HL Deb 25 July 1968 vol 295 cc1250-63

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Motion agreed to

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Power to make Orders in Council with respect to hovercraft]:

THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 7, at end insert ("by category according to use").

The noble Lord said: I am very mindful of the other business to follow on the Order Paper, and I do not wish to delay the House, but I consider this is an extremely important Bill. I would express regrets that it comes to us at a very late stage of the Session. We have, I believe, only one day left before the other place leave for their holidays, leaving us to clear up their pretty untidy mess. We know and appreciate the urgency of this Bill, and there would be no purpose at all in trying to delay it; in fact, we welcome the Bill. We know that if we try to alter the Bill now there is the danger of its not receiving Royal Assent until the autumn, because the other place will be already on holiday. It leaves us with art unhealthy option: we either try to improve the Bill now, and face the danger of causing delay in its passing into legislation, or we let it through without giving it proper consideration.

The Bill started in another place, I think last May, some three months ago, and it was a non-Party Bill, really uncontroversial. It was vitally important for this industry. Surely there was a case, if ever there was one, for introducing this Bill into this House. It cannot be said that this House does not take a deep interest in the hovercraft industry. From reading our Hansard Reports I think it is fair to comment that this House has taken more notice of the hovercraft and its development in the past year or so. Therefore I consider it very unfitting that this House should be allowed virtually only one day for its consideration of the Bill.

Having said that, may I turn to my Amendment No. 1? It seeks to make perfectly clear in Clause 1(1)(a), that orders will be made stipulating the category of hovercraft. One has the example of the marine hovercraft, the category between the S.R.N.4—the very large passenger carrying hovercraft—and the two-seater. A similar Amendment, perhaps more sophistticated, was moved in another place, but it was not accepted by the Government as it was said that it would detract from the force of Clause 1(3)(a). I do not see the force of that argument here. This Amendment is intended to help the layman, or anyone reading the Bill, and I believe it gives the Bill more precision. I do not see there would be any harm in accepting it. I beg to move.


I find myself in a good deal of agreement with what the noble Earl has said. I am all in favour of giving more time for consideration of legislation, if it is possible, but, for reasons which I do not think it is necessary to go into here, it was not feasible in this particular case. However, I am sorry that the Bill did not start off its life here and that we have not had more time to discuss it.

With regard to the particular Amendment the noble Earl has moved, I am in agreement with him that it will probably be necessary to have different orders for different categories of hovercraft. It would clearly be inappropriate to deal in one order with everything relating to the hoverrail and, say, the hovercraft. However, it would be much more appropriate to provide for the differentiation that the noble Earl wants under subsection (3) paragraph (a) of Clause 1, which, as he has already seen, states specifically that an order under this clause may make different provisions for different circumstances, or for hovercraft of different descriptions. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that we accept the principle behind the Amendment, and submit to the noble Earl that it is more properly taken care of in the other part of the Bill.


I am grateful for that assurance and acceptance of the principle. I certainly should not wish to take up any more time on this Amendment, as I know the other Amendments are much more important. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.30 p.m.

LORD KINGS NORTON moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 9, leave out ("hoverport") and insert ("hovercraftport").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. There are two other Amendments, Nos. 4 and 8, down in my name, and as in my mind they are closely connected I ask leave to refer to them all in the few remarks I want to make. I am sorry that I was unable to be present at the Second Reading of the Bill in your Lordships' House and was not, in consequence, able to mention the arguments leading to my Amendments. May I say, if belatedly, how much I welcome the Bill, and that I sincerely hope my attempts to amend it will not seriously hinder its progress. The Bill permits of improvements in the administration of a new kind of machine which, through its being neither solely terrestrial, aerial nor marine in character, has been something of a problem child particularly from the point of view of the regulation of its safety. This task has indeed been performed for the last nine years, at the request of the Government, by the Air Registration Board, of which I am Chairman. As a result of the enactment of this Bill it should be possible to devise a regulatory system which, though my Board would hope to have a major role in it, would be more logical in structure.

