HC Deb 28 April 1971 vol 816 cc645-80

10.30 a.m.

Resolved, That if the proceedings on the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Bill [Lords] are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Ridley.]

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time. This is an enabling Bill to ensure the greater safety of those engaged in drilling for and producing oil and gas in our coastal waters. There are now nearly 20 fixed platforms producing gas—we hope that in due time oil will be produced—together with a large number of mobile platforms which come and go from one

part of our waters to another, or from far away to this country's shores.

The Committee will have in mind the tragic accident to the "Sea Gem" in 1965, when 13 lives were lost. Since then, ten more people have died while engaged in this type of work, and many have been injured. The Committee will also remember the two gas blow-outs which took place in 1968, causing considerable havoc and danger.

Arising out of the "Sea Gem" accident, a report was prepared in which suggestions were made for legislation for the greater security of those engaged in this hazardous operation. I feel that the Committee would like to pay tribute to the bravery and enterprise of those who work on oil rigs. The extremely hazardous nature of the operation and the unfortunate accident record which I have mentioned will, I think, make us all admire the important and dangerous work which these people do.

I have visited a rig in the North Sea, as, I gather, did the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) yesterday. I think that everyone will agree that anything that we in this House can do to increase the safety of rigs will be well worth doing.

It is fitting that the Bill should be debated first in a Second Reading Committee in view of the possibly less contentious atmosphere in a Committee of this sort. The two sides of the House can combine to welcome the Bill, which, I think, is largely agreed and which will allow us to make a joint contribution to ensuring greater safety in future. The Labour Government intended to bring in the Bill, as they announced in the Queen's Speech in 1969. We have given it as high a priority as we could in order that it should reach the Statute Book as soon as possible. Nearly six years have elapsed since the "Sea Gem" accident and the sooner that delay is ended, the better pleased hon. Gentlemen will be.

The Bill is necessary because existing powers to control safety on drilling rigs are inadequate. They derive from the Petroleum Production Regulations and they are inadequate because they are contractual rather than mandatory. They depend upon the granting of licences to those who wish to operate rigs, but, once the licence is granted, there is weak control over the method of operation, which depends upon the good will of the company operating the rig, enforcement being very difficult for the inspectors of my Department who lack statutory powers. This is not to say that those who operate drilling rigs have not complied with and co-operated in all efforts to increase safety, but I feel sure that the Committee will think it better to put this matter upon a statutory basis, so that everybody will know what are his duties and responsibilities.

The Bill provides for a statutory code with clear requirements for all those engaged in this work. It also gives penalties graded according to the seriousness of the offence, so that an appropriate sanction may be held out for those who needlessly or heedlessly take risks or dis- obey normal safety requirements. The industry has been consulted about the Bill and will continue to be consulted about its implementation and, as far as I know, there is no opposition. Indeed, the industry is co-operating actively.

The Bill covers the geographical area within which this country is entitled to grant petroleum exploration licences. It does not extend beyond the limits of the areas where we have the right to the Continental Shelf and the minerals which lie there. It cannot apply to British rigs operating beyond our waters, but it applies to foreigners operating a rig under licence within our waters. It is deliberately flexible, in the sense that the main control will be by regulations made under the Bill.

I know that Parliament sometimes likes to feel that it has specified exactly what the regulations should be at the time of the legislation and fights shy of making regulations by Order, but I believe that the Committee will accept that it is right on this occasion that the regulations should be made by Order, because, with this rapidly changing industry, and its advancing techniques and technology, it will be necessary to bring in new regulations and to change them frequently in response to development. This can only be done by Order rather than by enshrining the regulations in the Bill. The House will have control over the regulations through the exercise of Prayers against the Orders, which can be annulled by negative Resolutions.

The Bill covers all types of installation: production platforms and exploration rigs, fixed rigs with fixed legs, floating rigs, and it is necessary to register all rigs which might be used. It could also cover installations which as yet have not been designed or made which would explore for other minerals on the sea bed, and it is intended to be a vehicle to control safety within the whole of this growing and interesting new industry of ocean exploration. Some rigs are classified as ships because of the nature of their construction, and I confirm that they will still be subject to merchant shipping legislation if they are registered as ships. They will also be subject to the Bill if they come within its scope.

The feature of the Bill to which I particularly draw the Committee's attention is the duty to appoint a master to be in control of the rig. He will be the person on board who is fully responsible for all the safety arrangements, and he will be in many ways in a similar position to that of the captain of a ship, with complete responsibility for complying with safety regulations. It is possible, as I believe is the practice on some rigs, that it will be one man who is the master when the rig is drilling or producing, and another man who is master when the rig is being towed or moved from place to place, a navigational master on the one hand and a production master on the other. But at all times it must be clear who is the master in charge of the operation. The analogy with safety in mines and safety in ships at sea makes it clear that it is absolutely right that there should be one person solely responsible and with the duty of ensuring safety throughout the operation.

There are minor provisions dealing in detail with the keeping of adequate records of safety precautions, the need for a public address system and for lights and foghorns. As the regulations are made, there will be full consultation with the industry and others expert in these matters. We hope to start to draft the regulations as soon as the Bill has had its Third Reading, and we shall make sure that the regulations are accepted by all those who will have to work them.

This is a field in which technology is changing rapidly, and we must make sure that the requirements under the Bill develop and change with experience. The whole House is excited by the prospects of the developing industries in oceanology, and we must therefore be ready to allow all these new developments to take place, but to keep alive what has been a typically British tradition—that we are ahead with our safety regulations, not in any sense to cramp enterprise and initiative, but in order to ensure that those who take these initiatives are adequately protected in so far as Parliament can protect them by safety legislation. This tradition goes right back to the 19th century, and the House should be justly jealous to keep it up to date. I commend the Bill to the Committee and hope that hon. Members will give it a speedy passage.

10.45 a.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden

The Opposition wish to join the Under-Secretary in his tribute to all those who work and operate the type of installation covered by the Bill. There are hon. Members with better knowledge than I of the conditions in the North Sea, the English Channel, or the Irish Sea, of those who actually operate these rigs. It is only right for the Under-Secretary to have paid this tribute at the beginning of the Committee and for us to follow that by allowing the Bill a fairly speedy passage through this Committee, wishing it good progress to the Statute Book. The Opposition will no doubt wish to put forward Amendments later, but that will be for other Members in another Committee. Generally this morning we are to welcome the Bill, perhaps giving only a critical welcome to certain parts. We do not want this to become another Committee stage. The temptation is there, but no doubt you, Mr. Gurden, will help us to resist it.

