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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill deals with a number of separate matters with little in common except that they are of immense concern to our merchant shipping industry. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the industry. Snipping is not a common feature of our debates, and opportunities such as this are all too rare. Nevertheless, shipping is one of our largest industries. Its contribution to our balance of payments is of vital importance, amounting, depending on how one does the calculation, to between £300 million and £440 million a year.
Profitability in shipping has tended to be somewhat patchy in recent years compared with other industries, but I know that the industry itself is very conscious of this fact and is seeking remedies. British shipowners have equipped themselves with one of the most modern and competitive fleets in the world, and it is still growing steadily in overall tonnage. Much of the growth of our merchant marine and that of other countries represents an enlargement of the tanker fleet and with that enlargement has come increased concern about marine oil pollution.
The industry has closely co-operated with the Government concerning the means to reduce the pollution risks that are inherent in this growth. It has therefore played its part in the development of the oil pollution provisions which form the first two parts of the Bill.
Part I gives power to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1971. Hon. Members will recall that the grounding in 1967 of the giant tanker "Torrey Canyon" caused severe oil pollution damage to our coastline and very heavy clean-up costs, which fell upon the Government at the time. Certainly, as a West Country Member I recall all too clearly the threat inherent in this event. The total cost of this incident alone to the United Kingdom far exceeded the amount to which the owner of the ship might have been able to limit his liability under the prevailing international convention. It was clear—the need was dramatically revealed—that a change in international law was therefore overdue.
As a first step, the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage was drawn up in 1969. It raised the limit of the shipowner's liability and introduced compulsory insurance for oil tankers. But the new limit of the shipowner's liability, although higher than that in the previous convention, was still not high enough to ensure full compensation in every case, while the exemptions from liability could cause some injured parties to receive no compensation at all.
As a result, the Fund Convention to which this Bill gives effect was negotiated in 1971. This convention would require persons receiving crude or fuel oil by sea to make payments proportionate to the amount of oil received into an international fund. The fund would be available to provide compensation for oil pollution damage to claimants, who of course would usually be States, in contracting countries in three cases—first, where the shipowner was not liable ; second, where the shipowner and his guarantor had failed to meet their liability ; and third, where the damage exceeded the limit of the shipowner's liability.
The fund would have the secondary function of relieving shipowners of part of the additional liability imposed by the 1969 convention, subject to conditions designed to ensure compliance with international safety standards. The fund would pay compensation up to a maximum of £14 million in respect of any one incident but the Assembly of the fund could agree to raise this ceiling of £14 million to £28 million in respect of any one incident.
The Liability and Fund Conventions thus provide an interlocking system of shipowner liability, compulsory insurance and an international compensation fund which will provide comprehensive cover for victims of oil pollution arising from identified ships. In the event of a major oil pollution incident which might exceed the limit of a shipowner's liability, compensation by the fund would have the effect of relieving the Exchequer in full of the cost of clean-up operations, subject to the limit which I have mentioned of £14 million in respect of any one incident.
The conventions are understood to be welcomed generally by Governments, and in some countries legislation has already been introduced to give effect to them. It is expected that both conventions will come into force in late 1974, provided that sufficient States, together receiving 750 million tons of oil, have ratified them.
Part II is similarly concerned with pollution of the sea by oil but its purpose is to limit the extent of pollution in the event of a casualty of a tanker by collision or stranding. Over the last few years the size of tankers has increased enormously so that ships of a quarter of a million tons deadweight, unheard of five years ago, are now almost commonplace and there are ships of almost half a million tons deadweight. As the size of the ships has increased so has the volume of the tanks in which they carried their cargo of oil. It has become increasingly manifest that unless some limitation is placed on the size of individual tanks a large ship suffering a collision or running aground could produce a pollution incident of catastrophic proportions.
Largely on the initiative of the United Kingdom, discussions were therefore opened in the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation as to how this potential spillage could be controlled. A balance had to be achieved between elimination of the pollution risk and the economies of tanker operation. The conclusions reached were adopted by the Seventh Assembly of IMCO in October 1971 as amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil 1954. They represent a major step forward in the war against oil pollution.
Bearing in mind the often lengthy period which elapses between conventions being ratified and coming into force, the amendments obviously could take a considerable time. However, Governments were urged to apply these new constructional requirements to their own merchant fleets at the earliest possible date. They were to be applied in general to new ships, that is to say ships for which a contract was placed after 1st January 1972, or, in the absence of a building contract, whose construction was commenced after 30th June 1972, and to all ships delivered after 1st January 1977. My Department warned the United Kingdom shipping industry before the end of 1971 of the Government's intention to implement the proposals as soon as an opportunity could be found for the necessary legislation.
A further feature of the IMCO resolution was that Governments should take powers to deny the entry into their ports of any oil tanker which ought to comply with the new requirements but was believed not to do so. Whilst the unilateral exercise of such a power could work to the detriment of the State concerned, concerted action by the major maritime nations would mean that a ship not constructed in accordance with the requirements would have such a limited scope for operation as not to present a viable proposition.
Hon. Members may be aware of the International Conference on Marine Pollution, whose four weeks of concentrated work culminated earlier this month in the conclusion of a new convention covering pollution not only by oil, but by other noxious substances carried in ships, and also sewage and garbage. I know that the whole House will join me in welcoming the success of this important IMCO Conference in which the United Kingdom delegation played a notable part. There is a growing concern everywhere about the problem of controlling discharges from ships, whether of oil or chemicals or even the plastic cups which are thrown overboard from cross-Channel ferries.
The new convention, which was arrived at at Church House earlier this month, marks a major step forward and it will in due course replace the 1954 convention. While the United Kingdom will sign the new convention shortly, it will inevitably be some years before it is ratified and it will at that point be necessary to bring before this House further legislation to implement it fully.
In one respect, however, the Bill now before the House will be bringing pro- visions in the new convention into force because the requirements as to tank sizes and arrangements have been embodied in the new convention in substantially the same forms which were adopted in the 1971 amendments. The provisions in this Part of the Bill are of an enabling nature and the timing of their coming into force will need careful thought. It is the Government's intention that they shall be brought into force soon, but we shall need to be satisfied that in doing so we shall not be placing the United Kingdom marine fleets at a competitive disadvantage.
I turn now to Part III of the Bill dealing with the protection of British shipping and trading interests. In recent years a number of foreign Governments have resorted to the economic regulation of international shipping trading to their countries through a variety of measures designed either to promote the carriage of goods in their own ships—commonly referred to as flag discrimination—or to influence freight rates in the interests of their own exports.
We continue to believe that the common interest of all countries in the efficient carriage of world sea-borne trade is best served where exporters have the freedom to choose the service which suits them best and are not compelled by law to support a particular flag. Where such matters as the level of freight rates and the frequency of services are left to the commercial interests, that we believe is likely to produce the most beneficial long-term results. We think this is as true for countries just beginning to develop their merchant marines as it is for us.
However, these views are not generally accepted throughout the world and unilateral intervention by Governments is increasing. Naturally when one Government intervenes to regulate some aspect of an international shipping service it does so in pursuit of its own national interest which is unlikely to coincide with that of other countries equally involved in the trade concerned. As a result our shipping lines tend to suffer, as they have done through flag discrimination, or our trading interests may be penalised because an artificially low freight rate for someone else's exports will mean that a higher rate will have to be charged for our own exports if the service is not to deteriorate.
We do not wish to engage in the economic regulation of international shipping services ; and indeed if many Governments resorted to it, a chaotic situation of conflicting controls would quickly ensue. But as long as we do not regulate ourselves and cannot offset the pre-emptive actions of others, our shipping lines and traders are vulnerable to unilateral regulation of this kind.
We feel that the time has come to provide some protection to these interests, and this is what Part III of the Bill would enable us to provide. Many other maritime countries have contingency powers of this sort, and we have discussed with other Governments of Western Europe and Japan the various powers which are now contained in this Bill. The Chamber of Shipping and the British Shippers' Council fully endorse the need for powers of this kind. It is our hope that knowledge of their existence will provide us or our shipowners with valuable background support during negotiations or consultations with another Government whose intervention is harmful to our interests. We expect, and indeed hope, that the powers in this part of the Bill will rarely be used, and certainly not without an attempt to reach a solution through commercial and diplomatic channels. We shall, however, not hesitate to use them if necessary in the last resort.
I should like to emphasise that these powers are essentially defensive. They will normally come into play only when we are in some way attacked and our national interests suffer. Moreover, the foreign Governments' measures must affect the carriage of goods by sea. We are not concerned here to deal with difficulties in trade caused by dumping of goods or quota restrictions or matters generally of the kind covered by GATT.
We have had wide consultations with overseas Governments. The policies of the EEC do not regulate shipping, so consultation within the Community as a Community has not been carried out, but countries within the EEC which have shipping interests have certainly been involved in discussions with us.
As I have said, we are not concerned here to deal with difficulties in trade caused by dumping of goods or quota restrictions or matters generally of the kind covered by GATT. They are dealt with by other legislation. But it is also provided in Clause 14(1)(b) that the powers may be used even when our own interests are not directly affected, to fulfil an international obligation to another country whose shipping or trading interests are being damaged. We are not party to any such international agreement at present, but the clause recognises the value of co-ordinated action against flag discrimination and other similar practices and makes provision for giving effect to any such agreement should we enter into one in the future.
Clause 16 enables the Secretary of State to delegate certain statutory functions as to the survey and certification of merchant ships now carried out by the Department's marine surveyors. I am sure the whole House recognises the excellent way in which the Department's surveyors carry out important survey and inspection functions which play an important part in ensuring the high standards of safety of our merchant fleet.
The Report of the Rochdale Committee of Inquiry into Shipping proposed the setting up of a marine authority independent of Government, which would have undertaken, among other things, the statutory survey functions now carried out by the Department's surveyors. The Government decided against adopting this recommendation : they were convinced that the Government should continue to take direct responsibility for marine safety and to play their full part, both in the formulation of standards internationally and nationally, and in ensuring that these standards were maintained.
However, it was felt that it would be desirable to review the various functions carried out by the Department's marine surveyors to see whether there were some which could be entrusted to the surveyors who are employed by Lloyd's Register of Shipping. There is ample precedent for this. The assignment of load lines—better known colloquially as the Plimsoll line—has for many years been entrusted to classification societies such as Lloyd's Register, and they also deal with statutory surveys for the issue of cargo ship safety construction certificates.
Accordingly, a comprehensive review was carried out of the possibility of further delegation. It required detailed technical discussion, and for practical reasons and to ensure the maintenance of safety standards, it was decided to limit the discussions and the actual delegation resulting from them to one classification society only, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, which is responsible for the classification of by far the greater number of ships registered in the United Kingdom. It operates worldwide and has a deservedly high reputation. However, when the new arrangements have been in operation for some time, it is proposed to review them and to consider whether similar delegations might be made to other approved societies.
Some seven areas have been identified as suitable for a measure of delegation : first, the measurement of tonnage ; secondly, the survey of certain parts of passenger ships which experience has shown to be relatively trouble free ; thirdly, the survey of the safety equipment of cargo ships; fourthly, the approval of stability information ; fifthly, the approval of grain stowage arrangements ; sixthly, the testing of materials intended for boilers, pressure vessels and other machinery, and the proving of testing machines ; seventhly, the approval of welding electrodes.
Is not the Minister skipping over all this in too facile a fashion? A few minutes ago he quoted the Chamber of Shipping on his side of the argument. Is it not a fact that the Chamber of Shipping also wished to have a statutory, independent body? Why did he ignore it in that respect, as he has ignored many other institutions?
I tried to explain that the decision about the establishment of an independent authority was carefully considered after the Rochdale inquiry, but the Government felt that safety in this field should remain their direct responsibility, and they therefore rejected the idea that the whole of that work should be hived off. Other people may have had different views. It has always been our intention to consult where appropriate, and at the right time, people involved in the industry, and we have always done so. That does not mean that one can always agree with the people whom one consults and with whom one enjoys a close relationship, as many Governments have found.
In some of the seven areas in which delegation is proposed, existing powers are adequate to permit functions to be exercised by organisations other than the Department, but in the case of passenger ships and the safety equipment of cargo ships, amendment of the Merchant Shipping Acts is necessary. This is what Clause 16 seeks to do. I would emphasise, however, that complete delegation is not envisaged in these two areas. In the case of passenger ships, the intention of the Department is to delegate only a part of the survey to Lloyd's Register. The Department itself will continue to play a major part in these surveys, which occur at annual intervals, and will always be responsible for the issue of the passenger and safety certificate which follows the survey. Part of the purpose is to eliminate an area of duplication in the examination and approval of plans, and a further part is to facilitate the practice of inspecting certain items of machinery and equipment on an opportunity basis during the 12-month period between consecutive surveys.
As to the safety equipment of cargo ships, the intention is that the equipment of any one ship should be surveyed alternately by the Department and Lloyd's Register. The Department would always be responsible for the first survey when the ship comes into service, or first enters service on the United Kingdom register, so as to ensure that she is fully and properly equipped before she enters service. Details of the whole of the proposals for delegation to Lloyd's Register have been made known to the interested organisations in the shipping industry, and have recently been announced both in the House and to the Press.
All these proposals have been formulated with great care. They were first discussed over a period of six months between the Department and Lloyd's Register, in which there were ample opportunities for exchanges of views between the senior professional staff of both organisations. There was participation in the later meetings of the Steering Committee by the Chamber of Shipping, and once I had personally considered the proposals and discussed them with members of the Committee, they were communicated to all the seafarers' unions concerned last summer.
I am convinced that the proposals will not have any adverse effect on our first-class maritime safety record. The scale of the delegation should not be over-exaggerated. The saving of effort for my Department's surveyors is the equivalent of about 20 men compared with a total force of just under 300. The time made available from delegation will be directed to other pressing requirements, including the survey of fishing vessels, and additional activities aimed at the prevention of marine pollution, including functions connected with the provisions in Part II. In this way I believe that the new provisions will in fact contribute to improving safety at sea and to protecting the marine environment
I shall ask my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) to give my hon. Friend a detailed reply.
