HL Deb 18 February 1913 vol 13 cc1415-9


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I venture to present to your Lordships to-day has for its object the consolidation of the law relating to pilotage generally and the rendering of local legislation dealing with this subject more accessible and uniform. As your Lordships are aware, the Bill is founded mainly on the Report of a Parliamentary Committee which was called together some time ago in view of the very unsatisfactory and chaotic state of the law dealing with pilotage in this country. As I say, this Bill is founded mainly on the recommendation of that Committee, and is, I venture to think, acceptable to all parties. Your Lordships have only to read the concluding paragraph of the Committee's Report to see how necessary some legislation was in regard to this matter.

I shall only say a few words as regards the machinery and other parts of the Bill. In dealing with the machinery, your Lordships have to remember that all Orders made under Part I of the Bill must come up to Parliament for sanction. We propose under the Bill to appoint Commissioners for a period of five years or more, but I should like to explain that at the end of that period the same Commissioners will not necessarily be re-appointed. We propose to have a panel, and the Board of Trade will be able to select Commissioners from the panel as necessary. Their duties will be to inquire into the conditions at each port and to select pilots for every port except ports where schemes have been forwarded to the Board of Trade of which the Board of Trade approve; but whether the Board of Trade approve of the scheme or not, or whether an inquiry has been held, a Pilotage Order must be made in each case which must come to Parliament for revision. After the Pilotage Order has been approved the local pilotage authority will be empowered to make by-laws" which must be approved by the Board of Trade; and in the event of any opposition to these by-laws the question will be submitted to Parliament. We also propose under the Bill to set up an Advisory Committee consisting of shipowners, pilots, and all persons interested in this particular department.

I now come to the point dealing with compulsory and non-compulsory pilotage. A certain proportion of the Committee were in favour of compulsory pilotage being extended to every port in this kingdom, but after very careful inquiry the Board of Trade were not able to assent to this. They said, I think very naturally, Why upset the existing state of things which is working satisfactorily unless you can show some good cause for such action? and before any change could have been made it would have had to be proved that in non-compulsory ports pilots are less efficient, that the supply of pilots could not be maintained, that the earnings were not adequate, and that more casualties took place in those ports. None of these things were able to be proved, and so we thought the best solution of the question was to leave all compulsory ports as existing now compulsory, and all non-compulsory ports non-compulsory. While by this Bill a compulsory port cannot be changed into a non-compulsory port, a non-compulsory port can be changed into a compulsory port by application to Parliament. There are certain exemptions set forth in the Bill from compulsory pilotage—except, of course in the case of passenger vessels—with which I do not think it necessary to trouble your Lordships.

Now I come to one of the most important provisions in this Bill—what is known as the abolition of the defence of compulsory pilotage. As this is a rather more important question I will deal somewhat more fully with it. As the House is aware, the Pilotage Bill of 1911 contained a clause abolishing the defence of compulsory pilotage. This clause was founded on the strong and unanimous recommendation of a Departmental Committee presided over by Sir Kenelm Digby. The Bill was reintroduced this session without the clause. The reason for its omission was not that the Government were in any way opposed to the abolition of the defence. Their view is that the question is one which ought to be settled at an early date, and should not be postponed indefinitely. The reason for not dealing with it in this Bill is an international one. A Convention signed at Brussels in 1910 contained an Article abolishing the defence, but it was expressly provided that effect need not be given to the Article until an International Agreement had been arrived at for the purpose of securing uniformity in the law as to the limitation of shipowners' liability, which in this country is dealt with in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. The abolition of the defence of compulsory pilotage and the uniformity of the law as regards limitation of liability were in fact regarded as complementary parts of an international arrangement.

