HL Deb 10 November 1987 vol 489 cc1292-333

3.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Just less than a year ago, your Lordships gave a Second Reading to the Pilotage Bill—now the Pilotage Act—which made important reforms to the way in which pilotage is organised. That Act provides a framework within which an industry with proud traditions can adjust to modern circumstances and operate more efficiently. Early in this Session, on 15th July, your Lordships held a debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, about the mercantile marine. The debate was a thoughtful one and evident in it were those same themes of a proud history and of the need to recognise and adjust to the demands of a rapidly changing world. I now ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Merchant Shipping Bill, in which those important themes will again be seen.

The Pilotage Bill dealt with a single, very important subject. The Bill we are debating today deals with a series of subjects and covers a very wide area. Some of its proposals—in particular those dealing with responsibility for maritime safety—are very much in the public eye, arising as they do from the tragic accident at Zeebrugge in March. Other areas covered by the Bill, such as those dealing with ship registration or the borrowing powers of the lighthouse authorities, are less eye-catching but they are of great importance to the shipping industry and those who earn their livelihoods in it.

Many of the changes in question are made through amendments to earlier Merchant Shipping Acts, in particular that monument to Victorian legislative drafting, the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. As the Bill proceeds we shall all, I suspect, be juggling our copies of the 1894 Act and its successors with our copies of the Bill to study the full effect of the changes proposed. We have, however, as with last year's Pilotage Bill, produced a White Paper which is designed to summarise the proposals contained in the Bill and explain the background to them. I hope your Lordships will find that helpful both in this debate and as your consideration of the Bill proceeds.

I have said that the Bill covers a wide range of proposals. I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I first give a brief overview of the various parts of the Bill and then deal more fully with the detailed provisions. First, the Bill deals with the registration of ships. The detail of the clauses is important and at times looks forbidding, but it deals with very basic questions. What is a British ship? What is a British fishing vessel? Who has property in them? The Bill deals with the registration of merchant ships broadly along the lines of the consultative document issued by my department in 1984.

The Committee of Inquiry into Shipping chaired by my noble friend Lord Rochdale, who has contributed so much to your Lordships' consideration of the shipping and ports industries, forecast as long ago as 1970 that the arrangements established by the 1894 Act, which envisaged an Empire-wide system of ship registration, "will increasingly appear anachronistic". The committee pointed out that in accepting the registration in the UK of ships directly owned by non-residents, the Government are accepting responsibility in respect of such ships, to which UK maritime law applies, but have no effective means of enforcing compliance with the law except when the ships call at ports within UK jurisdiction. The Bill redefines eligibility to place a ship on the UK register so as to achieve more effective jurisdiction over UK registered ships.

The Bill also provides, very importantly, for the ship registers in the Crown dependencies and the dependent territories to be assigned to categories according to their needs and to their ability to administer and enforce the relevant international safety conventions. It is possible under the present arrangements for a ship to obtain registration as a British ship in a dependent territory but to escape the rigorous survey and inspection requirements applied to vessels on the UK register. By reforming the legal framework we will underpin the efforts now being made by a number of dependent territories to improve their maritime administrations. Under the categorisation arrangements territories in the highest category will be authorised to register all types of ships: territories in other categories will be limited as to the types of ships they can register.

The Bill also establishes a new system of fishing vessel registration. As many of your Lordships are aware, there have been significant problems in recent years as a result of foreign owned fishing vessels registering in the United Kingdom in order to fish against quotas allocated to this country under the EC common fisheries policy. We believe that this is quite unfair to our own fishermen and undermines the system of national quotas which is otherwise working well. So stringent new eligiblity requirements will be introduced.

Finally the Bill deals with several other important groups of subjects. In the first group are the three measures announced last December by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Transport. Their objective is to ensure that the shipping industry remains capable of meeting the nation's essential shipping needs in times of emergency or war. These three initiatives are assistance with training costs, assistance with the cost of crew changes on ships operating in distant waters and the setting up of a Merchant Navy reserve. All three schemes require legislation, and the Bill makes provision for them.

The second group of subjects is those dealing with ship safety, which arise from the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster. These provisions have, not unnaturally, already received a great deal of public attention. New statutory duties are imposed both on owners and management and on the master and crew. In addition, the Bill provides for the establishment of a new marine accident investigation branch which will be separate from the department's marine directorate and will report directly to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

There are also other provisions on safety and pollution not related to the "Herald" disaster. The Bill also deals with a number of other matters including the strengthening of our powers to take action against unfair competition in shipping services from other countries and reforms in the law relating to the administration and financing of lights.

That gives a brief overview of the Bill and I shall now go into more detail. Part I deals with the registration of merchant ships. As Clause 1 explains, Clauses 2 to 8 of the Bill would replace the key opening sections of Part I of the 1894 Act. Clause 2 defines a British ship by reference to whether it is registered under the Merchant Shipping Acts. As now, the term British ship will cover both vessels registered in the United Kingdom and those registered in the Crown dependencies and the dependent territories.

Clause 3 redefines eligibility to place a ship on the UK register. Under the 1894 Act, those eligible to register British ships are British subjects and bodies corporate established and subject to the laws of some part of Her Majesty's dominions and having their principal place of business in those dominions. In future those qualified to be owners of British ships will be British citizens, certain other categories of individual set out in Clause 3 and bodies corporate incorporated in the United Kingdom or in a dependent territory or a Crown dependency and having their principal place of business there. This means that (except for the small ships register) citizens of independent Commonwealth countries and companies incorporated in those countries will no longer be eligible to place ships directly on the United Kingdom register.

It will remain the case that a Commonwealth, or indeed a foreign, company or citizen may establish a company in the United Kingdom or a dependent territory which will be entitled to register ships in the United Kingdom. That, as your Lordships will know, has been the traditional route for much welcome foreign investment in the UK economy and in British shipping.

Clause 4 deals with entitlement to register and Clause 5 with the "representative person". An example may be helpful here. A ship is owned by a company incorporated in a dependent territory, such as Bermuda; the company is therefore eligible to place the ship on the UK register; the company is, however, not resident in the UK. In such a case the company would be entitled to register the ship only if it appointed in the United Kingdom a representative person in relation to the ship. The representative person, who might be a solicitor, would not be responsible for the owner's acts or omissions but would provide a means whereby legal documents could be served on the owner.

Clauses 6 and 7 deal with the Secretary of State's powers to direct that a ship should not be registered, or to direct that its registration be terminated, on the grounds specified. These include the condition of the ship and the safety, health and welfare of those employed on board.

Clause 8 makes it an offence to provide false information as to entitlement to registration. Clause 9 and Schedule 1 give effect to a number of amendments and repeals in Part I of the 1894 Act.

Clause 10 deals with the categorisation of dependent territory registers. The Secretary of State will have new powers to establish different categories of register by reference to ships' tonnages, types of ships or other matters. He will, as I have said, be able to assign each Crown dependency or dependent territory to an appropriate category, depending on its needs and its ability to administer and enforce the relevant international safety conventions. Territories in the highest category will be authorised to register all types of ship; territories in other categories will be limited as to the types of ships they can register.

As your Lordships may know, the main maritime safety conventions have so far been extended to Hong Kong and the Isle of Man but not to the other dependent territories or Crown dependencies. This new administrative framework will complement the efforts already being made by a number of dependent territories to improve their maritime administrations and in particular to make proper arrangements for ship surveys with a view to achieving full convention status. Other dependent territories do not aspire to run significant commercial ship registers and will be content to limit their registrations to fishing vessels and other small ships.

Part II of the Bill deals with the registration of fishing vessels. I have already explained the objectives of this part of the Bill and the serious problem of quota hopping which it seeks to address. Clause 11 defines a fishing vessel in terms of its use for or in connection with fishing for sea fish. Clause 12 establishes a separate register for British fishing vessels, which will replace the current registration arrangements under the 1894 Act and the Sea Fishing Boats (Scotland) Act 1886.

Clause 13 establishes the stringent new eligibility requirements for registration. A fishing vessel would need to be beneficially owned as to at least 75 per cent. by a qualified individual or individuals or wholly owned by a qualified company or companies. A qualified person must be a British citizen resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom. A qualified company must be incorporated in and have its principal place of business in the United Kingdom; at least 75 per cent. of the shares must be owned by qualified persons or companies and at least 75 per cent. of the directors must be qualified persons. There will be powers to specify additional eligibility requirements and to investigate the eligibility of a vessel to be registered. These are stringent requirements but we believe they are essential if British fishing quotas are to be preserved for British fishermen. We also believe that British fishermen should have no difficulty in meeting them.

Clauses 14 to 16 provide for registration to be refused or to be terminated if a vessel is not eligible for registration or lacks valid safety certificates. Clause 17 provides for the 64 share system provided under the 1894 Act to continue. Clauses 18, 19 and 20 make provision for vessels to be transferred by bill of sale or otherwise and for the recording of mortgages. Where a vessel has been sold or otherwise transferred to a new owner, the transferee will not be entitled to be registered as owner of the vessel unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the vessel is eligible to be registered as a British fishing vessel. Clause 21 deals with offences relating to unregistered fishing vessels. Using an unregistered fishing vessel for fishing for profit will be an offence liable to a fine not exceeding £50,000 on summary conviction or to an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years on indictment. Clauses 22 to 24 deal with penalties and other supplemental matters.

Part III of the Bill deals with non-registration matters. Clause 25 deals with financial assistance in respect of training, while Clause 26 deals with financial assistance in respect of the costs of crew changes which are made outside the limited European trading area; that is, roughly the trading area from Bergen to Cadiz. It will not of course be possible to implement these schemes until the proposals in the Bill have been enacted. But we hope to have both schemes operating as early as possible in the financial year 1988–89.

I would expect the major expenditure on crew training to begin with the start of the academic year in autumn 1988. I am pleased to be able to say that the figures for public expenditure announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement on 3rd November included provision for £2.5 million to be spent on training, and £3.5 million on crew relief costs, in 1988–89, rising to £3.5 million and £5 million respectively in the full year 1989–90.

These clauses give the Secretary of State general powers to spend money on training and on crew relief costs. The details of both schemes are still under consideration, and further announcements will be made in due course. But it may be helpful if I give your Lordships some general indications of what we envisage. On training, a particular concern is the small number of officer cadets currently being trained. Great efforts are already being made by such bodies as the General Council of British Shipping, the Small Ships Training Group, and some of the nautical colleges, with the sympathetic help of the training commission and the co-operation of the unions, to enable the industry to make greater use of the funds which are available through the YTS. This is important, and we plan to build on the successful use being made of YTS. We plan to do so by making funds available in respect of officer cadets who fall outside the age eligibility rules for YTS.

On crew relief costs, we plan to pay a significant proportion of the costs of air travel for crew changes on ships registered in the UK, Isle of Man or Channel Islands which take place in distant waters. We envisage that assistance would be given in respect of officers and ratings resident in the British Isles. We think it important, however, under both schemes, that employers should continue to have a significant financial stake in the arrangements. One hundred per cent. funding would, in the Government's view, be unhealthy and would run the risk of provision getting out of touch with commercial reality.

Clauses 27 and 28 provide for the establishment of a merchant navy reserve. The reserve will be a body of qualified and experienced seafarers who can be called upon to crew merchant vessels in times of tension or war. The reserve will not be open to officers and ratings currently serving in British registered vessels, whose qualifications and whereabouts can be established by other means. The reserve will plan to recruit former seafarers who have taken up shore-based jobs. Membership of the reserve will carry a legal obligation to serve if called upon to do so, though at other times members will be free to resign without any period of notice.

