
We propose that in view of the support of it by the Mediterranean member States we should agree that the Community becomes a party to the Barcelona Convention. It is our intention to ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected, and that is an important point. But we consider that this should be in the most practical and economic way.
The Commission dumping proposals will, by common consent, require considerable modification if they are to command acceptance in the countries of the Community. We hope to obtain this result as the discussions proceed either by modification of the proposals as suggested by the European Parliament, or in some other way such as a resolution on similar lines.
I think that it will be useful to have a debate on these provisions. The views of the House will be taken into account.
§ 11.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
I was interested that in the last debate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) raised the subject of documentation. I do not know whether any similar queries will be raised in this short debate. However, in my experience of the European Parliament I have been unaware that any representation has been made to the delegation there on the subject.
In any case, the Government have a splendid opportunity from next month when the Foreign Secretary assumes the presidency of the Council—and the Under-Secretary who is present tonight will be very much involved—to do so. It will not just be a matter as from 1st January of asking someone to do something about it. The Government will be 1912 able themselves to seek action, and that may be to the advantage of hon. Members.
If the trouble lies with the Commission, the Government can ask their former colleague who will be the President of the Commission to sort out the documentation or anything else. So, apart from the benefits which might accrue to the United Kingdom from the British presidency of the Council and of the Commission taking place simultaneously, it may be that the documentation arrangements for debates there and here will be considerably improved.
I understand that the objections to the directive on the dumping of wastes at sea are that it is duplicative and diversionary and that since conventions exist for seas around the Community, the difficulty has been to get the member States to ratify them. As the Minister said, only Denmark and the United Kingdom have ratified the London Convention.
It is possible that such a directive will duplicate the rules of the conventions and cause some confusion. Attention was drawn to that in the European Parliament, where it was recognised that such a directive should at least be brought into line in all its essential details with the existing conventions, so that they may be administered together. I welcome the Minister's assurance that the natural differences between one sea trea and another must be taken into account.
The rapporteur in the European Parliament was Lord Bethel, who said in the debate there that the proposal to control dumping of waste at sea would provide a significant contribution to the control and improvement of the marine environment, the purpose being to work out a Community approach to the problem and to take into account the various international conventions which exist already. He expressed the hope that existing conventions would form the basis for Community legislation and that the Community directive would supplement those conventions. rather than attempt to supersede them. I imagine on the basis of what the Minister said that the hon. Gentleman supports that view and considers that somewhere along those lines a practical solution can be found to meet the Community's requirements as well as the various national requirements.
1913 It seems also that there is a danger that the directive will mean that while member States may adhere to it they will continue to neglect the need to ratify existing conventions. The force of those conventions, which include countries outside the Community, would be greatly strengthened if the list of signatory countries from the EEC grew.
There is still some discussion on dumping to take place. The Minister will want to take account of events that affect us, particularly around these coasts. He will want to take into account the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which pointed out that in recent years very large objects had been dumped in the North Sea as a result of the oil activity. There is a danger of increased spillage of oil as the production increases. There is obviously a need for us to be sure of our protection policy and policing, bearing in mind the increased hazard to the fishing industry, which one way and another has quite a few Community problems at present. It is important that the industry should be protected as much as possible against hazards of this sort.
I entirely agree with the Minister that all these matters are extremely important, and despite the lateness of the hour, I join him in looking forward to hearing other hon. Members on the subject.
§ 12.3 a.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Fareham)
It was my good fortune to be appointed to represent the House at the conferences in Rome and Monte Carlo on the conventions concerning pollution of the Mediterranean. It was refreshing to find people from three continents—Africans, Asians and Europeans—joining together to try to resolve these problems. In Rome it was also agreeable to see the Syrians and Israelis alongside each other in the conference hall. This showed, perhaps not before time, a valuable effort to overcome the difficulties which—in the words of the great and distinguished man who opened that conference—have already turned the Mediterranean into almost a dead sea. It is very important that there is agreement among people from different countries and continents, often with different ideologies, on trying to produce 1914 positive results. Therefore, I am glad to see that subsequently Barcelona tried to produce some positive agreements.
On behalf of this country I pointed out that we could not accept the absolute standardisation of effluent percentages and strengths such as were postulated as being a simple way out for the Mediterranean. I am told that the Baltic is in similar danger. These are two enclosed seas with no perceptible tidal movement, although no one can say that the Mediterranean is not inclined to be just as rough as the seas round our coasts. There is no massive movement of water, either rhythmically or in any other way. When something is taken into the Mediterranean, it stays there.
Here we have a different problem. In this storm-tossed country—and we have had evidence in recent months—we can tolerate the deposition into estuaries and the sea of a concentration at the point of discharge which will be comminuted, and dispersed to an extent far greater than will occur in either of those landlocked seas. I therefore pointed out that we could not fall into line with any attempt to standardise permissible effluent percentages and strengths under any of these conventions.
We have set a good example in the cleansing of the River Thames in the past 20 or 30 years. Fish are now able to live in the Thames, and peers of the realm are able to swim in the river without losing their lives. That was not possible 20 or 30 years ago.
I do not expect the Government will accept the notion of absolute uniformity in the permitted strengths of the chemical composition of effluents. In the Mediterranean and other seas it is probably the discharges from shore and estuaries that are the principal menace.