When, however, the Bill came before a Committee of the House of Commons there was a general desire to guard against the possibility of an indefinite postponement of the abolition of the defence, and the Government accordingly agreed to the insertion of the suspensory clause. If an agreement as regards limitation of shipowners' liability is practicable, ample time is given for its conclusion before the clause comes into operation five years hence, and the Government will certainly do their best to secure a satisfactory settlement of the question at the next International Conference, which is expected to meet in the autumn. The first part of the arrangement, to which the suspensory clause gives effect, represents a substantial prospective benefit to traders and dockowners, and, if the next Conference has a successful issue, it seems only right that this fact should be borne in mind by them and also by Parliament if and when the time comes to consider a Bill dealing with the limitation of shipowners' liability. That Bill ought therefore to receive sympathetic consideration. I hope that the House, looking at the matter all round, will allow this clause to remain in the Bill. I do not think it will prejudice the international negotiations, which I hope may be brought to a satisfactory conclusion within a short time.

I touch now on the point as regards alien pilots. In the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 your Lordships will remember a clause was put in which limited the granting of pilots' certificates to inhabitants of this country; all foreigners were excluded. After that Bill became an Act several foreign countries stated that this was a violation of existing Treaty rights. Your Lordships can readily imagine that the Government could not accept that view, because in matters of public safety no Treaty obligation could be allowed to operate. However, a small Committee was called together by the French and British Governments. They went into this question very carefully, and I am glad to say have come to an amicable arrangement which, as your Lordships will see, is embodied in the Bill. This clause allows the issue of certificates to foreign masters and mates at ports where such certificates existed prior to the passing of the Act of 1906; but we have put in the Bill an Admiralty veto so that at any port where the Admiralty think it inadvisable to allow the grant of certificates to foreign masters and mates they can at any moment veto the granting of them. The Admiralty are perfectly satisfied with this arrangement, and I feel sure your Lordships will also assent to it. I think I have dealt with the main provisions of this Bill. I trust that your Lordships will allow it to pass with as few amendments as possible, for it represents agreements arrived at between all parties, and it is therefore with every confidence that I submit it to your Lordships consideration.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Granard.)


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships by going into the various points to which the noble Earl who has just sat down has referred, but there is one point in this Bill to which I am anxious to call his attention. I refer to paragraph (h) of subsection (1) of Clause 7. Clause 7 provides that the Board of Trade may by a Pilotage Order make all kinds of re-arrangements in pilotage districts, and in doing so it may "provide that any Act (other than this Act), order, charter, custom, by-law, regulation, or provision shall, so far as it relates to pilotage, cease to have effect within any pilotage district or as respects any pilotage authority"—in fact, it gives the Board of Trade very wide powers to make changes in the present system by Provisional Order. I do not at all object to those powers. I think they are necessary in order to endeavour to bring the pilotage system in this country into proper relations with the particula districts which are affected.

But I must express my regret that in the paragraph to which I have referred His Majesty's Government have thought fit to leave out some words which were in the Bill when it was introduced. Paragraph (h) as it stands provides that the Board of Trade may by order "provide that pilotage shall be compulsory in any area where it has previously not been compulsory." As the Bill was originally introduced it went on to say "or provide that pilotage shall be non-compulsory in any area where it has previously been compulsory." I quite understand the influences which have been a work in order to induce the Government to leave out those latter words. I believe they were left out in the Standing Committee, but I have had a very strong representation from an important city that I used to represent in the House of Commons to the effect that this would be grossly unfair to the City of Bristol. There is a certain limited pilotage area within that channel, and ships going to the Port of Bristol are compelled to take a pilot, but ships passing through the same area, on their way to ports in Gloucester and Monmouth are not compelled to take a pilot. I am not at all sure that the wide provision which I have read enabling the Board of Trade to vary Acts, orders, charters, customs by-laws and the rest of it would enable them to make the regulations of that particular district apply in at all a fair way to the City of Bristol. I believe the same case arises in regard to Liverpool. An Amendment was moved in another place with the idea of restoring the words which originally were in the Bill, but it was defeated by the opposition of His Majesty's Government. I will place some words on the Paper for Committee which I hope your Lordships and the Government will be able to consider more favourably in this House than they were considered in another place, because I think that nothing can be less defensible than the way in which this would operate in the particular area to which I have alluded.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.