The powers in Clause 28 allow for training, though I think it unlikely that we shall have a training element at the outset. We shall want first to get the reserve established and to assess its needs. As my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Transport said last December, the key provisions of the reserve can be very simple: a declaration of willingness to serve, an address, and an annual bounty.

Against this background, we propose three changes in the law. First, Clause 29 provides for the existing offence on the part of the owner and master for a ship to be unfit to go to sea to be extended, and penalties increased to provide for imprisonment as well as an unlimited fine. Secondly, Clause 30 creates a new statutory duty on ship owners to take all reasonable steps to ensure that ships are operated safely. Failure to do so will be an offence punishable by imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Thirdly, Clause 31 revises the existing criminal offence of a master or seamen endangering the saftey of his ship, making it a statutory requirement that seafarers should not carry out their duties in a manner likely to endanger the ship or its passengers, or fail to carry out those duties. This clause also makes clear the master's overall responsibility for the safe running of the ship.

As your Lordships will know, my department has in mind a number of other important initiatives which arise from the "Herald" disaster, but these are being carried out under existing powers and I need not discuss them now.

Clause 32 deals with the establishment of a marine accident investigation branch, which, as I have already explained, will be separate from the marine directorate of my department and will therefore be free to take a completely independent view should an accident raise questions about the regulatory policy of the directorate. The chief inspector will report directly to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and it is intended that all his reports on more important or significant accidents will be published.

Clause 33 and Schedule 4 make provision for the implementation in the UK of two international conventions on oil pollution damage: one on civil liability for oil pollution damage, the other on the international compensation fund. Clause 34 provides for regulations to control ship-to-ship transfers of hazardous cargoes in the UK territorial waters. Clause 35 extends the grounds the Secretary of State may take into account when he is considering whether to give consent for tidal works which may cause an obstruction or a danger to navigation. Again, an example may help. In the case of a proposal to build a marina, the Secretary of State would be able to take account not only of the works themselves but also of the effect which ships using the marina might have on navigation. He would be able to apply conditions to cover not only the period of construction but also the subsequent use of the marina.

Clause 36 deals with the maintenance of free and fair competition in shipping services. It strengthens the powers already available for this purpose under the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1974 and 1979, and will enable the Government to give full effect to the EC regulation agreed in December 1986 that provides for co-ordinated action by member states against restrictive practices by third countries.

Clauses 37 to 39 deal with the powers of the general lighthouse authorities, which again date back to the last century. Clause 37 removes any legal barriers to joint operations by the lighthouse authorities—Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Clause 38 clarifies and extends the borrowing powers of the Secretary of State and of the lighthouse authorities in respect of lighthouse expenditures. Clause 39 provides for the general lighthouse fund to reimburse the Secretary of State for the costs he incurs in administering the fund, and to meet expenses which he may incur in connection with a possible future international agreement to develop the Loran C system as an aid to navigation in north-west Europe.

Clauses 40 and 41 provide for persons holding an inquiry into the fitness or conduct of an officer under the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 to have powers similar to those already available to a magistrate, to administer oaths and to issue summonses. Clause 42 provides a legal basis for seamen to be paid at regular intervals and to receive any final payments at subsequent dates in the pay cycle. Present law is still framed on the basis that a seaman is not paid until the end of his voyage, but must receive all the wages due to him as soon as he is discharged.

The remaining clauses of the Bill contain the usual supplemental provisions for miscellaneous amendments and repeals: notices, extension to overseas territories, and other matters. The White Paper listed at paragraph 64 the effect of a number of these minor amendments and repeals.

I have spent long enough in outlining what is, as I have said, a very wide-ranging series of proposals. They are varied, but their purposes are both simple and important: safety, safeguarding our strategic requirements, protecting UK fishing quotas for UK fishermen, and overhauling the legislative framework. I commend these measures to your Lordships' House.

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

3.40 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive review of this important Bill and that our debate today will assist in the important Committee stage. I hope that the Minister will be able to help by replying in Committee to some of the questions that arise today.

As the Minister has said, my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove initiated a debate on the whole question of mercantile marine on 15th July. On that occasion noble Lord after noble Lord expressed concern about the decline of the British-owned and British-registered merchant fleet. The Minister referred to that and to the report of the inquiry into the tragic Zeebrugge disaster. I agree with him that questions of safety are of paramount importance. However, there is little reference to the decline in the British merchant fleet. I believe that we have to decide, first, whether the opportunity has been taken to deal adequately with all the necessary safety measures and, secondly, whether steps have been taken to halt the decline in the merchant fleet.

When the Statement announcing the setting up of the Zeebrugge inquiry was before your Lordships' House, I urged that the inquiry should also look into the question of ferry superstructure. Although it may not be connected directly with the Bill, I am pleased to note the announcement that £1 million has been set aside for a study into the stability and related aspects of roll-on roll-off ferries, but is a period of three years necessary for that important study? When the report of the study is published, can action, if it is required, be dealt with by regulation under the current legislation or will it be necessary to bring another primary merchant shipping Bill before your Lordships' House? I am pleased to note that the provisions of the Bill apply also to hovercraft.

As the Minister has said, the eight schedules are very detailed in that they outline amendments to the existing Acts. A great deal of attention will need to be given to the meaning of the schedules. I hope that we may have Notes on Clauses fairly soon because, without research assistants, we on this side of the House will have great difficulty understanding the amendments to other Acts.

Your Lordships will recall that in the July debate my noble friend Lord Murray of Epping Forest referred to the fact that he was a trustee of NUMAST, the officers' union. That body has emphasised that there is nothing in the Bill to reverse or even arrest the disastrous decline in the British merchant fleet. Many speakers in that debate referred to the serious decline in the intake of cadets. We therefore welcome the references in the Bill to financial aid for training and repatriation of crews. However, this will not arrest the decline in Britain's merchant fleet. Where will the ships be after additional cadets have been trained? Will training be given only to ships on the UK register? What will be the basis for administering the training scheme? I am grateful to the Minister for the information that he has provided on financial assistance for this essential training, given the lack of information in the Financial Memorandum.

As the Minister has said, the Bill refers to the establishment of a merchant navy reserve. If the Government were prepared to commit themselves to maintaining a larger UK flagged and UK manned fleet, the need for such a reserve would not be so great because we should have the ships and the trained personnel.

We welcome the proposals for training and repatriation, as I have said, but more assistance is required for the maintenance of a UK fleet of sufficient size. It may not be possible to include such provisons in this Bill. It may therefore be necessary to enact a measure specifically on finance. Fiscal assistance to the shipping industry is of vital importance, as your Lordships emphasised in July. A proper effective scrapping policy is very much needed, possibly by means of financial measures in another place.

Clause 42, as the Minister has said, provides for prompt payment of wages on termination of an agreement. That of course is welcomed. Schedule 5 provides for the repeal of Section 463 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, which allows a defence against desertion for seamen forced to go to sea in unseaworthy ships. Paragraph 64 of the memorandum points out that desertion is no longer a criminal offence. Should provision not be made that refusal to take to sea in an unseaworthy ship would be a reasonable ground for defence in any disciplinary action against a crew member.

To continue on the question of safety, which is all important, we naturally welcome the proposal that the owner is to be liable in law as well as master and seaman. We understand that consultations are to be entered into on the procedure for recording the number of passengers following the much publicised overcrowding on the ferry, "Horsa". I note that Clause 29 refers only to overloading. Will there be regulations to deal with the question of recording passengers and other matters of an overloading nature?

Mr. Justice Sheen at paragraph 33 of his report refers to weighbridge certificates and to the uncertainty of weights of many vehicles using ferries. The report concludes that there should be immediate investigations on the possible use of weighbridges on each ferry ramp. Have such immediate investigations taken place? Can this be written into the Bill or can regulations dealing with the reference to overloading be included in Clause 29?

The report at paragraph 45 says: The economic viability of such vessels strongly depends upon the carriage of large freight vehicles. The attraction to the whole operation is speed". The question of safety that we have been discussing is therefore of vital importance.

Should there be provision that a shipping company shall have no legal power to operate ships unless proper safety rules are established and adhered to? No person would be permitted to operate a public service vehicle unless proper safety rules were established and observed.

Changes in provisions for registration are welcome, particularly the power given to the Secretary of State to direct that a ship shall not be registered where he is not satisfied as to the condition of the ship or as to safety, pollution and the health and welfare of those employed on the ship. That is warmly welcomed.

Also welcomed is the extension to the dependent territories. They are now to be required to meet the same safety standards. I wonder whether when these measures are passed, if they are to be included in the Bill when enacted, (as I hope they will be) they will prevent sudden switching to the United Kingdom flag to get protection from the British Navy without the necessity to observe any other conditions whatsoever in terms of safety or crew conditions. Noble Lords will know to what I am referring.

We welcome also the suggestion that safety provisions shall apply to foreign vessels when in United Kingdom ports or within United Kingdom territorial waters. However, I should like clarification—if not now certainly when we come to the Committee stage—of Clause 31(2)(b), which seems to place on a master or a seaman responsibilities regarding the preservation of his ship's machinery and equipment. This is regarded both by the National Union of Seamen and by the officers' union as an unreasonable extension of a seafarer's obligations.

Concern has been expressed that the actions of the master or crew—we must accept that they would be serious—with the possible imposition of a £50,000 fine or a two-year custodial sentence may put the master in a position where he feels that he could not delegate certain responsibilities because at the end of the day he would he held responsible for such actions.

We welcome the transfer to a marine accident branch under a chief inspector. We think that is wise. I was pleased to hear the Minister say this afternoon, in answer to a question which otherwise I intended to put to him, that the inspector will be answerable to the Secretary of State and that reports will be published. That is of great importance.

Up to 24 hours ago it was not my intention to say anything about the registration of British fishing vessels, because the provisions in the Bill seemed to be welcome. From this side of the House we naturally welcome any provisions which will safeguard the quotas of the British fishing fleet. I can readily understand the points made by the Minister. But less than 24 hours ago my attention was drawn to the position of Spanish fishing vessels which have been operating for some years and which, I am informed, have brought considerable economic benefit to certain ports, particularly Milford Haven.

I understand that since the passage of the 1983 Act these fishing vessels must be crewed by at least 75 per cent. British fishermen. I am given to understand that discussions took place with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in May 1987 arising from a court case (which I do not want to go into) as to whether these matters are within or without EC laws of competition. I understand that agreement was reached that these Spanish vessels may continue as they are at present, subject to an undertaking to call eight times a year for bunkering and other purposes. Can the Minister confirm that? If he cannot, perhaps it is something that we should raise at Committee stage; or the Minister could write to me. If so, will he also confirm that it is the intention of both departments to use Clause 13(4)(b) to give dispensation to these vessels which have been operating now for some time?

In conclusion, Clause 36 is interesting in so far as the White Paper explains that it provides action against unfair competition from other countries. Noble Lords may recall that time and time again we have stressed that Britain seems to be the one country which observes the proper laws against unfair competition. We have pressed the Government for action because our Community shipping partners break most of the EC laws on aids to their shipping. We also say that the same applies to some of our trading competitors. The Government appeared very cool on the matter, and even in the list of retaliatory actions which may be taken by the Government the question of cabotage is not mentioned.

When the Minister replies he may be able to deal with some of the points I have raised. If so, that would help us in readiness for the Committee stage; but for other points we shall wait for the Committee stage. I am certain that although many of the provisions in the Bill are welcomed there will be matters that require keen attention. While everyone thought that the Pilotage Bill was non-controversial, it was not political. On this Bill many questions will need to be dealt with at some length at Committee stage.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, did I understand him to say that he thought that anyone ought to be able to break his undertaking to go to sea if he thought the ship was unsafe? Who would decide whether or not such a statement and such a claim was justified to bring about a break of contract?

