HL Deb 19 December 1963 vol 254 cc391-7

2.56 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, since the debate on the Adjournment last night I have been looking further into the matter of the Third Reading of this Bill. I fear there has been some misunderstanding. Let me say at once that I feel that I must bear a large measure of the responsibility for this and I should like to take this opportunity of apologising to the House, and in particular to those noble Lords who took part in the Committee stage of the Bill. Perhaps I should confirm what I said last night: that there was information about the Third Reading of this Bill being taken to-day, but it was in fact only on one Paper and that was not generally available to Mem- bers of your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is quite correct to say that the majority of noble Lords who took part in the Committee stage were not in possession of the information that the Third Reading was to be taken to-day.


My Lords, I am sure the House is very grateful to the noble Earl. It was unfortunate. I suspect that it was thought that this was a small and very unimportant Bill, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, I am sure, would agree it is one of the most important measures. I think that in his desire to be helpful he also inadvertently misled us in offering to consider matters; that suggested that there would be considerable time for further amendment, and it is really too late to do very much. The fact that the Government were not prepared to accept our Amendments did not mean that the House might not still wish to put them, if only on Third Reading. I am afraid this Bill will go to another place without our having done our work on it as thoroughly as we should. None the less, we appreciate the amende the noble Earl has made.


My Lords, I have it in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Continental Shelf Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's Prerogative and interest, as far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, in moving the Third Reading of the Bill, I should like to deal with certain points that were raised in Committee. If I misled noble Lords opposite I am extremely sorry. I shall be careful in future not to be too forthcoming. I think the real error was caused because when I answered the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on a specific point my answer was taken as a general point. I am sorry if I misled any noble Lord.

Since the Committee stage we have been giving further thought to the numerous suggestions made both by noble Lords opposite and by my noble friend Lord Merrivale for improving this Bill. In the limited time available—and I agree it is limited, but this Bill is urgent; it is very important—we have been able to reach a final conclusion on only some of the points. The others give rise to technical problems which still need further and perhaps somewhat prolonged examination, and I think in many cases noble Lords will realise that a prompt answer—by prompt, I mean within a week or two—would not be possible. I assure your Lordships, however, that the points they have raised, and other points I have mentioned, are being taken most seriously.

I hope I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about civil law. When Orders in Council have been made under Clause 3(2), the civil jurisdiction will be complete for the areas concerned. Before any licences are granted the area will have been covered by an Order in Council—of this I can assure the noble Lord. Therefore I can visualise no circumstances arising in which a licensee's employees would not in practice have the protection of the civil law. As regards the criminal law—this is rather complicated—I am afraid I cannot at this stage add to the rather lengthy prepared statement which I made during the Committee stage. This is a most technical legal matter, and I suggest that we must proceed rather cautiously. We think that the present provisions are adequate, but we are keeping an open mind on the subject.

The position is this: where any provision of an existing Act the breach of which creates an offence can, having regard to its subject matter, apply to an installation on the shelf, then it will be applied automatically and without the necessity for any order extending it; and the penalties specified in the Act as regards the United Kingdom will apply to the offences being committed on the shelf. Under this Bill as it stands, we shall not have power to apply any Statutes, or parts of Statutes, at the Government's discretion, and we think that to ask for such a power, which would have to be virtually unlimited, is really going too far. Any gaps which come to light while the Bill is going through Parliament, and before it is enacted, can however, be filled. I hope I have made that point clear.

The Acts that the noble Lord mentioned, such as the Factories Acts, and so on, where they apply, can be made to apply to an installation on the shelf. They will apply in exactly the same way as they would apply in the United Kingdom. That is not to say, for instance, that the whole of the Factories Acts would necessarily apply to something on the shelf, because they might not be applicable. But this is not something that the Government will do piece by piece; this is something that will happen automatically. I hope that is clear to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, during the Committee stage particularly mentioned the Mines and Quarries Act. I realise how important it is that miners should have adequate protection, but we do not think there is any difficulty in this particular matter. I am advised that the Mines and Quarries Act will apply to a mine even if it extends from the land to a point beyond the territorial waters. In practice, of course, a mine cannot go under the shelf unless it does in fact start from land.

