HL Deb 25 November 1986 vol 482 cc439-53

3 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is an important Bill on an important subject. It concerns the marine pilots, who are a body small in number—currently about 1,300 in the whole country—but with a distinguished tradition of service to shipping. Few of us come across the work of the pilots in our day-to-day lives, yet their services are vital to the safe movement of many of the ships which enter and leave our ports. They are an important element in the transport system on which our ability to export and import successfully depends. And they will remain so in future. Despite the increasing sophistication of traffic management techniques in the ports, and of the equipment available to masters, it is still true that for many ships and in many ports there is no substitute for the combination of up-to-date local knowledge and shiphandling competence which the pilot can offer.

However, the way in which pilotage is at present organised has long been recognised by almost all who are familiar with it to leave much room for improvement. There was a series of reviews during the 1970s, culminating in some legislative changes through the Merchant Shipping Act of 1979 since consolidated into the Pilotage Act 1983. But the reforms which are needed are still not being carried out. The pilotage authorities (or the committees through which they exercise their responsibilities) are generally composed of representatives of the main parties with an interest in pilotage, principally the pilots, shipowners and port authorities. Each party tends to try to protect its own interests and the pilotage authorities have generally found it difficult to agree on the far-reaching reforms which are needed in some cases to improve local pilotage arrangements. Even where such proposals for reform are put forward, the existing legislation gives all the main interested parties the opportunity of objecting to the draft bylaws and orders necessary for change. A situation of stalemate has resulted in which progress towards reform has been minimal. The present structure certainly provides for full, indeed almost interminable, discussion of the problems of pilotage. What it does not do is give anyone the ability to take clear decisions and the power to carry them through.

Perhaps this would not matter very much if it were not clear that the inflexibilities of the present system are imposing a greater cost/burden on shipping using our ports than it need. In 1985, pilotage cost shipping using UK ports some £47 million. Productivity is in a number of cases low, working practices are often archaic, and all dispassionate observers agree that there are many more pilots than are needed. Even so, charges for pilotage in the main ports are set so as to pay for some 15 per cent. more pilots than there actually are.

It became clear in the early 1980s that, although the pilots are, technically, self-employed, a scheme would be needed to compensate pilots who were made redundant if any progress was to be made to reduce their numbers more quickly than natural wastage would allow. Proposals for such a scheme were drawn up by the merchant bankers, Samuel Montagu, but ultimately one of the parties involved, the General Council of British Shipping, decided that they could not accept the scheme which was being proposed. A Subsequent attempt by my honourable friend Mr. David Mitchell to achieve an agreed compensation scheme also foundered because the GCBS found the terms unacceptable. The inability of the main interested parties to agree on a compensation scheme led directly to this Government's publication of a Green Paper at the end of 1984, which proposed a greatly simplified system under which pilotage would become the responsibility of individual harbour authorities and would be treated as one of the services provided by them for vessels using the port.

Following consideration of the comments received in response to the Green Paper, and of the recommendations made by the transport committee in another place in their report on pilotage in 1985, we remain convinced that such a transfer will lead to pilotage services which meet local needs in a flexible and cost-effective manner, without any detriment to the safety of shipping or to the protection of the local marine environment. The central proposal of the Bill which we are now putting forward is that this transfer of responsibility for pilotage should take place.

What are the main advantages which we see these proposals as bringing? First, harbour authorities are ideally placed to take responsible decisions on safety and on the pilotage requirements of ships using their ports. They already have responsibilities for safety of navigation. They will be keen to ensure that services are efficiently provided and at a cost no higher than is necessary. At the same time, they will see it as in their own commercial interests to safeguard the safety of shipping using their ports.

Secondly, with the development of shore-based management systems for shipping entering and leaving ports and the prospect of their becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread, there is likely to be scope for integrating the management of such systems with the management of pilotage services, as is the case in some ports where pilots are already employed.

Thirdly, the harbour authorities will be in a position to provide proper direction and effective management of their pilotage services, with clear-cut decisions, in a way which has not been possible for pilotage authorities under the present legislation.

