HL Deb 04 April 1979 vol 399 cc1919-31

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that no Amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript Amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the Order of Commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the Order of Commitment be discharged.—(Lord Jacques.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Merchant Shipping Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Then, 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 third time. At the Second Reading I promised to look at the record to see whether there was any further explanation that I should give on the questions which had been raised. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, raised a question on Clause 10 and that is a case where I think I might give a fuller answer. Under that clause, a pilotage authority will not be obliged to grant a certificate when the number of pilots and certificate holders are, in the opinion of the Commission, adequate for the district.

In addition, the clause provides that this constitutes reasonable cause for a refusal to grant a certificate for the purposes of Section 27(1)(a) of the 1913 Act. This is necessary because currently a certificate may only be refused on the grounds that the applicant has not satisfied the pilotage authority of his ability to navigate his ship safely. The Secretary of State is not able to take into account the disruption which the granting of a certificate might cause to the local pilotage service. We are therefore introducing a new ground for refusing to grant a certificate which will, in effect, be controlled by the Pilotage Commission. It is of course important that these matters should not be left entirely to the discretion of the pilotage authority, but there will be two further checks. First, the pilotage authority, who will in practice consider whether the number of certificates is appropriate and, secondly and most important, the Pilotage Commission, taking an overall and independent view, is charged with considering the whole matter. These arrangements were fully discussed and accepted by all sides of the industry as providing a fair and reasonable safeguard for pilots which, at the same time through the involvement of the Commission, will not be misused. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Jacques.)

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, for giving that full reply to the point I raised. I am not sure that I succeeded in getting across to him what was really worrying me and as he repeated, the question is that the situation arises that if in the opinion of the Commission there are sufficient pilots or pilotage certificates that is conclusive that the pilotage authority is entitled reasonably to reject an application. The matter I had in mind was whether the opinion of the Commission was the last word. Is it not possible for the person concerned to argue that the opinion of the Commission is incorrect? The possibility for arguing that is removed because it is laid down in the Bill that the opinion of the Commission is final. At any rate the noble Lord has explained the situation and so far as I am concerned there is no more to be said.


My Lords, it was my intention to offer a few observations on the Third Reading, but first I should like to ask a question on the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, arising from what my noble friend Lord Jacques has said. He said that there was general agreement about the appointment of a Commission which would be entitled to grant certificates or to refuse certificates for pilotage. I am sorry to inform him that only this morning I happened to be reading the journal issued by the Navigating Officers' organisation, in which they deal with this point. They suggest that it may be the responsibility of the Commission, whichever the Secretary of State may decide, to refuse to grant a private licence to a person who does not hold a superior rank in the Merchant Navy, or has held a superior rank in the Merchant Navy; for example, chief officer or master mariner. The Commission may have the right to refuse a pilot's certificate to a second officer or a third officer. Is that the position? That is what I read only this morning as being a complaint by the navigating officers organisation, who were apprehensive as to whether those who have not achieved a higher rank in the Merchant Navy may be refused a pilot's certificate. I should like an answer from my noble friend Lord Jacques on that point.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask for a point of clarification from my noble friend? Before doing so, I should declare an interest as chairman of the Harwich Harbour Conservancy Board, which clearly has a very great interest in these matters. As I understand it, originally the over-riding consideration was one of safety within designated waters. It now appears, from what my noble friend has said, that it is not solely a matter of safety but a matter also of ensuring employment to pilots. It therefore seems to me—and here specifically I should like clarification—that, even though there may be no question of jeopardising safety by allowing dispensation for craft belonging to or under the control of, for instance, a conservancy board or a harbour authority, the pilotage authority may still insist that pilots be carried solely on the grounds that there is underemployment among pilots in that particular area. I should be most grateful if my noble friend could make the position clear.

The Earl of INCHCAPE

My Lords, I have to declare an interest as chairman and chief executive of a major shipping company and, until recently, president of the General Council of British Shipping. I believe, therefore, that in welcoming this Bill I speak for the whole shipping industry. It is a very useful Bill. It follows an agreement made between the interested parties on pilotage and discipline, to make ships safer and the sea cleaner. It will strengthen the hand of Government in dealing with unfair foreign competition. The Bill is still not perfect; no Bill is. But it represents the result of five years hard work by Government and the shipping industry in its broadest sense. This Bill is a good ship and your Lordships have the chance to launch it, even though it has not been discussed in detail. I hope there will be no last minute hitch because one party would like to make minor changes in the colour scheme. My Lords, I commend this Bill to the House.