I have long objected to the name "hovercraft". To "hover", according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary is to hang or remain suspended in the air over or about a particular spot". In so far as a hovercraft was a craft that just hovered it would be singularly useless as a transport. In so far as "hovercraft" is understood to mean a craft that is capable of hovering, then the word is more acceptable, even though it would seem to embrace the helicopter and the balloon, which clearly is not intended. The unique characteristic of the hovercraft is that it does its hovering near the surface, generally near the earth's surface. The way this is achieved to-day is by means of an air cushion, and a machine which hovers in this way is called by the British Standards Institution an "air cushion vehicle".

There are, however, other ways of hovering near the earth. It can be done by a fluid jet; it can be done by a magnetic repulsion; it can be done very effectively, as Professor Laithwaite has shown in recent lectures, by electromagnetic means. The rate of invention and development is so fast in these days that I am sure it will not be long before practical hovercraft employing means other than an air cushion will be made.

Consequently, I feel it will save a lot of trouble, and amendment of legislation in the future, if in the present Bill, instead of equating hovercraft to air cushion vehicle—instead of equating, that is to say, genus to species, which is what the definition in the Bill does—we substitute the broader definition in the second Amendment I propose, which takes account of possible devices for sustentation other than air cushions. It would have been best, in my opinion, if instead of the word "hovercraft" the Bill had referred in its title and throughout to "surface effect machines". I feel, however, that were I to argue for such a wholesale change I should be holding up a Bill that I want to see become law as soon as possible. I do not, therefore, propose to argue against the term "hovercraft", though I hope that the Government will agree to it being defined in the way I suggest.

But if a hovercraft is a craft capable of hovering, it: would appear that a hoverport is a port capable of hovering. We are, I think, much too careless in our invention of new words, and this picture of a new Laputa is one that rather shocks me. We are surely referrirg to a hovercraft port, and although this is a relatively "long-winded" description it is at least accurate: and I hope that your Lordships agree that accuracy is to be preferred to brevity. It has, I fear, become too late to scotch "hovercraft" and substitute "surface effect machine": "Hovercraft" can be said already to be in the language. But "hoverport" is not, and I hope it will be agreed that it never shall be. That is why I beg to move the first Amendment in my name.


I should like briefly to entirely support the noble Lord on this Amendment. I believe that it is logical, sensible, pertinent, and should be accepted by the Government. I do not think the word "hovercraft-port" was discussed in another place—I am not quite sure, but I think I am right. As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, knows, the word in the Bill's Title, "Hovercraft", has been in much dispute, but even if we accept that, I think we should at least accept th.! word "hovercraftport".


I do not want to enter into an argument about semantics, but if you do this what are you going to do about the word "airport"?


May I say that I, too, am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, was not here on Second Reading? Apart from any other qualifications which he has, and they are many, he is Chairman of—I was going to say one of the most highly-respected organisations in the aviation field; I am not sure that I should not say the most highly respected. I have never heard any real criticism against the Air Registration Board, which says a lot for its excellent Chairman, and also for the officials.

The noble Lord was not here earlier and our discussions to-day are a little curtailed. He has pointed out that we are dealing here with a problem child. We have a new piece of equipment, a new tool of mankind—I use these rather flowery expressions because I do not want at this stage, before we come to Lord Kinnoull's Amendment, to call it either a vehicle or machine. The fact that it is a new invention has led to a lot of trouble with its description.

I do not think I disguised too well on Second Reading my own feeling that the description ought to be an "air cushion vehicle", and although the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, says that he has now changed his mind, so far as that term is concerned, I think there was a time when both he and I agreed that "air cushion vehicle" would have been more appropriate. I am sorry that it was not adopted, because had it been adopted he would have seen that while logic can take us in a certain direction it cannot take us all the way.

It would have been quite inappropriate, I think he will agree, to have "air cushion vehicle port". I do not therefore think it necessarily follows that because we have a hovercraft we have to have a "hovercraftport". I say this with a certain amount of feeling, because I recall another occasion when we had a similar problem before us in relation to the helicopter. On that occasion, I had the privilege of working under the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, when we decided that we, at any rate, were going to ensure that the name given to the place where the helicopter came down and took off would be appropriate; it would be concise, logical and scientifically credible.

