HC Deb 13 January 1971 vol 809 cc179-96

The following section shall be added to the Oil in Navigable Waters Acts, 1955 and 1963:— '15B. The Board of Trade may for the purpose of implementing United Kingdom obligations between any two or more states party to any I.M.C.O. agreement for reducing the risk of discharge of oil resulting from accidents make regulations relating to navigation of oil tankers within such sea areas as shall be defined thereon including regulations prescribing the saparation of sea traffic proceeding in opposite directions'.—[Mr. Mason.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

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

I doubt whether there is a country in the world more in danger of the awful consequences of pollution of the sea by oil than is Britain. We all remember the "Torrey Canyon", the "Pacific Glory" and "Allegro", the "Taxaco Caribbean" and now the "Brandenburg" accidents. All these have made us acutely aware of that fact.

Our straits and coastal waterways are the busiest in the world, particularly with oil tankers. The bigger the vessel, the bigger the menace to our coastline and beaches, with the inevitable costs to the Government and local authorities. I believe our coastline and beaches will be menaced for many years to come. The recent collisions were not freakish, isolated incidents. Some 10 or 11 tanker accidents per year take place near our shores, so the chance of another belch of oil from a super tanker, and possibly loss of life, could happen at any time.

This Bill is intent upon curbing the illegal discharge of oil at sea, increasing fines on the offender and establishing more detailed records of all movements of oil. In that sense it is a very good Bill, but I believe we must do more to impose stricter rules regarding the regulation of navigation of these mammoth oil tankers.

The Institute of Navigation recently reported that 7 per cent. of the world's seagoing ships are involved in collisions every year and that the super oil tankers are the greatest menace of this group. These are vast ships, as big as aircraft carriers, and they are still growing in size. The Japanese are now building vessels of 300,000 tons. Their cargoes are frighteningly dangerous; the vessels are slow to manœuvre and difficult to stop. They are the problem ships of our age. One other alarming aspect of this problem is that many of the owners are under pressure to meet financial deadlines—because of the cost, size of cargo and immense investment in them. They tend to treat navigational regulations as of secondary importance, racing tides, cutting corners at sea, crossing sea lanes with quick turn-rounds, shelving maintenance—to mention just a few of the dangers.

Because this country is the most vulnerable to oil tanker accidents, because 500 million tons of oil per year are brought to Britain and other Western European countries, I want now to be assured that we have the powers to change the regulations of navigation as fast as we deem it necessary. That is the reason for the new Clause.

I wish to ask the Minister three specific questions. I should like to know what progress is being made in establishing proper longitudinal and lateral separation measures in all our waters and introducing more quickly the anti-collision rules, not necessarily waiting every time for the periodic slow-moving recommendations of inter-governmental maritime organisations.

9.15 p.m.

I hope that on this occasion—we have asked this question a number of times, from Second Reading right through Committee—the Minister can give a progress report on the work being done by his Department and the Institute of Navigation, which might give some satisfaction to the House. As he knows, the pilots, Trinity House and the master mariners have already expressed concern at the routing system in the Channel, where they estimate that 5 per cent. of vessels were actually sailing against the agreed traffic flow system. They themselves have recommended changes to the Minister; they will probably have to wait some time, even if he gives them sympathetic consideration, because they will have to go through the I.M.C.O. machinery. But they, too, are in need of some reply to the ideas that they have put to him.

Secondly, why cannot the Government, and, if necessary, I.M.C.O., consider the possibility of giving these vast, highly lethal cargoes, oil tankers, vessels carrying highly concentrated explosives and methane tankers, the right of way on the high seas? At least Britain and her neighbouring Western European countries should consider this in our highly congested straits and channels.

We are a great importer of oil, and this, too, will go on for years. We are the most vulnerable of all the nations to tanker accidents and oil pollution. These tankers in our narrow sea lanes are becoming an even greater menace, and it is, therefore, incumbent upon us to take the initiative and change the law of the sea.

In that way, I would hope that these major vessels, these problem ships of our age, the tankers and the vessels carrying high explosives, should have the right of way on the high seas. Why is not this proposition feasible? I hope that the Minister will answer that tonight as well.