My last point concerns submersibles. I need not remind hon. Members of the harrowing days which followed the sinking of the miniature submarine "Pisces III", before the two men trapped in it could be rescued. The report of the joint Department of Trade and Industry and Vickers' inquiry is about to be submitted. Whilst it may not prove necessary to introduce statutory rules for the safety of these craft forthwith, we are aware that the use of submersible apparatus of many different kinds is on the increase. In the light of the knowledge and experience we have gained since the "Pisces" incident, we feel it would be wise to take powers to make rules going beyond those which we make for conventional shipping. We may also wish to bring within their scope submersible apparatus which, unlike the "Pisces", does not fall within the statutory definition of a ship. The Government have it in mind to introduce legislation which will enable the Secretary of State to make such rules. There will be an opportunity later to discuss the matter more fully. I do not think that it is appropriate for me to say anything further than that.
I hope that the House will feel that the Bill is a valuable step forward in the support which we give to our merchant shipping fleet and in the ever-present battle which the House is anxious to wage against pollution at sea. I have great pleasure in asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
At the outset I echo the tribute which the Minister paid to our shipping industry and to the seamen who man the vessels. I pay tribute in particular to the part that they are playing in the expansion of our trade and exports, and the fine record which they have achieved over many years.
The Bill is divided into four parts. The first two parts are urgently necessary. I congratulate the Government on taking steps to ratify the 1971 Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage. I gather that that will allow the Government to ratify simultaneously the Civil Liability Convention and the Fund Convention during 1974. We have always been proud of giving a lead to international conventions concerning safety at sea and oil pollution. We hope that this part of the Bill will act as a spur to other maritime nations to follow suit quickly.
The second part of the Bill deals with proposed changes in oil tanker design, especially the size, design and positioning of tanks in oil tankers. That is welcome on the grounds of safety and the prevention of oil pollution.
The third part represents an unusual step for a British Government to take. The Government are taking the necessary legislative powers to step in and to act to protect our trade and shipping interests if they have reason to believe that they are being endangered. That is strange because it implies that we are shifting from our long-held belief in trade liberalisation and our desire for the maximum freedom for shipping. There must be some frightening trends away from the traditional freedom of the seas and concern about continuing collaboration of the major merchant maritime nations for the Chamber of Shipping as well as the Government to agree to take such a step. The matter is worthy of some analysis. The Minister has given briefly some of his reasoning behind this legislative request. I will return to that matter later.
The fourth part of the Bill smacks of Conservative political philosophy entering the arena of shipping and safety at sea. That is not welcomed on this side of the House. It is because of our fundamental disagreement with that part of the Bill that we shall be dividing the House.
The Bill proposes the establishment of an international fund for compensation for oil pollution damage. That has arisen, it is suggested, because of the numerous major oil spillages caused by tanker accidents, collisions, bad navigation and explosions among the many oil tanker fleets of the world. We see the frightening growth of super-tankers. They are now being built up to 500,000 tons. Tankers of 200,000 tons are becoming commonplace. The major oil spillage caused by the "Torrey Canyon" gave some impetus to the establishment of an international compensation fund. It gave IMCO the necessary backing and evidence which it required to move maritime nations along that path.
There has been a step by step or evolutionary process concerning, first, TOVALOP, the Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement concerning Liability for Oil Pollution, and CRISTAL, the Contract Regarding an Interim Supplement to Tanker Liability for Oil Pollution. Perhaps the Minister will indicate how the prospective international fund will cater for or embody these agreements.
The necessity for the fund and for Britain to be covered in such a way is shown by our annual total imports of more than 125 million tons of oil valued at £1,168 million. The oil is brought into ports such as London, Milford, Southampton, Liverpool, Immingham, Middles- brough and Greenock. We receive the major portion of that tonnage at those ports. Therefore, all our coastline is vulnerable in the event of a major oil tanker spillage. That is why there is still some concern at the increasing size of tankers, their vulnerability in collision and the vast tonnages of oil which may be released into the seas or harbours and threaten enormous stretches of coastline.
The second part of the Bill deals with the limitation of tank size in oil tankers. It is a sensible technical change to lessen the danger of oil spillages if tankers are involved in groundings or collisions. Such a step is urgently necessary. I know that the Chamber of Shipping not only would welcome early implementation of the internationally agreed tank size regulations but would be pleased if the Governments concerned would apply the regulations simultaneously so that the timing of each maritime nation's legislation does not give any nation's ships an unfair advantage. I hope that there will be consultation between the principal maritime nations to agree upon a common date for the introduction of the regulations. Many United Kingdom tanker owners, in anticipation of the legislation, are designing their new ships accordingly. I notice that all tankers visiting our ports will have to conform to the new requirements. That, too, is welcome.
What of Part III? The legislation to meet flag discrimination and most other acts by foreign Governments which adversely affect our trade or shipping interests would give the Minister general and sweeping powers. He has described them as contingency powers, but I understand that specific orders will be subject to further consultation with trade and shipping interests—I hope the Minister will ensure that trade unions are involved—and will be contained in a statutory instrument, subject to approval by the House.
We must recognise that there are major changes taking place in shipping practice in the use of the high seas and the sea bed. Many of these practices flout the international law of the sea. The trends must be recognised. There is the growth of small coastal States with their own shipping laws, the alarming rise of flag of convenience fleets and the growing strength of the Soviet merchant marine. There is the super-tanker monopoly of the Japanese, and the unilateral acts of many coastal States to extend their territorial limits and to establish economic or resource zones. There is the threat to free movement through hitherto internationally recognised sea lanes and narrow straits. There is the undersea mineral war waged by those who are trying rapidly to exploit the resources of the sea bed. The shipping conferences traditionally have tried with the major maritime nations to regulate freight rates. The rates are becoming increasingly ignored. Chaos is growing on the high seas. The slow, cumbersome machinery responsible for agreed legal change is being shattered as each State goes its own way to strengthen its trade, economic or shipping interests.
The growth of the flag of convenience fleets disturbs me and most of the established maritime nations. In the last decade they have grown at more than twice the rate of the world fleet. Almost 20 per cent. of the world fleet is now registered under flags of conveniece. In 1958 there were four main States—namely, Panama, Liberia, Costa Rica and Honduras. There are now eight main States. There has been the addition of Lebanon, Cyprus, Singapore and Somalia, plus the growth of tax havens such as Bermuda and the Bahamas. The flag of convenience fleets are mushrooming as a result of transfers of tonnage.
Flag of convenience fleets are growing for fiscal reasons. They can easily get on the register, and taxes on the income from ships are either not levied or are very low. The fleets have guarantees of freedom from taxation, and often it is unnecessary to them to submit tax returns. That is the attraction of the flag of convenience.
The Cyprus flag fleet grew by nearly 1 million tons during last year and now ranks above the fleets of such traditional maritime States as India and Australia. The Singapore fleet has more than doubled, from 900,000 tons to 2 million tons. The Somalia Republic—never before a maritime State—has 1,613,000 tons and added 740,000 tons last year. Liberia now has 50 million tons and has recently added 5½ million tons. Panama has a total fleet of 9·6 million tons and has recently added another 1·8 million tons. As an example of the switch of tonnage, the flag fleet of West Germany dropped last year by more than 600,000 tons, although at the same time the leading fleets of the world were growing.
The construction trend is also disturbing. Of a total of more than 22 million gross tons, nearly 20 per cent. is for registration in Liberia, Panama, Singapore and Somalia. That is a serious and dangerous trend.
The principal advantage for shipowners of using flags of convenience lies in the saving in crew costs. To take America as an example—although this applies also to the British merchant marine—America has to pay the American agreed rates. The labour costs of a United States-manned ship are two-and-a-half times those of an Italian-manned ship, and the labour costs of an Italian vessel are 30 per cent. higher than those of some flag of convenience countries. From this it can be seen that it is advantageous to switch tonnage in order to compete.
Then there is the problem of lower manning scales. These are kept high by the traditional maritime nations by agreement with the trade unions. That is exactly our position. The lower manning scales in the flag of convenience fleets often threaten the safety of the men and the vessels. Between 1950 and 1970 Liberian losses were twice as high in proportion to the size of fleet as those of the Western nations. The losses of the Panamanian fleet were three times as high and those of the Cypriot fleet much worse.
Another major danger is that flag of convenience owners are in the forefront of super-tanker and bulk carrier development—naturally so, when their operations are made so much easier and cheaper by ignoring safety and manning scales. Consequently, a growing percentage of shipping, especially large tankers, is becoming a safety hazard. These fleets are increasingly threatening the safety of seafarers and their ships and others on the high seas, and the countries and the shores they frequent and pass.
Invariably, the flag of convenience States like Liberia, Panama and Cyprus either fail to ratify or delay ratification of the international conventions that are approved by IMCO and most traditional snipping nations. Many individual countries are trying to discourage the growth of these relatively unsafe, low-tax fleets by legislation which forbids the transference of tonnage. Because flag of convenience fleets are giving rise to unfair competition resulting from unfair trading and their special economic advantage, and because they constitute a threat to the maritime community as a whole through inadequate safety standards, Part III of the Bill is regrettably necessary.
In Part IV, the hiving-off provisions represent another and more subtle and sophisticated example of the Government's desire to pander to the private sector by delegating or hiving off to it another part of the Government's traditional operations. This is serious. It concerns safety at sea. The Government intend to hive off the Department of Trade and Industry surveyors and a portion of their work to Lloyd's Register, a private company made up of shipowners, insurers and shipbuilders and the likely providers of the equipment which is to be the subject of their own safety surveys.
I am disturbed about the history of this change. The Government kept all the unions in complete ignorance of the change although it concerned the safety of their members and their seamen. The unions were just informed, never consulted. The Government seem to think that the conveying of information is consultation. No wonder the Government bludered into their version of the Industrial Relations Act. No wonder that all the trade unions hate the Government's presence and interference in trade union affairs if on legislation affecting the unions and their membership they work in this way.
The British Seafarers' Joint Council, which includes the Mercantile Marine Service Association, the Amalgamated Engineering Unions Federation, the Boilermakers' Union, the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, the Radio and Electronic Officers' Union and the National Union of Seamen, bitterly complains about this proposed measure.
The right hon. Gentleman might perhaps explain how long it took all the organisations to which he has referred to complain after they had received a letter from me explaining the outline of what I had in mind.
May I help the right hon. Gentleman? The unions received my letter on 28th June and I received their complaint on 29th October.
Their reaction would be partly of frustration and anger. It is easy for the Minister to draw together the Chamber of Shipping interests and others in his office at his whim or command at any time he wishes. Most of these major trade unions have operations abroad and on the high seas, and it takes time for the British Seafarers' Joint Council and all the trade unions I have mentioned to get together to formulate a reply to the Minister. No doubt that was the reason for the delay.
The right hon. Gentleman would agree, I think, that if the matter is as serious as he has described it to be it is inconceivable that I should have received two acknowledgments to my letter which contained no reference to the severity of the problem he mentions, no acknowldegment from the three other unions and then, some months later, a joint protest.
I am sorry that the Minister does not seem to understand. Instead of acting separately, it was better for the trade unions to come together in the British Seafarers' Joint Council, to consult, to come to an agreed view and to present a proper memorandum to the Minister explaining why they objected.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might give me one other example of a major piece of hiving-off being proposed when it took four months to react to the proposal?
I have tried to explain, but the hon. Gentleman does not understand. He should know that so many unions are involved whose leaders go out on International Transport Federation work that it takes time before they can come together jointly to make recommendations to him. This is not a laughing matter ; it involves safety at sea.
I will tell the Minister why it is not "synthetic". All the maritime unions are internationally proud of the Department's independent professional marine surveyors. They feel that they have set a standard of safety at sea unparalleled by any other nation. The surveyors are free from commercial pressure, and enjoy the full confidence of all seafarers. The unions feel—and the Minister knows this because he has been sent documentation on it—that all this is now in jeopardy.
I do not want to denigrate Lloyd's Register of Shipping. It has a fine record in all its operations, but what is feared by all seafarers' leaders is that because Lloyd's Register could be subject to commercial pressures the high standards of safety at sea set by the Department's marine surveyors may be endangered. We all know that the surveyors have been carrying out these surveys for nearly 80 years under the Department of Trade and Industry, and earlier under the old Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport. We have led the world in our safety regulations and their enforcement for the protection of life at sea.
The present team of surveyors and the existing arrangements enjoy the confidence of the whole seafaring community. Why should the Minister wreck that set-up now? Why should he take action to try to stop the good will and co-operation which has grown up over the years? His action will mean hiving off tonnage measurements, alternate surveys of equipment by the Department of Trade and Industry and Lloyd's Register, the surveys of hull structures of ships under construction, and the approval of stability designs of vessels. What reason is there to change now? There is none on the grounds of safety, expedience or cost, because we have the best safety record in the world. It must be said that to all those in the industry—to the unions and to officers and men on the ships—this appears to be a political decision and nothing else.
Concern is also felt over the possible delegation of marine surveyors' work to other classification societies. Apparently this is being deferred only for the time being until experience has been gained in working with Lloyd's Register. No doubt the four other main classification societies will apply pressure on the Government for some work to be hived off to them.
All the unions feel that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that, once it is established, there is no telling where it will end. The marine surveyors themselves are raising their voices in public. This feeling is being expressed not only by the unions but by the Minister's own workers in his Department. In The Times today certain comments are made by the marine surveyors, who say that
If the Bill is enacted it is feared it could upset the established system of controlling the safety of the British merchant fleet.
That is the general view of the marine surveyors whose work will be hived off.
I must also point out that the Rochdale Committee condemned this private classification practice where it concerns safety at sea, particularly when a private commercial organisation, such as Lloyd's List, can be subject to undesirable internal conflicts of interest and can also take decisions concerning the work force of the shipping industry. The trade unions have no voice or representation on the Lloyd's governing body.