We have looked again at the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about escapes of oil. I am sorry to have to say that we do not see how this provision can be tightened up without its becoming quite harsh and unreasonable. We have followed the wording of the Act which deals already with oil, and in every case it is a question of fact. The only defence to that is if something has happened—if I may put it in layman's language without being too specifically quoted—which is beyond the power of prevention by the people who are undertaking the works. Even then, even if it is beyond their power to prevent the accident that has happened, it is a defence only if they take immediate steps to rectify the defect. This, again, is a matter of fact and not of law.

I hope that I have dealt with the main questions that were raised in Committee. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had a little doubt in his mind about the civil law. I am advised by legal advisers that there is not the slightest doubt that the installations will be covered by the United Kingdom civil law. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Derwent.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has, I am quite sure, done his utmost to be helpful in the extremely limited time that the Government have allowed him, and now that we are on Third Reading it really is not proper to discuss what ought to go into this Bill. It is worth reiterating that potentially it is of the most tremendous importance, representing, as it may do, an extension of areas under our own control for exploitation of tens of thousands of square miles—indeed, we agreed that we could go out into the middle of the Atlantic—at depths where already there is drilling going on. We mentioned earlier "Operation Mohole". This, therefore, is of tremendous importance. It is unfortunate that we are being rushed with this Bill, due either to the Government's Election intentions or because they have a guilty conscience. As we mentioned before, they are the twenty-second country to ratify, and it is of the greatest urgency that this Convention should be ratified and brought into effect.

I am still not happy, and it is a pity we have not had more time to consider some of the legal aspects. Naturally, I accept the noble Lord's assertions about the civil law. I take it, therefore, that the Amendment that I tried to move was really unnecessary and that the Bill covers it, and that if somebody suffers injury, even though no Order in Council has been made—the noble Lord has said they will make an Order in Council to designate an area—once it is made, it will be possible for someone who is injured through negligence to have recourse under the Common Law to an action for damages. I take it that this is quite definite.

On the other questions, of the application of the Factories Acts and the Mines and Quarries Act, I was not quite clear when the noble Lord said that a mine will always start from land. He said that a coal mine will always start from land, even though it may tunnel outside territorial waters. I should have thought that as techniques develop it is conceivable that it might not in every event start from land. Therefore it would be in the same position as an oil well.

The position with regard to the Factories Acts is still obscure. It seems to me that it is perfectly possible that there will be installations which will not be a factory within the meaning of the Factories Acts, and I should have thought it desirable—indeed, it could have been done in this Bill—to amend the Factories Acts to make installations of these kinds that will come into existence subject to the Factories Acts or to certain provisions. I take it that this point will again be further considered before it comes before another place. I am sorry that there is nothing written into the Bill—I apologise for saying this on Third Reading, but I think it unavoidable in the circumstances—to require the Government to make such orders or regulations as are necessary to provide for the safety, health and welfare of those who do this work.

I would deal only with one other clause in the Bill, and that concerns oil pollution. I do not entirely agree that it follows that the provisions in the Oil in Navigable Waters Act which are appropriate to ships are appropriate to oil installations. The circumstances under which a blow-out might occur are quite different from the situation in regard to a ship, and the penalties would of course be laughable in relation to the damage. They would also be laughable in relation to the loss the oil company would sustain, which one recognises to he another sanction in these matters.

Apart from that, we certainly welcome the Bill. I am sorry that it is going to another place without your Lordships' House having done the work on it which it should do, and I do not doubt that in another place they will have to take note of this fact. None the less, I am grateful to the noble Lord personally, and I hope that he will not consider that because he has tried to be forthcoming and has got into difficulties it should be a reason for not continuing to assist us in these matters.


My Lords, I am very grateful. I should just like to say one more word about the question of oil. What it comes to is this. We will go on having a look at this oil question, but there must be some defence when there is no fault, and can be no fault, attaching to the oil company owning the installation. There are circumstances which arise when that happens. We think that that defence is sufficiently guarded by the words we have borrowed from the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, but we will have another look at it to see if we need to strengthen it. This is one of the things to be looked at again. I must repeat that we must have some defence when there is no fault attaching to the company concerned.

On Question, Bill read 3a and passed, and sent to the Commons.