HC Deb 31 May 1967 vol 747 cc28-49

Order for second Reading read

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask for your guidance whether you are in a position to accept a reasoned Amendment on Second Reading?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Technically I am in a position to accept one. Whether it will be selected is a matter for the Chair.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

We did not hand in the reasoned Amendment until we had had time to obtain a Ruling from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it would be in order. Is it in order for me to hand you the reasoned Amendment now?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is in order at any time to hand in an Amendment.

Mr. Webster

Then I will hand it in now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that I am unable to select it.

11.21 a.m.

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

I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Some hon. Members will remember that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) introduced a Private Member's Bill dealing with anchors and chain cables in February, 1965. Because of the desire shown by a number of hon. Members to widen the scope of the Bill, and because of the eventual advent of a General Election, we ran out of time and the Bill was lost. I now introduce the Bill as a Government Measure.

In effect, it repeals the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1899, dealing with the testing of cables and anchors for ships registered in the United Kingdom. That Act, so it seems to us, has two defects. First, it embodies many detailed requirements concerning the ways in which anchors, and cables should be tested. With the development of modern techniques and the introduction of different types of material many of these requirements become out of date, and yet to alter them requires legislation. Under the new Measure we propose that these changes should be made by way of negative Resolution.

Secondly, under the old Act all manufacturers are compelled to test the anchors and cables they make in licensed proving houses. This involves some expense and delay to the manufacturers. Many manufacturers have their own testing equipment and use it for anchors and cables which are to be sold to ships not registered in the United Kingdom. We have been told by Lloyds Register—and I believe it to be true—that there is no significant difference in the number of breakages as between those tested in proving houses and those tested by the manufacturers. This Measure, while allowing the continued use of proving houses to manufacturers who want to use them, will also permit testing by manufacturers on their own equipment in conformity with the rules laid down by the Board of Trade.

That is the purpose of what, at the moment, is a simple Bill. There are, however, two other aspects that I should mention. First, liability for ensuring that ships have properly certificated anchors and cables will be placed not only on the owner but also on the master. The reason for this is that some ships registered in the United Kingdom may be owned by people whose premises are outside these islands—perhaps in Canada, Bermuda or the Bahamas—and it would be very difficult to bring home to such owners responsibility for any breach of the regulations. We therefore think it right that the master should be joined with the owner in this matter.

The second aspect that I should mention is a throw-back to the debate we had in a previous Parliament, when many hon. Members expressed a wish to extend the scope of the Bill. Naturally, since that time we have given serious consideration to the points made, but we still think, on balance, that the original limitations were correct. Suggestions have been made that the Measure should apply to hovercraft. This is an extremely difficult legal problem. We are dealing with ships. Hovercraft, whatever else they are, are not ships—

Dr. Bennett

Does the Minister realise that in the debates to which he is referring his predecessor ruled that hovercraft were ships, and that in the Finance Bill debates last year this was accepted?

Mr. Mallalieu

I am afraid that it has not yet been accepted, because their exact legal position has yet to be established. At the moment I believe that they are dealt with under air navigation orders. I would prefer to say that these are not ships or aircraft, but hovercraft, and that in terms of the rule of the road and other matters they will have to be treated as a distinct entity. It is proposed that when the legal status of these craft has been finally established we shall deal with them in separate legislation.

It was also suggested that fishing vessels should be included. There is no doubt that they are ships. They have traditionally been exempt from many safety regulations which apply to other ships. At present, international discussions are taking place on the whole question of safety aboard fishing vessels and I would much prefer to wait until we are in a position to bring forward special legislation dealing with them than to do it piecemeal by adding them to this Measure.

It was further suggested that we should include pleasure yachts carrying less than 12 passengers. If we consider the myriads of small boats in these islands we see that any attempt to do that would produce a sizeable new slice of bureaucracy. It would be unnecessary and probably unworkable. They are exempt from the Merchant Shipping (Load Lines) Measure, which was generally accepted. There is no case for including them.

Mr. Webster

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for appearing to be somewhat behind. I want to refer back to what he was saying about hovercraft and I have been trying to find the reference. If he has read every word of that precious document, the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee which considered the original Bill in 1965, he will see that the late Mr. Edward Redhead said: … seized … with the point that to the extent that at the present moment hovercraft are required to use chains and anchors it would be reasonable and sensible to bring those chains and anchors within the provisions for testing under this Bill. In those circumstances, I am ready to accept the principle of the proposed new Clause …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing committee C, 19th May 1965; c. 172.] The new Clause to which Mr. Redhead there referred contained the words: For the purpose of this Act a hovercraft shall be defined as a ship or vessel.

