HC Deb 17 April 1928 vol 216 cc129-37
The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, to leave out the words "ships, boats," and to insert instead thereof the words "motor boats."

The object of this Amendment is to meet, to a certain extent, the views of dock and harbour authorities and railway companies associations. Under the ordinary law, a man who owns a motor car is allowed to keep a certain amount of petrol without a licence. He can keep 60 gallons of petrol in his store, and it is not necessary for him to take out a licence; but at the present time the man who owns a motor boat and who desires to keep a store of petrol has to take out a licence. There is no provision in any Act which gives the owner of a motor boat the same right as the owner of a motor car to keep up to 60 gallons of petrol. As a matter of fact, the provisions of the law at the present time are more honoured in the breach than in their observance, and I am afraid that a few motor boat owners have been in the habit of keeping 10 or 15 gallons of petrol without getting a licence. I propose by this Amendment to bring the law in regard to motor boats into line with the law as regards motor cars. We are proposing to allow the owner of a motor boat to keep the same number of gallons of petrol as the owner of a motor car.

There is no danger in anyone keeping this small amount of petrol for a motor car, and there is still less likelihood of danger from anyone keeping petrol on the shore near the place where a motor boat is stationed. The words "ships, boats" were perhaps too far-reaching. In order to show that we meant only that the man who owns a boat propelled by petrol should be allowed to keep this amount of petroleum, I am proposing to alter the Clause in accordance with the Amendment. This change will go a long way to meet the views of the harbour authorities. I had a letter this morning from the Secretary of the Dock and Harbour Authorities saying that the Amendment was an improvement as it limited the Clause, but it is only fair to add that the letter states that the Amendment does not go as far as the harbour authorities wish. I see that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) has on the Paper another Amendment on the subject, and I will deal with that when it arises. Meantime T hone that the House will allow this Amendment to be made, as it is an improvement of the Bill.


Do I understand that the Amendment on the Paper in my name will be in order, even if the present Amendment is passed? Otherwise I would wish to say a word on the present Amendment. My Amendment is of very much wider significance than that dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.


I am not proposing to ask that my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment should be ruled out of order.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

I see no reason why the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member should not be moved later.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 22, at the end, to insert the words: (5) Nothing in this Section shall affect the keeping or use of petroleum spirit within the jurisdiction of a harbour authority. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the slight but definite improvement which is made in the Clause by the Amendment which has just been carried. But really the question of the nature of the vessel which is allowed to store 60 gallons of petrol without a licence is a very small part indeed of the larger question of the danger which dock and harbour authorities foresee. We are not contemplating the man with a private motor boathouse at the side of a natural harbour, or something of that kind. We are contemplating places like Southampton Docks. What we are seriously afraid of is that, unless some special provision is made for dealing with docks and harbours, there will be serious danger not only to the property of a dock authority, but to the vessels that lie in the docks and to the goods of many kinds and great value that continually pass through or are stored within the bounds of the harbour. It has been found in the past that there is need for special precaution on dock properties. Their very nature increases the danger. They consist to a very large extent of timber structures and frequently stand upon timber piles. The fact that the harbours include stretches of water that are either totally or partially enclosed, adds enormously to the dangers from petrol. A comparatively small quantity of burning petrol on the surface of the water inside a dock might in a very short time cause damage running into millions.

9.0 p.m.

Take the case of Southampton again. I quote it as an example, though what applies to Southampton applies to every great harbour in the country, and I mention it only because I know it best. You might have a small launch going to fill up with a few gallons of petrol which is kept under this Bill without a licence within the dock premises. The petrol is carelessly handled and a fire occurs. It might involve half-a-dozen great Atlantic liners, to say nothing of cargoes of untold value. For these reasons I think that some very special provision should be made for dock premises. In the past the dock autho- rities have been the authorities for the purposes of the Petroleum Acts. I do not think there is any desire to retain that provision, if there are special regulations made by the Home Secretary's Department in consultation with the dock authorities; but we do press that it is in the interest of the public safety and of the shipping of the country that there should be special regulations governing, not the use of petrol on launches, but the storage of petrol for the purposes of the launches within the area of any dock. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to receive my Amendment with sympathy, and that he will accept it if not in form at least in spirit.


I beg to second the Amendment. I need not add anything to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has moved it. What is true of Southampton is true of Leith and other ports, and the case has been admirably put. The issue is a much wider one than that admitted by the Home Secretary in his speech.