Lord Underhill

My Lords, that would be a matter for discussion and it is one of the points we should put to the Minister. In so far as the Bill makes certain provisions which allowed me to make the statement 1 made, surely if we have a situation in which a master or a crewman is to be held responsible and he says "I am not going to take this boat out because it is unsafe"—that is what the Bill provides on registration—then registration will be refused unless guarantees can be given. How this will be operated we shall have to discuss, but I am anxious to know whether the Government agree with the principle.

3.57 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, when I first heard that the Government were proposing to introduce a Merchant Shipping Bill this Session I hoped that it might provide an opportunity to give some real assistance to the British shipping industry, which has been going through such difficult times and is still in a difficult position.

I have worked in the shipping industry for some 33 years, so naturally I follow with interest its fortunes and misfortunes. When the Bill was presented this afternoon so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in his usual comprehensive way and with great clarity, I found to my regret that there was not much to help the shipping industry, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. It is true that Clauses 25 and 26 give the Secretary of State power to provide assistance with training and crew relief costs, as was promised in December last year. But we shall have to wait to see how far this goes when the relevant regulations are produced. In any case, I think the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, will agree that they will not amount to very much in alleviating the problems of the British shipping industry.

More important—and I welcome this very much—is Clause 36, which, as the noble Lord said, strengthens and widens the power of the Secretary of State in cases of unfair competition. I hope that the powers now given to him will be regularly and forcefully used when occasion requires. Clauses 27 and 28 deal with the merchant navy reserve. I confess I am puzzled by this. The White Paper explains that it is intended to help to ensure that in future years there will be sufficient experienced seafarers to crew our merchant vessels in times of emergency. I do not know whether any calculations have been done of how many people will be required for this purpose. It is equally necessary (is it not?) and perhaps even more necessary to have sufficient merchant vessels for these reservists to man.

That brings us back to the serious problem which we have discussed so often: the question of the future size of the British merchant fleet. We do not want to collect a lot of retired seafarers, have them trained to some extent and have their experience updated, and then find when the emergency comes that there are no ships in which to put them. I should have thought that it is far more important at this stage to try to increase the size of our fleet by some means or other—and I know how difficult it is—than to provide a reserve of crews for ships that do not at present exist.

However, immediately and rightly the public interest in this Bill will concentrate on the provisions relating to safety, and especially on Clauses 29 to 31. We will all regard the general thrust of these clauses as right, but when the time comes to look at them in detail in Committee we shall need to give careful study to them. I hope that at that stage we shall have the benefit of advice from some noble and learned Lords, because difficult questions of law are involved in the proposals.

For example, I ask myself as a layman whether it is right to create an offence subject to severe penalties based on failure to fulfil a duty to take all reasonable steps to secure that a ship is operated in a safe manner. That sounds all very well, but it seems to me from experience that if something goes wrong, perhaps a serious matter involving loss of life, it is almost certain that hindsight will show that some steps might have been taken and were not taken which could have mitigated the consequences. The duty laid upon the owner of the ship is rather vaguely worded and it will be extremely difficult to be sure that justice is done.

There is a further point which has been brought to my notice and, I suspect, has been brought to the Minister's notice. I refer to whether we are right to pin the responsibility so firmly and categorically on the owner. In the way that shipping is operated there are many times when the owner has entered into what is known as a bare-boat charter. The owner takes his crew off and the charterer takes the ship and puts his own crew on board. At that stage the owner has no control over what the ship does.

There again, when we have a look at these clauses in detail we may have to consider some amendments to make the Bill work in accord with what is the practice. I am all in favour of saying that the owner or the person who is responsible should take on his responsibilities, but it would be quite unfair to put responsibilities on the owner in circumstances in which he is not and cannot be responsible for what happens. It is like making the owner of a self-hire car firm responsible for what happens to the car when he has no control over the driver who has taken the car on a self-hire basis.

The same kind of problems may arise in what is a quite common arrangement where the owner makes a management agreement with someone else. It is then the manager rather than the owner who is responsible for the detailed operation of the ship. I suggest that those points should be looked at when we come to the Committee stage.

I have necessarily concentrated my brief remarks on some points which will require further consideration. I am perfectly happy with the Bill as a whole. The Government have done a good deal in bringing together a number of loose ends which need to be tied up. I conclude by saying that we on these Benches generally support the Bill and agree that it should be given a Second Reading.

4.6 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I want to concentrate this evening on the rather narrow point of the safety of low bulkhead decked ships. We are all very grateful for the new regulations which are going to make the handling of seagoing ferries much safer. The difficulty is that the ships themselves are basically unsafe because they are low bulkhead decked ships.

Your Lordships will know that there are two kinds of bulkheads in a ship: vertical and horizontal bulkheads. The vertical bulkheads are the ones which chop the hull into small sections so that only one part of the ship will flood at a time if she is damaged. The horizontal bulkhead is a bulkhead deck which closes over the top of the vertical bulkheads. Historically, it is far older than the vertical bulkhead. There have been bulkhead decks probably ever since ships have been decked in.

The two ferries which were lost recently, at Harwich and at Zeebrugge, both sailed in what was called a C1 condition. In other words, they were so designed that should a hole be knocked in one portion of the hull between two bulkheads, only that one compartment would flood. That is reasonable in a normal ship, the point being that a normal ship sinks if it has too large a hole in it. I wish these ferries would sink, but they do not. They do something much worse—they capsize.

That is especially bad because all the safety measures we put into the ships—the lifeboats, the life jackets, the inflatable rafts and the rest of it—are based on the idea that if a ship sinks it will take 30 minutes to go. A capsizing vessel goes much faster. In the case of the Zeebrugge ferry, from the time when things started to go wrong to the time when she actually came to a standstill lying on the seabed was between four and five minutes. It was much too fast for very much to be done for the unfortunate passengers.

A C1 condition may sound reasonable: the idea that if a hull is knocked in one compartment will flood. But it is not, because of Murphy's law. Murphy's law says that if anything can go wrong, it will. The trouble is that if a ship gets a hole knocked in it that hole quite often will not be neatly on a compartment but will be on a bulkhead. In the case of the Harwich disaster, the hole that was knocked in the ship's side was 36 feet wide and was more or less bound to hit a bulkhead. In that case, two compartments flooded, the ship lost stability, and being a low bulkhead ship she capsized. We were lucky that it happened in shallow water, and also lucky that it happened in shallow water at Zeebrugge. I shall later tell of another case which happened in deep water which will show just what the difference can be.

Historically, many a low bulkhead decked ship has been lost. As I say, the bulkhead deck is an old institution. The oldest and perhaps most famous case was the loss of HMS "Mary Rose" when water flooding through gunports onto the top of her bulkhead deck capsized her. The same thing happened with HMS "Royal George"; again water flooded in onto the top of a bulkhead deck which was low because it was the lower gun deck.

There was another case, and I particularly want to quote it because I do not want to hear another government Minister say that a low bulkhead decked ship is safe. There was a case in 1870 when an inventor designed a vessel and persuaded Parliament and the Government that a low bulkhead decked ship was safe, and the vessel was built. A Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and said it was safe. He not only said it was safe but he sent his young son to sea in her as a midshipman. Within months the ship had capsized and sunk in deep water and his son was dead. It happened in deep water and so it was not a case like the Zeebrugge case where two out of five were lost. It was a case where only one in 25 lived. That is what would happen to a low bulkhead ship if it capsized in deep water.

I could quote hundreds of cases of capsizes of low bulkhead decked ships. The essence of their trouble is of course water getting on top of the bulkhead. Certainly they should never go to sea as C-1 ships for the reason that I have stated. No low bulkhead decked ship should ever be allowed to go to sea unless it is at least in the C-2 category—in other words, if one bulkhead goes and two compartments flood the ship will still not sink; or, in the case of a low bulkhead decked ship, will not heel far enough to put her bulkhead deck under water. Once that deck goes under water, water floods along it and floods the length of the ship; the weight increases; the ship heels further, and she will go over.

It happened to a battleship once. It happened to HMS "Vanguard" colliding with a sister ship in the Irish Sea. She was extensively compartmented and indeed had wide double bottoms, but nevertheless the bulkhead deck went under water. Luckily she was so compartmented that it did not go far under water; nevertheless the sea ran along it and she settled and went over. Luckily, because she was so heavily comparmented, the business was slow and no lives were lost.

It is, however, wrong to conduct major passenger vessels as low bulkhead decked ships unless we take very special precautions indeed, because I never want to hear another Minister stand at a Dispatch Box and say that these vessels are safe. In the case of HMS "Captain" there was something quite unique. The court-martial inquiry into her loss blamed Parliament and the Government. It is the only case known of a court martial doing so. Your Lordships will find it in court martial records of September 1870. They are well worth looking up.

Every precaution that can be taken should he taken in a vessel which is constructed in this particular manner with low bulkhead decks. They should be treated as totally different from other vessels. The inquiry into the Zeebrugge case called the things "high-speed rafts" and that is really all they are. All the great high sides up above the bulkhead deck are mere cladding. They can be holed. If they are holed in any way either in the side or in the bows and a large volume of water gets on top of that deck, the vessel is very likely doomed.

Remember that these ferries are crossing an area of water in which there is not only heavy cross-seas traffic but also heavy up-and-down traffic as well. I can just imagine what an air traffic controller would say if he had to control all his aircraft on identically the same level and coming across one another. He would have even more heart attacks than he has now.

This is a dangerous area of water in which we are conducting operations in the North Sea. If those vessels are in collision they will either get a great hole knocked in their side, which may break more than one compartment, or they will get their bows knocked off. In one case they will be left in the condition of the ship at Harwich, and in the other case they will be left in the condition of the ship at Zeebrugge. In either case we must take many more precautions in handling any kind of major passenger craft at all if it is a low bulkhead decked ship.

Certainly it ought never to be in the C-1 category. I believe that—as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said—we shall have to make a special study into the safety of these ferries. We should pay important attention to this particular factor because throughout the centuries it has caused casualty after casualty, and if it is a case of thousands on board, that could be very serious indeed.

Remember that all our life-saving people along the coast—our lifeboats, our helicopters, and all the rest of it—are adequate to save the crew of the small numbers of a merchant ship or a yacht. They are not adequate to save thousands if those are suddenly thrown into the water in such a disaster. For this particular reason let us take every possible precaution—extra precautions—until these vessels can be redesigned so that they do not go to sea with low bulkhead decks.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

My Lords, listening to the expert speech of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, I found myself impelled to go off and buy some shares in Eurotunnel. However, I do not intend to follow him down that road.

I recently became a member of the Council of the British Maritime League, which is an association of those who have widely spread interests throughout all maritime affairs. Despite its limited budget—because most of its members are pretty strapped for cash since they are not in a very satisfactory line of business these days—the Maritime League concerns itself (and I think helps us) with information to call attention to the cataclysmic decline which is taking place in our maritime capabilities. We see jobs being lost and manpower declining. We see the shipping industry and the shipbuilding industry in decline. I have first-hand experience of that, being the chairman of a small group which is trying to salvage and revitalise a small but famous old shipyard in Aberdeen. I assure the House that it is no easy task.

We are addressing more than the decline in an emotive, traditional British occupation, and the Bill is part of it. Currently the industry directly employs approximately 50,000 people. There are perhaps as many again deriving their livelihood indirectly from the activities of shipping businesses. We are also concerned by the impact of the decline of British industry upon our military maritime capability. The criterion by which I judge the Bill is what it will do to halt and reverse the rapid decline in our industry.

