HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc438-42
Commander J. W. Maitland (Horn-castle)

I beg to move, in page 20, line 8, at the end, to add: (3) In the exercise in relation to a ship of the powers conferred upon him by this section or by the said section seventy-seven, an officer shall conform to such reasonable requirements of the master or other person in charge of the ship as are necessary to prevent the working of the ship being obstructed or interfered with.

The Temporary Chairman

I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss at the same time, the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), in Clause 22, page 21, line 7, at the end, to insert: (2) The power conferred by the foregoing subsection on an authorised officer of a port health authority shall be exercisable also in relation to an area not forming part of a port health district by an authorised officer of a local authority or county council. the following Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), in page 21, line 7, at the end, to insert: (2) An authorised officer shall not give directions under subsection (1) of this section—

  1. (a) prohibiting or restricting the removal or delivery from a ship of food imported as part of the cargo; or
  2. (b) prohibiting the removal or delivery within a harbour of food imported with a view to sale for human consumption.
(3) Before giving directions restricting the removal or delivery within a harbour of food imported with a view to sale for human consumption, an authorised officer shall consult the harbour authority. and also the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, in Clause 29, page 24, line 38, at the end, to insert: harbour" and "harbour authority" have the same meaning as in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

Commander Maitland

That will be a very convenient way of dealing with the matter, Major Anstruther-Gray.

The Clause and the series of Amendments we are discussing relate to the entry of an authorised officer into a ship. The Amendments do not seek in any way to obstruct what is an extremely important part of the Bill. They seek to ensure, and to write into the Bill, that there shall be co-operation between the officers and the captain or other person in charge of the ship in what might well be an extremely important and rather intricate operation.

I am sure that all hon. Members will realise the importance of the speed with which ships are turned round when they arrive at dockyard ports. The late Government and the present Government have both found it necessary to set up committees to try to speed up the turn-round. Those who know anything about the way in which ships are unloaded and handled in dock know that it is a very specialised and important business.

The Amendment I have moved seeks to ensure that the captain of the ship should be consulted, or should at least have a say in the matter, if for any reason it is not convenient to carry out what is laid down in Clause 20. I am not one of those who think that all Government and local government officials are necessarily either perfect or quite impossible; I think they are quite ordinary people, like I am, and they can, therefore, very easily make mistakes. It is for that reason, and to safeguard a very important national function, the speed of turn-round in the ports, that I have moved the Amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Sir Harold Webbe (Cities of London and Westminster)

If I may refer to the Amendments in my name, which, I understand are being considered with the Amendment moved by my hon. and galland Friend, may I say that they consist of one substantial Amendment only, which is concerned solely to obviate possible confusion in the administration of Clause 22? In that Clause, the responsibility for administration is placed on the port health authority or the food and drugs authority into whose area the goods are imported.

In the case of the Port of London, and I should imagine that similar conditions apply in the other large ports, the area of the port health authority is extensive, and is overlapped at many points, in fact, at every point, by the area of another riparian local authority. If, therefore, the Clause is passed in its present form, there would be an overlapping of authority, and, what is much more serious, a division of responsibility, and the purpose of these Amendments is simply to make clear that, where goods are imported into the area of the port health authority, that authority shall have the responsibility of administrationn. In all other cases, the local authority into whose area the goods are imported will be the responsible authority. I think the Amendments would make for more effective and efficient administration.

Mr. Leslie Thomas (Canterbury)

I wish to draw attention to the provisions in the latter part of Clause 22, particularly with the object of obtaining special recognition for the special requirements of the harbour, docks and shipping authorities, because there are circumstances which distinguish them from the other interests affected by this Clause.

I feel that, without some special recognition, an authorised officer will have no guidance at all as to whether any action which he may take is reasonable in relation to the very special circumstances of docks and harbours. As Clause 22 stands, the power to prohibit or restrict the movement of food cargoes which are contaminated or suspect is not subject to any qualification whatever, and, while I am not suggesting that an authorised officer would place a restriction on the movement of a food cargo merely for the sake of being unreasonable, I think that in the special circumstances perhaps some moderation in the use of these powers will be desirable.

Obviously, and quite rightly, the Clause will keep contaminated food within the control of the authorised officer, but this can be done without slowing down the movement in the ports or the turn-round of ships. So long as a food cargo is held within the boundary, perimeter or ring fence of a harbour or docks, it does not matter in what part of the docks it should be held. I believe that a restrictive order might seriously hold up movement in the docks.

The purpose of the Amendment in Clause 22, page 21, line 7, is not to stop affected cargo being taken off the ship, because it would still be under control on the quay, to impede the movement of the cargo once it is on the quay, because it could still be moved within the area boundary. After all, the port authority is the best authority to consult as to where any contaminated cargo should be placed so that it might not interfere with the general movement and the operation of the docks.

Mr. Amory

I entirely agree with what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland). We want these important officers to behave reasonably, but I suggest that it is inappropriate that we should lay down in a statute that authorised officers should conduct themselves reasonably. It is a basic assumption that when we lay duties on public officers they will discharge them in a reasonable manner.

With regard to the Amendment referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), we feel that to do what is suggested there would be to restrict unduly the enforcement officers in the discharge of their duties, and would, in fact, prevent them prohibiting goods being moved from ships to the wharves. I would remind my hon. Friend that the detention period is a very short one, and it would be a mistake to restrict these officers further.

So much do I agree with my hon. Friends about the necessity for these duties being performed reasonably that I should like to give the Committee an assurance that, on the passing of the Bill, I will arrange for a circular to be sent to the local authorities inviting them to call the attention of their enforcement officers to the importance of paying due regard to the reasonable requirements of shipping authorities in order to avoid the immobilisation of ships and any undue delay.

I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), and if he moves his Amendments later I shall be able to accept them.

Commander Maitland

In view of the Minister's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.