Mr. Mallalieu

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.

Dr. Bennett

I am sure that Mr. Redhead meant what he said when he said it.

Mr. Mallalieu

Mr. Redhead was saying that, in so far as hovercraft carry anchors and cables, it would be reasonable to call them ships, and I agree with that. But there are other considerations about the classification of hovercraft. I do not think that this is a vital point. It is untidy to call them ships when we are not sure what they are legally to be described as.

Harbour moorings, chain ferries and so on are covered by existing regulations. They are not ships and we do not think that it would be desirable to extend the scope of the Bill to take them in. But, though important, all these are matters of detail which we shall have a further opportunity to discuss, and I do not think I need go into them in a long argument on Second Reading. The aim of the Bill is to simplify the procedures of regulation, to make them more flexible. It is a modest little Bill but an important one, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I thank the Minister of State for a longer explanation than we had on the occasion of the Second Reading of the 1965 Bill, which was introduced under the Ten Minute Rule so that there was no possibility of debating the matter with thoroughness.

I am very sorry to see that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) is not here. I have a feeling that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) will be sad that this Bill, despite all the hard work which we put into the subject, remains largely unaffected by that work. It is certainly a simple Bill but it lacks the precision of its ancestor of 1899. Whatever the defects of the 1899 Act are, it is precise. It has 21 Sections and 3 Schedules. This Bill has 2 Clauses and no Schedules. Yet this Bill is very vague; it lacks precision and fails to deal with so many of the modern developments of nautical events which are coming so rapidly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham and I have been proved right in pressing the case for the hovercraft. It is now in mass use but it seems that we are waiting for disaster before dealing with it, as is all too often the case. That aspect also applies to drilling rigs. I remind the hon. Gentleman that even now legislation would be after the event in their case. It is not sufficient just to say that the case that the Continental Shelf Act, 1964, was not precise about the mooring of these creations has been amply proved by tragic events.

Incidentally, perhaps this Bill should be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. After the 1965 Bill had been amended, with great trouble, in five meetings of the Standing Committee, its price was 6d. The price of this Bill, unamended, is 10d. That is almost double the price for less than half the value. Perhaps the Board should look at the Bill, particularly as it contains so little for the price.

The 1899 Act itself now needs to be modernised, but an important constitutional principle is involved. The Act is precise. It has 21 Clauses and 3 Schedules, and there are no vague rulemaking powers.

We know the practice in this House. We give great rule-making powers to the Executive, who bring them on at a fairly late hour of night with the Whips on and always get what they want if it is under the negative procedure, as in this case. In 1965, we sought to make the Bill more precise, both by new Clauses and by new Schedules, and in some respects were carrying our way. But all that has been taken out. That is regrettable because we also know that the more delegated legislation there is, the less Parliamentary time can be found to pray against it. One is thus giving a blank cheque to the Government in a case where they have already proved that they are inadequate to deal with the situation.

Modesty may not be my greatest virtue—I have not analysed myself to that extent. But I recall the Merchant Shipping Act, 1964, which I had the honour to introduce. It got an unopposed Second Reading and, with the aid of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, got through the Committee stage in one sitting. This was because, although it also gave immense delegated legislation, it was made utterly precise because the regulations were based on rules contained in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea which was signed in June, 1960. The document is 388 pages long and consists of precise regulations.

If one is to give wide rule-making powers, they should be laid down precisely. But that is precisely—to use the word yet again—what this Bill does not do. That is regrettable, and it will be necessary once more to try and improve it in Committee with the aid of hon. Members on both sides.

As is the case with all marine matters, this subject has an international flavour. But no convention has been signed in this case. It is probably in itself an isolated matter and is too small for a convention. On the other hand, we want to make our usage as much as possible the same as that applied abroad, otherwise we place the masters of our vessels at a disadvantage and put ourselves at a disadvantage commercially as well. This is a very delicate matter in relation to the safety of life and to the protection of our commercial interests.