Fourthly, decisions will be taken locally, with a minimum of interference from bodies with national or other wider responsibilities, including my own department and, if I may say so, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I am sure this is right. Local pilotage requirements should be related to the risks to navigation in the particular harbour and harbour approaches and the volume and nature of traffic using the harbour.

Fifthly, pilotage is at present regulated in every detail by the complex body of legislation and regulation. One commentator has even suggested that an Act of Parliament would be necessary to alter the length of bootstraps of a Southwold pilot; this is an exaggeration, but it sometimes seems not much of one. Under our proposals, the legislative framework governing pilotage will be greatly simplified with, we hope, a great saving in bureaucracy for all the parties concerned. Lastly, our proposals include provision for a statutory compensation scheme, to be laid down by the Government, for pilots who would be made surplus under the new regime.

It has sometimes been suggested that the mainspring of our proposals is in some sense an attack on the pilots. Nothing is further from our thoughts. We have every respect for the difficult and sometimes dangerous job which the pilots do. Out aim is to reform the system of pilotage and to provide the pilots with a firm and lasting basis for the future conduct of their profession and to put an end to the doubts and uncertainties which have dogged pilotage for so many years.

I shall now turn to the provisions of the Bill itself. Part I of the Bill sets out the functions that harbour authorities will in future have in respect of pilotage. Clause 1 defines the harbour authorities which will have pilotage responsibilities, and which, for these purposes will be known as "competent" harbour authorities. These are authorities which have statutory powers over the movement of ships and in relation to safety of navigation. Harbour authorities outside areas where pilotage services are at present provided will not qualify as competent harbour authorities, since there is no prima facie need for pilotage services in their harbours. Nor will certain other authorities, including own-account operators. But it will be possible for such authorities to seek orders making them competent harbour authorities if they think it necessary. The clause also provides an order-making procedure under which responsibility for pilotage can be assigned to a particular authoritiy in cases where more than one harbour authority in a locality fits the statutory definition and it is not sensible for them both to consider the need for pilotage; there are also one or two minor ports where there is no statutory harbour authority, and an order providing for pilotage to be handled by another authority will have to be made.

A list of the authorities which we believe will fall within the statutory definition has been published as an annex to the Government's recent White Paper on pilotage. This is not a definitive list, since qualification as a competent harbour authority depends among other things on what the authority's governing legislation says. And the list will in any case be subject to amendment by orders made under the powers sought in Clause 1.

Clause 2 lays down the central duties which competent harbour authorities will have—those of considering whether it is necessary for a pilotage service to be provided, and whether it should be compulsory and, if so, in what circumstances, for ships to be required to use it. The authority will also be required to provide such services as its consideration shows are necessary. One point I should emphasise is that the duty to consider pilotage needs is not confined to the authority's present harbour limits—they will also have to look at the approaches to their ports.

Clause 3 deals with the authorisation of pilots by competent harbour authorities; this will follow much the same practice as the present licensing of pilots by pilotage authorities, with qualifications being set locally. Unlike the present licensing arrangements, however, an authority will be able to withdraw an authorisation if at some future date there are too many authorised pilots or they wish to change the arrangements for pilotage in their district.

I should like to draw attention to two important features of this clause. Under subsection (3), the existing licensed pilots will have priority for authorisation under the new régime for the first four years and harbour authorities will be obliged to offer employment to the pilots needed in their areas, unless a majority of local pilots have agreed that some other arrangement, perhaps involving self-employment, should be made. Subsections (4) to (6) are the rather complicated provisions necessary to achieve this. This of course strengthens the position of the pilots in negotiating future arrangements with the harbour authority.

Clause 4 places a duty on authorities to approve or license vessels being used as pilot boats. It goes further than existing legislation in that it requires the authority to satisfy itself that such boats are tit for this purpose.

Clause 5 introduces the concept of a "pilotage direction", by which an authority will be able to direct that such types of vessels as are specified in the direction shall take a pilot while navigating in the harbour. Within its harbour area, an authority will be free to make such a direction when it judges necessary: if it considers compulsion is needed outside its current harbour area, it will first need to obtain a harbour revision order to extend its jurisdiction to the area concerned. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 provides a simplified procedure which will be available to authorities seeking such extensions before the appointed day, provided that the area concerned is already subject to compulsory pilotage under the existing régime. As at present, fishing vessels of less than 47.5 metres in length will be exempt from compulsory pilotage, as will be Her Majesty's ships, by Crown exemption which does not need to be specified in the Bill.

