HC Deb 30 March 1987 vol 113 cc859-70 10.35 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

The Bill is important for my constituency. As hon. Members know, Southampton docks have been in a state of flux for some years, and, as a result, pilots at the Southampton and Isle of Wight pilot service have suffered. In 1981, there were no shipping movements in the port of Southampton, and, of course, it seriously eroded pilots' incomes. Pilots have been extremely worried since the release of the Green Paper. I pay tribute to them. They operate in all weathers and have an admirable safety record. They are truly professional men.

The port of Southampton handles some of the largest bulk carriers and container ships afloat. It contains the vast Fawley oil refinery. Tankers of up to 500,000 tonnes visit the port. In Marchwood, on the other side of the Solent, there is the Army high explosives depot. A tremendous amount of dangerous cargo moves up and down the Solent every day. Isle of Wight pilots have performed an invaluable service. On 27 March they wrote to me, stating The self-employed regime of Pilots licensed by Trinity House has produced a service upon which it will be hard to improve". That will be so. Of course the pilots are concerned that all work in future should be safe, expeditious and as efficient as it is now. They plead that, although they are to become employees of Associated British Ports, safety should not be compromised or inefficiency creep into the service. They are proud enough, even though they are to become employed, to give the same service for which the port is renowned. They make the point that: The present Service is seriously undermanned, and an early priority must be to re-assess the pilotage requirement in the area, and to appoint the proper number of Pilots"— that will be up to Associated British Ports— to provide for the need. The pilots also make the point that: the numbers of Pilots licensed nationally is too high, and Pilots locally welcome the scheme to provide for early retirement. The pilots also state: It is believed, however, that the plan should be available to Pilots in this District despite the undermanned situation, and that the vacancies so created should be filled by appropriate transferees from other areas. The first consideration must be that there is ease of transfer between the various areas of the United Kingdom, they are especially worried about the conditions after the appointed day and about the funding of the pilots' pension fund.

I have often talked to the pilots and I know that they have taken this as an inevitable change. They have not welcomed it, and I do not want anyone to assume that they have, but they realise that the time for change has come and they hope to produce a service that will meet all future needs. They are fully aware that there will be dispute procedures, and I think that this will be one of the great talking points, not only for the British Ports Association but between Associated British Ports and the pilots themselves. The pilots make the point that they still wish to give exactly the same service that has been enjoyed by shipowners in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) implied that there could be commercial impact on pilots to do foolhardy things. He did not say that, but that was what he meant. I give him the analogy of a pilot employed, perhaps by British Airways, of which I have some little knowledge. At no time is there any way in which a firm such as British Airways could possibly influence the decision of the captain of an aircraft by saying that is was commercially vital to get into an airport at a certain time and to get out again regardless of the conditions. What my hon. Friend implied was probably a little bit of a red herring.

I cannot see a substantial employer such as Associated British Ports risking safety in any way at any time by making a draconian statement to a pilot that he must complete his mission "or by goodness, there will be trouble." It is up to the responsible port authorities to make it perfectly clear that at no time will there be commercial impact of any sort to make a pilot do anything other than what he thinks is professionally right.

Obviously, in the reorganisation surplus pilots would be permitted to retire early on favourable terms. When we were discussing this in a Back Bench Committee I said that I feared the three-year limit. I was awfully worried that in a port such as Southampton there could be a certain amount of redundancy because it lost contracts for the container port or because for a while, there would not, for many reasons, be so much shipping in the port.

The pilots who would take redundancy have nothing to fear. Those who say at the end of the three years that they will stay on may give rise to overmanning, and there could be pressure to release a certain number of pilots. That must be carefully looked at. An Opposition Member made the point that pilots must he treated fairly. That is right and must be emphasised in practically every line of the Bill. We must not destroy the morale of people who have give such excellent service to Britain.

