HC Deb 11 December 1957 vol 579 cc1382-7
Sir L. Ropner

I beg to move, in page 33, line 21, after "vessel", to insert: entering or departing from the haven in ballast or". It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we also discuss the Amendment in page 33, line 21, after "haven", to insert: for bunkering purposes only or".

The Deputy-Chairman

That will be convenient.

Sir L. Ropner

The Schedule specifies the maximum rate of dues which may be demanded by the Board. Generally speaking, the dues are to be 1d. per net registered ton for ships engaged on coasting voyages and 4d. per net registered ton for ships engaged on overseas voyages. No one can yet say whether those rates will raise funds which will prove to be either too great or too small for the requirements of the Board. I think that the proposed dues seem to be reasonable and in any case they are capable of revision.

The third paragraph of the Schedule specifies certain circumstances in which ships entering the Haven will be charged not more than one-third of the appropriate maximum rate and the two Amendments would extend the provisions of that paragraph to cover two additional categories of vessels, namely, those ships entering or leaving in ballast and those ships which call at the haven for bunkers only.

There is nothing new in the proposals which are made by the two Amendments. Both are quite usual and it is a recognised principle that a ship loading or discharging either passengers or cargo at a port should pay higher dues than a vessel without a pay load. As a matter of general interest, this is a principle which is also often applied to pilotage dues.

I understand that the Minister has held the view that navigational facilities, for which the Board will be responsible, are just as important for a ship in ballast, or for one calling for bunkers only, as for any other ship. I also understand that in applyng what I have called a principle the Minister draws a distinction between an authority with purely conservancy powers and an authority which, in addition, provides port facilities in the way of docks.

I do not think that either of these arguments conforms to the usual practice throughout the world, particularly in the case of ships in ballast. Moreover, it seems to me that if these arguments are valid the Minister should not press—indeed, he should not even propose—the Amendment in page 33, line 24, after "passengers", to insert: and in the case of a vessel entering the haven solely for the purpose of using oil reception facilities within the meaning of the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1955". I hope that the Committee will appreciate that the owners of ships would not, in total, pay any less sum in dues if these two Amendments were accepted. The Board obviously must have funds, and if certain categories of ships pay less other categories will pay more. The Amendments are proposed because it is thought that if accepted the charge for dues will be spread in a more equitable and more acceptable manner.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The Amendments would provide for three classes of ships entering the Haven. First, there is the ship that comes into the Haven because of the stress of weather. That ship will be charged one-third of the appropriate rate. I believe that that is correct. The captain of such a vessel has no control, and has to go into the port to shelter.

Secondly, there is the ship that enters the Haven in ballast to bring out a cargo, or takes in a cargo and brings out ballast. The purpose of the charge is to enable the Conservancy Board to maintain the fairway and all the necessary facilities for shipping in the Haven. All these facilities are available to a ship which is in ballast, and I cannot see any reason why a ship in ballast should be favoured.

Thirdly, there is the ship that enters the Haven for bunkering, and I feel that the same provision should apply. I see no reason why such a ship should pay only one third. I cannot see why the two latter categories should benefit, as does the ship that has to enter the harbour because of the stress of weather.

Mr. Neave

I have listened with great attention to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), and the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) have said. This is really a matter for the Board to decide in the future, and if it were found desirable to introduce lower dues for vessels in ballast, or calling only for bunkers, the Board would be able to provide accordingly under the Bill as it now stands.

The Minister will also have power, under Section 6 of the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1954, to revise the Schedule to include a lower rate if he thinks fit, on the application of any person or body appearing to him to have a substantial interest.

I do not propose, therefore, to go into the arguments. There are distinctions which can be made, but I do not think it necessary to make them, in view of the existing powers and the discretion given to the Conservancy in this matter. I suggest that the Committee allow it to try, and I ask my hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his Amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We are interested in these Amendments. Milford Haven may become a very important bunkering centre and there may be a greater development in the cargo trade from the Bristol Channel ports. If oil is going into Milford Haven, brought there by very large tankers, one can understand the possible importance of the bunkering trade.

From the present drafting of the Bill it appears that a limitation is imposed upon the lower charge which may be made for vessels which are either bunkering or entering in ballast or to take in ballast. It appears to be restrictive. In the present draft one cannot see what powers the Conservancy Board will have to change the duties for those categories of ships. The Board may have power to change the rates in general, but not in particular. The only particular case set out is that mentioned in paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will pay more attention to the views which have been expressed. If the bunkering trade can be developed at Milford Haven, it will help the port and the Board with the general charges which have to be imposed.

Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)

I wish to support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner). I should have thought that it would be a disadvantage for the Board to run any risk of preventing the bunkering service from developing. The first thing the authority would wish to do would be to encourage and help the development of the Milford Haven Conservancy area. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can give further thought to this matter and that he will pay particular attention to that point. We should try to attract custom to this area and make it a success and these two small but important Amendments point a way in which the Milford Haven area may be fully developed.

Mr. Awbery

May we get the position quite clear? This will be an oil port and ships will come in for bunkering and we are to give them this right—

Mr. Williams

Surely, if a vessel comes in loaded with oil, it will have to pay the full rate under the Bill as it stands, and also if the Amendments are accepted.

Mr. Awbery

A ship comes in with a cargo of 30,000 or 40,000 tons of oil and will go out in ballast and does not pay. I want to get it clear that it does not pay one way or the other.

Mr. Watkinson

We have considered this matter carefully. We ask my hon. and gallant Friend not to press his Amendment because we are anxious not to fetter the Conservancy any more than we must at this early stage. It is difficult to see how things will develop, but I assure the Committee that the Conservancy will have adequate powers under Clause 10 of the Bill to vary its dues. Therefore, it is wiser probably to leave that to the Board. I will certainly undertake to consider the arguments put forward by hon. Members before the next stage of the Bill, but, again, without accepting any commitment.

Sir L. Ropner

In view of the assurance which the Minister has given that the matter will be looked at again before the next stage of the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Neave

I beg to move, in page 33, line 24, after "passengers" to insert: and in the case of a vessel entering the haven solely for the purpose of using oil reception facilities within the meaning of the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1955". The Amendment refers to vessels discharging waste oil through the facilities provided for that purpose and enables them to pay the lower rates of dues that are authorised in paragraph 3. There are good reasons for this. The definition of oil reception facilities is to be found in the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1955.

To avoid oil pollution in the Haven, it is desirable to encourage ships to discharge the oil residues in their tanks and for that purpose special facilities are provided. It is desirable to install plant for that purpose and that ships coming into the Haven solely for that purpose should be charged the same dues as are charged to ships entering for repairs or by reason only of Stress of weather. There is no danger of oil reception facilities within the meaning of the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1955, being confused with the discharge facilities for tankers which, as hon. Members know, are to be provided in the Haven by B.P. and Esso. That is the position under the Amendment, and I hope that it will be accepted,

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

Would my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary clear up one point, which also has reference to the previous Amendment? The Government are proposing to put this further Amendment into the Bill specifying a special rate, although my hon. Friend has refused permission for that to be done in connection with other categories. I want to be very sure that the Government will not look with distaste upon any future action by the Board to give special facilities to certain categories. I assume that the Government are only specifying these categories in the public interest. The Government want to put that into the Bill, but I hope they do not in any way diminish the power of the Board at a later date to give the advantage to other categories of ships. I want to get that point abundantly clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.