The Bill should have been on the Statute Book long ago. It is a long time from the disaster that provoked the Bill. This is no criticism of the present Government. There were circumstances with the last Government which made it difficult to find Parliamentary time; it is a criticism of the Parliamentary procedure rather than of the party in power.

I am reminded of how quickly time moves on by pamphlets showing that exploration of the North Sea began in 1962 and drilling in 1965. One can pick up booklets thought to be up to date which say that by July, 1967, and perhaps even before, the first North Sea gas will be coming through the pipeline. Yet that was five years ago.

The Under-Secretary was right to say that the "Sea Gem" was not the only incident. The number of accidents in this industry have been out of proportion to what could reasonably have been expected. Even with all the difficulties, the number of accidents has been too high. We are dealing with a large and strange piece of machinery called a "drilling rig", or a "floating barge", which seems to be neither a factory nor a merchant ship, and which somehow or other, like its twin, the hovercraft, falls between every piece of previous legislation. "Sea Gem" was the first rig to discover oil in the North Sea for British operators. The accident occurred when it was moving from one drilling place to another. It was followed by enormous pieces of machinery such as the "Sea Quest" built, I believe, on the other side of the water. One hon. Member has special knowledge of these enormous rigs. Photographs, or even flying over them, give little idea of their huge size. If "Sea Quest" were to be superimposed on Wembley Stadium, there would not be much room for spectators.

These installations cost £3½ million and "skill" is the operative word. Skilled operators are needed to work in the most hazardous and dangerous conditions to be found anywhere. It is bad enough to have to ride out a storm in the North Sea, the English Channel, or the Irish Sea, but having to work there in a fixed position and carry on drilling is the most difficult of all.

The disaster to "Sea Gem" was followed by one of the most effective and efficient inquiries to have taken place. Not every disaster in the North Sea has been followed by an inquiry. The hearing by the Tribunal to which Command 3409 refers, occupied 29 sitting days. Nobody who thought he had a contribution to make was denied audience.

The Tribunal was without statutory authority, had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses, and nor was it empowered to administer oaths. However, so generous was the contribution of all concerned that there can hardly have been an investigation better served by those offering evidence. Everybody involved in any way came forward voluntarily, without any compulsion at all, to give evidence. The Tribunal summed it up logically and lucidly, and the Bill flows from the recommendations.

The fact that the Bill is now before the House, may be some thanks to those who gave evidence and to those who served on the Committee and produced the Report. The Bill takes up almost all the recommendations made by the Committee of Inquiry, particularly those about construction and operating techniques, facilities and codes of construction, which vary enormously from one type to another, discipline and the chain of command.

We may be in some difficulties when we talk about a "master". "Master" is a word with a particular meaning. We are trying to tag on a new meaning which may cause some difficulty, although perhaps not within the oil drilling industry itself, for the word may have one meaning inside and another outside the industry. There may be some difficulties about "master", but it is a simple term and has much to commend it.

One of the matters raised in another place and elsewhere is the question of the qualifications of the master, whether he should be a certificated master and have special responsibilities. The aim is to make sure that whoever is in charge of a rig has the necessary prestige and authority. If he is to be responsible for the safety of everyone on the rig, his word of command has to be accepted in any difficult situation. The Committee of Inquiry recommended: It would not be necessary for the 'master' to be an expert in the engineering and mechanical aspects of his charge. It would only be necessary for him to be a mature and responsible person trained to have a wholesome respect for the sea and knowing what to look for in carrying out his task of keeping everybody up to scratch. That will be a most difficult appointment for anyone. There is tremendous responsibility not only in terms of the capital value of the installation, but the number of men involved.

The object of the Opposition is to ensure that whoever is appointed has the authority necessary to carry out these duties and that in any difficult situation when he has to impose that authority there will be no challenge to it. It should be an overriding consideration for the safety of drilling that the instructions of the master should be carried out. Unless that is so, there will be no point in the Bill.

Other accidents in other conditions and other circumstances have been mentioned, but I should like to raise some other matters. So far, oil rigging and exploration has taken place mainly in the North Sea, with some in the Irish Sea. The Bill refers to the extent of our territorial waters and those parts of the Continental Shelf which are under our control because of the Continental Shelf Act, 1964. There are now reports that concessions are to be made in the English Channel. Apart from the obvious difficulties of navigation, if ships cannot keep out of the way of other ships, having fixed structures operating there will cause tremendous difficulties.

There was opposition to a recent suggestion that there should be an agreement among the countries bordering the Channel, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Holland, and perhaps even Germany, and that, to be able to obtain effective control of shipping in the Channel, we should extend our territorial limits, or extend the Continental Shelf Act. We had hoped that there would be a reasonable agreement for the control and passage of shipping. Perhaps the Minister will let us have some information about his thoughts and those of his Department about the effect of proposals to license operations in the English Channel. Simply allowing for the extension of territorial waters in the English Channel would not bring rigs operating in the English Channel within the terms of the Bill, and we might have to have changes to allow for that. We are legislating not for three or five years, but for the next 20, 30, or 40 years, and we must look at problems which might arise.

The other point to which I should like to refer may be a criticism of Parliamentary procedure. Most of us have seen a ship and most of us have seen an oil rig from a distance. Between these proceedings and the beginning of the Committee stage those appointed to the Standing Committee should be asked to visit an oil rig. Although each of us serving on a Committee like this has some special knowledge and interest, we were not consulted about the Bill. We are told that it is a Bill agreed among every interested party. But as the Bill has been coming since 1961, there may have been changes since the consultation procedure.

It is a enabling Bill. Would the Minister let us know later whether the regulations made under it will be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure? Inevitably, it may have to be the negative procedure. How will he report the results of conversations and the regulations to Parliament?

This is a Bill that is overdue. It is a Bill welcomed by the Opposition. We hope that it will get its Second Reading this morning. Those Labour Members appointed to the Standing Committee will doubtless have critical Amendments to make, not to weaken the Bill or to alter its purpose, but to make it stronger and more effective and, above all, to ensure that whoever is responsible for the safety of installations will have the necessary authority and capacity to carry out his duties.

The Chairman

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) for reminding us that this is essentially a Second Reading debate, not a Committee stage, and that general principles rather than Committee points are involved. That is not to say that Committee points will necessarily be out of order, but I remind the Committee that this is a Second Reading debate.

Mr. David Mudd

As has been said, this is not the time to criticise details of the Bill. I do not wish to detract from a very important piece of legislation, but at this stage I should like briefly to draw attention to several factors that could usefully be incorporated in the Bill.

