HC Deb 26 June 1967 vol 749 cc205-26

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, to leave out "may" and insert "shall".

It is always very difficult in drafting a Statute to know whether one should use "may" or "shall"—whether it should be mandatory or permissive. On many occasions when I myself have suggested that the word should be "shall" in order that it should be mandatory that something should be done I have been told that "may" is quite as mandatory as "shall". I hope on this occasion that the Government will see the force of the argument that the Clause in this respect should be made mandatory by the insertion of the word "shall".

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

I am prepared to tell the hon. Member straight away that I accept this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, after 'Kingdom' insert: 'together with all passenger-carrying ferries and commercial vessels of over 5 tons Thames Measurement, including those which propel themselves by means of chain'.

The Chairman

It would be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the fol- lowing Amendments: No. 7, in page 2, line 1, after 'ship', insert 'passenger ferry or commercial vessel'; No. 8, in line 11, after 'ship', insert 'passenger ferry or commercial vessel'; and No. 9, in line 12, after 'ship', insert 'passenger ferry or commercial vessel'.

Mr. Webster

Thank you, Sir Eric, for suggesting what I think is a good idea. May I thank the Minister of State for accepting the first Amendment. It was completely in line with what he said on Second Reading he would do.

I am convinced that the Amendment I have moved should be equally commendable to him and I look forward to his immediate acceptance of the Amendments in this group. The hon. Gentleman knows the arguments and we want to get on as quickly as possible, so I say no more except that we look forward to what he is to say.

Mr. Mallalieu

I am afraid that I must ask the Committee to reject this series of Amendments. There are some drafting difficulties. For instance, Amendment No. 7, by inserting "passenger ferry or commercial vessel" between "ship" and "registered in the United Kingdom" in the first line of subsection (2) would achieve nothing since the subsection would apply only to such ferries and vessels if they were registered in the United Kingdom and if they were so registered that is done anyway.

It is not on purely drafting grounds that I oppose the Amendment. The Amendment and the consequential Amendments fall into two distinct parts. The first part would bring in commercial vessels between 5 tons and 15 tons. They were exempt under the 1889 Act. To include them now would certainly increase the number of surveyors by a great amount and put manufacturers to increased cost and trouble. I would be prepared to face that risk if there were any real evidence that the statutory requirement now proposed was necessary, but I have no evidence of that at all. In the last three years, so far as I can discover, there has been only one instance of a vessel of this kind having anchor trouble, and even then there was no evidence that it was due to a defect either in the anchor or in the cable.

The second part of these Amendments brings in chain ferries. They are already covered by a variety of regulations and rules including those under Royal grants, Local Acts and Statutes. There are at present, I believe, only six ferries operating. Until fairly recent years their chains were made of iron. Now they have either been converted or are being converted to high tensile steel chains. These steel chains are of the same dimensions as the old iron ones, which means that their strength is substantially greater than the old ones and the safety margin is correspondingly greater. These high tensile steel chains are tested in proving houses to strains far greater than anything they would undergo in practice, so it is not necessary to include them in the Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Webster

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 12, at the end to insert: 'insofar as they may supplement or amend the standards laid down in Schedule 2 to the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1899'.

The Chairman

With this Amendment go Amendment No. 5, in line 12, at end insert: (b) provide for tests to be carried out by any of the bodies of persons mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1899. And Amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 42, at end insert 'except for Schedules 1 and 2'.

Mr. Webster

These Amendments relate to Schedules in the previous enactment. Much of our complaint is that the Bill is too permissive. I shall not go on to say something about censorship and assert that we live in too permissive an age, but perhaps in Parliamentary matters we do.

We seek to tighten things so that we can define precisely what we are giving the Department powers to do. In the 1899 Act—the handicraft of our ancestors—there are 21 Clauses and 3 Schedules. This is a very modest Measure giving wider powers. It is better to give precise details so that the smaller manufacturers and others can have some decision about the requirements as to stress with which they will have to comply.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I sympathise a good deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Westonsuper-Mare (Mr. Webster). As I understand it, the intention of the Amendment is to retain the standards of testing laid down in Schedule 2 of the 1899 Act as basic requirements for testing. So many of these requirements are obsolete. One of the requirements was that every 15 fathoms of chain cable had to be tested to a tensile strength and that every three links of every such length to breaking stress. I am advised that with modern welding methods this is completely unnecessary. We want to bring the rules up to date. Manufacturers will see precisely what is required of them, because this will be stated in the rules, which are subject to annulment by the House, if it so wishes.