One of the big problems that I am sure the Minister has already noted is the arbitration procedure. This has only just been brought into the Bill in another place. I know that already the British Ports Association and Associated British Ports have difficulties about the manning of an arbitration committee. I shall not weary the House with details, because at the beginning of the debate some hon. Members spoke for far too long. That is my personal opinion. I shall not worry my hon. Friend the Minister with the details at this time of the night. However, I can produce chapter and verse on their initial jockeying for position to man the arbritration committees. I am especially concerned that we have been talking about compolsory pilotage. It is important that masters of ships who can navigate safely without pilots and who have a proven record, local knowledge and a good understanding of English and of all the difficulties in the area should he allowed to undertake that navigation. That will in some way cut charges. The operations director of Townsend Thoresen says in a letter to me that there should be a Right of Appeal against the extension of Compulsory Pilotage, and the provision to make a charge for the privilege of employing Masters who hold Pilotage Certificates. That is a view from the other side, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will take it into account. The operations director makes a point which is important for my area. The competent harbour authority is not just one person. He says that the Solent probably contains five CHAs and also, (almost uniquely) a Queen's Harbour Master". The areas of responsibility could overlap. He says that there is already a plan in Southampton to extend the area of compulsory pilotage. A right of appeal must be written into the Bill in a way that will at least satisfy shipowners.

The debate has been of high standard because all hon. Members know their constituencies and their problems. I do not like self-employed men being made employees. It goes against my instinct and my Conservative personality. Nevertheless, if it is the only way, because circumstances are such that we must take a turning in the road—or in the waterways or the Solent—we must make a first-class job of it. Some of the points raised in the debate will have to be considered in great detail in Committee.

10.47 pm
Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) on the quality of contributions in the debate. I was immensely impressed by the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) and of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who spoke from real knowledge of the sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) spoke movingly from his knowledge and about his father's experience as a pilot. The debate has been helped by the contributions of hon. Members speaking from personal experience and from the knowledge that they have gained from pilots and others in the shipping and ports industry.

The small city of Canterbury is responsible for an even smaller place—Whitstable harbour. A number of pilots who operate from the Folkestone base live in my constituency. Over the years they have come to see me about the problems caused by the change in the use of pilots and in the areas of compulsory pilotage. This matter has been on the boil for quite a few years.

The phrase "taking on the pilot" is a great phrase in our language. It means many things, but it comes from what we are talking about in this debate. The phrase "dropping the pilot" is equally historic and is reminiscent of so much. I should hate to think that the Bill may be more about dropping the pilot than taking on the pilot. We still need to take on the pilot. I am not against the granting of exemption certificates when a master knows the water as well as a pilot knows it. The competent harbour authority must ensure that there is no reduction in safety as a result of the granting of such certificates, and it is equally important that changes to compulsory pilot areas do not affect safety.

Near my constituency is a stretch of water known as the London estuary, which runs into the Channel and the North sea. It is one of the busiest waterways round our coasts and the ships using it carry hazardous cargoes to chemical installations, oil refineries on the Thames, and so on.

The proposals on compulsory pilotage limits have prompted pilots to write to me and to come to see me about their anxieties. No longer are they saying only, "Please don't change anything just because there are more of us than are needed with the decline in the amount of shipping." I have been impressed by their arguments on safety and pilotage limits in the London estuary area, which is the only area about which I am competent to speak. The waters in that area are hazardous, and the Bill seems to place them outside the limits for compulsory pilotage. That is the only aspect that gives me pause. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) mentioned the ominous words "The Goodwins", and it seems strange that hazardous areas should be outside the compulsory pilotage limits.

The Trinity buoy area is particularly hazardous. The London district pilots have sent us a document describing the waters in that area. They say that it is an area of notorious instability, subject to sand waves. It is the entry point for all deep laden tankers, LASH ships and container ships into the port of London and the Medway. If these ships are to make the passage on one tide, then they must pass over this area at low water. This means that an underkeel clearance of 1.2 metres is the minimum tolerance, and even this is not always available. It is particularly hazardous to have ships judging the depth of water, with little more than a metre's clearance, when they may be carrying dangerous loads into the port of London.

Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State to permit a competent harbour authority to change compulsory pilotage limits in the interests of efficiency and safety. He may make an order and Parliament must give its approval. That is a heavy-handed method. Surely it would be safer to do it the other way round. The London district pilots say that the arrangement should be reversed in the interests of safe navigation so that the present pilotage limits, which cover dangerous waters, remain unless the Secretary of State makes an order to the contrary. That seems a safer approach. Pilots are saying to me not "Safeguard our jobs", but "Safeguard our shipping". It is in the interests of safety that I speak briefly tonight.