One can confidently say that most of the provisions in the Bill are sensible and welcome. They are certainly helpful and move in the right direction. I dare say that the Minister will not claim otherwise, but I venture to suggest that of themselves the provisions will not do the job which I believe needs to be done. However, let us pay due respect to what the Government are doing and thank God for small mercies. Let us also recognise that small mercies probably will not salvage the industry which many of us have always viewed with so much pride.

The decline in the industry is serious. One can bandy around many figures. The figures that I have seen show a decline from about 868 ships of 25 million dead weight tonnes in 1982, compared with 476 ships of 9.1 million dead weight tonnes in 1987. That is to say, the number of ships has nearly halved in five years and the tonnage is substantially less than half. Those who know more about these matters than I do assure me that the trend is not arresting but if anything is accelerating.

In terms of the number of people employed we are losing mariners at the rate of approximately 5,000 a year. That is bad enough but it also means that no sensible and ambitious young man will be tempted to enter an industry where he sees such a trend. Again that is borne out by the figures. One hundred and sixty people entered training last year and this year the number has declined to 120. It is estimated that we need to be training approximately 500 or 600 potential mercantile officers in order to fulfil merely the military needs of Britain.

Let us be grateful and thank the Government for their recognition of the problem. They are offering £3½ million but I wonder whether that will be sufficient. One must remember that almost alone among industries the merchant marine must fund its own training, whereas nearly every other industry in this country receives educational support from the Government. In that respect I should like to ask the Minister this question. I assume that the training grant is coming from his department, but is the Department of Education and Science active in the matter or is the grant coming from there?

In the White Paper there is an extract from a speech of the right honourable John Moore, who was Minister in December last year. I find it a curious document. In the first paragraph he says: We quite deliberately do not take a view of what should be the size or shape of the industry in peace-time". Two paragraphs further down he says: On direct support, the Ministry of Defence have clearly defined the needs of the armed forces in times of emergency, and war. We are committed to meeting those needs". I find that the two statements lie rather uncomfortably together. Surely the Minister does not imagine that when moving from peace to war one can suddenly dream up a whole lot of hardware that was not there before. Today most military thinking is predicated on the notion that one fights the war with the material with which one starts. That must mean that the Government recognise the fact that, if they say that they are commited to meeting those needs, they must, to use the words of the Minister, take a view as to what the minimum requirements should be. With the greatest respect, I find the statement plain old-fashioned nonsense. The Minister is no longer in that position and maybe his successor will not totally agree with what he said at the time.

In conclusion I should like to ask the Minister a number of simple questions. First, in practice how dedicated are the Government to maintaining a viable merchant shipping industry? Do they accept that the Bill, which is helpful and welcome in many ways, will not arrest the decline which I do not think they can dispute is currently taking place? If so, will the Government be receptive to proposals brought forward by the industry if it can get its act together? The industry does not find it easy to get its act together, so let us give the Government credit for the difficulty that they have in extracting firm proposals from it.

Using the language of a mathematician, which I am not, some of the provisions in the Bill are no doubt necessary and give powers to the Government to limit the decline of the industry. Beyond any question they are not sufficient in themselves and unless a great deal more is done than we have so far heard the industry in this country will continue to decline to the detriment of us all.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, during the month of July we had a useful debate on merchant shipping, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. As I recall, that occasion was used as a market by the majority of those who participated during which they could put down suggestions as to what they expected to see in the Bill which we are now discussing. I must straight away congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench on having managed to include so many of the things which he was asked to include in the Bill on that occasion. Having said that, I am very disappointed indeed that he was not able to give a little bit of help to the offshore supply industry in the form of providing some sort of protection for British offshore supply vessels operating in the British sector of the North Sea.

We seem to be unique, inasmuch as we are the only maritime nation which I know of which does not seem prepared to give the sort of protection to our own offshore supply industry which is readily afforded elsewhere. We have merely to look at our neighbours—indeed, our friends and neighbours—the Norwegians to see exactly how they behave towards their own industry within their sector of the North Sea, and to compare it with the attitude which our Government appear to adopt to our supply vessels.

There was a meeting not very long ago between members of the British Offshore Supply Vessels Association and their opposite numbers in the Norwegian sector, the Norwegian offshore supply vessels industry. That meeting was as a result of a meeting between our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Norway. Our owners and operators were encouraged by the Prime Minister to try to discover a modus vivendi to operate between the two sectors to overcome the difficulties which pertain.

One of the companies with which I have had correspondence, Seaforth Maritime Limited—which is a highly reputable company operating out of Aberdeen—was one of a group of companies which tried to do just that. A group of British operators got together and tried to prepare a set of rules between themselves, which would enable them to compete with the very tough competition with which they are faced within the British sector.

Unfortunately, their efforts did not receive any great commendation from the Office of Fair Trading. Indeed, on the contrary, the ultimate irony was that at a time when we all know full well that a cartel operates within the Norwegian sector, and has operated for a number of years, the British operators who got together to try to come to a reasonable trading agreement fell foul of the Office of Fair Trading and are likely to pay the consequences. This seems to me a very strange set of circumstances for a country which is developing so successfully its North Sea oil interests.

We are told from time to time that, of course, the amount of revenue which we shall have from the North Sea will gradually diminish from now on, and that we cannot look to that area for the sort of income which we have had over the last few years. However, I would say that there is very little doubt that for at least the first quarter of the next century there will be a very great deal of activity in the North Sea. There is still much oil to be discovered. There will still be exploration. There will he developments of those fields which are discovered, though perhaps a little different from those which have taken place in the past.

Perhaps we shall not find the very great quantities of oil which we found in the large Forties, Ninian, Brent or Thistle fields. Nevertheless, there will be a great deal of activity and that activity will require a great deal of work on the part of the offshore supply vessels. I am therefore particularly sorry that my noble friend was not able to include in this legislation something which would meet my fears for the future of our industry.

My noble friend wrote to me on 15th September and I quote just one small sentence from the third paragraph, in which he states: This has led us to two conclusions: first, that a commercial solution must be found to deal with the excess tonnage; and second, that a liberalisation of other OSV [offshore supply vessel] markets would be preferable to the imposition of restrictions in our own". I agree entirely with him—of course it would—but there seems very little prospect of this being achieved.

I have been given the details of a meeting which took place between the British and Norwegian operators and I can assure my noble friend that any posssibility of the Norwegians relaxing their present policy in the North Sea is very small indeed. Therefore I think that there is a degree—and I say this not in any carping manner—of naïveté in this letter if the Department of Transport really believes that this is likely to happen.

My noble friend wrote to me again on 10th November. I received his letter as I walked into the Chamber, so I have not had a great deal of time to digest the latest set of particulars which he has given to me. But I am afraid that I was rather staggered to read in the first paragraph: We concluded"— this is referring to my request that protection be given to our operators in the North Sea— that this would not help British owners, unless we also took steps to close the UK sector of the North Sea to foreign vessels". That is precisely what we have been suggesting that my noble friend does.

It is not as if there is not a vehicle by which that could be achieved in the Bill. There is such a vehicle—the very clause which relates to the fishing industry—and good luck to the fishing industry for the success which its representations have had. I only wish that ours had been so successful. This clause could just as easily have been adapted and extended to include the requirements of our offshore supply vessels. Indeed, with the assistance of some of your Lordships, perhaps that is something which we might consider at a later stage. I hope that my noble friend will have another thought about it.

As regards the other matters which I raised with my noble friend, he has told me that they are matters for the Department of Trade and Industry, and I shall think further as to how we can best deal with them during the later stages of this Bill.

I do not wish to talk at length because I believe that I have managed to make the points which I set out to make. I should merely like to say that the British Offshore Supply Vessels Association is deeply grateful to the Offshore Supplies Office of the Department of Energy for the very great assistance which it gives at this stage. But even that great assistance does not replace legislative power, and I should still like to see included in this legislation something which would give the protection to our offshore supply vessels which I believe they justly deserve.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I should like to endorse fully the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, who has just sat down. I feel that the offshore supply industry is in need of special treatment and it is certainly an omission that could perhaps have been taken care of in proceeding with the Bill.

As the Minister said, this is a very wide-ranging Bill dealing with a number of different measures. These I would welcome, certainly as far as they go. I propose to confine my remarks this evening to three main headings. However, I shall briefly mention some of the other points that noble Lords have made before I come to my headings.

It is helpful and sensible to set up a marine investigation unit although much will depend on the degree of independence that it is given. The moves to curb the excesses of those flag of convenience registers that fly the Red Ensign while operating woefully inadequate marine administrations is also very welcome. I fully endorse the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in calling for the Minister to be very forthright and vigorous in his support of the new measures against unfair competition.

I also welcome the financial help that is being offered with respect to repatriation of crews. However, as has been said a number of times during the course of the debate, the Bill is not a great deal of help as regards the real problems that confront our shipping industry today. For instance, nothing has been said about helping with the crippling costs of fleet renewal. I know that our Merchant Navy has been described as a lean and much more efficient Merchant Navy after the serious decline that we have witnessed. It is based very much on the container and ferry industries.

Many of our large container ships will be coming up for renewal in the next two or three years. The Government must address themselves in some way to that urgent problem.

As I see it, there has been no real incentive to avoid the need for shipowners flagging out and also little to encourage the industry to employ a few Britons. Unfortunately the problems facing the world shipping industry will not go away in a hurry. I fear that the UK fleet will continue to decline. At this point I must say that it is not just the UK fleet—that applies very much to the whole of Europe. It is significant to say that the EC's proportion of world total tonnage has dropped at roughly 1 per cent. per annum in the last 10 years.

Before I leave that point it is also worth mentioning that the United States has just launched a merchant ship which is the last merchant ship on its order books. So for the first time in living memory the United States does not have a single merchant ship on order. That just shows the kind of situation that shipping is in today.

We are still faced with roughly 20 or 30 per cent. over-tonnaging in the world. Ships are being sold but unfortunately they are being sold for further trading and not for scrapping. Here it is worth pointing out some recent deals that the Russians have been performing on the sale and purchase market. They have been snapping up some comparatively modern tankers and bulk carriers at very low prices. I am certain that those ships will be used in competition against us in due course.

I now come to the three parts of the Bill on which I wish to concentrate. I shall start with training. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that if the Government had properly maintained the British merchant fleet we would have the ships and the manpower. But in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, has said the manpower might be slightly lacking. The manpower dilemma is a very serious one, particularly on the officer side. The enabling powers in the Bill for the Government to help financially with training are very much to be welcomed. Any measures to attract the right people into the Merchant Navy should be supported by the Government whether by helping the shipowners themselves or the sadly declining number of sea training colleges, or by other means.

In the past shipowners have traditionally performed the training aspect themselves with their own cadet training schemes. Indeed in the past they used to have special training ships. Those sadly have now gone.

Other means which deserve to be supported should include funding the Marine Society to develop recruitment literature and provide a proper career advisory service. A national training scheme should be set up under the College of the Sea division of the Marine Society funded by the Government to sponsor the training of British officers. At the moment the Marine Society runs a rather small training vessel which was until recently an inshore minesweeper. I believe that there is another one or possibly two vessels coming along. The practical side of sea training is most important.

If there is no encouragement to attract youth to the sea and if, as we have seen through the decline in the merchant fleet, there is little opportunity for seafarers to advance in their chosen profession, in time many of the ancillary services such as harbour masters, pilots and hydrographic surveyors who all at present benefit from sea experience will not be available to us in the future. The need for this stock of ships' officers is also a strategic asset. That point has been well taken by the Dutch Government who have just produced an imaginative package of measures to help their own ailing merchant fleet. Those include tax shelters for seafarers, investment incentives and the ability to employ a certain proportion of expatriate seamen.