There is no necessity at all for this change, for we fear that it may jeopardise safety at sea. It has caused deep concern in unions representing seafarers and certainly among union members. We think that this is a bad move by the Government, and we can only assume that it is being done for purely political reasons. This provision has been tacked on to what otherwise would have been a favourable Bill. It is a shady piece of work, and for these reasons we cannot give the Bill a fair wind tonight.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) generated a good deal of heat at the end of his speech, and I could not agree with all he said. I am a little mystified about how this misunderstanding—if that is what it is—has arisen I shall return to that topic a little later in my remarks.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the broader issues of the effects on merchant shipping of modern conditions, which is a most important aspect to be considered. I was also glad that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with flags of convenience, which are a great anxiety to all of us. However, I am thankful that the British merchant fleet has increased by 50 per cent. in five years despite the trend to flags of convenience. Long may that continue.
We do not have many opportunities in this House to discuss merchant shipping, and I am glad that we have the opportunity to do so today—although within the framework of a rag-tag kind of Bill which deals with four completely different subjects. At this moment in time it is important for us to remember the debt we owe to merchant shipping and the men who serve in the merchant ships. This industry is particularly in our minds because of our balance of payments problems and also because of the oil situation. These considerations lead us to pay special attention to a subject which we are much too apt to take for granted. I am sorry that there are not more hon. Members in the House today when we are turning our minds to the shipping industry.
I am sure that many hon. Members noted in the October balance of trade figures a large figure for the import of ships—a figure amounting to £53,433,000. This highlights the way in which we are going abroad to order our ships. These ships include the largest ship in the world, the "Globtik London", a vessel of nearly 500,000 tons. I am glad that she will ply under a British flag and will earn a great deal of foreign currency for Great Britain. Another large tanker included in that figure is one of 226,000 tons. Those ships will be earners for Britain in the days to come.
I am glad to see in the earnings figures of British shipping that in the second quarter of 1973 there were credits of £475 million gross or £23 million net. If we go back to last year we see that the credits earned by British shipping amounted to no less than £1,645 million and that the net earnings of United Kingdom-owned ships carrying exports amounted to £441 million, or minus £54 million overall, but to that we should add the figure of imports carried in British ships which totals £463 million. These figures emphasise the importance of sniping to our earnings in regard to the carriage both of imports and of exports. However, it is unsatisfactory that more of our imports are carried in foreign ships as a proportionate figure compared with the carriage of exports.
In this time of oil crisis I was hoping that my hon. Friend the Minister would say something about the problem of bunkering. Our shipping cannot go on earning money if ships are not bunkered and this may also hold up our exports. A ship called the "Australian Bridge" was immobilised in the Persian Gulf only the other day because it could not be bunkered. I am not sure whether the 10 per cent. cut-back applies to the bunkering of British ships, but I certainly hope that it does not. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give some assurance about bunkering of British ships so that our ships can go on with this splendid task of producing for this country so much money in foreign exchange.
Another matter on which I should like to comment, and which impinges on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Barnsley, relates to the forthcoming law of the sea conference. That conference was to be held in Santiago but now, for obvious reasons, will be held in Caracas. I was glad to see from a parliamentary answer only this morning that Sir Roger Jackling is to lead the British delegation there. The matters discussed will be of enormous importance to this country. There has been an haphazard attempt to extend territorial limits of coastal States. Those actions must be a great danger to the freedom of the seas. As a leading maritime power, Britain must be prepared to resist such developments.
I am alarmed at indications that, at official level, more of our people do not feel as strongly about these dangers as they should. It will be important also to distinguish between territorial limits and the economic zones. Just as we have enormous interests in the freedom of the seas, so will the big Atlantic Shelf with which nature has endowed us be increasingly important in the exploitation of our mineral wealth. It is important that we should maintain a distinction between territorial waters and the economic influence and rights over the seabed.
I am delighted that the provisions for oil pollution are being brought into effect. I am the only Member in the Chamber at present who sat on the small Select Committee on the "Torrey Canyon" disaster. After a year of work I was left with the impression that the risks from collisions and strandings remain enormous and that they will get worse because of the increasing size of tankers. No one can say when we shall be presented with fresh problems. Therefore, I am glad that these powers have been taken.
Clause 1(3) seems to define pollution damage satisfactorily, although the problem will always remain, in the smaller cases, of identifying the ship which was guilty of causing the leak. Clause 9 deals with reducing liability. Some of us remember how the liability was extended before at the last moment.
Part II concerns tanker construction, and I take it that this is almost entirely to do with the size of tanks, but we have not been told whether the regulations will also deal with other matters. Three recent large tanker explosions have still not been fully explained. Two of the incidents happened in the Indian Ocean. Was the cause of the explosions discovered? Was it finally proved that the tanks within the tankers were too large?
There is a controversy about survey work. It is a pity that the Seafarers' Joint Council could not have been satisfied about this matter. I do not fully understand the problems that have arisen. I should have thought that it was not a terribly important matter on which to disagree. I am not sure why the Rochdale Committee's recommendation for a statutory maritime authority has not been adopted.
I come to what I regard as the most important part of the Bill—Part III dealing with protection against flag discrimination. It is a development I have wanted for a long time. As the right hon. Member for Barnsley rightly pointed out, it is a departure and an indication of the extent to which flag discrimination has developed. There are many offenders. The nationalistic threats come not only from new countries but from the old as well.
It is unfortunate that the developing countries, which seek our assistance in other ways, should have been guilty of so many of these practices. In America the Federal Maritime Commission has this fiction about "Government cargoes". Many South American States imitate what I regard as the United States' bad example. The worst example of all is Brazil. The organisation known as SUNAMAM hogs all the good cargoes and gets the advantage for its own traders. Further, India wants 40 per cent. of the export carriage of its own trade. The reputation of Ceylon is not much better. Then there are the Socialist States which want to sell cif and buy fob. The result is that imports, some of which we can barely afford, are being shipped to Britain too often in foreign ships. More imports could come in British vessels.
Because those practices have become so widespread, it is essential that we should adopt the powers in question now. I hope that the powers may not have to be used, because they are wide powers. However, there will first be consultation with the shipping interests, and that is one safeguard. In addition, an affirmative resolution of this House will be required before such powers could be used. But, having these powers will, at last, serve to improve the bargaining position of our shipping interests in the future. In that way some of the practices which are so detrimental to our trade can be controlled.
I have a double interest in the Bill. Many of my constituents join the Merchant Navy, and Orkney and Shetland are parts of this country most adjacent to these enormous new finds of oil.
It is, indeed, frightening to think of the quantities of oil which will be moved through the seas around my constituency's coastline. The seas in that area are exceptionally rough. There are areas of extremely difficult navigation—the Pent-land Firth, The Roost, Yell Sound and Bluemull Sound. I am not sure that even now the House realises the size of these oil operations. There are estimates which show that about half of the oil that this country will use by the '80s will be moved in or around Orkney and Shetland. It will be moved under or through the most prolific fishing grounds in the world, or at least in the northern hemisphere. It involves not only British fleets but those of Russia, East Germany, Norway, Iceland and the Faroese.
The first matter I wish to raise is that of compensation for damage. I should like to ask the Government a series of questions. As I understand it, the first remedy of anyone injured by pollution would lie not under this Act but under the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971. We must put ourselves in the place of the sort of people who may be affected. In my constituency there will be small local authorities, fishermen, crofters and so forth. How will they proceed? It is unrealistic to suppose that they will chase these huge international consortia, either shipping or oil businesses, through the courts. As I read the Bill, their first remedy will still lie in the courts, under the 1971 Act. Until they have exhausted that right this measure may be irrelevant. I ask the Government to look at this because it is unrealistic to suppose that my constituents could possibly take on that type of litigation.
The Bill does not deal either with oil pipelines or with spillages from buoys. Both of these are important. I would like the Government at some point to look at this because, as I understand it, the law relating to oil pipelines and possibly mooring buoys, some of which may be outside the three-mile limit, is extremely vague and to a large extent non-existent. If this measure is enacted, it says in Clause 6 that the Government are to proceed against the compensation fund through the British courts. As I read it, the fund will not automatically pay out if it considers a claim is good, that it does not operate—I would like to be told if I am wrong—as an insurance company might operate, accepting claims so long as it regards them as falling within the policy and as bona fide claims. The Government should give some explanation to ordinary people as to what their rights are with respect to pollution and how they can enforce them, first of all under the 1971 Act and then under this fund.
There are several points which seem to lead to great difficulty. For instance, Clause 4(6) says :
The Fund shall incur no obligation … if (b) the claimant cannot prove that the damage resulted from an occurrence involving a ship identified by him".
Is this realistic? Supposing in my constituency at Sullum Voe or Scapa Flow, both of which still have large oil installations, there is severe pollution by oil. How are people to know from which ship it came? If they cannot identify the ship they will get no remedy under the Bill. I also do not understand subsection (5) of Clause 4. Perhaps the Minister can say a word about that later.
My first set of questions relates to how the Government see this Bill working from the point of view of claimants whose livelihood or property may have been heavily damaged by oil. This is a real danger. It is not so much a danger to white fishing, although it is certainly a danger, but it is a serious danger to shell fishing.
The next series of questions relate to who provides the compensation fund and on what basis. As I understand it, it is provided by a levy on importers only. I do not understand, since under the 1971 Act it is, naturally, the owner of a ship who is liable, why the importers have to finance this fund. Why should the importers supply the fund which may be called into operation because of errors by the owners of the ships? No doubt there is some explanation, but on the face of it I cannot understand it. Nor do I understand why the importers should indemnify the owners, to some extent, against claimants. I would like to know why the whole of the support of this fund falls upon importers and not upon carriers.
I am not clear whether the fund applies to oil which is not imported or not being re-exported. Does the fund apply to a tanker loading oil, for instance at Flotta, in my constituency, and taking it on from there either elsewhere in Britain or to the Continent? I am not absolutely clear on this. Does this fund apply to pollution caused by ships which are not oil tankers ; that is, to ships which burn oil and which frequently cause spillage?
I would like to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who rightly pressed that adequate supplies of fuel should be made available for bunkering. I want to put in a special plea for the shipping and air services in the islands. I have raised this point before. If we are to get oil from the North Sea we must supply the oil to fuel the aircraft and ships which get it. At the moment the 10 per cent. reduction on last year's figures may prove most constricting to aircraft and shipping companies.
I agree with all that has been said about flags of convenience. The matter has been fully argued, and I adopt what has been said. It is certainly a serious matter, and we are glad to see the Government taking steps, if necessary, to interfere. I am unconvinced that it is necessary to hand over inspection to Lloyd's Register. I do not think that the Minister's reasons for doing this were at all convincing. We have all received representations against this move. As a general principle, it seems right that the Government and public authorities should carry on such activities as inspections rather than that they should be handed over to private institutions, however admirable, and even if they are non-profit-making. It seems, in view of the strong protest made by the British Seafarers' Joint Council, that there would need to be stronger reasons for this than have so far been advanced.
Clause 18 has not so far been mentioned. This deals with the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. I would like to know why this clause is in the Bill. I am sure that there is a good reason for it. I know that the commissioners deal with the Isle of Man, but I would like to know why their circumstances are altered. They operate in my constituency, and we are glad to have them.
There is one small point. As lighthouses go over to automatic operation there are a certain number of houses which used to be used by the lighthouse-keepers and have become vacant. The commissioners, I regret to say, have a tendency to pull these houses down. We are extremely short of houses, and this activity of demolishing lighthouse-keepers' housing is something which I would like to see stopped.
I confess that I am puzzled as to why the weight of compensation is thrown on to importers. I am not clear how the ordinary person will take advantage of this fund. For one thing, in the North of Scotland there are practically no lawyers available. [HON. MEMBERS : "Shame."] It has its advantages. On the other hand, if we continue to pass legislation which requires more lawyers in every direction things can get difficult. One can hardly move now without a lawyer and an accountant.
What is really needed is an insurance fund against pollution, financed by a levy on the oil companies of all sorts and not merely upon tanker companies or importers. It should be a fund under the control of the Government to which an ordinary person could go and, if he clearly had an obvious claim and had suffered damage, could receive compensation speedily. It is quite out of this world to suggest that he should pursue these companies. The consortium which is opening up on the island of Flotta in my constituency is an international one, and the idea of crofters pursuing it in the courts is quite absurd. We need a fund not only to pay compensation against the effect of pollution but also to rehabilitate the place and to build up industries again when the oil has gone.
Naturally enough, I have a constituency interest in this matter. After all, Southampton is the second major port in the United Kingdom, and we have many seafarers there. One cannot think of the name Southampton without thinking of salt water and hot, steaming seaboot stockings. I feel that hon. Members representing port constituencies have a great part to play in a debate of this kind, and I know that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) will support me in saying that.
We have heard one or two churlish remarks about the Bill. In my view the Government have made extremely good progress in their efforts to protect the environment, and this Bill is but one further step forward. It is perhaps the greatest step forward. In common with other hon. Members I have received many letters from constituents about oil pollution and the effect of oil on our beaches—not only holiday beaches but other beaches along which people like to stroll. I have also received letters from small traders who, during the summer months, have ice cream stalls and deckchair concessions and who have never been considered eligible for any form of compensation.
This Bill will cover everyone from the smallest to the biggest. Consequently, the Government must make plain what the public can expect in the way of compensation, who is eligible and who can put forward a claim. Do claims have to go through local authorities? Can an individual make his own claim? What is the smallest amount of compensation which will be granted? These are matters which the Minister must make clear. To my mind it is not right to set up a fund without those who are to benefit from it knowing how to apply and who will be eligible.
I welcome the fund because it will ease the burden of local authorities and of all those who suffer from pollution including perhaps the small yacht owner and, in an area such as mine, those who use the beaches.
I come, then, to that part of the Bill which deals with pollution of the sea by oil. Does this refer simply to oil carriers, or does it include other ships which spill diesel oil and cause pollution?