The point behind our idea of doing this by rule is that, as these things change, as technology advances so speedily, without having recourse to long-winded legislation we can, not merely bring the rules up to date, but keep them there. This procedure is much in line with Section 34 of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act, 1949. It is a highly respectable procedure. I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Webster

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 19, after 'other' to insert 'qualified or certificated'.

I do not want to labour the point, because it was made amply by the interrupted speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who has already addressed the House of Commons with some considerable eloquence today. The point my hon. Friend made is worthy of consideration. It was made on Second Reading. I believe that the Minister of State said that he would consider the point. I now ask him if he has considered it and what is the result of his consideration.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I have indeed considered the point. At first sight it seemed to me to be a very sensible and reasonable Amendment. There is not, in fact, any specific certificated qualification. It is intended, when we come to the rules, that this work should be confined to the surveyors of the Board of Trade or the classification societies. All the Board of Trade surveyors have academic qualifications. For example, they will have a first class certificate of competency as marine engineers, and they will have a degree. On top of that, they have a great deal of practical experience, which is essential for this job. Most surveyors of the classification societies have similar academic degrees, but there are some whose skill is learned entirely by experience and training, without the obtaining of a certificate.

It would be extremely difficult to use the term "certificated" in this respect. If we left out "certificated" and fell back on the word "qualified", this would in the long run mean qualification as judged by the Board of Trade or the classification societies, which is the position at present. Our proposals are very much in line with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1964, for which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) was responsible and for which we are extremely grateful. That Act provides that If the Minister or such person as he may authorise for the purpose is satisfied, on receipt of declarations of survey … he shall … issue a cargo ship safety construction certificate. The words are "such person as he may authorise for the purpose". There is no question that the Board of Trade or the classification societies would ever appoint anyone who was unfit. The difficulty is to define precisely what is meant by fit or not fit. It must be based on experience.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Webster

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 12, to leave out 'or master'.

The Chairman

I suggest that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 13, at the end to insert: 'and if the owner of the ship be beyond the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom Government the Admiralty Marshal may attach a writ to the ship for the sum due by way of fine'.

Mr. Webster

Thank you, Sir Eric. It cannot be said that we are guilty of dragging our anchor. In fact, we are going on at a commendable speed, and I hope that the Minister of State, as a result of the fair wind we are giving him tonight, is now in genial enough mood to accept what we suggest here, which is only reasonable.

Some hon. Members may not have served on the Standing Committee two and a half years ago—it is almost in the history books now, and there is, at least, a document of some size recording our proceedings—but in those days the fine was set at £100 on the owner and on the master. We on this side pressed for the fine to be higher. The Bill now before us shows that the Ministry have more than granted our request in the sense that they have put up the penalty to £400, but we must draw attention again, as we did in the Standing Committee, to the difficulties which the master may have.

One may hear about the disreputable owner, and it is sometimes thought that such arguments go beyond the point of reality, but the master himself may well be in difficulty. I welcome the presence in this debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett), who has been almost swept to sea this week and who has had a good deal of experience of the activities of a master during the recent storms. A master comes into a mooring and ties up to a buoy. The buoy is attached to a chain cable, but the master has no knowledge of the harbour authority's arrangements for securing buoys.

This seems to us to be a good reason, apart from the reasons we deployed two and a half years ago and on Second Reading on this Bill, for paying special attention to the position of the master. I know that our arguments are fresh in the Minister's mind. I am sure that he has read them between the debates of a certain university union. Now that the fine has gone up I should have thought it right and reasonable that the master should be exempted. Should there be unscrupulous owners or a fault of the harbour authority, the onus should be on them.

We have tried to make it even more reasonable for the Minister to accept the Amendment by putting down Amendment No. 11, so that there shall be a prohibitive element physically to prevent a vessel going to sea. The Minister has accepted our first Amendment, for which we were grateful, and has with great courtesy rejected the next three, with all their consequent Amendments. I think that one little present deserves another. We have been reasonable to him, and I hope that he will accept the Amendment because it is sound and reasonable.

The "Masters' Union", or whatever is the society of master mariners, felt strongly about the Bill when it was in Committee two and a half years ago. It is true that the Bill has figured on the front page of The Times, but I believe that had the union known that the Bill was going through again it would have written to us about it. No doubt it has written to the Minister and he will accept its argument and the Amendment, which is reasonable in view of the increased fines.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

As a master of a ship—a British registered ship—I must spring to the support of my fellow masters and say that it is most unfair to expect the master to be mulcted to such a heavy fine as £400 for something which is really the primary responsibility of the owners.

