HC Deb 10 July 1968 vol 768 cc532-68

3.51 p.m.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 7, at end insert: (b) to establish a Hovercraft Registration Board which shall be charged with the duty of securing the registration of hovercraft and of carrying out such of the obligations, terms and conditions contained in this section of this Act as the President of the Board of Trade may at any time determine. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) put forward an Amendment and a new Clause the effect of which would have been to give the Government power to set up by Statutory Instrument a Hovercraft Registration Board. The Amendment and the Clause were not acceptable to the Government, but the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary struck me as being clearly sympathetic to the principle behind the proposals. She said: … while I wish to make it clear that the Amendment and new Clause are unacceptable, I would be prepared to consider bringing forward on Report a considered reply relating to the principle rather than the actual wording of the Clause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Stand-ins Committee D, 18th June, 1968; c. 40.] On that assurance, my hon. Friend sought the leave of the Committee, which was granted, to withdraw his proposal. The Government have not seen fit to bring forward an Amendment to give effect to that common purpose, so it has fallen to this side of the House to do so. The hon. Lady did me the courtesy of writing to me to explain why she felt unable, on reflection, to bring forward her own Amendment, and I shall in a moment discuss her objections and endeavour to remove them from her mind.

I think that I should, first, explain as briefly as I can why it is necessary to take powers to set up a Hovercraft Registration Board. In considering the Amendment it is important for the House to be clear that this is an enabling Bill, that it is a strategic Bill. The guts of what follows from it will be in the Orders made from time to time as the President of the Board of Trade sees fit. What we are trying to do is to forecast the future as far as we can and to ensure that the structure of the Bill will accommodate that future, and, therefore, future Presidents of the Board of Trade will not find themselves having to deal with problems on which they want to take action and make Orders, but which have not been allowed for in this enabling Bill. This is our last opportunity to provide for that.

Why do I think it right to write these powers into the Bill? As my Amendment is; drafted, we are not suggesting that as soon as the Bill becomes an Act the President of the Board of Trade should go off and set up this Board. All we are doing is taking power so that if he wishes to do so in future, and deems it sensible, he has power to take that action.

The hovercraft is neither a ship nor an aircraft. It is a new method of propulsion in its own right, and this has been agreed throughout our discussion. It is the application of the air cushion principle, but, again as we have made clear, there can be many applications. During our discussions we have agreed that the Bill should be limited to the application of the air cushion principle to vehicles and not to other forms of equipment, so that is out of the way.

However, even with vehicles we see a widening range of applications opening up ahead of us. We have agreed that the Air Registration Board has done a good and clean job of work. We pay tribute to it, and particularly to the Hovercraft Requirements Committee of the A.R.B., but I think that the House will agree that the A.R.B. was given this job when the hovercraft first appeared on our national seascape on the basis of it being the most convenient instrument at hand to fulfil the regulatory purposes now embodied in the Bill. I believe that in the long term it is an unfair diversion of the A.R.B.'s activities to expect it to follow every future application of the air cushion principle, and that the case for a separate Hovercraft Registration Board becomes stronger.

If I interpret the hon. Lady's views correctly, I do not believe that there is anything between us on the principle of this issue. I think that we are broadly agreed that, as those who have followed the issue know, whereas the A.R.B. has been dealing with these problems, Lloyd's Register of Shipping has been making its claim to be involved in these problems. We went into this in some detail in Committee, and I shall not weary the House by going over Lloyd's claims again.

I acknowledge the recent efforts by the Board of Trade to bring the two bodies together to agree on joint action, to agree on joint standards, and so on, but I believe that to write into the Bill this purpose of there ultimately being a Hovercraft Registration Board will have a catalytic effect on the discussions which the hon. Lady's Department is sponsoring. I say that because, without being unfair either to Lloyd's or to the A.R.B., if there is no future intent to have a separate and independent Hovercraft Registration Board, almost inevitably, such is the nature of things, there will be a certain jostling for position to decide who controls what.

Lloyd's feels that it has been left out of the act. It is not for me to say whether that is so, but no doubt Lloyd's will endeavour to get its fair share of the problems and the responsibilities. I believe that it will assist co-operation between Lloyd's and the A.R.B. if we write into the Bill an Amendment along the lines I have proposed. We were agreed on Second Reading that in the future there would be a case for an independent Board such as we are proposing, and the issue therefore between us is whether it is right to set it up under the Bill. We are agreed strategically. What we now have to decide is the tactical issue.

In these matters of safety, for which the A.R.B. has been responsible in respect of air traffic, for which Lloyd's has been responsible in respect of ships, and for which I am suggesting this Board should be responsible in future in respect of hovercraft, one must draw a distinction between what is necessary at the design stage, and what is necessary at the operating stage.

4.0 p.m.

On the whole, it is rather easier to deal with operating standards than with design standards. One does not need to be so forward-thinking in dealing with safety regulations at the operating level. The problem of designing for safety at the beginning—at the experimental and drawing board levels—is of a different order. At least, it needs staff of a higher engineering calibre, and certainly of more imagination.

A recent publication of the A.R.B. puts the matter very clearly. It says: The A.R.B. has frequently emphasised that the hovercraft is a new type of vehicle, embodying both aircraft and marine concepts. It varies considerably from type to type, but all tend like aircraft to be sensitive as regards weight. This leads to their using light forms of structure, similar to those developed in aircraft manufacture, and often to highly-rated propulsion and lifting units. These features demand careful judgment if the economic balances between first cost, running cost and payload-speed performances are to be achieved in a way which suits the intended market. For this, the designer needs the freedom given by having the safety requirements stated as objectively as possible, with detailed interpretations presented as examples. The safety authority needs to be able to adapt itself quickly to new complex problems, and to work in close collaboration with constructors, operators and others directly concerned. The hon. Member for Barrow-in Furness (Mr. Booth) made a very fair point in Committee when he said that he doubted whether Lloyd's was flexible enough to fall into these credentials.

These are the credentials needed. There must be a working partnership between the regulatory authority on safety standards and the designers, otherwise the designers may waste a lot of time and energy only to find that they were not thinking along the same lines as were those ultimately responsible for laying down safety standards.

We can see the relevance of this when we consider the tracked hovercraft which is being developed under the auspices of the N.R.D.C. This lies outside the field of operations of the A.R.B. and Lloyd's, yet it is essential at an early stage to have a regulatory body charged with the responsibility for ultimately laying down safety standards for a tracked hovercraft, with which the N.R.D.C. engineers can work as soon as possible. That is essential, otherwise we are in grave danger of producing a tracked hovercraft which will come up to all the performance standards set down by the N.R.D.C. only for those ultimately charged with safety requirements to examine it and discover many features which are unacceptable to them.

With this, as in regard to every other form of construction, it is essential that safety standards should be written in at the design stage, which means, in human terms, that there must be a permanent working arrangement. The more the hon. Lady's Department reflects on this the more it will see that the need to set up a separate Hovercraft Registration Board will come earlier rather than later.