How are we to attract the younger person to the sea? As I said before during the debate that we had last July and also this afternoon, there is a crying need for an element of live training such as is used to good effect by the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Reserve. I believe that it is possible to set up such an organisation and, most importantly, it is possible to make it fun.

We have shortly to be placed in this country an order for a new ship to service the St. Helena run. She is an unusual ship compared with many that have been built recently in that she will have a significant passenger capacity. Perhaps the Government could look at that ship in some way to see if there is any spare cabin capacity aboard that might be used to good effect by young people who are training for the sea. I know that that has its drawbacks because the voyage to St. Helena is rather a long one. In fact it is about three or four weeks. People who wish to take up a career on the sea or be trained in some kind of reserve could not possibly get away for that length of time.

There is another way of going about this. We could build a specific training ship which would not only provide welcome work for our ailing shipyards but could be operated under the management of an existing shipping company as a commercial venture. It could carry passengers as well as cargo and it could also provide sea training for a number of young people and indeed also for members of the merchant shipping reserve. My remarks on training apply just as much to the merchant navy reserve as they do to the training of young people. I notice that the Minister said that no training is envisaged at the outset. However, I hope that he will take note of what has been said.

I turn now to Clauses 29 to 31 dealing with the extended penalties to masters and shipowners with respect to the safety of ships. I agree again with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that the main thrust of those clauses is right. However, they need close scrutiny at Committee stage.

My noble friend Viscount St. Davids has given us a lengthy speech on the safety of ro-ro ferries. I fully endorse much of what he said. However, I should like to take issue with him when he takes up the description of such ships from the inquiry into the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster as nothing more than high-speed rafts. Modern ferries, like any other ship, are built around an integral hull. When the doors are shut, the hull is to all intents and purposes a normal hull, which is watertight up to the main deck level. Therefore, I think the description of those ships as high-speed rafts is slightly misleading.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, when he says that such ships are watertight up to the main deck level, he means the bulkhead deck? I agree with him on that. However, they are not watertight above.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, they are watertight if the ship is not breached in any way.

Viscount St. Davids


Lord Greenway

Obviously if there is an accident, that is a different matter. However, it should be said in relation to ro-ro ferry operation that those ferries have now been used widely throughout the world for nearly 40 years. They were introduced before the last war, but the landing craft concept was enlarged after the war. I think it is fair to say that in Europe alone literally millions of people travel safely on such ferries every year. One unfortunate disaster, such as that which we have seen, obviously demands a tightening up of the rules and regulations. I think that the Government are addressing that in the proper way and I welcome it.

Before leaving that issue, I should mention that the "Herald of Free Enterprise" was a rather strange ship. She and her sister ships are almost unique in that the doors hinge sideways. I think that I am right in saying that all other ferries have visor doors which lift upwards. It is therefore obvious to anyone commanding the ship if the door is not shut. When the visor is up, it is impossible to see forward out of the bridge windows.

As I see it, the real offence in that case was for the ship to sail with both her bow doors open. Many laymen may not realise that those ferries have two sets of doors. They have an outer door, which forms part of the hull, and an inner door. Both are watertight. The ferry is quite capable of being operated safely without the outer door.

On the question of ro-ro ferries, I think that the £1 million research programme initiated by the Government into the general stability and safety of those ships is especially welcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has already said. It goes to the heart of the matter and I believe that it is the right way to proceed.

I understand that the Minister is shortly to present his ideas to the International Maritime Organisation. That is the correct organisation to see that safety measures are adopted internationally. The International Maritime Organisation performs a valuable task and it is often unsung. I am therefore happy to pay it a tribute.

Perhaps I may now deal briefly with the final part of the Bill on which I wish to comment, which concerns the administration of lighthouses. I welcome that part of the Bill, as I believe most people do, including Trinity House. The recommendations stem from the Arthur Young Report, where proposals were put forward to rationalise the three general lighthouse authorities with a view to reducing the cost of light dues met by shipping. However, there are one or two practical problems. For instance, the Northern Lighthouse Board's tenders are rather elderly and I believe not able to lift the large, high focal plane buoys which are presently favoured by Trinity House. I believe that there is also some equipment which is not standardised. I hope that that will not lead to the wasteful doubling-up on the carriage of spares.

Before leaving that point, I am rather disappointed that the Government are not grasping this opportunity to clear up a long-standing problem; namely, who is responsible for lights and buoyage in port approaches. That matter has taxed a number of Select Committees and indeed Royal Commissions over the last 153 years. It has been brought to a head again recently by the Trinity House NAVAID review, wherein, as part of the general cost-cutting exercises being undertaken, it is proposed either to discontinue or to hand over to the port authorities roughly one-third of the existing lights and buoys. Naturally the ports are not too happy about that. However, I think it would have been helpful, in view of the uncertainty over all these years, to have addressed the situation in the Bill.

To conclude, I welcome the Bill as far as it goes. I think it would be wrong to have the impression that the Government are not aware of the general situation affecting British shipping. I know that they have many matters under consideration which are not included in the Bill. I feel sure that they will do all that is reasonable to redress the situation.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for the clear explanation which he gave of the purposes of the Bill and also to congratulate the Government on introducing it. It updates matters of importance to the shipping industry under several headings. I understand that it is generally welcomed by the shipping industry, though no doubt there will be suggestions for improving it during its passage through Parliament.

The merchant fleet is still declining, though not as fast as it has been. That has defence considerations which the Government clearly recognise in some of the provisions of the Bill, including the creation of a Merchant Navy Reserve. I propose to speak on only two of the subjects with which the Bill deals; namely, registration and pollution.

As regards registration, there is to be a tightening of the rules to allow refusal or termination of registration when conditions of safety, pollution, health and welfare of crews and similar matters do not pass necessary tests. I applaud those provisions and strongly support them. I hope that the day of the notoriously substandard vessel which has sailed the seas in recent years is over. I hope that such a vessel will be denied entry into any register in the future and that the Government will do what they can internationally not only to set an example but also to encourage others to follow strict rules for registration.

Part II of the Bill concerns the registration of fishing vessels. Since I have been pressing the Government over the last three years on that subject, it would be churlish of me not to express satisfaction that they are now going to replace the existing system completely with a new system of registration, including severe requirements on ownership. Sea fisheries have to be controlled if species favoured for human consumption are to survive. Quotas for each nation are therefore agreed from time to time, especially within the European Community. This system is completely stultified if vessels can assume another nationality through a registration system which is too easy to enter.

At the time some three years ago when Spain and Portugal were joining the EC a serious situation was developing over difficulties in reaching agreement on fisheries. Fortunately, agreement was reached. I believe it was a satisfactory agreement on fisheries which was fair and which recognised the fisheries which Spain in particular had traditionally prosecuted while not unduly disturbing the regime of the EC. At the time I congratulated the British Government on having been a party to achieving this because I had been voicing apprehensions while the negotiations were going on.

That agreement was not assisted at that time by the existence of about 50 Spanish fishing boats which had managed to become registered at British ports by such devices as ostensibly having British skippers and mates. They added to the number of genuine UK vessels fishing for species regulated by British quotas within the EC, thereby reducing the catches available to genuine British fishermen.

Some of your Lordships may recall that at that time I reported to the House that I had received messages of support from Spanish fishermen, notably from their organisation based at Vigo, for my attempts to stop this distortion of the quota system. The Spanish fishermen who were not resorting to these disguises wanted the international agreements, including those within the EC, to be given the chance to operate as they were intended. As I say, Spanish fishermen as a whole were also in favour of stopping these disguises.

Now in this Bill the Government are making it more difficult for imposters to enjoy British quotas and so make nonsense of the agreements. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, touched upon this point at the end of his speech. He raised a point which I recognize—that some of these vessels have now brought some benefit to particular ports where they have registered and where other British vessels have not been as numerous as those ports would have wished.

I should like to ask my noble friend to say, when he comes to reply, whether the Government are certain that the new provisions will keep out imposters. To my mind the real test will be whether any of the Spanish boats, recently posing as British and registered here, will find ways round the severity of the new system while still remaining basically Spanish. If a vessel changes completely and becomes British I have no objection, but if it is still really a Spanish vessel and helping to use up our quotas then I think the system will have failed in that respect.

I now turn to pollution. I welcome the progress that is being made in controlling and reducing marine pollution. In particular, Clause 33 enables the Government to ratify the two conventions of 1984. As some of your Lordships know, I am the chairman of an international organisation called the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea. In that capacity I have been involved in the arrangement of the international conference which took place in Venice two weeks ago on the prevention of pollution of the marine environment. It was attended by representatives of countries all over the world.

At that conference, which I believe was a very successful one, among other distinguished speakers was the director of the oil compensation fund which is the subject of one of these two conventions that the British Government support. The director, Mr. Jacobbson, gave a very good and clear account of the starting of this scheme, which has only been in existence for a short time.

I believe it has started extremely well. In particular, governments and oil companies should note and be satisfied that the compensation awards so far have been reasonable and sensible. They have been at a level which one would expect to be sufficient to cover costs and at the same time they have not been extravagant and out of hand. The operation of the compensation fund is going well. There are still a number of countries which have not yet joined and I hope that their governments will look at the scheme. They may well find it worth while to take part in it themselves. I suggest also that oil companies should note how the compensation fund has been working in its first years and should be encouraged.

On those two points I should like to thank the Government for having time to bring in this Bill and to bring up to date the required provisions.

5.6 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I speak to three briefs which I have received and which I suspect have also been received by several other noble Lords. One is from NUMAST, which represents the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, the Mercantile Marine Service Association and the Radio and Electronic Officers' Union. Another is from the General Council of British Shipping, representing British shipowners and managers. Thirdly, I speak to my own brief as someone who went to sea in the merchant navy in 1945 and sailed for five years as a deckhand on deep-sea vessels.

When I started my training, which was at the school of navigation at Southampton, there was great competition among those wishing to become apprentices with one of the better shipping companies. I was very lucky because I was accepted by Alfred Holt, the Blue Funnel Line, which was the largest independent shipping company in the world at that time. It is distressing to learn now how few apprentices are going for training and for that matter how few shipping companies take apprentices.

Today I wish to speak basically about safety at sea. It is not unnatural that several noble Lords have mentioned the disaster to the "Herald of Free Enterprise". Personally, I feel very sorry for the master and the luckless assistant bosun who seemed to be blamed for everything while the shipowners, Townsend Thoresen, said "The blame does not lie with us". That is very wrong, because according to the reports that I have read several masters had written reports to the shipping company stating that in certain conditions the ferries were unsafe or unstable and also suggesting that certain safety devices should be installed; but they were not.

Speaking personally, at one time I was sailing on what was the largest merchant ship in the world. She weighed an incredible 12,000 tonnes—only a tiddler, 1 know, by today's standards. She was a coal burner and we bunkered either in Swansea or in Cardiff and sailed for the Far East. Two or three days out of port the coal in one of the bunkers caught fire. That is not unusual, but in this case we could not put the fire out. Many thousands of gallons of water were pumped into the bunker and the ship started to list. We actually had to drill holes in the engine-room bulkhead to let the water out and then pump it overboard.

