§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, we seem to be having a rather nautical afternoon, but perhaps we may now return to the Pilotage Bill.
I welcome the introduction of this Bill, so ably done by the noble Lord the Minister. I think that all parties have reached what I might call a grudging acceptance of the fact that the Government have won their way on this Bill and that what remains to be done is to make the best of what we have before us. I particularly welcomed the remarks of the Minister regarding Trinity House, and I shall have more to say on that subject later. I also welcome the fact that, provided the House wishes, this Bill is to go to a Public Bill Committee. Without wishing to blow your Lordships' trumpet too much, a committee of that sort in your Lordships' House is perhaps an ideal vehicle for sorting out some of the problems that still exist with the Bill.
Perhaps I may be permitted to make one or two observations by way of background. First—and I do not think that any noble Lord has referred to this—it seems to me that the Bill has come to your Lordships' House with slightly indecent haste. I realise that the Government have to get on with their legislative programme, but I think I am right in saying that the Bill was printed only a week ago and it has allowed very little time for some of the interested parties to muster their thoughts.
The other point that I make as a general background observation, and one I made during our debate last summer, is that sadly the British Merchant Navy is rapidly declining. Some people have even forecast that it will consist of as few as 100 ships by 1990. Therefore, today's percentage, which I think is around 10 per cent. of ships under the British flag using British ports, may well be considerably lower by 1990.
458 Both the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Walston, spoke extremely well. They covered most of the salient points. Therefore, I shall merely make one or two observations on what they have said. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke so well on behalf of Trinity House I begin to wonder whether he is making a bid to join his two noble and distinguished friends as an Elder Brother.
Looking to the Bill itself and to several of its provisions, I think that certainly the directions concerning ships should be enlarged upon. We have heard reference made to safety and I intend to come on to that subject in a moment. However, I believe that we should write into the Bill a wider description of the term "ships", especially with regard to those which may carry dangerous or noxious cargoes.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made a very relevant point when he touched upon public interest concerning whom a competent harbour authority shall consult. I appreciate that the harbour authorities themselves feel that it would be much better if they could be allowed to get on with running the ports in the way that they want to; but there is a legitimate public interest. I cite as a possible example the situation a few years ago when a foreign company wanted to moor a gas tanker permanently in the Solent areas. There was an enormous public outcry and the ships were never moored there.
In some of the harbour areas we are discussing ships like these potentially dangerous gas carriers come very close to areas of population. Therefore, when considering this Bill in Committee it would be wise to look at what interest there may be—whether from the point of view of the local authority or an environmental concern—to ascertain whether those interests should not have some say in the matter of how the harbour authority is to run its pilotage limits. It also seems to me, if I read the Bill aright, to be slightly strange that a harbour authority has to have the support of the Secretary of State if it wishes to extend its present pilotage limits, but not if it wishes to reduce them.
Mention has been made of cost. I do not want to dwell too long on this subject but I was pleased to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, with regard to ports not being able to reduce costs, certainly at the outset. It is a great temptation to a port—and, as I have said before in this House, running ports is a very competitive business—either to reduce its limits or to extend the number of pilotage exemptions in order to save costs, and both these measures have a bearing on safety.
Turning to the question of exemption, so far as I can make out there is no direction in the Bill to state that any master or mate coming up for a pilotage exemption certificate must be able to speak English. I think that such a provision ought to be written into the Bill. With regard to the renewal of exemption certificates after a one-year period, I should like to quote from Clause 6(4) of the Bill:A pilotage exemption certificate shall not remain in force for more than one year from the date on which it is granted, but—(a) if the holder continues to be the master or first mate of a ship, may he renewed annually".459 There again, I think that we are using "ship" in a very loose sense, and I think it would be better if the phrase "a ship of substantially the same type or substantially the same tonnage" were written into the Bill. This would be an extra safeguard.
I mentioned the possible issue of a large number of exemption certificates—indeed the Bill almost requires harbour authorities to issue such certificates. In itself this can give rise to dangers with vessels, not necessarily ships, which have on board a person who has a pilotage exemption. I have cited instances before in this House, and I shall now give another. We all remember the poor unfortunate skipper who cut Southend Pier in half earlier this year. I believe he was asleep at the time. That is an example of a ship which used a port frequently. The master may well have had a pilotage exemption certificate, or perhaps he was merely operating within the port limits, in which case he would not have needed one. But next time it may easily be a ship coming from abroad, which has on board an exempt master who may fall asleep and—who knows?—he may run into a gas tanker rather than Southend Pier. The consequences are appalling to contemplate.
Let me cite another example. I think it was two or three years ago that a small coaster called the "Sea Ems", which was in-bound from Germany and had a German master who had a pilotage exemption, ran between the outer piers and the sea wall at Coryton at the Mobil Oil Refinery, neatly cutting all the oil lines as he went through. I believe that he, too, was asleep. I find it amazing that he passed through without hitting anything else but he did so and, luckily, on that occasion there was no tanker unloading at the berth. That is another instance of what can happen if too many exemption certificates are issued.
While on the subject of exemption and the limits of pilotage, perhaps I may just recall the current talk about the Minches area of North-West Scotland, where steps are being taken to move further out to sea large tankers and ships with dangerous cargoes. What happens if the Port of London draws in its pilotage limits to the Nore from Harwich and Folkestone, where they are at the moment? The big tankers and ships with dangerous cargoes will be passing up the Thames estuary, which is notoriously shallow in some places. Surely that is a much greater potential problem than in the Minches?
May I now turn briefly to the subject of pilot boats, which has already been mentioned. As I understand it, at the moment the pilot boats owned by Trinity House are to be transferred lock, stock and barrel to the harbour authorities at a certain date. Contrary to what some people think, pilot boats are very specialised craft which have been developed over a number of years. In effect they have to make what I can only describe as a "controlled collision" every time that a pilot boards or disembarks. In some busy areas this can mean up to 100 contacts a day with ships. In such circumstances Tom's fishing boat just will not do. I believe that the Government should take note of what was said in the Transport Committee in another place about some kind of conditions regarding the construction of pilot boats. Before I leave the subject, may I ask 460 the Minister what happened to the draft code of practice on pilot boat construction survey and certification regulations which was produced in October 1983 and which, so far as I know, has not since seen the light of day?
As a parting shot, and using Heathrow and Gatwick as an analogy, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned VTS (vessel traffic services). Despite his optimism, I must sound a note of caution about such schemes because I can foresee all sorts of problems in which a shore-side operator, who may not be well versed in how ships work and manoeuvre, does not have a pilot on board and is giving instructions to someone who is a stranger to the port, which could hinder rather than expedite navigation. Before such schemes are introduced I think that they should be discussed very carefully with the pilots themselves, because in my opinion one cannot do better than the man on the spot, and in this case the man on the spot is the pilot who is qualified and who knows all the ins and outs of that particular port.
Turning now to the question of Trinity House operating as an agency, this is something which I very much welcome and I am pleased that the Minister gave a little time to it. However, as has been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, what worries me is how, under the Bill as it is presently drafted, this will work. The Bill seems to me to be very woolly, and I do not see how Trinity House can operate this agency without some extra wordage being written into the Bill to make sure that it maintains some of its pilot boats and staff in order to be able to fulfil this agency requirement.
Before concluding I should like also to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said with regard to the pilots themselves. They have many years of expertise in their own particular field and I think that many will not intend to stay on after this Bill comes into force. The surplus of pilots which has been mentioned briefly will probably disappear at that time, because I think that a lot of the older pilots will say, "I have had enough" and will leave. I believe that the surplus problem will disappear as soon as the Bill comes into force. Those who are left, the pilots who will have to work with Trinity House as an agency, with the ports or with some of their fellow members in a loose association have, on the whole, been rather hard done by through the Bill. The Committee must bear that in mind in its deliberations.
To sum up, it is now vital to get all interested parties working together. That has been one of the big problems hitherto. It was one of the main reasons why the pilotage section of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979 did not work. That Bill, as your Lordships may remember, went through Parliament on the nod, despite strong objections from some of the pilotage authorities, on the last day of a Labour Administration. It was not even discussed in your Lordships' House. The Committee which is to consider the Bill should be made well aware of that fact because this time we must get it right. I think all interested parties agree on that.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, the Minister is right. There is general agreement that some 461 reorganisation of pilotage is long overdue. As the noble Lord has just said, it is perhaps a measure of the difficulty that it has taken seven years, and I think five Ministers, for the Government to offer us a solution to the problem.
Most of us can support the principle of devolving authority to the ports. They will make commercial judgments. Thereafter, the details become more contentious, in much the same way as the Government have often said that they would like local authority spending to be related to its tax raising powers. The difficulty is how to achieve that in detail. There is a real danger in trying to oversimplify something that is inherently a complicated problem. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and I have said this before, that it is a pity that the Government have never managed to get all interested parties round a table to see whether or not they could reach agreement. Again, as he rightly said, we have to deal with the Bill that is put before us.
The question is whether the detailed provisions of the Bill, as part of a totally radical approach, will achieve the Government's laudable claims of bringing about an economic, effective and safe pilotage régime, with due regard paid to the interests of the public and the people who work in the system. The danger is that we may provoke the maximum of disruption for the minimum of benefit.
It is worth remembering that the British system is much admired abroad. At least one nation is seriously contemplating copying the system that we are about to sweep away. There are major issues of safety and potential environmental damage involved. Pilotage is about safe and expeditious navigation. It arose because of a perceived need for the service by shipowners and shipmasters. I did not succeed in flushing out the figures that I wanted from the Minister during Question Time, but my understanding is that pilotage costs are not large in relation to overall port costs. They amount to something of the order of 10 per cent. if we exclude the labour costs of discharging the vessel. If we include the cost of discharging the vessel, my understanding is that overall costs go down to about 2 per cent.
We must therefore be careful not to chase after comparatively minor savings and create great potential difficulties in the process. The earnings of pilots are not excessive. I was glad the noble Lord, Lord Walston, made the point that distribution appears to be somewhat inequitable, without suggesting that overall levels are excessive. Let us remember that the present system works on the basis that many of us in industry would like to achieve—no work, no pay. That is a sound basic system even if there are anomalies which need to be ironed out.
If it has not already become clear, I should mention that I have discussed this matter with the United Kingdom Pilots' Association whose honorary, and I stress "honorary", president I have been for some years. I hope that I do not speak about a complicated matter from a biased point of view, but I suppose that it is inevitable that that is my departure point.