I wonder whether the practice in the United States might be to the disadvantage of British shipping. We know that the Federal Maritime Commission—which the hon. Gentleman has no doubt had to deal with—is a tricky customer. It is dominated in that huge country by people who have perhaps never seen the sea, largely and very often it is in direct contradiction to the interests not only of foreign vessels but of American vessels as well. It would be worth looking into this matter so that we should not be at a disadvantage in this respect or at a disadvantage with our rapidly declining coastal fleet at a time when so many foreign vessels seem to be getting into the business.

The original Bill said the fine should be £100 and in the present Bill that sum has been increased to £400. I said that £100 would be chickenfeed to any operator, but increasing the fine to £400 lends force to the argument that the master of the vessel concerned should not be responsible for paying the fine. When the master was to be liable to a fine of £100, there was much strong feeling in maritime circles and it was equally felt that £100 would not be enough to check any owner who was not fulfilling his responsibilities. Now that the fine has been increased to £400, there is a still better reason for excluding the master, and I hope that those who serve on the Standing Committee will consider this matter carefully.

I notice with regret that an Amendment to the original Bill to protect the rights of proving stations has been taken out of this Bill. I appreciate that the Bill represents an improvement on the original, but there are plenty of people in the Black Country around Dudley, the area represented by the Paymaster-General himself, who work in small chain-making factories and, although there were many at the time of the 1899 Act, the number of proving stations is now down to four. The mayor, aldermen and burgesses of Bristol and of Hull among other places were involved. These provisions will reduce the number of chain-making factories even more and the small establishments will go out of business, which will mean unemployment, or, in the more fashionable expression of the day, redeployment. We should like to know why there has been such a change from two years ago when the party then in power is still in power.

I should be grateful if the Minister of State could tell us a little more about Section 684 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, because a new provision has been introduced which he did not mention. It would also help if he could tell us how many examples there have been over the last convenient period, perhaps five years, of defective anchors or cables, preferably giving the numbers separately. Perhaps he could provide a schedule if we put down a Question on the subject. Perhaps he could also say what weights were involved. There is no provision for a limitation on weight. In the original Standing Committee we sought to bring it down to 50 lb. but failed to do so.

In the Second Schedule of the 1899 Act there are precise specifications, such as anchor ex stock and proving strain and so on, and it would be better if the House had been provided with a little more detail of that kind and also if more attention had been paid to modern developments at sea. When we last discussed this matter we talked a great deal about sea anchors, but there is nothing about them in the present Bill. I would have thought—although it is abundantly clear from my remarks that I am not a seaman myself—that there should have been a reference to this subject.

I now turn to the subject of drilling rigs. A drilling rig in the Bristol Channel near my constituency provides a good example. Despite every kind of expert opinion then available, we were assured that the régime of the Bristol Channel was absolutely firm and that there would be no deflection. We in the House were over-ruled—we got them in the end—and the drilling rig was installed. Its effect on the régime of the Channel was to begin to scour under one of the legs and this set up an inverse pendulum movement which increased the scouring until, after about two days, the whole thing gradually tilted over and almost disappeared. If there had been many people on board and if it had been difficult to get them off, there would have been a tragedy. There have been tragedies in the North Sea. The B.P. drilling rig "Seaquest" has nine anchors of 300,000 lb. each and it seems absurd that the Bill should not contain any reference to this kind of activity.

If it is said that this is a modest little Bill, then the Minister of State should become immodest and make it a Bill which is more effective and which can deal with an activity which is springing up all round our shores and which requires urgent action. This was the first thing for which I looked on the day when the Bill was presented by the President of the Board of Trade in his delight and celebration of the fact that the Prime Minister had announced that we were going into the Common Market. I found no reference to drilling rigs nor any adequate reference to lightships.

I must join issue with the Minister of State on the subject of hovercraft. In solemn words we had a statement by his late predecessor, Mr. Redhead, to whom I must pay tribute both as a Member whom we all very much loved and also because he arrived on the Bill by accident. I know that he would have forgiven me for saying that, because he said so himself. He was obliging the other Minister of State who has now gone to another Department but who was then abroad, having been told that this was only a little Bill. Mr. Redhead was with us for five weeks on what was then a two-Clause Bill.

He said that hovercraft required to use chains and anchors so that it would be reasonable and sensible to bring those chains and anchors within the provisions for testing under the Bill. He said that in those circumstances he was prepared to accept the principle of the proposed new Clause which defined hovercraft as ships for the purposes of the Bill. Apparently those words no longer stand.