My Lords, despite the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, has welcomed this Bill, I think the comments that have been made by his noble friends and the other comments have shown that perhaps my noble friends on the Front Bench will not feel too happy in allowing these things to have the speedy passage they are having. It is all very well to be generous and to want to help in unusual circumstances, but the first responsibility of any part of parliament is to see that legislation, when it becomes effective, has been properly examined and all the points that have been very properly made have been dealt with.

It is such a pity, with a Bill as important and intricate as this, that ways could not have been found to hold it over so that it could have had the full and deep investigation that it really needs. While one does not want to give the impression of being obstructive at the end of a Parliament, when certain work which has been done is being brought to fruition, I believe that a mistake has been made in being so generous as to speed through a Bill which needed much more detailed investigation and much more detailed replies before we gave it a Third Reading and put it on the Statute Book as formal legislation.


My Lords, may I follow on what the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has said. Six days ago the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, vigorously attacked the proposed rearrangement of business, adding: I have the very gravest doubts about its constitutional propriety… We all know what happens when your Lordships' House does not do revision to legislation, and I really think it would be most unwise for this House merely to act as a rubber stamp in a situation of this kind in a Bill of this importance".—[Official Report, 29/3/79, col.1680.]


My Lords, if I may intervene, the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip made a very clear and handsome description of what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, now thought about the way the business should be carried, and I think that ought to stand.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I was coming on to that in a second. I was totally in agreement with Lord Carrington's sentiments, as I am sure were a great many of your Lordships; however, two days ago the noble Lord, Lord Denham, took a very different line. He conceded in col.1710: … your Lordships are being asked to waive… your obligations as a revising Chamber", and added that Lord Carrington expressed very strong reservations last Thursday on the propriety of this".— [Official Report, 2/4/79, col.1710.] But the noble Lord. Lord Denham, went on to say that the Conservative Front Bench had now withdrawn their reservations, and he asked the House to do everything possible to smooth the passage of the measures. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Denham, though undoubtedly he speaks for his Front Bench, would not necessarily claim to speak for his Back-Benches, still less for the Liberals or for my noble friends on these Benches.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but is he suggesting that the Liberal Benches do not wish to facilitate the passage of this legislation at this time? I should like respectfully to support what the noble Baroness has said. May I say that I am very much surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, made the intervention that he has made, in view of what the Leader of his Party has said.


My Lords, I am interested to hear the Liberal view, because they said absolutely nothing about it at the time. I was only guessing, and obviously I guessed wrong. For that I apologise. In the normal way, I suggest, the House would spend at least five hours on the Second Reading on a Bill of this magnitude; there would surely be 20 speakers or more. We would spend 12 hours in Committee, perhaps seven hours on Report, and at least one hour on Third Reading. We often get important Amendments at the Third Reading stage; only two days ago the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, moved two Amendments at the Third Reading of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill, which he said were needed—not desirable, but needed—

… needed to improve the drafting of the Bill so as it make it easier to construe".—[Official Report, 2/4/79, col. 1726.] I think that speaks for itself. So at a very conservative estimate in the normal way we should have spent 25 hours on this Bill, not counting consideration of Commons Amendments, if any. Yet we have been asked to complete all stages of this Bill in about an hour and a quarter—one hour and two minutes last night and 15 minutes today—in other words, about one twentieth of the normal time. Something must be wrong, I suggest. Either we have not done our duty by this Bill, or we have been wasting our time and the taxpayers' money on all the other legislation that has come before us over the years.

During my time in this House I have seen far too much defective legislation reach the Statute Book, largely, though by no means invariably, because the Committee or Report stage took place late at night or in the small hours of the morning, when people's wits are not at their sharpest, or occasionally when hastily tabled and imperfectly understood manuscript Amendments were moved at the last moment. It is certain that this Bill will have some defects. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, drew attention to just three possible defects last night, chosen at random. It is not a question of upholding the status and dignity of this House although that is not unimportant. It is a question of protecting the individual citizen against imperfect and possibly unjust legislation. For this reason, I am afraid I must oppose the Third Reading of this Bill, and I hope that other noble Lords who feel that this House has not been given the opportunity to fulfill its constitutional obligations will join me in doing so.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I could speak before the Minister winds up, following the usual course of events. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, for undertaking the task of replying to the points left over from the Second Reading debate yesterday. I must say straight away that I have the greatest sympathy with my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls in what he has said about the way in which this Bill is having to go through your Lordships' House, at such speed that it cannot be examined in the way in which all of us would wish.