The master has quite enough on his hands already, looking after the general safety of his ship, without having such a penalty put upon him. There must be cases where he picks up moorings where there is no means of knowing whether the chain underneath is sound. He must pick up some mooring because he may know that the ground is bad holding ground, and there may be nothing else. I understand that if he picks up the mooring and it parts he is in for trouble if it is not stamped.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

The Bill does not deal with moorings.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

If the master drops his anchor and fouls the chain of a mooring, and then that chain parts, I can see all kinds of arguments as to what has really happened. I do not press the point unduly, for it would not be right to do so. The main point is that the fine has been increased from £100 to £400, which is too much to expect the master to have to bear. It should be confined entirely to the owners.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I ask the Minister to look at our Amendments together, because the essence of the thing is that we feel that the fine is a very heavy burden to put on masters in their personal capacity. By Amendment No. 11 we would take reasonable steps to see that a ship could not slip through the hands of authority, and the owners thus get away with it. Therefore, all is well if he accepts the Amendments together.

I think, with respect to them, that my hon. Friends who have spoken about picking up a mooring are slightly at fault, because, as I understand the Clause, it is only the ship's own equipment with which we are concerned. If this is so, it might be possible in a foreign port for a British registered ship to lose her own equipment. She could lose it at sea, indeed. In those circumstances, she would hastily have to acquire other equipment which would become her own.

Sir Francis Chichester bought some new equipment in Sydney. No doubt it was very good, but one might get the case of a ship putting into a minor port where the master had to pick up new equipment. No doubt he would get the best cable he could proceure but it might not be stamped for the purposes of this Bill and therefore, through no failing of his own, the master might well have on board unstamped and unacceptable equipment.

Mr. Webster

As there is an absence of Schedules of any sort in the Bill, no other Government will have any guide if they wish to fit in with our arrangements.

Mr. Wells

I understand that this applies only to British ships. They do undoubtedly pick up equipment abroad. The Minister of State has served abroad himself. No doubt he has picked up things abroad in his time. But the fact remains that that which he picked up abroad may not have been stamped in accordance with this Bill. Let us consider the unfortunate master concerned. He can be in trouble.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give us some comfort by excusing masters from this fine. I do not object to the increase in the fine. It is what we on this side pressed for during the previous Committee stage. The heavier fine is a good thing provided that masters are not liable to pay it themselves personally. Amendment No. 11 gives the Minister a safeguard if he thinks that, by letting the master off, he might lose a victim if the owner was abroad or unobtainable.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I support the Amendments. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell us whether there are any other penalties in any other Act of Parliament to which masters of ships are liable as this Bill would make them liable. If there are not, then this Bill is setting a precedent. I commend these Amendments, particularly Amendment No. 11, which would put the blame on someone else as well.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) for the extreme reasonableness with which the Committee as a whole has dealt with these Amendments and my answers to them. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). I was very alarmed about him. I did not know that the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) was literally in the same boat. I am glad to see them both here.

There is point in what the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) has just said about an accident abroad and the picking up of an anchor which is not stamped. We have power in Clause 1 to make exemptions and I give an undertaking to the Committee that these exemptions shall, in the rules, cover a contingency of this kind. For the rest, I regret, in view of the way the Bill has been treated in Committee, that I must ask hon. Members to reject even this Amendment.

It is possible to have ships registered in the United Kingdom but owned, say, in Canada or Bermuda or the Bahamas, and it may not be possible to penalise infringements in the case of such a ship unless it is possible to prosecute the master when it comes to a United Kingdom port. It is not an especially onerous duty upon the master—and I recognise that the hon. Member for Nantwich has specialised knowledge of this—to make an inspection and see whether his anchors and cables are properly stamped. As I understand it, the master is, and must be, responsible for every other piece of equipment in the ship, all the safety equipment and so forth, and I do not see any reason why he should be exempted from the duty of ensuring that his anchors and cables are right, too. The fine is stiff, but it is in certain circumstances—I shall come to the second Amendment in a moment—the only way we can enforce the regulation.