When we still were unable to put the fire out the firefighters went down one of the ladders and erected a plank, below it a rope, and then another plank. At the end of this there was a fire hose. One could not stay down there very long because it was hot and unpleasant. Even I as an apprentice was called in to do my turn. The only trouble was that when down there one was wearing a helmet which had an asbestos skirt with an air hose at the back going up on deck to a manually operated bellows supplying air. On this particular helmet if they pumped a bit too hard the doors would fly open on the helmet. If the air supply faltered, there was no pressure going out and all the smoke, fumes and burning fuel entered your mask. The reason why the air supply faltered was that the manually operated bellows on deck kept splitting. Luckily we had a ship's doctor and he stood there with some Elastoplast and as the split came he applied a strip of it. That is probably the most important operation that the doctor carried out on the trip.

The point is this. That equipment had been certified as being correct, effective and efficient by the inspectors of the Board of Trade only a few days before we actually sailed. Clearly all that had happened was that they had looked and said, "Right, one smoke helmet, one hose, one this, one that". They had not physically checked. That is why I hope the new inspectorate will take very much more care and not just look at equipment and nod. I hope that the inspectors will check that everything works.

Still on the question of safety and especially on the subject of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" and other ferries, to become a master today is a long and difficult task. You do your training and even when you have your master's certificate it is a long time before you receive your own command. On short sea crossings anything which holds up the sailings is bad for the company. Therefore, if a master keeps on refusing to sail, or keeps on saying that he wants to double-check the number of passengers or check that the vehicles on board are not too heavy, and therefore delays sailing by two or three hours—and perhaps he should for the safety of his passengers and crew—how long will that master remain in command? Your Lordships know the answer. He will not remain in command. He will be put ashore, transferred or something else. What the shipping companies want, and I can understand why, is for the ships to run on time, sail on time and arrive on time, with a quick turnround.

I believe that some of the present provisions are very bad. It is unrealistic and unfair to impose a £50,000 fine on summary conviction on Merchant Navy employees. That is far in excess of any such fine for people who are non-sailors. NUMAST says, on initial research, that masters are liable to over 200 possible offences and this equals over £250,000 specified fines plus 50 years imprisonment. If you add to this unlimited fines and compound offences, it is impossible to define the maximum financial penalties.

Realistically masters would need to supervise everything in and about their ship to protect themselves, but that is manifestly impossible. Most systems on modern ships are high technology. No master could be expected to understand whether or not they are working. For example, relief crews who are flown out to the Gulf take over the ship and possibly 12 hours later set sail. How can a master who has just taken over that ship have time to check that everything is in order? If it is not, he is liable to a £50,000 fine or imprisonment. That cannot be right.

I raise another matter—the recognition of Commonwealth certificates of competency. This should be abolished, because today the United Kingdom Government have no ability to monitor whether the certificates are all right or all wrong. An investigation of marine accidents is long overdue and I agree with other noble Lords that all reports should be published together with appendices of the comments of all those people and individuals who are criticised in the report.

I raise another very important point which is also about money. I refer to public inquiries. The Government should bear the cost of marine inquiries, because if an individual has to pay his own costs the report which is produced is then circulated by the Department of Transport to all the other shippng lines and to everyone concerned, which is obviously right. However, why should an individual be forced to pay for that?

I have spoken for long enough but I ask the Minister one question. Is it true that in the recent exercise off the coast of Scotland the Government had to hire ships from foreign countries because we did not have sufficient merchant ships to supply the requirement for this exercise?

5.17 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for explaining the Bill so clearly to us and for the Bill so far as it goes. I had hoped to say a few words about the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, but having slipped into the Chamber he has slipped out again. Perhaps if he returns I might have a few minutes to do so at the end of my speech.

I have been advised mainly by the General Council of British Shipping and I repeat that the Bill is welcomed in general. It tidies up existing legislation, strengthens support for British merchant shipping against unfair competition and introduces financial aid for training and repatriation. However, some of these welcome moves could go further and I shall suggest amendments to that effect at a later stage.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathcona that this does not in itself stop the decline in the British shipping industry. I do not believe that legislation ever can unless it is very strange legislation indeed. It is a matter of competition and I cannot see that British shipping can be singled out to have so much support and encouragement that it becomes as well protected as, for example, the common agricultural policy. Therefore, it is a sad position.

The next point that I was going to touch upon—but I shall not have to, so your Lordships will have a very short speech from me—concerns the British offshore support vessels. Suffice to say that I thoroughly support everything in the most powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin. I thought he put the situation extremely well. I hope the Government take full notice of it and I believe that that is the one aspect that is lacking in the Bill. Other measures are here which may not be strong enough but that which is really lacking is the unfortunate position of British offshore support vessels, which are hampered because in effect everyone else cheats. I am afraid that we have to as well. It seems to me that there is no alternative.

I turn now to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about how tough it is that merchant ship captains should be fined up to £50,000—I emphasise that it is up to £50,000—for one small error and that they should not expect that type of punishment. If they have not been subject to criminal penalties for misdemeanours at sea such as hazarding a ship, they have been getting away with something for far too long. I have consulted the Naval Discipline Act 1957 again. I draw your Lordships' attention to Section 19, which states: Every person subject to this Act, who, either wilfully or by negligence—

  1. (a) causes or allows to be lost, stranded or hazarded any of Her Majesty's ships or vessels; or
  2. (b) causes or allows to be lost or hazarded any of Her Majesty's aircraft,
shall be liable, if he acts wilfully or with wilful neglect, to imprisonment for any term or any less punishment authorised by this Act, and in any other case"— presumably when he is not willful— to imprisonment for a term not exeeeding two years or any less punishment so authorised". That seems to be right if one hazards a ship. Certainly when I commanded a ship I expected such treatment if I was lacking in that respect. The legislation may not match what I have just read out but the principle is a fair one.

I had the doubtful privilege of serving on the courts martial of one or two of my colleagues who had hazarded their ships. A great deal of trouble was taken to see that such courts were comprised as far as possible entirely of officers commanding ships at that time on the principle that they would understand the problem. Whenever one heard of such a court martial one said, "There but for the grace of God go I". It meant that one understood the problem.

It would be helpful if this legislation (near to Clause 29) provided that whenever a ship's captain is being tried for an offence of hazarding his ship in one of the ways mentioned in the Bill, there should be a nautical assessor with experience of ship command as a member of the court. I hope my noble friend will look at this suggestion. I do not know how it sounds to my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack. He might care to advise my noble friend on that point. It might be a reasonable palliative for what is seen as a new and great risk to sea captains and their future.

Another point I shall be asking the Government to consider in Committee is the repeal of Section 42 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970. I am assured that it is now out of date owing to the legislation that has been passed since 1970. The provision is no longer needed.

I think that that is all that is worth saying. Although he has not returned, I should like to say a quick word about what the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, said. I did not recognise his technical term of a bulkhead deck. It may be a merchant ship phrase; it is not one that I learnt when I studied ship construction. There are longitudinal bulkheads and transverse bulkheads. A bulkhead by its nature is a vertical structure and a deck is a horizontal one. I wonder where he gets his facts.

I should also like to suggest that it is not helpful to refer to the sinking of the "Captain" over 100 years ago or the other cases that he quoted. He talked about the "Vanguard". He was not talking about the "Vanguard" that was still at sea in the early 1950s. He was talking about the "Vanguard" that was at sea in the earlier part of this century. In the years up to about 1900, naval architects had not mastered the art of building steel ships; after all, they were new. They greatly improved their ability from the 1890s onwards. Ships that were designed and built before then do not give us a guide to all the different types of modern ships. The Government should pay more regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, than to that of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids.

I hope that the Bill has a successful passage. I hope that we can strengthen it where it should be strengthened. I should like to congratulate the Government on coming so far but I hope that they will go even further.

5.26 p.m.

Earl Balfour

My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Mottistone said. I am sure that the Bill is necessary. I should like to refer to four points within the Bill. First, I shall draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 13(7) and "the relevant percentage", and to the second line of Clause 17: the property in the vessel shall be divided into 64 shares". For many centuries it has been the tradition that the ownership or insurance cover of any ship was always split up into so many 64 shares. Percentages was never considered in respect of ownership or insurance. Therefore in Clause 13 I feel that "the relevant percentage" should read, "the relevant share means 48 shares or such greater number up to 64 shares as may for the time being be prescribed". That wording may not be legally correct.

Schedule 1 talks about ships and deals with the registrar of British ships. Schedule 2 talks about vessels and deals with the registration of fishing vessels. The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea talk about power driven vessels, sailing vessels, fishing vessels etc. I therefore suggest that to comply with international language in Schedule 1 for the word "ship" there is substituted the word "vessel". The White Paper (Cmnd. 239) at paragraph 35 states that HMCustoms and Excise will reduce the number of ports where fishing vessels can be registered from 86 to 15. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland at present has a further six ports. It is not clear how many ports there will be when the Bill becomes an Act.

I should like to see the present marking of registered vessels as provided for in Schedule 2(2)(e) continued. For example, any fishing vessel registered at the port of Leith has the letters "LH" painted fairly distinctly somewhere on her hull. I hope that those letters will be continued in the future and not substituted by "GB" as is printed on all aircraft. It is an advantage to fishery protection vessels or any of Her Majesty's ships, as they then know the vessel's homeport fairly easily even if they fail to read her name.

I wish to refer next to Clause 25 on financial assistance in respect of training merchant navy officers and ratings. Under the manning regulations a vessel may have to have, say eight able seamen. However, she may carry two efficient deckhands instead of one of the ABs, three ordinary seamen instead of one AB or I think it is five deckboys instead of one AB. I may be a little out of date and not strictly accurate in the figures I have just given but I hope that your Lordships will accept the principle of what I have just said because it is the additional accommodation and everything else that would be required.

This has resulted in the great difficulty that faces any young person who wishes to take up a sea career. Before the last war and up to the end of that war it was not uncommon for the parents of an indentured apprentice to be charged £60 for a four-year apprenticeship. During that time the apprentice was paid £9 for the first year, £12 for the second, £15 for the third and £24 for the fourth. He therefore received his £60 back. Some of the better shipping companies had ships that carried up to 12 apprentices or cadets and they gave them a really good training, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. In other ships they were just a convenient form of cheap labour.

Although the accommodation on modern ships has vastly improved since my early days at sea, many ships do not have the space to carry cadets or deckboys. Much as I admire the Government's intention, it is the manning regulations and the available accommodation that will create the problem.

I should next like to refer to Clauses 26 and 42, financial assistance in respect of crew and payment of wages on termination of crew agreement. It has been the usual custom for the crew to sign on aboard the ship in which they were going to sail; at the termination of the voyage the crew signed off and were paid off in a United Kingdom port aboard the same ship. If a member of the crew had to join his ship in, say, Singapore, then although he could claim his travelling expenses et cetera he did not start to get paid until he was aboard the ship. If the ship arrived a day late he lost a day's pay. However, if he signed on in a British registry office he would be on full pay until he returned to this country. As I hope noble Lords can understand, that can make a considerable difference to the crew member's financial position.

If a ship is wrecked, burnt out by fire or sunk by enemy action, that is the end of the voyage and the crew's pay ceases from that time—or I think that nowadays it is the end of that month. However, although the crew must be repatriated back to their home port by the shipowner I do not think that the crew have any further claim on pay. This happened to me during the war, and it took us about six weeks to get home. But so far as the shipping company was concerned the end of the contract was the day the ship sank. Luckily there is now air travel—but would the Government please bear in mind what I have just said?