I do not know whether my noble friend was present when we debated this matter yesterday evening on Second Reading. I think that he was, and therefore I shall not repeat what I said then in my reference to the protest made by my noble friend Lord Carrington when he first heard about this matter. However, I can assure my noble friend and also the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I understand that discussions were then pursued immediately and earnestly to find the best solution. We had to decide whether the Bill should die with this Parliament—because of dissolution this week which had been agreed between the Government and the Opposition—or whether the Bill should be saved and the work that had been done on it retained, bearing in mind that many people outside Parliament had been waiting a long time for certain items of legislation that it contains. We had to decide whether, in the light of that, the Bill should be allowed to die.

The decision was taken and agreement was reached. Concessions were made and parts of the Bill were dropped by the Government on the basis that it was in the interests of the country that the Bill should not be killed. It could not be guaranteed that legislation could be introduced in time, this year or next year, to carry out what the bodies concerned outside had been preparing for. For example, as I mentioned yesterday, the shipping industry has, to a great extent, already prepared, in its arrangements for discipline, conditions of service on ships—and agreements have been reached with the unions as from 1st January this year—for a Bill of this kind to become enacted during the course of the summer. If the Bill were to fail now all that would be in jeopardy.

Let me quote another example. The Bill allows the Government to exercise powers which they have not had before in the whole area of ratification and bringing into force of international agreements on navigation, pollution, safety and shipowner liability. Not only is that something which a Government needs, but it will set a very good example to other Governments who are slow in this area and who have held up important agreements.

My noble friend Lord Inchcape, having declared an interest himself as a leading figure in our shipping industry, has confirmed that the Bill is needed by the shipping industry. Again, I ask to be forgiven for repeating what I said on Second Reading yesterday, but it is sometimes overlooked that our shipping industry, in terms of size, is near the top of the world league. We have been third and then fourth, and two of the countries ahead of us are small countries whose flags are conveniently used. Therefore, we and Japan really lead the world. To put the shipping industry suddenly into this unexpected situation would be one reason—and in my view an important reason—why we should not allow the Bill to be killed at this stage.

There is probably no one in your Lordships' House who is more affected and who feels more about this subject than I do personally. I was due to deal with the Bill from this Bench during all its stages through your Lordships' House. I was expecting to spend a great deal more time on it than the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested, because it is so important and there are parts of it which we felt we could discuss again—beyond the discussions in another place—and as regards which we could perhaps influence the Government to agree to improvements. However, it was clear that, if the programme preceding this Election was to be followed, it was impossible to give any worthwhile consideration to the Bill during the Committee stage, and that is why there was no point in having a Committee stage.

That means, so far as I am concerned, that a lot of homework and preparation that I have done is all wasted. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, was speaking, and also when my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was speaking, I felt very personally the same kind of sentiments, because I knew only too well what I had been hoping we could do to improve the Bill. However, as I said yesterday, we thought that the overriding national interest was that the Bill should come into force and be enacted this week, even though we would have liked—and it is our normal right—to have examined it very closely and perhaps made further improvements to it. The overriding consideration was that the Bill should not die.

I shall not say any more on the substance. We had a debate on Second Reading yesterday. However, I should like to make it clear that, certainly in my opinion and in that of many of my noble friends, although we greatly deplore the fact that we have not been able to examine the Bill as we had hoped to, we think that the worst course would be for the Bill to die.


My Lords, first I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and who have shown an interest in the Bill before your Lordships' House. I should particularly like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape. He has great experience in the shipping industry and what he said, together with what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said at all earlier stage of our discussions on the Bill, indicates quite clearly that the Bill is wanted by both sides of the industry. I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for their support. Their speeches showed that all parties want the Bill. We are faced with the choice: either we take the Bill as it is or we do not get the Bill in this Parliament. All parties are of the opinion that we should take the Bill as it is, not because there is any political advantage to any of us, but because we believe that it is in the interests both of the industry and of our country. We are proud to take that stand, even though it might be a stand which is not looked upon kindly by some Members of this House.