I shall try to group my misgivings about the Bill under three headings. The first, which has been 462 mentioned by all noble Lords who have spoken since the Minister, is the worry as to whether it is fair, legitimate or wise to hand over unfettered authority for pilotage to straight commercial interests.
In an increasingly competitive environment, it is inevitable that commercial interests will be pulling in the opposite direction from considerations of public safety and environmental protection. The Minister was being a little naive or over-optimistic in some of the comments he made about that. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, postulated, is it acceptable that dangerous cargoes such as those carried in liquid natural gas carriers, chemical carriers or even nuclear waste carriers should, on a purely commercial basis, be allowed to lay down conditions under which they come into a port? We think of Flixborough. We think of Bantry Bay, not the recent incident, but an earlier explosion. It is worth remembering the point that come out a moment ago in the Statement, that even when we do not have dangerous vessels, the damage that can be caused by the rupture of a ship's hunkers can be severe.
There are two dangers that we should face. The ship operator may say to the port, "I shall take my ship elsewhere if you insist on me having over-expensive pilotage provisions". What will the port operator do? Furthermore, the hard-headed shipowner—regrettably we must face the fact that the majority of shipowners are not now British, although I am not suggesting that British shipowners are any less hard-headed than foreign ones—may say to his shipmaster, "You are the shipmaster. You are paid to be the shipmaster. Do not incur a lot of extra cost by taking on one of these expensive pilots. You take the ship in. That is what you are meant to do". Those are possible real commercial pressures. It is an over-simplification to say that the commercial interests of the port operator are sufficient safeguard with regard to dangerous cargos.
This leads me to a more general point that arises throughout the Bill. The Bill makes clear that it is sweeping away all existing legislation regarding pilotage and starting again. One cannot call it a green field situation; one might call it an open water situation. We are starting from scratch. We are not simply making changes or tinkering. This means that the legislation when it become an Act has to do two rather different jobs. It has to set out the regime that will apply to pilotage for many years ahead. It has to deal also with the transitional period before we reach what one might call the steady state. If the competent harbour authority is to produce regulations that set out the terms under which the port will be used, there should be consultation with outside interests.
I should like here to address one small point to the noble Lord, Lord Walston. The noble Lord talked about the local authority rather as though it was the same as the port. It is not. It is true that the local authority should have an input into what the port authority lays down as conditions that apply to the port. There are also environmental considerations, particularly as regards dangerous cargoes. I suggest to the noble Lord that a serious problem arises, certainly in the transistional period.
May I suggest a way out of the problem? I put my proposal in the form of a question. One has to balance 463 the need for consultation against the possibility of continuous consultation leading to frustration and inaction. I wonder, however, whether it would not be sensible to charge the Pilotage Commission with the task of considering the regulations that the competent harbour authorities produce. That task will be substantial. Within the White Paper there are over 100 separate ports. We shall presumably, therefore, have 100 different sets of regulations. How are we going to give other people the chance to vet the regulations in order to see whether they are acceptable? I wonder whether this might not be a suitable task for the Pilotage Commission. I do not expect the Pilotage Commission to be entirely "gruntled" with the idea. Nevertheless, I put the idea to the Minister as something that he might consider.
There is one rather strange provision in the Bill. Clause 8 singles out shipowners as people who have the right to object to harbour charges. Does not that proposition lie rather oddly with the Government's declared intention that commercial judgment is to be the guiding criterion? If charges are unreasonable, will not shipowners go to another port? It looks very much as though the shipowners have been getting at the Government and have managed to get this provision specially written into the Bill. Has it not emerged this afternoon that a number of other people might like to be consulted? I feel that the Minister will have to be consistent in regard to this matter when we come to the Committee stage.
A worry connected with the chance for shipowners to object to charges is the possibility that the CHA will fix the remuneration of pilots having in mind the amount of charges that it is hoped to levy on shipowners, and then, if the shipowner objects, it will have to go back to the pilots and say "I am terribly sorry. The wretched shipowners have objected to our charges. They have beaten us down and we shall therefore have to reduce what we can offer you in the way of earnings".
While on the subject of consultation and opportunities to object, I should like the Minister to tell me whether the words in Clause 8(6)(a),any persons who carry on harbour operations within that harbour",include, for example, wharf owners or people who have an individual business associated with the transfer of cargo within a harbour. That is a specific point. It can no doubt be dealt with at Committee stage if necessary.
A second area of concern is the danger of proliferating administrative cost and losing both operational flexibility and economies of scale as a result of fragmenting pilotage organisation right down to individual ports. There are, as I have said, over 100 ports mentioned in the White Paper. A number of other issues arise under this general heading, some of which have already been mentioned. Is there not a danger of under-utilisation or proliferation of pilot boats? Will it not be more expensive for each port to have a pilot boat and a standby pilot boat? Similarly, a number of other provisions will have to be made.
As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I believe, mentioned, the subject of pilot boats is probably the 464 single most emotive subject to pilots. Pilotage is the second most dangerous maritime activity after North Sea diving. At least one pilot is killed every year. Pilots would prefer to see the standards and the manning of pilot boats made the responsibility of the Department of Transport. We come back to the commercial pressure arguments. I put it to the Minister as a matter that needs to be seriously discussed.
The question of fragmentation also touches upon a matter mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. It is what I call the estuarial problem. The Government make a curious statement in the White Paper. Paragraph 21 on page 4 states:The Government does not consider that a single authority for each major estuary is necessarily the best way of organising pilotage".I do not believe that many people will agree with that statement. I am pretty sure that Trinity House does not. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will perhaps be able to enlighten us in a moment. Would the Minister care to say why the Government make that unsupported statement?
It has, I believe, a much wider implication than might at first appear. All kinds of potentially difficult situations will be created. What happens to Perth in relation to Dundee? Is it expected that Perth will ask Dundee to provide a pilot when it is trying to suck away some of the trade from Dundee? Is it expected that Ipswich will ask Harwick and Felixstowe if it will loan a pilot, saying "Actually, we are going to cut our charges old boy, but you don't mind lending us a pilot and pilot boat, do you?" That does not sound like a sensible regime. If responsible for a small port, I should be pretty worried.
The third area of misgiving concerns the conditions of employment of the pilots themselves. Luckily the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has already said almost everything that needs to be said on that subject. There are two issues. First, there is the question of compensation for those who will be made redundant as a result of these proposals. Secondly, there is the question of safeguarding the earnings of those who will continue. The difficulty is that the Government say all the right things but then do not appear to be willing to follow them up in the Bill or, indeed, when it comes down to hard negotiations.
The pilots say, "The Government, by their actions, are undermining our livelihood. Surely it is their responsibility to compensate those who are going to lose their jobs and to safeguard the earnings of those who are going to continue in their jobs". Throughout the Government have resolutely refused to put up a bob in compensation. One way or another they have put up millions for the steelworkers, for the miners and even for the farmers, but because there are ony 1,200 pilots they have refused to bother at all. I do not want to sound too provocative, but they have tended to take shelter behind the question of self-employment, and the Prime Minister herself has admitted that that is a pretty poor excuse. However, she has also said that she recognises the need for safeguarding the livelihood of those who will stay in the business. All that seems to have happened so far is that the Government have found a convenient milch cow in the shape of the pilots' pension fund. They have made a massive raid on that and said that that has bailed them out of the 465 trouble. I do not think that we can expect the pilots to be very chuffed by that.
Some protection for pilots needs to be written into the Bill because they feel that up to now their negotiations both with the Government and with the ports have been less than satisfactory. We have already talked about the Government, but the port operators and the shipowners unilaterally abrogated the alleged earnings agreement and told the pilots that they just have to get on with it. If that is to be the way in which negotiations are to be conducted in the future, small wonder that pilots will be seeking to write some protection of their position into the Bill.
The pilots do not like the Bill; it is no use pretending that they do. However, throughout all these negotiations they have tried to be co-operative and I hope and believe that they will continue to be so. Certainly I have no intention of trying to wreck this Bill, but I believe that we shall have to write into the Bill provisions for the compensation of people who lose their jobs and for the protection of the earnings of those who stay in the business. There are also misgivings about the safety implications and the cost-effectiveness of the way in which the Government are applying the provisions for devolving the authority to the ports.
I conclude by quoting—and one word needs altering—from the last paragraph of a recent leader in The Times which referred to the Peacock Report on the BBC. It said:At bottom, today's debate is about the management of change, an art which British institutions—parliamentary as well as broadcasters—still have much to learn".I believe that that is exactly where we are today.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, so excellent and detailed have been the various speeches that the House will be glad to hear that I shall make a very short speech indeed, but not an entirely friendly speech so far as the Government are concerned. Unlike Trinity House—of which, as noble Lords know, I am an Elder Brother—I am not at all content to accept this Bill, because in my view some quite major aspects of the residual problems have not been worked out.
However, I should like first to congratulate the Government on getting the Bill to start in your Lordships' House. I know what a struggle it always is in the legislative committee to get anything to start here and we have to do a proper job. On the other hand, we have not had very long in which to prepare, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord who has made such an excellent speech. At the outset I should like to make one correction. A letter did go round from Sir Frederic Bolton saying that Trinity House had specifically asked that their brief be amended to record that it too warmly welcomes the Bill. That, I think, arises entirely out of a misunderstanding and I am not accusing the British Ports Association of trying to put words into the mouth of Trinity House. It welcomes the transfer of responsibility to the harbour authorities, and this is a course that it has advocated for many years. However, there are serious objections, and I think that I would be critical of Trinity House for thinking it just so easy to set up a new body—the 466 technical services company, the pilotage company—to operate under a Bill which they had not seen.
I believe that Trinity House is now well aware that there are serious defects in this Bill. However, it is anxious to co-operate with the Government—everybody always tries to co-operate with the Government if they possibly can. I must say that I should personally find it very difficult to co-operate with the Government unless they are prepared to recognise some of the anxieties which have been expressed, particularly by the noble Lord who has just spoken, and which have been aired in a quite admirable speech by my noble friend on the Front Bench in which he raised all the issues which the Government will have to face.
I hope that, when we deal with the matters which concern pilots or pilotage authorities, the Government will be prepared to lend their help in the drafting of certain amendments. They have a responsibility. We do not have much in the way of resources for drafting these amendments and we do not have a long time in which to do so and, as the Government are taking this initiative, it is right that they should help.
