HC Deb 11 March 1970 vol 797 cc1353-7

  1. (1) A pilotage Authority may by bye-laws made under the Pilotage Act, 1913, make such rules restricting or limiting the granting of a Pilotage Certificate, or the extension of a Pilotage Certificate, to more than one ship as appears to the Pilotage Authority to be necessary or desirable for the safety of a ship navigating within its pilotage district or any part thereof.
  2. (2) Section 23 of the Pilotage Act, 1913, shall not apply in respect of any ship which is not registered at a port of registry within the United Kingdom.
  3. (3) For the purpose of sections 11, 23 and 24 of the Pilotage Act, 1913, the expression 'mate' shall remain with respect to a ship the navigating officer next to the Master in authority of that ship.—[Mr. Ridsdale.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Bill already contains some minor Amendments to the Pilotage Act and I am grateful for this opportunity of putting forward this Clause, particularly because of the concern felt by pilots, as a result of the issuing of pilotage certificates to British officers on foreign and cross-Channel ferries who are employed solely to enable a certain company to get round normal pilotage requirements—a sort of puppet pilots' charter. I refer to the case of the Townsend-Thorensen ship "Viking" in Dover and the Thorensen "Viking" operating between Southamption, Cherbourg and Le Havre. This is a Norwegian ship with some form of British control.

Recently, a report was made by Mr. Barry Sheen, Q.C., on cases referred to him in December involving a refusal by the pilotage authority to grant pilotage certificates to British officers for these British and Norwegian ships. This report discloses that in Mr. Sheen's view, Section 23 of the Pilotage Act allows certificates to be issued to any bona fide mate of a ship, subject, of course, to certain other requirements, and not to the master and chief officer only. Previously, the words "master or mate" had been taken to apply to the master and chief officer only. The Clause would restore the position as it was before this opinion by Mr. Barry Sheen was given. It was given in January and I understand that the Board of Trade has taken counsel's opinion and informed Trinity House that it is prepared to make an order requiring Trinity House to issue pilots' certificates in these circumstances.

This brings me to my first argument in favour of the Clause. There is a danger to navigation and safety is imperilled. The pilots in Harwich have told me that they consider that this would pose a great hazard to other shipping using the congested pilotage waters as the vessels concerned would be high speed passenger-carrying ships under the command of a master whose pilot was one of his junior officers. Bearing in mind the special relationship between master and pilot, this would further aggravate a very dangerous situation.

Many pilots regard this as a direct flouting of the law. In many cases what will happen will be that the British officer will be taken on board and used as a spare part or a "puppet pilot", the pilotage in all cases being done by the foreign captain or some other officer. What check can there be that such action does not take place?

This is clearly the view not only of the British Maritime Pilots' Association, but also the European Maritime Pilots' Association. There have been a number of cases recently. In 1968, in Belfast, a German ship tried to get round the 1913 Pilotage Act by taking on a British pilot as part of the crew. In the Humber last year, a Dutch ship, under British management, tried to flout the Act. On both occasions such action was stopped by the intervention of the European Maritime Pilots' Association. The members of this association are Sweden, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain. Recently, in the Humber, a Dutch-registered vessel "Norwing", now under British management, tried to flout the Act, but the Dutch equivalent of the Board of Trade has made clear that if such exemptions were asked for they would not be granted.

Norwegian pilots are not a party to such an agreement. Since the United Kingdom and the consensus of the European view is that such action as Mr. Barry Sheen has ruled upon would be a direct flouting of the Act, surely the Board of Trade should think very seriously about allowing such unilateral action? Moreover, such a ruling and the consequent action upon the ruling would almost certainly open the door to a substantial number of shipowners who will wish to follow the Norwegian example. Obviously, this action will lead to an increase in the costs of shipowners.

It may be that the new Clause is not the right way of dealing with this breach of the Act. I can understand that the Chamber of Shipping might ask for more time to consider the consequences of Mr. Barry Sheen's ruling. The Government may not be in a position to accept this Clause. If this is so, I hope that they will say that some action will be taken soon, if not through this Clause then possibly by a small amendment to the Pilotage Act to cover this point. That is all that would be required.

I hope that it will not be put off until proposals are made for the reorganisation of pilotage, indicated in the White Paper, Reorganisation of the Ports. As a member of the Committee on the Ports Bill, I know that such action is a long way off. I hope that the Government will assure the House that some action will be taken soon. This method of working is regarded by British and Continental pilots as a hazard to shipping. If something does go wrong in the meantime, and an accident takes place as a consequence of Mr. Sheen's ruling, I feel bound to point out that the onus must be on the Government.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

While I understand the reasons which prompted the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) to move this Clause, I cannot recommend its acceptance by the House. The hon. Gentleman said in his closing remarks that he wished to emphasise the importance of not tolerating undue delay over the regularising of the position. I take his point and will consider it carefully.

The first reason why the Clause has no place in the Bill is that the subject matter is really extraneous to the topics dealt with in the Bill. We are dealing essentially with matters relating to masters and crews of ships, and their employers, and not with pilots and pilotage matters. The latter are the concern of the Pilotage Act, 1913. This is not the place to deal with amendments to that Act. Such minor amendments as we have made to that Act, in Schedule 2 of the Bill, are solely consequential amendments to the provisions of the Bill.

Secondly, and perhaps more important, the matters to which this new Clause relates are now the subject of discussion with the pilot's unions, with the various pilotage authorities throughout the country, with the Chamber of Shipping and others. These are difficult matters, on which there are varying points of view and we would certainly not wish to anticipate or prejudge the result of these discussions.

The White Paper, Reorganisation of the Ports, recently recommended separate legislation for pilotage, and an overhaul of the pilotage legislation is needed. Should it be found, when the discussions to which I have referred have been completed, that legislation to deal with the matters referred to in the Clause is necessary, pilotage legislation will clearly be the place for it. But this Bill is neither the right time nor the right place.

However, as I have said, I take very much into mind what the hon. Member has said about the need to avoid undue delay, and to bring the matter to the proof as soon as possible.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

Let me say at once how much I appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) has put forward his case, and has recognised what is clearly a matter of importance not only to his constituents but to all pilots who work out of British ports. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to have raised the matter. I do not necessarily agree with all the Minister's reasons for saying that legislation would not be appropriate here and now, but one overriding and perfectly fair point that he made was that, although Mr. Barry Sheen reported as long ago as last January, I am told that the industry, represented by the Chamber of Shipping, had sight of that report and was consulted about it only a week ago.

A matter as important as that embodied in the Clause could hardly be dealt with by the industry during the course of a few days. Regretfully, therefore, I must come to the conclusion that that fact rules out any question of the House now seeking to incorporate in the Bill what might well be a valuable improvement—although I do not know; I have not had time to study it.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has taken note of what the Minister of State has said, and may feel perhaps that it is not right to press the Clause to a Division.

Mr. Ridsdale

In view of what the Minister has said, and of the importance of the Chamber of Shipping having time to consider the implications of the report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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