First, there is the question of the lack of certification of the rig master. In the Merchant Navy, although individual companies have different operating practices and procedures, the master of a ship is bound to have his Board of Trade certificate of competency. I do not believe it to be beyond the power of the Department of Trade and Industry to institute a certificate of competency for rig masters, which would include such things as knowledge of currents, weather, hull stress, and, even more important, the handling and launching of lifeboats from a static rig in an emergency.

My second point deals with the safety proposals. The safety proposals outlined in Clause 6 assume a great deal, but are not very specific. I am horrified to find that there is no statutory requirement implied in Clause 6 that the rig should have radio communication. It is assumed, but it is not stated. I am even more amazed to find that it is not required that a rig should have radar. The sea lanes of Britain have become even more congested and more dangerous because many ships using British waters do not have radar in an operating condition. I think that rigs should have radar on which they can note the approach of other ships.

I am delighted that the Under-Secretary has told us that the rigs would have lights and fog horns; to this, we should extend the warning rockets system that would apply to a lightship if an oncoming vessel is standing into danger with relevance to its position to the rig.

The final point concerning the safety proposals is that the Department of Trade and Industry should give serious thought to the development and testing of a non-inflammable lifeboat. Evacuation in an emergency from one of these rigs could mean lowering a pinnace or lifeboat into a sea which is already aflame with burning oil or fuel.

I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Under-Secretary that those points will be seriously borne in mind.

11.0 a.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara

I, too, welcome the Bill. It is one of a series of Bills, with generally non-contentious Clauses in them, which originated while we were in Government, which both sides of the House wished to co-operate to bring through.

We in Hull have had experience of tragedies at sea. We have a melancholy history, with times of great heroism and great disaster, and families suddenly bereft of fathers. It is not an experience which we should wish on any other community. To this grim catalogue was added another item with the landing of the survivors of the "Sea Gem" from the "Baltrover". Before coming to the Committee, I refreshed my mind on those events by reading the simple accounts of the survivors as they came ashore. These accounts, in back numbers of my local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, were simple, clear and stark, bringing home the reality of the cruelty of the sea, and the dangers which prevail there, far better than the report of any Tribunal no matter how painstaking its work, no matter how thorough and sound its recommendations may be—and, of course, the Report of the Tribunal on the "Sea Gem" had both of those qualities.

Tribute has been paid to the men who work on these rigs, brave, courageous and skilful men. But I could not let an opportunity like this go without pay- ing tribute also to the people who were engaged in the rescue—a tribute not only to the men on the "Baltrover" and the other ships which were operating in difficult waters, in a very difficult situation, with the broken rig and with wreckage around, not knowing what might happen, but also, and in particular, to the men of R.A.F. Leconfield who snatched three men from a watery death into their Whirlwind helicopters, again in very difficult circumstances. I pay tribute also to the men of the Humber lifeboat who, on that occasion, were at sea for nearly 43 hours, which must be something of a record in lifeboat work, and something of which we are very proud.

The people of Hull are used to the work of R.A.F. Leconsfield and the work of the Humber lifeboat. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) is well aware of it, too.

It is fair and right that we should draw attention to the work of others who are interested in this problem, who risk their lives in trying to save others, and who can be very much influenced by the results of this piece of legislation.

Although much of the Bill stems from the recommendations of the "Sea Gem" Tribunal, it must not be thought that that was the only incident involving rigs in the North Sea. There were many more. Reference has been made already to blow-outs. In December, 1965, the "Sea Gem" was lost 43 miles east of the Humber. In April, 1967, the "Conoco I" sank off Grimsby. In March, 1968, the "Ocean Prince" was lost off Flamborough Head. In November, 1969, the "Constellation" was lost off Flamborough Head. It was reported that two rigs, "Mr. Cap" and "Glamar IV", were moved to Nigeria because they could not risk the pounding of the North Sea and the cruelties of the weather there.

It is important to see that we are not dealing with just an isolated incident. This is important because of a desire, in some parts of the industry, not to be tied down. It is a changing technology, and some people fear that legislation might in some way hamper them. But we have a duty to the men who work on the rigs, and a duty, also, to others who use the seaways to ensure that these hazards will, as far as is possible, be removed.

The Under-Secretary referred to the visit which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I paid yesterday to the production platforms off the mouth of the Humber belonging to B.P., and I shall give some impression of what I saw there. I must at once say that I was very impressed by the provision of safety devices—rafts, netting, ropes, ladders, lifebuoys, warning lights and notices. In reply to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), I can tell the Committee that on these rigs and generally throughout that company what is known as the Brucker capsule, a life-saving device, has been introduced. It is a form of craft, a sort of metal sphere which can hold a great number of men, more than the crew of a rig. It is powered by a motor, and, because of various scientific devices and equipment on it, it can exist in a blazing sea of oil and take the crew to safety. With elaborate provision for a cooling capsule on the outside, it can save people from a hot death, as well as from what might have been a cold one in the water.

I understand that there are one or two little troubles still with this capsule, but it is a very important step forward. One hopes to hear something from the Under-Secretary what is his thinking and the thinking of the Department with regard to this device. Because of the shortage of the notice—I only got to know about it myself yesterday—perhaps he might tell us about that when we come to the Standing Committee stage. It is an expensive device, but it is something which needs to be developed and used.

I was very impressed, also, by the provision for wireless on the rigs—ship-to-shore on all rigs, and on the ones with the larger crews there is a permanent radio operator. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne about the need for radar and other safety provisions which did not seem to be there, and also for mandatory wireless communication. When a rig is at sea, under the I.M.C.O. agreements it must carry a radio operator. But it is when rigs are stationary that the real problem arises.

Having said all that about the provisions which B.P. is making, and very good and sound provisions they are, I come now to the point at which Parliament must intervene. There seem to be five major loopholes in the legislation as it exists, most of which are covered by the Bill.

First—this astonished us all when the "Sea Gem" went down—the Minister has lacked power to enforce an inquiry into the loss of a rig. This has been a serious defect. For a shore installation or factory, there would have been power under the Factories Act to order an inquiry. For a vessel as defined by the Merchant Shipping Act, there would have been power under the Merchant Shipping Act. As it was neither fish nor fowl, there could be no order for an inquiry for the "Sea Gem". The Report of the Tribunal rightly pays tribute to the way different people in the industry came forward to give evidence entirely voluntarily. Although that is a pleasant situation and reflects great credit on all concerned, it is essential that the Minister should have mandatory powers.

Second, there has been the lack of sanctions which the Minister has with regard to the operation of a concession, once it has been granted. His only sanction is the right to revoke the licence. Although one can envisage cases where that might be necessary, in the majority of cases it would be far too large a sanction ever to be invoked. Although this does not apply to the oil companies which are operating around our coasts, nevertheless there is always the temptation, and there is the need for proper sanctions against both firms and individuals, though not necessarily as they stand at present in the Bill, as I shall explain later.