I remember that we assembled together all the most expert practitioners in the English language. There was the former editor of the Spectator, there was the then editor of the New Statesman, Mr. Kingsley Martin, one or two other professors, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and myself. We said that "heliport" was a bastard of a word which twisted the Greek language; we could not possibly allow it; we must have something different. We solemnly agreed that it should be "airstop". This, we thought, satisfied all requirements. This was logical, it was scientifically credible and it was intended to mean precisely what it said. Nevertheless, although this seemed so excellent, and although we solemnly drew up a report on the basis of this discussion over lunch which we had at the Savoy, the fact of the matter is that the Public insisted on calling it a heliport. I am afraid that even if we put into this legislation the term "hovercraftport", the general public outside would still call it a "hoverport". Therefore, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that logic does not come into this matter. I have before me some literature of British Rail in which they invite us to "hover to Europe". I do not know how that fits in with the noble Lord's feelings. Here is another paper, the Kentish Express, in which we are told to "Abandon Hovercraft".

I sympathise with what the noble Lord says, but on consideration he may well agree with me that whatever we do in the legislation, "hoverport" will be used. Therefore there is every reason to put into the Bill the word which will be in general usage. The other point about the definition I will deal with when it is called. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord will find it possible to withdraw his first Amendment.


As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, was good enough to mention my name, may I be allowed to say a word or two in support of what he has said? We had all these distinguished gentlemen along to give us the benefit of the finest vintage and cull the very essence of the English language, but, as he said, all they could come up with in the end was "airstop". If I may make one correction, the luncheon was not at the Savoy; it was in the Refreshment Room of this House. One suggestion which was made by some wit was that we ought to call it "Ogmoorings". Unfortunately, I did not equal Mr. Fiore Belisha in having my name immortalised in that way, and that suggestion was turned down. But I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has said is quite right, because yesterday I noticed in The Times an interesting supplement on hovercraft and something else called hydrofoils, and I extracted a few of the names which are already in common use in this field. There are "hovercraft", "hovertrains", "hover-finance", "hovermarine", and something most intriguing which is called a "hoverskirt". So in view of the fact that these words are already in The Times and therefore, as it were, have the imprimatur of The Times I think we should be well advised to accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and leave in the Bill this word "hoverport" which is in common use now.


I realise that in my fight to keep the language logical and pure I am on a losing wicket. I do not regard this as the most important of my Amendments, and I withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Interpretation, etc.]:

THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment No.:3: Page 5, line 35, leave out ("vehicle") and insert ("machine").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 3 standing in my name and, with the leave of the Committee, I should like to couple it with Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7. All these deal with the definition of "hovercraft" in the Bill; it is, I believe, the main source of concern, certainly to this Committee at the present time. In my opinion, the definition of "hovercraft" in the Bill is defective on four counts. The first count is the word "vehicle". When one looks at the Pocket Oxford Dictionary one finds the word "vehicle" defined as follows: carriage or cart or other land conveyance. As every member of the Committee knows, hovercraft are used on water and land. For that reason, I have suggested in my Amendment that for the word "vehicle" there should be substituted the word "machine".

The Government reply so far as been that the word "vehicle" has appeared already in other Acts. Section 10(9) of the Finance Act 1966 reads: In this section and its Schedule hover vehicle' means a vehicle designed to be supported on a cushion of air. The definition in that Bill will be incorporated, I think I am correct, in this definition in this Bill. Because it has already appeared in another Act, I do not consider proves that it is correct in this Bill. This Bill, after all, will be the mother of hovercraft Bills.

The second defect in the definition, as I see it, arises in the words "when in motion". That is the subject of my Amendment No. 5. I consider that it is not accurate to say in that definition: 'hovercraft' means a vehicle which is designed to be supported when in motion wholly or partly by air expelled from the vehicle to form a cushion of which the boundaries include the ground, water and other surfaces beneath the vehicle. The reason why I consider it is not accurate is that there are many different types of hovercraft, including the hover-craft that moves the industrial pallet. As I understand it, that is certainly not in motion when it is operating.