We must also consider the possible use of nuclear reactors in marine hovercraft. I have here a paper that I have received from the Atomic Energy Authority on this matter, which points out that although, at this moment, there is no nuclear reactor system that in terms of weight-payload would make sense—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not dealing with the question whether nuclear reactors may be used for hovercraft; we are debating whether there should be a separate Hovercraft Registration Board.

Mr. Price

Yes, Mr. Speaker. But I suggest that if this is a possibility—as this is an enabling Bill—it becomes all the more important to have a separate Board.

I suggest that the A.R.B. has no experience of nuclear-powered units, and that if such a development is a possibility—and it is unlikely that there will be legislation in this respect for some years—it is a consideration in support of writing into the Bill a power for the Government to set up an independent Hovercraft Registration Board. That is my reason for raising this point. I need not develop the theme that nuclear reactors are of a different order to current power units in hovercraft.

It is also an argument for setting up a statutory body. Some people say that we could set up a board which was not a statutory body, but in respect of the development of British nuclear reactors, the House has always found it necessary to charge Government Departments with the responsibility for regulating safety standards. Therefore, a private company like the: A.R.B. would be inappropriate.

The Minister will no doubt argue on the terms set out in her letter. She will probably say that she does not disagree with me in broad principle, but that it is not necessary to write this provision into the Bill. In her letter she gives a number of reasons which cannot be dismissed lightly and which I want to comment on. First, she points out that the aircraft industry did not require a statutory body when the A.R.B. was set up and that Lloyd's is a private, non-statutory body. I suggest that if we were considering setting up the A.R.B. today and not, as was the case, considering it in conditions pre-Second World War, I suspect that whoever were the Government would have made it a statutory body. The reason why it is not a statutory body is an historical one and to me that is not a persuasive reason for rejecting my proposal.

The hon. Lady also pointed out that under her Department's present thinking such a Board would be delegated only limited functions, and, therefore, she does not think that a statutory body is required. The Amendment goes a little wider and says that the Registration Board shall be charged with the duty of securing the registration of hovercraft and of carrying out such of the obligations, terms and conditions contained in this section of this Act as the President of the Board of Trade may at any time determine. I would see this Board not only dealing with matters of registration but, as the years go by, taking on a more executive responsibility from the President of the Board of Trade who of course would remain in overall charge. In other words, the Board would be his executive arm. I shall not attempt to suggest at what moment the right hon. Gentleman would feel that any of the responsibilities spelt out in the Bill could be delegated to the board.

The final reason why the hon. Lady does not wish to accept the Amendment is that a statutory body would necessarily be independent from the A.R.B. and Lloyd's Register. Of course it would. She says: A statutory body would necessarily be independent from the A.R.B. and Lloyd's Register and it would be expensive to set up the paraphernalia of an expert headquarters and outpost staff for such a small industry. It is doubtful whether the expense could be justified or borne by the industry. That is an argument, but I am not suggesting that it should be done now; indeed, I am not making it mandatory that it should ever be done. I am merely writing in a power for it to be done if it becomes necessary. I suggest that the Board would be a child of the A.R.B. It would flow out of the A.R.B., and we could well see some overlapping membership of the council of the Board and the A.R.B.

It is interesting that this very lunch-time the Chairman of the Air Registration Board, Lord Kings Norton, made a speech in which he said, in front of the hon. Lady's master, the President of the Board of Trade: if you decide in the long term there should be a Hovercraft Registration Board for dealing with hovercraft safety you may be sure of the help of my Board in devising an appropriate pattern for it, and bringing it into being. Since we discussed these matters in Committee, I have made inquiries outside, not least of which were of some of the regulatory bodies, and all that I have heard persuades me that it would be right to make the Amendment and to write in these powers.

Again, I emphasise that the powers are not mandatory but permissive, and that I am putting no time scale on it. I would have thought that this would be a convincing argument, even for the Government.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) has argued very persuasively for the establishment of a Hovercraft Registration Board, and, having served with him on the Committee, I am certain that he is motivated by the very best considerations of the hovercraft industry and those who will serve it. However, I would urge some caution against accepting too readily the idea of the Amendment.

I believe that, to establish an effective Board, we must first consider some of the details. We must clearly define one of two things—either what is a hovercraft for the purposes of such a Board or what are the Board's responsibilities. One might question whether the latter is possible without the former. I do not want to enter that argument, but merely insist that one would have to be done before an effective Board would be possible—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, does not Clause 4 define a hovercraft?

Mr. Booth

I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that Clause 4 defines a hovercraft, but I wish to argue that this definition is not sufficient—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot do that on this Amendment. He had his opportunity in Committee. Unless there is an Amendment to Clause 4 about the definition, he cannot go into the definition now.

Mr. Booth

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I take it to mean that, if I wish to argue against the Amendment, I must do it on the acceptance of the definition which is in the Bill.

That makes my case somewhat easier, because the definition of hovercraft in the Bill at the moment is wide, for a number of reasons, but so wide as to make it very difficult precisely to define the functions of a Registration Board, since one would have to assume that it would be responsible for all the hovercraft which could be covered by that definition.

The definition is so wide as to lead certain hon. Gentlemen opposite to say in Committee that it might also cover helicopters; on the same lines of argument, it might also cover a vertical takeoff aircraft. Therefore, we are now considering the establishment of a Hovercraft Registration Board against a very wide definition of hovercraft, so we must consider the problems which this, of itself, presents.

One of the problems, which we considered in Committee, was the question of the insurance of these vehicles. We considered them as vehicles. It would be unwise to establish any board for the registration of hovercraft unless it could have a function related to defining insurance requirements. We have two forms of vehicle insurance, either of which can be used to judge what is an appropriate form of insurance for hover- craft. There is the form used by aircraft and the other, that used by ships.

It would be beneficial, at least for a short time, I think, not to tie hovercraft insurance to the form used on ships, because our experience of Lloyd's and other agencies, such as Norsk Veritas and the American Bureau of Shipping, has led us to a situation in which a ship designer looks at the rules of the insurance bureau almost before the specification of the vessel which he is to build, which itself is very much circumscribed by the requirements of the Registration Board.

4.15 p.m.

On the other hand, other criteria apply to aircraft, which give the designer far greater latitude to make a vehicle which will meet a specific function. This is because one of the major factors in determining aircraft insurance is the operator's competence to maintain and organise the operation of the vehicle concerned. This, of course, with a hovercraft as much as with any other vehicle, must be a major factor in determining safety. The engines of a hovercraft are, at present, much more akin to aircraft engines than to marine engines and, therefore, many of the criteria applying to aircraft insurance, in so far as the aircraft is dependent on its engines for safety, can reasonably be applied to the hovercraft.

However, this is not to say that this will always be so. In a few years, the lines of development may become much clearer and there might be types of hovercraft which are so clearly definable as different from ships and aircraft as we now know them that we could have a Board which could deal properly with the specific problems which they raise. But, in the meantime, I am still afraid that the freedom of the designer could be severely circumscribed by setting up such a Board, which would almost automatically address itself to specific insurance requirements for the vehicle concerned.

