HL Deb 03 April 1979 vol 399 cc1867-86

6.20 p.m.

Standing Order No. 43 having been suspended pursuant to Resolution of 2nd April:


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I hope that we shall not be unduly daunted by the number of pages in the Bill. Almost half the Bill consists of Schedules. Very many of the clauses contain standard-form provisions. Clause 21 provides a clear example. The heart of the clause is contained in the first 11 lines. The next two pages and, indeed, Clause 22 are supplemental. The first part of the Bill—Clauses 1 to 13 and Schedules 1 and 2—modernises our pilotage legislation on a basis that it is acceptable to all the interests concerned. The existing law dates from 1913. The sooner we can enact this long overdue reform, the better, so that those concerned can press ahead with improving our pilotage arrangements which make a vital contribution to safe navigation.

The next part of the Bill—Clauses 14 to 19 and Schedules 3 to 5—enables us to bring our law on shipowners' liability into line with the latest international agreements. Clearly, it is important for our shipping industry that our law in this area should be kept up to date. The next two clauses, Clauses 21 and 22, are of great importance. By its nature shipping is an international industry. The only effective way to raise standards is to act internationally. Conventions to improve standards and prevent pollution have been agreed, but are not yet in force. The United Kingdom has traditionally taken the lead. We need this Bill on the Statute Book in order to ratify and implement those agreements, and to give a boost to speedy international action. Clause 21 also enables us to regulate flexibly, to improve safety and health arrangements on board our ships, and reflects the approach adopted in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The sooner that we can put our seamen on as nearly as possible the same footing as workers ashore, the better.

There are other aspects of the Bill to which I would specifically draw your Lordships' attention. First, there is Clause 23 which deals with discipline. Both sides of the shipping and fishing industries have agreed reformed disciplinary arrangements in tune with modern standards and practices. These arrangements have been implemented on a voluntary basis for the merchant fleet to the extent that that can be done without statutory backing. The Bill is urgently required to provide that backing and to make the new arrangements fully effective in both industries.

There is also the question of penalties, which are dealt with in Clauses 45 and 46, and Schedule 6. There is no purpose in introducing provisions intended to make our seas safer and cleaner unless we are able to impose meaningful sanctions. Under the merchant shipping legislation many penalties are, frankly, derisory. Initially, our proposals caused some difficulties, but we have now reached a position that is generally acceptable. A situation that merits a heavy fine could arise at any time. It is imperative to enact the Bill so that our courts can impose a penalty that will be consonant with the gravity of the offence.

The Bill has been very carefully considered in another place. There was only one clause on which there was a marked divergence of view—that which would have given the Government a reserve power to prohibit an undesirable foreign take-over of a British shipping undertaking. That clause has been deleted so that the great bulk of the Bill, which is generally accepted, might be enacted. That scrutiny has led to a number of detailed improvements to, and clarifications of, the Bill. For example, we have introduced new consultative procedures for setting up the Pilotage Commission and have clarified the composition of the Commission. We have tightened up the offence of going without a pilot, and have provided for a review of the safeguards in Clause 10. All those points were in response to concerns expressed in another place.

I would underline that all sides of the shipping industry wish this Bill to be enacted as soon as possible. The Bill has the support of all sides in another place and is urgently required to promote safety and health at sea, to help prevent pollution, to modernise pilotage arrangements and to modernise disciplinary procedures. Many of these reforms are long overdue. I commend the Bill to the House. In the unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves, I urge your Lordships to enact the Bill during this Parliament. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Jacques.)

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, for having introduced the Bill on its Second Reading and pointed out to us the most important parts of it. Some of us in your Lordships' House had been looking forward to spending a considerable time examining the Bill when it came to us from another place. We were looking forward not only to discussions, but also to the possibility of further improvements to the Bill following what had been done in another place, because we felt that there were still matters which we could explore with the Government and in which they would agree with us that some changes could be made. In that we should have been carrying out our duties as a revising Chamber. That is not now possible.

My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Carrington, made it clear last Thursday that he felt it was most unsatisfactory that a Bill as long as this and as important as this should have to go through in two consecutive days only. The First Reading was only about an hour ago. It was only a matter of chance that we did not have to adjourn during pleasure in order to wait for the arrival of the Bill. Therefore, it is in those circumstances that we have this unusual Second Reading.