Clause 6 requires a competent harbour authority which has imposed compulsory pilotage to issue pilotage exemption certificates to masters or first mates who can meet their reasonable requirements concerning skill, experience and local knowledge. The restrictions on grounds of nationality, or based on the number of local pilots, which are provided for in the existing legislation will not be retained, although the Secretary of State will be able to relieve authorities of their obligations to issue certificates where there are unusual hazards.

Clause 7 prevents an authority discriminating in favour of its own ships. Under Clause 8, authorities may charge for their pilotage services. Such charges must be reasonable, and will be subject to appeal to the Secretary of State by port users and other authorities affected, in the same way as appeals may already be made against certain other port charges. As at present, authorities will have the option of making charges on users of pilotage exemption certificates where they believe it is reasonable to expect them to contribute towards the cost of the pilotage service.

Clause 9 allows an authority to arrange for certain of its functions to be carried out by an agent or another harbour authority, or to make joint arrangements with another authority.

Clause 10 deals with those areas, including certain major estuaries, where the pilotage activities of one authority may affect the interests of another authority or port operator. What is the best arrangement will depend on local circumstances, and the Government do not think it right to force these authorities into one particular mould. However, there is a natural concern that the interests of all the authorities and operators should be protected, and that the most sensible and economical arrangements for the estuary as a whole should be made. Accordingly, the Secretary of State will have a power to call for information on these arrangements and, if necessary, to change them.

Clause 11 provides for the resolution of disputes between authorities. Clause 12 concerns accounts. In order that port users may be able to judge the reasonableness of charges for pilotage, authorities will be required to make their pilotage accounts available for inspection.

Part II of the Bill includes the provisions necessary if authorities and their pilots are to be able to operate pilotage services effectively. Clauses 13 to 18 deal with detailed matters of day-to-day pilotage operation and largely following existing practice. Clause 19 sets out the limitations which will apply to the liability of pilots and the harbour authorities; these are on broadly similar lines to those in the existing pilotage legislation, although the monetary sums have been increased.

Clause 20 concerns deep sea pilotage, that is pilotage carried out beyond harbour limits. Such pilotage is not regulated by legislation, and this clause merely provides for the continuation of the present arrangements under which certain bodies are approved for the purposes of issuing certificates to deep sea pilots.

Part III of the Bill deals with the winding-up of the existing pilotage organisation. Clause 21 abolishes the existing pilotage authorities, and requires the Pilotage Commission to draw up proposals for the transfer of their assets and liabilities to the appropriate harbour authorities, These transfers will be effected by a scheme or schemes made by the Secretary of State. Where there is more than one harbour authority who succeeds to a pilotage authority, the commission will need to allocate the assets and liabilities between them.

Clause 22 sets out how such schemes shall apply to the staff of the pilotage authorities: in general, they will simply be transferred to the harbour authority's employment; but where, as with Trinity House, a body which is at present a pilotage authority is to continue in other capacities, it will be for them to decide whether staff shall be retained or transferred to a harbour authority. Where a pilotage authority's pension obligations are not fully funded, a scheme may require the harbour authorities to rectify this.

Clause 23 provides for the abolition of the Pilotage Commission once it has completed the tasks assigned to it under this part of the Bill. Clause 24 provides for alterations to the functions and constitution of the Pilotage Commission during the period after enactment of the legislation.

Clause 25 requires the Secretary of State to make a scheme for the compensation of pilots who are surplus to requirements once the harbour authorities have authorised the pilots they think necessary in their areas. Harbour authorities will be required to make payments as set out in the scheme. The terms to be available were announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on 23rd May, and were reproduced in our recent White Paper. Pilots will receive a lump sum calculated on the basis of a year's recommended earnings. In addition, the Pilots' National Pension Fund have agreed to make available to surplus pilots early retirement benefits within a total of £15 million, funded from the surplus within the fund.

