HL Deb 02 March 1971 vol 315 cc1266-76

2.58 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.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Application of Act]:

On Question, whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I hope your Lordships will not think that I am wandering a little wide of the main objective of the Bill, which I think everyone understands, if I ask for clarification about the role of suction dredgers in relation to this particular measure. It has a certain relevance in view of the various Amendments which are to be moved to later clauses of the Bill.

At the moment we are really only talking about the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources, thinking in terms of natural gas and crude oil, but I should like to ask the noble Lord who is speaking for the Government whether he could confirm my interpretation that this Bill as drafted might apply to suction dredgers. As your Lordships will be aware, very substantial quantities of sand and gravel are extracted by suction dredgers from the United Kingdom part of the Continental Shelf. Strangely enough, a great deal of this gravel does not come to this country but goes, for instance, to Rotterdam, where Europort is being built with what is in fact British gravel from the Continental Shelf. The royalties are paid upon its extraction to, I believe, the Duchy of Cornwall, although I am not absolutely certain of that.

As I see it, "exploitation" means, according to Clause 1(3): For purposes of this Act 'underwater exploitation' or 'underwater exploration' means exploitation or exploration from or by means of any floating or other installation which is maintained in the water"— and so on. I should have thought that this would apply to a suction dredger, which is a floating installation occupied in the exploitation of a mineral resource on the Continental Shelf. I should be most grateful if the noble Earl who is answering for the Government could clarify this point.


There is one other category which might conceivably come into this and that is treasure hunters. If treasure hunters are known to be after mineral treasure, would a ship, anchored, from which they can carry out their diving and so on, be a "floating or other installation which is maintained in the water", and would that said treasure, whether bullion or cannon and so on, be "mineral resources"?


The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, started off with an ingenious suggestion, only to be paralleled by one put forward by my noble friend Lord Hawke. I speak subject to correction, but the Bill of course refers to mineral workings which are carried on offshore, and, as Lord Winterbottom says, in Clause 1(3) "underwater exploitation" or "underwater exploration" means: …exploitation or exploration from or by means of any floating or other installation which is maintained in the water, or on the foreshore or other land … and is not connected with dry land by a permanent structure.… In so far as the dredger falls within that category whereby it is not connected to the land and is in fact dredging for minerals, then that dredger would come within the purview of this Bill.

I am not quite certain what my noble friend Lord Hawke had in mind. I think he had in mind somebody setting off on a boat and doing a little bit of treasure hunting. This would probably not be included if it was simply from the point of view of exploring for treasure as opposed to specific mineral exploitation.


I am sure that my noble friend intends the Bill not to apply to treasure hunters. But I was thinking particularly of the Tobermory case, where I think dredgers and such things were employed. I remember a case in this House—I think it was under the Rag Flock and Other Filling Materials Act—which was intended to apply to factories tensing mattresses but by mistake took in all the parrot stuffers in the country. I think this may be a parallel case.


I shall certainly look into the point that my noble friend has raised. I hope this Bill does not result in having any effect on parrot stuffers because they would find themselves stuffed with a most unusual material.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Registration of offshore installations]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved, Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 39, at end insert: ( ) for specifying standards of competence to be attained (subject to any exceptions allowed by or under the regulations) by the master or other members of the crew of installations,".

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend, Lord Brown. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we took the three Amendments together; they all deal with the same point, which is ensuring the competence of the individual who is appointed master at one of these rigs. Noble Lords who attended the Second Reading debate on this Bill or who have read Hansard subsequently will recollect the argument of my noble friend, Lord Brown. He pointed out, and in my view correctly, that when a man was appointed the master of a ship, or when he was appointed the manager of a mine, important standards of professional knowledge were expected of him, and those standards were in fact confirmed by a form of certification: that he was a certified master mariner or certified engineer. All this Bill does at the moment is to make the definition which comes in Clause 4 a very loose one, if I may put it that way.

If your Lordships will permit me, I will quote the first subsection of Clause 4, because we have agreed that these three Amendments should be taken together. That subsection reads: Every offshore installation, so long as it is in waters to which this Act applies, shall be under the charge of a person appointed to be or act as master of the installation, and the owner of the installation shall appoint to be master—

  1. (a) a person who, to the best of the knowledge and belief of the owner, has the skills and competence suitable for the appointment, and
  2. (b) another or others to act where necessary in place of the master,
and shall inform the Secretary of State of any appointment under this subsection by giving notice in the prescribed form….

That is really pretty loose. We are leaving "to the best of the knowledge and belief of the owner" of the rig or suction dredger or diving launch that the master employed to manage and discipline the crew of these installations shall have "the skills and competence suitable for the appointment"; but how one produces evidence of that skill and competence is in fact not clear from the Bill. Yet oil drilling rigs and suction dredgers are very sophisticated pieces of equipment and should be managed by a man who has the professional and managerial qualifications to operate the rigs successfully and to control and discipline the crew. It is for this reason that my noble friend, Lord Brown, at Second Reading argued very strongly that a form of certification must be held by anyone appointed as master of one of these rigs.