The Bill affects representative bodies outside Parliament—bodies representing the shipping industry, the seamen's unions, who are very much concerned, the bodies connected with pilotage, navigation, safety at sea and pollution, among other subjects. However, as the noble Lord has said, the Bill is needed. I agree with him that it is overdue and that many in the field of merchant shipping have been waiting for a Bill to bring our law in this field up to date and also to carry out our obligations.

Many of those outside Parliament have been preparing for a Bill of this kind and have assumed that it would be enacted this summer. Indeed, I am glad to say that employers have already made arrangements and reached agreements concerning discipline and conditions of employment in line with what is in the Bill. Therefore, that is one subject—and there are others—that makes it clear that the Bill is needed, and it would cause a great deal of difficulty outside Parliament if it fell at the Dissolution, not having managed to reach a stage for Royal Assent. There is one aspect to which I should draw attention, and that is that the other House managed to have a full Committee stage examination of the Bill, so that it has been examined in some detail there. I should particularly like to draw attention to what my honourable friend Mr. David Hunt did in that Committee in discussing points that needed the attention of the Government, and getting agreement on changes.

Most of us have points which we should have liked to air had we had the time we were expecting. Most of us think that there are improvements which we could have persuaded the Government ought to be made to the Bill. But I believe that the overriding consideration is that the Bill should not be lost at the Dissolution this week. I therefore suggest that there should be general restraint so that we do not endanger the passage of the Bill today and tomorrow.

The Bill principally affects the British shipping industry. It is sometimes overlooked that we in Britain are near the top of the world league in the size of our shipping industry. There are very few industries in Britain about which this can be said. The industry based on Britain earns us a great deal in invisible exports directly, and it also earns us more indirectly through insurance and other services on a worldwide basis.

I shall not go into further points on the provisions of the Bill. I would simply say that no one can complain that we on these Benches have not been co-operating in helping this Parliament to come to an end this week in order to allow the electors to exercise their rights at an early date in choosing a new Administration. Earlier this afternoon, I agreed to no less than 73 Amendments to the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill being taken in one Motion instead of, as had been proposed by the Officers of the House, in 44 Motions. In that case the Bill had been fully discussed and revised in the various stages in your Lordships' House, and those stages were at considerable intervals especially arranged in order that agreement could be reached on Amendments. Indeed, the Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House.

However, we are now facing a quite different situation because on top of the shortage of time there are also printing difficulties. I accept the Government's problems over printing. But we are at this moment not even considering a single Bill. We have it in three parts; one of them is still the Report stage version from the Commons, and the rest is in the form of many Amendments, so that it is almost impossible at this stage to see, or visualise, a single text. We are able to have the Second Reading debate today because those of us who are interested in this subject have of course been following the proceedings in another place and we know what are the principles in the Bill, and discuss them. But I hope that the Government and the printers will be able to produce a complete single text for us before the remaining stages tomorrow.

As your Lordships will no doubt have concluded from my remarks, I would advise the House to give this Bill a fair wind. It is needed. I only regret that we have not had, and shall not have, the opportunities of examining it in the way we should have liked had we not been faced with an imminent Dissolution.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, for almost three and a half hours I have remained on this Bench waiting for the introduction of this Bill. That was not burdensome. But I have also been waiting for many months for its introduction. On several occasions I have ventured to ask Her Majesty's Government when this Bill would receive our attention. Now the Bill is before us, and perhaps I may be permitted to remind Members of your Lordships' House that it is not the first Merchant Shipping Bill, nor, in my judgment, will it be the last.

With almost every Merchant Shipping Bill that has come before another place since 1922, I have taken part in the debates that ensued. I had ample opportunity for considering matters concerning our mercantile marine, and in particular the conditions which prevailed on merchant vessels way back from 1911. Naturally when the Bill comes before us in this form one is bound to accept it, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has just informed us, it has received ample attention in another place. There have been protracted negotiations preceding it as between the shipowners and shipowning interests and the navigating officers' union and the seamen's union. One might therefore conclude that the matter is settled; conclusion has been reached. Unfortunately there are many questions remaining to be asked, and answered.

It is not a simple Bill. I am satisfied that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, would agree with that observation. It is a Bill of the most comprehensive character, and much more comprehensive than any Merchant Shipping Bill that has ever come before another place or your Lordships' House. It deals with substantial matters affecting not only conditions aboard ship—matters of discipline; matters of engagement or discharge of seamen—but also the important, vexatious, and controversial subject of pollution and how to deal with that evil which has created considerable confusion and controversy in recent months.

