HC Deb 11 June 1982 vol 25 cc553-64

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 9, line 35, at end insert judgment", in relation to proceedings arising out of the Code, means any judgment, decree, order, award, recommendation or determination of any description given or made in such proceedings, and references to the giving of a judgment shall be construed accordingly;'—[Mr. Sproat.]

11.25 am
Mr. Sproat

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As the House will know by this stage in our proceedings, this Bill is an enabling measure. It will empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to create the necessary rights and duties in domestic law to enable the United Kingdom to implement the United Nations convention on a code of conduct for liner conferences. Our accession to the convention will be subject to the significant reservations that are already established in Community law and are embodied in Community Regulation No. 954/79. The code convention and the Community regulation need to be read together. Many of the code's provisions concern the relationship between shippers and shipowners and these have been generally welcomed. However, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries found other provisions of the code objectionable, and that was why the United Kingdom voted against the code when it was first drawn up. In particular both the Government and the British shipping industry concluded that British interests would be damaged if the code's cargo-sharing provisions were adopted without modification.

The most serious problem facing British shipping was that a number of continental European countries had signed the code convention, and there was the clear prospect that the code might eventually apply generally on the Continent, Imposing serious restrictions on our shipping lines' trading opportunities, and thus job opportunities, in the cross-trades to and from European ports. We faced this possibility whether or not we ourselves acceded to the United Nations code, by virtue of the Continental countries' intention to do so.

It was the development of the Community policy on the code convention that was the key to reconciling the code with British national interests. The principal effect of the policy will be to ensure that the code's cargo-sharing provisions will protect the shipping of only those countries, mainly developing countries, that wish to undertake cargo-sharing.

Most member States now have legislation corresponding to this Bill before their national Parliaments. Some will be ready to accede to the code by the end of this year, most will be able to accede by early 1983. All are obliged to make the agreed reservations when they accede.

The Bill does not provide for the code to have the force of law in the United Kingdom; the drafting of the code makes it unsuitable for such treatment. The code contains a mixture of mandatory provisions, usually where the word "shall" is used, and recommendatory provisions, usually containing the word "should". Even apparently mandatory provisions sometimes contain so many qualifications as to make them impossible to be regarded as mandatory.

The Department's consultative document published in August 1980 set out in some detail those code provisions that we intend by regulations to identify as mandatory and also those that we shall clarify. I am in no doubt that it was right to leave these matters to subordinate legislation. These questions are extremely complex and interested parties, whom the Secretary of State will be obliged to consult before making Regulations, will wish to consider these issues again in great detail. As I have explained, our intention is to carry out these consultations in good time so that the main regulations that we shall make under section 2(1) are laid within three months of the day on which the Act comes into force and are therefore subject to affirmative resolution. I would envisage regulations being made in the latter part of this year so that we can stay in step with those of our European Community partners who are also pressing ahead with their own legislation.

Certainly, it remains important to us to be able to accede to the code by the time the code comes into effect, which seems likely to be some time in the first half of 1983.

It is to be hoped that when the code becomes operative it will bring to an end a protracted source of uncertainty in the world of liner shipping, and on terms which, while no one could pretend they were designed expressly to advance British interests, give us reasons for some satisfaction that we have been able to avert serious threats that were apprehended by our industry at an earlier stage. Moreover, in a world where countries are divided in their views on the wisdom of protecting their shipping industries, and have the ability to do so, whether or not their trading partners agree, an internationally agreed code, laying down an internationally agreed trading regime, is less likely to lead to international friction than a variety of conflicting unilateral national protectionist measures, even when it cannot give every country, or perhaps even any country, 100 per cent. of what it would like.

Having made those few comprehensive remarks which spring out of what we have been discussing over the past weeks, it is perhaps appropriate for me to say two sentences—and I mean two sentences—about the role of our merchant fleet in the Falklands. It has for centuries been the role of the Merchant Service to support the Royal Navy in times of crisis. There is a long and distinguished record of that support, and we are now seeing in the Falklands a further dramatic example of the skilful and brave way in which the Merchant Service fulfils that historic role. I am sure that the whole House welcomes this opportunity to pay that tribute.

I commend the Bill to the House.

