Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1976.

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Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton 12:00 am, 25th May 1976

I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, a point of order concerning the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, a point of order concerning part of which I have given you notice but including some facts that I have been able to verify only since Question Time began, when you were in the Chair.

At 2.50 p.m. today I deposited in the Bag behind your Chair, thereby presenting it to the House, a petition by Iain Alexander Dewar Mann, a shareholder in the parent company of Yarrow (Shipbuilders) Limited, which company is included in Part I of Schedule 2 of the Bill. In his petition, the petitioner seeks relief which would be available to him under the provisions which this House adopts in respect of hybrid Bills but which is not available to objectors and petitioners in respect of a public general Bill. As there is no right of audience before a Standing Committee of this House, we are dealing with an actual rather than a hypothetical event.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill is properly a hybrid Bill and should therefore be referred to a Select Committee or Joint Committee, as the House in its normal procedure for dealing with hybrid Bills would order.

My grounds for submitting that the Bill is properly a hybrid Bill and not a public general Bill are as follows. First, for the purpose of the Bill a company is a shipbuilding company, and is required to transfer its assets to the body corporate called British Shipbuilders, if it falls within the class defined in Schedule 2, which includes these relevant conditions in paragraph (2)(1): if—(a) it was on 31st July 1974, entitled, either alone or together with another company which was then a member of the same group of companies, to an interest in possession in a shipyard which on that date was being used for the construction of ships; and(b) the aggregate of the total tonnage of the ships completed in that shipyard and in any associated shipyards during the period of three years ending on 31st July 1974 exceeded the specified minimum. Excluding warships, this specified minimum is 15,000 gross tons.

It is not disputed that Yarrow (Shipbuilders) Limited falls within this definition. The firm is accordingly included in Schedule 2, at line 17, page 75 of the Bill. But Marathon Shipbuilding (UK) Limited also falls within that definition, as I shall now show. The report by the official liquidator of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Limited for the year ended 14th June 1972 shows that contracts Nos. 112 and 117 for the delivery of two Clyde-class cargo vessels which were each of a gross registered tonnage of 11,506 tons were completed and the vessels delivered respectively on 20th January 1972 and 25th April 1972—that is, within the period of three years preceding 31st July 1974, which period commenced on 1st August 1971.

On 8th August 1972 Marathon Shipbuilding (UK) Limited acquired Clydebank shipyard, in which both of the aforementioned vessels were in course of construction, which construction was continued by the liquidator of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders after Marathon had purchased the Clydebank yard. It is clear from that that Marathon falls within paragraph 2(1)(b) of Part II of Schedule 2.

The facts, which I have been able to verify only within the past hour and a half, show that it also conclusively falls within paragraph 2(1)(a), which requires among other things that the shipyard concerned must have been being used for the construction of ships on 31st July 1974. I have verified from the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association that on 31st July 1974 there was under construction at Clydebank shipyard a vessel called "Key Victoria" of 3,885 gross tons, which vessel was a ship falling within the definition appearing in lines 37 to 40 on page 77 of the Bill. That vessel was completed on 14th October 1974.

I will read the applicable part of that definition, as it is short. It is as follows: 6. In this Part of this Schedule"— paragraph 2(1)(a) to which I am referring is also in Part II— 'ship' means a floating or submersible vessel with an integral hull and, except in the case of a warship, of over 100 gross tons". The "Key Victoria" is a vessel intended to float, it is of 3,885 gross tons, and the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association has communicated with the American Bureau of Shipping to confirm its configuration, which is that of a barge.

There is no doubt whatever, therefore, that it not only falls within the definition of a ship, as defined in this Bill, but it incidentally also falls within the definition both of a ship and of a vessel in Clause 7(4)(ii) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. This is important, because it covers, for instance, the disciplinary rights of the master of such a ship.

Although Marathon Shipbuilding (UK) Limited clearly falls within the provisions of the qualifying conditions laid down in Schedule 2 to the Bill, it was arbitrarily excluded from the Bill while its competitor, Yarrow (Shipbuilders) Limited, was arbitrarily included.

This arbitrary exclusion of one company and inclusion of another, when both companies fall within the same definition in Schedule 2 to the Bill, endows this Bill with the characteristics of a hybrid Bill and not a public general Bill. It should, therefore, be treated as a hybrid Bill, now that the House has become aware of its hybrid nature, before entering into further consideration of this Bill as would be the case were the Bill instead a public general Bill.

I add one further point. It is not necessary, for the purpose of this Bill, either in the definition which I have quoted to you or in the two definitions in the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, that the vessel should possess an engine, nor does it exclude the possibility of the vessel being used for some operation on the sea floor. Indeed, were that the case, no dredger would count as a vessel, whereas in fact every dredger counts as a vessel.