It is remarkable that although we have had frequent debates on industrial matters, on education, the arts and culture, even pornography—all debates of interest and some of them fascinating, in which many with expertise have taken part and one has listened with absorption to scholars, philosophers, would-be philosophers, educationists, scientists, et cetera,—very rarely have we had a debate about merchant shipping. A few Questions have been asked and answered, not with great satisfaction. I mean the answers, not the questions. Now what is to be done about it?

I shall not weary your Lordships by going into detail about the provisions of the Bill, which, although it contains a vast number of clauses, leaves a number of questions unanswered. We are now on Second Reading, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, remarked, it is expected that we shall complete the Bill's proceedings tomorrow, before we depart from your Lordships' House, hoping to return some day. At any rate, some of us hope to return, and I hope all of us will, and in saying that I do not speak with any malice aforethought or indeed subsequently. I am bound to say therefore that I am in a situation of, perhaps I should not say intellectual difficulty but rather mental difficulty, something that does not often happen to me, and I am not quite sure what to do about it. Perhaps my best course is to make some submissions to my noble friend Lord Jacques on a few matters that are troubling me.

The first is submission on the subject of pollution. The Bill makes reference to an international agreement which, we gather, we concluded some time ago. The assumption is that when an international agreement is concluded everything is lovely in the garden, the thought being that everybody concerned will respect the obligations embodied in that agreement. However, there is no guarantee in the Bill that that is likely to happen. For example, there are several seafaring countries—that is, countries which own merchant ships, some registered by themselves and some registered by other countries; that often happens—which are not parties to this international agreement. Therefore, if we are to deal with the subject of pollution effectively, we must consider whether this agreement will be comprehensive enough.

Penalties are to be exacted in the event of a cargo ship or liner—or any vessel for that matter—indulging in pollution, not only by oil but pollution of any sort. Incidentally, it is about time not only liners, transatlantic and otherwise, but tankers were brought within the law, whatever that law may be, and were penalised if necessary for engaging in pollution. But when I think of some of the kinds of pollution in which some cargo vessels indulge in all our oceans, I feel it will be very difficult to deal effectively with the problem. Thus, on that issue a great deal more needs to be said and done before we can be satisfied that we have dealt effectively and adequately with the matter.

It is proposed in the Bill that discipline will continue to be imposed on merchant seamen, presumably by officers, in the event of misbehaviour of any kind, and that is right. It is also suggested that on fishing vessels, unless there is some previous agreement, no alcoholic liquor shall be placed aboard. I should like to know how that is to be enforced. Obviously it will mean a man engaged on a trawler—on a fishing vessel of any sort—having to be searched in addition to being interrogated to ensure he is not carrying aboard anything of a spirituous nature or any liquor calculated to cause confusion and disorder aboard the vessel during a voyage. How that will be accomplished I do not know, but no doubt Lord Jacques will tell us.

On the question of ordinary discipline I am at loggerheads with the Government; this is the question of imposing discipline aboard ship. Let us consider the customary method of imposing discipline. The captain of a vessel is the master and is responsible for the conditions and all circumstances that might ensue in the course of the voyage, and even when the ship is in port. That has always been the problem with which we have had to contend. Seamen have always resented that if there is a misdemeanour of, say, a mild character, the master of the vessel can impose a fine or arrange that the discharge book, which every seaman must carry, should be taken from him. That has always been a contentious issue among the seafaring community, an issue with which over the years I have had to deal on many occasions. However, I shall not go into that now.

It is now proposed that some organisation shall be created to deal with cases of misbehaviour or misconduct—ashore, not aboard ship—but I think I may be being premature about this. It is proposed that regulations shall be furnished by the Secretary of State to provide for the creation of some such organisation, subject to negotiation between the seamen and shipowners, and, in the event of any misbehaviour aboard ship where no discipline could be imposed, it could be dealt with when the ship arrived in port, and then that organisation could undertake the task of considering the case and, if necessary, imposing discipline. However, all we have in the Bill are a number of regulations.

