Written statement to Parliament

Opt-in position on the European Commission's hazardous and noxious substances decision

Government's decision regarding international law on the treatment of hazardous and noxious substances at sea.

Robert Goodwill MP

The government has decided to opt in to the proposed Council Decision on the ratification and accession by Member States, in the interest of the Union, to the Protocol of 2010 to the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) by Sea, with regard to aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters.

The 1996 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by sea (‘the 1996 HNS Convention’) was agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to fill a gap in international law on the treatment of HNS at sea. A 2002 Council Decision agreed that EU Member States would take the necessary steps to ratify the 1996 HNS Convention within a reasonable time and, if possible, before 30 June 2006. Despite this, due to the concerns that many EU Member States, including the UK, had over the 1996 HNS Convention, none of them ratified it and it has never been brought into force.

The 2010 HNS Protocol consolidates the 1996 HNS Convention and amends it to address concerns with the initial agreement. However, the 2010 HNS Protocol created new concerns and made the implementation process complex. As a result, no state has yet ratified the 2010 HNS Protocol, and although some would like to do so, in practice none are likely to until the outstanding concerns with the Convention are resolved in the IMO, and unless the Convention comes into force in other countries simultaneously (it will not enter into force until it has been ratified by at least 12 countries with enough contributing cargo).

The Commission has proposed 2 Council Decisions, one relating to matters of judicial cooperation in civil matters and one with the exception of matters related to judicial cooperation in civil matters. These Decisions, when combined, lift any barriers within EU legislation that were preventing EU Member States from ratifying the 2010 HNS Protocol and so EU Member States will now be able to ratify if they wish to do so.

The government took the view in this instance that UK interests would be best served by opting in to the proposed Decision that deals with ‘aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters’, as this would retain the UK’s ability to fully ratify the HNS Protocol, and the removal of any binding deadline from the proposal has the effect of maintaining the UK’s current flexibility to be able to ratify and accede to the HNS Protocol if and when we are ready to do so.

Published 17 November 2015