Lastly, I should like to refer to Clauses 29 to 31, which have been mentioned by quite a number of noble Lords in this House. It is on one specific point that I should like to talk. I feel that Clause 29 is defective. There is no mention within it of that vital matter, stability. Stability has nothing to do with navigation, machinery or equipment. In the mate's or master's examination, stability was a separate paper and was considered of vital importance. Water being able to slosh from side to side of a ship has a more serious effect on her stability than anything else and has the effect of raising the centre of gravity of the whole ship. It is not so much the amount of water but it is related to what is technically called the free surface effect.

All merchant ships have an outer and inner bottom to the ship. In that double bottom is carried all of the fuel oil, fresh water and water ballast that she requires. In a ship like the "Herald of Free Enterprise" her stability could have been endangered if all the double bottom tanks were what is called slack—that is, neither full or empty—because all the liquid is then free to slosh around. In the case of the double bottom, these tanks are always divided longitudinally in line with the keel so that the free surface effect would not be so serious as water gaining access to the car deck. In the interests of stability all new car ferries should have the car deck divided in half by a longitudinal bulkhead and in that awful disaster that would have helped to prevent that ship from turning over quite so quickly.

Every master or chief engineer of a ship will make a point of emptying one fresh water tank and one fuel tank at a time to reduce this free surface effect. Rather than go too deeply into this highly technical subject, I should like to recommend that my noble friend Lord Brabazon and his officials arrange a meeting with the principal examiner of mates and masters for the Port of London so that legislation can be added to this Bill to make it an offence to have a ship leave port in an unstable condition.

In view of the very interesting debate that has taken place so far today, I should like to comment on one or two points where I felt that stability was equally affected. I should like wholeheartedly to support the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about very heavy lorries. As a farmer I know that some of these lorries will come into my farm and take away 25 tonnes of wheat or barley. I have no idea what the gross weight of those lorries is when they are fully loaded, but that is a large weight to put anywhere and would obviously affect the stability. Again one of the difficulties the noble Lord so rightly pointed out is that in the road regulations we always talk about unladen weight, not laden weight. It is the laden weight that will matter to a ship.

There was also mention by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, of a very important point. Although the master of the ship is entirely responsible for his ship, he must be in a position to be able to delegate some responsibility for the safety or stability rules to the chief engineer, chief officer or any other officer of the ship whose duty it is.

Although under the Merchant Shipping Act there is a tendency to hold the master entirely responsible, I think that he has the right—perhaps I may put it this way although I am not too sure of the legal terms—to plead that it was not his fault and that he had in all good faith delegated to someone else; and, if someone else fails to carry out the job, someone else should get fined, not him.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned the question of owner or charterer. The difficulty is that there are many different types of charter. It is possible for a charterer, who need not necessarily be a British subject, to take a bare board charter—I believe that is the correct phrase—in which he takes over the whole ship and mans it with his own crew. Once more I am not knowledgeable enough to cover the charter point. In other words, the owner must cover a charterer in certain circumstances.

The problem today is that everything seems to get bigger and bigger. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, when he sailed a 10,000-tonne ship was quite big. A 100,000-tonne ship today is quite common.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the debate makes us all anxious to move into Committee after the many important points that have been raised. It is fortunate that the Committee stage will be considered on the Floor of the House and not, as in an earlier experience, in a committee room. With the many points that have been raised, the Committee stage should be most interesting and enlightening.

As some of your Lordships have said, the Bill is good as far as it goes, but it misses a great opportunity—perhaps it was premature—to do a real job on the question of the merchant fleet. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and my noble friend Lord Underhill among others spoke about the necessity to do something about increasing the size of the fleet and the compensation for owners of the ships that will be required. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, correctly said, the number of cadets will be increased but, unless we have ships, there will be no place to put them. Without the ships it seems futile to train and keep going too big a reserve. If the number of ships of the fleet remain static, it would be a waste of time to carry out many of the good suggestions in the Bill. Although we welcome the Bill as far as it goes, we believe that an opportunity has been lost.

Reference was made to the debate that I inaugurated in July on the problem of the merchant fleet. Various figures were repeated. Perhaps I too can quickly give the figures again. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who is well-known in the shipping industry for his erudition, said that the tonnage had dropped 64 per cent. in 10 years and was down to 80 million tonnes deadweight. The number of seafarers employed had dropped in the same period by 62 per cent., from 80,000 to 30,000 in 10 years. Out of 500 deck and engine officer cadets employed in the industry, only 107 are serving on British flag vessels. We are therefore in a fairly critical situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who spoke in earlier debates about the importance of increasing the tonnage, went over some of the ways in which shipowners could be encouraged to scrap and to build new ships. Although it is true that many ships are lying in various fjords and harbours all over the world, they are approaching the stage when they would be unsuitable for modern fleets. It would then be necessary to start with new ships and to give help to shipowners in the terms mentioned—better tax concessions and, of great importance, the ability to use the scrap value of the ships to build new and more advanced ships.

The tragedy of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" has been much mentioned. It has made all of us very safety conscious. The Bill has taken this on board to a large extent. The safety aspects raised will be considered in detail in Committee. Many noble Lords who have spoken are very knowledgeable about the safety aspects of shipping.

A number of your Lordships raised the question of the responsibility of the master. While there must be a master for a ship, many complications arise nowadays. As I understand it, quite a few ships go out with a relatively small crew, the size of which would have been staggering 10 years ago. Having heard stories about small crew numbers, one wonders how they find time to sleep and maintain a decent rota. The master in a highly automated ship can no longer be responsible for everything; he must have the power of delegation. He cannot be in sole charge of a ship for a voyage of perhaps one or two months. It has been pointed out to me that a mine manager, the director of an atomic plant such as Sellafield or an airline pilot does not carry the responsibility that is imposed on a ship's master in the Bill. We can discuss that further in Committee. I believe that the modern ship changes the situation considerably.

Other points were brought up by the Minister and by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, among them the question of the training of crews, air fares back for relief crews and the reserve merchant marine, which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. The Minister gave us the cost involved. It would be helpful if that figure could be translated into approximate numbers to enable an estimate to be made of the effects of the measures.

I do not think that I can go into the technical point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, regarding the insurance shares of ships, but I was interested in how a ship is owned, whether it is leased or bought, and how the lease can be changed.

The Minister mentioned the question of a ship being registered in Bermuda. I wondered how that could be spelt out in terms of the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Is a brass plate sufficient? How do we know, when suddenly a ship is sold overnight—sometimes in a highly complicated way—whether a ship is Bermuda registered with all the privileges of a higher area of registration and certification?

We are all pleased that the Minister has stated clearly that any accident will be fully reported. My noble friend Lord Underhill and others dealt fully with the fishing regulations and we are awaiting the Minister's reply to that with considerable interest.

A point raised by a number of people was that of surprise about the relatively little briefing we have had on the Bill so far. Whether once it gets through this stage and into Committee we shall be given more I do not know. The question of cabotage has not been taken up. I hope the Minister can reassure us and the merchant fleet generally on that.

There will need to be considerable careful scrutiny of the registration conditions. All in all, the Minister gave us a very good introduction to the Bill. He has given us something to study with care before the Committee stage. Points have been raised by many noble Lords, some of whom have considerable experience in the industry. We shall go to the Committee stage with the Minister's explanation, (and also perhaps with the clarification that he will give us in his closing speech) and that will enable us in Committee to make this Bill better than it is. Although the Bill has nothing seriously wrong with it, the general feeling of the House is that it does not go nearly far enough.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, our debate today has been both thought-provoking and realistic. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. The Bill, covering as it does so many different aspects of merchant shipping, has given us a good opportunity to range widely over the shipping industry generally. Noble Lords have touched on many important and topical issues particularly the problems of ships' safety raised by the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" and the position of the United Kingdom registered fleet. I shall say a little about those two point first before I move on to some of the other details about which noble Lords asked me.

First, the decline in the fleet: a great deal of concern has inevitably been expressed about the decline in our merchant fleet. We debated this subject as recently as 15th July this year at the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I shall not now repeat everything that I said on that occasion. The noble Lord has reminded us today again of some of the figures. But I should remind your Lordships of some of the major factors. These are the massive oversupply in world shipping capacity; competition from third world countries; and changes in our trading pattern, for example, with the switch to the European Community as our major trading partner. I should also draw attention to the different fortunes of the different sectors of our fleet.

The experience of other developed countries has been very similar to our own and many of the factors at work are largely beyond the control of governments. This does not mean that the Government can do nothing. With some 60 per cent. of the United Kingdom's shipping industry's international freight earnings made in the cross trades last year, we must continue our commitment to the promotion of free trade and to the breaking down of any barriers which will inhibit our opportunities to compete worldwide. Hence the Government's vigorous support of the industry's interests in the international arena where our work has met with considerable success.

In the circumstances I have described there is little sense in erecting vastly expensive frameworks of subsidy, but we have given special attention to shipping within the wider scheme of business taxation reforms introduced in 1984. We have, where commensurate with safety requirements, continued to reduce the burden of unnecessary maritime regulation of our industry and we are pressing forward with the measures to assist financially with the training and crew relief costs which form part of this Bill.

Noble Lords have asked when we can expect the industry to start renewing its fleet. I recognise that our ships are getting steadily older and that new investment in them is at a standstill at present. But before long there will have to be some new building. I am not convinced by the argument that there is no incentive to build for operation under the British flag. Only time will tell, but I believe that the steadily reducing burden of taxation, coupled with the greater willingness of the seafaring unions to negotiate realistically, will mean that the British industry will be able to compete in many trades with British registered ships. I was encouraged to read only the other day in Lloyd's List that one British company is going to order four new ships fairly soon.

The second main strand of the debate this afternoon has been the safety aspects, particularly those following the disaster to the "Herald of Free Enterprise". I should like for a moment to talk about some of the things we are doing about that, which are not in the Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government have introduced a substantial number of other measures that are part and parcel of a comprehensive programme to implement the 30 or so recommendations of the Sheen Report, but these do not require primary legislation. All such action to be taken by statutory instrument has, because of the terms of the enabling legislation, to be subject to proper consultation with the industry. We have issued consultative documents on five major packages of proposals on the installation of vehicle door indicator lights, TV surveillance of vehicle deck, self-contained emergency lighting—that order has already been laid—the provision of draught gauges, loading computers, emergency windows, the closing of vehicle doors before any ro-ro ferry leaves its berth, or as soon as it is physically possible to do so, the control of passenger numbers by making passenger boarding cards mandatory and a variety of measures intended to tighten up existing rules for ensuring that ships operate in a stable configuration. In the next day or so we shall be issuing proposals for the stricter controls of ships' operating and management procedures.

In addition to these we have measures in the pipeline relating to the individual weighing of all heavy lorries before boarding. We are seeking new requirements on escape routes and escape windows and we are putting £1 million towards a research programme into ship design. We are consulting manufacturers with a view to improving the design of life jackets. We shall be bringing forward requirements on rescue equipment and we shall propose international measures on communication with rescue helicopters. I hope that you will agree that the department is acting swiftly, though not precipitately, to implement Mr. Justice Sheen's recommendations.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, paid tribute to the work of the IMO. I entirely agree that the IMO is a very effective organisation that has done outstanding successful work to improve maritime safety and reduce pollution. My right honourable friend addressed the assembly yesterday and invited international support for the sort of things that the Government are now doing to improve ferry safety. I shall follow this up by speaking to one of the assembly's committees tomorrow in support of some of our specific proposals. We have advised the IMO that the UK will contribute to the cost of extending the maritime safety committee meeting in April by two days to consider our proposals. We are also prepared to fund an extra session of a safety subcommittee if that proves necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked particularly about passenger numbers and weighbridges. He also asked whether the provision in Clause 29 about overloading would cover passenger numbers and the weighing of lorries. The answer is that we intend to deal with both those matters by statutory instrument. As I have said, draft statutory instruments on boarding cards were put out to consultation last week. We shall be putting forward our proposals for the weighing of lorries within the next few weeks. We have looked at the Sheen Report proposals for weighing lorries on the actual ramps and we see considerable technical and operational difficulties in that proposal. But we shall require that lorries are weighed individually and that is what matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and other noble Lords also referred to our three-year research programme into ship stability. The noble Lord asked whether it was really necessary to have three years of research before we can get the results. Ship safety stability is not a simple subject. When a lot is known already, the programme needed to advance our knowledge cannot be a minor one but we shall of course be looking for earlier results from this work if that is possible. I should also stress that this research is aimed primarily at improving the characteristics of new vessels in the long-term. Our review of the safety of existing vessels built before the new rules came into force in 1980 is taking place on a much shorter time-scale. We have called for full data by April and hope to reach decisions during the following three months or so. I can confirm that the results of the research programme, whatever they are, can be implemented by statutory instrument under existing legislation.