Third, there has been the difficulty in defining a rig. There are many different designs, and I think that there are about 250 rigs operational now around the world. I congratulate the draftsmen of the Board of Trade for the wonderful way they have defined an offshore installation, which tells us nothing and covers everything. It is very good.

Following up this question of definition, one comes to the problem of the changes which are taking place in the technology of the industry. I appreciate the point made by the Under-Secretary, that for this reason one wants regulations rather than specific legislation, and I would agree with that, but I feel that there are parts of the Bill which should be subject not to the negative procedure but to the positive procedure. With the pressure on Parliamentary time, matters can go through on the negative procedure without any discussion at all, and there are certain aspects of the Bill which should come up on affirmative Resolution and have the positive approval of the House.

Fifth, a major defect has been the difficulty of establishing uniform safety procedures, and the lack of detail required. This was eminently displayed by the Tribunal's comments on the code of safety practice drawn up by the Petroleum Institute. The Report showed the difficulties. All that Governments have done, my own Government included, has been to incorporate those provisions straight into the concession and say, "Provided you act like that, you are all right". This is just being wise with hindsight. On the other hand, we were entering a new and changing technology in which it would have been difficult to draw up rules.

The Bill seeks to remedy these deficiencies and to implement the recommendations of the "Sea Gem" inquiry. Where it does that, it is to be welcomed, but there are a number of points which will need careful examination in Committee. At this stage, I draw attention to two major points of principle, and one of safety, which need to be looked at.

Because I was concerned about radio safety, I wrote to the Radio and Electronics Officers Union, and I received a very kind reply from the general secretary, Mr. K. A. Murphy, in which he said: The existing fixed oil exploration installations do have Radio Officers and quite complex radio installations but these are only for rig-to-shore communication and any other watches they might keep, i.e. safety watch on 500 or 2182 kHz. would be voluntary and not compulsory. Perhaps it would be possible to ensure that all such installations do in fact maintain a loud speaker radio watch on the two main distress frequencies and are adequately manned to ensure its integrity. This is very important; it backs up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that, if there are problems in certain respects, it is essential that the safety regulations, despite all the problems which people might raise about new technologies and so on, should be rigorous and set very high standards. Both human life and our environment are at stake if any of these rigs are run into by vessels in bad weather—or, as seems to have happened, in good weather. This is something we need to look at very carefully indeed.

I wish to add one further point on this which Mr. Murphy does not mention. A large number of rigs are now going further and further out to sea. I hope that the regulations, will ensure that, beyond a certain limit, which, presumably, would be negotiated by the experts, not only ship-to-shore telecommunications exist but wireless exists as well, because, particularly, in the North Sea, one can have freak atmospheric conditions and blind spots—people can be beyond the line, and so on—and just ship-to-shore telephone communication can fail badly.

11.15 a.m.

Another point of principle raised by the Under-Secretary is the question of the qualifications of the masters of these rigs. In the House of Lords, after being pressed by noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House, the Government introduced Amendments to Clause 5(2) to give the Secretary of State power to introduce certification. But it is almost as vague as what had existed before—he may do it if he thinks fit.

There are two important problems here; first, the question of qualifications and, second, the hierarchy of command. As I understood it, talking with people engaged in the industry, the idea of a hierarchy of command, in a sense, does not exist. There is a team which does a job.

On the question of qualifications, I asked two rig masters yesterday what their qualifications were. They were very experienced and responsible men. One had spent all his life in the industry, and the other had come into the industry after serving as an engineer officer of submarines in the war. Nevertheless, they had no common qualification other than the length of their experience. It seems to me, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, that it should be easy for the Board of Trade to lay down regulations in this matter. After all, the Department demands to know from concessionaires what will be the qualifications of the masters of their rigs. It will have in mind its own criteria for what they should be, and these should, I think, be readily accessible and easily understood by people at large. Certainly, in view of the comments made in the Report of the Tribunal, there is need for public misgivings to be allayed on this point.

The Under-Secretary, as I understood him, said that, because of the difficulties in the oil industry, there were two separate jobs; there was the drilling master and there was the navigation master. But the whole problem is that there comes a time when a decision has to be taken whether to continue one function or not, and the question is: Whose responsibility will it be to take that decision if there are two equally competent men qualified in their own spheres? This is the crux of the problem.

In conversation yesterday, one had the impression that they were reasonable men, they knew what they were about, and this was not a problem they had ever come across. On the other hand, one is not always dealing with reasonable men; people can be under strain and in difficulties, and there must be a proper procedure, even if the oil industry and those engaged in it are not quite happy about it.

Now, the question of discipline. Hon. Members concerned with the Merchant Shipping Bill and similar matters which have come before the House will recall my attitude towards penal clauses in normal working conditions for breaches of discipline not connected with the safety or seaworthiness of a vessel or the safety of its crew. The Bill contains the worst elements incorporated in the Merchant Shipping Act. Section 7(2) provides: Subject to subsection (3) below, regulations under this Act—

  1. (a) may provide for the creation of offences and for their punishment on summary conviction or on conviction on indictment, and
  2. (b) may afford, in respect of any description of offence created by the regulations, such defence, if any, as may be specified in the regulations."
Subsection (3) provides: The punishment for an offence created by regulations under this Act shall be—
  1. (a) on summary conviction a fine not exceeding £400,
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both;
but without prejudice to any further restriction on the punishments which can be awarded contained in the regulations, and without prejudice to the exclusion of proceedings on indictment by the regulations.
That is, potentially, a very wide Clause. It can cover a whole multitude of possible disciplinary matters, although the Bill contains the limitation that prosecutions have to be by the approval of the Secretary of State, under Clause 10.

Nevertheless, this sort of provision in legislation at this time, in this type of industry in particular, where there is no history of any need for it, is a reactionary and backward step in industrial relations. It arises for a number of reasons. First, it arose from the Report of the Tribunal, which tried to draw a parallel between a sinking rig and a sinking ship. It spoke in terms of discipline and of a master, and then wanted to translate from one sphere of activity to another rules and regulations which were not appropriate at all. Second, it arose because of a fear of conditions on rigs, because men are away from home and so forth. So far as I could gather, this fear is not felt in the industry. What impressed me most was that, when I asked one of the sailing masters what disciplinary problems he had, he said he had none. When I asked why not, he pointed to the helicopter. The helicopter can take a man ashore most immediately. The power under Clause 5(7) to put a man ashore immediately, or as soon as may be reasonable, is the real power of discipline under this legislation.

