§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD WALSTON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This is a limited measure which has only one purpose—to repeal the Anchors and Chain Cables Act 1899, and to put in its place up-to-date arrangements for the testing of anchors and cables on United Kingdom ships. The Bill, like the 1899 Act which it repeals, deals only with the testing of anchors and cables on United Kingdom ships. It does not deal with the provision of anchors and cables; nor does it deal with the provision or testing of anchors and cables on craft other than registered ships.
The reason for introducing this Bill is that the existing Act is an old one. There are three main disadvantages in the present position under the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, 1899. In the first place, the 1899 Act requires that all anchors and cables over 168 lb. in weight shall be tested at a testing establishment licensed by the Board of Trade. The bodies which may be licensed in respect of testing establishments are listed in the First Schedule to the 1899 Act, which is completely out of date. Only four testing establishments—the proving houses—operate at present, under licences issued to Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Under the present law all United Kingdom manufacturers are compelled to send anchors and cables intended for use on a British ship to one of these proving houses to be tested. This requirement is no longer necessary, since we believe that the testing can nowadays equally well be undertaken, subject to proper supervision, at the manufacturers' own premises.
860 Some chain manufacturers now have their own equipment for testing, which under the present law they can use for anchors and cables intended for export, but the 1899 Act prohibits them from doing the same for anchors and cables intended for use on British ships. There are practical reasons why these manufacturers themselves do not become licensed testing establishments, like the proving houses, under the 1899 Act, but one result is that British manufacturers are forced to go to the additional trouble and expense of sending their product to a proving house to be tested, even though they may possess their own testing equipment. This places them at a disadvantage in relation to foreign competitors, who under the present law can provide anchors and cables for use on British ships without going to a proving house in the United Kingdom. Admittedly, the proportion of the total cost is small, but for all that the shipowners have represented to us that when they buy British they should not be put to this unnecessary expense; and I have great sympathy with that point of view.
The Bill does away with the need to test anchors and cables at a special testing establishment, since it does not specify where testing shall take place. It will therefore be open to manufacturers who possess their own testing equipment to use it, in conformity with the rules, for the testing of anchors and cables for use on British ships. At the same time the existing proving houses will be perfectly free to continue testing, as at present. There are a number of manufacturers who do not have adequate testing machines, and they will be free to continue using the services of the proving houses. The difference is that the statutory monopoly of testing which the proving houses have at present under the 1899 Act will be abolished.
The Bill provides in Clause 1 that the Board of Trade shall make rules with respect to the testing of anchors and cables for use on ships registered in the United Kingdom, and specifies the fields which the rules will cover. The rules will prescribe the way in which testing is to be undertaken, including the tensile strains and breaking strains to be used in the tests and requirements for the testing equipment, and will provide for the supervision of testing and for the 861 inspection of testing equipment by Board of Trade Surveyors or by persons authorised by the Board of Trade. The rules will apply to all testing, whether done on the manufacturers' premises or in the proving houses. Your Lordships may rest assured that in this way adequate safety standards will thereby be maintained.
The second disadvantage of the 1899 Act is that it lays down detailed requirements on the method of testing anchors and cables, and many of these requirements are out of date. It is true that the Board of Trade can, by order, modify the requirements on the tensile strain and breaking strain used in the testing, and from time to time that has been done; but it cannot alter the text of the Act itself which lays down, in Section 9, that three links in every length of cable shall be cut out and subjected to the breaking strain. This is completely out of date for cable manufactured by modern welding processes or cast and made of higher tensile materials. In such cases it is no longer necessary to do anything of the sort. Under the Bill, all the relevant requirements will be prescribed in the rules, which will be laid before Parliament. It will therefore be possible to introduce up-to-date testing requirements and to modify them as necessary in the future in the light of technological advances.
Thirdly, the 1899 Act is out of date, or cumbersomely drafted, in a number of other respects. For instance, it seeks to ensure that only properly tested and certified anchors and cables will be used on British ships by prohibiting the sale or purchase of untested anchors and cables intended for use on British ships. The Bill seeks to achieve the same thing more directly by dealing with use rather than purchase. Clause 1(2) makes it illegal for a master or owner to have an unmarked anchor and chain cable—that is, one not tested and marked in accordance with the rules—on board a ship, for use as part of the equipment, registered in the United Kingdom. The Bill provides a penalty upon summary conviction of £400. The duty of providing the anchor and cable on a ship is usually a responsibility of the owner only; but it is necessary to make the master liable as well if the provisions of the Bill are to be properly enforced. After all, ships may 862 be registered in the United Kingdom but owned, say, in Canada or Bermuda. It may not be possible to penalise infringements in the case of these ships unless it is possible to prosecute the master when the ship comes to a United Kingdom port. The requirement laid on the master is not particularly onerous or unreasonable; it involves seeing that the ship's anchors and cables are properly stamped and certificated, and the allocation of responsibility to both master and owner is in line with that used in safety matters throughout the Merchant Shipping Acts.
