HC Deb 12 June 1967 vol 748 cc28-49

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31st May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I have been waiting in the corridor since 31st May to make sure that I would have the opportunity of continuing my speech, and I am glad to do so today. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), speaking on the previous Bill, said that he was grateful for the fact that the Bill was being proceeded with speedily. I agree with him, because that Bill was a good Bill. On 31st May I had an opportunity to study briefly this Bill, and I have studied it since. I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare that this Bill should be rushed through.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I have never used those words with reference to this Bill.

Mr. Taylor

Certainly not. I am glad to know that my hon. Friend agrees with me about this Bill, because this will need to be substantially amended. Quite apart from that, the Minister has a clear obligation to explain the reasons why certain provisions are in the Bill and others are not.

Let us consider the general question of the major change that is being made in the present legislation as laid down in the 1899 Act. That Act was very specific in its provisions, but apart from one or two minor items this Bill is a general enabling Bill to enable the Minister to make what regulations he wishes at the times he thinks appropriate. It would make Parliamentary business a great deal easier if all Ministers merely asked the House for general enabling Bills from time to time. If this were done there would be little need for morning sittings—or afternoon or evening sittings. We should require only one or two sittings a year to give Ministers general enabling powers.

That is what is being done in this Bill, and I do not like it. I was involved in all the discussions and negotiations which led to the shipbuilding regulations, when I worked in the shipyards on the Clyde. Those regulations, in principle, contain many things which I feel should be included in this Bill. I want to refer only to a few points. First, there is the question who should carry out the testing of chain cables and other similar equipment. Clause 1(1) provides that the Minister shall have powers to make rules, and for the supervision of testing and marking of equipment, and its inspection, by surveyors of ships appointed under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 or by such other person as the Board of Trade may authorise for the purpose. That is wrong. The Act of 1899 specified that testers had to be licensed, and clear conditions were laid down for the way in which tests should be carried out. It would be wrong to be too specific, but this difficulty could be overcome if the Minister inserted such words as "a suitably qualified person", or "a fit person", or provided that the person concerned should be qualified for the job. This was clearly laid down in the legislation dealing with shipbuilding.

The testing of chains and other similar equipment, at a time of changing technology, when new techniques and new equipment are being developed, should not be carried out by a person merely authorised by the Board of Trade. The Minister of State will probably say that they would not just pick any old bloke from the street to carry out this work. We appreciate that any sensible sane Minister would not do that. But why not cover the point by a reference in the legislation?

Section 6 of the 1899 Act referred to the appointment of an inspector and said: The Board of Trade shall appoint a fit person to be inspector of testing establishments, under this Act, and may remove any person so appointed. That was the inspector of testing establishments, but a similar provision could be used in respect of the testing of equipment

Then we have the question of the definition of a ship or vessel. Several points were raised in connection with this on 31st May and considerable discussion took place on the question whether hovercraft should be included. I was amazed, startled, taken aback and disappointed with the Minister when I read what he said, as reported in col. 31 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 31st May. One of my hon. Friends was pointing out that when the Bill had been last discussed a specific assurance had been given by the late Mr. Redhead that hovercraft would be included in the Bill. I was therefore quite shocked to read what the Minister said when that specific reference was read out by my hon. Friend. The Minister said: I was aware of that and of the reason why Mr. Redhead was prepared to accept it. He was anxious to get the Bill through.—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 31st May, 1967, Vol. 747, c. 31.] That was a shocking thing to say. I am sure that Mr. Redhead said what he did because, on the basis of information received by his Department, he believed it to be right. If this is the case, there is no excuse whatever for the present Minister, looking forward to a good number of days in this Parliamentary Session, thinking that he can skate over this legislation, and not bother about hovercraft, because it may involve technical difficulties. This is a question of what is right or wrong. If it were right on 19th May, 1965, and unless there are very telling reasons advanced by the Minister against it, it is right that hovercraft should be included now.

Mr. Webster

Is it not a fact that the carriage of persons by hovercraft in the last two years has increased considerably, and that this has become a most rapidly expanding form of transport, making the point, then accepted by the then Minister of State, all the more valid?

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend is quite right. If any hon. Members need confirmation on this point, I would suggest that they read the annual report of British Railways for 1966, published about a fortnight ago. This contains a full report of the extension in hovercraft developments, with a regular service which has increased its traffic three times in one year. On the other hand, it has lost a considerable sum of money, but there is no question that, once these things begin, they will continue. Undoubtedly, hovercraft development is something which is here to stay—something which will grow.