I shall reply specifically to technical questions that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston. As regards the matter raised by Lord Shinwell, the Commission will not grant certificates. It will have a monitoring role. The responsibility remains with the local pilotage authority. The Bill will restrict the grant of certificates to masters and first mates, and after discussion with the navigating officers' union that was agreed.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, asked about the possibility that a certificate might be refused not on grounds of safety but because of the situation in the local pilotage district. Clause 10—which allows that—is a safeguard clause agreed by all the parties and intended to protect pilots from a sudden influx of EEC certificated holders. It is intended as a phasing in mechanism and as a safeguard of last resort. However, it is an absolutely vital part of the pilotage package.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Jacques.)


My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the controversy about whether this is the appropriate time to accept the Bill. We are in a rather awkward situation and therefore I shall leave that matter alone. I recognise that those who are intensely interested in the provisions of the Bill, and who in normal circumstances would have liked to make certain submissions in order, in their judgment, to improve the Bill, are entitled to express the opinions which we have heard this afternoon and which came from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the other day. However, I want to direct attention to the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, today and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, yesterday said that the Bill has been agreed by both sides in the Merchant Navy. I am well aware of that. I have been notified to that effect by the British Council of Shipping and other organisations. However, at the same time I am aware that the Bill—while it is very satisfactory in part—is like the curate's egg: there are certain parts which are most unsatisfactory, and in particular it is not so much the commissions in the Bill but the omissions.

Yesterday I ventured to say that in the last 60 or 70 years many Merchant Shipping Bills have been dealt with both in another place and in your Lordships' House. I also said that this Bill would not be the last one. I want to place on record some of the items that will have to be considered by some other Government in the future, whether they are the Government which are now disappearing from the scene—probably temporarily—or some other Government that will replace them. In doing so I shall place on record the opinions which officers and other ranks in the Merchant Navy wish to be incorporated in a satisfactory and effective Merchant Shipping Act.

For example, nothing is said in the Bill about a matter which has caused considerable controversy, and still does; that is, the question of leave for officers when they reach the end of their responsibilities and have been discharged in some port. Nothing is said in the Bill about the decision of the Inland Revenue to impose tax on officers and men who are discharged from a vessel and travel to their place of residence, or who have to rejoin a ship and incur travelling expenses or are provided by the shipowning firms with their expenses only to find that those expenses are taxable. That also causes controversy.

There are several other matters. This morning I did what I very seldom do; I sat down at the typewriter and typed out almost a dozen of these so-called omissions, some of which are very important indeed. Without wearying the House and going over the ground again, I want to say that I accept the fact that this Bill is, on the whole, satisfactory; it is comprehensive in character, yet it is not comprehensive enough. Many other matters have to be considered by the officers and men in the Merchant Navy.

Although the Bill may be satisfactory to the British Council of Shipping and shipowners in general, it may be unsatisfactory to the country itself. Let me give an example. Noble Lords may not be aware of the fact that much of our shipping is being sold to foreign countries, to the detriment of our own economy and our own shipping interests; it is also causing excessive redundancies in the Service. Those redundancies are taking place almost daily, but there is something even more important than that. When the British Steel Corporation purchases iron ore for the purposes of manufacturing steel in this country, it actually uses foreign vessels to transport it, to the detriment of British shipping. Over and above that, the firm of Vickers, which is building three very large ships, has decided to hand over the management not to a British shipowning firm but to a Norwegian shipping company; so those ships, built in this country, will be managed by a foreign company.

Those are the matters which are causing great controversy in the Merchant Navy. I mention them only in passing, but I am convinced that sooner or later further legislaton will be required; of course, there may be an alternative—that of disputes in the industry—and that we would wish to avoid. I have made those remarks for the purpose of placing these matters on record. I am not retained by the navigating officers' union, but I am intensely interested in the future of British shipping, as, indeed, we all are. Therefore, I place on record these submissions; they do not come from me, but from the Merchant Navy. They come from those who work and operate in the Merchant Navy and who are anxious to promote the best interests of the Service.


My Lords, your Lordships will pass this Bill and I can well understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe should be irritated. As the Government Chief Whip, her duty is very clear and she is doing it well; it is to get the business through very quickly. However, that is not the duty of the House. Parliament's job is to ensure that legislation that goes through is comprehensive and is likely to be helpful. If the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, envisages industrial disputes because of the lack of time we have allocated to ironing out the problems, then it will not be a good thing. Although we do not want to delay the Bill, I believe that the speedy way in which it and other Bills are being allowed to go through is not in the best interests of the nation or of the Parliamentary system, and I think that we shall live to regret it.

On Question, Bill passed.