It is wrong that men should be punished for offences at sea which are not offences ashore. It is wrong that we should go back to this 18th-century attitude. I hope that, when we come to look at the Bill in Committee, while we shall seek to improve, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cambome suggested, every possible safety device, we shall think at the same time in terms of modern disciplines, in modern industries of high technology, where none of these penal provisions is needed.

Mr. David Watkins

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and all other hon. Members who have spoken so far, I welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) referred to the Inquiry into the "Sea Gem" disaster. As he said, it was one of the most effective and powerful inquiries which had ever taken place, and, since the Bill is the carrying into legislation of its principal recommendations, there are powerful reasons for welcoming it.

The Minister drew attention to the fact that there have been 23 lives lost and many injuries sustained in the course of the operations to which the Bill applies. It is a great pity, although, perhaps, it is in the nature of things, that we always have to wait, as in the case of the Aberfan disaster and of countless other accidents arising from industrial and commercial activity, until there has been a tragic loss of life before legislating in an attempt to avoid such loss of life.

In the past, for all sorts of sorrowful and other reasons, that has been the experience. Now, however, we are well advanced in the technique known as damage control, the distinguished pioneer of which, Mr. Frank Bird, I had the pleasure of welcoming to this Palace when he was in this country last week. It is a technique whereby it is possible for experts to examine thoroughly any place where people are subject to any possible form of hazard arising from their work and, by reporting fully, enable steps to be taken to eliminate many of the causes of accident.

Notwithstanding the fact that those employed in maritime occupations are in a vastly different situation from those working on land, the British Shipping Federation, for instance, is currently giving considerable attention to the technique of damage control. When the Minister comes to consider the regulations, he may well think it worth writing in something to the effect that this type of technique should be applied before a rig even takes to sea, in order that a number of potential dangers may be eliminated.

One of the features of the Bill which I welcome is that it applies both to individuals and to corporate bodies of owners, even if they are not British, who are operating in the waters over which this country has jurisdiction. That might seem self-evident in any case, but one can think of previous occasions, and the possibility of future occasions when foreign owners of rigs operating in British waters might well need a salutary reminder in advance that British law will apply to them in this matter.

There has already been some discussion on those parts of the Bill which relate to the appointment of qualified masters and which define the responsibilities of the master, namely, Clauses 4 and 5. I am not qualified to comment on either the qualifications or the duties of masters, but hon. Members on both sides, I feel, are concerned to know whether the terms of these Clauses are sufficiently definitive to cover all situations and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, whether the powers they give to masters over the crews of rigs cover matters not entirely related to safety conditions in general. These two Clauses will be among those which will require detailed examination in Committee.

The Bill introduces industrial safety legislation into a completely new field. Inevitably, therefore, to some extent it has to be experimental. Because of technological development, there is uncertainty about what will happen when this legislation is applied in future developing situations. Rapid developments are taking place in the design of rigs. Soon, they are likely to be used much farther out to sea. I accept that it is necessary, therefore, to leave a great deal to regulations. As the Minister said, it is really an enabling Bill which leaves the Secretary of State with considerable powers of regulation.

I notice that, in Clause 2(2)(g) and Clause 3(2)(d), the Secretary of State is empowered to make regulations for "any other incidental matters". To some of us who have memories, that seems reminiscent of "conduct prejudicial to the maintenance of good order and military discipline", and it could give the Secretary of State wide powers to cover virtually any situation.

In saying that, I am not criticising the enabling nature of the Bill. I should be one of the last Members to do so, since I was fortunate to get a Private Member's Bill through the House, which became the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act, 1969, under which, because it covered a completely new field, a great deal had to be left to regulation. Perhaps I should just remind the Minister that the regulations have still not been laid under that Bill. If he can use any influence with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, it would be welcome.

11.30 a.m.

The Minister has already given an assurance that the fullest possible consultation will take place—the Bill states that it must take place—with organisations representative of people concerned in these operations. In view of the importance of the regulations and the way in which they cover the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, it is essential that there be the most careful consultations.

I join hon. Members on both sides in stressing the urgency of this matter and the necessity to facilitate progress of the Bill, though not to facilitate it in a totally uncritical manner, because we should be failing in our duty if we did that. It would be a tragedy if further lives were lost in the interim because of non-observance of the provisions which the Bill will in due course lay down.

In the final analysis, it is the credibility and the enforceability of legislation that matters—the reaction to it, and the action of people on the spot where accidents occur. If the Bill can do anything to prevent further disasters, or even minor occurrences, involving injury or loss of life, it will be very greatly welcomed. I hope that its passage will be facilitated.

Mr. John Prescott

As a new Member, I have just learned another Parliamentary lesson, that when one is invited to sum up at the end of a debate, one finds that everything one has prepared has already been said by others.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Hear, hear. A good speech.

Mr. Prescott

That is my second lesson, I suppose. Perhaps I could emphasise some of the points that have been made, without detaining the Committee too long.

We are here discussing a special piece of legislation to deal with special circumstances. It originates from the tragedies which have occurred in this industry and the inquiries which followed them, in particular, the "Sea Gem" Inquiry. It is very welcome, as every piece of safety legislation is welcome, and we hope that it will meet some of the problems encountered in the dangerous work which rig operators have to undertake.

It is special legislation because the rig itself is special, in the sense that, when it is moving it is considered to be a vessel to all intents and purposes, when it is being repaired in a shipyard it is a factory for Factories Act purposes, and when it is doing the job it was designed to do, fixed over a set place and drilling for oil or gas, it does not fit into either of those two categories.

Another special characteristic is added —my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and I saw this yesterday when we noted the impressive display of safety provisions on B.P. rigs in the North Sea—by the environment in which rigs operate, that is, the sea itself, and particularly the North Sea. I was a seaman for a number of years and sailed across the North Sea from Hull to Rotterdam. I have experienced the varied and sudden changes in climate that one can find in this part of the world. The percentage of waves over six feet, over a measured period of time, in the Gulf is only 5 per cent., off the coast of Nigeria it is 12 per cent., but in the North Sea it is 29 per cent. It is a particularly harsh environment in which these rigs must operate. Therefore, the problems are far greater than those experienced by operators in more favourable climatic conditions.

There has been a great increase in the number of rigs. In 1949, there was only one mobile drilling rig, which drilled to a depth of little over 20 feet. In 1969, there were over 200 of these rigs, now drilling to a depth of over 1,000 feet. Around the United Kingdom coast, there are over 20 rigs, as the Minister pointed out. Ten of them are the fixed-platform type, mainly under contract to drill for gas, but we are now beginning to see developments for drilling for oil, particularly off the coast of Aberdeen.