It is wrong for the Minister to bring a Bill like this, which may last for another 60 or 70 years, before the House without including a definition of a hovercraft. I hope that he will indicate that he intends to change this. Clearly, a hovercraft is a ship or a vessel. It has chains and anchors, and to that extent I cannot see any possible justification for saying that the standards of general maintenance and testing of chains for use by hovercraft should be different.

There is also the question of oil rigs. I visited John Brown's yard on Clydebank only ten days ago and saw there the fifth oil rig to be built by that firm. They are huge structures and will require to be fixed to the North Sea bed. There is no question that a considerable number of chains will be required. These rigs are launched like a normal ship, although it is a difficult operation, and are clearly things which are on the surface of the sea, requiring chains and anchors. Why have oil rigs been excluded? We are entitled to an explanation. This may be a marginal case, and it may be that to bring oil rigs into the definition would bring in a lot of other things which would not be wanted. Members are entitled to know what regulations will cover oil rigs and what is the position regarding the safety of these rigs.

We also have the matters referred to by the Minister as a justification for this Bill on the last sitting. He said that the Act of 1899 had two major defects. First of all, it embodied many detailed requirements about the ways in which various anchors and cables may be tested. I would not regard being specific as a defect. This Bill is not at all specific, except for one matter, which I think is wrong and to which I shall refer later.

The second thing he said was that under the old Act manufacturers were compelled to test anchors and cables in licensed proving houses. He also mentioned that new materials have been introduced which required to be covered. These new materials would require to be tested in the same way as anchors or chain cables made from older materials. There is no question that this Bill, being a general enabling Bill, will give powers to extend testing to these. At this stage, we should have an indication of what new materials the Minister has in mind.

We were very concerned with this at the time of the shipbuilding Regulations and specified the materials that we had in mind very carefully. We should know whether the Minister's definition of chain cables includes in any circumstances a fibre rope or a fibre rope sling, or wire rope. What other new materials does he have in mind? It is all very well to say that new materials are here and others will come, but shipowners ought to know precisely what new materials the Minister has in mind.

Another point arises on this question of new materials and techniques. We have general rules about the testing of chains, but one thing in which I am particularly interested is tests carried out after repair. Obviously, new materials are being introduced and new chains will require to be tested under any legislation. Obviously, there will be periodic checks, but one thing which has been omitted from legislation in the past has been the testing of chains once a major or minor repair has been carried out.

It is vital that, in any regulations made under this legislation, it should be clearly specified that not only should equipment be tested when it is manufactured, and not only should it be tested after a period of time, but also on every occasion when a repair, major or minor, is carried out. There have been a good number of accidents in the shipyards and elsewhere, when chains and other forms of lifting tackle have been broken. I believe that many of these accidents have stemmed from repairs carried out to the chain cable. To that extent, I hope that the Minister can give us a clear assurance that there will be an obligation for the testing of chain cables and anchors after a repair has been carried out.

There is also the question of the vessels to which these regulations will apply. I am not at all clear whether the Bill will apply to Admiralty vessels. This is important, and there was no question about it in the 1899 Act. It was clearly specified that the Act did not apply to such vessels. This Bill does not refer to its application to Admiralty vessels. If, as the Minister may say, the Bill does not apply to Admiralty vessels, then he is under an obligation to say why, and whether the legislation which will cover Admiralty vessels will be of a comparable standard. We have a substantial number of naval dockyards, carrying out a greater amount of new work than has been undertaken previously.

Mr. Webster

Would my hon. Friend not agree that this point has added importance, due to the practice of the Admiralty selling off some of the vessels that it has constructed? Would he give an indication of what he thinks the testing procedure should be in such a case?

Mr. Taylor

The testing should be of a comparable standard, if not of the same standard. The equipment on merchant ships will be the same, unless the Admiralty vessels are using certain types of chain not available to merchant shipping. We should have an indication from the Minister as to whether this Bill covers Admiralty vessels, and it should be specifically stated in the Bill. If we are to have an advance in our techniques of testing for merchant shipping, then there should be the same advances in the naval sphere. One thing which appalled me in the Bill was that I can find no definition of an anchor or a chain cable. This was alarming. We can understand why we should not be too specific, but what is the point of having a Bill dealing with anchors and chain cables when there is no indication in it of what an anchor or chain cable is.

