§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a small but 338 important measure, and I propose to be brief because I am sure that it will meet with the goodwill of all sides of the House. Section 92 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 requires that every British foreign-going ship and every British home trade passenger ship when leaving United Kingdom ports must carry deck and engineer officers holding British certificates according to the scale laid down in that Act. Similar requirements are found in the shipping legislation of Commonwealth and Colonial territories and apply to any British ship when in the ports of one of those territories.
In recent years attention has been drawn by both sides of the shipping industry to a small number of British ships on the United Kingdom Register which are owned by British subsidiaries of foreign interests. These vessels appear to have been transferred to the United Kingdom flag to avoid restrictions placed upon them by their own Governments and to take advantage of British consular services. The ships involved never call at any British port, thus avoiding the requirement in respect of certificated officers. The ships are usually manned entirely by foreign crews, and their standard of safey cannot then be assured.
The purpose of this Bill is under Clause 1(2) to extend the requirement to carry officers holding British certificates to all British foreign going ships registered in the United Kingdom, whenever and wherever they put to sea. It also provides certain automatic exemptions if a ship finds itself short of one officer below the required complement, and provides for a new penal provision. In order to supply a necessary degree of flexibility to meet those occasions when, despite the fact that all reasonable steps have been taken to secure a duly certificated person, these have been unsuccessful, the Bill provides by Clause 1(3) that when a British ship registered in the United Kingdom goes to sea from a place outside the United Kingdom, it may, in certain circumstances, sail for a limited period short of one of the required certificated officers. This period will last for 28 days or until a certificated substitute is found, whichever is the shorter. Clause 1(4) of the Bill deletes the existing Section 92(2), which relates to offences and penalties, and replaces it by a new subsection which clarifies the offences 339 which may be committed and provides for increased penalties.
This, as I have indicated, is a small measure, but it is an important one with regard to maintaining the high prestige of the British Merchant Navy. The Bill originated in another place, where it was promoted by Mr. Ogden of Liverpool, West Derby. In the other place its Second Reading and Third Reading were entirely formal, and the Committee stage occupied only a few minutes. For this reason, I, too, have been brief in my remarks. Naturally, there is a whole background of information that could be supplied to support its adoption, and I have it with me and will supply it if necessary. The Bill has the support of both sides of the shipping industry. It is supported by all Parties and also by the Board of Trade. In fact, it has been generally welcomed by the Press and wherever publicity has been given to it, and I hope that it will similarly commend itself to this House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Popplewell.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for explaining the purposes of this Bill to us so clearly and succinctly. I assure him that from this side of the House we give it a warm welcome. The Bill is limited in scope, but very practical in value, and it will, as I understand it, seal up a loophole in the law which seems to have been exploited in recent years by some foreign interests. I should like particularly to congratulate the promoters of the Bill, who have been most successful in reaching agreement with all the interested parties, who are quite considerable in this field, including, I understand, not only the Shipping Federation, but the airline officers and the Merchant Navy, as well as the bodies mentioned by the noble Lord.
The purpose of the Bill, to require all British ships irrespective of whether they start from or call at a British port, to have their full complement of British certificated officers is obviously right, and would have been included in the original Bill had present-day developments been anticipated. The noble Lord has helpfully explained the purposes of subsection 340 (3) of Clause 1, which gives the necessary flexibility to meet any emergency. I understand that the loophole to which I referred has been used by some foreign shipping companies who have established British subsidiaries for the Cuba trade, where perhaps their own countries have made regulations which prevented them from trading direct. This has been a convenient device for them. In addition, as the noble Lord has said, they have had the advantage of British consular services, which we often criticise here, but which are obviously better than anybody else's, and are therefore valuable to them.
There is this further point which I think is worth mentioning. In addition to these ships which have been sailing deficient in certificated officers being a danger to themselves, they have done a great deal of harm to the British reputation, particularly in the United States, where the odium of the offence has been visited on this country. So this Bill is in every way to be welcomed, and from this side of the House we give it our support for a Second Reading.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I am going to make the shortest speech I have ever made in my life. There is absolutely nothing to be said against this Bill, and everything to be said for it.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I cannot emulate the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, in the shortness of his speech, but I do not want to stand far behind him in my support of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Popplewell said that it was a small Bill. I think all of us here are old enough in experience to realise that you do not judge the value of anything merely by its size. I think this is an extremely valuable Bill. It fulfils a most useful purpose in itself, and it will be of great advantage, in particular to the safety, but also to the efficiency, of our Merchant Navy. I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting it in this way.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the Bill has been received, and I sincerely hope that it will have a similar reception in its further stages. In reply to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, so far as I am aware there are very few ships owned by United 341 Kingdom subsidiaries of foreign companies transferred to the U.K. Register, but already, from reports that have been made on their standards of safety and manning by the unions concerned, it is clear that they are bringing United Kingdom shipping into disrepute. I am sure that the whole House wants to avoid this.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.