The third defect is one that concerns the manufacturers of hovercraft. I believe that technically under this definition hovercraft when they are operating and when they are coming into a harbour would be excluded. In particular, the S.R.N. 6 has been mentioned. At this stage the hovercraft entering slowly into the harbour comes into the operation in a trapped air mode condition. Air is no longer being expelled from the hovercraft at that stage. Yet under this definition we see that 'hovercraft' means a vehicle which is designed to be supported when in motion wholly or partly by air expelled fro n the vehicle. So this is the point: that at this stage when the S.R.N. 6 is coming into the hoverport the definition apparently does not apply.

The fourth defect, as I see it, is again a technical one: the fact that the definition at present would include a helicopter operating close to ground, and also, surprisingly, the VTOL aircraft or Harrier as well operating close to ground. One would ask the Government, are these intended to be included in the definition? The question that must be at the forefront of our minds is, what is this definition trying to achieve? We see the Government spokesman on June 27 [col. 108] saying: It is our feeling that the definition in the Bill is precise and yet wide enough to allow the inclusion of all the potential developments that we wish to see taken into account. Those last words "that we wish to see taken into account" I think have been words of query as to what exactly the Government wish to take into account in this Bill. We were told, in reading the reports in another place, that the hoverbed was not intended; yet there is nothing in this Bill to say why or on what grounds it is not intended.

I ask the noble Lord to clarify to-day exactly what is intended to be covered under this Bill. I believe the definition in the Bill is vitally important. I do not think that at the present time it is correct. Sadly, in the little time we have to consider it I do not think we can do much. But I hope that at least the Government will give us some satisfaction in relation to the four defects that I have mentioned. I beg to move.


The noble Lord has made some very important and interesting points. Some of them relate to the wider question of the definition and I will, if the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, agree, reserve what I have to say until we come to the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, which on the Marshalled List actually comes before the other three Amendments to which the noble Earl spoke.

Dealing with the question of the substitution of "vehicle" by the word "machine", the noble Earl asked what we were seeking to achieve. What we are seeking to achieve is to recognise the hovercraft as a vehicle of a new kind—and I emphasise the word "vehicle". We are here dealing with a new form of transport. We are not purporting to deal with a number of the other devices or pieces of equipment which do, as he rightly says, use this principle of repelled air. There is, for example, the hoverbed. The hoverbed is not, I would have thought, a piece of equipment which the Air Registration Board or its successor would wish either to register or certify in any way. There is also, I gather, either in use or coming into use, a dentist's drill which depends on repelled air for its operation. The noble Lord's definition would include such a piece of equipment. This would be classified as a machine.

We do not intend to try to cover all these other applications of the air pressure principle, but we do seek to cover vehicles. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will see that the word "vehicle" really does carry out the job which we want it to carry out. It is a better word than the word "machine". On that explanation I trust that it will be possible for him to withdraw his Amendment.


In spite of the Oxford Dictionary, I think that the word "vehicle" has a very much wider signification, because, as probably the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, will agree. when you take powder, the jam is the vehicle by which the powder is conveyed. I think that "vehicle" really means anything which is used to convey something else. At any rate, that is how I have always used the word.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, and of course I accept that "vehicle" should remain in the definition. I felt that it was a question that should be raised, and I quoted from the Oxford Dictionary. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.53 p.m.

LORD KINGS NORTON moved Amendment No. 4: Page 5, line 35, leave out from ("which") to end of line 39 and insert (",when in operation, is sustained in the air wholly or partly by means depending upon its proximity to a surface beneath it.")

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move this Amendment. May I just make one comment, and that is that if the intention is really to define a new vehicle, and that vehicle in the Bill is defined as an "air cushion vehicle", it is a thousand pities the Bill was not called "The Air Cushion Vehicle Bill". I have been trying to bring some logic into the Bill, using the name "hovercraft" that has been given to it and trying to give that name a definition which will serve us for other kinds of vehicle than the "air cushion vehicle". That is the sole purpose of the definition which I have given under Amendment No. 4, which I strongly suggest does everything the present definition does and a great deal more and will save us a lot of trouble when we come to deal with hovertrains, other devices and other vehicles which are supported in novel ways. I beg to move.