The only remote definition which I can see is in Clause 1(7), which provides: In this section 'anchor' and 'chain cable' include any shackle attached to or intended to be used in connection with the anchor or cable …". But we are still at a loss to know what is an anchor or a chain cable. This is a point of substance, and I hope that we shall have a satisfactory definition.

This may be regarded by some as a niggling point—

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Taylor

—but it is not. I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) takes a very real interest in shipping matters. He brought forward a Private Member's Bill which I was glad to support which was in the interests of the industry, and I congratulate him on having done so. I do not think that he could regard this as a niggling point if he has the interests of the shipping and shipbuilding industry at heart, as I believe he has.

In the Shipbuilding and Ship Repairing Regulations of 1960 we went to considerable lengths to define what a chain was. The Minister may say that regulations will be brought forward which are specific, but I still feel it is going a bit far to have a Bill about anchors and chain cables and which gives general enabling powers without specifying precisely what an anchor or chain cable is. I hope that before the Bill becomes law, if it ever becomes law—and there are doubts about that—we shall have a definition of a chain cable and anchor.

I come to the more general points about the Bill. I have mentioned that the Bill is not specific in many respects, but there is one respect in which it is specific. In Clause 1(3) it provides: If any person applies to any anchor or cable which has not passed the tests prescribed by rules under this section any mark prescribed by those rules for denoting that it has passed those tests, or any other mark calculated to suggest that it has passed those tests, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding four hundred pounds. That is a very considerable fine, because it is a major offence. But I wonder why the sum of £400 was chosen and whether it is in line with the practice in respect of similar misdemeanours, not only in the law of England but, more imortant, in the law of Scotland. It might be difficult to apply this provision in Scotland, where our court procedure is much different from that in England. Would the Minister indicate how these powers will operate in the Scottish courts? I see real difficulties arising from this provision.

I have mentioned a number of questions which should be answered clearly and precisely by the Minister. First, why is there so little specification in the Bill? Why is it a general enabling Bill? Secondly, why cannot we have a definition of a person who is to undertake testing? Could not the words "suitably qualified" or "fit" be inserted in the Bill? Thirdly, why exclude hovercraft and oil drilling rigs from the Bill? Fourthly, what sort of new materials does the Minister have in mind in saying that this is one of the reasons why the Bill should be introduced? Why are not Admiralty vessels included, if they are not included? Then there is the question of the penalty of £400 on summary conviction. How will that operate in the Scottish courts?

These are serious problems. However, it would be fair to say that our general objection to the Bill is that the powers in it are too general. I hope that something will be done to put these matters right.

I come now to the question of where testings will be carried out. We do not get any guidance from the Bill on this point. The 1889 Act was specific. In the First Schedule to that Act several places were specified at which tests could be carried out. I was interested to see reference in it to the Clyde Navigation Trust, which would be able to test establishments in Glasgow and in the Clyde; to the Municipal Corporation of Glasgow, which covered the Glasgow area; and to the trustees of the Port and Harbour of Greenock for testing establishments at Greenock. That provision is now out of date because there has been a merger of the Greenock and Clyde Navigation Trusts. I wonder whether due note has been taken of this change and whether there will be any major alteration in the position in Scotland.

Mr. Webster

My hon. Friend has referred to the proving houses. I think that there is great anxiety, about which he would know, regarding small manufacturers of anchors and chain cables who, if the proving houses are closed down, will have great difficulty in getting their anchors and chain cables tested. I am sure that my hon. Friend is well aware of this point, and I hope that he will support the continuance of these proving houses.

Mr. Taylor

As my hon. Friend says, I have been made aware of some concern about that point. What alarms me more is the lack of concern in some places and the fact that some people do not know what is going on. People should be made aware of these dangers which could arise. Certainly several people are not aware of them.

These are some of the objections which we have to the Bill, and I hope that they will be answered. Bearing in mind the present position of the shipping and shipbuilding industries which are both facing such a grave crisis, this is not the time for bringing in legislation of this sort, which is so wide that real and perhaps unnecessary concern will be caused in the shipping and shipbuilding industries. The Clyde is a major centre, not only for shipbuilding, but for our great shipping industries. The Minister has a real obligation to ensure that any legislation which is introduced provides, not only for safe working conditions, but for the continued prosperity of shipbuilding and ship repairing. I think that it is clear from what I have said and from the speeches of my hon. Friends today and on 31st May that we hope that the Bill will be considerably amended.