For my part I regret that it has been necessary to introduce this legislation at all. As I advocated on an earlier occasion, with sensible co-operation the necessary reforms could have been carried out without introducing this complicated Bill. Nonetheless we have the Bill. We shall no doubt give it a Second Reading today, although I wish we were not going to do so. I ask the Government to go back and look at some of the points that have been raised and maybe the noble Lord will be able to resolve some of my anxieties.
The Government have encouraged Trinity House—and now I would like to speak very much in the interests of Trinity House—to seek to provide a service. The then Minister—the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—on the last occasion said that he saw a useful role and that it was important that the harbour authorities should consider whether it would be better that Trinity House should provide some of these services rather than that the harbour authorities should take them on. We have had no financial arguments, no financial figures, to justify what the Government are doing and we do not know whether the transfer to the harbour authorities will save money. If the Minister has any estimates as to what the Government, or rather the shipowners, hope to save, it would be helpful.
The Minister today mentioned the need to make use of the experience of Trinity House, and of course Trinity House has sought to set up something called Trinity House Agency Services Ltd. under the chairmanship of Sir John Cuckney. The question is, is it going to be able to function at all? Its assets are to be expropriated, and I use that word deliberately. This is in fact a confiscation Bill. Let us not mince words on this. They are to be expropriated and handed over to the Pilotage Commission, a kind of residuary body which is not a residuary body. The Government like residuary bodies. We have one for London. From all accounts I do not think they are very satisfactory, but they may go on for ever. Unless the Pilotage Commission can come up with some satisfactory 467 solutions, I can see the Government increasing their responsibilities for pilotage rather than diminishing them.
I should like to ask the noble Lord—and maybe he can give an answer—how is he going to be able to float a company when the resources and assets are about to be taken away? In addition, the staff at Trinity House tend to have anxieties and they will begin to move out, and how does Trinity House carry on in the interim? This is not only a matter of timing; it is a matter of practicality.
Until the Pilotage Commission have approved the proposals, the company will not know what assets it will have to work with, nor what liabilities it has to cover. Many of the pension arrangements—and I have not got the details—in Trinity House are unfunded, for obvious reasons. Trinity House followed past Civil Service practice, and it has operated very much under Civil Service rules.
Under Clause 22—which I think will need rewording—what will happen to the existing Trinity House staff of acknowledged expertise, and their centralised planning location in London, if they are going to be dispersed all over the world to a hundred different competent authorities? This is a serious problem if the Government wish Trinity House to continue. It will not be able to continue unless there is clarity about the assets and some reasonable arrangement with regard to the staff.
I think that the Government are giving the Pilotage Commission a frightfully difficult job. They are shuffling off responsibilities on to them. If the new company has to assume the financial burdens of superannuation and redundancy payments due to its staff for their former service to Trinity House as the pilotage authority, it is difficult to know how the sums will come out.
This has been a great public service and a great individualist service. The pilots have been individuals, and have been brave and dedicated men. Let us not play around too much with some of the excess profits that a few pilots have made. At least they are not anything near what is being made in regard to takeovers in the City. It is proper that they should have remuneration, and it may be that there are details that need to be sorted out, but I suspect that one of the consequences of this Bill is that the Government will have to fulfil a bigger role.
There will be no main, sizeable pilotage centre in this country to develop pilotage services. The fact that Trinity House looks after only 50 per cent. of the pilotage has not stopped it pioneering the design, for instance, of pilot launches. As I understand it, there will be no single body—perhaps the Minister can say that there will—that will be looking at this across the board and doing necessary research. An agency could not now be created under the proposals. I shall wait with a good deal of interest to hear what the Minister can say about the prospect of a new pilotage service being financed when the assets and staff are being taken away from it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
My Lords, when I first became aware that this Bill was to be introduced into your 468 Lordships' House by Her Majesty's Government I doubted very much whether I should be able to make a useful contribution as I was so out of date on this subject. However, on looking through some of my old papers I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make a brief speech at Second Reading.
I must admit to having somewhat of a shock that these proposals should have emerged only during the last two or three years, first, with the Government's Green Paper, then with the House of Commons report, then with the White Paper, and now with the Bill. Your Lordships may wonder why I was shocked. My noble friend Lord Brabazon has given a certain amount of fairly recent historical background to this Bill. He went back about six or seven years. But I should like to call your Lordships' attention to a report on the major ports of Great Britain published in 1962 and subsequently debated in your Lordships' House. If I may say this with reasonable propriety, it came to be known euphemistically as the "Rochdale Report".
The Rochdale report was primarily concerned with the creation of estuarial port authorities, grouping together in the main estuaries the great multiplicity of smaller authorities into single estuarial authorities. For instance, we suggested the Clyde, the Forth, the Tyne and Tees, the Humber and Southampton, and to some extent it covered even changes in the Port of London. For the most part our report was accepted by the government of the day. Although the inquiry was set up under a Conservative Government, the report was accepted by a Labour Government.
Our report was not primarily concerned with pilotage. I cannot just recollect whether we were gently warned off pilotage; that may be so. But inevitably we had something to say about pilotage. At that time the only port authorities of any significance which were also pilotage authorities were those of Bristol and Liverpool. The others for the most part had their separate pilotage authorities with, as has been mentioned, self-employed pilots.
So far as the general principle of who should be responsible for pilots was concerned we had this to say:the question of pilotage should be borne in mind when the organisation and responsibilities of any Port Authority are under review".That was in 1962.
We made specific recommendations with regard to particular estuarial authorities, most of which have subsequently been established, but in those recommendations invariably we urged that the responsibilities for pilotage should be under the estuarial authorities. The principle was that harbour authorities should be responsible for pilotage. In a way that is what the present Bill is all about.
However, I find it difficult to understand how then it came about that in Her Majesty's Government's Green Paper it says:Organisation of pilotage has remained substantially unchanged since the implementation in the 1920s of the Pilotage Act 1913".That was a long time ago. Why has the matter emerged just now? My noble friend Lord Brabazon went some way to answer that question. But the answer is obvious. We must all be perfectly well aware of the tremendous changes there have been in shipping throughout the world in recent years.
469 I refer not so much to the alarming reduction in the British merchant fleet. That to my mind is only partially relevant to the matter we are discussing now. What I have particularly in mind is the change in the pattern of world trade, the change in the pattern of port usage, the change in the number, size and presumably draught of ships and, with all that, the lack of adjustment of pilotage facilities to match present-day reduced pilotage requirements. That has resulted in a very substantial increase to shipowners of pilotage costs and is therefore a deterrent to our trade both inwards and outwards. That applies whether they are British ships or ships from anywhere else round the world.
As we all know, pilotage is not the only cause of the increase in costs compared with other European ports. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to the cost of lights. The high costs of United Kingdom ports was a year ago forcefully brought to the attention of your Lordships' Select Committee on European Affairs when that committee was examining the Commission's draft directive on European maritime transport policy. The report came out in March this year. In the evidence submitted to the committee by the British Ports Association it stated:unacceptable charges on ships calling at United Kingdom ports also arise from the operation of the current system of marine pilotage in the United Kingdom".It went on to indicate some of the related points which it saw as necessary and which are largely dealt with in one way or another in the present Bill.
I make no apology for mentioning those historical references, and I do so with no sense of criticism. This has been going on since 1962. I mention those points not by way of criticism but rather to emphasise the urgency of something being done by way of change now. That point is unanswerable and change is overdue. I welcome the Bill, though I realise, as other noble Lords do, that it needs careful consideration on a number of points when it reaches its later stages.
I think I am right in saying that the Bill coins a new phrase "competent harbour authorities". They will have the responsibility for pilotage squarely placed on their shoulders. Their experience should help them to decide—whether or not through an agency such as has been discussed earlier today—that pilotage is necessary; what pilotage is necessary; whether it should be compulsory; what area it should cover, and so on. That will be their responsibility. That should add greatly to the flexibility of the service. It should in due course—I emphasise "in due course", because I am inclined to agree that the reduction in costs will not occur immediately— produce a reduction in costs and do so with no loss of excellence of service or safety. I therefore give a strong welcome to the Bill.
However, I have one or two further points to make. I should like to emphasise, as other noble Lords have done, the importance of Trinity House. It should continue to provide its services from its centuries of expertise and do so in an important way. I think the initiative of Trinity House in the organisation it has in mind to set up under Sir John Cuckney must be for congratulations. Problems will arise, such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as to 470 how the organisation will work and how it will be set up. I think I am right in saying—perhaps my noble friend when he replies will confirm this—that Trinity House will still be responsible for deep-sea pilotage.
There are a great number of points to be considered at Committee stage. They will be difficult, but I do not think they will involve party political considerations. I want to refer particularly to one point to which nearly every other noble Lord has referred. I think it is important to do so, and it is the question of compensation. It will be difficult and complex, much more complex than might be apparent on a superficial reading of the Bill. There will be redundant pilots. There will perhaps be redundant Trinity House staff with their accrued service entitlements. Compensation must be fair and be seen to be fair. I believe it will be costly, but it will be much more costly as a result of the many years it has taken to arrive at what we are discussing today. If it could have been done in the late 1960s or in the 1970s it would have cost a great deal less.
The other point related to compensation is that of uncertainty. There will need to be careful consideration not only for potentially redundant pilots and staff but also for the port authorities themselves. The Bill refers to a period of transition. I do not know how long the transition will take, but if it is too long the uncertainty will grow. Many pilots will not know what their future is and they may look for employment elsewhere. Port authorities may as a result lose people that they anxiously would have liked to have kept on. Therefore it is urgent to try to remove the uncertainty.
That is all I want to say. I welcome the Bill. I hope it will have a rapid passage and a safe berthing in the statute book.
§ 5.20 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to confine my brief contribution to the environmental aspects of the Bill. This Bill has the qualified support, with many reservations, of the United Kingdom Pilots' Association, in that a reform is needed to improve the safety and protection of our seaways. In a reference to Clauses 2 and 5, which give total power to port authorities to decide which vessels should be subject to compulsory pilotage, the danger is that costs could be reduced by cutting back on the pilot strength of any given area.
The United Kingdom Pilots' Association would like recommendations to provide that other bodies such as themselves or local councils may report to the Secretary of State in the event of a harbour authority failing to provide a responsible service. Would it not be advisable to have compulsory pilotage for ships carrying noxious and dangerous cargoes? A major accident in our waters could have catastrophic consequences on our environment and safety as ships pass very close to our urban areas.
