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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that reply. I welcome the intention to increase the maximum fine to £250,000. The new power to prosecute when offences occur beyond our territorial waters of 12 miles is also welcome. Will guidance be given to magistrates' courts--the relationship between government and courts is a delicate one--on the need for appropriate penalties for gross transgressions? The average fine imposed is derisory for companies which deal in millions of pounds.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's support for the measures we have taken to address the complex and important issue of illegal discharges of oil at sea. My noble friend is right to highlight the fines. The levels imposed have not been high so far. We felt that the best course of action was to seek powers to raise them. On the issue of guidance, it is not appropriate for the Government to tell magistrates the level of fines they should impose beyond setting maxima. It is for the courts themselves to decide the appropriate penalty. I can assure my noble friend that we shall provide information on the aims of our policies on marine pollution. We hope that that will be of use.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the House will be curious to know how the Minister, in one supplementary answer, can say that the Government have no central record of the fines levied and then, in another, say that the fines are abysmally low. Can he give the House some indication of the basis on which the Government

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are considering increasing the level of fines if they have no record centrally of the fines being levied at the moment?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my precise words were that we have "no precise information". We have some information from the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea--ACOPS--on the levels of fines in 1994. The average fine was just over £2,000. That is where our information comes from. However, it is not entirely complete and is used for purposes of guidance.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that for over 30 years we have passed laws with a view to preventing oil pollution at sea but that those laws have been largely ignored or at any rate not adequately enforced? Can he say to what extent continued pollution is due to non-enforcement of our laws?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is a difficult question to answer precisely. What is clear is that deliberate oil pollution discharges still continue. We have chosen to take an approach of both deterrent and increased detection. We use aerial surveillance and other methods to try to identify the culprits. The thrust of our policies has been to negotiate with ports, users, waste management companies and operators to make sure that ports have a waste management plan for the proper discharge of waste. That is the encouragement approach. We vigorously pursue the detection and prosecution approach as well.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the reference to the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, a body which I chair. We co-operate in issues concerning the safety of the marine environment. Is the Minister aware that, in the debate we had the other day, I warmly supported the action of the Government over increased fines which is thoroughly welcome? Can he give some indication as to whether the Government feel that charterers should bear some responsibility for the safety and standards of the ships they charter?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is another vexed issue. We must ensure that those who operate the vessels do not discharge oil. When we have proper evidence we take measures to prosecute the owners of the vessel and may also prosecute the master. That seems the most efficacious way of tackling the problem. The question of whether those associated with the vessel should also be prosecuted is part of a wider issue. It has been raised in relation to the carriage of oil, but our best course of action is to pursue those who own and operate ships.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is this not an international question that may only be resolved by international agreement?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is certainly an issue where international co-operation is required and fellow members of the Bonn Agreement agreed to co-operate

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with each other. Indeed, those channels work well. Where we have information regarding a vessel that we believe is polluting the environment, we pass it on to other states, particularly those where we believe the vessel will call. On the wider front, it is an issue where the International Maritime Organisation has a strong role to play.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that in the discussions that take place on these important issues before the International Maritime Organisation the Government will not rule out the idea that charterers should bear some responsibility? Is it not worthy of investigation at that level?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, as I said, this is an issue which has been the subject of international discussion. We shall make sure that all areas surrounding the unacceptable issue of maritime pollution with oil are properly discussed.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am a former chairman of ACOPS, the organisation mentioned, but that this is not an arranged ambush prepared for him? In regard to international discussions, does my noble friend agree that a huge amount has been agreed internationally in the MARPOL Agreement and others? However, what matters now is the execution and implementation of those agreements.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I welcome contributions from all noble Lords who have had a serious interest in that committee in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, had a prominent position on the committee as well as my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. It is extremely important that we take forward these measures as part of the package approach and that we also pursue detection and deterrent. We have put considerable resources into that effort.

Belfast Airports

3.4 p.m.

Lord McConnell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take as a result of the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the proposed merger of Belfast International Airport and Belfast City Airport.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report was published on 9th January. In a press notice issued on that day my honourable friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs announced that the proposed merger

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would not be allowed to proceed, in line with the recommendations of the MMC. A copy of the press notice has been placed in the House of Lords Library.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that satisfactory Answer. Is he aware that all those who value competition will laud the decision of the Government in this matter?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I am very grateful for those kind words.

NHS Residential Care and Mobility Allowances

3.5 p.m.

Lord Rix asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will withdraw their proposals for depriving people in National Health Service residential care of entitlement to support for personal mobility.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the proposals are currently being considered by the Social Security Advisory Committee. We will, of course, consider carefully any recommendations the committee may make. There are no plans at present to withdraw the proposal.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I understand the reluctance of the Minister to go further, although I do not sympathise with it. Can he confirm at this stage that the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee will be accepted rather than just examined by the Government? Can he also confirm that all the voluntary bodies and major charities concerned with disability, together with the NHS trusts, unanimously supported the continuation of the mobility allowances saying that the mobility of disabled people would be severely curtailed if they are withdrawn and that social security benefits would be put back nearly a quarter of a century?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am aware that there have been reactions to the request for consultation from the SSAC--the Social Security Advisory Committee. However, the end date for observations was only yesterday. The committee will now have to meet and consider before it makes its recommendations to the Government. I am sorry that I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance that we will necessarily do what the committee wishes. We shall certainly consider carefully what it says. However, we will have to wait to see what the committee says and then deliberate upon it.

Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I can declare a family interest in that I have a severely handicapped daughter who is in receipt of the mobility allowance. Is my noble friend aware that the allowance is not easily

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obtained? Its issue is strictly administered and if it were to be withdrawn it would cause hardship and a great deal of inconvenience in many families.

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