The second Amendment that we are considering is really misconceived. It is a way of extracting the fine once it has been levied. But we are talking about summary jurisdiction, and if the owner is in the Bahamas we cannot get at him even to levy the fine. So this would not help us in the way that the hon. Member for Maidstone suggested.

I think—if I can be as reasonable as hon. Gentlemen opposite—that it is reasonable to have "master" in this as well as "owner", and I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

At the outset I would thank the Minister for his kind and sympathetic remarks. It is certainly for my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and myself and a number of other hon. Members a relief to be on the surface and not underneath, as we nearly were yesterday. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the cannon with which the race was being started was inaudible because it was so weak compared with the thunderbolts going round among hon. Members. It seemed almost as if we had met our just deserts. It was certainly very alarming.

I apologise for not having attended some of the previous discussions on the Bill, much to my loss. There seems to be most admirable sweet reasonableness prevalent in the discussion now. However, I do not think that the Minister's statement about the second Amendment does justice to the situation. I think that it was our Amendment in Committee two years ago which suggested that the fine should be put up to what it is now. Therefore, the severity of the fine is very much in line with what hon. Friends of mine and I would recommend.

But to put the master as liable is very unfortunate. The shipmaster of a company which cannot otherwise be reached may be in a position to be completely victimised on some technical ground. We cannot foresee the regulations, though I am delighted to hear of the exemptions that the Minister has in mind. Nevertheless, is would seem a pity if on some technical fault the shipmaster were left alone to carry the brunt of this. I do not think it would be suggested that we should seek to penalise the shipmaster merely as a means of getting at the owner. This is specious.

Under the Bill the shipmaster appears to be in a very vulnerable position. It is the purpose of the Amendment to deal with this situation. It seems to me that if the owner of the ship is, as suggested, in the Bahamas or some other considerably better climate than ours, and is sunning himself and swanning around, as we know some of them do, the idea of a writ on the mast of the ship and its being prevented from leaving port will produce a most rapid response even at great distance by way of the ship's office and the demurrage charges which would fall on the ship. I should have thought that the threat of a writ on the mast would make the owner's firm pay up through the various forms of money available to the ship and that the master should not himself be involved. I feel strongly that the Amendment would be a much more equitable way of arranging affairs and producing the effect that we want under the Bill. In short, Amendment No. 11 produces the most devastating weapon for bringing the ship's ownership into discipline, and one could scarcely improve upon it. That is why I ask the Minister to reconsider his attitude to that point.

Mr. John Wells

Would the Minister answer the point that was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell)? Is there to his knowledge any other legislation by which a ship master is personally liable to penalties of this sort for so comparatively a minor matter from his point of view?

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

Yes, under the load lines regulations the master as well as the owner is liable. The Amendment says: … may attach a writ to the ship for the sum due by way of fine. There cannot be a sum due by way of fine until one has actually prosecuted and got a conviction. If we leave out the master, leaving solely the owner, and he is in Bermuda, one cannot even start proceedings. Up to a point the master is vulnerable if he does not do his job. If he does not inspect, he is vulnerable. If he inspects and finds that the equipment is not adequate, he does not sail until it is.

Having looked at this point, and having seriously considered the representations of the masters' associations which the hon. Member for Weston-Super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said were quite strong, I think it would be reasonable to reject the Amendment.

Dr. Bennett

I take the Minister's point. It is a point of great substance, of course, but is it not possible in some way to word this provision so that the master is the titular victim of the legal process and can be convicted in person? The liability could be expressed as being upon the owners, though access to the owners in our courts could only be achieved by chasing the master. This is the only way that I can see, in broad terms, of getting the results which both sides of this Committee desire.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I cannot see how we could do that. It is an attractive idea, but there is no point in having fines, especially large fines like this, unless the fines can be extracted when they are levied. I cannot see any way in which the hon. Gentleman's wishes could be met.

Amendment negatived.

Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Dr. Bennett

With Clause 1 in its present form I feel that the Bill lacks many of the points which I regard as valuable in the recognition of the various types of vessel, which come to mind readily enough, to which this Bill should apply. We have discussed them in another life, in another Parliament. We have discussed them in the Second Reading debate, sketchily enough, in this Parliament.

However, I am still far from satisfied that the phraseology of this Clause does justice to the situation, in so far as it does not admit that any other types of vessel which deserve the safeguards of this Bill have developed virtually since 1899. The various headings come readily enough to mind. There are the expensive but physically somewhat small yachts. There are the hovercraft, which I understand have been referred to, in proceedings which I missed, as first being subject to an Air Navigation Order, but now being regarded as land vehicles. If they are subject to an Air Navigation Order and are regarded as being aeroplanes, as a seaplane pilot I can affirm that an aeroplane when on the water is subject to the rules of seafaring standards in the prevention of collisions at sea and other safety standards.