Over the years, we have experienced and suffered from accidents on a large scale though, luckily, very rarely in our Channel waters, although I am led to believe that it could only be a matter of time before a major accident occurs. I should like to see in this Bill stronger legislation governing any ship that passes through our waters. There is the obvious question of ships carrying nuclear waste, although I would 471 assume, in that circumstance, that a competent, qualified pilot would be in charge. I only hope that I am correct in that assumption. I trust that the Minister would confirm that.
Ports have to consult only with commercial users in these matters. I should like to see the ports having a legal requirement to provide pilots under certain conditions. The public interest is of prime importance and must therefore override any commercial interests.
The concern that has been put to me regarding the livelihood of pilots is with reference to those pilots who accept early retirement. There is no safeguard in the Bill against pilots, who work in another area, retiring but continuing to exercise their profession elsewhere, thus endangering the livelihood and the profession of existing pilots. Would the Minister be prepared to consider this?
I should also like to support the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, and others in what they have said about the lack of compensation. There is nothing for me to add, except to ask the Minister to give this matter a great deal of consideration. We recognise that pilots provide a valuable and necessary service and are considered to be of the highest quality. Their contributions and ideas must be welcomed and considered, as it is their experience which is vital to our wellbeing and safety.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, some of your Lordships might be surprised at my speaking on this Bill. My reason for doing so is that I live six miles from Goole on the Humber, which is 50 miles inland and a port as old as any in the Kingdom established by the Danes in rather awkward circumstances about a thousand years ago. I familiarised myself with the latest situation about six weeks ago by going on a pilot launch with two Members of the other place. We had a most intriguing trip from Flamborough Head, up past the great port of Hull, that is rather slumbering along, and up the Trent, where the private wharves are booming. We passed the private wharves that had been set up where the Hull ferry used to cross to Lincolnshire. They have now been overtaken by the great Humber Bridge. We then came on to Goole. I disembarked at a private wharf called Howden Dyke, which is beyond the port of Goole on the way to Selby, which is also six miles from my home and a very famous private wharf at the moment, for it is literally booming with trade.
I shall talk about private wharves in a moment but I should like very much to welcome this Bill because it seems to me that there is considerable muddle at the moment with the Merchant Shipping Act, 1979 and the Pilotage Act, 1983. I feel there is much room for legislation to tidy up everything.
Although I approve of the Bill, I feel that there are many worrying points. In the first place, the Bill seems to have been put together after talking to the shipowners and the port authorities. I do not think that either of these bodies has the greatest of records in public relations. They have had strikes and other unpleasant situations, which has usually meant that something was wrong.
472 The people who do not seem to have been consulted very much are the pilots themselves. The pilots—towards whom I am biased, for they took me on this trip—are members of a wonderful profession. It has already been said by several noble Lords what a proud and wonderful people they are. They all must have become masters of ships before they can acquire a pilot's certificate; they have to know the whole of their estuary or port really well, and they have to keep themselves up to date. They are self-employed members of a proud profession and I hope that they will be consulted in far greater detail by the Minister, that they will not be made merely employees of the competent harbour authorities and that their contracts as self-employed professionals will be allowed to continue, with very special positions.
I think that the pilots should themselves have the chance to regulate the affairs of the ports in which they work. They are represented by the Transport and General Workers Union. Your Lordships may be surprised at my talking about unions from this side of the House; but that is the union to which they belong. I think that that union, which has a sub-branch, should be consulted in the making of the Bill. I am glad to see noble Lords opposite nodding in assent—a rare sight when it concerns me!
Let me turn to the question of private wharves. It may interest your Lordships to know that the private wharves of the Trent and the Ouse have a greater tonnage going through them than the port of Goole. The ways that these private wharves have been set up are individual histories. They are creations of free enterprise, they are dynamic, they work all day and night. At Howden Dyke (where I got off) they used to load fertilisers for farmers. Now it is a teeming beehive of activity. They do not have port cranes; they have the kind of cranes that builders hire, wheeled cranes or cranes on tracks. How they do not collide when they are on shipping work, I do not know. Everybody works in together; there is much profit sharing; great sheds are being built one behind another. These are the people who are taking the trade now.
Selby is a booming port because of the private wharves there. Again, if one goes over Selby toll bridge (as I frequently do) one can see these cranes unloading the ships by means of driving to the ships that come alongside. The pilots like working with them because they are spur-of-the-moment activities and the pilots like that sort of intensity of work. I need hardly say that the great port of Felixstowe started, I think, as a private wharf. Be that as it may, it is not in my province. Certainly, the private wharves are a new creation, new since the war, and should be taken into consideration; although I seem to have been the first peer to have spoken of them.
My next point deals with pilotage direction and Clause 5 which lays down laws about dangerous and hazardous cargoes. Again it does not appear that pilots are going to be consulted. The pilots should be consulted about all laws made in pilotage direction by these competent harbour authorities. The pilots are the people who know whether some sandbank has shifted or not, by crude experience, and they certainly should be consulted on such things.
I very much welcome the Bill. I welcome in particular the way it is going to look after the question of 473 redundancy of pilots. On the east coast they are working very hard. It is on the west coast—the Mersey and the Clyde—where there are too many pilots. The east coast, as we all know, is shipping to the Common Market and has far greater activity taking place there.
I can remember the awkward strikes which occurred when I was working as a young officer in the London Docks. In those days we unloaded at London and transhipped to Rotterdam. Then, I am afraid, the London Docks and many other docks closed down. However, I believe that if this Bill shows initiative in regard to the future of our country we might find ourselves unloading again, for Asia, in our ports and shipping the goods through the Channel Tunnel to the Continent. I hope that is exactly what will happen in our country in years to come.
I have one final point to make. I am afraid that I have a very long-standing engagement, and I hope that your Lordships will not mind if I ask your permission to leave before this debate comes to an end.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, first of all I should like to apologise to the Minister and to other noble Lords for my absence from the Chamber during the earlier parts of this debate. I had unexpected and urgent business to attend to.
My intervention in this Second Reading debate will be brief. I wish to indicate, from the representations made to me, that many of the proposals in this Bill have caused much concern among the members in Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom Marine Pilots' Association. Much of that concern has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Underhill in his speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I have been encouraged by the very practical and helpful points that I have heard made by many noble Lords from all parts of the House since coming into the Chamber and listening to the debate.
However, in addition to the points already dealt with, the members of the pilots' association in Northern Ireland are particularly concerned about the future of this vital service to industry and trade in the Province. The port navigation channels at Belfast, Kilroat, Ballylumford, Larne, Londonderry and Coleraine are among the critical transport sea links that provide for trade and commerce to the heart of Northern Ireland's industry.
It is the view of many that the Bill puts at risk these vital sea routes. It is the considered view of professional marine officers that this Bill attempts to put a passage through on purely uncharted waters to an unknown future for the pilotage service. The paper that has been presented to me by the pilots' association indicates concern about the future standards of the pilotage service and the necessary professional training and experience; and also about the proposed system of payments, negotiations, accountability, the rights of appeal and pensions. These have been dealt with by other noble Lords, and perhaps I might have the opportunity of referring to these matters in more precise detail during the future stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House. In the meantime, I hope that the Minister may be able to bring forward more 474 satisfactory assurances than those contained in the Bill about the future of this distinguished public service and the future wellbeing of the officers in the pilotage service.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships I must make the same declaration of interest as was made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, though I should add, if I may, that I only became an Elder Brother of Trinity House after ceasing to be President of the Admiralty Division. I add that because my own view, for what it is worth—and it is worth very much less than that of my noble and learned friend Lord Brandon who is sitting beside me—is that the subsisting system of pilotage was very much over-criticised. I think that was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, too, and I believe that was shown by the trouble which arose during the 1970s when attempts were made to make improvements.
I tend to take the same view as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that a great deal could have been done by administrative actions. Nevertheless, the Government have brought forward this Bill and I think they are very much to be congratulated in having got the consensus that they have managed to accumulate. This Bill in today's debate has really been praised with faint damns, and sometimes the damns have been more than faint! But at any rate it must be a rational scheme to bring pilotage nearer to the ports. After all, pilotage is a function of harbour management.
Secondly, the Bill does provide flexibility and, thirdly, it does provide potential competition between rival ports in the facilities and the service that they can offer. I think that point was really implicit in the excellent speech that we had from the noble Duke. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said everything from the point of view of Trinity House that I would have wished to say. It has been encouraging that virtually every noble Lord who has addressed your Lordships has been loud in praise of the service that Trinity House over the centuries has vouchsafed to our maritime interests. The very first of the Pilotage Acts—that of 1806—had a long Preamble which is really nothing more than a panegyric of the way Trinity House was providing a service, as it said, "from time immemorial". That seems to have been the case up to today.
I do not wish to enter into any details on the Bill, but I would say this. I have frequently been a critic of the drafting of our statutes, and so it is only right to say that this seems to me to be a well drafted Bill. I think it is important to recognise that because there has been hardly a speaker in today's debate who has not wanted to inscribe something extra into the Bill My own view is that we shall certainly have to look seriously at dangerous cargoes. Probably there will have to be a specific reference to that. But as for all the administrative details, they are far better kept off the face of the statute. The noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, with his great experience, mentioned the potential—in fact, anticipated—complexity of compensation provisions. If we try to write them into the Bill we shall grossly overload it and, in effect, wreck it for all ordinary purposes.
475 The other thing that I wanted to do was to refer to the accompanying White Paper. Your Lordships had an admirable exposé of the Bill from the noble Lord the Minister; but there can be no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, pointed out, that we have an immense advantage in the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, used to ask for a White Paper to accompany the Finance Bill. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, will remember that. The Treasury were always against it. I always suspected that that was largely because they thought they would get a Finance Bill more easily through the other House if it was not understood. But I hope that other departments will, on other Bills, consider what has been so successfully done on this Bill. I join your Lordships in hoping that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and will not on the face of it be too violently improved in Committee.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, during the debate on marine pilotage that we had last summer on, I think, 25th June, I asked the Minister at the time, my noble friend Lord Caithness, whether he would convene a conference of all interested parties. He was not very keen on doing it. I got the impression that he did not think it was necessary. Again, on 25th July, I put down a Question for Written Answer to Her Majesty's Government to ask what progress had been made in their consultations, and whether they would convene a conference of all interested parties. My noble friend on the Front Bench will recall his reply, that he had agreed to take the chair in a meeting between Trinity House and the British Ports Association. So there has been some consultation with the pilots; not, however, I think, a very great deal.