When the Select Committee on Transport examined the specific problem of the London estuary in its Fifth Report in Session 1984–85, it saw the dangers, and made a clear recommendation that the existing pilotage limits in the London area should be maintained. The Select Committee stated: We therefore recommend that initially harbour authorities should take over responsibility for pilotage districts as they presently exist". That seems to me a clear and strong recommendation to Parliament.

I feel that the Bill may leave maritime safety to chance in the London estuary unless we examine the matter again, and I hope that we can do so in Committee. I think that it would be wrong to allow the Bill to go through as it stands.

10.55 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) drew our attention to the problems in the Humber. I represent the pilots operating on the Humber who live in my constituency, and I am proud to declare an interest: I am a vice-president of the Trent pilots association, an office that I am proud to hold and that has brought me into contact with pilots on the Trent, the Humber and the Ouse over a number of years.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry, I have had the opportunity—thanks to the advice and guidance of pilots who are my constituents — of spending a full day on the Humber, going from the pilots' headquarters at Spurn out into the estuary, where I saw the shipping position for myself. It is like Piccadilly circus there. I have never seen so many of the world's most enormous ships as were converging on that estuary.

The point has been made in this debate that perhaps we should be careful about the extent to which we allow exemptions. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who rightly drew attention to the question of safety. That, of course, must be paramount in our consideration of the Bill. Although he did not deal with the problem, my hon. Friend the Minister will recall the crashing of the tanker into Immingham docks, which produced chaos and underlined the need for the best-qualified pilots to guide ships in that most dangerous estuary on the Humber.

I have nothing but the highest regard for the job that the pilots do. To underline the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, I think that I should draw the attention of the House to a comment made by Mr. Michael Barratt, a constituent of mine who has kept me suitably advised over the past two or three years with a large amount of correspondence. If I were to read out the letters that I have here, I should detain the House for at least the next hour. However, I can probably summarise Mr. Barratt's excellent observations in rather less than half an hour, or even quarter of an hour. He makes one point that underlines what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said: that masters, although they may be qualified to bring in a ship and may have the same skills as pilots, do not want that responsibility thrust upon them.

Mr. Moate


Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend questions that statement, Mr. Barratt says that, having discussed this matter with masters on the estuary, he knows they are worried that they may have certain responsibilities thrust on them.

Mr. Moate

I simply questioned my hon. Friend's generalisation. I think that he will find that there are many circumstances in which masters have resented not being able to take in vessels when they have had the necessary qualifications.

Mr. Brown

I shall quote from Mr. Barratt's letter of last year which formed part of his response to the Green Paper. He wrote: Although the shipowner pays the pilot's fee, it is the ship master who engages the pilot. A great many masters hope that all pilotage will be compulsory and that there will be no choice but to take a pilot. That comment underlines the fact that masters value the important contribution that pilots make. The pilot is the person who understands the ebbs and flows of the complicated tides on the Humber, for example. No matter how well qualified the master is, he sails in all sorts of seas and to many ports throughout the world. The ships that go up the Humber come from far away. Masters simply do not have the same opportunity as pilots to learn the movements of sand banks, which occur almost daily in the Humber.

Pilots should operate in the Humber, the Trent and the Ouse. I am supported in that assertion by Associated British Ports. There is some potential for hostility between pilots and ABP, which is the competent harbour authority for the Humber. I have had discussions with Sir Keith Stuart, the chairman of ABP, and I am glad to say that he recognises the problems of the area that I represent. In the briefing that ABP has sent, it says that there are special considerations that apply in the Humber and that it has told the pilots that, in certain conditions, it is prepared to continue with a form of self-employment if that is their wish. ABP would control pilotage policy, notably policy on compulsory pilotage, pilotage certificates and charges for customers. That is only right and proper as it has to operate in a commercial environment. I am also glad that ABP recognises the need for pilots on the Humber, the lower Humber, the Ouse and the Trent. I hope that that demonstrates the strength of the submissions made by the pilots.