Finally, I believe that the Western European countries could, without waiting for I.M.C.O., convene a conference to establish a regional agreement. This would be to establish the necessary anti-collision routes and rights of way for these large and slow-manoeuvring tankers. It could be agreed within weeks if Her Majesty's Government would take the initiative with France and the other Western European nations which are involved along our own coastal ways. I.M.C.O. would then be responsible, in the end—not initially—for informing all the other maritime nations of this special regional agreement and of the rules to be observed in our coastal waters and the congested sea lanes between the United Kingdom and the coastline of Western Europe. Such a regional agreement is possible within the I.M.C.O. machinery.

I therefore hope that the Minister will treat all these suggestions seriously. I hope that the Government will give a blessing to the new Clause if the Minister feels that it is necessary as an addition to give him the powers that he needs expeditiously to deal with anti-collision rules and regulations, and if he thinks that we cannot do it fast enough at the moment. I hope that he will also consider urgently some of the other considerations which I have mentioned.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

The argument of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is superficially very attractive, but, on the best evidence that we received in the Select Committee, his facts are wrong. It is not true to say that these big tankers are more dangerous than other ships. In some ways, they are more easily navigated. I suppose that we could have had few more reliable witnesses on this when we were taking evidence in that Select Committee than Lord Geddes. If the right hon. Gentleman would look at what Lord Geddes told our Committee, I think he would wish that he had not propounded some of the propositions which he has propounded this evening. One of the first things that we must get out of our thinking is the idea that it is safe to talk in terms of tramlines.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Lord Geddes, who knows quite a lot about tankers, pointed out that the accident involving the "Torrey Canyon" could be regarded as a maverick accident and unlikely to happen again.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

If it can be said to have been a maverick accident, it is obviously unlikely to happen again. We made it clear in our Report that there are two tanker accidents every week somewhere in the world. Obviously the risk of this happening is greater in narrow congested waters such as the English Channel than in other areas, particularly bearing in mind the siting of Rotterdam, London and Southampton. Naturally, the concentration of shipping coming in from the Western Approaches up the Channel automatically makes the Channel extremely dangerous for navigation.

Let us not assume that the big tankers are automatically the most dangerous to navigate. As I was saying, do not let us assume that it is sensible to think in terms of tramlines for shipping. Indeed, we on the Select Committee are convinced, particularly in relation to the phrase "tramlining", that there is no substitute for the good mastership of a ship. One can have all the rules and regulations in the world, but can one always rely on them being complied with? A master must always bear in mind the need for good navigation, and unless we have good navigation we shall have collisions.

There was never a better example of this than a collision that occurred some time ago. It was between a ship called the "Ann Mildred Brovig", a quite small Norwegian vessel, which went batting into a much bigger ship and holed her badly. The bigger ship was, in fact, on precisely her right route. This collision occurred in fog, and, while one does not know what equipment the smaller vessel carried, the collision illustrates what can happen.

It is vital for us to realise that we are talking about a highly sophisticated business. I doubt whether any of us is sufficiently qualified to make complete sense of this. I can, therefore, only hope to help the House by mentioning, for example, that having had some preconceived ideas following the "Torrey Canyon" disaster, I was quickly disabused of them when I listened to some of the expert witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee.

I obviously do not have time tonight to cite all the evidence we took, which was voluminous. However, I wish to quote a few passages from the evidence of Lord Geddes. For example, referring particularly to stopping, he said: These big tankers … have remarkably good manoeuvrability. Their turning circle is half a mile for a complete circle. But they can change course very rapidly. Their stopping distance, if you want to do a crash stop, which is a very rare thing to want to do, is something under two miles. However, one hears all sorts of stories about a stopping distance of ten or twelve miles. I will explain why you hear those stories. If you are coming up to the pilot or to the port approaches you clearly do not want, as with a car, to drive at full speed until the last minute and then slam the brakes on. You slow down gradually. Coming up to the pilot or to the port approaches you put the ship on standby at ten miles, get on to half speed and slow her down gradually in order to bring her to the condition in which you want her. That is why you hear of these enormous stopping distances which do not relate to emergencies. And emergencies do not normally relate to crash stops but to diversions. We must recognise that, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Barnsley that we must also recognise with increasing intensity the appalling congestion in the Channel.