I wish to draw attention to what took place in a Glasgow harbour not many year ago. It was one of the inside harbours on the Tradeston side. The piers were built on 12 by 12 beams that had been treated with a certain preservative of a highly inflammable nature. The escape of a little petrol and a match thrown carelessly about not only destroyed the harbour and buildings, but destroyed a great deal of property adjoining. Burning petrol cannot be dealt with by ordinary fire brigade methods. Water is no good in dealing with it, and, in fact, by the use of a hose you may easily spread a fire of this kind. People may think that it is difficult to have a fire so near the water's edge, but the reason is that when the petrol is ignited it becomes a gas and is blown by the wind and when it is carried against the woodwork at the edge of the water, and gets a grip there, then the wind which has blown it there spreads it all over the woodwork.

Since this Bill first came from another place I have opposed it on 25 nights, and I am still trying to get it put into some kind of shape. I still think that it does not meet the situation at all. Some distinction seems to be drawn between the case of a goods station and the case of a harbour. Is there any reason for doing that? Under the present method a sign has to be put on the ship to show that it is carrying this stuff, and we lay down certain Regulations about going into the harbour and unloading and so forth, and then we come to the real danger. The handling of petrol differs from the handling of any other class of goods, especially in connection with shipping. I watched a ship coming into the docks at Hull not long ago loaded with petrol. It was half-past 10 o'clock at night, and the signal was given that she was carrying petrol. She had to come into a certain dock and then was transferred into a lock, and from that lock to the quay, and then the men proceeded to unload her. It was quite clear to me that what was taking place there was of a highly dangerous character. Anything at all could take place in that darkness, and surrounding the place were sheds full of valuable goods.

When it comes to the real question of safety what we want instead of all these amending footling provisions is to have a special quay or a special harbour which will deal exclusively with all material of this kind. Why should the ordinary harbour have this danger brought into it by any ships? There is no reason why we should not have special quays or jetties, especially in this country where we are not short of sea-frontage. The question of expense does not enter into the matter, because, if an accident takes place involving a large fire, the necessary replacements would be 10 times what it would cost to put up a special quay or jetty in a place like Hull, where this material could be kept quite apart from all other goods.

Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD

I think the hon. Member will agree with me that the ship to which he refers was unloading petroleum and not petrol.


They are on the same lines. If the hon. and gallant Member wants me to do so, I can give a technical disquisition to show that petroleum is just as dangerous under these conditions as petrol.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

The hon. Member did mention petrol.


Yes, I did, and they had the petrol sign on that ship. I did not go there for nothing. I would like the Home Secretary to say whether his advisers have ever suggested to him that the proper way of dealing with this mat- ter is to have a harbour or jetty where this material can be handled quite apart from general merchandise.


The proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) goes further than his speech. His Amendment reads: Nothing in this Section shall affect the keeping or use of petroleum spirit within the jurisdiction of a harbour authority. That means, of course, that any motor vessel coming into Southampton Harbour, for instance, would be compelled to get rid of its petrol.


No, but it must comply with the conditions imposed by the harbour authority dealing with this matter.


The object of the Clause is to enable the owner of a motor boat to keep a store of petrol, not exceeding 60 gallons, somewhere on the shore at a convenient place near where his motor boat is laid up, but any motor boat coming into harbour, for the purpose of mooring at its accustomed place, would come into collision with the Amendment. The words "keeping or use" would really prevent any motor boat coming into the jurisdiction of any harbour authority carrying petrol. My hon. and gallant Friend however in his speech used the words "harbour premises." There I think he is quite right. But this matter is absolutely within the power of a harbour authority at the present moment. I have no power and no power is given by this Clause, to enable a man to store motor spirit on my hon. and gallant Friend's premises, or on the premises of a harbour authority. I cannot do so any more than I can authorise the owner of a motor car to keep 60 gallons of petrol on somebody else's land. He can only keep it on his own land. I am not taking away any of the powers of the harbour authorities. These are under the Petroleum Act of 1871 which gives them very full powers. Every harbour authority shall frame and submit for confirmation to the Board of Trade by-laws for regulating the place or places at which ships carrying petroleum to which this Act applies are to be moored in the harbour over which that authority has jurisdiction and are to land their cargoes, etc. The powers of controlling and regulating the carrying of petroleum into the harbour will remain just as they are to-day. All that I say is that a motor boat may have its own store of petrol in its own garage on shore, exactly in the same way as my hon. Friend or I may have our own store of petrol in our own garage in our own private house. I have had a good deal of correspondence with the dock and harbour authorities, and the Amendment which I have put down admittedly goes a long way to meet their views. I am not likely to make a lot of stupid Regulations, and if I did, they would be ultra vires. I cannot make them outside the Act of Parliament of 1871, which still remains in force. All the powers of dock and harbour authorities within their own jurisdiction remain as they were, and I think they will have the same power and authority for prescribing how petroleum is to be brought into the harbour in ships, how it is to be unloaded, where it is to be unloaded, and where it is to be stored. The only point is that a small motor boat carrying a small lot of petrol for its own use may come into that harbour, and the owner may keep 60 gallons of petrol, not on harbour premises at all, but if he has any land on the shore of the harbour, within the jurisdiction of the harbour authority, he may keep it on his own premises, in the same way as I can keep petrol for my motor car in my own garage. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not press the Amendment and will see that we have gone as far as we can do in this matter.