Other matter dumped from ships may be a great nuisance, as we know, and it may commonly consist of items which do not naturally occur in the waters concerned. In the Western Approaches and the Mediterranean oil would not ordinarily be expected to occur. Ships discharge it. It is not usually discharged from shore. But I believe that to be a minor nuisance compared with the massive pollutions that come from the industrial effluents along the coasts.
1915 I am glad to see the progress that has been made and to support the Government in their view about these effluents. I also support what has been done—which may surprise many people—towards the diminution of the pollution in the Mediterranean.
I give these proposals my blessing, I hope that progress will be made and that it will be understood that not all effluents have to be standardised.
§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
The Minister said that hon. Members might wish to be in their beds at this hour rather than be here debating this or any other similarly stimulating subject. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that that is especially true after what has been for most hon. Members a long and particularly arduous parliamentary day. They would naturally wish to have been able to break away from the discussion of any matter to return to their homes at this late hour. I rise, therefore, only on behalf of members of the Scrutiny Committee and all those hon. Members who take an active interest in matters of this kind that arise from the deliberations at Brussels and elsewhere in the European Community, to repeat the protest that these debates are taking place at the fag end of the parliamentary day.
This is an extremely important subject. The fact that these two debates have been called at all is due to the alertness of members of the Scrutiny Committee. I now have the honour to be Chairman of that Committee in succession to my right hon. Friend, the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and in recent weeks I have come to observe the care with which the members of that Committee attend to these matters. I regret on their behalf that so frequently the debates have to take place in the early hours of the morning. I pay tribute to the work that they do in this Committee, and to the attention that they give and the service that they provide to the House and to this Parliament.
I think that the speeches of the two Ministers in these debates this evening have fully justified the fact that the Committee drew attention to these matters and called for a debate. I express my appreciation to both Ministers for the care with which they have presented their 1916 views and those of the Government to the House, and for the attention that they have given to the views of the Committee.
I do not in any way hold the Ministers responsible for the fact that they have had to make their speeches at the end of the day. I am sure that they, like many others, would rather that they could make them at another time. I understand that there are pressures on them, and there are pressures on the Government's time-table; but so, too, are there pressures on hon. Members, and I have no doubt that had this debate taken place at some other more convenient and more reasonable hour of the parliamentary day, there would have been many more constructive contributions to add to those that have come from both sides of the House.
I ask the Ministers who have taken part in these debates tonight to represent through the channels available to them the strong feelings of hon. Members and those who serve on the Scrutiny Committee that these matters, significant and important in themselves, deserve better treatment by the Government and should be taken at a more reasonable and sensible hour in the parliamentary day.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). This is not the first time that a matter of environmental pollution has come to the House at what I regard as an early hour, rather than a late hour, and not received the attention that should be given to matters that are of vital importance on an international basis. Matters of environmental pollution are aspects of international affairs that are best dealt with on an international or, in this case, a European-African-Asian basis. I support what was said by my hon. Friend about trying to find an occasion and duration of debate that will be more suitable for the gravity of what we are discussing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett) referred to the problem of absolute emission standards. I agree with what he said. The only point that I should like to make is that, accepting the application of absolute emission standards to different tidal and oceanic conditions, there are certain substances, such as cadmium, in respect of 1917 which absolute emission standards are justified. I suggest to the Government that we must look at these sorts of effluent and decree that there must be standards which can be applied world wide.
While I recognise that the North Sea and, even more, the Atlantic are very much larger and more mobile than the Baltic or the Mediterranean, these substances do not go away. They may be diluted, but there they are still dangerous even in extreme dilution. There is a saying that there is no such thing as a poisonous substance, but only a poisonous concentration. However, there are substances which are poisonous in very small concentrations and are cumulatively poisonous. It is to those that we must pay attention, particularly in the context of the Mediterranean.
§ 12.16 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. John Tomlinson)
I am sure that everyone will agree that this informed debate has been exceedingly useful. I appreciate the spirit in which the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) made the legitimate point about the seriousness with which the House must debate matters referred to it by the Scrutiny Committee.
We welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee and I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say how much we appreciated the valuable work of his distinguished predecessor the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) who showed considerable application in his arduous task. The matters before us have come to our attention because of the work of the Committee.
The Barcelona Convention governs the Mediterranean Sea area and has been signed by 10 non-EEC countries as well as by France and Italy and the EEC itself. The Community was an observer at the conference and signed the convention and the dumping protocol in view of the possibility that the power to implement them might lie with the Community or with member States..
There is no controversy about the implications of the convention among 1918 hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. There is a slightly more complex situation in regard to the draft Community directive on dumping at sea which was explained in detail by my hon. Friend who opened the debate.
The points made by the hon. Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett), with his great personal knowledge derived from having participated directly in these matters, were echoed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) and re-iterated by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). It has been made clear that measures for the control of dumping and pollution are desirable. There is no dispute that we must not hasten to harmonise conventions which regulate sea areas of widely differing characteristics. That point is taken and my hon. Friend spelled out earlier the Government's reservations on the draft directive.
I do not propose to detain the House any longer. I make no complaint about having debates at this hour, but there is no point in prolonging them simply in order to reiterate points which have already been made clearly and sharply and which are understood by the Government.
The Government are grateful to the Scrutiny Committee for bringing these matters to our attention, and we shall take note of the points which have been raised. They will duly influence the Government in their discussions over the forthcoming months.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/1146/76 and R/105/76 on Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and Dumping of Waste at Sea.