But we also have to recognise that whilst Trinity House may recommend reversing the main routes of the Channel, as it apparently now is recommending, so that a ship goes out along the coast of France and comes in on the English side, I believe, no one should suppose that that will absolve masters of ships from keeping a good lookout and making sure that the men on board are fit to be there. There is no substitute for that being done. I therefore suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his new Clause somewhat over-simplifies the matter, and I am more frightened than I would otherwise be by his arguments, because I think that they are unsound.

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman talks about the Channel and the master mariners who now want to reverse the flow, which means that they want to turn the "tramlines" round—that is a simple word he used—but for the last 10 years they have been voluntarily trying to establish how the traffic should flow in the Channel. Since then, we have had faster and bigger and very many more vessels moving through the Channel than ever before. The master mariners and the Elder Brethren of Trinity House now say that it would be far safer to reverse the flow so that any danger would be towards the deeper water and not necessarily towards the coast.

I go along with the hon. Gentleman on his point about certificated masters, because the one major complaint of the United Kingdom pilots is that when they go on many foreign vessels, not British vessels, they are appalled by the few officers they find on the bridge; in many cases there is only one officer.

Mr. Ogden

I thought for a moment that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) intended to change this debate into a controversial occasion when what is before us is largely agreed on both sides of the House. No one would disagree about the importance of masters and crews, or with the fact that some ships, regardless of size, are more manoeuvrable than others, but I was surprised when the hon. Gentleman chided my right hon. Friend and said that large vessels are in the main fairly manoeuvrable and fairly easy to stop on a crash course. It may be that experts disagree, but our information is that the sheer size of vessels makes for difficulties. We hear of one ship trying to go between the forepart and the stern of another ship. Size presents difficulties.

We accept that the Under-Secretary's responsibilities in this respect are very great indeed—in some way he may now be answering for his Minister who, unfortunately, is not able to be present this evening—but he must be aware that on 27th November last the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) introduced a debate on safety at sea. The House then accepted a Motion which indirectly called upon the Under-Secretary and his Department to undertake certain action.

During that debate several points raised in connection with the present Measure were mentioned. One point made by the Minister, when talking about disasters in the Channel, was that the collision between the "Pacific Glory" and the "Allegro" happened in a seaway which was not a so-called "separated" seaway, so that the rules concerning a separated seaway did not there apply. We have now had a collision in a separated seaway. In that earlier debate the Minister was still claiming that he and his colleagues and his Department intended to try to get an agreement through the whole range of I.M.C.O. and gave no concession at all in respect of a regional agreement. We are entitled now to ask what consideration the Minister and the Department have given to the Resolution of the House from 27th November till now—practically six weeks.

In that debate I asked questions about the newspaper proposals for the creation of a British marine authority, which might well be a way of working this kind of international agreement.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The Clause is of limited utility. I repeat the point I made on Second Reading that, as long as there is any country which is not a party to I.M.C.O., we deceive ourselves if we imagine that we can control shipping upon the waterways of the world, because all that will happen is that ships will find it profitable to register under flags of convenience of countries which are still not signatories to I.M.C.O. That is the restriction on our practical ability.

I do not believe that adopting the Clause would achieve the measure of safety that we seek. I repeat that in narrow water such as the Channel nothing will achieve that objective but the extension of the territorial limits of contiguous States until they meet in the middle with no clear space.

Instead of seking to carry such Clauses and then persuade ourselves that we have dealt with the situation highlighted by the recent collisions, we should do as other countries have done and extend our territorial waters. Other States contiguous to the Channel would then take a similar view. That is the course which the Government, together with the other powers concerned, should be engaged on. If my hon. Friend can tell us that his mind is moving very much in this direction, I shall have an easier conscience in letting the Clause go by without its being embodied in this excellent Bill.