I am well aware of the problem of speaking on the Second Reading of Bills of this sort on a Monday morning or a Wednesday morning. The Whips and others often think that thereby a Member is indicating that he wishes to serve on the Committee dealing with the Bill. However, this is a Bill in which a substantial number of Members have a real interest and I will understand the difficulty if it is not possible for me to take part in the Committee on this Bill. I assure my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the Member for Weston-super-Mare, that I shall well understand if it is not possible to put me on the Committee.

Mr. Webster

My hon. Friend is being too modest. It would be very difficult for the Committee to consider this point without his presence. He has touched only lightly on some of these very grave matters. I hope that my hon. Friend, who works very hard in the House, will reconsider his decision, although I am not sure that the decision is entirely his.

Mr. Taylor

I have made no decision. I was simply indicating that, because of the great interest that there is in the Bill, I would understand if it were not possible for me to serve on the Committee. Hon. Members know that I am particularly interested in this subject. If I were appointed to the Committee, I should do my best to clarify the Bill.

I have raised points today and on 31st May which perhaps can be dealt with in greater detail in Committee. They are important and significant points, and I trust that they will be answered by the Minister. If they are not, my hon. Friends who are favoured with appointment to the Committee will press them even more forcefully.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I should declare an interest in so far as I am a Lloyd's underwriter, and if the ground tackle carries away I must pay through the ship. I therefore have a direct personal financial interest in the Bill, but that is as nothing, although I should declare it as a formality, compared with the interest which I like every hon. Member have in the Bill, because ultimately it is about the lives and safety of persons at sea.

Nothing could touch more closely the interests of this country. I represent a constituency within convenient distance of the London docks and the City of London. Many seafarers and those interested in their safety are among my constituents, and I therefore approach the Bill with a more than usual degree of interest, if that is possible.

But there is yet another interest that concerns me. I do not like the smell of the Bill. I smell here the dread scent of autocracy and bureaucracy. I am afraid that I see here an indication of the movement towards making Parliament more efficient. I am all for efficiency, but not in Parliament. The business of Parliament is to be inefficient. From the point of view of Ministers, this is a very efficient little Bill. It empowers the Minister to make regulations. It does no more than that, and the representatives of the people are nut on one side. There is only the farcical provision of the Regulations under the Bill being subject to consideration and the House having the nominal power to annul them. But this will not do in general and in particular.

I shall come to the particular later, but in general the House should strenuously object to the whole tenor of the Bill and the tendency of which it is symptomatic for Ministers to introduce Bills giving them power to make regulations. The most important feature of a Bill of this nature is the detail in it, and it is the duty of the House to scrutinise the detail very closely. The point of doing that is that if the House is not satisfied we should be able to amend it. We shall bring all the resources of the Opposition to that task in Committee, as is our duty.

But if we are not to have our way in Committee the House should deny the Government the Second Reading. What will happen if the Bill goes through in anything like its present form? The regulations will be submitted to the House and we shall have the nominal right to refuse the Order making them, but, as hon. Members know perfectly well, that adds up to absolutely nothing. I have yet to know in 14 years' experience in the House a single order being refused. I have never seen an Order introduced by the Government making regulations of this kind fail to get through.

Therefore, we cannot stop the regulations and, what is far more sinister, we cannot amend them. We may well be in the position of either having to go through the farce of refusing the bringing into force of the regulations or having to assent to regulations which are better than nothing but not as good as we think the House should make.

I now turn to some of the matters of detail, which we shall have to consider at greater length in Committee. There are some omissions in the Bill which strike me as being peculiarly sinister. It purports to make provision in substitution for the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1889. A lot has happened at sea since 1889; a lot has happened in many fields of technology; and a lot has happened in the organisation of the maritime powers and their merchant and other fleets.

For one thing, a large part of the world's commerce is now carried in ships flying flags of convenience. Many ships flying flags of convenience are officered and manned by Her Majesty's subjects, people for whose lives we are largely responsible. I am not sure that the narrow scope of the 1889 Act, and, presumably, the narrow scope contemplated by the regulations to be made under this abortive Bill will go far enough, unless provision is made to try to get some discipline into the ships of fleets registered in places like Liberia, Panama, Costa Rica—and no doubt in the future Dahomey and the Congo and Urundi Burundi and all those other new states. It should not be regarded as beyond the wit of Parliament to devise some provision for the safety of these people, so that ships which come into British ports must have their anchors and cables of a standard which will mean that if the ships rely on them at sea there will not be loss of life.