So we have a growing problem. There are more rigs, and more men employed. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that we should pass legislation to make important provisions for safety of this kind.

The Bill is concerned not only with safety but with the health and welfare of the men on these rigs. I hope that, on this aspect of the matter, we shall concern ourselves with the ready availability of doctors and medical support facilities. Although the oil rig companies make these provisions, we should recognise that in this Bill we are setting down standards which will be statutorily enforced. Let us make them the best, as good as or better than the standards which the best companies are operating. One of the impressions I came away with yesterday was that these operations are so expensive that one cannot do things on the cheap. We cannot have cheap -jack operators, who are usually the main threat to safety, operating in the North Sea. It is likely that the acceptable standards of safety in these areas are much nearer to what we are proposing in the Bill than are the standards in other areas of industry where recommended practices are not always fully followed.

A rig is now to be regarded as approximating to a vessel. I shall bring up a point later on which I am in strong disagreement about the maritime implications, but, broadly, what we have here is recognition of its role as a maritime vessel. To some extent the Court of Inquiry recognised this when it stated that in an emergency a drilling rig became a vessel and that people with maritime experience were needed in such situations.

Health and welfare standards for accommodation on British ships are laid down. Perhaps we should consider laying down statutory leave for men operating rigs, so that people do not become too tired and so that the desire to obtain an ever-increasing amount of money does not override their sense of awareness, or nullify the safety provisions necessary for this type of operation.

However, I do not advocate the introduction of Board of Trade diets. Having only yesterday enjoyed a T-bone steak with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North in the middle of the North Sea and having compared that with provisions on British ships—two ounces of margarine, four ounces of butter and so on—we do not advocate that the Board of Trade should impose those rations upon rigs. Indeed, the rations on rigs are largely influenced by the nature of the labour, for the labour force is international and includes large numbers of Americans. They would not accept the standards which the Marine Department of the Board of Trade might think sufficient for British seafarers.

In view of the sanctions which we are considering, it may be necessary to give a man a statutory right to leave a rig. If there are to be mandatory sanctions upon a man's operations upon a rig, as he might not be able to get on with the man in charge, for instance, he should have the right to leave the rig if he thinks that there may be a conflict between him and the man in charge, to whom we are proposing to give powers.

The navigation considerations are of the greatest importance to safety. We saw the fog signals and navigational equipment designed for rigs under regulations made under the Continental Shelf Act. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) pointed out, if we license operations of this nature in the Channel, the best seamanship in the world will be of small avail—here I must aim my usual blow at the Liberian vessels which ignore warning lights and other regulations—unless these warnings are observed. To institute fixed rigs in that waterway will make it infinitely more dangerous, and I hope that careful consideration will be given to applications.

Radar is important not only for the identification of other vessels, but so that a rig may give a special signal, identifying itself as a stationary vehicle, which may be picked up in fog, for instance. I hope that we may consider the design of rigs, particularly as the Inquiry made some important comments about the quality and design of rigs. I hope that the Minister will tell us of the progress in the design and classification of rigs mentioned in the Inquiry. Is there a criterion for the design of these rigs?

The lifeboat facilities are essential. When the "Sea Gem" went down, many men died from exposure in the water. Even if the normal number of lifeboats is provided on rigs, if there is a collision or the rig collapses, as did the "Sea Gem", one side may be at an angle, making the use of gravity-launched lifeboats extremely difficult. It is important that the Brucker system, which uses a dome which is completely sealed off and which can go into oily waters and fire and which gives quick access, should be introduced. The Brucker capsules are considered to be expensive at £20,000, but it is a trifling sum when the rig itself is worth about £2 million and against the vast sums involved in the drilling process. A number of companies are already using them and it is essential that they should be put on all oil rigs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North asked whether the Board of Trade had approved this system. We know that the Ministry of Technology considers it to be of value, but we do not know whether the Board of Trade has given it a certificate of recognition as a life-saving facility possibly to be used in preference to the open lifeboat. Survival suits to protect men against exposure should also be considered. There should be training procedures for the men because of the nature of their work. We could also consider giving them safety books, as is now done in the British shipping industry, recommending the best safety practices.

It is essential that all accidents are reported. In the shipping industry, only deaths are reported, but it should be compulsory for rig companies to report all accidents so that an analysis of types of accident may be made and a remedy sought. Matters should not be left as they are in the shipping industry which is allowed to get away with reporting only deaths.

Much is said about those who work on the rigs, but what about the men who are constantly diving from them? Would the Minister consider having special safety provisions for divers operating from oil rigs?

The fundamental issue, with which I was identified before becoming a Member of Parliament, is the penal sanctions of the Bill and the philosophy that greater discipline means greater safety. That has not been proved, although the sterile thinking of the Marine Section of the Board of Trade seems to have seeped into the Power Department.

This belief is connected with calling a man a captain. I appreciate that the Committee of Inquiry said that one man should be responsible, and we do not disagree. But when one man has been responsible he has been referred to as being in charge of the rig. He may be what is called the "tool pusher", a man who has ten years' experience of drilling, years of experience on the rigs themselves, and perhaps with an engineering degree. A variety of qualifications is plainly required for the jobs involved in this sort of operation.

The system in the past has been that when a gale reaches Force 8, maritime skill is needed, and there is a written instruction that responsibility is passed to a man with the maritime experience to handle the rig. That is not entirely satisfactory. Somebody should be directly responsible and should inherit the responsibility for implementing regulations made under the Bill. If we lay down regulations, it is important that somebody is made directly responsible.

Our only concern is that professionals —captains by maritime certification—would probably say that that name should not be used so loosely or be given at the will of a company to those whom it makes in charge of rigs, and we do not know what conditions may be required of a man before he is given the job.

11.45 a.m.

The more important point about the word "captain", however, is its connotations. It suggests hierarchical control. It suggests that one man has absolute authority and that his orders will be obeyed.

The Bill will make it an offence, punishable by a fine, for a man to disobey the lawful command of the captain. It was said in another place that there was no intention to introduce hierarchical control, but it is inevitable, because, if a master tells his deputy to give an order and it is disobeyed, a lawful command has been disobeyed.

The command does not necessarily have to relate to an action which threatens the safety of the vessel. A lawful command in the Merchant Navy may mean anything. It once meant that a steward who brought a steak well-done when an officer ordered it to be medium was "logged" and fined £2 for bringing a steak which was not as ordered. It sounds crazy and I am not suggesting it will happen on oil rigs, but it happens on ships, and it is an example of disobeying a lawful command. Bringing the power of sanctions into this sort of situation will create grave industrial relations problems, particularly with workers who have not been associated with this sort of discipline which has for so long created problems for merchant seamen.