Clause 26 provides for the Pilotage Commission's expenses and other costs to be recovered from harbour authorities and authorities may recover such costs, and the cost of compensation payments, from port users.

Part IV is supplementary, and Schedule 1 contains transitional provisions. As well as the simplified procedures for obtaining a harbour revision order for the extension of compulsory pilotage, which I have already mentioned, I should draw attention to paragraph 2 of this schedule, which ensures the continuance in being and contined operation of the Pilots' National Pension Fund after the repeal of the legislation under which it was established.

That, then, is the Bill which we have placed before your Lordships. I have not thus far mentioned Trinity House. We of course recognise that, as authority for nearly half the present districts, Trinity House has accumulated immense experience and expertise in pilotage. I believe that Trinity House itself accepts the logic of the harbour authorities deciding what pilotage requirements should be placed upon shipping, but it would, of course, be a great pity if we were to lose the experience of Trinity House in the provision of pilotage services.

I was very pleased to hear, therefore, that Trinity House is establishing a new subsidiary company—Trinity House Agency Services Limited—through which it will be able to operate services for competent harbour authorities, not just in the areas at present served by Trinity House, but throughout the country. I understand that there have already been discussions with a number of ports, and I am sure that all competent harbour authorities would be well advised to look at the possibility of making use of Trinity House's unrivalled experience in pilotage matters.

I should also like to say a word about the vexed question of the employment status of pilots. Although there are some ports where pilots are already employed, the great majority of pilots have a status which the Inland Revenue have classed as self-employed. There has been a lot of debate, generating more heat than light, about whether this status is comparable to self-employment as the term is generally understood, and even pilots themselves have been known to argue either way. Be that as it may, the present legislative provisions laying down the framework within which the pilots currently work will be removed under our proposed legislation, and in future a variety of arrangements will be possible.

A competent harbour authority or its subsidiary company will be able to employ the pilots, and I have referred to the provision in the Bill which offers authorised pilots a right to insist on such employment. But pilotage services can alternatively be provided in a number of other ways—by agreement between individual self-employed pilots and the authorities, by pilots' co-operatives, by contracts with Trinity House, or with another agent, who may in turn employ pilots to make agreements with self-employed pilots. In all these cases it will, of course, be for the parties concerned to reach agreement on the terms and conditions which will apply, and this seems to us much more likely to lead to arrangements which fit local circumstances than detailed regulations of the kind which have proved so inflexible in the present legislation.

I believe that this Bill will allow pilotage better to meet current need, and indeed that the structure we are proposing will allow efficient services to be provided for as far ahead as any of us can see. The Bill also provides, I believe, for fair treatment of all those, pilots and others, who work in the present system. They will need to be prepared to accept changes, and some may find the period of transition to the new system difficult to adjust to. But the long-term future of our ports, and hence of the pilotage services, depends on adjusting to modern circumstances and operating efficiently.

I commend this Bill to your Lordships' House, but before the Question is put I should also like to say a brief word about the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper; that is, That the Bill be committed to a Public Bill Committee. Last Session a number of your Lordships suggested that the congestion of business might be relieved by taking the Committee stage of a Bill off the Floor of the House. Subject to the agreement of the House, it is accordingly proposed that the Pilotage Bill be committed to a Public Bill Committee. The procedure is clearly set out in The Companion to the Standing Orders at pages 152 and 153, but I should like to draw your Lordships' attention in particular to the fact that Lords not named in the Committee may attend, speak and move amendments, though they may not vote. The Committee normally sits between 3.15 and 5.45 p.m., except on Thursdays when it sits from 3.45 to 6.15 p.m.

The Government are fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages of Public Bill Committees, and we realise that many of your Lordships feel that the scope for the usefulness of this procedure is limited. But, as many of your Lordships also feel that there may be something to be gained by it, we are happy to refer the Pilotage Bill to such a Committee, if the House agrees. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

3.23 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord the Minister for so clearly explaining the Bill, and also the Government for issuing the memorandum on the legislative proposals, which I found extremely helpful. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has said, this is an important Bill. While it is not politically controversial, there are sections of the Bill which may prove to be controversial. The reference to the Public Bill Committee is one that we on this side of the House accept. Consideration as to whether it is successful or useful can be determined after the Committee's deliberations, as can consideration of whether it is the right way to do things, at the right time or otherwise.