Before coming into the Chamber, I spoke to Lord Jacques and asked him if my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts would be dealing with the matter. I asked that question because I recalled a debate we had in another place many years ago on the subject of merchant shipping at a time when Lord Goronwy-Roberts was in charge; I think he was associated with the Ministry of Transport. On that occasion I had a terrible row with him and I fear it almost disturbed our friendship. If it did, we are certainly friendly nowadays. Nevertheless, I recall that row and it was on this subject of regulations. As I pointed out at the time, regulations were not enough. First, the matter had to be left to the Secretary of State, who happened to be our late lamented friend Lord Marples (who was at the time Ernest Marples) who did a great deal for merchant shipping. He was almost the first Minister I know of who managed to obtain from a Government a vast sum of money in order to provide the Cunard line with the opportunity to give us two ships, the two Queens. When we were discussing the Merchant Shipping Bill at that time, I concentrated on the matter of regulations, and said that regulations were not enough. I said, "Let us be more definite, let us know where we are, and let the seamen know where they are". Now we have regulations again in this Bill. I would not expect my noble friend to reply fully this evening on this point, but I hope that he will be able to furnish some information before we complete our consideration of the Bill.

Apart from that, I accept the Bill; it is about time that we had such a Bill. I take an objective view as to which Government will be in power when the House resumes after the election. I do not forecast anything. I do not have expectations such as being on the Front Bench; that is out of the question. I hope that when we meet again we shall turn our attention to the subject of the condition of shipping in the United Kingdom. It is in a very bad way—as bad a way as it has ever been in. It is subject to the most formidable competition, and large numbers of men in the service do not know how long they are to remain in it. Bearing those circumstances in mind, I hope that we shall resume the subject on another occasion. For the moment, I accept the Bill in general. It is of the utmost importance. It concerns the future of the British economy as well as the moral, social and industrial conditions of those who sail upon the high seas.

6.52 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, it is always a pleasure, though a rather daunting one, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. I am very glad to do so this evening, knowing the tremendous interest that he has taken in the shipping industry during his long life in Parliament. I was very pleased that he referred in particular to the question of pollution. He may have missed what to me is a rather interesting development in the form of Clause 20, which deals with international conventions I read subsection (2) of the clause with enormous pleasure. It states: The powers conferred by the preceding subsection to make provision for the purpose of giving effect to an agreement"— that is to a convention— include power to provide for the provision to come into force although the agreement has not come into force". I find that immensely interesting because during our last big debate on pollution it was asked whether it was not possible for us to apply the terms of an international convention, provided of course that it was ratified by us, before it was ratified by the necessary number of countries required to bring it into force. I believe that we were told from the Government Front Bench—I do not think that the spokesman was the noble Lord, Lord Jacques—that that was quite impossible. I am very happy to learn that that possibility has been discovered and that it is incorporated in the present Bill, because I believe it to be a great step forward that we are taking power now to apply the terms of the international conventions to which we have agreed and which we have ratified without waiting for all the other countries—some of whom act very laggardly—to ratify the conventions so that they can come into force.

I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on his dissertation about discipline, except to make one point. The noble Lord's knowledge of the industry goes back further than mine and is very much deeper, but I was surprised to hear him say that in cases of bad behaviour the master of the ship could take away the seaman's discharge book. The effect may be much the same, but I should have thought that the course would be for the master not to give the seamen a good discharge, not to write the letters "v.g." (which are applied to the man who comes away having had no trouble) and then return the discharge book to the shipping master ashore. That is a very terrible thing to happen to a seaman, and I am delighted about what is proposed in this connection. Most masters act quite properly in this matter, but there may be a master who is a little intemperate, not in relation to the consumption of liquor but in his behaviour, who might give a man a bad discharge when the matter should be looked at in a calmer, more judicial way. I am delighted that the Bill contains a provision in this connection, even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, pointed out, at the moment it remains a question of regulations. Nevertheless, there is provision for a quasi-judicial body sitting at home ashore to give calm consideration to complaints about behaviour.

I will not go into the question of the difficulty we are having in dealing with the Bill. That point was fully admitted by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. It has been very difficult to keep in touch with what has been going on. Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, I am sorry that we are not to undertake a thorough examination of the Bill. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, there are a number of questions which one would like to raise possibly in the form of probing Amendments, but that course would be quite unsuitable when our one aim is to get the Bill on to the Statute Book.