It was well known about the aircraft which used to be built for the Navy before the war, or for marine purposes, that if an aircraft was capable of alighting on water, it must have certain fittings, and, for instance, carry a brass bell which had to be rung whenever the aircraft was anchored in a fairway during fog. Therefore, I do not think that the advent of the Air Navigation Order is a new line of approach to the hovercraft.

Mr. Webster

As a mere Fleet Air Arm instructor-pilot taught by the American Navy, I have tried to follow this argument. When one of these vessels is taxiing or going across the surface of the water, does my hon. Friend measure drift by the current of the water, or by the wind velocity? As he knows, there is a triangle of velocities by which one works out how these things taxi and on what basis it should be done and what course to steer. With his great expertise, can my hon. Friend quickly explain?

The Chairman

The hon. Member would not be in order in giving any explanations, because on this Motion we can discuss only what is in the Clause. There is nothing about hovercraft in the Clause. We debated that on Second Reading, but we cannot debate it now.

Dr. Bennett

The point that I was trying to attain in my argument was that hovercraft, be they land vehicles or air vehicles, in fact ply for hire over water and are probably therefore registered ships in that sense, or licensed ferries. Indeed, they carry an execeedingly valuable freight in human lives. I have seen them being towed up Portsmouth Harbour—they do break down—and they have to anchor in emergencies. I would have thought that the anchoring of hovercraft was identical with the process of anchoring ships. Therefore, with valuable lives on board, it is vital that they be deemed to be ships. If they are included under the heading of ships registered in the United Kingdom, all is well, but I have grounds for fearing that they may not be.

Nor is it clear to me whether yachts are properly included under this same heading. My dilemma on this matter is that which I briefly mentioned on Second Reading. To my certain knowledge there is a species of yacht, which is known as a registered yacht, which has to submit itself to various procedures and to have various compartments measured and so forth. Indeed, the cubic capacities of these compartments are carved in the deck beams—I only hope they are not metallic. That kind of registered yacht is one to which certain legal attitudes apply. For instance, such a yacht is a fit subject for the raising of a mortgage, as several hon. Members know.

9.45 p.m.

The dilemma in which I find myself is that there is another kind of registered yacht classified at Lloyds—18 A 1 or 100 A 1, or whatever classification is allocated to it—and I find myself in genuine uncertainty about whether both categories are offered the protection of the Bill. I should be much obliged if the Minister could enlighten me.

Those are the matters of general significance. There are new types of ships plying for hire, whether with cargo or with passengers, which have been invented since the old days of the original Act, and I am also concerned to know whether the extremely numerous yachts around our coasts are brought sufficiently within the provisions of the Clause.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I endorse the plea that the Minister should clarify the position of hovercraft. We know that for some purposes they are treated as ships while for others they are treated as aircraft and come within the purview of the Air Registration Board. However, the position appears to be unsatisfactory and almost analagous to the difficulty in which, we are told, many years ago, a booking clerk found himself eventually ready to pronounce "Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs, but this 'ere tortoise is an insect and there ain't no charge for that." I would hate us to get into that position with legislation about hovercraft.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I agree with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) that the legal position about hovercraft is highly unsatisfactory. If I can trespass roughly on the rules of order, may I tell the Committee that we have been considering this matter for a considerable time and it is the hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to produce legislation which deals with hovercraft and not with ships or anything else.

Mr. Webster

Will that be in the next Gracious Speech? If so, we shall be queueing up to hear it.

Mr. Mallalieu

I could not possibly give that assurance, but I hope that we shall be able to introduce it during the next Session. I do not know whether it will be in the Gracious Speech.

Yachts are not covered by the Bill unless they are of 15 tons or more. The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham referred to the two forms of register. One is Lloyds Yacht Register which is not a statutory body, although it is a jolly good thing to get one's yacht into that.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Is that 15 tons gross or net?

Mr. Mallalieu


Dr. Bennett

In the way that type of shipping is generally reckoned, that means about 40 tons gross.

Mr. Mallalieu

I find it difficult to work out these things.

