HL Deb 23 March 1989 vol 505 cc843-6

12.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 2nd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It may be for the convenience of the House if at the same time I speak to the other Motion standing in my name.

These regulations would extend to foreign ships when in UK ports provisions similar to regulations for UK ships. Orders applying to foreign ships must be made by affirmative procedure unless the requirement is the subject of international agreement.

These regulations are of course part of the comprehensive programme of measures which the Government have introduced in the 20 months since the Sheen Report. Eight sets of wide-ranging main regulations are already in place, having been initially the subject of consultative documents from my department. Many of these have already been extended to include non-UK ships when in UK ports. In addition, there were important changes in primary legislation in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, and there have been administrative measures contained in merchant shipping notices. An increasing number of random and unannounced inspections as part of the traditional enforcement work of marine surveyors have been introduced. Moreover we are well into an urgent research programme which aims to produce proper evaluation in terms of effectiveness and cost of various design methods of enhancing the stability standards of new ro-ro passenger ferries. In all this we have not forgotten the international implications of our actions, and we have taken important initiatives in the International Maritime Organisation, but the provisions in today's regulations go beyond the current scope of IMO requirements.

The draft Merchant Shipping (Loading and Stability Assessment of Ro-Ro Passenger Ships) (Non-UK Ships) Regulations 1989 include a requirement that draught gauges be provided on all ferries engaged on cross-channel and other international services. There is general agreement in IMO that the assessment of stability before departure should be made on the lines that we propose but not entirely on our requirements for the fitting of draught gauges and the use of computers. In the case of draught gauges, the convention will require their use only when the draught marks at the bow and stern cannot be easily read. We remain convinced that the draught of a ship (and therefore its stability) at a typical cross-Channel ro-ro berth cannot be accurately assessed by direct sighting, even in good visibility. This is due to shore-based encumbrances and the flare of the ship's structure at the stem and stern. Accordingly, our regulations call for the provision of this equipment on all non-UK ro-ro passenger ships in UK ports.

We have also been unable fully to persuade IMO on the merits of loading computers. Thus the convention will only require that on completion of loading, and prior to departure, the master should determine the ship's stability and also ascertain and record that the ship is in compliance with set stability criteria. The means of making the calculations can be either an electronic loading and stability computer or other equivalent means. As a consequence of that decision our regulations also permit such other means of carrying out the calculation as will enable accurate results to be obtained. In addition the master must be supplied with sufficient information to enable him to monitor his ship's stability during loading and unloading operations. Then prior to departure he must record the ship's draughts and the assessment made of the adequacy of its stability.

I turn now to the draft Merchant Shipping (Weighing of Goods Vehicles and Other Cargo) (Application to Non-UK Ships) Regulations 1989. These regulations also apply to all ferries engaged on cross-Channel and other international services and some services within the United Kingdom, and require the weighing of all road vehicles (except buses) and all non-vehicular items of cargo exceeding, in each case, 7.5 tonnes for all voyages on which passengers are carried. Subject to certain exceptions, cargo must be weighed within the port at which the ship is to be loaded, and the weighing machine must be certified by an inspector of weights and measures and operated in accordance with conditions laid down by him.

We believe that it is important if there is to be confidence that improper loading will be avoided and in the accuracy of stability calculations to seek to eliminate all substantial discrepancies between the displacement of the ship as calculated from the weights of the cargo and that determined from the measured draught. Weights determined from a weighing machine are the only reliable method by which the master can be confident about the weights he is being asked to carry and thus produce the required more accurate stability assessment for the voyage.

I am confident that these regulations will be an important contribution towards improvement in ro-ro passenger safety.

Moved, that the draft regulations laid before the House on 2nd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the House is grateful to the Minister for explaining in some detail these two very important sets of regulations. I shall be extremely brief in my comments. However, that does not mean that these Benches do not value the importance of the regulations. It is not only equitable and a matter of common sense but in fact vital to considerations of safety that these regulations should apply to non-UK ships, as such regulations already apply to UK vessels. I recall the numerous discussions we had during the passage of the Merchant Shipping Bill in 1988—which has now been enacted—on these very points. We are therefore very pleased that regulations are now being issued.

I am glad that the Minister pointed out why it is necessary for regulations which apply to non-UK ships to be effected by affirmative resolution. When looking at the Act I noticed that the regulations arising from it were effected by negative procedure. I am therefore pleased with the Minister's explanation.

The noble Lord referred to the research that is being conducted into the stability and structure of ro-ro ferries. Perhaps he will give the House some indication on when that research might be completed. That seemed to be the most important factor arising from the discussion of stability in various clauses of the 1988 Act. Under the clauses relating to responsibilities for loading and stability the 1988 Act made certain references to both owners and masters. However I note that there is only one very small reference here to the position of the owner. I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that there is some reason for that. In other respects we welcome these two sets of regulations.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reception of these important regulations. I should point out that abour 40 per cent. of passenger ro-ro ferries from the United Kingdom sail under a foreign flag. It is therefore important that such regulations as have already applied to UK registered vessels since, I think, 1st February should be made to apply to foreign flag vessels.

So far as concerns the research programme, I can tell the House that we are making good progress. The first phase should be completed later this year. Obviously we shall have to consider the implications of that and then we propose to conduct model tests. They could take a little longer. That is not to say that lessons will not be learnt from the first phase of the research programme and they might have to be put into practice before the model tests take place.

As regards the point raised by the noble Lord about owners and masters, perhaps I may write to him on that. I shall need to consider it in some detail if I am to give him a proper reply. If he will accept that from me, I shall be most grateful.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him one small question. These regulations are intended to apply in the main to cross-channel ferries. Am I correct in assuming that ro-ro passenger ships engaged in international trade—for example, two Italian vessels which call at the port of London on a service to West Africa and Brazil carrying 60 passengers—would also be affected under this legislation?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my immediate answer to the noble Lord is, yes. If they were passenger carrying ro-ro ferries operating international services out of a UK port, they should be covered by these regulations. With regard to the example to which the noble Lord referred, I can confidently say that, yes, they would apply.

On Question, Motion agreed to.