I get the feeling that this Bill has really come about as, in many ways, rather a hotch-potch and that there has not yet been sufficient consultation between all parties. I am sure that if all parties had got together in the drafting of the Bill we would have a very much shorter time in Committee, Report and Third Reading stages than I suspect we are going to have. I think there is still time to arrange such a conference, if the Minister is prepared to act faster than most government departments are normally prepared to do. He has to get up and go. I am sure he will do it. I am sure it is worthwhile. I issue that to my noble friend as a challenge. It certainly will not do any harm.
I have been briefed on this Bill by representatives from the five different groups comprising the London district pilots organisation. They are very willing to co-operate with the Bill. They do not like the way it has been prepared. While they know that change is necessary, they feel that there are certain improvements which need to be made.
I am rather worried about the environment, as anyone who reads what I said last June will see. I am very concerned that the competent harbour authorities will reduce the area of pilotage from the present pilotage districts only to their own legal harbour authority areas, which are very much smaller. I know about the Thames estuary. I do not know about other estuaries and approaches to other harbours, but I suspect the problems are the same. A lot of the 476 serious and dangerous parts of a sea voyage are outside the harbour authorities' areas.
It is a lot cheaper to run a pilot in a smaller area. He will not be working such long hours, he can do more trips every week and, therefore, fewer pilots will be needed. I think this is something that needs to be looked at, and I hope my noble friend can confirm that the Minister will ensure that the competent harbour authorities make certain that their pilots go out far enough to do the job properly. It may even be necessary to extend the harbour areas to do that.
Other noble Lords have talked about noxious and dangerous cargoes. I think that some of the chemicals being produced by scientists nowadays, and used industrially, are so dangerous that, as well as the crew, there must be a pilot on board, just as an insurance. We could kill our fish stocks; we could make a total estuary dead for years with some of the chemicals that are transported today. Someone has already mentioned the Flixborough disaster. Similar things can happen at sea. It is not so easy to get the emergency services there to deal with them—there are no roads.
Another point that worries me is exempt vessels, which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and others. I realise that it is irritating for masters and mates of relatively small vessels, who are trading in and out of the same ports the whole time, to have to get special exemption certificates, but I feel that it should be the individual men who have the certificates, not the vessels.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, is the noble Lord right in implying that it is the vessel which has an exemption? Under, I think, Clause 6, it is the captain or the first mate.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I took advice on that matter, and I understood that for vessels under 6,000 tonnes, it was the vessel that was exempt if it was used for coastal traffic. I honestly do not see how a vessel can steer itself. I have met men in the past who have said that their cars know the way home late on a Saturday night. I have never believed it. Even less do I believe it of a ship at sea where there is wind and tide affecting it. This is something that we need to look at, possibly in Committee. I think there should be no great hardship to seamen, who are constantly trading in and out of the same ports, in taking examinations in regard to those ports.
The other point is the pilotage exemption certificates for masters and mates of larger vessels trading in and out of the same harbours the whole time. That is fine when they are all using the same boat or a similar boat. But, as I understand it—and I stand to be corrected on this—at the moment a master who has an exemption certificate on a relatively small vessel can be transferred to a super-tanker (I can never remember the correct name for such ships) and he will still have a valid exemption certificate, although he is in charge of a very much larger and less manoeuvrable vessel. If it happens to be loaded with gas, he is in charge of a floating bomb.
Another important point is that anyone from any nation who is granted an exemption certificate should have a competent knowledge of the English language. More and more advice is being given to ships over the radio. We expect aircraft crews coming into this 477 country to be able to speak in English to the aircraft controllers. It should be exactly the same for a ship. It is no use trying to help a ship coming in from South Korea to one of our ports, if the only language that the person speaks is South Korean. An exemption certificate is no help when he is in trouble, and he may not get into trouble until it is too late to put a pilot on board, because of the positioning of the pilot boats.
Clause 14(5) refers to the control of a vessel by someone who is not on that vessel. I think it refers to the new vessel traffic services system that is being set up in some ports. I believe it is necessary that, whoever is controlling those systems, should themselves be fully qualified pilots, experienced in handling different sizes and types of ships and of the way in which the currents run and the wind affects vessels in the area where they will be operating the services.
I now move on to the competent harbour authorities. They are not all on their own. Look, my Lords, at the Thames. The inner Thames will, I think, have nine. If you take the whole of the current pilotage area, there will be 14 competent harbour authorities. Some of them are fairly close together. Would it not be sensible to make certain that they have a common pilotage service which will serve them all and cut down costs? What is the point in having a pilot who operates only into Gravesend when Tilbury is virtually across the river? As your Lordships know, the Thames pilots are at present in five groups—the river pilots, the Medway pilots and the London sea pilots South, North and West. They are already working together, so that they operate as a team and can operate in different directions.
Today, if you take a ship down the Thames you can only use a pilot who takes the ship out. In the future, if there is no legislation, there will be a pilot who can take the ship out and then bring another one back home again instead of having to return home by train or road. A similar sort of system can be used in any other area, so that ports will combine and work together. I am sure that that would be a lot cheaper and more economical. I know that ports are competing with each other for business, but that is no reason why they should not cut their own costs by co-operating on that point.
Pilot boats have already been mentioned. It is absolutely essential that we have safe, secure vessels to get our pilots out to the ships that they are going to help. If we do not, we shall end up with a dead pilot, with dead pilot boat crews and possibly with a disaster, because the vessel that they were going to help runs aground. It is essential that the Department of Transport keeps control of the quality and number of crews on these vessels, and also of their training.
I am not sure who under the Bill will license the pilots. If the competent harbour authorities are the people who will issue the licences, will they cut their costs yet again in training them? There is a danger there. Possibly the licensing for all the ports should be by Trinity House. It has the expertise and, I understand, trains pilots for various nations overseas as well, so that it has a service which it is already running.
Another point that we shall need to go into in Committee concerns conditions of service. I 478 understand that the staff of Trinity House who will be transferred to the competent harbour authorities will be guaranteed employment for four years. There is no such guarantee for pilots, possibly because they are self-employed at the moment. Also, I am not sure what is the position of the pilot who takes employment with the harbour authorities, does not like it and then leaves. We have to make certain that his pension arrangements are satisfactory and are transferred properly to the new competent harbour authorities.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Swinfen will find many of his questions, including that on the exemption certificates, answered by this White Paper in the comments on Clauses 3, 6 and 10. I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the particularly clear and convincing way in which he introduced this Bill. I am entirely behind it. I have been advised by many sources, particularly the General Council of British Shipping. I have also had advice from Trinity House, for which I am most grateful. This whole subject has a long and tangled history and it has been clear for some time that the present pilotage arrangements are outmoded and expensive to users.
Unlike many noble Lords who have been talking about the pilots with such support and encouragement, saying how splendid they are—which might well be so of Trinity House pilots, but I have not had occasion to work with them—I have to say that my experience with pilots has not been at all a happy one. I had occasion to take on a pilot when I was commanding a ship in the Persian Gulf and I had to have compulsory pilotage going into the oil port of Bahrein. I should mention that all the pilots concerned were British and they all had to have a master's certificate.
It soon became obvious that the pilot had no knowledge that, when he ordered "Full Ahead" in a destroyer with 40,000 h.p. and weighing about 2,000 tonnes, he was calling for a great deal more power than he had ever seen in his life. We hastily put that right, but it was a very dangerous situation. It was a great eye-opener to me that anybody who was put on board a ship of that shape and size would go there without at least knowing that the Royal Navy had different helm orders from the merchant service.
My next experience was taking that same ship into Colombo where there was also compulsory pilotage. Having been warned from the time before, and seeing the pilot getting into extreme difficulty going into what was admittedly a very difficult berth, I asked him whether I could take over because I thought I knew the ship better than he did; and he was sensible and reasonable enough say yes. Therefore, it is not surprising that I am not so carried away with enthusiasm or believe that pilots always do the right thing when they are given the chance.
My first experience of pilots was not of that nature but was of Suez Canal pilots. That is much more relevant to what we are debating, because they were paid enormous sums of money as they had convinced everybody that their art was so skilful that nobody else could possibly do the job. I had occasion to meet some of the pilots. When we were on the third whisky, they 479 did express a little shame. They were on to a jolly good thing. It might be said that, because they convinced everybody in the outside world that they were the only people who could do the job, they contributed quite considerably to the Suez campaign in the 1950s. People were very frightened as to what would happen if they were removed.
I knew, partly from later personal experience of taking a ship through the canal but also from wise and experienced naval officers who had had occasion to take their ships through the canal during war when for one reason or another a pilot was not available, that it is a skilled job but not something that a competent sea captain cannot do at any time. We must not be too carried away with the thought that only pilots can do these things. I welcome the exemption certificate—which, as my noble friend will see when he reads the White Paper, is strictly for people, not for ships—as an example of where captains will be allowed to take their own ships if they satisfy the competent harbour authority that they are appropriate to do so.
I suggest that there is not much dispute between us. The changes in the pattern of trade and the increases in the size of ships mean that there are several hundred pilots too many for the work being done. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said that he thought that all the superfluous pilots would leave automatically when the Bill became law. I hope that he is right. Obviously it is not economical.
The real flaw in the present arrangements is that there is no incentive for the pilotage authorities to provide a cost-effective personal service. For this reason above all others I welcome the Bill's central proposal to transfer responsibility for pilotage to the ports. They compete with each other and will have a direct commercial interest in providing a good quality, low cost service. They will compete not only with each other but with the Continental ports, which at present they do not. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said much the same. I think that it is central to the subject.
I was sorry that my noble friend Lord Strathcona made a great issue about the dangers of commercial pressure. One has to have some commercial pressure in the modern world. I would go so far as to say that one has always to have commercial pressure to get the most efficient results out of people. The degree to which commercial pressure should be applied could be a matter for discussion. It is my belief—I think all the evidence confirms this, certainly the Green Paper and all that it says—that there has not been enough. That is why we have to have this new system.
I would argue, for example, that safety will not be prejudiced as the result of a transfer to the ports. I think that it will probably be enhanced. As the Green Paper says at paragraph 3.2:This is the natural choice: the authorities have responsibilities for the safety of navigation within their boundaries; they have the capability to manage pilotage services; they have a direct concern in the efficiency of operations within their ports; some authorities have developed sophisticated systems for monitoring and managing traffic for ensuring its safe passage into and out of port, and with the development of new technology there will be advantages in placing the pilotage service under the same authority as shore-based traffic management systems".