We had an initial canter on this matter in the debate on 25th June, which was opened by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, who I am pleased is to speak in this debate. The Minister has reminded us that the British Ports Association and the General Council of British Shipping were in support of the report of the Select Committee of the other place, to the effect that pilotage should be transferred to harbour authorities. I think that those noble Lords who have read the Commons Transport Committee's report will agree that it is an excellent report.

In our previous debate, Trinity House was said to have expressed some criticism, and I questioned, in the course of that debate, what use would be made of the expertise that Trinity House has given in the past and undoubtedly can still give in the future. I am pleased to have the communication to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has referred, stressing that Trinity House now supports the need for ports to have pilotage responsibility and has formed the company which, under Clause 9 of the Bill, ports are free to use as agents, if they so desire. I gather that Trinity House has reservations, particularly on Clauses 21 and 22 with which I shall not deal, but no doubt my noble friend will be dealing with those in the course of his speech.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? Trinity House has always been in favour, certainly in recent years, of transfer to the harbour authorities.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I think I am being corrected on that. It was critical of certain aspects of the proposed transfer. In that debate I also stressed the view of the Opposition that it would not necessarily oppose the transfer of pilotage to harbour authorities, but would want very carefully to see exactly what would be the proposals in the Bill and exactly how matters would work out. That still remains our view. We have a very sympathetic attitude to the Bill, but there are certain points, to some of which I will refer, which can be dealt with fully in Committee.

I support the view of the pilots' organisation that a pilotage scheme should meet the needs of industry and the environment, and ensure fair and equitable treatment for the pilots. I was very pleased that in our previous debate a number of noble Lords emphasised the importance of environmental considerations. I will come back to that later on.

With regard to Clause 1, I note that the memorandum issued jointly by the Ports Association and the General Council of British Shipping points out, in its paragraph 4, that pilotage authorities at present include representatives of pilots, shipowners and the harbour authorities. Then, paragraph 13 of their joint memorandum stresses that one of the deficiencies of the present pilotage authorities is that, They are composed of representatives of often conflicting interests.". How is such conflict of interest to be avoided under the Bill, merely by transferring responsibility for pilotage to the harbour authorities?

I understand that under Clause 1 of the Bill the Secretary of State is to be given powers to consider whether the competent harbour authorities should be pilotage authorities; and, under Clause 10, to determine schemes of pilotage which cover more than one authority. Then I note that under Clauses 24 and 25 the Pilotage Commission will have the responsibility of advising the Secretary of State, at his request, on matters connected with the reorganisation of pilotage. That would appear to be rather too indefinite with regard to central administration and direction, because Clause 23 provides that the Secretary of State will determine the date on which the commission shall be wound up.

What, then, will be the position as regards advice to the Secretary of State once the Pilotage Commission is wound up? The pilotage organisation is very concerned that, in particular, the Bill will lead to a fragmentation of administration. Clause 3, which gives power to the harbour authorities to determine the qualifications of pilots, means that this is a decision set completely locally. I think that point was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. Where are there to be criteria laid down as to the determination of the qualifications of pilots? So far as I can see, there is no provision for this, in this clause or elsewhere, or for any regulations on the matter. Similarly, in Clause 4, the competent harbour authority is to have the duty—I noticed these words were particularly used by the Minister—to satisfy itself as to the fitness of boats to be used for pilotage. Again, I can see no reference to any statutory standards laid down.

Paragraph 20 on page 9 of the British Ports Association memorandum of 17th June last, before its current joint memo with the general council, referred to criticism that port authorities may lack the skill or the will to provide suitable pilot boats. Although that memo provided an answer, the very fact that the point was raised by the association suggests that this is an important issue.

I noted that the Transport Committee of the other place strongly recommended that responsibility for both licensing and manning standards should rest with the Department of Transport. That proposal has not been accepted by the Government and it is not in the Bill. I hate to refer to the speeches of noble Lords who are to speak later in this debate, but I noted in particular that my noble friend Lord Shackleton said: We are waiting for a satisfactory code of practice and draft pilot boat construction, survey and certification regulations".—[Official Report, 25/6/86; col. 379.] We note that there is no reference at all to that in the Bill.