We have already heard a considerable amount of talk about flag discrimination, and I want to add my few comments because, as hon. Members will know, I am a member of the European Parliament and my Committee in Brussels has been discussing this very issue. A document has been published on the subject and it will be discussed by representatives of the 22 major ports of Europe on 18th and 19th December. The document is entitled "Sea Transport Charges", but one section of it is given over to flag discrimination. It seems to me that in the future there must be a concerted effort by the Community to solve this major problem, much as I appreciate the United Kingdom's taking this step forward almost on its own, although there have been discussions with other countries. I hope that the Minister will tell us what form those discussions have taken, with whom they have been held, and what progress has been made.
As regards the proposed penalties, once again we are taken back to the preceding legislation where, to my mind, the penalties were far too low. We shall not deter any shipowner or bulk carrier by putting forward an unrealistic sum like £5,000. Probably this is something like the daily rate for running one of these huge oil carriers, and it will not deter anyone from trying to slide round the outside of this legislation.
Then I come to that part of the Bill dealing with surveys. My own feelings are that there must have been difficulties for the various unions concerned to get together in what might seem to be a long time but in what in shipping terms is a very short time. There must be further consultation. It is not too late to consult the unions. It is never too late to amend a Bill such as this. I feel sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will want to correct the anomaly which has arisen over there not having been full discussions, and I am sure that Lloyd's Register will be more severe than it might have been knowing that the eyes of this House are on it and that in future there must be fuller consultations with the unions.
I am afraid that the union has not approached me. I would have been delighted to have been brought into this matter at an earlier stage, certainly before the Bill was presented to the House. However, it is never too late. I feel that these consultations must continue and that this anomaly must be cleared up. Only then, I believe, will the Opposition welcome the Bill as much as I do.
I, too, wish to add my congratulations to the Government on including in the Bill proposals for the setting up of an international oil pollution compensation fund. It is greatly to be welcomed. I imagine that by the middle of next year the United Kingdom will be in a position to ratify the Civil Liability Fund and the Fund Convention. I am sure that we all hope that the example which the United Kingdom is now showing will encourage other countries to follow suit in this very important matter.
Part II of the Bill deals with tanker tank size regulations. I am sure that everyone concerned with shipping will welcome these proposals. It is about time that we gave serious thought to some internationally agreed tank size regulations, and it is a source of considerable comfort to know that the Secretary of State has power to prohibit oil tankers from proceeding unless they have the appropriate certification.
I do not intend to discuss Part III of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has very ably spelt out the position of the Labour Party with regard to it, and I am sure that the Government and their supporters will agree with him.
I intend to devote the remainder of my remarks to the highly contenious Clause 16. I have before me a cutting from the Trade and Industry Journal of 8th November 1973 which spells out roughly what it does. It says :
The Secretary of State shall delegate certain of his statutory powers as to the survey of passenger ships and the survey and certification of the safety equipment of cargo ships. These are two of the areas in which the Secretary of State proposes to make certain authorisations to Lloyd's Register.
It seems clear that the Government intend to hive off the certification of safety equipment of cargo ships to the classification society known as Lloyd's Register of Shipping. However, subsection (3) of the clause says :
Subsection (2) above shall not apply to the first survey of a ship when it becomes a ship registered in the United Kingdom …".
In other words the Department of Trade and Industry will still carry out the first survey, and that means that subsequent surveys will be hived off to Lloyd's Register.
Is the Minister implying that private firms are not to be relied upon to carry out the first survey? If not, why not, and why are they allowed to carry out the subsequent surveys?
I should like to develop this point before giving way. Most of us are convinced that this is a device of the Government to hive off a profitable section of their functions. They try to justify it at some length by saying that it will result in a saving, albeit small, in manpower. The Government have shown themselves to be willing to impose massive bureaucratic controls in stages 1, 2 and 3 of their anti-inflation policy. Why this sudden concern to achieve such a small saving in manpower in the public service? This surprises me.
I am sure that the Government are aware of the concern now being expressed by the unions involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) mentioned that the Joint Seafarers' Council has already issued a statement. My union—the Post Office Engineering Union—has members employed on the Post Office cable ships. In The Times today we find that 300 surveyors employed by the Department of Trade and Industry are very concerned about the proposals in Clause 16.
The hon. Gentleman referred to his union. It would help me if he would clarify what he means by saying that it has made representations or issued a statement. Will he be more precise? It is news to me.
We are making our representations now in what I am saying this afternoon. We are not members of the Joint Seafarers' Council, although we have members serving on Post Office cable ships. Therefore, their interests are my interests.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley quoted The Times as reporting that the Department's inspectorate says that if the Bill is enacted it could upset the established system of controlling the safety of British merchant fleets. I do not think that anybody would argue against the reputation of Lloyd's. It is an old established firm and greatly respected, but it must be subject to some commercial pressures from shipbuilding and shipping interests. If so, serious doubts must be raised about the future of safety at sea.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to a Bill that was before the House 100 years ago, dealing with the same subject. That Bill proposed that the Lloyd's and Liverpool registers of surveyors should be given statutory powers. In other words, they were being given the powers which your Department now in tends to give Lloyd's.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to avoid that mistake in future.
Fortunately, that legislation was defeated on the arguments which were then put forward—namely, that individual societies would be bidding against each other and that commercial pressure would apply. I contend that the same arguments are valid today, 100 years later.
Other proposals also raise grave doubts in the minds of many hon. Members. It is suggested that pressure could come from the European Economic Community's classification societies to extend delegation powers to them. In such a situation the safety of British merchant ships could be passed to a non-British organisation. That is a distinct possibility, but I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would totally reject any move in that direction.
Perhaps I may mention my own experience as a former merchant seaman. There is, without doubt, a feeling of confidence in the merchant service that British ships are the safest and most seaworthy. The standards of safety and the inspections carried out by inspectors of the Department of Trade and Industry are probably the finest in the world and are an example to other maritime organisations. A general standard of seamanship has to be attained by passing various examinations—affectionately referred to as Board of Trade tickets. The seafaring community enjoys an extremely good relationship with the inspectorate and has confidence in it. If the Clause 16 remains in the Bill as it is I am sure that safety at sea will be put in great jeopardy.
There is little doubt that under the proposed changes State service would lose most of its fee-earning capacity. The taxpayer would have to foot the bill for half the safety work carried out in the public interest and would be saddled with an increased bill for the subsidisation of Lloyd's Register. If Clause 16 is agreed to and enacted the Government will have gravely endangered the safety of those who sail in ships. In its place they will have substituted commercial profiteering. The Minister would be well advised to listen to the voices of moderation which are now counselling him from this side of the House on Clause 16, which it is proposed should remain in the Bill.
I shared the experience of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) by serving in the merchant service.
I have no interest to declare in the Bill. I am almost ashamed to say that I am probably the only Member from an inland constituency who is taking part in the debate.
I join issue with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite on their criticisms of the provisions relating to Lloyd's Register. Lloyd's Register started in that well-known coffee house where banking and insurance also started, though it has nothing to do with either. It has grown, like Topsy, over the last 213 years, from small beginnings. It is an unincorporated association, so there is no question of its making or losing money at the taxpayer's expense. It makes its own rules and fixes its own rates for doing a job, and these must be commercial or it could not compete. Like the rest of us, it also pays taxes.
In view of what has been said, it is important to make clear that Lloyd's Register is not a child of the shipowners. Lloyd's Bank, or, indeed, Lloyd's insurance. It is an independent incorporated association run by a group of shipowners, shipbuilders, engine makers and underwriters.
A number of the fears that have been expressed can be allayed by the fact that underwriters are involved. Whatever pressures shipowners and shipbuilders might want to exert on such a corporation, nothing is more certain than that underwriters will seek to do the opposite. Others may want to skate on thin ice, but underwriters want the ice double thick. That is absolutely certain.
There are 33 classification societies in the world, nine of which are recognised by Lloyd's underwriters. Our own Lloyd's Register is by far the oldest and biggest of these institutions, but it suffers from one peculiar disadvantage ; it is the only one of the unincorporated bodies engaged on this work which is not recognised by its own Government. It is an international body. But very often, if a ship runs into trouble and has to be repaired abroad—in Brazil, for example—someone who would otherwise regularly expect to be cleared by Lloyd's has to go to a small local society which has far less experience than Lloyd's.
I see part of the object of the Bill as being to underpin our British institution in these matters. At least, I hope that it is part of the object. The British institution has a very long and honourable history and a very high reputation. It should be put into a situation where it is not at a disadvantage with any other concern. I do not know whether I am right, but I suspect that, after the first survey is done in this country, the reason why Lloyd's is asked to do subsequent surveys is that it is an international organisation which can do follow-ups in other places, whereas anything run by the Department of Trade and Industry is of necessity confined to this country. No doubt the Minister will tell me whether I am right in that matter.
It is worth noting that Lloyd's made £10 million worth of foreign exchange in 1972 and received the Queen's Award for Exports. Lloyd's is a wholly admirable institution, which has come under a quite unworthy attack—an attack which in many respects is unnecessary. Its main function is in tonnage register. It works for 100 Governments in registering tonnage and employs 3,000 people, all over the world. It has a magnificent technical service extending world wide, and the latest computers engaged in shipbuilding and kindred operations. So, far from disagreeing, I welcome the fact that Lloyd's has, at long last and 100 years late, obtained recognition from the British Government.
The first part of the Bill places on the importers of oil a considerable part of the cost of compensating those who suffer from oil pollution of our seas. In the context of experience of recent years, of great difficulties in tracing those responsible for oil pollution, perhaps it is understandable that the international convention has concluded that this step is necessary. However, we should not lightly agree to it without realising that it carries with it certain dangers. Among those dangers is the possibility that because compensation will be available in cases where it has not been available previously, rather less emphasis will be placed in future on preventing oil pollution and tracing those most directly responsible for it.
If we had been able to devise a system whereby we could be certain of detecting those ships which spill oil, and ensuring that claims were successfully prosecuted against them in order fully to compensate those who suffer, such a provision as this would not have been necessary. In any case, compensation for oil pollution is a very inferior course to that of preventing it. In many cases in which we compensate, we do not get rid of the damage which the pollution has caused. We compensate people in a way which enables them to clean up and to remove the most offensive aspects of it; but we do not clean the polluted sea by compensating for pollution.
Oil pollution of the seas is now reaching the stage at which it is questionable whether we can reverse the serious damage which has taken place, and a stage at which, in certain areas, we may have destroyed for ever a potential source of food, of which the world may have great need in a few years' time.
We cannot take lightly the course proposed in Part I. We must regard it as an immediate fall-back position, from which we should advance rapidly towards preventing oil pollution, and finding better methods of doing that, rather than setting as our aim compensation for pollution.
The Minister could have been more explicit about the way in which it is intended to use Part II. He indicated that it will be used mainly to ensure that tankers using British ports and tankers constructed in this country are subject to a limitation on the size of the individual tanks within them. If that is so, it is a part of the Bill addressed to a very small part of the problem of designing and constructing a ship in a way which will minimise the chances of its being involved in oil spillage or a collision. No one with a knowledge of the sea would contend, for example, that good manning and good navigational equipment are not every bit as necessary to minimising the chances of oil spillage and collision as the method of construction of tanks.
Mention has been made—lightly, I think—of the dangers of explosion in tanks. To some extent, the explosions are still a mystery. If a Minister is to take seriously the powers contained in Clauses 11, 12 and 13, to make regulations about the design and construction of oil tankers, he will need some technical back-up and information, such as has not yet been produced, from some of the best marine research and development centres. As part of the Bill applies to an international convention, there is a case for saying there could usefully be more international cooperation on research and design in terms of ensuring that tanker collisions and spillages are minimised.
Part IV deals with the delegation of survey work to classified societies. Although all the discussion up to now has understandably been on handing over the powers of inspection from the Department's inspectors to those of Lloyd's, the Bill says nothing about Lloyd's. It mentions classification societies. There is power in the Bill to hand over the job of inspection to classification societies. If the Minister wanted power to hand over that job only to Lloyd's, that could have been expressed in the Bill. But the Minister has not done that. Let us discuss not a narrow aspect or a reasonable anticipation but what is the power in the Bill. Let us see whether the House considers it appropriate that a power which has for long been very successfully vested in officers, first of the Board of Trade and now of the Department of Trade and Industry, should be able to be placed by a ministerial decision in the hands of classification societies.
Classification societies make their own rules, as they are perfectly entitled to do, and take into consideration the interests of the shipping companies, the shipbuilders and the underwriters. Therefore, it cannot be held that they are free from any form of commercial pressure. Nor can it be held, in the light of the massive amount of evidence, that these societies do not influence the design of ships—because, of course, they do. Before any shipbuilder in this country begins to build a ship he knows full well, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the classification that is required. Therefore, to a very large extent, the type of ship he builds will reflect the requirements of the classification society which will later approve the ship for insurance purposes.
The other factor which influences the design of a ship is the requirements of the Board of Trade inspectorate. If those two factors are mixed together and the classification society is made the major external factor in the design of a ship—as there is a danger of doing under the Bill—then I suggest that that will militate very much against the aim of Part II of the Bill; unless the Government are saying that they will take powers to give the necessary instructions about design, leaving other aspects of design to the classification society.
Yes, I am suggesting that classification societies formulate standards. They issue sets of rules which determine sizes, stresses and strains, and the physical requirements of ships. A draftsman working in a shipbuilding or marine engineering drawing office will design components with one eye on the specification book and the other on a publication of the classification society, whether it be the US Bureau of Shipping, Des Norsk Veritas, or Lloyd's. If such a body is also given the right to inspect, we are putting into the hands of one organisation functions which should properly be split between two. It is very important, where the safety of a vessel and those who man it is concerned, to have a Board of Trade inspectorate which acts not as a long stop, but as a very important second check upon safety requirements. But this Bill proposes to remove a very important safeguard for the vessels of this nation and for those who sail in them.