I agree that the noble Lord has made an extremely brave attempt to find a suitable definition here which is non-technical but which defines what we want to define, no more and no less. With respect, I do not think that he has entirely succeeded. I admit that the words in the Bill could possibly be faulted in some respect, but they are not open to the criticism to which the noble Lord's own words are open. For example, there is the point which the noble Earl made about the occasion when a hovercraft is not actually sustained in the air. It can be coming into the hoverport, or the hovercraftport, and therefore be actually in the water. It is being propelled but it is not sustained in the air, either wholly or partly, and at that point of time it could be said that if the Bill were amended, as the noble Lord seeks to amend it the hovercraft would not be covered.

The noble Lord himself said that the words he puts forward would cover a great deal more. That is another criticism which I make of it: we do not want to cover a great deal more. There will be a time, I have no doubt, when there will be machines or vehicles which will be sustained by something other than air, say by a magnetic field, which the noble Lord himself used as an example, but we do not know exactly what kind of machines or vehicles they are going to be. It would be a mistake to try to tailor a piece of legislation to fit a piece of equipment which is little more than a gleam in the inventor's eye at the present time. So we do not want to go wider than we need. We do not want to cover, for example, an inspection gantry, which could be suspended by air, wholly or partly, under the noble Lord's definition.

I am advised that the noble Lord's definition would include a hydroplane or a speedboat. The noble Lord shakes his head. That is his view, but I assure him there is another view. If you get a speedboat at speed, it is sustained partly by air and will be covered by the noble Lord's definition; and we do not want so to cover it. I feel, therefore, that while there may be a balance of advantages and disadvantages, in the end the words in the Bill "designed to be supported when in motion wholly or partly by air" are abut as foolproof as we can get them. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord will see fit to accept them.


If my definition is improved by adding the words "is designed to" I would agree to include them, but in point of fact I believe that for any defect my definition. Has, there is another defect of the same kind in the definition in the Bill. However, I should prefer, if I may, to continue what is becoming a detailed and semantic argument with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, on some occasion outside this House. The last thing I want to do is to delay the passage of this Bill, and if it will help I shall be happy to ask leave to withdraw this particular Amendment; but I would, on sitting down, say that if it is intended to limit the intention of the Bill to the air cushion vehicle, I can only say it is a thousand pities that a word which connotes a great deal more has been used.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment. No. 5: Page 5, line 36, leave out ("when in motion").

The noble Earl said: I beg leave to move this Amendment. I have already explained its purpose. This was the second and, I think, major defect as I saw it in the definition in the Bill. I beg to move.


I thought the noble Earl begged leave to withdraw this Amendment.


I do not think the noble Lord replied to this particular Amendment in his previous answer.


I beg your pardon, that is quite right. The point here is that the words in the Bill are "designed to be supported when in motion If the words "when in motion" were left out, it would mean that the definition was defective. The whole point of the definition is that it should cover a machine which is designed to move.


I am not quite with the noble Lord because, as I explained, there can be pallet hovercraft which we were told in another place were included and which are not designed to move except by manual pulling.


With respect to the noble Earl, I dealt with that point on the earlier Amendment. I said that it was not intended to extend the definition of this Bill to cover pieces of equipment which were not vehicles. The noble Lord accepted the proposal that we were dealing with vehicles. If we are dealing with vehicles, then we are dealing with things which must move. That is why I thought that the noble Earl's other Amendment would not be moved. We do not want to cover industrial gantries, for example. They would be covered by the Factories Acts or similar legislation, but not by this Bill.


If I am confused, I apologise, but I think that the Government are a little confused on this Bill. In another place the noble Lord's honourable friend said that the industrial pallet was covered by this Bill, and the noble Lord is now saying that apparently it is not. However, I do not want to delay the Committee, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.