Mr. Webster

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that the Merchant Shipping Act, 1964, which ratified the Convention of 1960, covered all the flags of convenience. Unfortunately, this is a Bill for which there is no covering convention, and I have not yet had any satisfactory statement from the Government that they will make it enforceable on ships coming into this country. My hon. Friend's point is essential.

Mr. Iremonger

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. This matter will have to be gone into with great care in Committee, and if the Minister does not feel able to draft suitable Amendments we shall have to give him assistance. We hope to have an assurance from his hon. Friend when he winds up that he will take this very seriously, and that he will be amenable to the rather full Amendments which we shall probably have to offer.

A further point which greatly troubled me is that I believe that the Act refers to anchors over 168 lb. Therefore, the Bill will presumably be limited in the same way, and I am not sure that that will be enough now. Many more people go to sea nowadays in small vessels than was the case in 1889. Those were the days of MacMullen and the great pioneers of British yachting, as it used to be called, all going to sea around the dangerous coasts of this country in small vessels. Captain Joshua Slocum had only just finished his circumnavigation single-handed in the sloop "Spray". He rounded Cape Horn, but he went through the Magellan Straits the other way to Sir Francis Chichester.

The great pioneers of small boat cruising had not fully emerged. It was a very rich man's pleasure. MacMullen was the first man to sail single-handed the type of yacht then in vogue, narrow gutted, deep keeled vessels, of over 20 tons, rigged with huge spars, heavy canvas and ground tackle that would hold a battleship, and with paid hands to work them.

Nowadays it is a very different scene. Anyone who goes to our coastal ports knows that one cannot get a mooring anywhere from the north of Scotland round the south coast and up to the north of Scotland again. East, west, north, and south the creeks and harbours of this country are crowded with small vessels. At the Daily Express Boat Show one sees the enormous change that has come upon the maritime scene with so many amateurs going to sea. Many of them are very skilled and fully competent to take their vessels to sea, but the tendency nowadays is for people to go to sea with the idea that it is rather like driving on the roads, but taking a small vessel to sea without experience can be very dangerous. I should like to see some consideration given to making provision for the proper testing of the kind of ground tackle that these small vessels carry, particularly in the range of toplines and sea anchors.

While we are on this question of ground tackle, we should consider whether we should not enlarge the scope of the Bill and take account of the kind of anchors and cables, whether they be chain or other cable, specially for the use of ships and boats. These are often in greater danger from defective ground tackle than are large vessels.

No large vessel lies in an exposed anchorage without steam up in readiness for getting under way at a moment's notice. That is not so with small boats. They are most likely to be in exposed positions without the power of motor, sail or steam. Often their only power will be the pulling power of those aboard and they are often overcrowded. These vessels should often be equipped with ground tackle to hold them, especially on a lee shore.

This is not just a matter of testing the strength of the anchors or cables, but of seeing that they are of proper design, are stowed properly and can be quickly stocked if necessary. It is a matter of seeing that the cable—the coir rope—is stowed in such a way that it may be paid out so that the anchor can be brought into use quickly.

I should not like to leave all these questions to the Minister to make regulations, possibly overlooking a whole range of responsibilities of this House to which we should like to give attention. We shall have to consider this in Committee. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will take the Bill back and try again so that, on the Second Reading of its successor, we may see what regulations he has to propose and will be given an opportunity to improve them.

I am sorry that there is no indication that a serious defect in the 1899 Act is to be remedied in the new regulations on sea anchors. When the Act was brought before the House, Captain Voss had only just completed his famous voyage in the "Tilikum," a small, narrow, cranky, light draught Indian canoe in which he made the immortal voyages which he recounted in his book, "The Venturesome Voyages." He took it over the great oceans of the world. It was a vessel in which most hon. Members would think it unwise to venture out on the Serpentine. He took it through typhoons and through the most dangerous latitudes and seasons all over the world.