Speaking as a member of the Port of London Authority, I understood a few weeks ago that the Bill was the kind of Bill that would make progress here without Amendment. But this Amendment has rather scared me. It may be that there is nothing in it, but I am not quite sure, and I do not know that the Port of London Authority have considered the Amendment of the Home Secretary. They have considered the Bill, but I think this Amendment has only come to light since the Recess.


May I explain?


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me a moment? The other point I want to put is this: I quite understand that, if a motor boat comes into a harbour, she is subject to the regulations of the harbour authority, even to the extent of emptying out all her petrol if they thought it was dangerous, but this Amendment, it seems to me, will give the right to each motor boat to store for itself 60 gallons a petrol. Now there are some places along the riverside where there are very many motor boats, and if you multiply the number of those boats by 60, you will have a great many gallons of petrol stored in those places; and some of those places where the motor boats lie are certainly not fit for petrol to be stored in any large amount. Take, for instance, boat houses—which are not built for the storing of petrol, but for the covering of boats, a very different thing—in very thickly-populated places along the river banks in the upper reaches. I am not sure whether the local authority would have the right to supervise them before that amount of petrol was allowed to be stored in them. Otherwise, I am afraid it would be running a rather considerable risk.

I only mention it because I did not like to allow an Amendment like this to go through without saying what was in my mind, because I feel some responsibility in the matter. If the Home Secretary has made it quite clear and has authority from others responsible to say so, that ends the matter, but knowing what the London County Council have been doing lately for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of the public against petrol fire, I thought I had better speak. The difficulty is that there is no means of extinguishing it. Nothing that we know of at present will extinguish it, and if you have got a number of 60 gallons in one shed, which is not at all a fit place in which to put petrol, you are running a very considerable risk.


May I, by leave of the House, say a word in reply to the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Gosling), who, as a member of the Port of London Authority, is an authority on this question? If he will look at the Bill, he will see that it is not a Bill which authorises Tom, Dick, or Harry at their own sweet will to keep 60 gallons of petrol. It authorises me, the Secretary of State, to make regulations for the keeping of petrol which will apply to the owner of a motor boat, exactly in the same way as I make regulations to apply to the owner of a motor car. He does not think, for instance, that he himself may own a motor car and go and stick 60 gallons of petrol in a wood shed. The Secretary of State has authority to make regulations for the keeping of motor spirit by anybody who wants to keep it, and exactly in the same way, if the House gives me authority, I am going to make regulations to enable me to decide what the conditions are under which a man may keep motor spirit for his motor boat. Those regulations have been very fully considered. Very frequently I am dealing with the matter, particularly on the subject of fire, with my authorities and my staff in charge of it, and exactly the same care that is given to regulations for the keeping of petrol for motor cars will be given to regulations for those who desire to keep it for motor boats. There is not the slightest chance of our making regulations to enable a lot of motor boat people to put 60 gallons of petrol one after another in a wood shed or anything of that kind. I am sure the House will accept it from me that the Home Office will deal with these regulations in the same way as they have done in regard to petrol for motor cars in the past.


In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance that neither this Clause nor his regulations will interfere with the regulations made by the harbour authorities for the safety of their premises and the vessels lying therein, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.