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, has the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, ever heard the story of the shuttle pilot who was asked what he thought as the shuttle took off? He said, "I remind myself that every component on this ship went to the man who put in the lowest bid", and we know what happened to the shuttle.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I think that is irrelevant. One can produce that sort of argument for anything that one wants to. If my noble friend's argument was taken to a logical conclusion, when the pilots came to him and said, "We want to have £1 million a year like certain top businessmen do", he would give it to them. There must be a limit to this and a system that imposes limits. One cannot control things entirely by hoped-for good will. Sadly in the modern world we do not always get good will; nor do we always get people who are thoroughly dedicated to their jobs and totally unselfish and ungreedy. These things, I am afraid, do not happen.
I welcome the opportunity for Trinity House to act as agent for ports if it is the ports wish. I suggest that, despite occasional disputes, there is no animosity as such between the shipping industry and Trinity House.
In consequence of these points—which I am rather rushing, because it is helpful to be able to get this out of the way with other business to come—I welcome the Bill as providing an acceptable instrument for tidying up this essential area of maritime activity. On the whole I think that there is a fairly wide consensus that it is acceptable. We have heard that the pilots are not wholly behind it. Indeed, some are probably dead against it. Naturally one would expect that because, on the whole, their way of life is having a measure of control put upon it which it has not had in the immediate past.
Although I welcome the Bill as a whole, there are still dangers of monopoly and therefore of abuse lurking in some corners of the proposed system. I welcome the safeguard that it contains, for example, for appeals against pilotage charges. I am less certain that the issues of compulsory pilotage and charges for the use of pilotage certificates for ships' masters have been thoroughly thought through.
I have three areas in which I hope to have amendments in due course. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, commented that other noble Lords have been saying that they want to add to the Bill. I agree with him that it might get spoilt thereby. I want to take from it. For example, I should like to see Clause 8(3) removed. It empowers the competent harbour authority to make charges for the use of a pilotage certificate. If a master or mate has been able to obtain a pilotage certificate to navigate his ship without engaging a pilot, why should the port be able to make a charge? I accept that the cost of granting, renewing or altering the certificate should be recovered, but that charge is already dealt with in Clause 6(7). It seems to me that the only money that the CHA should get is the cost of granting a certificate. One of the objects of the Bill is to make the whole matter more economical for shipping. Albeit the amount involved is relatively small, a ship whose master or mate has a pilotage certificate ought to be allowed not to pay anthing for pilotage.
481 Another part that I think could well be omitted is Clause 3(11) of the Bill. This provides that a pilot will not be barred by reason of being a pilot from membership of any committee with a pilotage function of a local authority; that is, a harbour authority. I question whether it is reasonable that active pilots should be entitled to participate in committees that might be dealing with matters in which they have a direct interest. Maybe it is a matter of rewording rather than cutting out Clause 3(11), but I think that at present it is leaving it wide open for pilots to be able to go in and have a hand in committees that decide, among other things, their own incomes.
Clause 26 deals with the funding of expenses and liabilities on the winding-up of pilotage authorities. Clause 26(5) provides that a competent harbour authority can recover such expenses, together with the cost of financing the pilots' compensation arrangements by increasing any charges, dues or fees payable to them. Leaving aside the question of financing the pilots' compensation, which is another matter, I believe that there is a strong case, if this extra financing has to be handled in the transitional phase, for government financial assistance towards the cost of these changes rather than that it should all come back on the unfortunate ships. Once again the ships have to field the financial bill. I think that the object of this exercise is to try to reduce unnecessary costs for ships so as to make our harbours more competitive both among themselves and with Continental harbours and to enable our shipping lines to pay less so they can operate more competitively in the world at large. That is surely what this Bill is all about and anything which does not work towards that end needs to be looked at very seriously.
Finally, on. a matter of technical detail, when my noble friend comes to reply will he be able to give us some idea of when these special committees will sit? I believe he told us that the time of day would be from 3 to 4.30 p.m. There is the usual gap of a fortnight between now and the beginning of the Committee. However, following that, will it go consecutively day by day, or, as in an ordinary Committee stage, will it happen on set days planned through the usual channels? Knowing that would be most helpful in arranging one's programme.
I wish the Bill every success, and I hope your Lordships will not be carried away too much by my noble friends who are dedicated supporters of the pilots.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, is he aware that when I was talking about exempt vessels I was talking about existing legislation and not the Bill? Under Part IX of the London Pilotage District By-Laws it is stipulated that vessels under 3,500 gross registered tonnes (and I did say 3,000 earlier; I apologise to the House) trading coastwise are exempt from the need to take a pilot. They must use a pilot for 60 days before the exemption applies, but once the exemption applies it is the vessel—no matter who is in charge of the navigation—that is exempt. That is my understanding of the position. I am sure that the Minister will be able to put us both right.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, surely we are talking about the Bill and not what is happening now. What is happening now is to be swept away by the Bill.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, that is not as I understood it. I think it is absolutely essential that we make sure that this point is in the Bill before it becomes an Act.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, we have had a very interesting discussion on this Bill. It has lasted longer than I thought it would. A great many important points have been made, mostly points of detail. I think that the best comment I can make on them is to say that each of them is a marker for discussion in Committee or later, and I shall not refer to any of the suggestions unless they come up against what I wish to say on the general issues raised by this Bill.
As has been made perfectly clear, the primary objective of the Bill is to reduce the cost of pilotage services. To do so will in a small way improve the competitive position of our ports and therefore the competitive position of British exports and the cost of our imports. I say "in a small way", because pilotage dues, although they may seem large when they appear on a bill, are small in relation to all the other expenses that have to be incurred. I do not think we should be too concerned about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked whether there was any estimate of what saving might be achieved. I doubt whether it is possible for anyone to work that out; if anyone has, no doubt the Minister will tell us when he comes to reply. I think he will agree that the savings, assuming that they are all achieved, would be very small.
The method proposed in the Bill is contained in Clause 2 and that is that the new pilotage authorities shall keep under review the need for pilotage, including the need for compulsory pilotage, and keep the numbers of authorised pilots in line with needs. I take it for granted that all this is to be done without endangering the high safety standards we require and have enjoyed under the present system.
I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the criticisms which gave rise to this whole inquiry and the Bill which is now before us were against the system but not against the pilots themselves, for whom we all have the very highest approval. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, told us that he had not found pilots as satisfactory as he had expected. We then discovered that one of them was in Bahrain, one somewhere else and another in the Suez Canal. I could not agree more than the Suez Canal pilots are very much overpaid. However, their pilotage was not unimportant because it was in fact traffic control. They were needed because traffic control had to be maintained and that was done by Suez Canal pilots.
In this country as well the pilot's job is very often a matter of traffic control. At one time I had a connection with the port of Poole and in that port the pilot's job was almost entirely one of traffic control and making sure that the very narrow principal channel was not blocked by two ships proceeding at one time.
Perhaps I may make one point about the suggestion that the number of authorised pilots should be 483 adequate to meet needs. It should not be forgotten that the pilotage service must deal with peaks of traffic. I think it has been mentioned by one noble Lord already that there is a good deal of difference in demand at different times and the pilot service must be large enough to handle the peak traffic without delay. That means that there will be more people on the roster than will be required every day of the year.
The debate of 25th June has been mentioned several times already with regard to the Unstarred Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. In that debate my noble friend Lord Kennet said at col. 389 of the Official Report:safety is not for sale".I like that expression. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, (at col. 392) said:we should be wary of a relentless and unreasoning pursuit of … unproven cost savings at the expense of efficiency, safety and the disruption of the … lives of dedicated professionals".I wish to speak particularly of safety. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I am concerned that port authorities, with the new responsibilities they will be getting at a time when so much emphasis is being laid on reducing costs, may find themselves under intolerable pressures to discount risks which they have been protected from for many years by efficient pilotage. I wonder whether it would not be desirable to include in the Bill a provision that any reduction which might be contemplated by the new pilotage authorities in an area where pilotage is at present compulsory or even where it is normally provided to be proposed should be subject to approval from the Secretary of State in whatever way is thought best. I am speaking of approval by some independent body with knowledge of existing conditions. I do not want, from this Bench, to invite any more government involvement than is necessary, but I can imagine cases where pilotage authorities, in their drive for economy in a highly competitive field, ought perhaps to be curtailed in the public interest.
We have heard a good deal today about the opinions of licensed pilots, although the shipowners and port authorities are in general agreement about the proposals and Trinity House, on whose behalf much was said in the debate on 25th June, is now satisfied. I have been told, although at second hand, that Trinity House warmly welcomes the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, thought that that had been slightly overstated. I have had words with one of the elder brethren about the Bill and he was reasonably content, if I may put it that way.
Before we started with the Bill I sensed a feeling, which has since been confirmed by several noble Lords, that existing licensed pilots are not altogether happy. As someone said not very long ago, this is not surprising when one of the objects over the years is to reduce the numbers and perhaps in some districts make the duties of those who transfer to the new pilotage authorities more onerous than they were. Nor is it surprising that a good many licensed pilots feel rather sore. I appreciated very much what the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said. These people are highly professionally trained and are used to going on board ships and talking to the master in language 484 which both of them understand. They ask whether they are now just to be servants to go out and do what they are told to do. I do not think it will happen that way but I can well understand the feelings that this has produced in a number of the pilots.
What we can do about it, apart from gradually educating people by experience to the new system, I do not know. The White Paper ends with a promise to provide equitable treatment for the present and future members of a distinguished profession. That promise must somehow be put into effect. It is natural that details of what can be done are not available at this stage. Clause 25 indicates in broad outline what is intended in the way of compensation for pilots leaving the service. That outline will have to be put into some form. I agree with my noble namesake that it is not desirable to put such matters into the Bill itself; but the outline is there and it is to be followed.
What about those who transfer to the new pilotage authorities as authorised pilots? There is nothing in the Bill about them. They are given priority over other applicants when they first apply for positions as authorised pilots but nothing is said about the terms. When as a result of an Act of Parliament people are transferred from one employment to another—and while this is a little different because they are being transferred from self-employment to another employer, the principle is the same—is it not usual for some guarantee to be given to the people transferred that they will not be any worse off? I should like to see something of that kind written into the Bill. These and other matters will no doubt be considered in Committee or in subsequent stages of the Bill.