Mr. Booth

I cannot accept that it is of no value to seek regional agreements or any agreements on navigational problems unless they embrace every maritime country. That is a doctrine of despair, particularly at this time. Had it been believed by the British representative at the international convention that it was not right to place the legal responsibility for the operation of this form of legislation upon the nation whose vessels were registered with that nation, that should have been said at the time and we should not have been considering any legislation of this form.

The whole purpose of this legislation which we are considering and of legislation which will be considered in Parliaments of other member countries of I.M.C.O. is that each country will be responsible for the ships registered there. I give sufficient credit to those who attended the international conference to think that they considered a number of other methods. In fact, I know that they did. They came down in favour of this one in the belief that action by I.M.C.O. countries could be subsequently pressed upon other countries and that it was better that I.M.C.O. countries should go ahead and take this action, anyway, rather than waiting until some form of international organisation embracing all countries operating vessels could be set up.

However, there is an additional argument in favour of regional agreement which stems from the knowledge and experience of the countries in that region and from the sea trade that goes on between countries in a limited region. There are no doubt a number of special practices and conventions of navigation which can be operated in certain waters by at least the majority of vessels which regularly frequent those waters by knowledge of the practices which are agreed on a regional basis between two nations.

In the case of the Channel, I am not suggesting that it should be only Britain and France. Obviously, there are other Northern European nations with many vessels which trade in those waters. But I certainly believe that regional agreements by I.M.C.O. members, or even in some cases other nations, have a part to play in marine safety generally and the avoidance of oil pollution in particular.

The manoeuverability of large vessels has been questioned. It is flying in the face of common sense to say that we do not have a real manoeuverability problem with some of the larger vessels. The first reason is their draught. Their greater draught automatically restricts the areas in which they can manoeuvre and the routes they can take through narrow waters.

In addition, there is the scale problem of manoeuverability which results in stopping distances of miles rather than thousands of yards under specific conditions. Unfortunately, weather does not change in scale. In fog it is no easier to see further from the big vessel than from the small vessel. Therefore, in conditions of limited visibility there must be a special problem.

There has also been a technical-economic development which has caused a manoeuverability problem with the larger vessel—the tendency towards more and more large single-screw vessels. In the past large vessels tended to be multi-screw. They were twin-screw, sometimes three-screw, but more commonly large four-screw vessels, which could be manoeuvred on their engines much more readily than the large single-screw tanker, particularly when the vessel in running light and the top of its propeller is out of the water, which means that it has a propeller bias against turning in one direction built into it by the nature of its method of propulsion.

Therefore, we must concede that one of the reasons why we need special navigation provisions arises not purely from the size of the tanker but from its size coupled with its economy of operation. No doubt, if there were not considerations of economy in operation a large tanker could be made as a twin-screw vessel and could have cross-bow propulsion units to enable it to turn more quickly and a whole range of other measures to enable it to manoeuvre more readily. But in practice it has been found that the cheapest large tanker to operate has the big single screw, without special manoeuvring devices. This is causing the navigation difficulties, which are a fair argument for the need for regional agreements on navigation.

Mr. Prescott

The Clause tries to deal with the problem we are outlining. The Channel is very congested and is becoming increasingly so, and collisions are made all the more likely by the increasing number of vessels coming into it. It is no accident that they are coming via the Channel, because many of the major oil routes in particular come through the Channel and on into Europe. We are concerned in the Bill not only with the pollution problem posed by such vessels but with accidents and collisions, which cause deaths as well as pollution, and the deaths of seamen represent a far greater problem than the problem of pollution. The two go together, however, in that when a tragedy occurs one effect is the massive oil pollution that we witnessed in the case of the "Torrey Canyon" and the threat of pollution from the "Pacific Glory".

The problem of congestion and how we control the traffic flows through the Channel is very important. Many marine authorities—the pilots, Trinity House and many others concerned with the problem daily—are questioning the routes, the "tramways" that we talk about, whilst other bodies connected with shipping hold an opposite point of view. This presents a real difficulty for the Government, whose ultimate responsibility is concern for safety, in deciding which is the best method to adopt. That causes a dilemma.

