HC Deb 22 June 1967 vol 748 cc2101-11

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [12th June], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), may I remind him that he has already addressed the House on this subject for 40 minutes? I hope that he will bear that in mind when he continues his speech.

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

Since we have reached a natural break in the debate, it might he convenient for me to refresh my mind and that of the House about the Question which is before us. It is "That the Bill be now read a Second time." In considering this Question, we should look at the Bill and at its Long Title, which is: To make new provision in substitution for the Anchors and Chain Cables Act 1899. To do that, we should consider just what the House is repealing, since the Question is that we should repeal that Act. We should also consider what we are putting in its place.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has already called attention, in his first speech, to what we are repealing.

Mr. Iremonger

I was about to say, Mr. Speaker. that I should not flinch from the task of seeking an answer, which would be a long and exhausting one, if I were to contemplate it; although one is faced with certain inhibitions, and you have alerted my mind to them. It would be a long and exhausting task for the Government to have to consider this, although, of course, that would be of no concern to the Chair, since I know that the Chair is concerned that I should be in order and to protect the right of hon. Members to pursue questions that are in order and in no way to protect the right, if it be a right, of the Government to get their business.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has inadequately stated the duty of the Chair. It is to protect both the minority and majority in the House of Commons.

Mr. Iremonger

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I was about to add that one is inhibited, in pursuing these subjects at the length which they sometimes demand, by the consideration that one might be exhausting the Chair, which would distress the House far more than the Chair—although one would not be deterred from one's task at the thought of the exhaustion which one might be imposing on oneself.

I therefore propose merely to say that our objection to the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time", is an objection in principle to what we see as a manifestation of a bureaucratic and autocratic Government in introducing a Bill to provide for regulations to be made in substitution for an Act which laid down provisions for anchors and chain cables and their testing in some detail in a form which the House could amend. That was the substance of our objection and it might well have been for the benefit of the House to consider, as one could well do, the origins of the Act which we shall repeal, which are exhaustively set forth—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will not be in order in considering the origins of the Act which will be altered under the Bill.

Mr. Iremonger

I did not propose to do so, but I think that it would be unfair to me and the Chair to allow that to go without respectfully asking your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether I was wrong. If the House is being asked to repeal an Act, I should have thought, perhaps wrongly, that it would be in order to submit to the House the virtues of the Act which the Bill proposed to repeal.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have read the hon. Gentleman's last speech. He talked at some length about the virtues of the Act which the Bill repeals. What he cannot talk about, however, is the origin of the previous Act.

Mr. Iremonger

I understand that, Mr. Speaker, and I see the slight point of difference, which is entirely due to my not having fully expressed the matter. The virtues of the Act derived from the soundness of the basis on which it was conceived. As I do not propose to pursue this, it would be idle to argue further on the point. With great respect, I am sure that the Chair's mind and mine are at one on this.

I propose to say only that I hope that the Minister will point out to the Leader of the House that he is sailing very close to the wind in the procedure which he has adopted in the attempt to make Parliament efficient, which we see as an attempt to make it an efficient instrument of the Government instead of an efficient instrument in thwarting the Government's will if hon. Members do not think that they are pursuing a good policy.

Without calling on the material which I have amassed for submitting the virtues of the previous situation, I propose to come to what I think the sailors call short anchor, to heave short. We are very glad that, even if the Minister did not submit this matter to a Select Committee as he should have done, and as his predecessors did, at least he is bringing it to a Committee of the whole House, because there may well be many points of difference which we shall have to consider in the light of the substitution he proposes to make for a well-conceived and detailed Measure.

That is as far as I propose to pursue the matter tonight. I think that any useful purpose that might have been served by debating the Bill has already been served. I am therefore sure that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I merely assure the House that when the Bill comes to the Committee we shall give each Amendment the exhaustive consideration that it deserves. We hope that the Government will find that the holding ground is good and that the anchors hold, and that we may now pursue in fairly short order the remainder of the business.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)


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

If by leave of the House I may speak again—

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I do not want to interrupt the Minister, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) has been present throughout the whole debate. I do not believe that he wishes to speak for long, but he has been here through the whole debate and he waited all night on Monday to address the House.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman insists I shall call him. I took note of the point the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) raised from the Front Bench.

10.34 p.m.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I am most grateful to you, Sir, and the Minister for allowing me to say a few words because I sat through the whole of the previous proceedings and half the night on Monday.

I want to begin by saying something which I said to the Minister privately after the debate the other night. That is to congratulate him on the great honour his daughter has achieved in recent weeks in becoming the first woman President of the Cambridge Union. All hon. Members will agree with me about that. It is a very great honour, and I am sure that he must feel very proud of his family.

The best thing that I can say about the Bill is that it is intelligible to laymen, which is more than many Government Bills are today unfortunately. Otherwise, like most of my hon. Friends, I regard the way it is worded as rather an insult of the House. It is wrong that the Board of Trade shall be given powers under which it "may" make Regulations. Why "may" instead of "shall"? If the Board of Trade intends to make Regulations, surely it should be "shall" instead of leaving the Department with the permission to do it as and when it pleases. Why not keep in the Bill the Regulations as they were under the 1899 Act? I know that it means a long Schedule or two Schedules in the Bill, but it would be far better than having this Bill in its present form and afterwards Regulations which cannot be amended.