The case for bringing in sanctions like this is not proved. The philosophy that greater discipline means greater safety is not proved. Indeed, the figures show that accidents and deaths in the British merchant service are over 14 times higher than in many dangerous occupations ashore. One may say that shipping is different from shore work, but our accidents and deaths are far higher than they are for other maritime industries. Nobody has greater discipline than we have in the British merchant service, yet we have the highest rate of accidents and deaths. So it is certainly not proved that greater discipline necessarily means greater safety. We think that that sort of philosophy is absolutely wrong, and we shall challenge it in the present Bill.

We note that the captain is to have power of arrest, to detain a man and put him away. One can think of all sorts of things that are likely to happen in this situation. They already happen in the British merchant service. This is not "pie in the sky"; it happens already. It is proposed to apply this power to men who are highly skilled in their operation, not labourers who do an ordinary functional job but people with specialised skills. The situation may be made worse by using the title "captain". The temptation will be to take a Merchant Navy captain from a ship and put him on the rig, making him the "captain", with all the connotations.

We shall have a lot to say in Committee about the penal provisions. I hope that the Minister will take a weather note of the sort of storm we intend to create about the penal clauses and the proposed extension of them into this field. An oil rig is absolutely different from a British merchant ship. I should argue about penal clauses even in those situations, but the case is unanswerable in relation to oil rigs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said, we were told yesterday that, if a man disobeys or commits an act which the company does not agree with—which, on an oil rig, includes not wearing a safety helmet or the boots which are provided—he will be flown off the rig. That is the ultimate sanction, being taken off and being denied access to the attractive earnings possible on these rigs. One does not need these penal sanctions. There is this ready contact all the time, back and forth between management and crew, and it is not necessary to maintain that sort of discipline.

We want to ensure that some of the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure, which requires some form of debate in Parliament before they can be implemented. Also, I trust that discussion about the regulations will take place with the Trade Union Movement and, in particular, with those trade unions which claim to have some interest in this field. I hope that "representative" means that any trade union making a claim and showing an interest in these matters will have a right to be able to make its point.

This is a valuable piece of legislation. It is necessary for the industry, and especially so for those working off the Humber coast.

One thing which impressed me yesterday, in all the highly developed safety provisions which we saw, was the practice of having a vessel standing by. There is a stand-by vessel from the Humber, with medical attendance and facilities for accommodating 70 men. It is constantly standing by the rig in case of accident. That vessel is owned by a trawler owner, who has had to condition his ships to the high standard of medical facilities required by the oil companies. But if that same ship employs fishermen, in far more dangerous operations in other waters, it does not have to have those standards. So then, I presume, they change it back to the old conditions, because fishermen, apparently, are not regarded as entitled to the high safety standards demanded by the oil companies.

Mr. Ridley

By leave of the Committee, I should like to reply to the interesting debate we have had.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on his maiden speech from the Front Bench, so soon after his election to the House. I thought that he made a very good job of it, though, perhaps, when he waxed wroth about the evils of discipline, I could see a glint in the eye of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Ham-ling). I counsel him, if he wishes to make progress through the hierarchy of his party not to be too strong in his condemnation of discipline.

Clearly, we shall take up that point again when we reach the Committee stage, but as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) also raised it, I should point out now that the discipline provisions in the Bill are solely in the context of safety and there is no possibility of their being used in relation to the quality of a steak or any matters not to do with the operation of plant. They are purely in relation to safety. There is a £50 fine at most. The really serious penalties in Clause 7, which were criticised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, relate to offences by the owners, the masters or the companies running the drilling organisation. If it is right that there should be severe safeguards directed against those responsible for providing the necessary safety precautions, it is not unreasonable to say that those on board who do not observe instructions in relation to safety should themselves be subject to some sanctions and some discipline.

I know we shall debate this again, so I leave it there. I think it probably necessary to have sanctions underlying what should be done, as the hon. Member so rightly says, by good relations, good communications and, eventually, by the power to fly men off who are persistently undisciplined. There must underneath be the power to have one's orders accepted when not only the life of the individual is at stake but he can put the lives of his colleagues on the rig at risk.

I confirm that Orders made under the Bill will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. If any of them are contentious or not agreed, hon. Gentlemen will be able to pray against them, to debate them, and, if necessary, vote against them in the House. I do not think it would be practical, nor is it within the usual tradition, to make such Orders subject to affirmative Resolution.

Mr. McNamara

There is precedent for it under the Merchant Shipping Act.

12 noon.

Mr. Ridley

I apologise if I have misled the Committee, but I think that the negative Resolution procedure is the right procedure in this case, because we expect that the greater bulk of these regulations will be entirely agreed, and it would seem unnecessary to trouble the House with a special debate on Orders in respect of which there is no need to criticise. The negative Resolution procedure will give hon. Gentlemen opposite a chance to complain about any aspects of the regulations which they do not like.

Next, I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) about the wide nature of the powers implied, in particular, by the phrase, for any other incidental matters". I assure him that this is contained by the rules of construction, which limit the words to matters of the same nature as those set out in the preceding paragraphs. Technically, the meaning is not as wide as he fears.

The hon. Gentleman asked also about employers' liability. In the Schedule to the Bill, there is provision for applying by regulation the provisions of the 1969 Act, of which he was the sponsor, to this work at sea. This is really the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who is pressing on with the necessary consultations with the insurance world to be in a position to make regulations as soon as possible. No unavoidable delay is taking place.

Mr. Watkins

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I can confirm from my own knowledge that what he said about the formulation of the regulations is correct.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Member will need the leave of the Committee to speak again.

Mr. Watkins

I beg your pardon, Mr. Gurden. With your leave, and the leave of the Committee to speak again, may I say that I confirm what the Minister has said about the work being in an advanced stage on the preparation of the regulations. In the course of a conversation which I had last week—I think this is almost classic and worth putting on record—I was told that the regulations would be ready "in days rather than months".

Mr. Ridley

We have heard that phrase before. We shall wait and see.

I come now to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. Medical treatment is covered by paragraph 8(2) of the Schedule. A standard will be decided in consultation with the industry before the regulations are made. Accommodation is covered by paragraph 8(3) of the Schedule. I can confirm that there is no intention of making minimum regulations in relation to diet. That would be a dangerous precedent, although I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) suggest that it might be applicable here in the House. But that is a matter which I should be wrong to pursue at this stage, Mr. Gurden.