Similarly the issue of pilotage exemption certificates is to be the sole responsibility of the harbour authorities, provided that the skill, experience and local knowledge of the master or first mate are to their satisfaction. Will there be any criteria laid down? There is no reference to them in the Bill. If there are to be criteria, how are they to be laid down?

I now come to the question of compulsory pilotage, which is covered in Clause 2 and later in Clauses 5 and 7. In our previous debate I questioned whether there should be particular areas or classifications of ships and cargoes where compulsory pilotage should be required. As noble Lords will have heard from the Minister, the Bill leaves this solely for the harbour authority to determine.

As I stated earlier, various noble Lords stressed in the debate in June the important question of the environment. Again, I am pleased to note that some noble Lords who stressed that are to take part in this debate. But I note that there is no reference whatever in the memorandum of the Government to the important questions of the environment or the public interest. As I said, a number of noble Lords regarded this as very important when considering compulsory pilotage.

I note that Clause 5(4) provides that before giving a compulsory pilotage order a harbour authority shall consult the relevant shipowners and others who may carry on harbour operations in the area. Will that mean that proper regard will be paid to the public interest? That appears to be missing from the clause. If a harbour authority should decide to remove the present compulsory pilotage, will the pilots' organisations be consulted? Your Lordships will notice the reference to consultation with shipowners and others before a compulsory pilotage order is made. What about consultation with the pilots' organisation should a present compulsory direction be removed? There appears to be no reference whatever to this.

Clause 8 refers to pilotage charges and there is provision for a right of appeal by shipowners and harbour operators to the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will have listened carefully to what the Minister said about the earnings of pilots, and this is to be left solely to the harbour authorities for local negotiation with pilots. Until 1984 pilots' earnings were subject to what was known as the Letch agreement. That was an agreement between pilots and shipowners, but the shipowners withdrew from that in, I think, 1984.

The British Ports Association's briefing of 17th June, to which I referred, stated in paragraph 20: Ports authorities must be allowed to negotiate reasonable terms and conditions for their new employees". I can see nothing in the Government's memorandum which refers implicitly to that matter, although the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, indicated that it will be a matter for local negotiations. Shipowners will have the right of appeal on the question of charges, but there seems to be nothing in either the Government's memorandum or the Bill giving the right to the pilots' organisation to make any appeal if it is dissatisfied with any negotations that are conducted locally. That would be on a very small scale indeed in the case of a number of pilots employed by certain pilotage authorities.

Lastly, in our previous debate a number of noble Lords emphasised that any pilotage legislation must be fair and equitable to the pilots. That was emphasised in a letter which the Prime Minister wrote on 21st April. The final paragraph, paragraph 41, of the Government's memorandum on the present proposals stated: It is confident, too, that the legislation will provide a lasting basis for the future of marine pilotage, while at the same time providing equitable treatment to the present and future members of a distinguished profession". To be fair to the Minister, he emphasised the importance of this fair and equitable treatment. I ask whether the Bill provides for this fair and equitable treatment for pilots which everybody seems to favour.

Paragraph 2 of the introduction to the Government's memorandum states: protracted attempts to reach agreement on a voluntary early retirement scheme for surplus pilots finally broke down in 1984". On 23rd May this year the Secretary of State announced that agreement in principle on a compensation scheme had been reached between the pilots' organisation and the ports association, but, as the Minister informed the House, the general council had not been prepared to agree with these proposals. We find in Clause 25 that a compensation scheme will be made by statutory instrument and nothing definite is laid down in the Bill, although it has been stated that the scheme will be on the basis of a Statement made by the Secretary of State on 23rd May, which is included as Annex A to the Government's memorandum.

It is emphasised that some £14 million is to be set aside from the pilots' national pension fund, but the chairman of that fund, in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon—who will be more aware of it than I am—has set out circumstances in which that sum may be exceeded. That could present a problem which does not appear to be covered. There is nothing in the Bill to provide any assurance that existing benefits, including those relating to early retirement schemes, will be preserved. We have argued before on privatisation schemes that a scheme of reorganisation of this kind, which everybody agrees is a desirable objective, should make absolutely clear that existing benefits, including those relating to early retirement schemes and their general conditions, will be preserved.