In Amendment No. 2 he suggests that the master shall be the holder of the same certificates as are required by the first mate of a seagoing ship in accordance with regulations made under … That is why I argued the case of the suction dredger as applying to this particular Bill, because the master of a suction dredger would in fact hold the certificate required of a first mate of a sea-going ship. I should have thought that a device of a very unstable nature floating towards its drilling area must have on board a man with professional skills, proved by examination, at least as great as those of the master of a suction dredger. It is for this reason that my noble friend Lord Brown has put down these Amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 1.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking these Amendments together, because in fact they are inter-linked. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, has put down three Amendments and my noble friend, Lord Drumalbyn, has put down the fourth, and in putting down the fourth Amendment he has tried to cover the basis of Lord Brown's objection at Second Reading, which was that although we are having these provisions the Secretary of State has no power to enforce them. To understand the background of this matter it would be only fair to look a little at the industry with which the Bill deals. Basically we are at the moment considering oil drilling operations. This is, of course, a new industry. One thinks that oil drilling has been going on for a very long time, but in fact it has only been going on in the water for a matter of 15 years, and oil drilling in our particular areas of the North Sea has been going on for only six years. It is different not only because it is in the North Sea but also because it is deep water oil drilling.

Therefore we want to frame these provisions as widely as possible, and the Bill has been drafted with that in mind. This is only a matter of detail, but I would say in the first instance that Lord Brown's first Amendment would appear to be in the wrong place, because the clause to which it refers deals with the registration of oil rigs. We have tried to incorporate Lord Brown's desires by making it permissible for the Secretary of State to interfere and to make regulations; but we wish to keep the definitive aspects of the matter as loose as possible, for the simple reason that this is a growing industry and we are not quite certain of the way it is going to develop in the next five, six or ten years, and if one is too restrictive by putting various requirements into the Bill we may be hamstrung later on by the very things which at one moment we thought to be desirable. What my noble friend has in mind is to discuss with the various appropriate bodies the framing of the regulations, as indeed he is obliged to do. He would discuss with the appropriate bodies—the rig owners, the licensees, the T.U.C., and indeed Lloyd's shipping people, precisely the best way to frame the regulations so as to make them safe.

One important point here is contained in Clause 4(1)(a), which says that to be appointed a master the person concerned must be one who, to the best of the knowledge and belief of the owner, has the skills and competence suitable for the appointment. It is a statutory obligation upon the owner that the person appointed must be such a person. Therefore an owner would be wholly in the wrong if, for want of a better illustration, he were to appoint an ordinary seaman to become the master of a ship and that seaman did not have the appropriate qualifications.

Here we come to another point: that the appropriate qualifications may differ in differing circumstances. For instance, the qualifications needed for a master of an oil rig when it is stationary and drilling are different from those required when the oil rig is in process of being towed. I think I am right in saying that at the moment when oil rigs are towed the insuring agents insist that a person holding a master's certificate is in charge of the rig, otherwise it will not be adequately insured. On the other hand, to write that into the Bill might prove to be a great mistake, because in the same way as all these technologies are advancing it is not impossible that in the course of the next few years the movement of these drilling rigs may take place underneath the water and that drilling for oil may be not a floating operation but a submarine operation, in which case the appropriate master would require to have some submarine qualifications as opposed to a master's qualifications.

I hope that the noble Lord understands the reason why the Government feel it undesirable to make this clause too specific. It is not a debating point or a desire to hedge. It is only fair to point out that, of all the countries in the world, which are carrying out offshore drilling we are the first to have specified any form of certification or legal requirements such as are contained in the Bill before your Lordships to-day. It is necessarily bound to be flexible, and we should prefer to move rather carefully. But the obligation is upon the Secretary of State before making the regulations to discuss with the various people concerned the best types of qualifications.

I would go further and say that different qualifications are needed for different purposes. This is most important. There is possibly a misapprehension on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Brown. It emerges in his second Amendment, in which he seeks to impose upon the person who takes over from the master the qualifications of a first mate. The sole purpose of the Bill is to allow the specific person to be master of a drilling rig. Therefore he does not have a deputy master or a hierarchy underneath him. If in fact that master leaves the rig, then he has to place somebody else in his position to take over the duties which he would have were he on the rig.

Therefore I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brown, is under a slight misapprehension in suggesting that a deputy to the master should have what might be described as a deputy's qualifications. Here we are concerned only with appointing a master to an installation, and, whatever the circumstances, he should have the most appropriate qualifications while the ship or rig is moving or while it is stationary. One can visualise that the requirements of a master of a rig drilling for oil where the rig is stuck on legs in the open sea would be different from those required for drilling from a rig which is floating on submersible pontoons.