Under the present law the Board of Trade is required to control the scale of maximum charges for testing set by the proving houses. Administration of the control has proved difficult, and there have been complaints from the proving houses about the delays and inflexibility inherent in the present situation. Since the Bill abolishes the proving houses' statutory monopoly of testing, this power will be abandoned and they will be free to set an economic price for their work.
There are a number of organisations that have an interest in this Bill, and we have had the benefit of their views, which have been carefully considered. The Chamber of Shipping, the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association and Lloyd's Register of Shipping all favour repeal of the 1899 Act. The views of the manufacturers are divided. But I should like to express my gratitude to these and other organisations for helping us with their comments, and I feel sure that this small but useful measure, by removing the anomalies in the existing law, will prove beneficial to the British manufacturers and shipping industry as a whole. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Walston.)
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
a: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for having explained this Bill with speed and so succinctly. He has drawn attention to the reasons for introducing the new measure to take the place of one which is nearly 70 years old. I have just two points that I want to make about the Bill, and one is rather technical. The first point is that this Bill replaces an Act passed in 1899 in which, as the 863 noble Lord has said, the full provisions and requirements are set out. The Bill replaces that Act largely by a provision which lays a duty upon the Board of Trade to make rules by Statutory Instrument. The noble Lord has done something to allay my misgivings about this, because he has said that there have been full consultations. It may even be that the rules have been drafted and shown to the various bodies concerned. But it seems to me that it is objectionable, in principle—and I think one has to keep to principles on these things—to do away with an Act which lays down requirements in full, and to invite Parliament to replace it with an Order-making power and not to tell Parliament what the rules are going to contain.
There are ways in which one can get over this difficulty. It is possible to schedule the rules that are to take the place of the Act, and I think that probably, in these circumstances, this ought to have been done. Also, an order-making power should have been put in the Bill to enable the Board of Trade to alter the rules from time to time. I suppose it would have been possible to inform Parliament exactly what the rules were going to be by circulating them in some form or other. In principle, it seems to me that this would have been the right way to do it, rather than asking Parliament to replace a law which is complete in itself by a rule-making power, or, rather, a duty to make rules. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell me that the rules have been drafted and that they have been shown to the various parties concerned in the course of consultation. If he could do this, I think that to a large extent this technical objection of mine would not stand. But in principle it is something which the Government should observe; and, as I say, if they are replacing a law which is complete in itself by a Bill which merely gives power to make rules, then the rules should be fully known to Parliament at the time when the Government ask for the powers.
There is one thing I am not clear about from what the noble Lord has said, and that is what happens in regard to anchors and chain cables purchased abroad. I take it that they have to be taken to the testing house as soon as they are brought to this country, because otherwise there 864 can be no certificate issued that the anchors and chain cables have been tested. How frequently this happens, I do not know, but obviously it must happen sometimes, and I am sure that provision ought to be made for it.
In the same way, exceptions will have to be made so that British-registered ships will not automatically be put in the wrong when they happen to purchase anchors or chain cables abroad. But I see that there is a power in the Bill to provide for exceptions. This is the sort of thing which I think the Government ought to have made known in some form or other at the time when they asked for powers to be conferred in this way. There is certainly no intention on my part to interfere in any way with this small, useful measure. It has been debated at considerable length in another place. As I say, my objection is more to the question of principle that I have raised; and I should also like the noble Lord to deal with the specific point I have put.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his brief but useful comments, and for his two questions. Dealing with his first point, I can assure him that when the rules come to be made (they have not yet been made) the interested parties and those in the industry—the shipbuilding industry, the navigational industry and others—will be fully consulted. But I would remind the noble Lord that this procedure gives far more freedom to Parliament to keep an eye on these matters than was the case under the 1899 Act, because under that Act, although certain regulations were laid down in the Act itself, it was also open to the Board of Trade then, without reference to anybody and without consultation with Parliament, to alter certain of the requirements. Indeed, that has been done from time to time in an attempt to bring them up to date. So this new Bill introduces an element of Parliamentary control which was lacking under the former Act.
With regard to the foreign aspect of this subject—anchors or chains purchased overseas, or possibly repaired overseas—in my opening remarks I said that provision will be made for the supervision of testing and for the inspection and testing of equipment by Board of Trade surveyors or by persons authorised by 865 the Board of Trade. That leaves it open to the Board of Trade, if it is considered advisable, as it may well be, to authorise certain respected and reputable foreign organisations who are concerned with safety at sea, so that a test approved by them can be automatically accepted in this country. Under this Bill, it is open for that to take place. Therefore, I hope that the two points raised by the noble Lord have been taken care of in this Bill and that he is satisfied regarding them.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question before he sits down? When he speaks of authorising foreigners abroad to do this, I take it that he does not exclude British representatives, such as Lloyd's representatives abroad, from doing it. I should have thought they would naturally be the people to do it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.