I noticed in the recent statement by Trinity House—I am certain that my noble friend Lord Shackleton will not mind my referring to this, because it is dated 21st November and I received it only yesterday—that it is stated: It will also be financially impossible to create a commercial company able to offer advantageous rates if that company has to assume the financial burden of superannuation and/or redundancy payments to its staff". In the absence of anything clear and specific in the Bill—the statement from Trinity House would appear to be a strictly good, commercial one—I ask again, is fair and equitable treatment of pilots fully guaranteed?

It is unfortunate that the Government stated in their original Green Paper that there is no justification whatever for public funds to help in this way. As I said at the outset, we give general support in principle to the Bill, but there are issues, some of a controversial nature, that we will wish to see thrashed out in Committee.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for his very clear exposition of the Bill. At the same time, to set at rest any doubts that he may be having, I may say that we on these Benches support the general principles of the Bill and look on it as an improvement in what he himself described as the present cumbersome system of organising pilotage. That does not mean to say that we do not have some rather serious reservations and some criticisms, some of which I will briefly mention, and on which I am sure my noble friends Lord Grey and Lord Simon will elaborate in more detail. I also support strongly the proposal that the Bill should have its Committee stage under the new procedures. This, I hope and believe, will be a considerable improvement and will save a lot of the valuable time of the House.

We have a very long and maritime tradition and the safety of our seafaring folk, our ships and our coasts is something of which we are rightly proud, going back as it does to the days of Henry VIII and the beginnings of Trinity House. The Merchant Navy, although declining in importance, is still of the greatest importance to this country, so that our shores and the access to our harbours should be above all safe, with that safety ensured at the lowest cost consistent with fair treatment and fulfilling the obligations.

Safety must be paramount in this matter. I think it is absolutely right, both in principle and in practice, that the safety of individual harbours should be in the hands of the harbour authorities, whether it be safety from noxious substances or of ships when navigating or when tied up in harbour, including—and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned this—the safety of the environment. That is clearly a responsibility of the local authority.

The Bill puts squarely on the shoulders of the competent harbour authorities their obligations in this respect. But it is perfectly right to say that some harbours are too small to fulfil their functions adequately or consider that they do not have the proper facilities for so doing. The proposals that Trinity House should continue to fulfil its traditional obligations for pilotage by setting up a company to offer services to those harbour authorities is surely the right arrangement for such places.

It is very good to know that Trinity House itself, with certain reservations, approves of the Bill and that in principle the pilots do also. I think that much credit should go to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and his officials for having overcome the reasonable and justified fears expressed in earlier debates and elsewhere concerning these matters.

On the point of safety, I am not very clear about the responsibilities of the competent harbour authorities for the waters outside their own existing demarcations. I am afraid that Clause 6 is somewhat unclear to me. I refer particularly to those areas outside the haven ports, the area that I personally know best, the Goodwin Sands and so on and the Thames estuary, where there are very great hazards to shipping well known to competent masters and masters used to that type of navigation. However, given the type of ships that come into those waters from time to time, particularly those carrying dangerous cargoes, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure us that the pilotage of those areas and the wider waters is fully taken care of. I should have thought that this is one of the areas where Trinity House has a vital role to play.

In connection with Trinity House, it is essential that it should continue to retain, or acquire, the resources to enable it to do its job properly. The financial obligations on Trinity House and its ability to acquire the funds to carry them out, as mentioned in Clause 21, are not entirely clear to me. I hope that we can receive assurances that this problem has been adequately taken care of; or possibly it should wait until Committee stage when it may be necessary to table some amendments to ensure that this is done.

When all is said and done, pilotage must depend upon the pilots themselves. They play the vital role in the safety of shipping in approaches to harbours and within harbours. They are, I am sure all noble Lords agree, a very fine—if occasionally somewhat difficult—body of men who fulfil their highly responsible functions with enormous skills. These people must be fairly treated.