11.29 am
Mr. Woolmer

Before I turn to this important Bill on international shipping trade agreements, on the day when the QE2 has returned to our shores and when the Minister has made a most welcome statement on the role of the Merchant Navy in the Falkland Islands, I should like on behalf of the Opposition to pay a sincere and deep tribute to the services of the Merchant Navy and to the merchant seamen in the South Atlantic. I paid tribute to the merchant fleet and the seamen on 28 April, when the Bill was in Committee. I said then that the difficult operations in the South Atlantic underline the extreme importance of having a strong merchant shipping fleet. Since I first praised the bravery and dedication to service of our merchant seamen, events have surely strengthened the justice of that praise and assessment.

A large number of merchant vessels have been involved in the South Atlantic. The exact number of merchant seamen who are involved is not known, but it must be between 3,000 and 4,000. It is often forgotten that civilian merchant seamen crew the Royal fleet auxiliary ships, and it was with a special and deep concern that we heard the news a few days ago, on which we await further information, of the attacks on Tuesday on the "Sir Galahad" and the "Sir Tristram". Our sympathy and understanding go out to those who have been bereaved of loved ones in the most recent action and in the attack on the "Atlantic Conveyor". On behalf of the Opposition, I associate myself wholeheartedly with the views expressed by the Minister.

This Bill, when passed, will enable the United Kingdom to join in an international agreement on the sharing out of shipping services in an arbitrary andunsatisfactory manner. Most hon. Members go along with the measure with considerable reluctance. They do so only because it is better to be part of an agreement between nations rather than to be left out in the cold and also because of the vital and significant derogation from the main code of the agreement that will permit the continued competitive and free access of our shipping to 75 per cent. of world sea-borne trade. That important qualification and reservation was the result of an EEC agreement promoted largely on the insistence of the Labour Government. Because of that, the Opposition do not oppose the Bill today.

There remain four essential conditions over which we shall maintain a close watch to ensure the acceptability of the agreement in practice. First, the operation of the agreement must leave open the door to competition from non-conference lines. Secondly, it must not be taken as a signal to extend international and State cartel market-sharing in shipping beyond the liner shipping trade. Thirdly, it must not lead to high-cost inefficiency behind a wall of protection with consequential damaging effects on customers of shipping and ultimately upon consumers and workers. Fourthly, there must be the maximum openness and, in my view, Government supervision to ensure that the public interest is seen to be protected.

This ranks as a unique Bill in my short experience of the House. I hope that we rarely see the like of it again. With those reservations and important qualifications in respect of the period ahead, we do not oppose the Bill but share the concern to ensure that the interests of British shipping, of those who use British shipping and of the workers employed by British shipping are paramount. We shall stand with the Government in making sure that the Bill, when implemented through the code, does not contravene those interests.

11.33 am
Mr. Higgins

I join the Front Benches in paying tribute to the magnificent work done by the Merchant Navy and its members in the Falklands conflict. All hon. Members are profoundly impressed by the skill and courage that they have shown. Those of us who have been at sea in difficult and dangerous conditions appreciate their tremendously difficult task. I also echo the points made to the effect that it is vitally important that we have a strong and adequate Merchant Marine. This has been brought out by the Falklands crisis.

Trends over the years have not been wholly to our advantage. The fact is that our shipping industry is immensely efficient, which has meant that it has not been necessary for the Merchant Marine in this country, unlike other countries, for example, the United States, to be subsidised. We have maintained the size of our fleet on the basis of efficiency and keeping down costs. The provisions within the Bill that are likely to create a less competitive environment in which costs tend to rise and in which our share of the market is not reflected by the efficiency of our Merchant Marine, are a cause for concern.

The Minister gave a categoric assurance in Committee that the Government were wholly opposed to the extension of the cargo-sharing arrangements into the bulk trades. I take that to mean that we shall not merely express a view at international shipping conferences but that we shall actively oppose any moves to extend the cargo-sharing provisions to the bulk trades. Many hon. Members will be watching carefully to see the line taken by the Government in any such negotiations.

There is considerable cause for concern that some of the developing countries do not stick to, or abide by, the letter of the code and that this is to the disadvantage of countries such as the United Kingdom that do abide by it. It is essential that the Government, having gone along with the provisions of the code and put forward the Bill, ensure that developing countries take a responsible line within the confines of the code.

