HC Deb 11 June 1982 vol 25 cc545-8
Mr. Sproat

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 6, leave out from 'contract' to end of line 12 and insert: and where a term is so implied—

  1. (a) any agreed terms which are to any extent inconsistent with that term shall to that extent be of no effect; and
  2. (b) without prejudice to paragraph (a), any agreed provision for the settlement of disputes arising out of the contract shall apply to disputes arising out of that term only if—
    1. (i) the parties to the contract have expressly agreed that that provision shall apply to such disputes; or
    2. (ii) the parties to the dispute in question agree that it should apply to that dispute.".
The amemdment gives effect to the undertaking that I gave in Committee that I would meet the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) that arbitration clauses should not apply to disputes about terms implied in contracts unless the parties expressly agreed. The amendment replaces part of subsection (5) of clause 3. The subsection remains as agreed in Committee up to and including the end of paragraph (a) of the amendment.

10.45 am

However, subsection (b) now makes it clear that where regulations imply a term that is a mandatory provision of the code into an agreement, any arbitration clause—or similar clause for the settlement of disputes that governs the agreement—does not apply to dispute under implied terms unless the parties have expressly agreed either that such an arbitration clause is to apply to such disputes or, after a dispute has arisen, the parties agree that the clause should apply to the dispute in question.

There is now no question of regulations requiring that an arbitration clause should apply to implied terms. It is for the parties to decide.

This was the clear view of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh. It was the clear view of the General Council of British Shipping, and I am happy to have tabled this amendment, which is I hope is all that they require.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Higgins

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 31, leave out from 'State' to end of line 33 and insert 'for the purposes of Article 11 (consultation machinery) to add to or delete persons or organisations specified in Schedule (Persons or Organisations to be consulted under Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Code) to this Act.'

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment it will be convenient to take the new schedule— 'Persons or Organisations to be consulted under Article 11 Paragraph 1 of the Code. (1) The British Federation of Commodity Associations.'..

Mr. Higgins

In Committee, the view was expressed that the extent to which certain important matters were to be defined by regulation rather than be specified in the Bill was unsatisfactory. There were two main areas where we thought that the Government ought by now to have been able to make up their mind. One was the question of the definition of the national line, which is the subject of a later amendment on the Order Paper, and the other is this amendment, which is related to the definition of what is a shippers' organisation.

If we refer to the Bill we find that it is possible for the Government to carry out consultations with particular bodies and they will set out what the conditions are for qualifications as a shippers' organisation. That is to say, an organisation of those who are seeking to have their goods, or the goods of their clients, carried by a particular conference line. None the less, as I understand it, but perhaps the Minister can clarify the point, the exact set of decisions that are to be used to define a shippers' organisation have not yet been agreed or defined by the Government.

As a result, there are certain organisations that feel that they are likely to be left out of any continuing consultation process under the code. That is obviously a matter of some cause for concern Therefore, I have sought in my amendment to delete the provisions that stand at the moment for imposing the conditions that would define a shipping organisation, and to adopt a technique that was used in the Companies Acts, that is, actually to specify what the organisations are, in the same way, for example, that in companies' legislation, certain accountancy bodies are specified in a separate part of the Bill. I know now that that is something of a controversy in another part of my hon. Friend's Department, so I shall not stray into those areas. I merely point out that the technique that I am using has an honourable and effective precedent. That being so, in the schedule I have specified only one organisation that is concerned with commodities. It is important that it should be included in the list. The amendment gives the Minister power to add as may shippers' organisations as he wishes. The General Council of British Shipping, for instance, may wish to be included. My amendment does not inhibit my hon. Friend from adding to the list. I have not had time to consult other organisations so I thought it improper to include them.

One could specify recognised shippers' organisations for consultation purposes. The Minister may say that that will result in a clumsy or lengthy list, but the consultations will be important. Most of them will be with trade organisations rather than with individual companies and it is, therefore, important that everyone should know whether they are entitled to be consulted under the code.

Whatever happens, our legislation can affect only the United Kingdom position. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we cannot ensure that other Governments consult shippers' organisations in Britain, even when they are engaged in trade with other countries. We should clarify the United Kingdom position and that is what I seek to do.

Whether or not my hon. Friend is able to accept the amendment and new schedule, perhaps he can give an assurance that the British Federation of Commodity Associations will be among those organisations entitled to be consulted and that it will be consulted both in advance of the code coming into operation and on the terms of the code. That would be helpful. I understand that some wider organisations, such as the General Council British Shipping, do not believe that they are qualified to represent some of the more specific organisations that have an interest as shippers and will be radically affected by the code.

Mr. Shersby

I support the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). Instead of leaving consultation arrangements to be designated in regulations by the Secretary of State under clause 3, my right hon. Friend proposes to make a start by designating them now in a schedule. The name of one important organisation that should be consulted is included. That organisation's cargoes are carried by liner conferences world-wide. The Secretary of State is left free to add other organisations and persons to the list.

I hope that if the Minister accepts the amendment he will cause additions to be tabled to the schedule in another place, so that everyone knows what is intended, instead of leaving the important matter of consultation to be dealt with by subsequent regulations. The amendment makes a marked improvement to the Bill. Organisations outside the House which have a tremendous interest in these matters, will be reassured if they are included in the list. The Minister has been deeply involved with such organisations in the past few months and valuable consultations have taken place.

The events of the past few months have done a great deal to improve relations between his Department and the associations. Both his Department and the associations now understand each other's views better. Some of the justifiable complaints to the effect that people have not been consulted have been settled as a result. The amendment is important if for no other reason than that it demonstrates to all those concerned that the legislation is intended to enshrine proper consultation processes. The schedule is not complete. I should like it to be completed by amendments in another place. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is moved, as a genuine attempt to improve the consultation arrangements provided for in the Bill.

Mr. Sproat

Before I deal with the precise amendments I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) how glad I was to hear that he felt that there is a better understanding between the commodity associations and the Department of Trade. That will be a great benefit, whatever other benefits arise. I hope that we can continue to build on that good relationship and, at another time, I should be interested to discuss with my hon. Friend how we can find practical ways of building, consolidating and maintaining that good relationship.

A shippers' organisation is defined in chapter I of the code as a body which promotes, represents and protects the interests of shippers". The code leaves it open to national authorities to recognise shippers' organisations and permits them to specify conditions for such recognition.

The Department will, of course, be consulting interested parties on what the conditions should be. The conditions themselves will be specified in regulations made under clause 2(1). Interested parties will wish to consider a number of important matters. Shippers' organisations necessarily will incur the major responsibility for carrying out consultation and conciliation procedures on behalf of shippers. Such organisations may be under an implied duty to their members to carry out such consultations properly.

The willingness of a body to be recognised is an important factor. We wish to avoid undue proliferation of bodies to be recognised as shippers' organisations, but we see a role for the smaller specialist or regional shippers' organisation in addition, of course, to the British Shippers Council. One possible criterion for recognition as a shippers' organisation might be that the body represents shippers that carry a certain percentage, for example, of conference trade on a particular route.

Given the further consultations required in this complex area, I do not think that it would be right at this stage to single out any one organisation for recognition, but I can, of course, give the assurance for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing asked. In drawing up the regulations, the British Federation of Commodity Associations, like all other interested parties, will be properly consulted. Therefore, although I cannot accept the amendment, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I accept the spirit of what he is proposing—that the commodity associations should be properly consulted. They will be properly consulted. What they say in the consultations will be fully taken into account in the regulations that we shall later draft.

Mr. Higgins

In view of that assurance that the commodity associations will be properly consulted in relation to the code as a whole, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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