I conclude with one comment. It seems to me, as was mentioned by another noble Lord, although I cannot remember who, that there is no party political content to the Bill. I hope that when it goes into Committee and on to subsequent stages your Lordships will consider on their merits any proposals that are made by way of amendments and will vote upon them on their merits irrespective of the stable from which they come.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, that was a felicitous note on which to finish this part of the general debate. This is basically a non-party political measure and I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee it will be treated in that way.
The Bill has been brought forward because there is a surplus of pilots. I have read the report of the earlier debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Shackleton and I was struck by the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. He said that between 250 and 400 pilots were surplus to immediate requirements. The Select Committee which reported in June 1985 said much the same thing. It was suggested in an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, that this is because we have too many ports. Perhaps we have too many ports, but there is no doubt that ships are becoming much larger and modern mechanisation of the ports means that ships are turned around faster.
The growth of air cargo has a part to play as well. In tonnage terms Heathrow is one of the largest ports in 485 the country. In addition, large lorries bring cargo over on ferries from the Continent. Nowadays, many of the large ships from abroad go only to a single port in Europe or in the United Kingdom. In this connection, I can certainly understand the worry of my noble friend Lord Blease about Northern Ireland. Many of the goods for Northern Ireland which used to go directly by ship now go by road from the South to Liverpool or come down from Glasgow and cross over via Stranraer. All these developments have no doubt affected the loading of British ports.
Since the days when the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, made his impressive report, shipping has changed out of all recognition. The issue of the report coincided with a sail down the Clyde. There was great jubilation and pleasure at the idea that we were to have a Clyde port authority instead of all the little ports. That was looked upon as one of the salvations, but in some ways the Clyde is now a sadder river than it was then. It is an example of how time has caught up with so many of our plans.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, gave the figures for European pilotage fees and British pilotage fees. He suggested something with which perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Simon will agree. He suggested that it was asking too much to believe that the reduction of pilotage fees would greatly change the costs of British shipping. It obviously has some effect, and if anything can be done both to reduce the costs and to increase efficiency, it should be done. A 12,000 tonne vessel coming into London pays pilotage fees of £2,500. The same vessel going into Rotterdam pays £800. I shall not make the party political point that Rotterdam is a municipal port, but that happens to be the case. A 1,500 tonne vessel coming into London pays £1,180. The same vessel going into Rotterdam pays £300. Even if one reduces pilotage fees slightly, something other than those fees encourages ships to go into Rotterdam and Le Havre. It may well be that pilots are not required for as long. Certainly the figures are very different. The ports are busier. They may have a better system.
The Select Committee asked that ships should give better advance notice of their estimated times of arrival and departure. I understand that there is considerable wastage of pilotage time because, under the present conditions, a ship can arrive and demand a pilot and a pilot must be available on the spot. Perhaps those tidying up measures would be helpful. They were all suggested in the Select Committee report.
I am perhaps more familiar with Select Committee reports, particularly this one, because I was on the committee for many years. I believe that, by and large, it has done a fairly efficient job. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, mentioned the White Paper. I think that between the White Paper and the Select Committee report there is a much better understanding of the Bill than we get even from the Notes on Clauses—possibly because the Notes on Clauses are compiled by draftsmen and the White Paper is done in a much more general way. I certainly found it extremely helpful.
486 The debate has shown a remarkable example of how governments of all parties can go wrong in their estimation of the feelings of the House. I hope that that will not be the case here, but I believe this Bill was selected for a Public Bill Committee on the basis that it was reasonably uncontroversial and that there was general agreement on the principles of the Bill, with no real party involvement. Today's debate shows that we are likely to have a fairly long Committee stage. I am sure that at the end of it I will be much better informed on pilotage, judging from the great expertise shown in the House today. The Minister went through the Bill fairly and helpfully. We shall read his speech before we come to the Committee stage and I am sure it will be of great help to us.
All noble Lords have paid tribute to Trinity House, its experience and accumulated knowledge. Obviously that is something which should not be thrown away. I am glad—perhaps because in some ways I am a sentimentalist—that the name of Trinity House is to be continued in the new company which is to be set up. Many speakers obviously have great experience of this subject and, as I said, I am sure this will be a better Bill after the Committee stage.
My noble friend Lord Underhill raised many questions on various parts of the Bill which emphasised the need for detailed consultation. The debate generally indicated that detailed consultation will still be required. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, suggested that he would be leaving early, so perhaps while he is still here I could say that I cannot add to what he said, and certainly not with the authority that he can bring to the subject, except to say that I hope the Government will have considerable consultation with the Transport and General Workers Union, particularly concerning the pilots. I understand that many of the pilots, particularly those in the port of Goole, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk said, are concerned about the situation. Incidentally, Goole is one of the ports that I have visited, and it is interesting to find that, in what one considers almost the centre of England, large ships are moored.
All this emphasises the fact, as the debate clearly showed, that although the Government have consulted a great deal on the Bill, more consultation is needed. Of course, in the last debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, we heard that Trinity House had been consulted only a few days earlier. That emphasises the point that the Government could perhaps have been a little more careful.
My noble friend Lord Underhill, and others, were particularly concerned about fair treatment for the pilots. As regards pilot earnings, I do not know how important this is but certainly in the fairly detailed Table 4, on page 7 of the Select Committee report, there is no indication of earnings of the class referred to in the debate. I agree that in a certain number of ports, and for pilots individually and independently employed, earnings may be a great deal more. However, they are nothing like the earnings for much lower skills in many other parts of the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, referred to safety. The Select Committee report emphasised the importance of safety when it said that the question of safety is the most important point and that the second 487 most important point is pollution. The report was referring particularly to the hazardous cargoes which many ships carry today.
I have mentioned pilotage charges, but a study of port charges is also interesting. I understand, again from some European countries, that pilotage charges are reckoned to be only 1 per cent. of total port charges, whereas in the United Kingdom, for whatever reason, the Select Committee puts it at between 7 per cent. and 12 per cent.; and in some cases even higher than that.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Shackleton appeared to be so antagonistic towards the Bill. I look forward to reading his speech more carefully to see on what points he disagrees. He has had considerable experience in this matter and as an Elder Brother of Trinity House his views cannot be ignored. I had believed that although some people were perhaps slightly worried about the future of pilotage, and particularly the treatment of individual pilots, there was general agreement between the Government and the pilotage authorities, and the pilots themselves, about the need for such a Bill.
A great deal was said by a number of noble Lords about pilots and their redundancy payments. Perhaps the Minister will take note of the fact that there is a feeling that, in many cases, people have said that the Secretary of State does not have enough power; but I should have thought that Clause 25(4), which deals specifically with redundancy terms, possibly gives the Secretary of State too much power. The Bill proposes that the Secretary of State will decide excactly what will be the terms and conditions, and the times of payment, for redundancy and compensation. This will all be decided by the Secretary of State without being spelt out. That is a point which should be taken up in Committee.
I am trying to rush ahead as quickly as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, questioned the whole basis of a pilot's income. He said that he is glad that a commercial element will be involved—I think I heard him correctly. He said that there is to be a competitive and commercial element in pilotage. I hope that, despite the experiences the noble Lord described, the sheer professionalism of pilots will overcome any disadvantage that pure commercialism might bring to a situation where saving money was the only criterion.
The noble Lord raised a point which, again, the Select Committee clearly brought out. There needs to be a redefinition of the relationship between the pilot and the master of a ship, and a much clearer understanding of what is that relationship. I am sure that where pilots are familiar with ports, ships and their masters there will already be an arrangement. They will know how each other thinks, particularly if they use the port regularly. However, perhaps there should be a much better definition of that relationship.
I said at the beginning that I think that the Committee stage will be fairly long. I am speaking with very little experience of your Lordships' House, but I am not sure whether I generally agree with the suggestion of a committee of this House, which I think is perhaps not the best way to proceed. However, from what has been said in this debate today, obviously the 488 nitty-gritty of the matter can only really be satisfactorily threshed out in committee. I look forward to that, but hope that it is not the thin edge of the wedge to send to a committee other types of Bills that are rather more party political.
I look forward to the Minister's reply and perhaps to a letter or some further explanation in writing of the very important points that have been raised today. Perhaps a way of shortening the Committee stage would be for the Minister to explain more clearly some of those points that have been raised.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate this afternoon. It has certainly been a most interesting debate. I was particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal was able to speak with the authority of his role as honorary president of the United Kingdom Pilots' Association, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, gave us the benefit of their knowledge as elder brethren of Trinity House. Many other noble Lords have also made most useful contributions.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said in his speech, many of the matters raised were Committee points. This observation was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. If I tried now to cover every point that has been raised during the debate we should probably be here all evening and I am fully conscious that there are two more debates to follow after this one. If I may therefore I shall answer the main points that have been made and maybe write to noble Lords; obviously, other points will be raised in Committee. As I and other noble Lords have said, we greatly welcome the constructive approach which Trinity House is adopting in the formation of their new subsidiary company to carry on agency work for the ports. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, credited me with some of the initiative taken toward moving in that direction but I have to tell the noble Lord that the credit is due to my predecessor and noble friend the Earl of Caithness, since this happened before he moved. Trinity House of course have accepted, since the publication of the Green Paper, that changes to the present arrangements need to be made. Whatever doubts they may have had about the precise remedies that we were proposing, I believe that it is absolutely right for them to seek to ensure that their expertise remains available to the pilotage service and to show that, as in other fields, their long tradition can adapt to changing circumstances.
How the provision of agency services will work is a matter on which a great deal of detailed work needs to be done in quite a short time. I think that this is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was making. Some of the provisions in Part III of the Bill may well have a bearing on the terms of an agency operation. In particular, I am thinking of the provisions concerning the transfer of staff, and assets and liabilities. Those points were also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. We believe that what is in the Bill is sufficiently flexible to open the door to successful agency services; but if Trinity House—or better still, Trinity House and the ports in 489 concert—feels that amendments are needed, we shall be prepared to look at them as favourably as we can. However, there is nothing in the Bill which will compel Trinity House to dispense with staff with whom it does not wish to dispense, nor does it necessarily deprive it of its pilotage assets. That depends on the terms of the scheme to be proposed by the Pilotage Commission and approved by the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt but it is a very crucial amendment. Can the Minister say whether it is possible that Trinity House will be able to retain its assets until such time as it has been able to get its company going and start debating approaching the market? If it does not have those assets, it cannot get the company going and will not be able to approach the harbour authorities.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I take the point about which the noble Lord asks. That is what I am saying: we must do some detailed work on this matter in a short space of time. Obviously, if the noble Lord is right, Trinity House would not be able to perform these agency services. It is our intention that it should be able to perform these agency services, so something must be done to make sure that is possible.