He was able to do this by having perfected the art of using the sea anchor or drogue. He used to come in at exposed beaches, with breaking rollers, using great skill in perfect safety by using his drogue. He recognised that a vessel was only likely to be pooped, as sailors say —the waves coming in astern and breaking over the vessel—or to be broached—swinging round so that the run of the sea is abeam instead of end to end—if she was under way and that the method of preventing her having way through the water was to tow to stern a sea anchor. With that disadvantage, the vessel does not make much progress.

Captain Voss cunningly overcame that great defect, however, in sea anchors by securing a trip line to the narrow vent of the sea anchor. I am sure that hon. Members are informed of the shape of a sea anchor. It is a cone with a large end and a narrow end, through which there is a vent through which the sea can run so that it does not burst the cone. It stops the vessel having any way on. One can put a trip line on the narrow end of the sea anchor. One has the trip line secured to the transom or counter and when one wants to proceed ahead one lets slip the main line, which is attached to the wide end, and then way comes again, with the narrow end of the sea anchor trailing away comparatively harmlessly.

By using a sea anchor, Captain Voss managed to take the way off his vessel when he saw dangerous waves coming eastern and this allowed him to proceed without being pooped or broached. He would let go and then make way again as the situation allowed.

Although people had been sailing small boats for hundreds of years when the Act was introduced in 1899—and since we are dealing here with small boats in which the crews and passengers of ships have to sail when the large vessels founder, as they do increasingly with all these Greek shipowners and what-not running them—we should make sure in this legislation that some attention is paid to the design, type, shape and specifications of sea anchors.

I cannot allow the Second Reading to proceed without making some reference to the hovercraft. This cannot be brushed aside. In opening the debate, the Minister of State said that it was not yet clear whether hovercraft were technically ships. But this Bill is not about ships in themselves. It is about anchors and cables and ground tackle. We are talking about anchors on which people will have to depend upon for their lives.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

This Bill is about anchors and cables for use in ships registered in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Iremonger

That is the kind of pettyfogging distinction that I hoped we could avoid.

Mr. Mallalieu

The hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill.

Mr. Webster

That did not prevent the Minister of State's predecessor, Mr. Edward Redhead, accepting the principle that a hovercraft should be a ship for the purposes of the Bill. Mr. Redhead did this during the Committee stage of this Bill's predecessor, as a result of which I withdrew the new Clause to which reference has already been made. The Minister of State has made some unfortunate remarks.

Mr. Iremonger

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Westonsuper-Mare (Mr. Webster). I cannot accept what the Minister of State says. I have here a photostat copy of the 1899 Act, and the Act describes itself as: An Act to simplify and amend the Law relating to the Testing and Sale of Anchors and Chain Cables. This Bill in its Long Title describes itself as A Bill to make new provision in substitution for the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1899. Therefore, with respect, I am entitled to say that the Bill is not about ships but about anchors and chain cables. It may have provisions with reference to ships, but there is nothing in the Long Title to oblige us to confine ourselves to ships. The Bill is about anchors and chain cables.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

The hon. Gentleman has no doubt read Clause 1, which is the main Clause of the Bill, and what it says there about ships.

Mr. Iremonger

I am prepared to accept that it says, … testing of anchors and chain cables for use in ships … I am objecting to the limitation of it. I am satisfied with the long title, A Bill to Make new provision in substitution for the Anchors and Chain Cables Act 1899. The long title of the 1899 Act says that it is for anchors and chain cables. I am objecting to the limitation of the wide ambit of the long title to the … testing of anchors and chain cables for use in ships … I think we should say "for use wherever they are required to be used".

Whether or not a hovercraft is a ship, it is a vessel which carries human beings whose lives are likely to be in danger if occasion arises for the use of anchors and cables and they are not adequate. Close attention should be given to this. After all, hovercraft are supremely passenger vessels and there will be a large number of our constituents travelling in them. The proposal is that the hoverport should be in Pegwell Bay, a place where extremely short, nasty, choppy seas arise. If a hovercraft were to become immobilized—engines not working—it would require to anchor in the tideway there and if her ground tackle was not efficient there could be a disaster—she could be swept out on to the Goodwin Sands before rescue could be effected. Anything might happen. Should there be a hovercraft disaster which could be traced to defective ground tackle, we should look very silly, having tied legislation on anchors and chain cables to use in ships, if we had to say, "A hovercraft is not a ship; we are sorry that people have been drowned."