Clause 2 says that the Act shall come into force on such date as Her Majesty may by Order in Council appoint. I should like to know when that is to be. Why cannot the Bill say now when it is to come into force? I strongly object to giving any Department blanket powers to make Regulations if it so feels inclined and bring them into force at such time as they are ready. It is treating Parliament with contempt. I hope that my hon. Friends will table many Amendments to the Bill.

There is also the question of hovercraft. The late Mr. Redhead thought fit to include hovercraft in the previous Bill. On 31st May the Minister of State said that he believed that hovercraft were dealt with under the Air Navigation Orders. I do not want to throw any doubt on that statement, but I can find no trace of Orders containing the word "hovercraft". The Air Navigation Order, 1966, Statutory Instrument No. 1184, does not say anything about it. Page 60 of the Order gives three types of aircraft—a land plane, a sea plane and an amphibian. I take it that "amphibian" covers "hovercraft". Perhaps the Minister will confirm this.

On page 74, under the heading of equipment, Scale I, paragraph (iii) states: A sea anchor and other equipment necessary to facilitate mooring, anchoring or the manoeuvring of the flying machine on water, appropriate to the size, weight, and handling characteristics". I take it that that covers Regulations for anchoring hovercraft in the sea when they become stationary. But there is nothing in those Regulations about the size of anchors or the tensile strength of chain cables. I wonder whether the Minister can say under which Regulations these are taken care of. I am sure that they are taken care of, and I do not want to arouse any doubt in the minds of hovercraft passengers.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Would my hon. Friend consider that the reference to amphibians probably means aircraft which can land on either land or water and does not necessarily apply to hovercraft, and would he agree that there is a strong case for bringing in legislation to make the hovercraft a vehicle sui generis to which distinct legislation clearly applies?

Sir R. Russell

I agree. I found that the definition of "amphibian" in the dictionary was as he described it. I can only conclude that, unless I have missed something in the Regulations, there is some other definition of the word "hovercraft".

I understand that hover vehicles on the road come under Road Traffic Regulations under the Road Traffic Act, 1962. If that is so, hovercraft must be ships, at least when stationary on the sea. The Minister of State has said that they are not ships. Perhaps he will clarify this point, and say whether they should not be classified by themselves and taken out of the Road Traffic Regulations and out of the Air Navigation Orders, with the Board of Trade producing Regulations for them by themselves.

There is now a machine called the "Flymo". It is a motor mower for the lawn. Last week a friend sent me a leaflet about it. Apparently it is a kind of hovercraft in the sense that it floats on a cushion of air in the same way, although it can easily be whisked from side to side by the operator. At present it is only small, just like the ordinary lawnmower, but presumably there is the possibility of huge machines for mowing cricket fields or public parks or football grounds like Wembley Stadium. If so, are they to be classed as hovercraft subject to Air Navigation Orders when, presumably, they will not rise higher than a couple of inches and will be completely dwarfed by the stands at Wembley or Lord's Pavilion? I cannot think that any machine mowing the grass of these grounds could possibly come under Air Navigation Orders.

The hon. Gentleman says we need a legal definition of hovercraft. I wonder how long that will take. I urge him to consider this. These craft are becoming more and more important every day. Already there are cross-Channel services in addition to services between British ports. We should consider hovercraft on their own merits and make separate arrangements for Regulations, whether in this Bill or another.

10.42 p.m.

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

I begin by saying how grateful I am to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) for his most gracious reference to the nice event that has happened in my family and what has happened, indeed, in setting a precedent which may well be followed in the more backward universities in time to come.

I must say that it seems a bit odd that in the Bill it is stated that the Board of Trade "may" make Regulations instead of "shall". Everyone knows that we are going to make them if the Bill goes through and I see no reason why the word "shall" should not be used. I will see that this is done in Committee.

Like many others, the hon. Gentleman referred to hovercraft and brought up the new one of the hover mower. This is an example of the kind of confusion that we may well get into about hovercraft and all they can do unless we take a very hard, sharp look at their definition and at rules for their safety.

I said the other day that a hovercraft was not a ship. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, for the purpose of taxation, does class them as ships. But for navigational purposes they are being classed as an aircraft. Hovercraft are something entirely new. They are one of the most important developments in transport since the war. It is vital that we should have special legislation and definition for them. We have been working on this in the Board of Trade for a considerable time. There are great difficulties about the definition and about safety provisions. In the meantime, they are covered under the Order the hon. Gentleman has referred to.

Mr. Onslow

Would the Minister agree that one of the advantages which hovercraft derive from being classified as ships is that they qualify for investment grants, which aircraft are not allowed to have?