I viewed with some concern an article in the Financial Times on 8 June referring to the fact that the Indonesian Government have apparently decreed unilaterally that Government-owned goods shall be entirely carried in their own shipping lines. That is a worrying development. This has happened, I gather, despite the fact that provision is generally made when we extend export credit to ensure that some of the business goes to our own shipping lines.

The United States Government have apparently already protested about this decree but the British Government and the EEC, some months later, have not positively done so. It is not good enough, if the House is to pass this type of legislation, for the Government and the EEC not to take urgent action if developing countries seek to impose unilaterally the sort of measure that the Indonesian Government have introduced, outside the provisions of the code. The Government should take positive action to protect our national interest and to ensure that goods are not carried by high-cost, inefficient lines. Matters should be kept on a competitive level. Otherwise, consumers will clearly suffer.

The Bill, as it stands, is, in some senses, significantly better than when it was introduced. We have done quite a lot of work on it. I wish to pay tribute to the unfailing courtesy and sympathetic response of the Minister despite all the complexities. He has done a good ministerial job in answering the debates. I feel bound to say, however, that my doubts about the Bill are, if anything, even greater than at the time of Second Reading. I hope to see more improvements made in the other place. I shall, therefore, not wish to oppose the Third Reading.

11.39 am
Mr. Ginsburg

Reference was made in Committee to the importance of the Merchant Navy to this country and to the contribution that it was making to the Falklands campaign. It is only right that these words should have been reiterated by the Minister and other hon. Members. I should like to associate myself with them.

The Bill is, from a party point of view, noncontroversial. I do not know whether the Minister is able to confirm that the Bill is the same to the last comma as that over which the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) presided in the Labour Administration. It has, however, been altered appreciably today by some weighty new clauses. From a parliamentary point of view, the Bill has raised considerable doubts in the minds of hon. Members as an enabling Bill that gives considerable powers to bodies unaccountable to this place. Hon. Members were justified in expressing misgivings and considering whether such a blank cheque could be issued.

I am convinced that the Government were right to proceed with the measure because there is substantial evidence that, unlike that of the United States, which is perhaps in a special position, this country's merchant shipping would have been seriously disadvantaged if we had not joined in the measure. If the measure were proceeded with internationally, as is happening, and Britain were one of the few countries that did not take it, the consequences to our shipping would be serious.

That is not to say that we are happy with everything that has happened either in Committee or on Report. Some procedural aspects of the measure are unique and not satisfactory. The committee did its job. Although the Bill has been changed only in certain respects today, the Committee was able to find out much information which, I think hon. Members will agree, it was the duty of the Government to have conveyed to Parliament much earlier.

We are right in paying a tribute to the Minister. He was unfailingly courteous and communicative, and wrote many letters. Nevertheless, information about accession to the treaty, who had acceded to it and who had not and what the reservations were was not known by Parliament or Committee Members until the Minister eventually came clean.

The Minister has provided substantial information about the accession. Some of what we learnt was not exactly reassuring. There are substantial reservations about the Soviet Government, the French Government and the Indian Government. Indian trade is important to this country. I ask the Minister to consider carefully whether we are in any way disadvantaged.

As to the future, perhaps "blank cheque" is not the right phrase, but certainly we are issuing a promissory note. The spirit of our deliberations is that considerable responsibility is laid on the Minister and whoever succeeds him to ensure that Parliament is kept informed of the way in which the wide powers under the legislation are implemented. Otherwise there are dangers that non-accountable powers could be exercised. In that spirit, I shall not wish to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

11.43 am
Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)

I support the Third Reading of the Bill. Hon. Members will be aware that I have not taken part in debates on the measure, so I should explain that my eleventh hour interest stems from my recent involvement in the activities of the Conservative parliamentary sub-committee that deals with shipping and shipbuilding affairs.

Having read the Official Report of the debates on the Bill to date, I am truck by the well-informed remarks of hon. Members. I pay tribute to the two-man opposition on Conservative Benches in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). There is little that I can add at this late stage to what has already been said on the measure, so my contribution will be short.