Sir R. Russell

Subsection (8) says: The powers of the Board of Trade under this section or any rules made thereunder may be exercised by the President of the Board of Trade, any Minister of State with duties concerning the affairs of the Board, any secretary, under-secretary or assistant secretary of the Board or any person authorised in that behalf by the Pesident. What is meant by "any person authorised"? Will it be another officer of the Ministry and how many officers will be involved? How many can be given this power? Is this a precedent, or is this provision contained in other legislation?

Mr. Mallalieu

We have already touched on this subject. I cannot give the total number, but it is the intention by this to mean and to specify in the rules surveyors of the Board of Trade or surveyors of the classification society. There are precedents for such a provision.

Mr. Webster

I thank the Minister of State for what he has said about hovercraft. Possibly if we had known about this two and a half years ago the Bill might have got on a bit quicker. I am grateful for his assurance that this will be the case, and that there will be early legislation to clarify the position regarding hovercraft, because otherwise I would have had to regret that it was not in the Bill. I very much appreciate what he has said. We all know, without labouring the point, that this is something which is rapidly developing, and we must look after the safety arrangements, particularly with the complicated aspects of this.

I will underline the Minister of State's assurance that he has given to the House, and I hope that we will have legislation about hovercraft early next Session. I would remind him that when he was asked, on the subject of hovercraft, why the late Mr. Redhead had given me assurances, as a result of which I withdrew a new Clause to bring hovercraft within the purview of the Bill, the Minister said, in an unguarded moment, that he wanted to get his Bill.

I hope that the Minister of State is not falling into the same difficulty of wanting to get his Bill on this occasion. We would remind him of his promise and hope that it will be fulfilled early in the next session. My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) is in some little anxiety on a technical point that is far beyond me as a mere landlubber. I think that he is worried about tonnage.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

The hon. Gentleman, in reply to a question which I put to him the other day mentioned a figure, I thought, of 50 tons, but I am now looking at the debate and I see that it is 15 tons. Then we get the question of the 168 lb. anchor. The two figures do not seem to make any sense whatever. No yacht of 15 tons will carry a 168 lb. anchor. Therefore, if the 15 tons really means anything at all, the anchor to go with that sort of tonnage ought to be somewhere about 50 lb. or probably 60 lb. I dare say that a prudent owner would probably go for a C.Q.R. of 70 lb., but 168 lb. and 15 tons just do not make any sense for a yacht or any other kind of ship. That is something which the Minister might have a look at before the Bill gets to another place. I think that somehow incorrect advice has been taken on relating the weight of the anchor to the tonnage of the ship.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

There is a point here. It is possible under the rules to alter the minimum size and I will certainly have a look at this point.

Dr. Bennett

May I also ask the Minister of State to have another look at a further point, because I cannot believe, in all the time that I have spent in and around yachts and the sea, that there is a certain threshold, to wit 15 tons, at which a yacht becomes registered. I have had many small yachts of my own which have been registered insofar as the deck beams have the measurements carved in them, and all the rest of it.

I see a difficulty here which I hope the Minister will not regard as a nugatory one, and it is that the registering of ships, with Lloyds or other classification, exposes them to the periodic surveys and re-surveys at which the continued serviceability of the anchors and chains would be reassessed. This removes any consideration, such as we had two years ago, on the subject of second-hand or older anchors and chains. The re-survey certificate in the case of a merchant ship will see to that. A yacht has a classification from Lloyds or Bureau Veritas or from some other body.

What about the registered yachts of considerably smaller size than the size of 15 tons which the Minister mentioned? In the tonnage to which he is accustomed, a 15-ton yacht is a big yacht. There are not many of them afloat now. If they are registered in the ordinary way without a classification, there will be no suitably qualified people who have a right to appraise or reappraise the ground tackle which such ships carry. I should be obliged the Minister could shake this one down and find out the definitive answer to a complex point.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

It is a complex point, but there is a partial answer, that vessels of 15 tons and over must be registered and vessels of under 15 tons can be registered. That covers a fair number of vessels. It is up to the owner.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.—[Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu.]

Mr. Webster

On a point of order. We did not realise that we should go at this fantastic speed. The Order Paper refers only to the Committee stage. Is it regular to go further without consultation through the normal channels? I appreciate that the Leader of the House, in a laughing mood, said "progress" when he said that we would discuss the Bill today. But, as I say, the Order Paper refers only to the Committee stage. I do not know whether we are authorised to go further.