Part III takes powers to meet the problems of flag discrimination and, to a very large extent, I sympathise with the motives behind it. One of my biggest objections to flag discrimination is the effect that it has upon manning standards, with a subsequent effect upon safety. It is undeniable that a good standard of manning can influence safety to an enormous extent, and unless the best vessels in the world, with the finest navigational equipment, are properly manned there is danger of collision and stranding. If there is one international issue which we should try to settle it is flag discrimination, and I hope that it will not be very long before we see before this House a Merchant Shipping Bill which is the other way round ; which has as its first aim the implementation of a convention to solve the major problems of flag discrimination. Occupying a very minor part of that Bill, I hope there will be a provision covering oil pollution, because I trust that by then the major problems caused through the spillage of oil will have been solved and we shall not be trying to compensate for it after it has taken place.
Representing as I do a constituency which faces one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, I naturally welcome the Bill as one that will help my constituents. I have listened with great interest to what hon. Members opposite have said about surveyors other than those on Government surveying vessels. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) seemed to be attacking Lloyd's, which I thought was quite unfair, but the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) pointed out that the Bill does not specify Lloyd's. The Bill states that the first survey must be carried out by the Department of the Trade and Industry's surveyors, and I find it difficult to follow the argument that a ship will be designed to standards other than Government standards if, in the first instance, it has to be passed by a Government surveyor. How can hon. Members opposite say that the whole safety of a ship will be affected if surveyors other than Government surveyors inspect it? As the Government will be surveying it in the first instance, that argument is surely quite false. It indicates prejudice against private enterprise. It is the sort of argument which hon. Members opposite put around to try to prove that black is white, but they fail to do so.
I am interested in the Bill because of the effect that it will have upon my constituents, who are always terrified of oil spillage in the English Channel and the North Sea. We live where all the tides meet and we get the refuse and the oil from other parts of the coast. We recently had an explosion which caused some damage to the town, but it is fairly easy to identify which ship has caused an explosion. I find Clause 4(6) difficult to follow. Subsection (6) lays down that the fund shall incur no obligation if
(b) the claimant cannot prove that the damage resulted from an occurrence involving a ship identified by him, or involving two or more ships one of which is identified by him.
I do not see how a resident in a beach hut at Dungeness, or on the beach at Folkestone, can possibly identify a ship which has had a collision around the corner in the North Sea. Can the Minister state in what circumstances there will be an obligation? This part of the Bill seems so absurd that I must have misunderstood it. But if I have understood it correctly, I hope my hon. Friend can assure me that it will be put right.
When the Minister was moving the Second Reading, I intervened on the question of pilots. One of the headquarters of the pilots is at Folkestone. I am in constant touch with them and from time to time go out to see their work. They are becoming very worried about the design of ships, particularly larger ships, because there is no provision for pilots to board them. An unfortunate accident occurred, which caused death, because of insecure ladders. Fortunately, a Bill with which I had something to do has tightened up the situation, but the introduction of a new Merchant Shipping Bill is an excellent opportunity to make the legislation clear and concise.
I have had representations from pilots about the condition of some of the ships which come up the Channel after long voyages with navigational equipment which has not been properly maintained—particularly ships under flags of convenience. One does not want to exaggerate this, but it is a fact. Once again, could not the introduction of the Bill allow us to give more powers to examine and overhaul such equipment? I am told that any ship going to Australia, where there is not much competition between ports, is properly inspected and that if any lifesaving or navigational equipment is not up to standard the ship is not allowed to sail.
Under our regulations, relating particularly to lifesaving equipment for passengers, there is very little power over a ship with a foreign flag. Our inspectors may find things wrong, but they do not seem to have enough power. We would not wish to take unnecessary powers, but surely it is sensible to safeguard those who travel on ships leaving our ports—passengers as well as seamen. Before the Bill comes out of Committee, I hope that more consideration will be given to tightening up the regulations.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who has left the Chamber, should wish to go back to the seventeenth century, when Lloyd's conducted its business in coffee houses. When I go to West Africa—to Lagos, Port Harcourt or any other port—I find that the phrase "A1 at Lloyd's" still stands for what it stood for when I was a schoolboy. There was no need for the hon. Member to say what he did.
Safety is absolutely vital to an hon. Member like myself, with constituents in the deep-sea fishing fleet, who go to the Arctic—particularly remembering what happened in January 1968. The "Torrey Canyon" incident is also vivid in our minds. This Government does not do somersaults so much as U-turns ; if they behaved like this in the Channel they would be a menace to shipping off the constituency of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain).
When the Merchant Shipping Bill of a year or two ago was in Committee we had a job persuading the Minister—the same Minister who is now on the Front Bench, I think—to raise the fine for anyone polluting the high seas with oil. We succeeded only with the help of some Government malcontents. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I have equally vividly in our minds the episode involving the "Conoco Britannia" off Immingham. The BBC and other media played this up too much and our pilots in the Humber were not too pleased about that exaggeration.
Basically, this is a good Bill. We welcome these measures, particularly since, next year, at the law of the sea conference in Caracas, such matters as pollution and the health of those who work at sea will be discussed.
I accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said about flags of convenience, but we must look behind the Bill at the difficulties of some of these developing nations, like Somalia and Liberia. I agree that flags of convenience stand for dubious activities, not least of course the scandalously low wages that are paid—far below the standards of Lloyd's, never mind the Department of Trade and Industry. But these developing nations want money badly.
I know that with these practices they have been squeezing out this country from the fetching and carrying of cargoes. I would not use as a direct analogy the difference in wages paid in Hong Kong and this country in the textile industry, but I would say that some of these young nations use the flags of convenience system much as they issue new stamps—to make money for their hard-up exchequers. Although I am a former State employee of Liberia in another field—education—I do not support what was done by the Ministers of President Tubman nor what is happening in other parts of Africa. I remember years ago talking to Mr. Vasey—now Sir Ernest Vasey, a white man—when he was Minister of Finance for Kenya. He said, "We are also thinking of adopting what have been stigmatised as the nefarious activities of the Panamanians and Liberians." But, in a difficult world of inflation and famine, these developing countries need to get money.
I never like to talk about a man behind his back, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary will pass on my remarks. The Minister, who has left the Chamber, is a somewhat flippant colleague of ours. He tossed off facile allegations about our objections to the switching of this work from the DTI to bodies like Lloyd's. I object to this action, not only for itself but because of the way in which it was done.
My hon. Friends and I have been sent a document by the British Seafarers' Joint Council. If we believe in democracy, and in the Government working together with the labour force, particularly in these difficult days, it is incomprehensible that the Minister should have indulged earlier in these exchanges about whether one week, one month or four months was spent in exchanging views and invoking the aid and the wise advice of the trade unions in our fleets overseas.
This lack of consultation is incredible. If this Government have not learned their lesson since 18th June 1970, they never will. They cannot hope to get co-operation and understanding from workers unless they behave in a more civilised fashion. These colleagues of ours in the industrial movement say :
It is a matter of the greatest concern to the Seafarers' organisations that they were not consulted or even informed at the formative stages by DTI of these important considerations. The Chamber of Shipping is a deeply interested party and is known to welcome the change.
Does it, or did it? My information is that the Chamber of Shipping did not find this change as palatable at the beginning as the trade unions did, or do. One can compare its attitude with that which those of us in the fishing industry took upon the Icelandic fisheries question. Although the Chamber has now found this change acceptable, it did not find it palatable at the beginning—similar to our experience over the Icelandic fisheries agreement.
I apologise for having missed the beginning of the debate, but I was detained outside. I welcome the Bill, which deals with certain aspects of the oil pollution problem and enables us to ratify the 1971 convention. I understand that it also deals with the amendments to the 1954 Convention on Oil Pollution in the Sea and contains enabling powers to deal with some matters introduced in the 1973 convention, signed earlier this month.
But does it cover one matter dealt with in that convention—the discharge of sewage, ships' refuse and dry rubbish, which is to be prohibited within specified areas around the coast, ranging from three miles in the case of food waste to 25 miles in the case of floating materials? I understand that the discharge of plastic materials is prohibited in all sea areas. This is an important point. On the beaches in my constituency we find that pollution by plastic materials is now almost more of a menace than pollution by oil, and we should be taking action about it.
We may be missing an opportunity in the Bill to fill certain gaps in this legislation. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on this point. He referred to the important matter of accidents arising as pilots and others with necessary duties to perform go on board ships as they enter our ports. I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping following accidents in the Port of Milford Haven, and I hope that in due course it will be possible to introduce legislation. I should have thought, however, that this Bill gave such an opportunity.
The Bill means the chance to deal with a number of important matters. As Member for Pembroke, I speak as representative of the country's greatest oil port. We handle 44 million tons of oil a year, three very large crude carriers a week and about 3,500 oil shipments in 12 months. We have five major terminals. We also have a good deal of experience in respect of problems of oil pollution and things that can go wrong, even in a port recognised to be amongst the cleanest in the world.
Our experience has shown that we need urgently to tackle the inter-related problem of wreck removal and oil pollution. Basically, the problem is that whereas the harbour master in most ports is provided with very wide powers to deal with vessels which have sunk, or been stranded or abandoned, and is able to give directions for the prevention of interference with navigation, to take action in default of compliance with those directions, and to charge the owners with the costs of this action, he has no power whatever to give orders for the prevention or avoidance of oil pollution.
For example, if the harbour master on the bridge of a 250,000-ton tanker gives an instruction with the object of stopping the release of a large quantity of oil, and the master declines to carry it out, there is nothing that the harbour master can do about it.
This summer, the "Dona Marika" went ashore inside Milford Haven, loaded with high octane petroleum spirit, much of which spilled out on the Haven and polluted the atmosphere. The authorities found that they were powerless to do anything. Under the Oil in Navigable Waters Act they can sign an order, but that takes 48 hours. So, for 48 hours, the harbour master, the Board of Trade Surveyor and the Receiver of Wrecks could not even get permission to go on board the "Dona Marika" to assess the position. If it had been crude oil spilling out instead of high octane spirit, which evaporates, the sea would have been heavily polluted, and without the owner's permission nothing could have been done about it.
In 1971, the tanker "Thuntank" went ashore on Thorn Island at the mouth of the Haven, and more recently the "World Splendour" grounded. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) that publicity is sometimes exaggerated in these cases. We have had similar incidents in the port of Milford.
In both cases—the "Thuntank" going ashore and the "World Splendour" grounding—the harbour master was in reality giving instructions with the prime objective of preventing pollution, since the removal of the ship itself was in each case no problem. Both floated off within 24 hours. But in each case the master of the ship could have refused to carry out the instructions given.
Furthermore, if it was held in such a case that the harbour master had misused his powers for the prevention of interference with navigation by ensuring that the ship was manoeuvred in order to prevent pollution, he could, if anything went wrong, land the authority in vast potential liability.
I think it probable that most port authorities would be reluctant to have imposed on them the statutory duty to take steps for the prevention of pollution. What I am sure of is that they should have powers to act when they deem it necessary, otherwise we shall find that under the Bill we have set up a fund which has to be used quite unnecessarily.
We have learnt another lesson from the "Dona Marika" incident, namely, that the existence of single-ship companies imposes another grave restraint on action to obtain wreck removal or, indeed, on instruction to prevent pollution. It is one thing to give the harbour authority power to remove a wreck, but quite another to recover the costs from the owner of, say, a Greek ship registered in Liberia.
We require national legislation—the Bill provides a splendid opportunity—of the kind which exists in the United States and elsewhere, to make it possible to levy on any property or ship in common ownership or on the ship's insurers. I understand that in the United States one can proceed against another single-ship company if one establishes association or a common financial holding. The same position, or something even stronger, applies in Singapore, which is why the Labour Government were able to recover the costs involved in the "Torrey Canyon" incident, or some of them, by proceeding against a sister ship in Singapore harbour. Again, the Bill gives us the opportunity to take action which is long overdue.
The final lesson that we learnt from the "Dona Marika" affair is that there should be powers to remove a wreck on amenity grounds. Our existing laws were designed for the age of the wooden ship which, after a wreck, broke up and washed away. In these days if a ship goes ashore, unless the salvage value is greater than the recovery costs or it is a hazard to navigation, it stays there, a massive blot on the environment and a hazard to life and limb. If it is a hazard to navigation, there are powers to remove it. If not, I understand that we are almost powerless.
I support the Bill, but I suggest that it gives us an opportunity to take some additional measures. I shall support it more enthusiastically if, in due course, amendments are made to deal with the points that I have raised.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and to the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping for being unable to be present to hear their speeches.
I am concerned solely with Clause 14 and its implications, particularly with reference to the powers the Secretary of State is seeking in relation to one individual take-over situation—namely, that involving Shipping Industrial Holdings. I am not suggesting that the powers under Clause 14 are directly relevant to that situation, but there is an inference to be drawn from the presence of Clause 14 in the Bill, stating that freight operations under the influence of or in the control of foreign Governments can in certain circumstances be
… damaging … to … the … shipping or trading interests of the United Kingdom".
I am quoting directly from Clause 14.
That being so, presumably we can take it that the Government will look particularly closely at stock market operations which lead to the take-over of a British shipping company by interests under the influence of a foreign Government. It seems to me on the face of the matter that the current bid for Shipping Industrial Holdings is just such a case. I see the Minister looking puzzled. I would have hoped that he was informed about that background to this situation.
Shipping Industrial Holdings is an important British company. It has, I am informed, about 1½ million deadweight tonnage. Its balance sheet in 1972 showed total assets of around £70 million, in addition to which it contributes 42 per cent. of the tonnage of the Seabridge consortium, which I understand is also a very well run shipping consortium. A bid has been made for this company, the market value of which is around £85 million. The company has valued the fleet at over £120 million. I accept, of course, that the valuation of shipping fleets is a very tricky and volatile matter, particularly in the present circumstances. I emphasise also that I am in no way concerned at the valuation that has been set on this by the bidder. I am in no way competent to judge whether that is an adequate bid or not, and it is not part of my purpose today to let consideration of that influence what I have to say.