Further to my welcome of the Clause 20 provision that I mentioned, I wish to refer to what I regard as a rather peculiar provision in Clause 10. I wrote down what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said in this regard, but I seem to have lost my note. However, I believe he said that Clause 10 clarified the position about the refusal to grant a pilotage certificate. I find Clause 10 most extraordinary. Clause 10(1) says that if a pilotage authority: have refused or failed to grant a pilotage certificate without reasonable cause)"— and when they do the person concerned has a right of appeal— a pilotage authority shall have reasonable cause"— I would perhaps use here the words "shall be deemed", so that the sentence continues: to have reasonable cause for refusing or failing to grant a pilotage certificate if by virtue of this subsection the authority are not obliged to grant it". That seems to be a most extraordinary position. The authority are not obliged to grant the certificate, yet it is deemed to be reasonable if they do not grant it. Had there been adequate opportunity to look into that matter I think that we would have asked the Minister whether he had any comment on it.

I do not want to delay your Lordships. We all want to get the Bill through. The noble Lord said that the Bill was generally agreed by the people concerned, but I am sure that he was not putting forward that as an argument why we should accept it. Quite often Bills are brought before your Lordships having been cosily agreed by the people concerned, but of course our duty is to look at them from the public point of view. While I welcome the fact that the terms are very largely agreed between the people concerned, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that of itself this is not an argument for our agreeing to the Bill. However, we agree to it warmly, and we hope that it will go through very soon.

7 p.m.


My Lords, several noble Lords have spoken about the importance of this Bill, but it is in fact not over-enthusiastically welcomed in all quarters. Considerable concern has been expressed to me, as chairman of the Tourist Board, by the boat operators on the Thames that an effect of this Bill could be that Thames passenger launches will have to carry a pilot compulsorily. This could also affect lighters plying up and down the Thames, the Woolwich ferries and ships belonging to the GLC. Indeed, I believe these would even include a vessel which the GLC has which is designated for the use of the chairman of that authority.

This concern was forcefully expressed when the Bill was discussed at some length in Standing Committee D in another place; and, indeed, the discussion on this particular clause, Clause 8, consumed almost three days of the time of that subcommittee. An Amendment to the Bill was moved to exclude passenger launches from the necessity to be under pilotage in certain conditions, and that Amendment was rejected by the sub-committee by one vote. The majority of members of that sub-committee were no doubt satisfied by the words of the Minister, Mr. Clinton Davies, who said: My Department would not make an order or confirm by-laws which cumulatively have the effect of bringing the launches into compulsory pilotage unless there was abundant evidence that the launches were being navigated unsafely. There is no such evidence at the present time, and I do not foresee the likelihood of such evidence. That commitment would allow the local pilotage authorities to tailor their by-laws precisely to local needs, whilst assuring the launch operators that they would remain exempt". My Lords, the Thames Passenger Services Federation are still unhappy about that guarantee. Their concern is that the pilotage authorities will try to expand the ambit of their operations to the detriment of experienced watermen holding licences issued by port and harbour authorities. Obviously, their fears will be minimised to the extent that they feel happy that the Minister is determined to protect the position of passenger launches. The pilotage authority, of course, cannot make its by-laws without the approval of the Minister. I therefore hope that my noble friend will be able to let me have an assurance that, in so far as launches are being operated as they are now being operated, their position will be protected. I admit that in the general ambit of a large and important Bill which has very great significance for sea-going vessels, the position of tourist launches may seem rather insignificant, but it is one which has caused considerable concern to those operating launches on the Thames.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, it is unusual to speak to the Second Reading of a Bill without once referring to its merits or demerits, but that is what I intend to do. I might just as readily have spoken to the Second Reading of any of the other Bills before us this afternoon. However, this Bill is by far the most comprehensive and complex of those we have discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, expressed the view that ample attention has been given to this Bill in the Commons. Pehaps, if he means the word "ample" as set out in one definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary—namely, that of "extensive"—he is no doubt right; but, with all due respect, I do not think "ample" is correct as set out in another definition—that is, "quite enough."

This Bill has 54 clauses and seven Schedules, and runs to 102 pages. If past precedent is any guide, it is therefore 99.99 per cent. certain that this Bill will be defective in at least one respect, and very probably in several others. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has already referred to the 73 Amendments—the Minister referred to them as "highly technical Amendments"—to the much simpler Land Registration (Scotland) Bill this afternoon, which, for reasons of time, had to go through virtually "on the nod." May I remind your Lordships that no fewer than 39 Amendments—most of them Government Amendments, admittedly some of them consequential—were tabled for the Report stage of the far less wide-ranging Estate Agents Bill yesterday, and 16 Amendments were tabled for the Report stage of the Banking Bill, both of which Bills were fairly fully discussed by your Lordships at earlier stages, in contrast to the position in relation to this present Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has told us that shipping circles were not expecting this present Bill to become law until late this summer. Why, then—