There are doubts—I think that some of them are justified—that under the new arrangements there may be additional difficulties that are not at present experienced. I know that the present system is not the right one—I fully accept that. There are too many pilots. It is always difficult to reduce the numbers in any profession, particularly in a profession as skilled as pilotage. The rewards of pilots show an enormous variation that to my mind cannot be justified simply by the differences in their jobs. Some figures which I have been given show that in Neath, for instance, the net earnings of pilots are £46,000.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord to say that I saw those figures as well and was staggered by them. I asked a question and those of whom I asked the question fell about laughing. They said "Oh, everybody knows that Neath is a husband and wife and they own the port".

Lord Walston

My Lords, I do not know whether it is the husband or the wife who is the pilot, but whoever it is at Neath appears to be doing rather well—as indeed are the husband who lives at Barrow and the wife who lives at Heysham, where the earnings are £37,000. We should compare those situations with Londonderry and Tyne, where the earnings are in the neighbourhood off £11,000. I am not saying that Neath and Barrow and Heysham are too high and I am not saying that Londonderry and Tyne are too low; I do not know. However, I cannot believe that it is right that there should be these enormous discrepancies. I suggest that that is something which the new proposals will overcome to some extent, always in consultation with the pilots.

Redundancies have already been talked about. I think there will have to be redundancies, as there are in many professions these days. It is essential that the redundancies resulting from these new arrangements should have sufficient funds available to make sure that the full commitments are properly met and are met out of central funds rather than out of the funds of the individual harbours. Many of those harbours will not have such funds available.

There is the further question of certificates of exemption. Here again I think the principle is right. The masters of vessels coming or going regularly from Continental ports—and I speak again of Harwich and Felixstowe—should, if they fulfil the various qualifications, have certificates of exemption, as they do indeed at the moment if they come from EC countries. However, that should be extended to the Scandinavian countries, from where vessels come with exactly the same type of skill and frequency as they do from Holland and Belgium.

I therefore support the proposal which I think is a good one. However, it must not be overdone or done too rapidly because once again it will diminish the amount of work available for existing pilots, cause unhappiness and dissatisfaction and very probably put an undue strain on the amount of money available for redundancies. I hope that, while the certificates of exemption will be granted as proposed, that will be done in a gradual manner.

The next very important question is that of the safety of pilots. Some people may think that the job of a pilot is to go out on calm harbour waters in a pleasant launch, climb up a companionway, have a drink with the master and take over on the journey into harbour; or, if the journey is out of harbour, climb down the companionway, get into the launch and, as the sun sets, float back happily to home and family. That does sometimes happen but there are many occasions when it does not. The seas may be rough, conditions difficult, a blizzard may be blowing and there may be fog. It can be a very uncomfortable and hazardous job. It is absolutely essential that there should be safeguards to ensure that the vessels in which pilots are transported are not only sound and seaworthy —as I am sure they are in all major ports—but also that there is an adequate crew on board in case some accident should occur which would mean that the coxswain would be left in sole charge while the pilot floundered in the water. I think that matter also needs looking at.

I know that the main objective of this Bill is a reduction in costs. That is an admirable objective. The other objective (which appeals to me rather more) is to place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the harbour authorities themselves. I cannot say to your Lordships that I believe there will be any immediate reduction in the costs of pilotage in the short term. In the long term, there will be. I hope that will take place and I believe that it can if the matter is worked out properly.

I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mention that, with the advent and the growth of new techniques for navigation, it is very important that individual harbours should have the independence to try out new systems which are particularly suitable to their areas and which might, with or without modifications, be adopted elsewhere. I trust your Lordships will not think it is too fanciful to draw an analogy, looking far into the future, between Heathrow and Gatwick, where airplanes are brought down with no need for a pilot to go on board the 707 as it comes in. That is all done by remote control.

I am not for a moment suggesting that a time will come in the lifetime of even the youngest of your Lordships when pilots will no longer be needed. However, there is undoubtedly enormous scope for the introduction of new technologies at a more rapid rate than is happening at the present time. Those will make the task of pilotage somewhat simpler and more sure and will contribute to the overall necessity of safety within harbours and in surrounding waters. I believe this to be a good Bill, full of good intentions and well expressed. I believe that after the Committee stage it will be a still better Bill.