There is as yet no proof that the dividing line between the hovercraft and the aeroplane and between the hovercraft and the ship will become any clearer in the immediate future. There may well be a period during which the different definition lines are even more blurred before the clear lines of demarcation emerge.

One can, for example, imagine that, with the development of the hydrofoil, the plane vessel, we may have exactly the same or very similar types of navigational problems as we have at present with hovercraft. Therefore, there may be some argument regarding the advisability, for registration, of tying hovercraft, if we moved towards a Registration Board, to the navigational rules of the ship.

On the other hand, one can see the possibilities of a further blurring of the line between the hovercraft and the aircraft through various forms of assisted take-off which are at present being considered in the design stage. I may be over-sensitive about this—

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

I was not on the Committee, but I am interested in the hon. Member's point. Can he help me by telling me whether he considers that, under Clause 4, the definition of a hovercraft would include a hydrofoil plane?

Mr. Booth

In my opinion, it would not include the hydrofoils at present being used, partly because they are supported by water on their planing surface rather than by air. On the other hand, I can see the possibility of one wishing to conserve a considerable amount of the power or energy used for the propulsion as opposed to the lift in future, this being one of the principles of hydrofoils, and of someone combining the principles of hydrofoil and hovercraft.

There is no theoretical barrier to having a vehicle which, in favourable conditions, can operate as a hydrofoil and in certain other conditions can operate as a hovercraft, and I do not wish to set up any machinery which would hinder that development, for it could be a useful line to explore.

I represent a constituency which is faced with problems of inland communications. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, having been to my constituency, knows some of its communications problems and appreciates my wishful thinking along the lines that I might be able to take a quick trip across Morecambe Bay in a hovercraft. That might enable me to reach the House much more quickly. But if we are to operate such a vehicle in such conditions, we must be prepared to think in terms of very flexible vehicles. One such example of the need to be flexible concerns the possibility of our having vehicles which are truly amphibious, capable of operating on roads—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Member is going into too much detail about these craft and about the competing claims of different craft rather than debating the general principle of the Amendment concerning a Registration Board.

Mr. Booth

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will give no further examples. I hope that those which I have given will suffice.

I see two major functions for a Hovercraft Registration Board. One is the establishment and maintenance of safety standards. With that must be coupled the ability to define the responsibility to the public in respect of those standards of those who design and operate hovercraft. I am convinced that we have not yet reached the stage at which we can set up the definition of standards and the requirements of design or operation. While I hope that Clause 1(1)(a) will give the Minister sufficient power to bring in the kind of registration which is necessary to encourage any desirable development, I hope that we shall do nothing by setting up machinery which could restrict development at this juncture.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I hope that the Minister will not reject these powers which, as has been emphasised, she need never use. We are in very early days with the hovercraft and it is a little difficult to see the lines along which we shall develop, but I am certain that sooner or later we shall need a Hovercraft Board.

It will probably be a long time before another Hovercraft Bill is brought before the House. Why not, therefore, take the powers? If the present Minister does not want to use them, possibly one of her successors will want to do so. In Committee, when justifying her refusal to have a separate Board, she prayed in aid the various powers which she could use under various Statutes to help to regulate hovercraft. That may be very convenient for the Board of Trade, but it is very confusing for those who wish to use these vehicles.

The hon. Lady mentioned a series of Acts—the National Insurance Act, 1965; the Post Office Act, 1953; the Companies Act 1967; the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894; and the Civil Aviation Act, 1949. That is somewhat of a hotch-potch, and people who are starting in a new industry already have a lot to think about without having to look up Acts which were put on the Statute Book 70 years ago. Sooner or later, it will be necessary to deal with this matter separately.

The Government's approach to the new development, as is so often the case, has been to use the powers which they already have. It is very disappointing that hovercraft are put under British Railways and that we have the British Rail Hovercraft Limited. That is a little inhibiting of the development of a new service, although I am sure that Commander Brindle is doing a very good job in the circumstances.

In the same way, the Minister is seeking to take refuge, on the one hand, in the comparison with shipping and, on the other, in the comparison with air. Although this is quite a separate type of vehicle, in construction it is rather like an aircraft in that it is likely to require a fairly light construction with a smaller amount of metal for safety than would be expected in a ship. Yet, as we see it at the moment, in operation it is more like a ship at sea than it is like an aircraft. It is difficult to see what it will be like when it operates on land.

In the information which we have been given, we are told that there is already in existence a Hovercraft Design and Construction Committee under Admiral Sir Matthew Slatterly. That recognises that there are special problems for hovercraft which do not altogether fit the analogy of an aircraft or of a ship. The Minister could do no harm by accepting the idea of a separate body for hovercraft, even if she did not set it up immediately. It would be far better for her to put the provisions into the Bill than for a future Government to have to bring forward a separate Bill to take these powers.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

May I emphasise a point in relation to what happened in the House earlier today on the Race Relations Bill, when the atmosphere was very different from the present atmosphere.

One of the arguments which arose time and time again on that Bill was that it would not be possible to bring forward amending legislation for three years, or even five years. If that is true of a very important and highly explosive subject such as race relations, is it not inconceivable that the Parliamentary Secretary will be unlikely to get the time of the House again during the present five-year tenure of office to deal with hovercraft, except for regulations? If and when another Government come into office, they will be so concerned with various other matters that it is unlikely that time will be found to legislate about hover-Craft.

I therefore underline the essentially permissive nature of what we are asking the hon. Lady and the Ministry to do. They are not obliged to set up this Board immediately, although I shall advance reasons why they should do so. Indeed, they would not be obliged ever to set it up. They could not be forced to do so, although obviously it would assist in laying down guide lines along which various parties could pursue their part of the negotiations. That was why my hon. Friends and myself, and other hon. Members, moved in Committee a proposal, in a slightly different form from the new Clause, for the establishment of a Hovercraft Registration Board.

As I understand, the Minister is not necessarily opposed to having a Hovercraft Registration Committee. The argument appears to be whether it is necessary at the moment to have a statutory Board. I will summarise reasons why I believe that a statutory Board is necessary and why it should be an independent body for hovercraft. First, there are two quite separate elements in the enabling Bill. One concerns construction and design. That is one element. Not only the manufacturers and designers but, more particularly, those concerned with the Aircraft Registration Board recognise that such a statutory body would be of immense importance in giving guidance and assistance.

4.30 p.m.

The second part of this enabling Measure is concerned with operational safety and control; that is, the day to day management of the operations of hovercraft. Other countries have hitherto decided, rightly or wrongly, that this is primarily a marine question. In that event, it is a question first and foremost for the marine department of the Board of Trade, and then for Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the engineers and agents of which are of great value throughout the world.