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I cannot let pass the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger) and at a previous sitting, the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett), that there are no safety regulations for hovercraft and that people who travel in them are somehow at risk. The House must be aware that there are safety regulations. Under temporary legislation, hovercraft are classed as aircraft. They are governed by the Air Navigation Order, 1966, and the Air Registration Board has the most stringent regulations about anchors and chain cables used in hovercraft. This is an important industry, as hon. Members on both sides have said, and I would hate it to be thought that the safety of people who travel in hovercraft is not already taken care of.

Mr. Iremonger

If it is already taken care of by regulations, we have not had an opportunity to debate it. This is what we are objecting to in the Bill. We are told, in the first place, that all we can have under the Bill is regulations which we have to have on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and we are not able to amend. When we object to that and say, "What is more, we are not able to amend the Bill by putting anything in it about hovercraft", we are told that hovercraft are looked after by regulations which we have not had an opportunity to amend. I would rather see the regulations concerning the safety of hovercraft that depend on anchors and cables brought into the Bill in detail so that we can consider and debate and amend them in Committee, if necessary. I do not withdraw from the position that we should have the safety of hovercraft that depend on anchors and cables as part of the Bill, subject to debate in Committee or in the House.

Airmen are not qualified to consider the safety of craft which depend on anchors and chain cables. This is a very doubtful operation. The anchoring of light craft such as hovercraft—aircraft—in the waters off the south-east coast of England is not only a matter of the strength of the anchor or of the cable; it is a matter of the springing of the ground tackle. It is a matter of rigging the chain or cable with a spring—maybe by dropping a weight down the cable—so that the snubbing of the vessel does not come straight on the anchor. Small vessels pitch very heavily in the kind of seas which we get around our coasts. If there is a strong wind one gets a taut line between the anchor and the bitts of the vessel. The hon. Gentleman is a seaman and he knows that the bitts can be torn out of a craft in those conditions.

In a way, the stronger the cable the more dangerous the situation. What is needed is something which will take the snub off the cable. I should like provision to be made that there shall be a proper fitting to run a weight down the cable to take the strain off the anchor and the cable and the bit so that the cables and the anchors are not regarded as being adequate simply because of their strength. A chain is not a suitable material for this. It is the sort of work for which preferably coir rope should be used.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

That is what happens now under the A.R.B. Regulations. They have nylon warp to Admiralty specification.

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Gentleman keeps reciting these regulations. They may be admirable, but my objection is that if we are to have a bill on the subject we ought to have them brought into it and made the subject of discussion in Committee. I would not object to the provision of nylon rope. I would welcome it. However, I would like to be able to reassure the House that it had been considered. I am afraid that the Bill will leave it entirely to the Minister's Department—which, I am sure, will be very efficient and conscientious about it—but we shall have to take or leave what it produces without being able, from our experience or the experience of our constituents, to make any amend- ments to satisfy ourselves that we have done the right thing.

I am concerned that no consideration should have been given to the great development in the design of anchors which has taken place since 1899, namely, the broad category of stockless anchors. The Schedules to the 1899 Act, specifically mention anchors' weight, ex stock; that is to say, the weight of the anchor without the stock. By definition, it is concerned with stocked anchors. I am surprised that the modem type of anchor used by steamers, in which there is no stock, is not referred to. Presumably the concern was exclusively with stocked anchors. A stocked anchor is very much more efficient than a stockless anchor. A much greater weight of stockless anchor is needed to have the same holding power as a stock anchor. I would always rather have a stock anchor—I am not talking about the C.Q.R. anchors, but about the traditional stockless anchors used in steam ships.

There is a further complication that it is not only a matter of testing for the breaking strain of a stockless anchor which involves the safety of the ship. There is also the adequacy of the design, the possible danger that a stockless anchor can be dropped and that the flukes will jam and fail to drop down into the bed of the sea and be pulled in to provide proper holding power. Therefore, although the Act which is to be repealed might have proved adequate in so far as it concerned itself with the strength of stocked anchors, we have no guarantee at all that the regulations to be made under the Bill will concern themselves with the rather different specifications and requirements for stockless anchors. I cannot feel that any serious thought—I have no doubt that I am wrong, but I cannot be assured of it—has been given to this problem. When we are shown the fruits of the Departmental consideration, we shall be powerless to do anything about it, powerless to improve it, and the House should therefore have a look at the provisions of the Act which the Bill seeks to repeal.

Section 1, for example, starts off with the definition of anchors and cables as being the anchors of any British ship. I have already referred to that as being a classification which we ought now to reconsider. It excludes any anchor not exceeding 168 lb. in weight, again a rather dangerous limitation in present circumstances.