For this reason I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will accept my assurance that we have tried to meet the spirit of Lord Brown's Amendment by the fourth Amendment which is down in the name of my noble friend. It is only fair to point out here two slight differences. One is that the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, make regulations. He is not bound to make regulations, which is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Brown, would have preferred. For the reasons which I have tried to give, we prefer to put in words to make this less mandatory. Secondly, my noble friend's Amendment does not refer to what one might describe as deputy masters, as the noble Lord, Lord Brown, indicated, but solely to the masters of rigs. I hope that that explanation satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Brown. If it does, I hope that he will perhaps not push his Amendment, but accept the Amendment down in the name of my noble friend.


In view of what the noble Lord has said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Masters of offshore installations]:

3.20 p.m.

EARL FERRERS: I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 12, at end insert— ( ) The Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, make regulations prescribing requirements to be fulfilled as respects a master appointed under subsection (1)(a) above, including requirements as to qualifications, experience, health or age."—(Earl Ferrers.)


On behalf of my noble friend, may I say that he is most grateful that his views expressed on Second Reading have been taken into consideration, and that this particular Amendment has been tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It is, of course, rather less than my noble friend had hoped. He wanted a pretty firm definition of the qualifications required for a master of one of these new monsters. Nevertheless, I think that the arguments put forward by the noble Earl are valid. We do not quite know where we are going in this new art. I accept the argument that at this moment a precise definition is difficult because, as the noble Earl has said, if the rig is travelling towards a drilling station it is a ship; if it is standing on the bottom, it is something else. The skills required to get to point A and the skills required for operating at point A are different; so there may be one master on the way there, and another at the operating point.

However, I think the appointment of a deputy is of importance, and if the Secretary of State considers it necessary to make regulations prescribing requirements to be fulfilled, it would be wise also to prescribe requirements for the man who will be deputy to the master. And the Bill as drafted does in fact foresee the need to appoint a deputy to the master. It says that the owner shall appoint to be master a person as specified in the Bill, and, (b) "another or others to act where necessary in place of the master,… So when a rig is going to point A, or when a rig is operating at point A, there must be a No. 2 to the master who takes over if the master dies or is taken ill, or for some other reason has to leave his ship or rig. While accepting this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend, I would suggest that the Secretary of State does not forget that the deputy who is required to be there in a remote situation, such as the area in which these drilling rigs operate, should also be properly qualified. If it is necessary for the master to be qualified, the man who takes over from him at a moment of crisis because of illness or other reasons should also have proper qualifications. Having expressed this view, I am very glad to accept the Amendment.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for accepting this Amendment. We shall certainly consider what he has said about the deputy. I think there is only one thing to be considered here, and that is that, as the Bill foresees it, it is necessary to have a master, and a master has various functions which he must fulfil. He needs certain qualifications and has certain obligations. In the event of his not being there, that job is taken over by somebody else. It would not be appropriate—indeed I think it might become very much overweighted—if it were necessary to have a deputy, who would also have certain obligations, while the master was on the rig. I think this would be unwise.

The sole purpose of this clause is to provide that at any one time there is a person on the rig who is specifically responsible for tie rig. I take the noble Lord's point: that if that qualified person goes, there should, in the noble Lord's view, be another equally qualified person to take his place. But were the two on the rig together, the deputy would not have any functions under this Bill: I hope that I have made that plain to the noble Lord.


May I just express a scenario, talking in military terms, of a situation that might arise? In his Second Reading speech the noble Lord speaking for the Government described how the first of the rigs installed experienced, within a week, 40-foot waves sweeping over it; and the whole rig had to be jacked up to protect the members of the crew and to raise them above the wave level. One can conceive of a situation like that in which the master was washed away—a moment of great danger at sea. One would naturally hope that at a critical moment like that the man who stepped into his place would be qualified to deal with the emergency. That is why I think it essential that the deputy should also be a qualified man.


I certainly take the noble Lord's point, and I will look at it again, to see if there is any way in which we can meet it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Interpretation.]:

On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?


I think it obvious from what my noble friend says that this Bill is intended to apply to oil rigs, and oil rigs alone. If he wants to make it quite clear so that it does not catch treasure hunters and the like, I think he ought to include in the interpretation clause a definition of mineral resources that does not include treasure.


May I ask a question? We are dealing with the Secretary of State throughout, but this interpretation clause does not have any definition of which Secretary of State. I wonder which Secretary of State is in fact referred to in this Bill.


I think it is customary not to specify which Secretary of State is referred to in any Bill, simply because the designation of the various Secretaries of State may alter. In this case it is the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. With regard to my noble friend Lord Hawke's point, I will certainly see how treasure and treasure hunters are affected. This is an ingenious thought that I do not believe has entered into anybody's head. I would assure him on one point in which I think he is mistaken: this Bill does not refer only to oil drilling. It so happens that oil drilling is the one particular form of mineral working that is at the moment operative. It may well he that in the future other forms of mineral working may be used, such as that for gravel (as the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom suggests), or potash, or all sorts of other minerals. It is in order that this Bill shall be sufficiently widely drawn to cover these other forms of mineral working that we have left it in the form in which it stands, so that regulations can be made to suit the appropriate form of mineral working at the time when the new form of mineral working starts.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendment.