HC Deb 26 July 1967 vol 751 cc648-50
The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

My right hon. Friend intends to introduce legislation in Parliament at an early date to clarify the legal position of hovercraft. At present, there is considerable uncertainty as to how the law applies to hovercraft on such matters as safety regulation, liability, and the jurisdiction of the courts. The purpose of the legislation will be to establish the separate identity of hovercraft as distinct from ships and aircraft and to make provision for the safety regulation of these craft and for certain other matters, including liability and jurisdiction. In preparing the legislation the Board of Trade will, of course, continue to consult all the other interests concerned.

Until the new legislation comes into force, hovercraft operating in the United Kingdom will continue to be issued with permits to fly by the Board of Trade in consultation with the Air Registration Board.

The Ministry of Technology will remain responsible for the sponsorship of the hovercraft manufacturing industry. The Board of Trade will be responsible for the operations of civil hovercraft as well as the preparation of the necessary legislation.

Mr. Onslow

The House will welcome that elaboration of an undertaking which we wrung from the Minister during the later stages of the Anchors and Chain Cables Bill. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been pressure on this subject and that many of us regard it as high time that there was legislation.

Will the legislation cover private as well as commercial hovercraft, and will it distinguish between them? Will it cover the rights of hovercraft to use public highways and navigable waterways? The Minister will know that there is uncertainty about the future of cross-Channel hovercraft operations. Is it the Government's intention to bring commercial hovercraft operations, here and elsewhere, under public ownership?

Mr. Mallalieu

I must repudiate the idea that the assurance was wrung from me. It was vouchsafed with eagerness. The answer to the first question—whether the legislation will cover both private and commercial hovercraft—is, "Yes". The answer to the question concerning rights to use public highways and waterways is, again, "Yes". The hon. Member's third question is one which does not come within the legislation.

Dr. Bennett

While the Minister certainly gave a definition during the deliberations on the Anchors and Chain Cables Bill, was it not a definition which contradicted that of his predecessor, who had ruled that a hovercraft was a ship?

Is it the Government's intention when legislating still to pursue the, to me, quite impossible contention that hovercraft fly? They cannot fly more than a few inches clear of earth or water. Is it not quite absurd to try to treat them as aeroplanes, as they will never be using any of our airways above 3,000 ft. and they must, therefore, be land vehicles?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot engage in debate now. He may ask a question.

Dr. Bennett

If I may ask one further question? Will such minor hovercraft as those used for cutting grass be subject to the proposed legislation?

Mr. Mallalieu

That is a perfectly serious question, to which the answer is, "Yes", not only for cutting grass, but for all sorts of agricultural purposes. I made clear in my statement that we will establish by definition the separate identity of hovercraft. They are not ships and they are not aircraft. They are hovercraft.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be very welcome in trying to get rid of the anomalous position of hovercraft generally? Can he inform the House whether, when the legislation is introduced, a scheme will be put forward to incorporate details of hovercraft in future transport legislation so as to integrate them into the National Freight Authority and public transport generally?

Mr. Mallalieu

I do not think that that would come under this form of legislation.