Experience with both shipping and civil aviation has shown that regulation is far from essential in international transport markets. British shipping would still be better off without it. A measure of self-regulation, for that is what the conference system is, may be required, but not a Government-imposed carve-up. Equally abhorrent to me is the idea of a system devised by the United Nations, which should have better things to do, such as preserving world peace.

However, we live in an imperfect world. Developing countries are determined to have their slice of the cake. The UNCTAD liter code that is the subject of the Bill seems to be an acceptable way of sharing out the business, particularly when the exclusion of infra-EEC trade is taken into account, so I hope that the Bill will get a Third Reading.

However, the European Commission needs to do a little more urgent work on its sea transport competition policy. At first sight, there appear to be possible areas of inconsistency or conflict between the policy in the EEC council regulation 954/79, which was much discussed in Committee, and what is set out in document 10150/81 entitled "Competition Policy—Sea Transport", which came through my letter box earlier this week and which has recently been looked at by the Select Committee on European Legislation, &c. That Committee concluded, having taken outside evidence from bodies such as the General Council of British Shipping and the National Union of Seamen, that it should recommend that the instrument be considered further by the House. When we do that, we should bear in mind also the provisions of the Bill and regulation 954/79.

The Bill is only an enabling measure. I am sure that there will be time to iron out the European wrinkles, perhaps before the Bill reaches another place and certainly before the Secretary of State seeks to give effect to the code.

Hon. Members have referred to the vital role of our Merchant Navy in the Falkland Islands task force. I associate myself wholeheartedly with their praise for the heroism of our merchant seafarers who have plied, and are still plying, their business in the great waters of the South Atlantic. I also associate myself with the expressions of sympathy for the families of those who have laid down their lives in the fight for freedom.

This fourth arm of defence, as the Merchant Navy is often called, has shown that the operation to restore the international rule of law in the Falkland Islands could not have been mounted without British merchant shipping. That is why I would not support the Bill if I thought that it would damage our shipping industry. There are enough other difficulties for shipowners to overcome. The Falkland Islands crisis, by reminding us of the importance of a strong Merchant Navy, has, in the words of last Sunday's edition of The Observer, thrown the industry a life-line. We should now redouble our efforts to persuade Her Majesty's Government to throw that vital industry more than a life-line. I sould like to see investment incentives improved. The extra 40 per cent. tax allowance called for by the General Council of British Shipping should be reinstated, perhaps for a limited period of three years. The world recession has hit the shipping industry hard. Grain markets have slumped. The developing nations, which have created the need for the Bill, are increasing their competition and manning and operating costs continue to rocket.

It is little wonder that our fleet declined by 18 per cent. over the five years from 1975 to 1981, while the world fleet grew by 25 per cent. Britain's fleet now represents only 4.3 per cent. of the world total as against 40 per cent. 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the British fleet still contributes £1.5 billion annually in foreign exchange to Britain's balance of payments.

If something is not done to restore investment confidence in shipping, it has been suggested that there will be a growing number of so-called flagging out deals involving the sale and leaseback of ships, to which the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr.Woolmer) has just referred.

If ship owners sell their ships to lower cost flags and charter them back at lower operating costs, problems of definition of national lines for the purpose of the UNCTAD liner code in the Bill are raised. I welcome the Minister's assurance in that regard.

It is appropriate to be debating shipping matters as the QE2 steams triumphantly back up the Solent having earned her Falklands battle honour. There will be just as many wet eyes at Southampton as when she left, but this time they will be tears of joy.

There is a verse in Walt Whitman's poem "Oh Captain, my Captain" which reads: The ship is anchored safe and sound its voyage is closed and done. From fearful trip the victor ship comes in—with object won. It is with those words in salute of the QE2 and those who serve and are now travelling in her that I conclude my remarks and encourage the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

11.51 am
Mr. Shersby

First, I should like to associate myself with the remarks from both Front Benches as to the contribution made by our merchant fleet and seamen in the Falkland Islands. I share 100 per cent. the admiration for their courage and bravery in this terrible conflict. I hope that it will serve to remind us all of the part that they have played not only in this conflict but in the Second World War.