I support the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). It is right to put on record what he has done on behalf of pilots in the United Kingdom to ensure that the Bill is at least in a better form than we first expected. I regret that we could not make this overdue reform except by legislation. There are other ways, but that is water under the bridge.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say whether the Bill's Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House or upstairs. Those of us who have long taken an interest in this subject would like to know whether we shall have an opportunity to table probing amendments and to have detailed consideration of the Bill upstairs or whether we shall have to make our case to all hon. Members. Thanks to the intervention and leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, some of the matters that have caused concern have been resolved, but there are others that we shall want to press hard in Committee.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport was able to announce that in Committee he will be tabling an amendment to the Bill regarding self-employment. It is a little odd that this Government, who believe so strongly in self-employment and the right to be self-employed, should be interfering with that right. I am glad to have A BP's assurance with regard to self-employment status in the H umber, the Ouse, and the Trent. It is a little strange that the Government should have adopted this attitude, but they have made up their mind, after much consultation.

We shall want to return to certain matters in Committee. I regret that it was necessary to introduce the Bill, but I shall not seek to divide the House.

11.5 pm

Mr. Stott

By leave of the House, may I say that we have had a very interesting and well informed debate on this important subject. My only regret is that it is taking place on the day of my wedding anniversary, but no doubt that is the price one pays for fame. On the evidence of this evening's debate, I feel sure that we shall fashion a better Bill in Committee.

11.6 pm

Mr. Michael Spicer

With the leave of the House, I apologise on behalf of the Government to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for the fact that yet again we have chosen to interfere with his marital arrangements. I recollect that two years ago to the day he was married. We were then considering the Transport Bill. On that occasion we were able to crack a bottle of champagne in his absence, but on this occasion we just wish him well.

As the hon. Gentleman said. this has been a substantial and extremely well informed debate. It is not surprising that it should have been so well informed when one remembers that hon. Members on both sides of the House, representing the interests of a maritime nation, have taken part in it. There is general consensus about the need for the Bill, sad though, as some hon. Members have argued, that is. A good deal of advice on matters of detail has been offered to the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said that in some ways it has been more like a Committee stage debate, but it has been a good test for a junior Minister and I hope that I have lived up to it.

I do not intend to weary the House with too much detail. I shall go through the points that have been raised as quickly and as concisely as possible. During my opening speech my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees) referred to the English inshore traffic zone. I had hoped to refer to that point in the context of pilotage areas and I gave him a wrong answer. I should have said that the English inshore traffic zone has nothing to do with the Bill; it is part of the traffic separation scheme in the straits of Dover. I shall write to my right hon. and learned Friend about his views, even though they are not relevant to the Bill.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred both in an intervention and during his speech to the explanatory memorandum. It refers correctly to the approving or licensing of pilot boats in clause 6. The authority will approve the pilot boats it operates itself if it is satisfied that they are suitable. The authority will grant the licence if they are operated by an agent on the harbour authority's behalf.

I thank the hon. Member for Wigan for his general support for the Bill. He mentioned some important issues. He asked who was sovereign on a vessel. The relationship between the master and the pilot is clearly established in law. The master has the ultimate responsibility when the pilot has charge of the vessel. That is unaltered by the Bill.

The hon. Member and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), concentrated on safety, particularly in relation to the manning of pilot boats. Under the Bill a competent harbour authority is required to approve and license pilot boats after satisfying itself about their suitability for use for that purpose. The Bill does not, however, rule out specific regulations and guidance from the Department of Transport under the existing provisions of merchant shipping legislation. We have recently consulted interested parties about a draft merchant shipping notice on manning levels for pilot boats. We intend to introduce proposals for the regular survey of pilot boats before the Bill is implemented.

Several hon. Members mentioned the important question of pilotage exemption certificates. The Bill states that the authority must satisfy itself. It is open to it to impose a written or oral examination, or any other procedure which it believes to be appropriate, because it must establish that it is satisfied that it grants the exemption certificate only to those who have skill, experience and local knowledge. Specific questions have been asked about conditions in harbours which hon. Members obviously know intimately. The Bill insists upon the criteria of "local knowledge" and an adequate "knowledge of English".

We accept that the pilot's exemption certificate is not a means by which we can adopt a protectionist attitude to coastal shipping. However, we think that the criteria, particularly that of local knowledge, must satisfy the anxieties. It is clear that one must satisfy the port authority that one knows a harbour in detail before one can obtain an exemption certificate.