However, there seems to be a danger in this situation of asset stripping. I say that for two reasons. First, this is because of the large discrepancy between the bid price and the valuation price. The valuation that the company set on the fleet took no account of the value of the shipbroking interests, the insurance interests and the charter operations of SIH. Even more important, however, is that I consider there is an inherently unstable situation here because the bid has been made by a consortium in which two groups of interests are represented 50–50. I need not spell out that situations of that sort can be very unstable.
The bid has come basically from a shipping group based in Monte Carlo.
The hon. Member said that I was looking puzzled. He got the signs right but the reasons wrong. What puzzles me is how what he is saying has anything to do with the Bill. The details of the bid seem to me utterly irrelevant to the purposes of the Bill.
If the Minister will be patient he will see that I consider that this is relevant because of foreign-Government interest is involved. That is the whole purpose of my raising the matter this afternoon.
I shall read the Minister a letter which came from the Chairman of the Drayton Corporation to the Secretary of Shipping Industrial Holdings. It went :
Dear Sir, On behalf of Capitalfin International Limited of … Nassau, Bahamas, Alvada Investment Company … Hamilton, Bermuda, Alvion Holding and Investment Corporation … Monrovia, Liberia and Mr. Boris Vlasov of … Monte Carlo".
The Minister will see that these are all overseas addresses. In other words, the entire control of this important British company would fall overseas. Perhaps a certain amount of enlightenment has now dawned on the Minister. If not, I hope to enlighten him further with the rest of my remarks.
We therefore have a situation in which a bid has come from foreign interests for an important and well-run British shipping company. I say nothing which would in any way reflect on the commercial integrity or competence of the Vlasov group which for many years, as I understand it, has very successfully operated United Kingdom flag vessels. However, it seems clear to me that if this matter is not referred to the Monopolies Commission, which I hope it will be, more definite assurances are needed. I refer the Minister in particular to the November 1973 issue of Seatrade magazine. On page 5 are certain figures about the relative sizes of the Vlasov fleet and the SIH fleet. The article reads in part :
Of Mr. Vlasov's overall fleet of l&·5m dwt, just over 1m dwt sails under the U.K. flag (65%). If the SIH fleet of another 1·5m dwt is added in, that will make 75% of the new combined total tonnage U.K. registered, assuming no changes are made in the existing registration of any of the ships—which is expressly not on the cards, according to Mr. De Paolis.
Mr. De Paolis is, according to the same article, United Kingdom representative of Mr. Vlasov. The article goes on to say :
This in itself is interesting in as much as Mr. Vlasov is also well known for keeping his eggs in rather more than one basket.
So I suggest again that there are elements in this situation which need attention.
I go further than that. It is not just a question of foreign interests taking over an important British fleet. If the Minister were informed as to the make-up of the one half of the consortium not owned by Mr. Vlasov—namely, that called Capitalfin International—he would know that the Italian Government have very considerable interests in that half of the consortium from which the bid is being made. I believe the actual company making the bid is Navcot, owned 50–50 by Alvada and Capitalfin International Limited. In Capitalfin there are five elements, three of which own 25 per cent. and the other two between them sharing 25 per cent. The first 25 per cent. is owned by the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro of Rome. That is not a State-owned bank in the sense that its shares are traded publicly and are owned by private citizens. But, although there is no direct State holding, the senior man agement—the chairman and the general manager—are appointed by the State.
A further 25 per cent. of the Capitalfin consortium is owned by Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi, which is already State-owned. So we find that 50 per cent. of the Capitalfin consortium is owned or controlled by the Italian Government. Another 25 per cent. is owned by Montecatini Edison. This is a public company but the State owns 11 per cent. of it through ENI, and, as the Minister will be aware, a public company where 11 per cent. of the shares are in one hand is liable to be controlled by that one hand. The remaining holdings in Capitalfin are in the hands of the Agnelli family, either directly or through Fiat.
I see that I am losing the Minister. The Government Front Bench is totally deserted.
We shall simply have to pass the time of day until we have the Minister's attention again.
It is quite clear from all this that the Italian Government have a very considerable stake, directly or indirectly, in the Capitalfin consortium. If its interests were to act in concert, which may be an unlikely occurrence, the Italian Government would be in a position to influence one half of the 50–50 consortium, and by definition a 50–50 consortium has no controlling interests. Therefore, the Italian Government would be in a powerful position to control the affairs, if the bid were allowed to go through, of a very important British shipping company.
I understand that the Secretary of State has asked the Director General of Fair Trading for advice as to whether the bid should be referred to the Monopolies Commission. I shall say nothing tonight about the thoroughly disreputable activities of Hambros Bank in this takeover situation, which has led to the Minister's being presented with a fait accompli. But certain other things need to be emphasised. A great deal of public money from the British taxpayer has gone into both SIH and the Seabridge Group. Bearing in mind that it is an important, well-run British company, it is an extremely serious case.
I hope that the Minister will bear those matters in mind and will have no hesitation in seeing that a reference is made to the Monopolies Commission, which it is in his power to do, in the light of the size of the assets involved.
I did not mean to take part in the debate, because it is so technical that although I do all I can to help both the shipping and shipbuilding industries I cannot pretend to make any useful observations on the Bill. But when we have such a useful debate as this I like to listen to all those who have technical knowledge.
Ministers often lose an opportunity when introducing a major policy. I congratulate the Government on the Bill, but it involves larger questions of Government policy, and many small matters which are equally important to the Chamber of Shipping, the shipbuilding industry and the trade unions, have been left out. That is probably because Ministers have not had long enough in their Department to discover all the details which have been so admirably stated by many of my hon. Friends.
I hope that the detailed points advanced by people who know a great deal about the subject will be accepted in Committee. If they are, that should make it easy for my hon. Friend the Minister to conclude the debate, because all he needs to say is that by the time the Bill reaches Committee he will have dug out all the details which might have been put in the Bill if those concerned in his Department had thought a little more about it—details which experts in the matter have advanced tonight.
I should also like to know about any matters raised by the Chamber of Shipping or the shipbuilding industry which may have been left out of the Bill. It is very difficult for back-bench Members to discover all the details that have been omitted from an important Bill of the kind we are discussing. When the Government have the great good fortune to hear such details from experts, they should take the opportunity to say how welcome they are, however tiresome they may think them to be at the bottom of their hearts.
I should like to make a brief comment on the controversial point made by Op- position Members. I support what my Government have decided to do, but I am a believer in consultation. However, it should work both ways. When I, a representative of a port, try to get in touch with trade union representatives, they cannot all be in various places all over the world. They are sometimes jolly bad at answering my letters.
I am not sure that the points made by Opposition Members about consultation were adequately answered by my hon. Friend the Minister. He has to make the Government's case, but back-benchers do not always agree with the Government's defence. If I support the Bill, I support it, but there should always be proper consultations. Then the Government can say "We do not agree with one word you say, but at any rate you have been consulted." A great deal depends on a sound relationship between the trade unions and the Government of the day. Although I am delighted that in the main the trade unions think we have produced a jolly good Bill, I should feel happier if I could hear a better answer about consultation.
I have enjoyed listening to the debate. I hope that in Committee my hon. Friend the Minister will say to my hon. Friends who know so much about the matter "Well done. I shall see that the details about which you have told us are embodied in the Bill. They will make the Bill very much better."
I am happy to follow my hon. and fair Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). I congratulate her on bringing the discussion back to the Bill.
I am glad that we have a chance today to debate a subject concerning the Merchant Navy. Considering its importance—past, present and future—I believe that the Merchant Navy receives all too little attention in the House. Since I was first a midshipman it has been drummed into me that the prime task of the Royal Navy has always been to protect our overseas trade. In my experience I have gained immense affection, respect and admiration for those who sail under the Red Ensign. Therefore, I welcome the Bill, which seems to me to clear up several outstanding problems.
I refer first to Part I. At the time of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster we were presented with the extremely difficult practical problem of how to clear up the mess. But it was probably even more difficult to see how to bring about international action on such disasters in a reasonable time. The Government have done well to achieve a degree of international co-operation.
I turn to Part II, concerning the design and construction of tankers. I hope that the Miniser can assure us that the regulations will not be unduly complicated or cause expensive variations in design. There is sometimes a danger of exaggerating the extent of pollution. Of course, it is a big problem—one that we ignore at our peril. But I am a yachtsman, and when I get even a little way out to sea I am always surprised how delightfully clean it seems to be, and free of the pollution which the pollution lobby drums up. I hope that reasonable time will be allowed for modifications to the design and construction of tankers. I hope, too, that there will be international agreement, so that there will be no detriment to British shipowners having to work under more stringent regulations than other shipowners.
Explosions have not received enough attention. I saw the giant tanker "Matra" in Durban harbour a few years ago, following an explosion. The hole in her upper deck seemed to be nearly as large as this Chamber. The Government should do all they can to assist and encourage research and development so as to remove such danger from ships and those who serve in them.
I hope that the design and construction regulations will not only concern the prevention of spillage after a disaster has occurred but will be directed towards trying to ensure that disasters do not occur. The giant tankers have huge turning circles. They take a long time to lose way once they are going at speed. They are, of course, cumbersome to handle. There is an old sailing-ship adage which says. "It is only the edge of the sea that is dangerous." That is no longer true. At the speeds at which the large tankers proceed, collision seems to be the greatest risk. There are modern devices, such as active rudders, which have a bearing on the safety of tankers. They should be encouraged by the Government. Handling characteristics and navigational equipment should be included in the regulations covered by Part II.
Clause 12 provides that ships will not be permitted to sail without a clearance certificate from the Secretary of State. Clearly the Government must ensure that these certificates are forthcoming promptly. It is unnecessary to point out the tremendous sums which are involved in demurrage if there is any delay in sailing. These large ships nowadays frequently come in on one tide to be discharged and go out again on the next.
Part III refers to the protection of shipping interests and trading interests. It is a sign of the times that the Government should seek powers to deal with the overall problem of flags of convenience. I agreed with some of the matters put forward by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). I, too, deplore the extent of tonnage which now registers under flags of convenience. I accept the right hon. Member's point about the inferior standards of manning which may sometimes arise.
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman would go all the way with my submission that the only radical cure for the problem is to make it more financially attractive for British shipowners to register at home. If they earn large profits they should be able to keep them. That would enlarge the industry and enable it to employ British seamen and pay them whacking good wages. It is the over-taxation of British shipowners by successive Governments over a long time which has produced the flag of convenience problem.
Clause 16 deals with devolution to a certification society. From the Opposiltion benches we have had unfair criticism of Lloyd's. There seems to be a complete misunderstanding of the function and composition of Lloyd's Register. Some time ago I received a news sheet
from Lloyd's Register of Shipping which said :
Lloyd's Register of Shipping is not a commercial organisation having no owners or shareholders and distributing no profits. It is governed by a General Committee on which are represented underwriters, shipowners, shipbuilders and marine engine builders. No member or group of members has any financial interest in the Society.
The news sheet then dealt with Lloyd's Register's reputation for integrity and impartiality. That point has been well made by several hon. Members and I shall not repeat what they have said. I think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), who has now left the Chamber, summed it up well when he spoke about the wide understanding of the expression "A1 at Lloyd's".
It seemed that the indignation expressed by the right hon. Member for Barnsley was at one stage entirely synthetic. British seamen are reasonable, fair-minded and generous. They would not spontaneously react as the right hon. Gentleman did. The Minister put his finger on the point when he referred to delay. The dates which he mentioned were from 28th June to 29th October. The greater part of that period comprises the parliamentary recess. That is the point.
I take this opportunity to refer to the statement which the Minister slipped into his speech about "Pisces". I welcome the fact that there are to be statutory regulations. I have been asking the Government both by parliamentary Questions and by letters to introduce regulations. The replies have not been too favourable. I am glad that the Department has now recognised that regulations are necessary. I am sure that they will be welcomed. We look forward to such legislation.
It has been clear from the speeches of all hon. Members that the main body of the Bill is welcomed. It is an advance on oil pollution legislation, but there are other things which must be done.
Part III concerns the protection of British interests. That is more questionable. Part IV deals with the hiving off to Lloyd's Register. The Opposition are strongly opposed to such a course. I shall attempt to give one or two reasons to support that view which will supplement those which have been given.
I am rather sorry that the Government did not see fit to support the idea concerning the construction of vessels with double bottoms. The "Conoco Britannia" would not have caused a pollution in the Humber if the ship had been constructed with a double bottom. The ship sat on its own anchor due to the failure of its engine.
I welcome the limit placed on tank size. That is an important step forward. If I read the Bill correctly, I understand that there is to be a 12-month limit applying to those who do not sign the convention. Those who do not sign within 12 months may be removed from the overall convention. That would contribute to solving the difficult problem which faces international conventions. I refer particularly to flag of convenience countries which take a long time to ratify conventions.
I welcome the certification control. Although it is concerned directly with the construction of the vessels, many of the pollution incidents which have been referred to—the "Torrey Canyon" is perhaps the most famous—were not necessarily caused by faulty equipment. Often the operating qualities of the operators have been responsible. The captain of the "Torrey Canyon" had not had a day off for 12 months and was consequently tired and made wrong decisions. Such incidents have led to pollution on a wide scale. Considerable attention has been paid by Parliament and international conventions to the vehicle. Perhaps, instead we should give more attention to the driver and try to improve the quality of the crew and the manning of the vessels.
We have formulated a Channel safety charter, with which myself and my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) have been associated. The charter is concerned with preventing flag of convenience vessels coming into our ports. The Government opposed this suggestion on the ground that it was an interference with free trade. That interference is happening now, although it relates only to the construction of vessels. To that extent the Bill is a step forward and is welcomed.
Part III deals with the protection of shipping and trading interests. It contains a countervailing power that will be used by the Government. It is perhaps somewhat provocative in view of the UNCTAD and Liner conferences and the clash between the developed and underdeveloped countries. The underdeveloped countries own only 8 per cent. of the shipping, yet 66 per cent. of the traffic originates in the underdeveloped countries. OECD countries control more than 61 per cent. of the tonnage. If one adds to that the flag of convenience fleets, many of which are American-owned, the total is 83 per cent. Therefore, a large proportion of the shipping which is engaged in the interests of free trade belongs to European and developed rich countries.