I hope that I misheard the right hon. Gentleman when he said that that concession was made only to get the Bill through. That is not a fair reflection on the memory of Mr. Redhead. I withdrew my new Clause because the principle had been accepted. It is exceedingly regrettable that such a provision is not in the present Bill and unless the Bill is amended by the Government, my hon. Friends and I will seek to amend it in Committee.

We shall seek to reduce the Bill's regulation-making powers, to make them more precise and to bring in Schedules which are as precise as possible. We shall probably seek to amend the Long Title in order to do so and to introduce new Clauses to make this Bill, necessary in itself, relevant to the modern age and to new developments of maritime engineering and to one of the best inventions of Great Britain—the hovercraft. In this respect we have the chance to lead the world, provided that we take the requisite action.

We will not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but, in nautical terms, I fire a warning shot to show the Minister of State that if he does not do something to make the Bill more up to date and more adequate, he will not find us particularly obliging when we get to Standing Committee.

11.50 a.m.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether a further reasoned Amendment which, I believe, is in your possession is considered to be in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that I am unable to select the Amendment handed in by the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Bennett

This Bill seems familiar to some of us. Indeed, it is, in all substantial respects, the same Bill as that which we dealt with for a few weeks in those charming summer mornings of 1965. In spite of the "serious consideration" which the Minister says has been given by his Department, the Bill is virtually unchanged. It seems that the Government, once again, are like the Bourbons: they have learnt nothing, or virtually nothing, from all those long and serious discussions which we had two years ago.

May I say a word of praise for the late Mr. Redhead, who was the Minister in charge of those discussions, for his unfailing good humour. We all liked him very much before, but we liked him a great deal more afterwards. It is very sad that he is no longer with us.

What I object to about the Bill is its kinship with certain other Bills before the House. This Bill, like them, when stripped of the necessary trimmings, is a Bill of few words. Clause 1 merely provides: The Board of Trade may make rules with respect to the testing of anchors and chain cables … That is all. This seems to me to be a typical Socialist blanket enabling Bill, just like another one, the "Nationalising of Computers Bill" alias the Post Office (Data Processing Service) Bill which, in seven words, enables the same sort of thing to be done without safeguards, undertakings or assurances of any kind.

This Bill does not say that the Board of Trade "shall" make rules; it says that the Board of Trade "may" make rules. I consider legislation in this form to be a contempt of Parliament. We go to a lot of trouble over getting elections and representation in the House and yet we have frivolous wording in Bills of this sort merely saying that the Board of Trade may do anything it likes about anchors and chain cables, just as the Post Office may expect to do anything it likes about computer communication networks. This is an insult to the process of democracy, and this is why I regard this as a nasty little Bill. I opposed it before when it reared its ugly little head, and so I oppose it again.

Having said what I think of this thoroughly defective Bill, I should like to make clear that I do not approach this subject in any nihilistic or unconstructive sense. As a practising seaman, I am in favour of the testing of anchors and chain cables. I am in favour of the marking of anchors and chain cables as having been satisfactorily tested. I am in favour of the obliging of all registered vessels to carry and use only anchors and chain cables which have been tested and marked. I am in favour of putting the onus for that on the owners of the ship, and, if need be, the placing of writs on the ship against the master as the representative of the owners. However, that is the position today. The 1889 Act ensures all those things. Why, then, must we have to put up with this little specimen of creeping Socialism?

The principal argument for the Bill which was put forward by the then Minister in Committee was that it was to ensure that British manufacturers shall have freedom to have their product tested by equipment on their own premises if they have such equipment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee C, 19th May, 1965; c. 13.] That is an excellent idea. I am sure that it is a very reasonable way of extending the provisions of the existing legislation. However, I understand that, apart from the four testing houses which exist and whose cause was fought for and won in the Standing Committee when the Government accepted, unwillingly enough, the Amendment put forward by one of their own supporters……

Mr. Webster

The Government did not accept it. They were defeated on a Division. It was a decision of the Committee.

Dr. Bennett

I was being immensely polite and courteous, as usual, to the admirable Minister on the Government Front Bench. I said that the Government accepted it unwillingly. It was forced upon them. It was to be incorporated in this beastly little Bill until it died, quietly strangled, on Report. There are four testing and proving houses which still exist. As I say, Mr. Henderson, the then right hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, put forward an Amendment in their favour.