My Lords, I think the noble Lord must have misunderstood what I said. What I said was that those organisations outside Parliament who were affected by this Bill had been preparing on the assumption that the law would come into effect this summer, which is rather different from the construction which the noble Lord has inadvertently put upon it. While I am on my feet, could I also say that, as to the 73 Amendments to the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill, they would have gone through "on the nod" if they had been taken separately, because they were almost all consequential or drafting, resulting from Amendments which we had made in this House. So I do not think there would have been anything of substance said upon them; it was not necessary. It was simply more efficient to do it all in one move.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for that explanation. I do not think that what he has said about the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill really invalidates the point I was making, because the Amendments to the other Bills were not of a merely technical nature; some of them were fairly fundamental. I wonder why this Bill could not be withdrawn at this stage and reintroduced in six weeks' time, perhaps in your Lordships' House. Given that it has already been thoroughly examined in another place and has all-party support there, there seems to be no reason why it should not then become law almost as soon as if the present Parliament had continued until October. I believe that to expect this House to rubber-stamp legislation is to treat us with contempt. It is not we who will be the sufferers if this sort of thing becomes a habit; it is the courts, who have to interpret badly drafted legislation, and it will be the private citizen who has to suffer as a result.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, rather to my surprise I appear to be the first Member of your Lordships' House to declare an interest in this subject, having been involved in the shipping industry for some 18 years. As a Cross-Bencher, I listened with great interest, both to Lord Campbell of Croy and to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in the House yesterday. Nevertheless, I feel I must associate myself more closely with the comments made from these Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and the noble Lord, Lord Spens: that, despite all the blandishments of the respective Front Benches, the fact that there is a concerted effort to railroad this extremely important Bill through your Lordships' House is a matter of very real concern. Other noble Lords have elaborated this point much better than I can; nevertheless, my concern remains.

This is an important Bill—a very important Bill—and, now shed of Clauses 31 and 42 as they originally stood, I certainly and warmly support it. It has now waited for a span of between, I believe, 5 to 85 years. Both Parties now seem to support it. Could it not, as has just been mentioned, have waited a few more months, thereby enabling this House to fulfil its obligations, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, rightly called them, as a place for detailed consideration and, as necessary, revision? By way of illustration, I, too, had enormous trouble trying to find exactly which Bill it was we were discussing. By the time I had got the version as amended by Standing Committee D of another place and I had then got some 63 Amendments to that, and then an explanation of that, confusion was beginning to set in. I am assuming—and I should be happy to be corrected—that it will be moved that this Bill be not committed. Therefore, I should like to raise just three illustrations of the danger of pushing through this House a Bill as complex and as important as this.

As an illustration of the point that I am making and also, I hope, to raise queries valid unto themselves, I would point out that in Clause 8 of the version of the Bill which came from the Standing Committee of another place, it would appear—and I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, could correct me on this—that yachts are not necessarily to be exempted ships. Equally, in the same clause it is implied, although not stated, that local by-laws may oblige a ship such as a ferry which is under the pilotage of a master or a first mate who possesses a pilotage certificate for the district and is bona fide acting as a master or first mate of the ship to take on an independent pilot. With respect, this is where the law becomes an ass. I agree it is unlikely; but, as the Bill is drafted, it appears to me that it could so apply.

Quite differently—and I have deliberately chosen three wide illustrations to try to make my point—on Clause 30 and particularly in subsection (2), I would ask this question of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, speaking for the Government. What happens if a death occurs aboard a British vessel within the territorial waters of another country? There appears again to be an anomaly regarding inquests and coroners.

The third point—and I will not detain your Lordships any longer—concerns the Amendment to Schedule 1 on page 58. The wording of that insertion, as I read it, seems to imply that while a commissioner or a chairman can be appointed for only three years, he can thereafter be reappointed for any duration. I would ask the Government to give careful scrutiny, even at this late stage, to pick up anomalies like that, otherwise, as has been mentioned, the courts are going to have a terrible time trying to interpret the Bill.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and shown an interest in the Bill. I should like to thank them for their restraint in the particular circumstances. I especially thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for the restraint that he has shown. As far as copies of the Bill are concerned, we did everything we could to get copies of the Bill here before the Bill was considered and we did hope at one stage to get printed copies this morning. We have on the Table the copy which came to us from the Commons and we are doing all we can to get copies over tomorrow morning so that everybody interested can get a copy and thus have an up-to-date Bill in one part instead of three.

