HC Deb 23 July 1958 vol 592 cc592-6

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 9, at end insert New Clause "A": (1) In subsection (1) of section five hundred and three of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, the following paragraphs shall be substituted for paragraphs (c) and (d)— (c) where any loss of life or personal injury is caused to any person not carried in the ship through the act or omission of any person (whether on board the ship or not) in the navigation or management of the ship or in the loading, carriage or discharge of its cargo or in the embarkation, carriage or disembarkation of its passengers, or through any other act or omission of any person on board the ship; (d) where any loss or damage is caused to any property (other than any property mentioned in paragraph (b) of this subsection) or any rights are infringed through the act or omission of any person (whether on board the ship or not) in the navigation or management of the ship, or in the loading, carriage or discharge of its cargo or in the embarkation, carriage or disembarkation of its passengers, or through any other act or omission of any person on board the ship; and for the words "loss of or damage to vessels, goods, merchandise or other things", both where they occur in paragraph (i) and where they occur in paragraph (ii), there shall be substituted the words "such loss, damage or infringement as is mentioned in paragraphs (b) and (d) of this subsection". (2) For the purposes of the said subsection (1), where any obligation or liability arises—

  1. (a) in connection with the raising, removal or destruction of any ship which is sunk, stranded or abandoned or of anything on board such a ship, or
  2. (b) in respect of any damage (however caused) to harbour works, basins or navigable waterways,
the occurrence giving rise to the obligation or liability shall be treated as one of the occurrences mentioned in paragraphs (b) and (d) of that subsection, and the obligation or liability as a liability to damages. (3) The application of the said section five hundred and three to any liability shall not be excluded by reason only that the occurrence giving rise to the liability was not due to the negligence of any person. (4) Nothing in the said section five hundred and three shall apply to any liability in respect of loss of life or persona] injury caused to, or loss of or damage to any property or infringement of any right of, a person who is on board or employed in connection with the ship under a contract of service with all or any of the persons whose liabilities are limited by that section, if that contract is governed by the law of any country outside the United Kingdom and that law either does not set any limit to that liability or sets a limit exceeding that set to it by that section. (5) Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section shall not come into force until such day as the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation may by order made by statutory instrument appoint. (6) The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation may by order make provision for the setting up and management of a fund, to be used for the making to harbour or conservancy authorities of payments needed to compensate them for the reduction, in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section, of amounts recoverable by them in respect of the obligations and liabilities mentioned in that paragraph, and to be maintained by contributions from such authorities raised and collected by them in respect of vessels in like manner as other sums so raised by them; and any such order may contain such incidental and supplementary provisions as appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient. (7) The power to make an order under subsection (6) of this section shall include power to vary or revoke any such order by a subsequent order and any such power shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

11.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Airey Neave)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) and for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham), who were the promoters of this Bill, originally began it with a Clause which only covered part of the Convention signed at Brussels in October, 1957, on the limitation of shipowners' liability. The Government gave undertakings on the Second and Third Readings of this Bill to introduce Amendments both in this House and in another place. We now have before us this Amendment and others which give effect to that Convention.

This new Clause gives effect to Article 1 of the 1957 Brussels Convention, and subsection (1) will supersede Section 503 (1, c and d) of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and Section 1 of the Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Act, 1900. It will remove certain anomalies. I would, if I were given leave of the House, be prepared to answer any questions on the various subsections in this Clause.

Mr. Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

I rise as one of the supporters of this Private Member's Bill which was introduced by my hon. Friend for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest), to welcome this Amendment. It has been inserted in another place so as to give effect to Article I of the International Convention on the Limitation of Liability of Seagoing Ships which was signed by the United Kingdom in October of last year.

This is a new Clause which has required intricate and careful drafting and the result has been the insertion of the new provisions into the existing law by reference to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has explained these provisions to the House, and I do not propose to add anything to what he has said. I should like, however, with your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House, to mention one of the latter Amendments by which the Act will be extended to Northern Ireland. This Measure will change the law of the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is an integral part, and it is clearly desirable that the change should be made by one and not by two Acts of Parliament. That is the reason for the insertion of the new Clause, which Northern Ireland welcomes.

It may seem strange that no single line of the original Bill published on 20th November, 1957, now remains. But the principle which underlies the original Bill and on which it was based, does remain. The supporters of the Bill welcome the Amendments which have already been made, and those others which, I trust, the House is about to approve. The supporters would like to express their thanks to the Government for the help which they have given to this Private Member's Bill and for the extensive Amendments which they have moved, to the Opposition for their help and support, and to the great number of individuals, some in their official capacity and some as private persons, who have worked to bring about this major reform in our shipping law.

This is the last lap in the race, and I trust that the House will approve these Amendments so that the Bill may be placed on the Statute Book before the month ends.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

We have just listened to a very moving speech from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham) about the changed form of the Bill, and I feel sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would agree with the Government in their general purpose of giving effect to a number of the other provisions of the Convention signed in October, 1957, and in extending the scope of the original Bill which was first introduced.

Before we part from this proposed new Clause, I want to put to the Minister one or two quite short questions. In the first place, as regards the new paragraphs (c) and (d) which are to be inserted into Section 503 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, as I read them, they extend the principle of limitation of liability to on-shore injuries and to on-shore damage to property. I take it that that is provided for in the Convention, but I should be grateful if the Minister would point to the provision in the Amendment which so provides. As I understand the law, this is a considerable extension of the existing principles relating to limitation of liability which do not at the moment affect on-shore injuries or on-shore damage to property.

My second question relates to subsection (6) of the proposed new Clause. The Government, as I understand it, propose to set up a fund which is, in effect, to be available to compensate harbour and conservancy authorities for the scaling down of claims which they may have by reason of the operations of the limitation provisions. I should like to ask the Minister to give us some indication of the proposed workings of the fund. I see that it is to be fed by contributions from the authorities for whose benefit it is to be constituted. Can he say what its approximate magnitude will be or give some indication of the nature or scale of the contributions? In general, can he say, roughly, how the fund is to be worked and as from what date it is to be in operation?

Subject to replies on those two questions, speaking for myself—I think that I can speak also for my right hon. and hon. Friends—we recognise that the Government are right in introducing the new Clause.

Mr. Neave

By leave of the House, I would say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does raise quite important points which I think should be explained. His first was about subsection (1) and the fact that it would extend the circumstances in which one can limit liability. The important point is that it will remove the anomaly in our present law that liability for damage to property on shore may be limited but liability for death or injury on shore may not. It removes that anomaly. That is the important point of subsection (1).

His next question was about subsection (6). I refer him to subsection (2). We have given an undertaking in connection with the Convention that subsection (2, a) which extends the limitation to wreck liability will not be brought into force until an agreed scheme is drawn up under subsection (6) to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. He asked exactly how that liability fund would be brought about and operated. I do not think I can tell him the scale at the moment. He will probably note that it is worded in such a way that the Minister is given a fair degree of flexibility in making this scheme, and the scheme will not be set up until it has been agreed with both the harbour authorities and the shipowners. That is the position at the present.

Question put and agreed to.