However, to quote the words of the Minister again: As far as we know there are only three chain manufacturers who have the equipment for testing a full length cable, although several places have equipment of some kind… As far as we know no anchor manufacturers have anchor testing equipment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 19th May, 1965; c. 13.] So what is all this about? All that we are doing is allowing three manufacturers to test their own products. Nothing is changed. All that we have is a Bill which gives no one any guidance and which gives the country no assurance that guidance will be forthcoming.

As I have said, we have a Bill which provides that the Board of Trade can do what it likes. Is this a sufficient reason for the issuing of a blank cheque? It is nonsense. But, since we have the Bill before us, ostensibly in the light of new circumstances, there are plenty of new points which it should include. There are new materials. There are new types of vessel. There are new lower limits of size which are relevant today. In 1899 the late Mr. Frank Cooper was the only man mad enough to go cruising in a converted fishing boat for pleasure. Nowadays many people do so at very great expense. A smaller ship may very well cost as much as a much larger ship and be of as much value to the owners and underwriters and need as much protection, when the weather comes in hard, as any of the bigger, more classical type of ship.

The 1899 Act had a Schedule on testing establishments including those of the mayors and burgesses of Hull and of Bristol. I remember that we discussed on the former occasion whether mayoral chains had been tested. The Bill has absolutely no Schedule. It has no factual content. The Minister at that time said that there was some point in keeping some flexibility in this matter, but here there is the flexibility of a drunken snake. It would be much more flexible if a few new establishments were added to existing ones and if necessary we could leave out the mayors and burgesses of Hull and of Bristol.

Surely something is needed in Schedules dealing with tensile strengths. The 1899 Act had Schedules dealing with them but this Bill has none. It is merely an enabling Bill. We have to swallow the Bill—not the anchor—and wait for rules which may or may not be made. Many of these materials are standard and have been unchanged since 1899. Why on earth should there not be tables of testing strengths included in a Schedule to the Bill where they could be referred to? All that we need do is to add new tables for new materials and new patterns of anchor as they arise. This could be done in a Schedule.

We could have Schedules dealing both with testing establishments and tensile strengths and these provisions could be removed or added to by affirmative or even negative Resolution of both Houses. This would give the Bill some material and still enable it to be changed without the burden of having to put new legislation through all stages whenever we wanted to make a change to the existing Measure. On testing establishments and on tensile strengths the Bill is defective.

Since 1899 several new types of vessel have been evolved. This Bill should bring them within its scope. The Bill refers to registered ships, but there are new types of vessel which are just as much ships, just as important and in their own ways just as established as registered ships, but this matter has been side-stepped. Here was a unique opportunity for bringing all these things under the same form of legislation.

I say this because those of us who have been in this House long enough have discovered that quite soon in one's Parliamentary career when something has not been put into a particular Bill during its passage through the House, when the matter is mentioned later there is a not very pleasant smugness shown by the Department concerned and the reply is, "This should have been brought up at the time when the Bill was before the House. You had your opportunity then. Why did you not propose that it should be in the Bill?" One needs to be more than a little tenacious in trying to get the right thing done when the opportunity occurs so that there will not be that type of Parliamentary brush-off later.

Mr. Webster

That is not quite so bad as what appears to be happening when we are reminded that two years ago we had an assurance from the Minister of State and now we appear to be getting a brush-off.

Dr. Bennett

I agree. This is a specific point which has arisen during the debate this morning. There were all the undertakings and judgments given which were quoted a great deal in debates on the Finance Bill last year when we discussed Customs legislation with reference to hovercraft. On that occasion two years ago Mr. Redhead said: I am advised that it is not free of legal doubt, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said. It has not been tested in the courts at any time, but the view taken by the Customs for the purpose about which I was concerned was that it … the hovercraft— is a ship. This is the basis upon which the duty relief provisions will be administered in that particular connection."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 19th May, 1965; c. 69.] That was the judgment of a Minister and the whole matter has been discussed again in the interminable debates late at night on the Finance Bill. To say that we should wait for special legislation is not only wrong but actually dangerous.