Should we be using this countervailing power to defend British interests when there is such a disparity in the distribution of tonnage between the underdeveloped and developed countries? Will reductions in British tonnage be considered against our national interest? If the underdeveloped countries try to build up their shipping lines in an attempt to improve their economies and to obtain foreign currency, British interests will be affected. We, as a rich, developed country, cannot funk the main issue of helping underdeveloped countries. These provisions may, therefore, be provocative, especially in view of the international conferences. It is also a double standard, as the British shipping industry uses a considerable amount of cheap labour.
I am referring not to the wages paid to British seamen—although they are low enough—but to Asian labour, which constitutes one third of the labour used on British ships. The ILO to which Britain is a signatory nation recommended a minimum rate of £48. When I asked the Minister to make the shipowners pay the minimum rate he admitted that he had the power to do so but refused to take any legislative or other action to make them observe this international obligation. On the one hand, as soon as our economic interests are threatened, legislation to protect those interests is introduced but, on the other hand, the Government take no action on the exploitation of cheap labour. That is a reflection of the Government's priorities.
Our national interests are apparently to be defined as business interests. Several shipowners have said that the interests of the shipowners and the Government are indivisible. The identification of interests between the shipowners and the Government has caused considerable alarm in the maritime industry, especially among the trade unions.
The Minister may argue about the time available for consultation, but he cannot deny that when he first started on his labours he did not consult the trade unions. He consulted bodies which he thought had an interest in the matter but omitted to consult the trade unions. Only when he had come to his conclusions did he present them to the trade unions. The period of delay which he mentioned might have coincided with the parliamentary recess, but it was also the period in which holidays occurred within the trade union movement, and this led to difficulty in getting co-ordinated action. It is not a question of whether there was delay by the trade unions in replying but rather whether the Government thought it necessary to consult the trade unions about matters which the Government admit concern safety.
The owners and the Government are at one in wishing to preserve seamen's lives and prevent accidents by the use of the same policies. The hiving-off proposals in Part IV create concern. They are an indication of the Government's priorities and represent a reduction in the Government's rôle of guaranteeing marine safety. For almost a century—even before Samuel Plimsoll—the House has played an honourable part in accepting responsibility for marine safety.
We seek the reason for the Government taking this step. No justification for it has come from the Government Front Bench. The Rochdale inquiry gave reasons for the hiving-off of the surveyors' functions. One was that the Department of Trade and Industry was too inflexible and too cautious about safety matters. Another was that there was a considerable duplication of work. Lord Rochdale's inquiry did not necessarily accept those reasons but suggested that this subject should be considered further by a marine authority. The Opposition are in favour of a statutory marine authority. The Minister said that it was not Government policy to set up such an authority because the responsibility should remain with the House. The proposed marine authority we envisage would not take away responsibility from either the Minister or the House, and we would not want that. There clearly is an argument for a statutory marine authority to control the many matters relating to safety nationally and internationally.
Lord Rochdale recommended laws governing safety on board on similar lines to the Factories Acts. No such laws exist for seamen—only recommendations—and the Government have not introduced legislation on those lines.
Lord Rochdale also recommended a study of the cost-effectiveness of the survey services. The Government's policy seems to be to reject the setting up of a marine authority and to continue with ad hoc legislation, like this Bill, which merely makes marginal adjustments rather than dealing with the subject comprehensively, as with the proposals for lighthouses in this Bill. The Government have not set up the overall control body which is essential, and have rejected the introduction of the statutory safety laws for seamen which have been called for by all the unions, the Rochdale Report and the Pearson Inquiry.
The maritime industry feels unhappy about these matters being dealt with by Lloyd's Register. If the Government feel that Lloyd's Register can deal with the issue of safety certificates for cargo ships, why cannot it also deal with safety certificates for passenger ships? The same seamen sail the cargo ships as sail the passenger ship. The trade unions cannot accept that differentiation.
I have inquired through parliamentary Questions as to the cost effectiveness of studies done on the work of surveyors, recommended by Lord Rochdale. The Government's reply was to the effect that only one piece of work had been published by the Department and that was concerning life boats and life rafts, published in the Naval Architect There was a debate on the fees for marine services, introduced in May 1971, in which we discovered that the proposed fees had been cut by the Government by as much as half. In a debate on 28th June 1971 we heard that the Government levied such fees at 50 per cent. less than what they considered to be the true economic cost figure. Only the last Labour Government took steps to see that the full cost of this service was implemented. However, we now have a Conservative Government in power and they have reduced the fees by half again. I understand that the Department made a loss of £1,200,000 in 1971 on marine service surveys. If only 50 per cent. of the fees are charged, perhaps that loss is understandable. It would surely be better to introduce fees which reflect the new costs. The Government have already done this in respect of health and welfare services, and I do not know why they do not do this in respect of the shipping industry. After all, if they are a "businessman's Government" they should take a businesslike view of the matter or admit to a further subsidy to the shipping industry.
My Questions to the Department have since revealed that the Minister is now prepared to review these charges when these services are being undertaken by Lloyd's. It must be remembered that Lloyd's already controls 85 per cent. of shipping, and the extra services and charges will mean an increase in its revenue of over £1 million, which is a considerable amount of money. More information is required.
The Government do not seem to have taken into account the fact that there are 33 classification societies in this country, five of which are major ones though with different national parent backgrounds. They all help the Government to understand new types of technology and to assist them to produce regulations for North Sea oil rigs, new type ships and under sea work. The organisations concerned use their fees to finance advanced research, making them more than just classification societies. Therefore, by concentrating this all in one organisation the Government will create a kind of monopoly situation, possibly reducing other societies and thereby denying themselves the very advice which can be provided by these classification societies—and it is advice which the Government sorely need when making regulations. Furthermore, specialisation by different societies will deny the chance of the Government making comparisons.
It has been said that Lloyd's Register is a non-profit-making body. I do not seek to argue to the contrary, but I would merely point out that in terms of safety regulations Lloyd's acts as agent for some 80 countries. Cyprus and Liberia are two of the countries involved. I should like to tell the House of an incident that happened in the Humber over a year ago involving a vessel registered in Cyprus called the "Blue Calypso". That ship had just been given a safety certificate by Lloyd's Register, as agent for the Cyprus Government. When we maritime unions protested about its safety, we discovered that when the ship went to Sweden and was examined by a Swedish Government surveyor it was found that certain parts of the vessel were held together by Elastoplast. This is a fact and is what was found by the Swedish authorities. It was also discovered that lifeboat davits failed when lifeboats were lowered, the lifeboat hull could be pushed through by hand, the life jackets were rotten and many other things were wrong with the safety of the vessel.
I put forward this example to show that, although we are all aware of the possibility of human error in any sphere of activity, we must not necessarily take the view that all these matters will pass into the hands of a perfect organisation. Lloyd's is an organisation which works on an agency basis with Cyprus 85 per cent. of whose ships are over 15 years old, and whose tonnage increases rapidly, especially with transferred German tonnage. The unions complain constantly about safety matters on board these ships, with letters to the Minister—as they are Commonwealth ships, therefore. British—and to no avail.
The Board of Lloyd's Register contains a considerable number of shipowners. I realise that it does not make a profit, but it certainly charges premiums and fees ; and the people who are charged those fees are shipowners and shipbuilders, a number of who constitute the board. I do not say that is the predominant interest for being on the board, but there is a certain amount of self-interest, and I believe that the same sort of considerations would not arise if these matters were in the hands of the Government.
Since we are looking at matters involving hiving-off of profitable sectors and are discussing sums like £1 million in fees, perhaps the Minister will be able to give firm figures of the amount of money involved. The figures I have put forward are calculated from the number of inspections by surveyors given in a Parliamentary Questions have shown that average fee figure. I hope that we shall be given a little more information in the Minister's reply.
The Opposition and the unions representing seamen have constantly pressed the Government on the question of safety at sea, and it must be said that because of their action the Government's credibility in the maritime world on safety is highly suspect and their record. When we talk of a high safety record, we do measure this not by the amount of ship tonnage lost compared with what happens in other countries, but by the number of accidents in the industry, many of which are fatal. The fatal accident figure over the past few years has run at an average of 70 per year and up to August of this year there were 42 deaths. There is no legal requirement to provide accident figures, as under the Factory Acts, and the fatal accident figures for seamen are twice as high as the figure in the docks industry and in the mining industry, and four times as high as the figure in the construction industry. Those other industries are all considered to be highly dangerous. Certainly the merchant shipping industry in Great Britain ranks high in the accident league table and the figures are certainly higher than those in other maritime countries. There is only one other industry where the accident figures are worse, and that is the fishing industry.
It is a strange and notable fact that in both the fishing and the merchant shipping industries the Government do not lay down statutory safety regulations for seamen. The Government argue that the M-notice system operates in the industry—in other words, that if a recommendation is sent to the companies, it is expected that those concerned will observe it. But the realities of the situation are very different. Experience will show that the M-notice system is not very strictly observed, and it is not illegal to ignore it. There is one curious anomaly which I should like to mention. When a docker goes on board a ship he is by law provided with a gangway, under the Docks Regulations, and a pilot is provided with a pilot ladder, under Pilot Regulations. Both these matters are laid down by law. But no such law applies to a seaman who eat, sleeps and works a ship and, therefore, he is being given inadequate protection and the Government refuse to pass legislation to correct this, bearing in mind that a lot of the deaths are caused by falling from gangways.
The Rochdale Report, and also the Pearson Report, agreed that there should be a statutory law in this respect. But the Government have refused to do anything about the situation. They have done nothing about safety. Therefore, we consider their action to be somewhat suspect. Although the Government seem quite content with the M-notice system, we are not satisfied with it since it has led to the highest accident rates in almost any industry.
I should like to give the House a few examples of the consequence of this. A recent Board of Trade Marine Inquiry report dealt with a ship called the "Esso Cambria", in which clearly, not sufficient attention was given to the question of manning which constituted to its loss. Then there was an inquiry on a ship called "Nicolaw", in which there were two deaths. It was reported that the superintendent had not been notified about the signing on of the crew of uncertificated men. This the inquiry deplored as able to happen. Then there was a ship called the "Burtonia" in the Humber, in which there were four deaths and where again there was a breach of recommendation about loading. Yet another vessel, the "Surry Brook", had capsization problems in which the recommendations had not been observed about manning of able seamen and un-secure deck timber cargo. I have written to the Minister today about it.
In regard to another vessel the "Festivity", into which there was a Government inquiry, after I called for prosecution of the owners we await the the report. This vessel had been abandoned by its crew of three, uncertificated,
and one man with five weeks' sea service. The owner, Mr. Frederick Everard, who owns considerable British tonnage, said in Lloyd's List, referring to the "Festivity",
If these ships had to sail with more men or better qualified men, they would be put under another flag.
That is how they blackmail Governments into not bringing in safety measures.
What has been the Government's response to all this? Despite various courts of inquiry, there has been very little in the way of Government action. Parliamentary questions have shown that the number of surveyors has been reduced by more than 100—in other words, they can carry out inspections only once a fortnight in 21 port areas.
What is the situation in regard to marine superintendents who inspect ships to see whether there are competent men on board? If the Government are content to rely only on the M-notice system rather than look to more stringent surveillance techniques, then cases of this sort are bound to arise. The number of superintendents has been reduced since 1968. There were 102. The number is now 55, and 35 per cent. of the reduction was in the past 12 months. The Government talk about high safety standards, but their actions have reduced the surveillance powers which guarantee safety. There has been a reduction of staff, for reasons of cost, and a reduction of civil servants as Government policy. What costs are involved? It is not possible to get the right return if the fee charged is only 50 per cent. Consequently, greater losses are incurred. More information is needed on costs.
Cost studies, referred to earlier, are taking place into the question whether ships should have life boats or life rafts, and the cost of surveyor time involved. These studies concern safety calculations and what costs may be saved. The study done by Mr. Goss and Mr. Gardner in the Department has stated that it all depends on the value put on a seaman's life. The value of a seaman's life is calculated to be £23,600—rounded to the nearest £100—a neat, horrifying statistical statement. This was calculated as being £17,855 at November 1970 prices, while the uneconomic cost of a seaman's life was estimated at £5,750.
If the Government continue with these studies they will be violently resisted by the trade union movement and those concerned with safety in the industry.
We cannot and will not put a price on life. When the "Pisces" submarine sank no one suggested that the two members of the crew were each worth £23,000. Society did not think in those terms, but was concerned with saving the men. Therefore, the Government must not carry out studies to estimate the cost of men's lives, as an exercise to justify cutting down on civil servants whose job is to maintain safety standards in the industry. Such studies cannot be accepted in our civilised society, for these reasons, and make the Government priorities on safety highly suspect.
The Government, despite the evidence of the inquiries, as well as the recommendations of the Rochdale and Pearson committees—
It is being suggested that the Government have introduced a novel method of costing human life which is therefore to be deplored. The subject may be difficult and embarrassing, but calculations of that sort were made, certainly regarding road improvements, throughout the period of the last Government.
That may have been the case, but the Rochdale Committee has argued about cost-effectiveness of surveyors. Parliamentary answers have indicated that cost-effectiveness studies were set up primarily for that reason.
There was also a mention of the cost of surveyors. I hope that the Minister will not continue with these studies.
The Government have ignored the evidence of their own Board of Trade marine inquiries and the recommendations of those bodies set up to study marine safety—the Rochdale and Pearson committees set up by the Labour Government to improve safety at sea. They have ignored the major recommendations of their own marine safety committee, and the opposition of trade unions and the Department's own surveyors. There is a high accidental death and accident rate in the industry, but still this does not move them to act.
What marine unions and we fear most of all is that this represents a foot in the door. Will it be the Royal Yacht Association tomorrow? Will the trawler industry be asking for the same facilities? Despite what Holland Martin said about the terrible safety procedures in the industry, an answer is required from the Government.