Having said that, it should be made clear that these people are not exclusive in this matter, since there will shortly be people like Hoverlloyd, in my constituency, becoming the first major operators in the physical operation of hovercraft. Hoverlloyd and those who are concerned in the operations of hovercraft are, of course, concerned with construction and production—nothing to do with A.R.B. or Lloyd's—and they, too, would like to see a Hovercraft Registration Board. They have expressed this opinion. At recent inter-Ministerial committee meetings some business men have been forthright, while others have not, in making it plain what they would like to see established in this sphere.

I emphasise that not only the Aircraft Registration Board would be happy to see the establishment of a Hovercraft Registration Board, but that so would the future main operators and those concerned in the construction side of the industry. Nor do I believe that Lloyd's and similar people would take great objection to such a board's establishment.

I believe that such a statutory body would achieve four factors. First, it would have independent and separate status. This is a new industry and such a status would make the board feel worthwhile. While it may be said that this is not all that important, I believe that it is because it would mean the establishment of an independent body, the first of its kind in the world, for this major new industry in which Britain at present holds the lead. The mere setting up of a wholly independent statutory body such as this would carry considerable prestige.

Secondly, there must be a regulatory body which is broad-based and, if it is to be effective, it must be regulatory to cover the design and construction as well as the safety and operational require- ments. Drawing from my experience of the Factories Acts, with which I used to have a great deal to do, I suggest that, for example, the old 1937 Act covers all the safety requirements with which a Ministry can deal perfectly well—for example, the Ministry of Labour in its sphere and other Ministries in other directions—and then there are the courts to carry out the after-effects which arise. When one is dealing with design in co-operation with the expertise of the Ministry of Technology in this matter, one must consider to what extent that affects the regulatory power. Where this power is as wide as it may be in this case, I believe that the whole issue should become the subject of a statutory board which would be responsible and able to give and take advice in all directions.

Thirdly, it would obviate the natural competitive conflict which exists at present. This is a proper conflict. It is the competition of ambition between A.R.B. on the one side—I described it in Committee as one of the competitors for the lady's attention—and Lloyd's Register of Shipping on the other. The Ministry comes into it as well from the point of view of control over the industry.

I believe that the majority of people take the view that it is better, where there are conflicting interests of this kind, to resolve these differences by having a separate board which comprises all the interests concerned on a fair balance. The balance will, of course, be held by the President of the Board of Trade, who will naturally be ultimately responsible for nominating the chairmanship and having control of such a statutory board.

Fourthly, because we are dealing with a wholly new animal—an air-cushion vehicle whose extent and range we do not yet even know—we have found it difficult to decide what should be in the Bill. One need only consider, for example, the agricultural aspect. The hovercraft will probably become the greatest vehicle the world over for the spraying of crops. We find the hover-train in development. Consider the extent of the export trade which may develop in the various types and classes of hovercraft.

Because this is a totally new form of transport communication, because it will change our whole concept of mechanical handling—for example, the Ministry and others will be able to carry by hovercraft abnormal loads of a new kind; these loads will probably not be able to be carried in any other way—and because we must envisage a saving in costs and burdens placed on our roads through these new devices, we should recognise at this stage that we are dealing with something that is more important than the railways, more important than our road programme, and that this is an entirely new sphere of comunication. We should not at this stage limit the Minister by forbidding him to hold the power to set up such a board.

We must be a litle humble about all this. This is not like discussing race relations, where one may hold an absolute view—as I do; I expressed definite views in the early hours of the morning about an Englishman's home being his castle. On the question of hovercraft, I do not wish to express any view which claims to have any master knowledge of the subject. My hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt), who has considerable knowledge of the operation and working of hovercraft in their present form, would agree with this. It is for this reason that the Government should have the ability to establish the sort of Board we have in mind, particularly since this enabling Bill is extraordinarily wide.

I would very much regret it if the Government did not take the powers which we are inviting them to take. This would be better than waiting until my hon. Friends are returned to power, when we will then be faced with the unenviable task of trying to find time to arrange for the establishment of the necessary statutory board. I feel sure that the Minister will want to set up such a body, particularly remembering the wide range of advice and assistance that will be necessary to govern the use of hovercraft.

Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)

I hesitate to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) because I agree so thoroughly with all that he said except for one thing. I must point out that the first major operators will not be Hoverlloyd, in his constituency, because al- ready Hovertravel, in the Isle of Wight, is now in its third summer of regular scheduled operation.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I should have said "cross-Channel".

Mr. Woodnutt

I concede that to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friends have expertly advanced arguments which should convince the Minister of the correctness of her accepting the Amendment. I refer once more to the opening lines of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum: This Bill recognises that the hovercraft is a vehicle of a new kind which is neither a ship nor an aircraft; and accordingly the Bill makes new provision for regulating hovercraft … That being so, it seems to be within the spirit of the express intention of the Bill that the Minister should have power to set up a Hovercraft Registration Board, so recognising that this revolutionary method of transport is neither ship nor aeroplane. The Amendment provides an opportunity for the Minister to widen the powers in the Bill, and to improve it. We agree that the powers should be very wide, as this is an enabling Measure and we do not know for what we will be legislating in the future.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who has very closely followed the proceedings on the Bill and has made some very worthwhile contributions to our Committee debates, just now advised the House to exercise caution in accepting this Amendment. In support of his argument he explained how difficult it was for insurance purpose, and all sorts of other purposes, to decide whether it was more appropriate to go to the Air Registration Board or to Lloyd's Register. His argument in favour of caution supported the very intention of the Amendment of giving the Minister power to set up a separate Hovercraft Registration Board.

I remind the Minister that our intention is not that the setting up of such a Board should be mandatory, but that it should be permissible for the President of the Board of Trade to set it up when he considers that it would be useful. I would go even further, and say that, at the moment, with this very young industry it would be far better just to leave things as they are under the control of the Board of Trade, but that for an industry which I know from personal experience, having watched it from its very conception in the Isle of Wight, has an enormous potential that none of us can at present properly envisage, there will be a need for a separate Registration Board. As my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet has explained, there will not be time in this Government's lifetime—which I hope will be very short—to introduce further legislation, and a new Government will be so involved in putting the present mess in order they will not have time to deal with minor matters like hovercraft.

4.45 p.m.

I have consulted operators and manufacturers, and find conflict of view. The manufacturers would prefer to see a separate board but, if it is not set up, would rather be with the Air Registration Board than with Lloyd's. On the other hand, the operators would also prefer to see a separate Board set up but, if it is not established, they would prefer to be with Lloyd's. I suppose the trouble is that in its construction a hovercraft is more like an aircraft and in its operation—definitely in the sea environment in which it at present operates—it is more like a ship. One would therefore expect a difference of opinion between the manufacturers and the operators.

There is even a difference of opinion among operators themselves. Hover-travel, the private enterprise company which was first in this field, has qualified aircraft pilots to drive the vehicles, but Seaspeed, which also operates in the Isle of Wight, and in a British Railways setup, has employed master mariners. With this conflict and doubt and indecision about whether this vehicle is more like a ship or more like an aircraft, let us accept the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which clearly states that it is neither.