I frequently commute by hovercraft. The hovercraft is a very thriving industrial business and probably its most successful commercial application is the service which I use in crossing the Solent with great frequency. Are we to wait for special legislation knowing how slowly such legislation is produced in this House which is always preoccupied with idiotic Socialist dogmata? Can we afford to wait until after the hovercraft, which is known to break down sometimes, has had some trouble with its anchors or chain cables and may drift into the path of some other vessel? I saw one being towed up Portsmouth Harbour since the beginning of the Whitsun Recess. If there had not been plenty of boats about it would have had to anchor.

Is it right that passengers employing hovercraft should not know that they are not in any way under any assurance given by the Government that the conditions under which they would anchor in distress are not being supervised by the Government? This is a matter of great urgency which cannot wait for special legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, with his well-known passion, mentioned drilling rigs, which are an unorthodox type of craft. Surely they should not be outside the law simply because they are unorthodox. That seems a very strange doctrine. They carry anchors. I do not think they are anchors of 300,000 lb. because 300,000 lb. is a lot of tons, and I do not think many ships could float with anchors of that weight. I think my hon. Friend intended to say 30,000 lb.

Mr. Webster

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to put the record right. I put in an extra 0 because I was excited.

Dr. Bennett

It was another link in the long chain of 0s.

Another type of vessel mentioned in previous debates on this interesting subject which was not mentioned is a type which has probably not been built since the 1899 Act—the old chain ferry which goes on its painful course across various estuaries and harbours. There was one at Portsmouth which finally expired with a gasp and has now been scrapped. There is one asthmatically wheezing its way across the Itchen at Southampton and one which goes across the Medina at Cowes. There is one at Torpoint.

There is one in that dangerous estuary at Poole Harbour, where even the boom intended to keep the oil out or in was torn away by the strength of the tides. If a boom intended to keep the oil out or in can be torn away by the strength of the tides, it stands to reason that the floating bridge ferry that pulls itself across that estuary, across that very rapidly moving water—the ferry goes far faster sideways through the water than it goes lengthways along the chain, if the dimensions can be distinguished—is a conveyance in which a large number of people are entirely and wholly dependent upon the integrity of the chains which are used. Yet two years ago there was the most prolonged and fanatical opposition to their inclusion in that Bill.

It is not a frivolous matter to try to extend the application of the Bill to chain ferries. They are not registered ships. They could not go outside territorial waters. Nobody has made a chain long enough for that. But the passengers who use them should be entitled to the protection of the Government.

Therefore, all these things—hovercraft, drilling rigs, chain ferries—should be classified as ships, whether registered in one way or another. They are all registered in some appropriate manner. They should be classified as ships for this purpose, but they are not. The Bill merely enables. Therefore, in this sense again the Bill is defective.

Then there is the question of the lower limits of size. The 1899 Act made a lower limit for anchors which needed testing of 168 lb. I imagine that chains of comparable weight were also subject to such a lower limit. It was regarded as highly lunatic to go cruising around the coasts in vessels smaller than a fishing smack in the old days. Fishing smacks were pretty big. In fact, it is a well known old aphorism at sea that the man who goes to sea for pleasure would go to hell for a pastime. That is one of the oldest saws which have ever been said at sea. Nowadays people have entirely given that the lie. Nowadays, as the Minister of State acknowledged, there is a huge population at sea, in vessels using bower anchors of much less weight than are the minimum in the table, and often of new designs of anchor which require less weight and give the same holding power when embedded in the bottom of the sea.

The late Mr. Redhead gave a very hopeful reply to this point in the Committee proceedings on the previous Bill. He said this: Turning to Clause 1(1,e), this provides that the rules may exempt small anchors and chain cables, and also anchors and chain cables which have been manufactured or tested outside the United Kingdom. There again the 1899 Act applies only to anchors and chain cables exceeding 168 lb. in weight. At our previous meeting there was a sugges- tion that this figure should be amended to a lower figure, and I think 50 lb. was suggested. That was prompted by the view that with the vast increase in small craft and with the growing popularity of yachting around our coasts, it would be reasonable in the interests of safety to bring this limit down. I take that point. Whilst not committing myself on the particular figure, may I give an assurance that we shall be prepared to consider this point in formulating the rules."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C; 26th May, 1965; c. 67–8.] The present Minister seems to have abrogated his predecessor's statement on this matter, too. It is not just a question of bureaucratic interference with pleasure yachting. These are substantial vessels that cost far more per ton than any other form of shipping, I should be prepared to wager. They are valuable. They are insured. I should think that Lloyds would be very interested in this. These vessels carry anchors. They carry some form of cable. I would advise the House that, to have the maximum disposable ballast weight for racing, many large yachts of 20 tons or more leave their chain cable ashore and take a length of nylon warp instead.

