§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
My Lords, this Bill passed through another place unopposed and without amendment. I had hoped that it would have as happy a career in your Lordships' House, but I received yesterday rather an ominous communication from a noble Lord who sits on the Front Bench opposite which leads me to think that perhaps its career here will not be quite so happy. In asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading I am speaking on behalf of the Docks and Harbour Authorities Association, an association with which the pilotage authorities are connected in the main. The objects of the Bill are to extend to pilotage authorities a limitation of liability for loss and damage caused without their fault or privity, to make clear that the funds of a pilotage authority formed for the benefit of pilots or their widows or children shall not be applicable for the liabilities of the pilotage authority, and to provide that where a harbour, conservancy, dock or canal authority is also a pilotage authority the funds belonging to the authority in one capacity shall not be applicable for the liabilities of the authority in another capacity.
The main object of the Bill is to provide a limitation of liability. At present the liability of pilotage authorities is unlimited, and it is conceivable that they might have to meet claims which would reduce them to a condition of insolvency. It is proposed under the Bill that the limitation should be £100 for each pilot licensed in a particular area. This may seem, perhaps, an arbitrary limitation, but it has been generally agreed that it is a fair one. It does reflect the responsibility of the pilotage authority in this respect, that the larger the port the greater will be the number of licensed pilots in the port and therefore the greater the liability. For instance, there are in the Port of London some 300 pilots, so that the liability there will be about £30,000. In fact it is no more arbitrary than the protection which dock and harbour authorities enjoy—namely, the limitation of £8 per ton on the largest ship that may have made 1155 use of their accommodation at any time during the previous five years. The Bill has the approval of shipowners and was blessed by the representative of the Board of Trade in the other House. I am venturing to hope that it may receive that blessing in this House also, and that your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ritchie of Dundee.)
My Lords, my noble friends do not desire to offer any opposition to this Bill, and I have been asked to say that on their behalf. It was not opposed by my own Party in another place, and we do not wish to oppose it here. But I am standing at this Box in a dual capacity. I had the honour of being for some years Chairman of the Pilotage Committee, and have always been anxious to help the pilots. They have asked me to put certain points for consideration before this Bill passes its Second Beading. There is no desire to wreck this Bill, and the only reason why my noble friend Lord Apsley, who succeeded me as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, and who spoke for the pilots in another place, proposed no Amendment there, is that any Private Bill has to go through all its stages very quickly in order to have any chance of reaching the Statute Book. Your Lordships, who are more efficient in procedure, will no doubt be more likely to deal with this Bill efficiently. Nevertheless I should like the Government to consider certain safeguards which I shall describe.
I do not know why the noble Lord thought that the Bill would have a rough passage in this House. I wrote a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, and out of courtesy sent the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, a copy. In it I used these words, speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom Pilots' Association:We do not desire to place obstacles in the way of the Bill becoming law, and the pilots did not ask for Amendments in the Commons, so as not to delay its passage.Then I briefly pointed out the anxieties which the pilots feel. The position is this. The pilots have no wish to wreck this Bill; they welcome it. It is an improvement, because it is in their interests to have the liability of the pilotage 1156 authorities limited just in the same way as shipowners are able to limit their liability in collision actions and as pilots are able to do under the provisions of the Pilotage Act, 1913. But the pilot naturally asks how a claim for damages is to be met by a pilotage authority if and when this Bill becomes law.
Up to the present these pilotage authorities who act in dual capacities, as described in Clause 6 of the Bill, will be liable to meet the claim out of their own funds, and as this class of pilotage authority, such as the Mersey Docks Board and the Humber Conservancy Board, do not allow pilots to serve on their authority but only on a committee, there is nothing illogical in this. The pilots therefore consider that they are entitled to some protection so as to prevent a pilotage authority from levying an increased contribution from the pilots' earnings in order to meet a claim. Many authorities have a by-law fixing the maximum contribution from pilots' earnings to the Pilot Fund, out of which administration expenses of the authority are paid. The pilots fear that it may be sought by some pilotage authorities to discharge a liability of this kind by the simple expedient of increasing the contribution of the pilots until such time as the claim is satisfied. If it is agreed that this protection should be granted, then it becomes a matter of drafting. If I might address myself for a moment to the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, I hope that the Committee stage of this Bill, if the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, agrees, can be postponed long enough to enable consultations to take place to see if we can get an agreed Amendment to safeguard this position that I have described.
The Pilot Funds themselves are in this position: that at the end of each year, under the present law, any surplus is paid into the Benefit Fund, and the Benefit Fund in this Bill is very properly exempted from levy. The Pilot Fund may not have any money to meet any claims under this Bill, and what the pilots are considering, and what they would like to discuss, is that in each case an insurance policy should be taken out to the limit of £100 per pilot, as agreed in the Bill. I think the ship-owners and their friends would be prepared to consider that. The other suggestion that I am authorised to make 1157 is this: that authorities who will come under this Bill might take pilots' representatives to sit with them. That, I think, is a fair proposal which might be considered. I thought it right at this stage to make this claim and say that later on we should like to see, if possible, these agreed Amendments. The matter, as I say, is being discussed now. I hope that this very excellent Bill will be improved in the way I suggest, and we should certainly like to facilitate its passage to the Statute Book.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite, as he has truly said, wrote me a letter, which I received this afternoon, suggesting certain Amendments in this Bill of my noble friend which he has described to your Lordships. As a matter of fact, of course, as a point of procedure, this Bill is a Private Member's Bill, and as such the Bill of my noble friend, and I should have thought that the noble Lord opposite would have written to my noble friend and sent me a copy.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
I should have thought it would have been the other way about, but that is only a matter of detail. I merely rise to say that His Majesty's Government bless this Bill and are in full approval of the principles embodied in it. I have no doubt that any Amendments which the noble Lord opposite suggests will be most carefully considered both by my noble friend and by the Department which I represent. In the meantime the Government wish to point out that it passed unamended through another place, and they very much hope that without undue delay it will also pass through your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.