Clause 19 refers to colonial power. I believe that the Minister is leading the negotiations in Hong Kong. Hong Kong wants to reduce safety standards so that ships can leave flag of convenience countries and use the British flag. Standards of manning and safety are requested to be reduced for them on a separate Hong Kong register. They wish to issue separate Hong Kong certificates of competence for these British ships.
Can the Government seriously consider handing over such control to the acknowledged corrupt administration in Hong Kong? [Interruption.] The evidence is clear about Hong Kong, in this respect. A few dollars will buy anything. The Bill would give Hong Kong the opportunity of issuing regulations and contributing to further use of British flag ships as flag of convenience vessels.
We welcome what is proposed in the Bill regarding pollution, but there are serious safety arguments involved. I have tried to highlight some of the matters and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the death and accident rates involved. Seamen in this country, maritime organisations and the Department's surveyors, demand that the Government do more than merely take the advice of civil servants. Safety and seamen's lives are at stake, and for these reasons we shall oppose this Bill as a further step in reducing the Government's responsibility in the field of maritime safety.
I should be happy to hear no more of the type of argument on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) chose to end his speech. There is no difference between the Government and the Opposition on the value of a man's life or in regard to the need for safety.
The hon. Gentleman sits there muttering about the record, but it is time for him to replace emotion with reason and to speak softly and deal with the points, when he is a Front Bench spokesman. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee the hon. Gentleman will take up my suggestion, and that we shall now hear no more of that nonsense.
I shall endeavour to deal with points raised in the debate. I cannot deal with all the points. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) gave an invitation, to which I warm, that all the matters raised were Committee points and should be dealt with in that way. I should be popular if I took up that suggestion, but I cannot follow my hon. Friend's advice to that extent.
The question of bunkering was raised. This is of topical importance. The present position is that shipping, like every other industry except public service transport, is subject to a 10 per cent. cut applied to deliveries of petroleum products in the United Kingdom. Coastal shipping is already on the priority list, and I hope that this will provide a solution to a matter raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).
My hon. Friend the Minister has been asked by the Chamber of Shipping to put all shipping, irespective of flag, which loads and discharges at United Kingdom ports in the same category. In reply, we have asked the chamber to co-operate with us in identifying the list of "priority trades". These discussions are continuing. It is easier to identify some categories of ships which should go to the end of the queue, such as cruise liners, or those calling at United Kingdom ports only to bunker.
The Chamber of Shipping has emphasised that it does not want priority to be given to United Kingdom ships in United Kingdom ports. Such discrimination would be infectious, and would damage the chance of United Kingdom ships getting bunkers in foreign ports, particularly when engaged on cross-trades.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) referred to pilot ladders. These are regulated by the Merchant Shipping (Pilot Ladders) Rules 1965, as twice amended, in 1971 and 1972. The rules implement internationally agreed requirements, contained in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1960. There are at present no matters particularly under discussion between the Department and the Pilots' Association, but I know my hon. Friend's interest in the matter and I am sure that he will keep us up to the mark.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) referred to the dumping of plastic cups and chemicals at sea. This matter is covered internationally for the first time in the Marine Pollution Convention 1973, which was concluded at Church House earlier this month. This convention is not yet open to signing, and it will take some years to ratify. In the interval his ingenuity may well enable him to find a hole in the Dumping at Sea Bill when it reaches here from another place.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised several questions which amounted to a request for a do-it-yourself suing kit for his constituents, which would enable them to make up for the shortage of lawyers in that area. If this is to be a matter of legal advice, we shall have to spell it out, and I will write to him.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) made the point about those delightful sisters, CRISTAL and TOVALOP. The fund would supersede CRISTAL. It is probable that the TOVALOP scheme will continue. This is a matter being considered by the fund sponsors at the moment. On the important point about tanker accidents, the best thing I can do is to offer to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who raised it.
I know that those are not all the questions I was asked, but I will take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth and say that I will regard them as Committee points in the hope that the House will forgive me. What I want to do now is to turn to the substance of the Opposition charge against the Bill.
They tell us that they welcome Parts I and II and regard Part III, if the right hon. Member for Barnsley is the authority on this subject, as regrettable but necessary. This is the line we would generally take. There have been trends which we cannot ignore. There is no departure on our part from a desire to see the freedom of the seas maintained in trade as much as possible. But it would be foolish and self-denying of us not to recognise that we are in danger of being isolated if we do not act in our own defence and take contingency powers. This is what we intend to do, and, like any deterrent, we hope that the situation will not arise when we have to use them.
A number of hon. Members criticised Part IV. I think they have got this quite wrong. This is a logical process and in no way extraordinary. It does not represent on our part any desire to yield to a rush of political dogma. All this talk about hiving-off could scarcely be further from an accurate description of events. To suggest that there is some sinister gambling here, some desire to subordinate safety to profit, is a grave distortion, and I hope that I can persuade the House that I am not exaggerating in so describing it.
The proposals to delegate certain further statutory marine survey functions to Lloyd's Register have their origin in the Rochdale Report, advocating as it did the setting up of a statutory marine authority, a course which the Government decided they did not wish to follow. In taking a decision on this the Minister agreed instead to carry out a review of the whole area of survey work to see whether there could be advantage in a further measure of delegation without detriment to safety and, incidentally, to deal with the point about duplication which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East raised.
Throughout the discussions the Department's representatives have had safety uppermost in their minds. The proposals contain a number of built-in safeguards to ensure the upholding of present standards. A fundamental one is the maintaining of a Department of Trade and Industry presence aboard all United Kingdom registered ships, including those which seldom call at United Kingdom ports. In this and a number of other ways this legislation represents a significant advance and is certainly a response to modern conditions.
The hon. Gentleman made much of not having heard about the additional work which was to be handed over to the surveyors who would be released from duties to be taken over by Lloyd's Register. He ought to be able to see what kind of work this is and how important it is that the Government should take it up.
One of the vital matters to which we want to turn these resources is the regulations affecting fishing vessels. On the hon. Member's own statement, we are evidently right in giving them the highest priority, and I am grateful for his support. There is also the question of dangerous cargoes and there is work in the North Sea, on submersibles, and tanker certification. As my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) pointed out, we also have extensive powers to inspect foreign ships in our ports. The hon. Gentleman wants us to use these powers. We shall have resources released, as a result of handing over this work, which can be put to more essential purposes.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have a finite number of competent surveyors at our disposal. If the work load increases the right course must be to see how it can be re-arranged to adjust to changing circumstances. We shall have plenty of time in Committee to take up such points. About 15 per cent. of the present effort is being switched in character. The unions were told about this in June. There was a response from two of them. The only other response came from the Seafarers' Joint Council in the form of a document which reached hon. Members at about the same time as it reached the Government, in October. It came to us, incidentally, under a compliments slip, not under any formal notification at all.
In the intervening period there was total silence. There was no effort on the part of the unions, collectively or individually, to make representations to us, to seek clarification, to ask whether there was scope for consultation. No effort was made at all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) has said, by the unions to get in touch with individual Members of Parliament. I believe that the House can see that the whole thing was a figment of the imagination of a fevered few, among them obviously the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.
There is a difference here. I expect that the Minister has looked at this before making that statement. The difference is that there were no negotiations with the unions concerning Lloyd's Register. The unions were told what the decision was. On the Hong Kong Register, the Minister has informed the unions of what he is proposing or considering. I understand he is still having discussions. One subject is in the consultation process, no decisions having been taken, while in the other case a decision has been taken and the unions were told what has to be done.
It is a distinction without a difference. I will take the hon. Gentleman up on a particular point. He made much play of this difference between cargo and passenger ships. There was a great song and dance about it, and there is in this document sent to us by the Seafarers' Joint Council under cover of a compliments slip with no other communication. If the hon. Gentleman does not agree that the Government can distinguish between ships carrying passengers not used to going to sea and ships which do not carry passengers then he might have thought "We'll write to these chaps and ask them". There has been nothing at all.
In this document sent to us, without any attempt to get clarification or to open communications, there are a whole series of inaccurate statements, many of them based on complete misconceptions, some of them based, frankly, on a failure to read the papers sent out, which I would be delighted to read. Unfortunately there is not enough time. I will read them to the Committee and no doubt we can have fun going through them together.
Before my hon. Friend leaves this point of safety, will he confirm that the Government do not agree with the strictures made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prestcott) about the firm of Everards? Is he aware that all people who go to sea in the Channel know that this firm has a splendid reputation and a particularly fine reputation for looking after its own men?
If there was any way in which a British company was defaulting on its safety standards the appropriate action would be taken by those charged with the responsibility of maintaining safety. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence which he would like to make available I hope that he will do so. It is no good bandying accusations about on the Floor of the House if he is not prepared to back them up with evidence. I look forward with pleasure to prolonged exchanges on this subject in Committee.
I want to get this matter in perspective. For reasons I do not understand, perhaps prejudice or ignorance, some people acting in the name of the Seafarers' Joint Council took it upon themselves to stir things up, as we can see from this document. Significantly, no effort has been made to take into account the fair points which Lloyd's Register has put across. I know that the hon. Gentleman has had a letter from the chairman, because he kindly sent a copy to me. I will be happy to read it to the Committee. If he has read it, and I dare say he has not, he will know that he ought to be careful about repeating in his speech some of the old and baseless remarks which form so much of the foundation of the case which Labour Members have sought to deploy against the Bill.
If there was any substance in their arguments, which I do not believe, it would have been a good case for a reasoned amendment to the effect that this House, while it welcomes Parts I, II and III, nevertheless declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because of its objections to Part IV. Instead, we have the usual over-hasty reaction which we have come to expect from the right hon. Member for Barnsley, and he invites his right hon. and hon. Friends, who if they had all the information would not be so gullible, to troop into the Division lobby behind him.
I wish I had more time to go over all these matters tonight. But, frankly, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East have made themselves look a little foolish, and I shall give them a moment in which to reflect on the position in which they have put themselves, because I have one more point that I wish to make.
In these matters, consultation between the sides is the norm. There is mutual confidence, there is respect, and there should be mutual esteem. No one wants to see that maintained more than my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping and I do. Anyone who seeks to disturb the present good relations in all matters having to do with the maritime industries should think carefully before embarking on such a course, whatever his motives may be.
I make two points to the right hon. Member for Barnsley to illustrate the importance that we attach to consultation. He will remember that in the debate on the regulations under the 1970 Act on 30th January of this year I reiterated the Government's undertaking to start in 1973 on a review of Sections 28 to 31 concerning offences by seamen. I am glad to say that a first consultative document in this review is being sent today to representative organisations in the shipping and fishing industries and that we intend to begin consultations with the representative organisations in the New Year. This review gives us a welcome opportunity to consider any other provisions of the Act which are proposed for amendment.
I am glad also to tell the House that the suggestion made in the Pearson Report to the effect that the moneys received by the Government from fines imposed on seamen by their masters should be made available to the seamen's charities is a matter to which we have given further consideration. We are prepared in principle to make a grant-in-aid to the Merchant Navy Welfare Board of an amount equivalent to the fines received in the previous financial year. On both those points I hope that I can give the right hon. Gentleman an earnest of our desire that there should be consultation in these matters.
There was consultation in this case. I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have had time to reflect and that they will reconsider their hasty decision to divide the House against the Second Reading. If not, I can only invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to treat the attitude of the Opposition with the contempt that it deserves.
|Division No. 15.]||AYES||[7.50 p.m.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Costain, A. P,|
|Archer, Jeffre (Louth)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Burden, F. A.||Drayson, G. B.|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Chapman, Sydney||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Benyon, W.||Chichester-Clark, R||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'le-upon-Tyne, N.)|
|Biffen, John||Churchill, W. S.||Emery, Peter|
|Biggs-Davison. John||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Boardman Tom (Leicester. S.W.)||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Farr, John|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Clegg, Walter||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy|
|Bowden, Andrew||Cooper, A. E||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)|
|Bray. Ronald||Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Kinsey, J. R.||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Fowler, Norman||Knox, David||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b' gh & Whitby)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Lamont, Norman||Shersby, Michael|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||Le Marchant, Spencer||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Goodhart, Philip||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Soref, Harold|
|Goodhew, Victor||Loveridge, John||Speed, Keith|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||McMaster, Stanley||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gray, Hamish||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Green, Alan||Madel, David||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mawby, Ray||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Grylls, Michael||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gummer, J. Selwyn||Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)||Temple, John M.|
|Gurden, Harold||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Moate, Roger||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Hall, Sir John (Wycombe)||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Morgan-Giles, Rear Adm.||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Neave, Airey||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Heseltine, Michael||Onslow, Cranley||Wall, Patrick|
|Hicks, Robert||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Osborn, John||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hill, S. James A. (Southampton, Test)||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Holland, Philip||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Hornsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Peel, Sir John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|James, David||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Jessel, Toby||Raison, Timothy||Younger, Hn. George|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Jopling, Michael||Redmond, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES :|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Mr. Paul Hawkins and|
|Kimball, Marcus||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis.|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Atkinson, Norman||Horam, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Austick, David||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Pardoe, John|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Janner, Greville||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Booth, Albert||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Prescott, John|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Radice, Giles|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh' m, Northfield)||Kaufman, Gerald||Roper, John|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Kelley, Richard||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Lamborn, Harry||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Loughlin, Charles||Silverman, Julius|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dalyell, Tam||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Small, William|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Maclennan, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||McMillan, Torn (Glasgow, C.)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Deakins, Eric||McNamara, J. Kevin||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Stott, Roger|
|Delargy, Hugh||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Eadie, Alex||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Tinn, James|
|Edelman, Maurice||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Varley, Eric G.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mendelson, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Mikardo, Ian||Wallace, George|
|Forrester, John||Millan, Bruce||Watkins, David|
|Freud, Clement||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, itchen)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Garrett, W. E.||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Whitlock, William|
|Gilbert, Dr. John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Moyle, Roland||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Golding, John||Ogden, Eric|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||O'Halloran, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES :|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Oram, Bert|
|Hamling, William||Orme, Stanley||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Harrison, Waller (Wakefield)||Oswald, Thomas||Mr. Joseph Harper|