In the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" in the previous proceedings—it was the only operative Clause—I mentioned the present Royal Yacht "Bloodhound", which some Members of the House have had an opportunity of sailing in. About 10 years ago when she was under other ownership, she was caught by a hurricane which got up from negligible strength to a wind of something like 100 or 120 m.p.h. She was entering the Solent coming in past the Nab. Then the wind got up. Even though she was a powerful ship of over 20 tons, fitting the 12-metre rules for scantlings, she was unable to get into the Solent. She was blown back out of it and ended up by having to drop anchor near the Owers Shoal. She dropped anchor there and sent up distress signals. The lifeboat came out and took off everybody on board, but was unable to take the vessel in tow because of the conditions. Those on board reckoned that they were lucky to escape with their lives.

They were taken ashore and they thought, "That is the end of the good old 'Bloodhound'." Not so. Next morning she was still bobbing serenely there off the Owers. They went off. They got aboard. They pulled up the gear. They found that the top fathom or so of the chain was so stretched by what she had been through that the chain was not flexible at all. It was like a metal rod, all the links being bitten into one another in a straight rod. When they finally got that lot; aboard, they found that the anchor to which she had been lying had had both arms sheered off. The flukes were gone. She was lying with just the crown of the anchor—that is the swelling on the end of the shank which unites the arms—wedged in a crevice in the rocks, and that was all that was holding her.

Nothing had given. If anything had given, that would have been the end of the ship. This is why I say that it is not safe to allow these big and substantial fine-looking yachts to go to sea with nothing more than a piece of even synthetic line as an anchor warp. Registered yachts of any substantial size should carry tested chain. It is no hardship to anybody. It is not a bureaucratic interference. They should be expected to do this. They would welcome being told to do so, because it would stop their competitors from getting away with something which was not quite safe. As the Bill does not include any such provision, in this sense, once again, it is defective.

While I am on this point of yachts, with which I have a certain acquaintance, may I say that the word "registered" is still unclear to me, because the great majority of yachts of any size are registered; but the registration is slightly different from that which is known in the merchant shipping world, where a yacht has a classification and where, as the Minister's predecessor was at great pains to tell us on previous occasions, the periodical Lloyds examinations of a vessel include the anchors and chain cables of a vessel. Therefore, the argument used was that new chains and cables needed to be tested and marked, but older or secondhand chains did not need to be tested and marked, because the Lloyds' surveyors would turn them down, if necessary, on their periodical examinations of the chain and anchor. But I remind the Minister, in case he does not already know, that if one looks through the pages of Lloyd's Register, approximately one yacht per page—perhaps I am pessimistic, and there may be two—has a Lloyds' classification. Yachts are: mostly registered yachts, registered with the Board of Trade, but they are not liable to Lloyds' periodical surveys. We need clarification on this matter. The Bill says nothing about it, and in that sense, too, it is defective.

In our debates two years ago, we on this side raised the question of moorings. In many harbours, ships lie to buoys. Neither the promoter of the Bill two years ago nor, if I remember aright, the Minister was au fait with this. I recall the Minister saying once, inadvertently, that ships tied up in harbour by using their anchor cables off the quay. This caused a certain amount of merriment among those of us who had had to handle anchors and cables. There was some doubt about whether ships ever lay to buoys at all, but, as anyone who knows about these things realises, oil ports, for example, increasingly put out large moorings for tankers now up to 120,000 tons which come to load or discharge their oil. The vessels lie off because there are submarine pipes which they can hoist to the surface and connect up in order to load or discharge cargo. Today, therefore, ships of all sizes, including the very largest, can be expected to lie to buoys.

What occurs in such circumstances? Generally, the ship uses one of its own anchor chains to make fast to the buoy. The anchor is taken off, and the chain is used and shackled direct to the buoy. Below the buoy there is the chain which never sees the light of day. It lies permanenalty between the buoy and the bottom of the sea. No one knows what that chain is. Certainly, the ship master does not, and he is supposed to be responsible under this Bill. He has no idea what goes on under the water. With a bigger ship, because of the heavy strains involved, the buoy is not used; it is hoisted clear and removed. The ship shackles straight on to the chain underneath the buoy, and there is therefore an uninterrupted length of chain from the ship to the bottom.