The Chairman

It is a matter for the House. I have to put the Question. If objection is taken, objection is taken.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Webster

I am glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has left the question of parsnips and swedes and is now taking an interest in anchors and chain cables. We hope that he will take part in our proceedings. We wish that he had done so before.

I should like to pay the Bill a little tribute, because it is a little bit of the history of Parliament. I wish it a fair wind. Probably I am the only landlubber who served on the Committee two and a half years ago. On 19th May, 1965, we started the Committee stage of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North Shields.

Dr. Bennett

I think that my hon. Friend has got slightly disorientated. Was it not the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop)?

Mr. Webster

Yes. I get confused with shields and swords and anchors and chain cables. But the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill without, as he said, an all-party Motion, with no members of the Liberal Party or Conservative Party subscribing to it. He had not invited them. Then he was surprised when we started to ask questions—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered That the Proceedings on the Anchors and Chain Cables Bill and of the Committee of Ways and Means may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Ioan L. Evans.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Webster

I am grateful for that intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it gives us a little more time to consider the Bill with the thoroughness which it deserves. These are probably the longest proceedings in terms of calendar months for any Bill through the House of Commons. I hope that their Lordships will examine it thoroughly and improve it, if they can, and that as the rules of the other place are more flexible, Amendments will be made to incorporate certain improvements.

The Bill may be an object lesson to the Government in the matter of safety of life at sea—the Minister of State knows that I had the privilege of introducing a similar type of Measure in the year before the Bill first attempted to get through the House—to give it a little greater priority. The Bill has come on twice as second Order, first on Wednesday, 31st May, and then on a Monday twelve days later. On each occasion the Bill received just over an hour's deliberation. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) was speaking on one occasion and another of my hon. Friends on the other occasion. So great was our enthusiasm that we all stayed up practically all night a week ago when the Bill was expected to come on, and so did the Minister of State and the nice people in the Box. I am glad that at long last the Bill has been given the importance which it merits by being brought on at a decent hour of the evening.

I welcome the Bill although I regret that its scope is not wider. Nevertheless, we have had assurances and we are grateful for that. Some funny expressions have been used. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who has taught me practically all the naval history I know, said at one stage, when talking about the naval examination for anchors: A favourite question is: 'Question: If you were the officer of the watch of a ship at anchor and it came on to blow hard and the anchor was dragging, what would you do? Answer: Let another anchor go, Sir. Question: If it came on to blow harder? Answer: Let go another anchor. Sir.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 26th May, 1965; c. 47.] I think that even the Minister of State has learnt a bit more about anchors, as I certainly admit that I have done, during the lengthy deliberations on the Bill. I wish it well as it proceeds to another place and I hope that their Lordships, many of whom are salty and nautical, will be able to improve it before they send it back to us.

10.3 p.m.

Dr. Bennett

As one who at all times has shown a certain interest in the subject, I would like to say how glad I have been that the Bill has received fairly careful attention and detailed thought and that a number of valuable Amendments have been made which have improved it considerably. I am not least glad to know that we have had assurances that when Parliament has abdicated from its right to legislate on these things and passed the whole matter over to delegated legislation, the delegated legislation will not be too long in coming and will, I trust, be comprehensive and common sense.

I trust that we shall have the orders before the House as soon as the necessary improvements have been effected in another place. I shall look forward with great interest to see the rules to which the Bill in due course will give rise.

I have only one slight note of sadness on which to finish my consideration of this large and important Bill, and that is the unaccountable absence of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). I hear, however, that the Patronage Secretary has been very generous with him lately in the question of pairs, hoping, perhaps, that he might not notice when next the Bill was coming forward.

Mr. Webster

I gather that he is saving his strength for the Travers Foundation.

Dr. Bennett

I think he has already shot his bolt on that one.

I hope that we will see some sense come out of this Measure, that we will get the rules to which we are entitled and that they will deal with this matter properly, although I still dislike the form in which this has had to be done.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

Many hon. Members have had a fair amount of fun about the Bill. Indeed, there was one point when it was almost becoming a House of Commons joke. Nevertheless, out of the fun has come a considerable amount of education and good. There are a number of extraneous matters to which I might refer, but I must not do so since they are not included in the Measure.

I am grateful for the consideration which hon. Members have given to, and the general welcome that has been expressed for, the Bill. This is a good Measure. It is concerned with safety at sea, which we all have at heart, especially those who go to sea. I hope that the Bill will improve that safety.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.