On Third Reading, I find myself the only opponent of this curious measure. The liner code that the Bill seeks to implement is the first movement in the symphony that is being carefully orchestrated by the UNCTAD composers of the new economic order. It might well be entitled the "Sea Symphony", because its theme is an attack on the world shipping industry as we know it.

Advocates of the Bill deploy their arguments as if it were an aid measure for the developing countries. That could not be further from the truth, because it is not based on commercial reality. The cost to developing countries of running national shipping lines will have to be borne by the producers of their raw materials, thus lowering the revenue to the producers.

Ian Middleton, in a recent article in the Financial Times supplement on world shipping and shipbuilding, published on 3 June 1981, said: Attempts to radically restructure international shipping in keeping with the principles of the 'new economic order' are gathering pace. The elements for an international regulatory framework covering all the fundamental aspects of shipping are on the agenda of Unctad's (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) shipping committee. However, the progress made so far disguises a hardening of attitudes on all sides. I wish that attitudes had hardened earlier so that the Bill, which is recognised by many people who know about shipping to be what Dr. Hermann, the legal correspondent of the Financial Times, described recently, following the first of our Standing Committee sittings, as the "worst of a bad job." The House of Commons is today debating the worst of a bad job. I do not regard it as a proud day for those who take an interest in such matters.

That was recognised by the commodity trades in the City of London when the possible ratification of the liner code was first mooted in the Department of Trade's consultative document published in the late summer of 1980. Since then, the commodity trades have deployed every reasonable argument against the code and the Bill and have cited many examples to show what the code will do to their trade. In particular, they have pointed to the threat to non-conference operators. Even now the Bill does not contain any real safeguards for non-conference operators and the traders who use their vessels.

That is the first movement in the symphony. The second movement is UNCTAD's proposal for a code on bulk shipping. I say that because next week there is to be a conference in Geneva, and the fifth item on the agenda is a report by a group of experts on the problems of developing countries in the carriage of bulk cargoes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) pointed out, we have received a satisfactory assurance from the Minister that in no circumstances will the Government go down the road of a code for bulk cargoes. In Committee, the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) supported that line of thought. It is important that the House should make it clear today that Britain is not prepared to go down that road, despite UNCTAD's initiative to bring about what, as surely as night follows day, will be an attempt to produce just that effect.

That is not surprising. The Secretary General of UNCTAD made it clear some time ago that a greater participation by the developing countries in the carriage of bulk cargoes is one of UNCTAD's objectives as part of the new economic order. Therefore, it will require considerable strength and determination by the Minister and his successors to resist such a move. To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin), as approximately 80 per cent. of world shipping is bulk and free from any form of regulation, any move towards a bulk code poses a real threat to our shipping and commercial interests.

The third movement in the UNCTAD "Sea Symphony" develops the theme that was deployed in the first and second movements. It deals with flags of convenience or open registry shipping and will affect ships operating as liners or bulk carriers. UNCTAD would have us believe that ships carrying flags of convenience are old, unseaworthy, inefficient and crewed by under-paid seamen. That is not the case. Many vessels operating under flags of convenience are models of good design, efficiency and fair employment. Moreover, they provide a free, flexible and attractive development of the world shipping fleet. The removal of that facility would greatly damage our commercial interests.

We must listen to the whole symphony—one movement leading us on to the next. Ratification of the liner code will encourage integrity to achieve some form of regulation in the bulk trade, at the same time tapping out the tune of flags of convenience. The symphony has begun andante, but it will progress to molto vivace.

I see the liner code as unnecessary and unworkable, and a forerunner to other impositions on world shipping. Therefore, I cannot support the Bill. I believe that it is one of the most curious measures to be enacted in this Parliament.

Like many hon. Members, I am often asked at constituency meetings whether there are times when I disagree with my party. When asked "Are there times when, as a man of principle, you are prepared to show your determination by voting against measures with which you fundamentally disagree?", I have always replied "Yes, of course. I am your man and a man of principle". So I have been throughout the passage of the Bill. I voted against its provisions in Committee, because the Bill is fundamentally wrong. In years to come, my belief will be justified.