In these circumstances, whether the buoy is there or not, whether the ship is fast to the top of the buoy or the bottom of it, is immaterial in one sense because there is just this long length of chain cable running from the ship's hawse pipe down to the bottom. Under the Bill, the captain will be responsible for the proper standards of strength, testing and marking of the cable to which he is lying, down to the water-line. But below the water-line he is still responsible for his ship, though he does not know what is there.

I made this point strongly in the Standing Committee, as did many hon. and gallant and shell-backed Members. We insisted that moorings must be included in the provisions of such a Measure as this. The responsibility of the port authority is every bit as great, yet no such responsibility is accepted under the Bill. Therefore, the master of a ship riding out a storm on moorings has no idea what is holding his ship, and he has no assurance that Her Majesty's Government have any interest in the matter.

The Minister said earlier today that no one is compelled by this Bill to use tested and marked chain because that is all covered by regulations elsewhere. We went into this in the Standing Committee. I remember that the Government were at some disadvantage there because neither the promoter of the Bill nor dear Mr. Redhead knew one end of a ship from another, and no one could find out what were the regulations or legislative provisions under which the standards of moorings provided in ports were regulated. I do not know to this day what the standards are, and I have a deep suspicion that no such standards have been laid down. It is up to us on this occasion, now that we have the matter before us again, not to let the opportunity escape us but to get down to the job of ensuring that all chains used for the mooring of ships are subject to one standardised type of provision under a Measure of this kind. In this respect also, the Bill is defective.

With the utmost brevity, I have touched on a few respects in which the Bill is defective. There are half a dozen of them, but they are of radical importance. I regard this as an absurd Bill as drafted. I believe it to be objectionable in principle, as I have said, and to be defective in practice in many respects. We should strangle it, as we quite properly strangled the earlier Bill, or if, by some mischance, it should survive our opposition on Second Reading, it will be our business to cut it about ruthlessly in Committee. I urge the House to reject it.

12.26 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I apologise to the Minister for not being here to hear his opening speech. I had hoped to do so, but a deputation arrived to see me, and I was not able to come in time. If the questions which I wish to put to the hon. Gentleman were dealt with in his opening remarks, I can only apologise.

First, I take the question of the people competent to carry out these tests. Clause 1(1,c) provides for regulations to be made covering the supervision of such tests by surveyors of ships and by such other persons as the Board of Trade may authorise". This is a major departure from the 1899 Act, where it was clearly provided that there had to be a qualified inspector to do this work.

What worries me is that, although the shipbuilding regulations covering work done in shipyards on such matters, provide that a suitably qualified person should do the tests, the wording of the present Bill is extremely wide, covering any persons whom the Board of Trade may choose. This must be wrong.

My second question relates to the vessels to which the Bill is to apply. The 1899 Act specifically provided that it should not apply to Admiralty vessels and, presumably, to a wide range of work done in naval dockyards and elsewhere. There is nothing in the present Bill to indicate that it will not apply to Admiralty vessels. When the detailed regulations are made, it may be stated at that stage that it should not apply to Admiralty vessels, but the Government should tell us now whether they intend in such regulations to exclude Admiralty vessels, and they should also tell us why, if that is their intention.

Dr. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend recognise, as was recognised in our debates two years ago, that there are times when Admiralty vessels are disposed of to the civil market and may then be used for commercial purposes? Their anchors and chain cables may have been exempt under the Admiralty regulations, but they will not be in civil life.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend makes an important point, even more important now, perhaps, than it was when the previous Bill was discussed. In the past, the Admiralty vessels constructed in our yards were essentially vessels to be used for one purpose, but in the Clyde shipyards, where I worked for five years before coming to the House, Admiralty vessels of a far wider range of activities were built, for example, naval assault craft and supply vessels. I believe that a larger proportion of the vessels being built on Admiralty order can be used for such civil purposes. As my hon. Friend has rightly indicated, this point is even more relevant now than it was before.

My third question concerns methods of testing. When we were discussing with the Ministry the question of shipbuilding regulations, it was quite alarming to see how little progress had been made.

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

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.