In those circumstances, I am sure that the Minister would be wise to take powers to set up a separate Hovercraft Registration Board which, when set up, could draw on personnel from the Air Registration Board and from Lloyd's Register, from the manufacturers and from the operators. We could then concentrate all the best brains available on this new method of transport.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

I have been convinced this afternoon quite forcibly of the Tightness of the position of the Board of Trade. Having listened to the useful and interesting arguments advanced from both sides of the House, it seems to me that what we have had rehearsed is the very difficulty we found throughout the whole Committee stage—that we have here, to quote the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) "a wholly new animal."

Many hon. Members have made their point because of the very newness of the hovercraft, but it is because of the very newness of the hovercraft that we want a Bill that will make it possible for the industry to develop. In other words, we are very anxious not to do anything that will restrict the development of what will obviously be a highly important and very vital part of our economy in the future.

The Amendment would give us power to establish a Hovercraft Registration Board with responsibility for the registration of hovercraft and any such matters as the President of the Board of Trade might determine. I believe that I can claim to be a very interesting woman, because on this matter I have an open mind. We had a very full discussion in Committee and I was very taken by the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), when he said forcibly that we should beware of doing anything that would make it more difficult for the designer. That, to me, is the answer to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), when he seemed to me to be almost inferring that we should, at this juncture, try to bring in some form of control at the design stage.

Many hon. Members have made the point that we have the Air Registration Board which has its own very particular interests and we also have Lloyd's Register with not only its insurance interests but general marine interests. I pointed out to the hon. Member for Eastleigh, in the letter to which he referred that, for various reasons, we are not in disagreement with him when we say that we envisage a time when it might be necessary to delegate certain functions to a separate Hovercraft Board. This can be done under Clause 1(3)(c).

The possibility of some association between the Air Registration Board and Lloyd's Register of Shipping on such a Board has been under discussion and Ministers' minds remain open on the subject. The hon. Member referred to the fact that meetings have taken place. The House will be interested to know that they are still taking place because, for obvious reasons, there are many sections of the industry which want to express their views on this new field of operation.

It is not considered necessary by Her Majesty's Government to take powers under the Bill to set up a Board as a statutory body since there would be no difficulty in setting it up as a company. The hon. Member for Eastleigh found this argument singularly unconvincing because, he said, had we been faced with the problem of setting up the Air Registration Board now we might have done it in a different way. I accept that this is a possibility, but we can see no advantage in setting up a statutory board when a company should be able to do the job just as well.

There are these additional reasons why we do not think we need to take powers to set up a statutory board. The aircraft industry has not required a statutory body for certification and there seems no good reason why the much smaller hovercraft industry should have a statutory body. Both the Air Registration Board and Lloyd's Register of Shipping are private non-statutory bodies. Secondly, it is proposed only to delegate certain functions, which would hardly warrant a statutory body. A statutory body would necessarily be independent from the Air Registration Board and Lloyd's Register and it would be expensive to set up the framework of an expert headquarters and outpost staff for such a comparatively small industry. It is doubtful whether the expense would be justified or borne by the industry.

I have listened with care to the remarks made by hon. Members opposite, but it has been said to me by people in the industry that they are anxious that the Government should not restrict their developments in future. I believe that, in principle, we are agreed on the way we think the hovercraft industry will probably need a Hovercraft Board at some point in the future. Where we are not agreed is on the need to take powers to create a statutory board. We have the powers which we think are necessary to set up the sort of Board which we envisage might be necessary in future.

I hope that the hon. Member will accept that after very wide discussion in Committee it is not that we are lightly dismissing the arguments put forward, but that rather, given the newness of the industry and the future pattern of development, we think it not necessary to write these powers into the Bill and that it might defeat the very object which hon. Members opposite are seeking to achieve. I therefore hope that the House will reject the Amendment.

Mr. David Price

It is interesting that we have reached the point on which we have agreed on the probable pattern of the future and agreed also that a board something on these lines may be necessary. The curious thing is that we are disagreeing on what from this side of the House is a departure from the normal form. We are suggesting a statutory board while the Government, also out of normal order of things, are rejecting the idea of a statutory board and saying that this can be done under the Companies Act. It seems a curious reversal of the normal habits of the two sides of the House.

This is the only outstanding point. I am not persuaded that it is not right at this stage to write into the Bill power to make this a statutory body. If the hon. Lady is right and it emerges that it can be done more modestly under the Companies Act, she does not need to bring the Amendment into play. All this is permissive, but, for the reasons I have suggested, and many more which I could adduce, as time emerges I am sure the Department will feel that it would be preferable to make this a statutory body.

To make this clear, I think that it would probably be better if we just had a wee vote on it.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 190.

Division No. 275.] AYES [4.55 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Glover, Sir Douglas Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Goodhew, Victor Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Gower, Raymond Osborn, John (Hallam)
Bell, Ronald Gresham Cooke, R. Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Gurden, Harold Peel, John
Bessell, Peter Hall, John (Wycombe) Peyton, John
Bitten, John Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pym, Francis
Black, Sir Cyril Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Blaker, Peter Harvie Anderson, Miss Rees-Davies, W. R.
Boardman, Tom (Loicester, S.W.) Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Body, Richard Hill, J. E. B. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Hirst, Geoffrey Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Braine, Bernard Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Ridsdale, Julian
Brewis, John Holland, Philip Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hordern, Peter Scott, Nicholas
Bromley-Davenport. Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Hornby, Richard Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Howell, David (Guildford) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hutchison, Michael Clark Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Bullus, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Summers, Sir Spencer
Cary, Sir Robert Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Tapsell, Peter
Channon, H. P. G. Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Chichester-Clark, R. Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Clegg, Walter Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kaberry, Sir Donald Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Cordle, John Kershaw, Anthony Tilney, John
Corfield, F. V. Kimball, Marcus Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Kirk, Peter van straubenzee, W. R.
Crouch, David Knight, Mrs. Jill Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Dance, James Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ward, Dame Irene
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Lane, David Weatherill, Bernard
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Eden, Sir John Lubbock, Eric Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) MacArthur, Ian Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Elliott, R. W (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne. N.) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Emery, Peter McMaster, Stanley Woodnutt, Mark
Eyre, Reginald Maude, Angus Younger, Hn. George
Fisher, Nigel Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. s. L. C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fortescue, Tim Monro, Hector Mr. Anthony Grant and
Foster, Sir John More, Jasper Mr. Timothy Kitson.
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Abse, Leo Concannon, J. D. Ford, Ben
Albu, Austen Conlan, Bernard Forrester, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Cullen, Mrs. Alice Fowler, Gerry
Alldritt, Walter Dalyell, Tam Freeson, Reginald
Anderson, Donald Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stratford) Galpern, Sir Myer
Archer, Peter Davies, Harold (Leek) Ginsburg, David
Armstrong, Ernest Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Gourlay, Harry
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Delargy, Hugh Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Dempsey, James Gregory, Arnold
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dewar Donald Grey, Charles (Durham)
Barnes, Michael Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Barnett, Joel Dickens, James Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Beaney, Alan Dobson, Ray Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)
Binns, John Doig, Peter Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Blackburn, F. Dunwoody, Mr. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hamling, William
Booth, Albert Eadie, Alex Hannan, William
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Edwards, William (Merioneth) Harper, Joseph
Bradley, Tom Ellis, John Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy English, Michael Haseldine, Norman
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Ennals, David Hazell, Bert
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Ensor, David Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Faulds, Andrew Hooley, Frank
Buchan, Norman Fernyhough, E. Horner, John
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Cant, R. B. Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Chapman, Donald Foley, Maurice Hoy, James
Coe, Denis Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Miller, Dr. M. S. Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)
Hunter, Adam Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Hynd, John Moyle, Roland Silverman, Julius
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Neal, Harold Slater, Joseph
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Newens, Stan Small, William
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.) Spriggs, Leslie
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Oakes, Gordon Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ogden, Eric Strauss, Rt. Hn. C. R.
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) O'Malley, Brian Taverne, Dick
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Oram, Albert E. Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Judd, Frank Orbach, Maurice Thornton, Ernest
Kelley, Richard Orme, Stanley Tuck, Raphael
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Paget, R. T. Urwin, T. W.
Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Palmer, Arthur Varley, Eric G.
Lawson, George Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Wainwright, Edwin (Deame Valley)
Leadbitter, Ted Park, Trevor Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ledger, Ron Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Wallace, George
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Pavitt, Laurence Watkins, David (Consett)
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Whitaker, Ben
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Pentland, Norman White, Mrs. Eirene
Lomas, Kenneth Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Whitlock, William
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Wilkins, W. A.
McCann, John Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
McGuire, Michael Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Mackintosh, John P. Randall, Harry Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Maclennan, Robert Rankin, John Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Rhodes, Geoffrey Willis, Rt. Hn. George
McNamara, J. Kevin Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Robertson, John (Paisley) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Robinson. Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as) woof, Robert
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow, E)
Marquand, David Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Ross, Rt. Hn. William Mr. Neil McBride and
Maxwell, Robert Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Mr. Ernest G. Perry.
Millan, Bruce Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Mr. Woodnutt