The hon. Member for Wigan and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), asked about future training. It is an important matter, but I cannot tell the House that there will be some general national body for training pilots. There is no such body at present. It will be the statutory responsibility of the port authorities to provide the number of pilots for safety purposes. I stress that the Bill is clear about the importance of safety and I shall return to that later. Given the statutory authority of the port authorities to provide adequate pilots to satisfy safety considerations, it will be their responsibility, if there is a shortage, to ensure that the necessary pilots are adequately trained to satisfy the authorities' safety requirements. I believe that it is reasonable to suppose that the training of pilots should be undertaken on a local basis because, as has been mentioned by many hon. Members, once one has got one's masters certificate the job is largely about local conditions, and one's knowledge of those conditions. Therefore, the training of pilots should be focused on whether a pilot can satisfy the need for local knowledge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) encouragingly reported that the Associated British Ports authority and the pilots in Humberside were engaged in constructive discussions about the Humber. There have been anxieties in the past, and I believe that if the two parties can establish confidence in each other on this matter it will benefit Humberside.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry also asked about private wharf owners. It is a basic principle of the Bill that the responsibility for decisions cocerning local pilotage needs should rest with the harbour authorities. However, we have gone a long way towards meeting the interests of wharf owners. Under the Bill harbour authorities will be required to consult private wharf owners before introducing any compulsory pilotage. Wharf owners may also appeal to the Secretary of State against pilotage charges. We have also included a provision whereby, if private operators work within a harbour authority's area, the Secretary of State may call for information about pilotage arrangements. He may order amendments if the arrangements are judged to be unsatisfactory.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) supported the basic intention of the Bill. I express the Government's gratitude for that. However, in the process of giving his support, the hon. Gentleman asked some searching questions. He asked what steps there are to facilitate the transfer of surplus pilots in one area to other areas where there may be a demand for pilots. The Bill includes a provision to help surplus pilots to transfer to another port where there are vacancies. If there are vacancies for pilots, in the first four years a harbour authority must give priority to existing pilots in that area. Representatives of the ports and pilots have been discussing transfer arrangements so that surplus pilots will be able by agreement to transfer to other ports where there is a need for more pilots. It is a principle of the Bill that no taxpayers' money will be involved, and that is why it is important that the ports, which will have to shoulder the burden of any transfer arrangements that are made, come to an agreement. It seems that the discussions between the ports and pilots are going well.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and others referred to costs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne. There will be initial start-up costs in implementing the terms of the Bill, including the redundancy arrangements. I confirm that we shall proceed with a three-year period, which is longer than the ports hoped for originally and, I think, a reasonable compromise.

Total savings are central to the Bill because without them the Bill would lose part of its objective. The cost of pilotage in 1985 was about £48 million. As the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, that is not an astronomical sum when it is set against the other costs that shipping incurred, but it is one of the costs that shipping pays to come to our ports. It will be for the ports to determine the exact level of pilotage that they require, but the signs are that there should be a saving of about 15 per cent. My mathematics are not good at this time of night, but other Members will be able to calculate that savings of several millions of pounds will be achieved.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and others are worried about a possible watering down of the Bill as a result of the amendment that will be introduced directed to the level of employment within the agencies. We shall be able to discuss this issue at greater length in Committee, but I merely reiterate that control will not leave the ports, which will set the charges and the budgets. At the end of the day they will have leverage to apply because their representatives will be able to say to those who wish to set themselves up as self-employed pilots that they will employ them directly on terms that will be subject to arbitration, but terms that they consider to be efficient, if they consider the pilots' terms to be unreasonable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) talked about the Government taking away the self-employed status of pilots and putting pressure on them to become employed. One would have to make fairly generous assumptions about the nature of the present status of the self-employment of pilots in order to be able to justify a strong attack on those grounds. Where pilots have their charges set for them, where manning levels are determined and where there is almost no possibility of private initiative gaining more earnings or creating any sort of productivity, that is an unusual—I shall say no more than that — form of self-employment. That is recognised in the terms of redundancy because that unusual status of self-employment will be taken into consideration when considering the period of employment which is what it will effectively be in terms of redundancy.

Therefore, I suggest that it is difficult to mount a strong argument on the basis that we are throwing over the concept of self-employment and imposing some new form of direct employment. Indeed, we are giving an element of flexibility to the system because there will be the capability, if both sides agree, for self-employment.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised some specific points about which my noble Friend the Minister responsible for shipping will write to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, "We keep on hearing of places where pilots are being heavily used, but the Government will not come clean on places where there is a low usage of pilots." He may be surprised to hear that I want to give him a specific answer on that. Perhaps he will look at Hansard tomorrow and see that the pilots in Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester each handled, on average, about 1.3 ships per week in 1985.