The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, and my noble friend Lord Balfour posed important questions about the inherent safety of ro-ro vessels which have the bulkhead deck close to the waterline. It is a fact that our cross-Channel ferries have an outstandingly good safety record. Twenty-four million passengers are carried annually, in most years without any major incident. The Government do not accept that these ships are inherently unsafe.

The "European Gateway" and the "Herald of Free Enterprise" capsized for different reasons. The "European Gateway" suffered damage above and below the waterline, and she flooded because the watertight doors below the bulkhead deck were not kept closed as they should have been. The "Herald of Free Enterprise" capsized because water from the bow wave at top speed entered the open doors and flooded the vehicle space above the bulkhead deck.

The certification of ro-ro ferries takes full account of the low bulkhead deck and there is a requirement that the margin line, as it is called, is not submerged following damage. Nevertheless the question of raising the bulkhead deck and indeed of sub-dividing the vehicle space above the bulkhead deck will be dealt with in the research programme which I have already mentioned. I shall not stand up here and say, as the noble Viscount invited me to do, whether or not ro-ro ferries are safe. They are not intrinsically unsafe. They are unsafe only if a large volume of water enters them on the car deck, and this should be normally well above the waterline.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me whether assistance for training would be restricted to training on British registered ships. It will be essential for proper supervision of the training programme for training to be carried out on ships manned by senior officers holding United Kingdom certificates. I naturally hope that most of the training will be done on United Kingdom registered ships, but we would not want to rule out the possibility of training on other ships with United Kingdom certificated officers.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me on a point of detail whether there should be a provision that a crew member refusing to go to sea because of the unsafe condition of his ship should not be subject to disciplinary proceedings. This is an interesting suggestion at which we shall be happy to look.

The noble Lord also asked me about the provisions on flagging in and striking off. He asked whether they would prevent flagging in to get Royal Navy protection when ships did not meet safety requirements. Ships will, as now, be registered if they meet the eligibility requirements. They will, as now, be subject to the applicable safety requirements. I can give him that assurance. But there is no proposal in the Bill specifically not to encourage registration from foreign sources.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and other noble Lords mentioned Clause 29 in relation to where a ship is managed or chartered. It is indeed appropriate that where a vessel is managed by a ship management company or where a vessel is demise-chartered the duties that traditionally fall on the owner of the ship should fall either instead or in addition on the manager or the charterer. This will need an amendment to the Bill which we shall bring forward at the Committee stage. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for bringing up that point.

We had a considerable debate on Clauses 29 to 31 of the Bill. I suspect that this will be one of the main focuses of attention when we come to the Committee stage. It was suggested that Clause 30—the general duty on owners—is too vague, but it is intended to be a general provision for courts to decide what the owner ought reasonably to have done in the light of the very full advice that is issued to owners in M notices and so on and of any other facts that may be available to them. Particularly vital stages and operations in the running of a ship will be covered by specific offences under statutory instrument to ensure that there is no room for doubt. I have mentioned a great many of those already.

A number of noble Lords, notably my noble friend Lord Strathcona, mentioned training and the costs there attached. As I have said in my opening remarks, the intention is to develop a scheme of assistance which builds on existing financial provisions for education and training— for example, the YTS. Discussions on this are currently underway and we expect to be able to outline our proposals shortly. I can give my noble friend the assurance that the money I mentioned in my opening remarks is new money.

My noble friend and others wondered whether there would be any jobs on completion of this training. They cannot be guaranteed. particularly in view of the four-year lead time for the qualification of a new cadet, but there is an imminent shortage of junior officers in United Kingdom ships and current high demand for qualified British officers on non-United Kingdom ships is likely to continue. I hope that job prospects will be favourable.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made a number of imaginative suggestions for the training of young seafarers and members of the merchant navy reserve. The training of cadets is primarily a matter for shipping companies and our proposals for providing financial assistance recognise this. As for the merchant navy reserve, I said in my opening remarks that a training element is unlikely at the outset but the Bill contains provision for training members of the reserve and we shall keep this under review as the reserve develops. We have to ask ourselves whether we are more likely or less likely to attract members by giving training. Some people might not want to take up the training commitment.

My noble friends Lord Gray of Contin and Lord Mottistone talked about the offshore situation. I can assure my noble friends that the Government continue to be concerned about the offshore supply vessels market. We have carefully considered the proposals put to us by BOSVA and regrettably have been unable to incorporate them in the Bill as they posed a number of problems which proved to be insuperable. For example, were we, as my noble friend Lord Gray suggested, to extend the fishing vessel provisions to the offshore sector, the effect could be to exclude a number of major shipping companies which are based in the United Kingdom and provide jobs here but which are owned by foreign interests. I do not think that this would be welcomed. Nor do we have in this sector, as we have in the fisheries, the sanction of an EC quota system. However, I can say that the offshore supplies office initiative to which my noble friend referred is to be kept in place for the time being. That will be welcome news to the industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked among other things about lights and the need to clarify the boundary responsibilities between local lighthouse authorities which are usually harbour authorities and the general lighthouse authorities. This is a complex problem. The department has recently discussed it with representatives of the interests concerned. As the noble Lord will be aware, there are sharp differences of view at the present time. I am looking at what can be done and I would not rule out the possibility of an amendment to deal with it, whether in your Lordships' House or later.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for the kind words he said on fishing vessel registration. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised a point on this issue which I shall try to answer. I have to say that fisheries registration is not particularly my subject, but I shall do my best. The fisheries departments introduced licence conditions with effect from 1st January 1986 in order to ensure that vessels fishing against United Kingdom quotas have a real economic link with this country. Following judicial proceedings, including a reference to the European Court, the fisheries departments entered into an agreement with the vessel owners concerned that they will comply with the condition requiring vessels to operate from the United Kingdom, but that fisheries departments will not seek to enforce the condition relating to crewing until the European Court of Justice has ruled on it.

Although the vessels concerned have, since the agreement, landed some catches in the United Kingdom, for the most part these catches are subsequently transshipped to Spain where we believe effective and beneficial ownership of the vessels continues to reside. Moreover, because of the inability to enforce the condition on crewing pending the completion of judicial proceedings the vessels continue to be manned mainly by Spanish crews. I do not feel that this is the sort of case that we should be giving dispensation for if we are not to defeat these particular proposals in the Bill.

I have to say to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that new eligibility rules would apply to vessels currently on the register. I do not underestimate the need to trace true beneficial ownership. Regulations may rule out unusual financial relationships, such as a company supported by an unsecured loan from a foreign bank. Noble Lords may well be aware that foreign interests—shall I call them?—attempted to take us to court even before this Bill was published, and I do not underestimate the difficulties of the possibilities of further attempted legal action, but I hope that the way in which we have drafted the Bill will preclude that.

Turning to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and others who spoke about the duty of the master of the ship, the Government fully recognise the commercial pressures on masters. In fact the £50,000 fine in Clause 29 is nothing new. It is in the precursor of this clause, namely, Section 44 of the 1979 Act, but we consider that both the owner, including the management if not the owner, and the master must be subject to stricter duties than before. It is only if one makes the position of the master clear that he is able to stand up to an irresponsible management, but we are also taking action on a wide front to define the duties of the owner not just in this particular Bill but in the proposals I have mentioned that we shall be putting out to consultation within the next few days. My noble friend Lord Mottistone suggested that a nautical assessor might be useful when a master is charged. I believe that this happens sometimes but I shall look into the matter further and write to my noble friend.

My noble friend Lord Balfour also talked about delegation by a master. It is true that Section 29(8) of the 1970 Act, as amended by Clause 31, confirms that the master has overall responsibility for running the ship safely, but subsection (6)(b) makes it a valid defence that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. That is a new provision included at the request of the unions and the Government believe that it allows sensible delegation by the master to responsible officers.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me a specific question about the use of foreign vessels during a naval exercise. This indeed happens from time to time, not because the appropriate ships are not maintained in the United Kingdom fleet. It is simply that our companies find it more profitable to keep their ships in commercial service. I think we should be glad that they are well employed and not lying idle and available for short-term charter like that. Of course in time of tension or war we would have them available.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone suggested that the Bill might include the repeal of Section 42 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 allowing seamen to give 48 hours notice of their intention to take industrial action. However the Bill does not at present deal with employment issues of this sort and I am not aware at the moment of any evidence to suggest that industrial relations are a particular problem in the industry at present.

My noble friend Lord Balfour made a number of points of detail to which we may need to return at Committee. I can assure him that the 112 traditional ports for fishing vessel registry and the letters associated with them will continue. He also talked about stability and why it was not mentioned in Clauses 29 to 31. It is not specifically mentioned because technical requirements to ensure stability are included not in primary legislation but in statutory instruments; namely, the Passenger Ship (Construction and Survey) Regulations. Ships are already required by these regulations in addition to carry a stability booklet in order to enable the ship's duty on each voyage to be calculated.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked me if I could put any numbers to the proposals for the merchant navy reserve. I cannot at this stage. Obviously interest in the reserve is, as yet, untested. We expect a gradual build up and hope that eventually numbers will reach several thousand officers and ratings.

The noble Lord asked about the position regarding cabotage, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also asked about that. I can assure the noble Lords that we have been devoting a great deal of effort to the examination of the complex legal situation on the reservation of cabotage. There are grounds for challenging the closed cabotage regimes which many member states maintain, but if we are to seek a ruling from the European Court of Justice we want to be sure that we are going to win and that the terms of any victory are such as to bring real benefits to ship owners.

It has been said in the past that of course the final alternative would be to close our own coasts to those whose coasts are closed to us. We believe that that would be a much less satisfactory way of going forward, but it is there as a last resort. I can assure noble Lords that Notes on Clauses will be available towards the end of next week, so I hope that that will be in plenty of time for the Committee stage.

I am encouraged on the whole by the reception given to this Bill this afternoon. I am not going to claim to my noble friend Lord Strathcona and others—and I would be foolish to do so—that it will provide a miraculous solution to all of the problems facing the shipping industry, but it will help the industry in a number of important respects. It will plug some important loopholes on the safety front. It will safeguard the interests of our fishermen, and will modernise the legislative framework for the industry. I have been greatly encouraged by the general welcome that the Bill has received, and I would ask your Lordships now to agree that it be given a Second Reading.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, may I first say that he has given excellent replies to most of the points, but he did say that Notes and Clauses would be available at the end of next week. The end of next week could be the 19th or 20th, Thursday or Friday, and we have the first Committee stage on the 24th. It is going to be difficult for noble Lords without research facilities to be able to use them unless we have them earlier.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I shall use my best endeavours to get them as quickly as we possibly can.

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