Many noble Lords—notably the noble Lords, Lord Underhill, Lord Walston, and Lord Greenway and my noble friend Lord Strathcona—talked about the safety of pilot boats. The safety and manning of pilot boats is a matter to which a great deal of attention has rightly been given. The provisions in Clause 4 of the Bill are intended to replace the provisions in the present Pilotage Act requiring authorities to approve the boats. They certainly do not rule out specific regulations and guidance on such matters from the department and we are still pursuing this actively, as we told the House of Commons Transport Committee.
As regards the particular point of the manning of pilot boats, we are about to circulate to the interested parties for comment a draft merchant shipping notice—I think the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was asking about this—which says that in the great majority of cases the Department of Transport accepts that it is right for pilot boats to be manned by at least two people in addition to the pilot but that a statutory requirement to that effect would not be right because of the variety of types of pilot boat and the differing conditions in which they operate. Therefore, the proposal is that the manning of each pilot boat will be determined by the department's district surveyor after consultation with the pilotage authorities concerned.
Much attention has also been given in the debate to the question of the areas of compulsory pilotage. It has been suggested that the proposal that competent harbour authorities should be given the responsibility for deciding on the extent of compulsory pilotage in their areas will mean that corners will be cut on safety and that there should be some requirement on them to seek the approval of an outside body—perhaps the Pilotage Commission, which my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal suggested—before their plans are finalised. I think that a requirement of this kind would run the grave danger of recreating the present system under which local problems have 490 become the battleground for national arguments. I know that the Pilotage Commission, which has borne the brunt of trying to make such decisions at the national level, feels that these are local decisions which can best be made by the harbour authorities themselves.
Of course commercial interests have a part to play and no authority will want to charge more than is necessary for pilotage, but commercial interest and statutory responsibilities for safety need not he in opposition, and a harbour authority has as great an interest as anyone in ensuring that pilots are available where masters need them, that masters are required to take a pilot where safety demands it, and in general that the smooth operation of the port is not put at risk by unsafe navigation. I think that my noble friend Lord Mottistone made that point most clearly. There can be nothing less commercially successful for a harbour than to have its entrance blocked by a ship that has run aground or which is carrying hazardous material that has caused pollution or something of that kind. It would simply not be in the interests either of the harbour authorities or the shipowners.
Reference has been made to certain hazards which are outside present harbour authority boundaries. The Bill takes those boundaries as its starting point, and I believe rightly, since we intend that the authorities should take a fresh look at the pilotage requirements of ships using their ports and should not be constrained by limits set many years ago when shipping movements and navigational equipment were quite different and reflected patterns of operation which are not necessarily the most sensible ones today. I believe that all accept that some of these limits are now outdated: for instance, the compulsory areas of the London district from Margate to Dungeness. However, the Bill places a clear statutory duty on the authorities to look beyond their port limits and consider what is needed in the approaches. In Schedule 1 we have offered them a very much simplified procedure for extending their jurisdiction to any areas beyond their boundaries where pilotage at present is compulsory and where they believe it should remain so in the future, and even where they do not judge compulsory pilotage to be necessary they will he able to authorise pilots to cover those areas on a non-compulsory basis.
Much attention has also been given in the debate to the question of pilots' guaranteed earnings levels. I listened carefully to what was said about the need to include in the legislation a requirement that, where they are to be employed in the future, pilots should receive what are termed their "current entitlements" as to earnings levels. By "entitlement" is meant the recommended levels for each district agreed under the former Letch arrangements, updated since the agreement ceased to operate. Those levels are not the same as those that pilots have been earning. I am not sure that "entitlement" is the right term, as pilots have never had a guarantee that those levels would be achieved, although in practice they have usually been exceeded. I can understand the pilots' wish that some such requirement should be included, with the aim of ensuring that levels of earnings under the new régime are comparable with those that they enjoy at present.
491 As regards a right of appeal for pilots, I understand that the British Ports Association has accepted, in discussions with the pilots' union, the UKPA, that disagreements on earnings levels should be referred to an independent third party and that that procedure is to be available during the initial shake-down period of the new system. Whether such arrangements should continue after that period will be a matter for subsequent discussion.
I do not believe that the changes that we are proposing will, in practice, generally make any great difference to pilots' earnings. Our contacts with the ports suggest that the savings that they are looking for will come from the retirement of surplus pilots, more efficient working arrangements and the review of pilotage rules, rather than by attempting to depress pilots' earnings; but, nonetheless, I remain unconvinced that it would be right to constrain the ports in that way. They should be free to negotiate with pilots on a basis which, as well as earning levels, can take into account considerations such as how much the port can afford and what productivity is being achieved.
I know that representatives of the ports and pilots have been discussing those issues. I hope that some form of mutually satisfactory assurances can be arrived at. Obviously, this is a subject on which there will be much further discussion as consideration of the Bill proceeds into Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, and others asked about the possible compulsory redundancy of pilots. I hope that compulsory redundancy among pilots will turn out to be a non-problem. Many pilots will of course be ready to accept the compensation terms already announced. We are in discussion with the ports and pilots to establish transfer arrangements so that surplus pilots who wish to carry on are offered every chance of moving to other ports, so enabling pilots in those ports to take early retirement when they would not otherwise have been able to be released. That seems the best way of tackling the imbalance between the places where there will be a surplus of pilots who would like to carry on working and those where there is no surplus but where pilots would be prepared to retire early. It is the aim of us all to avoid any compulsory redundancy if at all possible.
I turn now to other points which have been raised. My noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal did not agree with the statement that a single authority is necessarily the right solution in all estuaries. I shall ask him to look at the Thames and the Medway. Pilotage into the port facilities operated by the PLA and the Medway Ports Authority could be provided by a single workforce or by two separate forces. At this stage we cannot say which is the more sensible arrangement. It would be wrong for the Bill to force the two ports concerned to organise in a way which may not be the best answer to local needs. In some cases a single pilotage operation may be the right answer but not in every case.
My noble friend asked about Clause 8(6) and whether private wharves would be included. Yes, my Lords, they will be able to appeal against pilotage charges.
492 The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me to put a figure on the cost savings that we expect to achieve. I am reluctant to do so because the future cost of the service will depend upon a large number of variables upon which the harbour authorities will have to make local decisions: on the area the pilotage service needs to cover; the number of ships which should be required to take a pilot and the number likely to do so from choice; the number of masters likely to qualify for exemption certificates; and the number of pilots needed for the service to be provided.
Although the ports are doing much preparatory work, they are not yet in a position to provide firm data on which cost estimates could be based. I think any general figure at this stage may well prove misleading. However, as an indication of the number of costs involved, I can say that if 350 pilots were to leave the profession, annual savings of about £7 million, out of a total pilotage cost last year of £47 million, should follow once short-term costs have been met. I hope that authorities will be able to find other areas for savings—for instance, in the provision of pilot boat services.
My noble friend Lord Rochdale made an excellent speech. I am sorry that it has taken us so long to produce the legislation. I know the marvellous work he did on the report in 1962. He asked me whether Trinity House would continue to be responsible for deep sea pilotage. The Bill provides for the future licensing of deep sea pilots and allows Trinity House to continue with that function.
The noble Earl, Lord Grey, expressed concern that pilots may be transferred to other ports, depriving pilots there of their jobs. We intend that there should be a transfer system which will help avoid the need for any compulsory redundancies. I can assure him that there is no question of forcing any pilot to retire against his will in order to make way for a pilot being transferred from elsewhere. The noble Earl and other noble Lords talked a great deal about dangerous cargoes. The noble Earl suggested that all ships carrying dangerous goods should be compelled to take a pilot. There may well be special hazards associated with such cargoes. We see no reason why the harbour authority should not be capable of assuming the responsibility of deciding whether compulsion is needed. It is by no means true that such vessels are always subject to compulsory pilotage at present. For instance, Tees and Hartlepool handles a great deal of that traffic with a non-compulsory pilotage service. Its safety record is as good as any one else's. It is worth making the point that although there is no compulsory pilotage at Tees and Hartlepool, over 70 per cent. of ships entering the port choose to take a pilot.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen among other things, talked about the exemption of vessels from compulsory pilotage, and whether the certificates were attached to the vessel or the master. They can be both. Ships below a certain size can be exempt from compulsory pilotage, and there are good reasons why that should be the case. It is presumably easier to navigate a small ship than a large one.
The compulsory pilotage certificates provided for in Clause 6 would be attached to the master or mate and not the vessel. I take the point about whether someone 493 could obtain an exemption certificate for a car ferry and then pilot a supertanker. I wish to study that point.
I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for his kind words about the drafting of the Bill and the White Paper. It has been useful to us all to have the White Paper produced at the same time as the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, did not think that we now needed Notes on Clauses. I propose that Notes on Clauses should still be available so that noble Lords who wish to have them for the Committee stage will be able to have them. But I agree that the White Paper has done a valuable job.
May I say a final word or two about why we regard it as so important to make the changes proposed in the Bill? As my noble friend Lord Rochdale said, pilotage is a cost on that great part of our trade that travels by sea. It may not be the largest cost but, to the extent that it is an unnecessary burden, our exporters and importers are being placed at an unnecessary disadvantage. We have taken a number of steps to make our ports more competitive with one another and with those abroad, and there are areas that still need working on. Pilotage is inextricably part of the ports' scene and cannot be seen in isolation from the success or otherwise of our ports. This Bill will permit pilotage to adjust to changing circumstances and offers those who work in the service a secure and well founded base for their activities. It also deals fairly, I believe, with all concerned.
Turning quickly to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mottistone about arrangements for the Committee stage, it is hoped—provided that your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading and agree to the Motion that I am about to move—that the Committee will meet, in respect of the first two days, anyway, on Tuesday, 9th December and Wednesday, 10th December, at 3.15 p.m. Following upon what has normally been the case, I understand that on those days—I said this in my opening remarks—the Committee will sit from 3.15 p.m. to 5.45 p.m.
With those remarks, I hope that your Lordships will agree that the Bill should be read a second time.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be committed to a Public Bill Corn mittee.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.