I am only sorry that I do not face the assembled ranks of the Opposition parties on those empty green Benches. Opposition Members and other absent hon. Members might have been willing to join me in torpedoing the Bill and sending it to the watery grave that it so richly deserves. Unfortunately, it is a Friday and the Opposition parties, in their wisdom, have decided to support the Bill. Therefore, there is not much point in trying to drive that final nail into the coffin. I stand here as the opponent of the Bill. Be it known that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did not support it. I only hope that my words in Committee and in the House will not come true, but I greatly fear that, as the years go by, they will.

12.1 pm

Mr. Sproat

By leave of the House, I should like to make a few comments.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

Very few.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is keen to get on with Foreign Office matters.

I begin by giving an unsolicited testimonial to my hen. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that he can wave at his constituents next time they ask him whether he ever opposes a Government measure. The answer is that he does and that he has shown great principle in so doing. I am grateful to him, and the whole House should be grateful to him and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), for having raised many objections to the Bill and for having thus brought about improvements. Certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has made his opposition clear throughout. It has enabled us to discuss the Bill in greater detail and perhaps to understand objections put, in particular, by the commodity assoc ations. His objections have been valuable to all of us.

I shall deal swiftly and in order with some of the points raised. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) gave his general approval to the Bill as making the best of a bad job. He said that the principle should not be extended to the bulk trades, and we agree with him 100 per cent. He said that there must be competition to liner conferences, and we agree 100 per cent. He said that we must protect United Kingdom interests, and we agree 100 per cent. Although we all agree that in a perfect world this is not the Bill that we should have liked to introduce, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's constructive criticism and support throughout the Bill's passage.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing has the unsolicited testimonial of having put me through the most gruelling time as a result of his opposition to the Government's proposals. That is an extremely important part of our parliamentary procedures. On Third Reading he mentioned the importance of the Merchant Marine, which is directly relevant to the Bill. Although the importance of the Merchant Marine was recognised before, the events in the Falkland Islands mean that the Government will have to look again at the future of the Merchant Marine and its role in support of the Royal Navy.

My right hon. Friend asked whether, in addition to making general remarks about not extending the principle to the bulk trades, we would actively ensure that that did not happen. The answer is "Yes." This very week I have been engaged in shipping discussions with my colleagues abroad on that matter. I made it clear that we must now prepare our ground to ensure that that principle does not extend to the bulk trades.

My right hon. Friend mentioned Indonesia. There is no compatibility with the liner conference code. The Indonesians have signed that code. The two actions are incompatible. We shall certainly point that out to the Indonesians and will try to persuade them that they cannot act in that way. The existence of the code, with its recommendation for a 40:40:20 split will make it easier for us to explain to them that they cannot proceed along the road of 100 per cent. of their own goods and vessels.

I thank the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) for his constructive support throughout the Bill and for drawing out of me—completely willingly—all those arcane facts about who had signed and why the Bulgarians had objected to certain parts of the code. Indeed, that remains something of a mystery to me. Nevertheless Romania and Czechoslovakia entered interesting reservations along a rather capitalist line. They seemed to say that there should be a great deal of competition for the liner conferences. I am all for that and am glad of their support. [Interruption.] I do not want to say more than those few words of commendation on their attitude. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for underlining the difference between the United Kingdom and the United States of America in relation to cross trades.

I am extremely sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) was not a member of the Committee. I very much welcome his entry into our debates, even at this late stage. His important point about the European shipping competition policy interacts with what we are discussing. We are discussing the matter within the Community now and will certainly bear in mind what he said. I endorse what he said about the importance of the Merchant Marine and about the moving moment about seven minutes ago when the QE2 returned to Southampton from her hazardous voyage.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) was the fons et origo of much of the opposition to the Bill. I have used that phrase because he flashed some Italian phrases at me and I thought that I would use a Latin one in response. He quoted Dr. Hermann of the Financial Times as saying that the Bill was the worst of a bad job. What Dr. Hermann meant, or should have meant, was that it made the best of a bad job. I see signs of dissent, but I am loth, at this late stage, to enter into altercations. However, the Bill would have made a much worse job of things if we had not got the derogations within the EEC that we obtained. Whatever else this Bill may be, it is not the worst of a bad job. As we know, in this vale of tears the best is often the enemy of the good and I would certainly have agreed with Dr. Hermann if he had said that.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.