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 3, at end insert: (h) for encouraging the recreational use of hovercraft. We have stressed, on Second Reading and in Committee, the importance of the recreational use of hovercraft and the fact that a growing band of amateurs are indulging in this pursuit. The Amendments which we have tabled have made it clear that we are very concerned to ensure that the Orders which the Government will produce do not restrict amateur users of hovercraft. We had in mind that the safety regulations should not be too stringent. Obviously, the regulations which apply to the S.R.N.4 which is to cross the Channel will be different from those applying to a little two-seater hovercraft which is used to give exhibitions at agricultural shows.

We were concerned lest the regulations about the qualifications of pilots should be too severe and that the restrictions and fees might be too high, thus discouraging amateurs from taking part in this sport. We are satisfied with the assurances that we have received that it is not the Government's intention to do anything to restrict this activity in the amateur field.

We now want to go further and give the Minister specific power to introduce an Order actively to encourage the recreational use of hovercraft. We have not anything specific in mind. We were thinking of the time before the war, when help was given by the Government to flying clubs. It may be necessary to make regulations about the use of land or to ease restrictions to make it easier for these people to take part in this pursuit.

I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment, because I cannot stress too highly the threefold importance of this activity for amateurs. First, it is a very healthy pursuit and enjoyable sport. Secondly, a new light industry is being created. Many companies now build small hovercraft and do-it-yourself kits. People are buying them. It is developing as an export industry. We must encourage it as an amateur sport to encourage this new light industry. Thirdly, enthusiastic amateurs taking part in this sport, many of them building their own craft—they tinker around and think of new ideas—produce developments which are helpful to the professionals.

Not only must the Government not do anything in Orders in Council to restrict the amateur sport. The Government should take these powers to enable the President of the Board of Trade at any time to make an Order actively to encourage the hovercraft sport as a recreational activity.

Mr. Rees-Davies

As my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) said, in this Amendment we are taking matters a little further than we did in Committee. We emphasised then the great need not to restrict these developments, and the hon. Lady said, as she did in an earlier speech today, that the Government regard it as important not to put undue or severe restrictions upon them. The present Amendment is, so to speak, the converse proposition.

In pre-war days and immediately after the war, little was done positively to encourage useful sport. I remember from before the war, when I was a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron, that little or nothing was done—apart from the squadrons which were intended more to train the type of person who might ultimately join the Air Force—to assist the flying clubs themselves. The flying clubs have done badly. Gliding clubs are not doing too badly nowadays, but little was done by the Government in the past.

Now, however, after 25 years, the Government have changed a lot. We have a "Minister for Sport". True, he has no executive powers yet, but he has certain functions. There is a much better approach in education towards assisting swimming pools and other sporting facilities. We have the National Association of Youth Clubs and other such organisations. We ought to write into the Bill something which could be of benefit to a recreation which is not only great fun but very good for encouraging our youth. The development of hover clubs, or mini-hover clubs, is excellent. Many of their members make their own craft, often the small mini-hover made out of kits of parts prepared by manufacturers.

As the President of the Board of Trade is here, I remind him of the vast potential export trade which we can do if we actively encourage this new sport. There is now a Hover Club of Great Britain, of which I am proud to be one of the newest members. I hope to be able to have a mini-hover of my own one day. It would be exciting at certain times to move along at Broadstairs in competition with a somewhat better known Member of the House while he was pursuing his sailing activities. Many hover club rallies already take place in various parts of the country at which both young people and grown-ups get together to see what can be done to turn this into a valuable new amateur sport.

There is the other side to the problem. If our Amendment were written into the Bill, it would mean that someone within the Ministry would say, "Good gracious. We had better get in touch with the Ministry of Education and see what we can do to encourage hovercraft". A positive duty would be imposed, but I believe that it would be a duty welcomed by those concerned in the Ministry rather in the way that the Treasury welcomes its duties in connection with museums. It is something a little out of the ordinary. There would also be the person responsible for seeing that there was direct liaison with manufacturers of this type of craft, ensuring that they got in touch with the Board of Trade in order to assist in making contacts overseas for the furtherance of exports.

As I say, the Amendment can be supported on two grounds. It would be right, I am sure, to accept it so that the recreational use of hovercraft may be encouraged and, second, in order that the development of small hovercraft may proceed without restriction, to the benefit of amateurs in this country.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. David Price

May I correct my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) on one point? This Amendment, like the other provisions in Clause 1, is permissive, not mandatory. At one point, he just got it wrong when he suggested that it would impose a positive duty. The effect would be to impose a duty only in the permissive sense.

As my hon. Friend said, there are two aspects to our proposal. One relates to the question of regulating mini-hovers. I agree entirely with all that has been said about our not wishing unduly to restrict these developments. We hope that the relationship developing between the Air Registration Board and the Hover Club of Great Britain will continue and grow and that people wishing to indulge in this sport will form clubs which are themselves affiliated to the Hover Club of Great Britain, so that the sport itself will be largely self-regulated. One must look somewhere along the line at how far people should endanger themselves in playing around with these vehicles, but I do not believe that the danger is very great.