Mr. Mallalieu

I think that goes beyond the provisions of this Act. For convenience, so that there shall be safety Regulations, they are temporarily being dealt with under the Air Navigation Order of 1966. As I said in an interjection to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), those safety precautions are pretty severe. The Air Registration Board has to be satisfied that they are properly constructed and that their performance is adequate before issuing a certificate. The Board maintains regular supervision over these craft to make sure that they are properly maintained. It is a direction of the Air Registration Board that they shall have a 30 lb. tongue and fork anchor, which is a very well-tested and efficient one, and two fathoms of chain which also will be tested.

On hovercraft, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) asked me a specific question about the increase in traffic—

Mr. Iremonger

I think the Minister must have made a slip of the tongue. He could not have meant two fathoms of chain.

Mr. Mallalieu

It is two fathoms of chain and 26 fathoms of nylon warp to Admiralty specification. I mentioned chain because we are dealing with chain in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare asked me for the figures relating to the increase in passenger traffic, and they are very remarkable over the last three years. In 1965 the passenger traffic carried by hovercraft was 116,800, the following year it was 487,600, and in the first three months of this year it is 126,900—substantially more than in the whole of 1965.

The Bill in intention and in fact is a very simple one. It is a Bill to repeal the 1899 Act, and in two particulars it makes substantial changes.

The first is that it will allow manufacturers who possess testing equipment to do their own testing under the supervision of the Board of Trade or other people whom we authorise. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) thought that this was much too wide as it would allow unqualified people to test. That would not be so. The people who can test will be specified in the rules when they are published, and it is our intention that they shall either be Board of Trade surveyors or surveyors at the Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Therefore, there is no danger of them being unqualified.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I am sorry to interrupt, but what I suggested was that this could be resolved by putting in the words "a suitably qualified person". Will the Minister think about that? It will cover the point in his argument.

Mr. Mallalieu

I will think about it, but I do not think it would be necessary if we do it in the rules.

One of the changes that we want is to allow manufacturers the freedom to test their own equipment. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) is not here, because how that freeing of private enterprise from a Regulation could possibly be described as creeping Socialism I do not know.

The second major change which has been mentioned by every hon. Member who has spoken is that instead of putting the Regulations, the specifications and all the details of how these chains and anchors should be tested into the Bill itself, we shall in future have power to do it by Order. The sole purpose is to make the safety Regulations more efficient. The Regulations embodied in the Act are hopelessly out of date in many particulars and if new Regulations were to be embodied in the Bill, we would have to have legislation. Technological advance is moving rapidly with different types of welding and different types of steel and it would be efficient and right when a new or different requirement for testing is established in industry to be allowed to introduce it by the speedy method of bringing the rules to the House and asking the House to agree to the necessary Order.

There are plenty of precedents for this. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare used this procedure in his Merchant Shipping Act, 1964. Although one understands the perfectly justifiable desire of hon. Members to keep control over the Executive—

Mr. Webster

I did not ask the House for a blank cheque. My Bill ratified an international Convention of about 485 pages.

Mr. Mallalieu

It ratified the general principles laid down in the Convention, but rightly provided that the specific ways of doing so should be laid down by Order.

Once again I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham is not present tonight; he was here for a very long time on the first morning the Bill was debated and spoke almost throughout it. It is not right to say that what we proposed is a whittling away of Parliamentary democracy. Every rule which we make in consultation with the industry and the interests involved will have to be brought before the House. That is not necessarily true of the rules in the Act, some parts of which are extremely rigid while others are incredibly lax. Under Section 8, for instance, the Board of Trade can make certain alterations simply on its own say so without ever coming to the House. We think that that is far too lax.

We have had long discussions of the Bill and a good deal of good humoured banter about it. In essence it is not a vital Bill but it makes a change, a small change, which is wanted by the shipping industry generally. It is a good Bill and I now ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

I apologise to the Minister for being unable to attend the other debates, through no fault of my own. I am interested in the Bill because, as the master of a British registered ship, I am concerned to know whether ships such as mine will be forced to have their chains and anchors taken ashore and stamped, although we do not ourselves ply for hire or reward.

In other words, is it to be necessary for yachts of a size to carry anchors and chains rather than anchors and nylon warps to have their anchors and chains taken ashore and stamped? That seems to be unnecessary, for the simple reason that for a yacht to be registered with Lloyd's at 100 A1 or other stages it has to have its chains tested under Lloyd's rules to be a fully accredited yacht.

It seems that one would be doing the thing twice over. Perhaps the Minister could say whether it is likely that, under the Orders which his Department would make and lay before the House, vessels of the description that I have in mind would be included?

Mr. Mallalieu

It depends, according to the Bill, quite apart from the rules, on the size of the hon. Gentleman's yacht. If it is over 15 tons and is registered in the United Kingdom, any anchor which he carries weighing probably more than 168 lb. will have to be properly stamped.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

I am thinking of yachts up to 50 tons, Thames Register, of which there are a very large number. They are considered big enough to need to carry chains and anchor, but the anchor would in all probability, be not more than 50 lb.

Mr. Mallalieu

As the Bill stands, apart from the rules, they would not be affected. There has been some pressure to bring down the size of the anchors and chains.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Charles R. Morris.]

Committee Tomorrow.