Hours of work and leisure could be covered, if it was thought fit, by making regulations under the Schedule. The hon. Gentleman asked also about divers. There are powers under Clause 6 to make regulations regarding divers. There are regulations in relation to divers in inshore waters, but they could be extended to particular problems under Clause 6.

Finally, in relation to the design of installations, we are working at present on minimum design and construction requirements, which will be specified under Clause 3. We shall discuss these requirequirements with the classification societies, for example, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, and with the operators. It is intended to bring these into existence when the Bill reaches the Statute Book.

The major matters which concerned hon. Gentlemen were the qualifications of masters, the dangers from ships, and the question of fireproof lifeboats. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, said, in another place the Government accepted an Amendment which widened the power to make regulations and gave the Department discretion to make regulations dealing with the qualifications of masters. I think that is as far as it is possible to go, not because of any disagreement in principle with the arguments which were put forward but because experience of what should be the necessary qualifications is so limited that it would, possibly, do more harm than good to make regulations at this stage.

Masters of oil rigs have evolved so far, and they have evolved as very responsible and excellent people. Nobody is criticising them. But they do not in any sense seem to have a common background of experience or knowledge which it would be possible to enshrine in regulations at this stage. I believe that it is right, for the short period ahead, to leave it to the operators and owners of rigs to choose the most suitable people from their knowledge of those who have experience in this field. If, in due course, it becomes clear what the relevant qualifications are, we have powers under the Bill to make qualification regulations. It might well have the effect of making regulations which rule out admirable people, or which allow in people who, perhaps, do not have the requisite qualifications, if we were to attempt to do so at the present imprecise stage of knowledge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) and others felt that there was danger from passing ships colliding with rigs. First, I should say that as yet no decision has been taken on whether to grant licences in the English Channel. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) suggested that this might take place, but that is mere supposition.

Mr. Ogden

A good deal of supposition and leak coming from the hon. Gentleman's Department over the past few months has proved remarkably accurate. I say this in all fairness. It did give cause for concern. It is reasonable that the Department should be considering it, and we were taking the first opportunity of pointing out some of the difficulties.

Mr. Ridley

I was merely making the point that it was not a certainty, and a decision had not yet been taken. We have been giving much thought to the problems which might arise, and I can give some reassuring answers to the Committee. First, there will be power in the regulations to forbid the approach to rigs of ships which have no business to call there. There will be a 500-metre safety zone round the rigs. The latitude and longitude of each rig will always be made public, and all ships sailing those seas should have knowledge of the exact location of the rigs.

Secondly, as regards ships which have cause to call at the rigs, the position is much the same as for a harbour master. There will be power to make regulations as to the manner of coming up to the rig, approaching it, tying up, and so on. There will be full power under the regulations to control that operation.

Third, there is the question of warning signals. Of course, fog horns, lights, radar, radio and rockets are vital. They are not mentioned in the Bill because they will come in the regulations when they are finally agreed. We are discussing the precise requirements with the operators, and we hope to include the most up-to-date and reasonable requirements in relation to all these warning devices.

I must sound one note of warning: it will be the ship that runs into the rig more often than the rig that runs into the ship. Therefore, perhaps, it is more for the ship to watch where it is going than it is for the rig to watch out who will run into it. One might say that an island or a rocky peninsula should be required to have safety regulations applied to it to stop ships running into it.

Mr. McNamara

What about fog?

Mr. Ridley

That does apply to some extent, but still, principally, the onus is on the ship not to run into it, not the other way round. One has to bear that in mind when considering these problems.

Last, the question of the fireproof lifeboats. I am pleased to be able to say that the Brucker capsules have been approved by the Department of Trade and Industry and we are in consultation with the industry on the circumstances in which they should form part of the safety equipment at rigs. This is not the only truly fire-proof device. There is also a suitable lifeboat in existence. Therefore, one has to consider the alternatives before specifying which should be used, or how they should be employed on rigs. I think that I have said enough on that point to reassure the Committee that we are fully aware of the importance of these inventions and the great contribution which they can make in the safety of those who work on rigs.

I am glad of the general welcome for the Bill which has been expressed by hon. Gentlemen. I give the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North the assurance he requires that they will be rigorous regulations. As high a standard will be called for as is reasonable and right in relation to the twin needs of protecting everybody on board without causing waste or extravagance for no good reason. I am sure that the general welcome which has been given to the Bill will encourage those who work in the North Sea. I thank hon. Gentlemen for the many points which have been raised. They will be carefully taken into account in drafting the regulations.

I, personally, look forward to a Committee stage at which I shall see the same familiar faces as I see this morning, Mr. Gurden, even though they are refreshed by a few more visits to the North Sea, as was suggested by the hon. Member for West Derby. I am afraid that the Department cannot fix those visits, but hon. Gentlemen who have sufficient initiative can fix them for themselves, no doubt. I look forward to the Committee stage and to considering sympathetically any points which hon. Gentlemen wish to raise by way of Amendments.

The Chairman

I apologise to the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins). I thought that he might have been launching into a speech. In fact, it was an intervention, and I should not have reminded him of the need to ask leave to speak again.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Mr. Ridley

I thank you for taking the Chair this morning, Mr. Gurden. I hope that it has not been too arduous. It has not been too long, due to the co-operation of all hon. Members. I express our thanks to you for the sympathetic and helpful way in which you have handled our proceedings.

Mr. Ogden

I join in that expression of thanks for your guidance, Mr. Gurden. I hope that you feel that your task was eased by our restraint on this side and, perhaps, by the encouragement which we seemed to get from the hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) and for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer), as well as the interest, I am sure, of even the hon. Member for Bath (Sir E. Brown). The Bill refers to inland waters, and, for all we know, there might be trouble in the Pump Room at Bath.

I believe that, if you serve on the Standing Committee, Mr. Gurden, you will find it not over-contentious. The silent majority may be joining us, it is

Gurden, Mr. Harold (Chairman) Hicks, Mr.
Archer, Mr. Jeffrey McNamara, Mr.
Benyon, Mr. Marsden, Mr.
Booth, Mr. Mudd, Mr.
Boscawen, Mr. Ogden, Mr.
Brown, Sir E. Pounder, Mr.
Clegg, Mr. Prescott, Mr.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James Ridley, Mr.
Grant, Mr. George Stokes, Mr.
Hamling, Mr. Watkins, Mr. David

true, but it should be an interesting Committee stage. We hope that we shall have the benefit of your guidance on that occasion, just as we have had it today.

The Chairman

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken, to whose who spoke earlier, and, equally, to those who have shown more restraint.

Committee rose at twelve minutes past Twelve o'clock.