The second limb of our proposal is our wish to give the Government power, if they wish, to include hovering as a recreation to be given assistance in their general assistance to sport. I put this thought to the President of the Board of Trade. Hover clubs provide a happy combination of exercise out of doors, on the one hand, and applied technology, on the other. I am sure that he agrees that one of the problems in trying to encourage more young people to go into engineering is that of bringing some excitement and glamour into it. This came out clearly in Professor Dainton's massive study of the whole question. Here is one aspect of it. Were we, with little public expense, to put some glamour into an activity which is both recreational and one which gives people an interest in applied technology, that would be a most happy juxtaposition of two highly desirable national endeavours.

I do not for a moment suggest, particularly at this time of pressure on public expenditure, that we should at once say that £X thousand should be given. Quite the contrary. But, as this is an enabling Bill, it would be right to adopt our proposition. I am sure that the Government are with us on it. It is purely permissive so that, at some time in the future, a President of the Board of Trade, in conjunction with Ministers responsible for sport and education, may be glad to find that, at this Report stage, we had decided to write these powers into the Bill.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that, in general, I am all for encouraging sports, but I have been fascinated by the way in which hon. Members opposite, perhaps as a result of a slightly traumatic night, seem to be feeling very permissive today and anxious to give me all sorts of things. [Laughter.] I knew that I should be misunderstood. Obviously, hon. Members opposite are not as tired as I thought they were.

The Amendment arises from the eloquent plea made in Committee by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt). I said then, and I think he accepts, that the Government are much in sympathy with the view which he advanced. We consider that the development of the mini-hover, as it has been christened, is very interesting and one which we do not wish to restrict in any way. I repeat the assurance which I then gave, that we do not think that there is any need to burden small hovercraft with excessive controls, and I think that that covers one of the points which he made.

It is, in general, our policy to encourage the owners of small hovercraft to join the Hover Club of Great Britain, which lays down certain requirements for such craft, with the assistance of the Air Registration Board. But we consider it inappropriate to make provision for encouraging the recreational use of hovercraft in this Bill, the main purpose of which is to make provision for the regulation of hovercraft.

The Government have given an assurance that, when regulations for hovercraft are made under the Bill, small recreational hovercraft will not be subject to excessive controls, and we shall give every encouragement and assistance we can to the Hover Club of Great Britain, especially in the way of advice on safety matters. But to include a reference to the encouragement of this particular section of the hovercraft industry would be out of place. It is the Government's policy to continue to encourage all sections of the hovercraft industry. I hope that the discussion which we have had today will draw the attention of many young people to the use of hovercraft as an exciting, lively and active means of recreation and that there will be a development of clubs along these lines. We do not, however, feel that this is an appropriate Amendment to make to the Bill at this time.

Mr. Woodnntt

I accept the hon. Lady's assurance. Though she has made references to our apparent permissiveness during the night and now, she shows no more signs than she did in Committee of being permissive, and it is a little disappointing that all our efforts to improve the Bill have been thwarted. Nevertheless, we accept that the Government will do their best to meet the wishes we have expressed when they prepare the orders, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read. [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

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

5.20 p.m.

Mr. David Price

Before we say "goodbye" to the Bill I should like to put four questions to the hon. Lady.

First, how soon does she expect to be in a position to bring forward the first set of Orders under the Bill? Should I be right to assume that they will be directed towards some of the existing marine hovercraft, particularly the S.R.N.6 and S.R.N.4?

Second, could she give me an assurance on a matter which I have raised on a number of occasions, that is, the need for somebody—presumably it will now be the Air Registration Board though I am not clear on this—which will be available for discussions with the engineers of the N.R.D.C. working on the tracked hovercraft? This brings us back to the point that the best place to make provision for safety is at the design stage. The engineers want somebody with whom they can discuss these matters.

Third, should I be right in thinking that the Ministry of Transport will be the appropriate body for designers in the road vehicle category to consult when it comes to the application of the air cushion principle to road vehicles?

Fourth, may I ask her for an assurance that in any Order she makes she will ensure compatibility of British standards with standards and regulations likely to be imposed in the major countries of the world, above all those to which we look as a market for the export of our hovercraft?

I am sure that the hon. Lady can assure me, but she has not yet done so, that she understands the important dis- tinctions between the establishment of safety standards at the design stage and their establishment in operation, and that this may mean that in making orders under the Bill she may have to have a slightly different approach at these two levels.

I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will have no difficulty in answering those questions. I hope that the Bill will lead to satisfactory Orders being made, the object of which is to meet the old problem of providing reasonable safety while not so debilitating forward development and being so over-cautious that progress is entirely frustrated.

5,23 p.m.

Mr. Woodnutt

Could the hon. Lady undertake that before draft Orders are placed before the House there will be full consultation between the Board of Trade, the operators, the manufacturers and the harbour boards? The Harbour Commissioners pointed out to me last weekend that with hovercraft going in and out of their harbours so often, it will be necessary for them to be consulted on any regulations affecting hovercraft and harbours before draft Orders are prepared.

As I have already said on Second Reading and in Committee, I hope that we can have an assurance that we shall take the lead in setting up an international body to discuss all the international implications of the use of hovercraft.

I hope that it will not be lost on the Government that with enormous hovercraft travelling across the Channel in less than 30 minutes, carrying 35 motor cars and 250 passengers, the Channel Tunnel is already obsolete, and we should think again about it.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Bessell

I was not fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Standing Committee, and if I had been I should have had to decline because of the duties imposed on me by Standing Committee F considering the Transport Bill. But I have followed the passage of the Bill through the House with considerable interest, not only because I find the hovercraft industry particularly fascinating but because the development of this form of vehicle is, I believe, of immense consequence and importance, and therefore any legislation must have far reaching consequences.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) was quite right when he said that none of us could even begin to envisage the possible development of the hovercraft as a means of transporting people and goods in the years ahead. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to allow this occasion to pass without my saying on behalf of my colleagues that we welcome the Bill and the permissive powers which the Government are taking, quite rightly, to assist in the general development and furtherance of this industry, and particularly this form of transportation.

I am curious to know how far the hydrofoil plane will be affected by the Bill. That was the reason for my intervention on Report. I wonder if it will become a part of the hovercraft industry, or the concept of travel by hovercraft, and therefore come within the provisions of the Bill. But these are matters that it is inappropriate to debate now. As they are not contained in the Bill I cannot refer to them in a Third Reading debate.

I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings, and was impressed by the logic of the arguments put forward by both sides. The way in which they were advanced showed that many hon. Members on both sides have a keen appreciation of the importance of the hovercraft to transport in this country in the years ahead, and, more than that, are anxious, as we are on this bench, to do everything to assist in its furtherance and development.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Davies

We welcome the Bill. We have given the Government wide powers under it, and regulations will later be laid. Will the hon. Lady, through her Department, see that information goes out to the parties interested in various aspects, so that they are kept fully in the picture through the Press and by circular letters on the matters which the Government have in mind.