Section 5 talks about the fees to be paid for inspection or testing and yet we are to have no indication of what the Minister has in mind about the provision to be made for fees for testing under the new regulations. If the fees in 1899 should not exceed£50, they ought to be up to at least£200 today. We have not had a Socialist Government throughout the whole of that period, or the fees would have had to have been increased to£2,000 or£3,000; but, even with Liberal and Conservative Administrations for some of the period, war and inflation have made the figure of£50 totally unrealistic.

Mr. Webster

Has my hon. Friend observed that Section 11(3) is very precise about how a licensed dealer or tester shall apply to the Board of Trade for a change in the fees?

Mr. Iremonger

I was hoping to work towards Section 11 if time permitted, but I must hasten on in order to make sure that no point of scrutiny escapes me. I have a copy of the Act with me and it is important to consider its Sections one by one. I had skipped Sections 6 and 7 and was about to refer to Section 8 which deals with tests.

It refers to the tensile strain and the breaking strain. Since 1899 new techniques have been developed, new materials have been introduced and processing of steel has undergone great changes. The whole technological philosophy of fatigue has been introduced. New methods of detecting flaws by x-rays and spectroscopic methods have been introduced. I am not sure that the mere brute process of giving something a good pull and seeing whether it busts is a test with which we should be satisfied in this technological age. How do we know that when he introduces his regulations the Minister will do full justice to all the possibilities of the technological resources which may be at the disposal of those who are testing ground tackle?

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

The trouble with many systems of testing is that they weaken the items being tested.

Mr. Iremonger

On that matter I should be subject to persuasion, especially by my hon. Friend who is saying that if something is tested, while it may survive, it will never be the same again.

Mr. Taylor

Testing could affect it.

Mr. Iremonger

It could affect it and we should therefore be now thinking in terms of not subjecting the ground tackle of ships to tests which, for all we know, may leave it no longer as sound as it is supposed to be. Ought we to introduce new methods of testing and new qualifications for those who do the testing? Obviously, my hon. Friend or I could give a good pull at something and see whether it busted, but if we were to have a more sophisticated form of testing, he and I would need to have qualifications for subjecting it to spectroscopic processes and so on, and while I do not know about my hon. Friend, I should be very diffident about taking that on if the Minister were to appoint me one of the testers of chain cables.

Section 11 is a very dangerous Section. It deals with the scale of charges for testing anchors and chain cables. How do we know that in the new regulations the charges will be reasonable? How are we to know on what basis they are to be made? How are we to know what is the Minister's philosophy? Surely, we have a responsibility to our constituents who are yachtsmen, and their passengers, for the scale of charges for testing the ground tackle of small vessels. Will those be the same as the charges for testing the ground tackle of commercial vessels?

I should have thought that we would need much more explanation of what is in the Minister's mind before giving the Bill a Second Reading. I am sure that if we do not get a satisfactory explanation, if the Bill goes to Committee my hon. Friends will be able exhaustively to examine all the possible variations and combinations and permutations of charges for testing. We might have different scales of charges for foreign vessels.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again. I hope that our attitudes are not diverging and I hope that he is not suggesting that the British shipping industry, especially in the Clyde, should subsidise those of his constituents who are wealthy enough to have yachts.

Mr. Iremonger

There are obviously important sociological implications in the Bill which had escaped even me. It is clear that we should not dismiss the Bill in a cavalier fashion and if we are to examine it as conscientiously as we should, we should consider these obviously important aspects.

Section 15 of the 1899 Act deals with private testing and uses words which open questions which the Minister should have tried to answer in submitting a new Bill. The words are: other chain or cable and the words cable (not being a chain cable) This opens a whole realm of distinction to which reference has already been made and about which I hope to make some observations, if not this morning, then on some other suitable occasion. Obviously, although it does not say so in the Short Title, the Bill includes cables other than chain cables. When I was training to be a naval officer, I was always taught that the distinction between chain and cable was that cable had a stud in the links and that chain did not. The object of having cable instead of chain was that, when piled into the chain locker, studs in the links stopped the links from overriding one another and forming a sort of half knot in the chain, which would obviously be very dangerous, because chain in that condition and subject to great strain would be more liable to break than chain stretched out in its proper tensile position.

It being half-past Twelve o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.