The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) mentioned the Tees, saying that he was worried that the Tees might surfer from a lack of pilotage. There is no compulsory pilotage on the Tees at the moment. The Bill makes it possible for Tees and Hartlepool's port authority to make pilotage compulsory if it thinks that it will improve safety. The Bill does nothing more than give it the right to do that if it thinks that it would be a good idea.

The hon. Member for West Derby was concerned, as were many others, about safety matters and the winding up of the Pilotage Commission. The commission will continue to exist during the transfer period and will have a statutory responsibility to advise and suggest schemes to the Secretary of State on transfer matters. It will define what assets have a direct relationship to pilotage and ensure that schemes are suggested to the Secretary of State for the transfer. Once the transfers have been effected it will cease to exist. However, it will have that important function during the transfer period.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) has been mentioned many times during the debate for the eloquence of his speech and the measured terms in which it was made and—I was glad that this came out in the debate — the tremendous amount of work that he has done to produce what we think is a Bill that is balanced between the interests of the ports and the interests of the pilots. He was particularly concerned to retain the pre-eminence of safety. I assure him that the Government's intention is absolute on that. Indeed, the Bill is clear as to the duties and responsibilities of the port authorities on the question of safety. Should any hon. Member feel in Committee that there is any aspect of the responsibilities about safety that are not sufficiently clear, we can consider what is said. If lion. Members believe that there are problems, they should write to me well in advance of the Committee stage so that we can consider their views.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes that the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House. That will allow my hon. Friend's punchy remarks to receive even greater publicity than they might have received upstairs. That may be some consolation to my hon. Friend.

I want to consider remarks made in three other speeches, which were important. They were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and for Southampton, Test in whose constituencies there are no more important ports.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham raised the question of compulsory pilotage for which he wants an appeal procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test wanted such a procedure, but for opposite reasons. Clause 7 makes it clear that any extension will be subject to extensive consultation with all the affected parties.

Mr. Hill

That is not the point.

Mr. Spicer

I know that that is not quite the point. The point is that central to the Bill is the decision that we must try to get the buck to stop somewhere. We want one body to be responsible, and that should be a local body—a port. We have given the powers to the ports within the harbour limits so that they can determine on the basis of their local knowledge and great experience what should be the proper area for compulsory pilotage. That is called "de-centralisation" and involves having a clear structure of management and decision making on those matters subject to the consultation that is central to the Bill.

I have mentioned the question of examinations, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test raised points about self-employment. I believe that I have answered those points. He referred to the moneys funded by the pilots' pension fund. Any worries about that may not be as great as he fears. During the early retirement period £15 million has been put aside from the reserves to cover that. I can confirm that the three-year period is now settled for transfer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, in a passionate speech, returned to the definition of the harbour limits and the need in his view to do the reverse of what is proposed in the Bill. Of course the harbour limits now define pilotage areas. In turn, they are defined by statutory instruments and Acts of Parliament. I concede entirely that that is a matter for debate. However, the Government's argument is that the original pilotage areas were defined as early as the turn of the century. We belive that there is a case for looking at those areas with some objectivity in view of the new arrangements for navigation. No doubt we can debate that point again, although perhaps not at this hour, in Committee. Under the Bill the harbour limits define the extent of the pilotage areas, although of course it is open to the harbour to suggest to Parliament, through special procedures, an extension of the area.

I have gone into greater detail than some hon. Members might have wished, but I felt that I had to answer the detailed points that were made. No doubt we shall discuss some of these matters again in Committee. Understandably, the main anxiety has been to ensure that the Bill does not harm the safety of shipping approaching our shores, and it does not. Every Member has accepted that because of changes in shipping patterns there are, sadly, too many pilots in some parts of the country. The Bill will address that problem in as sensitive a way as we have found possible, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House. —[Mr. Maude.]

Committee tomorrow.

  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 161 words
  2. c870
    1. c870
  4. Statutory Instruments, &c. 30 words
    1. c870
    2. AGRICULTURE 91 words
    3. c870
    4. MERCHANT SHIPPING 54 words