My noble friend Lord Shinwell raised a number of questions. On the first question about international agreement on pollution, power is given to contracting States to take action in respect of pollution to their coasts or territorial waters irrespective of whether the ships causing the pollution are registered locally. This will enable the United Kingdom, in giving effect to agreements under the Bill, to protect its interests generally against pollution, although widespread interest on the part of other countries too in the agreements is desirable. On the question of discipline, the disciplinary provisions in Clauses 23 and 25 are to implement the recommendations of two working groups. One group is concerned with the Merchant Navy and the other with the fishing industry. They represent agreed conclusions on both sides of industry. The regulations will give effect to codes of conduct agreed to by the industry, including the seafarers' unions.

On the question of drink, there is ample evidence that drunkenness aboard fishing vessels has led to casualties and deaths. A working group of both sides of the fishing industry have agreed that this problem should be tackled by making it unlawful to take unauthorised drink aboard a fishing vessel—and I emphasise, "unauthorised drink"—and the Government have adopted the agreed recommendations of this group which include powers of search in the authorised manner to be elaborated in the regulations. Such searches would normally take place in port before sailing. These proposals do not make it illegal to take any drink to sea or to have a drink at sea. They should make it possible to regulate the amount of drink which is available and to keep it within sensible limits. I should have thought that my noble friend Lord Shinwell with his long experience as a Secretary of State in more than one Department would appreciate that legislation can be kept more up-to-date and be more flexible if it is secondary legislation. In the case of discipline, where things change so often, it is essential that the code of conduct should be kept up to date. Therefore, the sensible way of dealing with it is by order and not by statute.

I come to the questions raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I should like to thank him especially for the restraint he exercised in his comments on the Bill. He commented on the validity of Clause 10(1). Clause 10 merely allows a pilotage authority to refuse to grant a certificate because there are already, in the judgment of the Pilotage Commission, sufficient pilots or pilotage certificate holders in the district. If an appeal is then made under the Pilotage Act, the authority will be said to have reasonable cause to have refused the certificate. The words that the noble Viscount referred to are necessary because a complaint can be made to the Secretary of State that a pilotage authority has refused to renew a pilotage certificate without reasonable cause. This is in Clause 27(1)(d) of the Bill.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, may I intervene for a moment? It seemed to me that the difficulty there was that the criterion is that the Pilotage Commission consider that there are sufficient pilots or people with pilotage certificates. There is no appeal against that if the person concerned thinks the decision unreasonable.


My Lords, I will look at what the noble Viscount has said. If I find that I can usefully add to what I have said (and I expect to be able to do so) I will either write to him or deal with the point on Third Reading. I should prefer to deal with the point on Third Reading so that the House generally can know the answer.

On the question of passenger launches, the Bill would make it theoretically possible for passenger launches to be subjected to compulsory pilotage. Before this could be done, we would have to introduce the new Section 11 in Clause 8 of the Bill for London, and the local pilotage authority would have to make an order and by-law which actually brought in the launches. I do not believe that the pilotage authority have any intention to do this. If they did attempt to do so, we have an assurance which I now repeat: We would not make an order or confirm by-laws which have the effect of bringing the launches into compulsory pilotage unless there was abundant evidence that the launches were being navigated unsafely, which there is not.

A question was raised on Clause 8. The general principle of Clause 8 is that there should no longer be a blanket exemption from compulsory pilotage. Exemption should be a matter for the local pilotage authority who can best judge what is needed in the light of local circumstances. Of course they will wish to exempt vessels such as small yachts, but the principle is surely right and was agreed by the whole industry. Regarding Clause 30, death on ships, in the case of deaths occurring outside the United Kingdom, there would be a death inquiry under Section 61 of the 1970 Act. Coroners deal only with cases where bodies are found in the United Kingdom. The amendment to Schedule 1 dealing with the terms of office of commissioners is intended to provide that commissioners shall have a period of office of three years renewable for a further period of three years. This is the effect of the amendment.

My Lords, I have dealt with as many of the questions raised as I am able. I shall have the record scrutinised and, in so far as there are questions that I have not answered, I shall endeavour to answer them when I move the Third Reading tomorrow. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.