HL Deb 09 March 1971 vol 316 cc42-7

4.25 p.m.


My Lords. I beg to move that the Report be now received. I thought it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if, before we came specifically to the Amendments, I were to say one or two words concerning points which were raised in the Committee stage and about which I can give possibly a clearer definition than I did then. I am bound to say that when thinking about this Bill I thought about almost every conceivable thing that might be caught by it, but never in my life did I expect that my noble friend, Lord Hawke, would come up with the suggestion that treasure hunters might get caught by it, nor, as he used as a parallel, that parrot stuffers were caught by a Bill relating specifically to the tensing of mattresses in factories.

My noble friend used this parallel because he wondered whether this Bill affected people who were going hunting for treasure. If their boat is anchored and they go down to the bottom of the sea and come up with a piece of gold, which is a mineral, will they be caught by the Bill? I told him that I thought it was extremely unlikely. I should like to confirm to him that in fact this is not only unlikely but would not happen. He wished to have written into the Bill some kind of definition to say that treasure hunters would not be caught by the Bill. I do not believe this is necessary, because the Bill applies to underwater exploitation and underwater exploration of mineral resources". The expression "mineral resources" in this context means non-living substances of all kinds naturally occurring in the sea bed and subsoil. Therefore, man-made articles such as items of treasure would not fall within the definition. I think my noble friend can rest assured that if he wishes to go searching for Davy Jones's locker, whatever he finds will not be affected by this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, also asked whether the Bill applied to suction dredgers. I confirmed at the time that I thought that this would be so, and indeed it is so; but I should like to explain this a little. It is not proposed to disturb existing arrangements relating to ships. If we take first the installations that are themselves registered vessels but are engaged in mineral workings offshore, we find that under the Bill they will be subject to merchant shipping legislation in the ordinary way. But if it is found that safety requirements need to be prescribed in regard to the mineral operations which are being undertaken—as distinct from the purely shipping considerations—then under this Bill suitable regulations could be made. The preparation of the regulations would be in consultation with interested parties, including, of course, the shipping industry.

The second point in regard to this matter relates to ships which are not engaged in mineral activities but which may be affected by the presence of mineral working installations on the Continental Shelf and in territorial waters. As your Lordships may know, before a mineral working installation can operate on a site in territorial waters it must, under the Coast Protection Act 1949, have the consent in writing of the Secretary of State; and before it can operate on a site on the Continental Shelf it must have his consent under that Act as extended by the Continental Shelf Act 1964. These powers are exercised so as to ensure that no obstruction or danger to navigation is caused or is likely to result. It is recognised—indeed, it is specifically required by the International Continental Shelf Convention—that installations must not be so placed as to interfere with free passage of shipping. Therefore, before an installation can be placed on a site the interests of other craft that may be moving in the area are taken fully into account.

As your Lordships will recognise, there is another side to this particular coin, and it is that having duly obtained consent to place itself on a site, an installation should be marked in accordance with the conditions attached to the consent. But it is only reasonable that it should have some further measure of protection. Therefore, the Bill will permit regulations to be made governing the safety of installations and the men working on them, in relation to the risks created by the presence of shipping in their vicinity. It is proposed that regulations would forbid the approach of any ship which did not have business at an installation; this would be no more than reasonable and as much in the interests of the ship as the installation. Then as regards ships that might approach an installation on legitimate business, it is proposed that regulations would prescribe the way a vessel should behave, including the observance of any instruction by the installation master. In this the master would be acting in much the same way as a harbourmaster who controls the movement of vessels in the vicinity of a harbour, dock or pier. But I should emphasise, as I did on the Committee stage, that in all this there will be no interference with the normal passage of ships or the responsibilities of their masters; that the framing of regulations will be dictated solely by the very limited requirement to protect static installations, and that there will be full consultations with all the interested parties, including the shipping industry. My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 4 [Masters of offshore installations]:

4.30 p.m.

EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 13, leave out ("subsection (1)(a) above") and insert ("paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of subsection (1) above ")

The noble Earl said: The first Amendment which appears under the name of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is designed to meet the point which the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, made on the Committee stage. He was concerned then that there was no provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations relating to a person who would take the position of master should the master leave the rig. The noble Lord drew a parallel by saying, "What happens if the master gets swept away off the rig? Who will then take his place?". Under the Bill there are provisions for a person to take his place. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, was concerned that regulations should be made about this person's qualifications.

We have taken the point which the noble Lord then made and have prescribed that the Secretary of State may make regulations upon the person who should take over the position of master should the master, for whatever purpose, leave the rig. Here I think it important to draw the distinction that this does not mean that he will be a deputy, having deputy's functions while the master is there: in other words, there will not be a hierarchy on the rig whereby there is a master with certain qualifications and responsibilities and a deputy master with other responsibilities. The person who will take over the position of master will, or may, have regulations made about him, so that when he does take over that position he will be suitably qualified to do so. I hope that this meets the point which the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, had in mind. That is the object of the Amendment. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like to say how much ate appreciate the efforts which have be en made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to meet the point raised at an earlier stage by my noble friend Lord Winterbottom. I also take the opportunity of thanking the noble Earl for his explanation or further "clarification" on the Motion that the House should receive the Report. I am bound to say that I was reminded of another explanation I was given about a Bill, in which it was said that one clause about a 40 ft. well should be deemed to refer equally to a 40 ft. wall. But I have absolutely no doubt that to those who are informed about and interested in these matters the explanation which the noble Earl gave will be most useful. In so far as the Amendment goes to meet the point that was made by my noble friend, again I thank the noble Earl.

I ought to say that both my noble friends Lord Winterbottom and Lord Brown, who took a keen interest in the Bill at an early stage, are both abroad and are not able to be here this afternoon. If they have any further points, I have no doubt that we can raise them with the noble Earl before the Third Reading. In the meantime, I content myself with thanking the noble Earl for meeting the points that were made.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, line 14, at end insert: "and the regulations may make different provision for masters of different types of installations or masters whose responsibilities differ in other respects, and different provision for masters appointed under the said paragraphs (a) and (b) respectively").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the other Amendment is really a clarification of the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations for differing sets of circumstances. It was suggested at the Committee stage that the qualifications needed for a master who is in charge of an installation while it is moving are different from those required for a master of an installation while it is actually drilling. This particular Amendment underlines this point. It also makes perfectly clear that the Secretary of State may make different regulations for different types of installation, whether they be, for instance, a drilling ship or a floating platform. I am quite certain that this is in no way a controversial Amendment. It is only a clarification of the points which I think concerned the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, as indeed they have done ourselves. The whole purpose of the Amendment is that the Secretary of State will be in a position to make such regulations as he thinks fit, in consultation with those concerned, to meet the differing types of circumstance and the different types of ship or rig or installation as may from time to time occur.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his intervention on these Amendments. I am sorry that the prospect of offshore mineral working has so frightened his two noble friends that they have taken off to go abroad. I hope that when they come to read what has been said they will feel that the points they raised have been met. I trust that they will be satisfied in this respect. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.