Nevertheless, the major question about navigation is not necessarily whether ships should go upon the right or upon the left or down whichever way may be considered the safer, but the fact that the fundamental rules of navigation in the Channel are being questioned. We have not yet had the reports about the collision of the "Pacific Glory" and the "Allegro", but there is sufficient evidence already to suggest that both ships may have been obeying the international navigation rules of the sea. Very often in these cases there are very fine points concerning the angles at which ships entered the routes they had to plot from the ports they had left. Thus, both vessels might be right in their interpretation of the rules and yet there is a collision.

A challenging question now about the Channel is whether we should not consider safer rules of navigation in this congested waterway, such as those suggested by my right hon. Friend about giving way to vessels like tankers. There are differences of view, which must be given immediate consideration, about the rules of traffic and the rules of navigation, particularly in the Channel, which gives us cause for our most immediate concern.

The rules of navigation are one part of the maintenance of orderly traffic through the Channel. What is equally important is the quality of those who man the vessels—the safe and adequate manning and the qualities and certificates of qualifications of those who give the orders, the captains and the officers. This must be a priority in our consideration. Evidence has come to light, particularly in the case of the "Torrey Canyon" and from other inquiries we have had recently—perhaps in the case of the "Pacific Glory" and the "Allegro"—which questions the quality of seamanship and certification of those who charter and man these vessels. There are doubts as to whether they are of sufficient quality for these men to be put in charge of such potentially dangerous vessels.

We in seafaring have constantly complained of the deteriorating standards, particularly on certain vessels. Flags of convenience, particularly the Liberian, have been mentioned. Liberia has over 19 million tons of oil tankers. It has many new ships, and these are huge vessels of the type which the Select Committee on Science and Technology investigated in the case of the "Torrey Canyon". These ships have inadequate manning. More important, these countries do not impose the necessity for high standards of certification, particularly for officers, in contrast to the standards normally maintained by the traditional maritime countries. It is almost like haying a fast car on a motorway driven by someone who cannot really drive.

Flag-of-convenience countries have about 40 per cent. of world shipping, and we must be concerned at their failure to impose adequate standards. It is all very well for us to say that our sovereignty extends to British ships, but the consequences which flow from the lower standards of manning of flag-of-convenience ships also greatly affect us, as was brought out in the case of the "Torrey Canyon".

If anything is to be done about the problem, we have to have some sort of international control. This could be arranged through I.M.C.O., but experience has shown that when I.M.C.O. finally decides on a convention many countries do not sign it and many others delay signature. Even if we got agreement now, therefore, we could not expect a convention to be observed for perhaps two or three years. Meanwhile, deaths in the English Channel will continue to increase with the constant increase in traffic.

9.45 p.m.

We must have some sort of control and we cannot wait for the period which would be involved in getting co-operation through I.M.C.O., for in the next few years deaths of seamen, collisions and pollution will increase. The Clause therefore proposes that, while we should work for an eventual convention through I.M.C.O., we should arrange with countries bordering the Channel—France, Germany, Holland and so forth—to have some sort of agreement to police this important waterway.

The difficulty is going outside territorial waters. We can lay down regulations to control traffic within territorial waters, but what do we do about international waterways? If a tanker has a collision outside territorial waters, as we have been made only too painfully aware, that does not mean that we are necessarily free of the resulting pollution. But controlling international waterways is a thorny problem and it will be difficult to get some sort of agreement, for instance, to extend territorial waters.

If we attempt to force vessels below required standards to observe rules which we lay down, we may make ourselves liable to charges of piracy on international waterways. However, what we propose is that vessels which do not have proper standards of management and whose officers and masters do not have proper certification, and which, therefore, are potential dangers, shall not be allowed to enter the ports of those countries which border the Channel. The oil which comes in tankers from the Middle East comes to oil refineries in the countries concerned, and in that way we may be able to exercise some control over the standards of the tankers. We could make regional agreements among ourselves and in that way exercise a powerful sanction against vessels on which minimum safety standards are ignored and which, therefore, create much of the problem.

The Clause could be a useful interim device pending international agreement. If we await international agreement through I.M.C.O., many seamen will die and more collisions will occur and much more pollution will be caused in the Channel, not to mention windows broken by explosions such as we have recently experienced. It is incumbent upon the Board of Trade to adopt the recommendations of the Rochdale Report, to set up a statutory marine authority with the responsibility of carrying out a number of functions including participating "fully in international negotiations to establish standards" To do this is a first step towards getting agreement. To hang on for I.M.C.O. to do something will be to pay a terrible price. This Clause goes one step towards solving the problem.

Mr. Anthony Grant

It was helpful to have the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), because he reminded us in clear terms that, with all the advances of technology and sophistication of equipment, at the end of the day in these operations at sea we rely upon the human element and the skill of the mariner.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has put some points to me, crisply and succinctly and I hope that in answering them I can deal with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) at the same time. As I understand it there are three matters. First, the right hon. Gentleman asked me to report on what progress has been made to establish more quickly anti-collision routes. I can tell him that traffic separation schemes must really find international acceptance. This is the only practical solution. The process of consultation before such agreement is reached, on the details of the scheme, inevitably takes time if we are to achieve the correct result.

As to routing in the English Channel, my Department has been urgently working out new proposals which will be discussed at a meeting next week covering a wide range of expert opinion. After full consultation—

Mr. Prescott

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the trade unions will be invited to this meeting?

Mr. Grant

We shall be only too pleased to hear trade union views on this and will value any points that they care to make. After full consultation with United Kingdom maritime interests we intend putting our proposals to I.M.C.O. at the next meeting of its Maritime Safety Committee in March. We are also considering urgently whether the existing scheme in the Dover Straits ought to be made mandatory. Many of us feel that this would be desirable but there are problems of enforcement which we are examining. If it is desirable then we shall seek, through I.M.C.O., international agreement. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to be assured that we are moving as vigorously as we can in this direction. It is important that we achieve the right result.

Perhaps I could say a word or two about what has occupied the columns of the Press in the last few days and has been referred to in the debate, namely the views of Trinity House and the Master Mariners as opposed, apparently, to everyone else. I should not like it to be thought, as has been suggested in certain parts of the Press, that it is an easy solution merely to change the routes around. It is by no means as simple nor is it likely, necessarily, in our view to reduce collisions. It could increase them. This has been considered at great length by a great number of people who are extremely expert on this subject, and it will continue to be examined. I do not want the House to run away with the idea that by a mere switch one can overcome what is a very difficult problem.

Mr. Mason

Do I take it that the Under-Secretary has not yet finally made up his mind about the proposals put to his Department by the Elder Brethren and master mariners? He may be sceptical at this stage, but is it still under consideration or has he replied saying that it might prove more dangerous than they envisage?

Mr. Grant

That view is on present information that we have. What I am saying is that we need more information, as to depths in the Channel, and this is at the moment, I understand, being assembled by hydrographers doing detailed research. Until we have that precisely, we shall not be able to express a useful view on these matters. We are awaiting that information. When we have it, then we can have a considered view.

The second question asked by the right hon. Gentleman was about whether we should change the laws of the seas so as to give ships carrying lethal cargoes a right of way. This proposal has some attraction at first glance. It is something to be very carefully considered in the course of the current review of the collision regulations. However, when it comes to thinking out the details of how it would work in practice, there are serious practical difficulties, as right hon. and hon. Members will realise. For example, one can imagine it working satisfactorily for an encounter between one ship with a dangerous cargo and another ordinary ship when they can clearly see and identify each other. But what would happen in bad visibility or fog? There are no means available at present, I am advised, by radar or otherwise, of identifying particular ships in fog as having the qualities necessary to give them a right of way.

Moreover, this idea would do nothing to assist in the situation where the two ships meeting both carry dangerous cargoes, as in the collision between the "Pacific Glory" and the "Allegro", both tankers and both qualifying for the right of way. The normal collision regulations have to provide for this situation, and it is hard to see that a scheme of priorities would make much further contribution, even if it were practicable. But, having said that, and expressed our view, I assure the House that, if there is a way of getting over the practical difficulties, we should, naturally, consider it.

The third point put to me by the right hon. Gentleman and by several hon. Members was the question of a European conference in order to obtain a regional agreement to improve navigation in the English Channel. This is, again, an interesting idea and it may be that at some time such a conference would be useful. But I must warn the House that there are limitations. In particular, it is essential that any new arrangements for navigation in the English Channel are accepted by all the major maritime nations using it. I could see objections to trying to impose such arrangements, even with the support of other North-West European countries, if they had not found general acceptance.

I believe that we are likely to get quicker and more satisfactory results, therefore, by processing our proposals through the normal international machinery provided by I.M.C.O. It is all very well to assume that one can quickly get an agreement between a number of European countries, but—

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

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Weatherill.]

Question again proposed That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Grant

If, for example, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) wants them to do, it were intended that they should in some way boycott or ban vessels delivering to their ports, I envisage that to achieve agreement on that basis among European countries might take almost as long—if not longer, and probably be unenforceable—as it would take to go through the normal overall international machinery.

For those reasons, we are concentrating on getting our proposals ready in time for the meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee in March.

I remind the House that there could possibly be certain implications not altogether favourable for the United Kingdom if the concept of regional agreements were to be carried through in other parts of the world where we have considerable interests. In a nutshell, therefore, we think it best to concentrate, as rapidly as we can, on the international bodies.

I come now to the Clause itself, on which we have had a fairly wide-ranging debate. It would empower the Secretary of State, by regulation, to control the navigation of vessels within specified sea areas, and the controls would include separation of traffic going in opposite directions. In Committee, a similar proposal was put forward, and I undertook to consider whether we already had under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, the powers which the Clause would give us, but it was put down for the Report stage before I was able to write to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) about it.

I accept that the Clause is limited to the making of regulations to implement United Kingdom obligations between any two or more States party to any I.M.C.O. agreement. I am advised that we already have power under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, to do this. The manoeuvres of ships at sea are governed by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. These were last revised by international agreement in 1960. Power to apply these regulations to United Kingdom ships stems from Section 418 of the 1894 Act. Section 424 allows the regulations to be imposed on foreign ships provided that the appropriate foreign countries agree. I assure the House, therefore, that we have the necessary powers, should these be necessary.

To shorten the matter, I can sum up by saying that I am satisfied that in all these matters we should continue to work for international agreement, and we should play, and will play, a full and active part in the work of revising the Collision Regulations. We already possess the powers needed to give effect to agreements reached internationally which the Clause is designed to give us, and I must, therefore, invite the House to reject it.

Question put and negatived.

Mr. Speaker

We come now to the Amendments. I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House to discuss Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 together.

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is my first point of order under your guidance, and I have no doubt that both you and the House will hope that it will be my last.

We have made good progress in considering the four new Clauses taken so far, but you will have noted that there is also new Clause No. 5 on the Paper—Security of Lawful Ownership and Control—standing in my name. I am aware that it has been the wont of your predecessor to have a provisional list of selected Amendments posted in the Lobby at the beginning of a debate of this kind. In the House and elsewhere, Sir, you are known both as a person who says what he means and as one who means what he says, so I take it That "provisional selection" is exactly what you meant. Your predecessor in the Chair earlier this evening made no announcement at the beginning of the debate regarding what new Clauses or Amendments were selected—I make no complaint about that—and I was encouraged to believe that you were proposing to offer a sort of general amnesty this evening and that all would be acceptable.

It is a matter of some importance that the House should have concern for the security, lawful ownership and control, not only of British merchant ships, but of other ships passing through our waters. If any tanker near the British coast were to get into the wrong hands there would perhaps be a disaster which would outweigh any that we have had. Your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker, would be appreciated.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me warning that he would raise this point of order. The word "provisional" means provisional. The matter of selection is for the Chair and is not debatable. In fact, the hon. Gentleman's new Clause was out of order.

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