Second, will the Government say publicly what sort of Committee is now considering these matters affecting the industry? How is it composed? I do not think there is any need for secrecy, and I do not think that is a secret. May we know its functions, so that those who are interested, whether as manufacturers or operators, will know that they can write to the chairman or secretary, or approach members, on matters of current interest?

Third, I feel that this is a case where we might move in a fairly new direction which is becoming more common in matters where there is no party controversy. Would it be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and others of us who are interested to be given advance information on the general nature of the Government's ideas as they affect the Regulations before they are laid? Presumably the regulations will be subject to annulment but not amendment, and it is better to have an opportunity of seeing the broad general nature of draft Regulations before they are laid.

Finally, there is the question of manufacture and export. Will the hon. Lady ensure that those concerned know precisely who at the Board of Trade they can approach for assistance, particularly about exporting? Will this be a matter for the E.C.G.D.? The essence of my four questions is that there should be the widest possible information and consultation at all stages henceforth. This is particularly necessary where we are granting wide powers, about which the Bill itself gives little information. This subject calls for the maximum co-operation between all those associated with the industry. I wish the Bill success and the industry continuing success safe from undue restriction and with the active co-operation of the Government.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

The Bill and the discussions on it are valuable because they have brought before Parliament and public a fact that was not so generally appreciated—that there will have to be a series of Orders in Council dealing with different types of hovercraft. So far, the public have thought of the hovercraft as going by sea and landing on beaches and in harbours. Now, we appreciate that they have equal facility on land, deserts, marshes, ice floes and frozen lakes and on farms and in factories. The industry will branch out into many lines apart from the one so well known to all of us, so the Government are wise in leaving themselves free to issue a series of Orders in Council as and when the need arises.

I hope that the Board of Trade will keep its mind flexible on questions of definition. I fear that the definition in the Bill may be a little too restricted as the hovercraft develops in its new effects and new uses. For example, we might find that the phrases, "air cushion vehicle" or "ground effect machine" should be included in the definition. The present definition is useful for the broad uses we now have in mind but it may not be useful if these craft are used in factories or in other specialised ways.

I do not think that there has yet been drawn up comprehensively a set of rules for the avoidance of collisions at sea involving hovercraft. They are not ships and therefore cannot use the rules of the sea as laid down for ships, in certain conditions. They will have to have special rules for avoidance of collision. This was brought to mind recently by a collision between a hovercraft and a ship.

Lastly, I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). Cannot hon. Members have a sight sometimes of draft Orders or Regulations before they are laid? It is unfair that trade associations and trade unions are able to consider draft Regulations before hon. Members. I have been an official of a trade association and I find it ludicrous that, when I was an humble official, I could advise the Government but now that I am a Member of Parliament I am not allowed to do so. Perhaps some procedure should be introduced to allow hon. Members sight of particularly Regulations so that they can given advice on these important matters. I hope that the Government will develop the industry, as I am sure they will, and will bring in various Orders in Council fit for the various forms of hovercraft as they develop.

5.34 p.m.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

I must confess that I have found this a very absorbing Bill. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee felt that we were dealing with a very important subject, one capable of many interpretations in the very wide and interesting developments which will come. I thank hon. Member for the useful and interesting discussions we have had.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) asked me four questions. I hope that he will not feel that I am pretending to be evasive if I say that, at present, there is such a great deal of drafting still to be done and such a great deal of consultations still to take place with all sections of the industry that it would be wrong for me to give any indication of the time scale of how soon we are likely to bring forward the first set of Orders. Many hon. Members have raised the valid point that we must consult all sections of the industry which can possibly have an interest and we are anxious to do so.

Mr. David Price

Does the hon. Lady envisage giving priority to the SRN4s which will be coming into service soon operating across the Channel? I am thinking particularly in terms of liability and so on.

Mrs. Dunwoody

We have had various practical problems dropped on our doorstep. Indeed, in Committee we had an interesting example of how we could be discussing safety regulations while events were almost overtaking us, as it were. While it is not our intention to say that we intend to give immediate priority to one section rather than another, obviously we shall be concerned very much more about the problems facing us in relation to those craft already coming into service. It is our intention to start consultations as soon as possible on these lines.

On the question of the rô1e of the Ministry of Transport, Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act says that hovercraft on the roads are to be treated as road vehicles and therefore we shall obviously keep the Ministry of Transport in touch with what is going on in the Board of Trade on this subject.

The hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that we would keep any Order we brought in in line with international practice in this matter. In Committee I said that we were keeping the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation informed of our legislation and have put forward to I.M.C.O. the view that the hovercraft should be treated in its own right and not necessarily as a ship. We shall obviously keep that organisation very much in the picture about what is going on in this country. I take the the point about safety regulations and the difficulties which will arise. This is something actively under discussion and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into detail now.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) welcomed the Bill. He and I come from a part of the country desperately in need of new forms of transport, if not improvement in the old, and we both feel that this is the sort of development which can bring immediate advantages to the West Country. I am grateful to him for his remarks and I am sorry that he did not find himself able to serve on the Standing Committee. But I know that he will have found the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings informative.

The hon. Members for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) were worried to ensure that, before draft Orders are placed before the House, there should be full consultation. I can give that assurance because we are very anxious that everyone should be included. This means a very wide range of people being consulted. I take the point that sometimes hon. Members seem to be rather behind with the information they get but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that as far as humanly possible we have tried to keep hon. Members appraised of the sort of developments taking place in the Board of Trade.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet developed this point by saying that he hoped that circulars would be sent to the industry. As the Regulations will be drawn in close consultation with the industry through the Hovercraft Consultative Committee, we feel that this is one way in which information will be disseminated. But obviously we shall consider wider dissemination and explanation on the advice of the Committee.

Manufacturers, operators, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the Air Registration Board, the unions and Government Departments are represented on the Hovercraft Consultative Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that that is a very wide representation. The Government are willing to consult on a wider basis with insurance interests about the special question of liability. We feel that generally there is a wide range of information available to us.

I turn to the question of manufacture and export of hovercraft and who should be approached in the Board of Trade. Hon. Members will be aware that we have a Department which offers skilled advice to anyone wishing to export. The Department in the Board of Trade which has been concerning itself with the hovercraft industry will be able to work in close consultation with our Export Services Branch. I hope that anyone who has any hope of exporting hovercraft will not hesitate to approach us for any assistance which he thinks we can give.

The Bill has gone through its stages with a great deal of agreement. The discussion on it, which has ranged very widely, will be very useful to the industry. We envisage for the industry a very bright and highly developed future. We do not know where the hovercraft industry is going, but we are convinced that it has a fascinating future. We are delighted that the Bill has been so well received by the House. I feel sure that hon. Members will not only have learnt a great deal from the discussions which have taken place but will be able to assist the industry in its future development.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Back to