It is, therefore, completely immaterial whether a vessel dredges the bottom of the sea floor, drills a hole through the bottom of the sea floor, or is used to carry goods or merchandise abroad. It is a vessel within the definition in the Merchant Shipping Act. It is a ship within the definition in the Merchant Shipping Act. It is a ship within the definition specifically included in the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which definition was not amended in Committee and to which, Mr. Speaker. I have drawn your attention.

Lastly, my submission in no way implies a lack of diligence on the part of the authorities of the House, because the facts to which I have drawn your attention, Mr. Speaker, are not facts which were evident prima facie from reading the Bill.

It is necessary also to be aware of the tonnages constructed in the relevant period, and this is knowledge outside the ken of the authorities of the House until it is brought specifically to their notice. Nor is there anything in the Bill which informs the authorities of the House that on 31st July 1974 there was indeed a ship under construction at Clydebank shipyard which falls within the provisions of paragraph 2(1)(a) of Part II of Schedule 2 to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

I want to make that quite clear, because it is unusual to raise the question of hybridity at this stage rather than at Second Reading. It is normally raised by virtue of the drafting of the Bill. In this case I am raising it at the first moment at which I have become aware of the facts which I have reported to you, Mr. Speaker, some of which I have been able to verify, as I said, only since you took the Chair this afternoon.

It is those facts which render the Bill a hybrid Bill, and unless we now adopt the procedure which in its wisdom the House has laid down for dealing with hybrid Bills, the petitioners will be denied the redress which the House has specifically laid down for Bills which differentiate arbitrarily between given individuals or bodies corporate which fall within a clause within a Bill.

It is that characteristic which enables the House to recognise a hybrid Bill rather than a Bill which can properly continue in the procedures which are uniquely appropriate to a public general Bill, the characteristics of which are deficient in respect of those points which I have put to you in this submission.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) had fortunately given me notice of the matters that he wished to raise, with the sole exception of two details that he brought into his argument. The fact that the hon. Gentleman gave me a very long and detailed statement, which I much appreciated, also enabled me to take advice and to consider this matter.

Although the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was examined in the usual way for the possibility of hybridity and was found not to be hybrid, as soon as I received the hon. Member's submission in a letter at 1.45 this afternoon, I asked for the matter to be examined afresh. This was done.

The hon. Member is correct in submitting that Marathon Shipbuilding (UK) Limited fulfils the qualifying conditions laid down in paragraph 2(1)(b) of Part II of Schedule 2 to the Bill. But it does not meet the conditions laid down in paragraph 2(1)(a) of Part II of the schedule, because on the qualifying date the shipyard, though owned by the company concerned, was not being used for the construction of ships. It was, in fact, being used for the manufacture of offshore drilling rigs and for the conversion of a ship to a rig.

For these reasons, the submissions made by the hon. Member do not support the case for hybridity in the Bill, and I therefore so rule.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I naturally regret, Mr. Speaker, that I was not myself in the position to give you, until rising now, the information as to what was actually happening on 31st July 1974. Naturally, I did not wish to supply you with inaccurate information. I have identified the actual vessel. Instead of making a general proposition about classes of vessel I have identified to you an actual vessel called the "Key Victoria", which was under construction on that day as required by the Bill. It is of 3,885 gross registered tons, and the American Bureau of Shipping has confirmed to the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association that it is a vessel having the characteristic hull form of a barge.

In view of this information, which you did not have, Mr. Speaker, when your ruling was composed—indeed, which I did not have when your ruling was composed, but which both I and you now have—I submit that the position has changed since you were able to take advice at that time, since the use to which the vessel is put in the course of its navigation, whether it drills, whether it dredges, whether it transports people or materials, or whether indeed it travels in ballast or empty, or, indeed, is at anchor, is immaterial. This vessel, the "Key Victoria", of 3,885 tons, which was under construction de novo, is a ship within the definition which I have quoted to you, namely, ship' means a floating or submersible vessel with an integral hull". Unless there is evidence to rebut that which I have put to you, Mr. Speaker,—namely, that this vessel was under construction on 31st July 1974 and did not complete its construction until considerably later that year, and very much after the date concerned—then we have established the facts now which are needed to place that Clydebank shipyard within the provisions of paragraph 2(1)(a) as well as paragraph 2(1)(b) of Part II of Schedule 2, and if that is established, this is a hybrid Bill.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I can tell the hon. Gentleman at once that I have had the most searching inquiries made since two o'clock this afternoon and that my ruling is made on the basis of the inquiries that were made on my behalf, and I must stand by my ruling. If the House does not like it, hon. Members must table a motion, because this is my considered ruling.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Industry

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has been added to since the original submission to you was made, and he has put before you a matter of fact which would be capable of easy resolution in the light of the checking that could now take place. The House is not to proceed with further consideration of the Bill until after dealing with the motion for the Whitsun adjournment, and, as what we are looking at is a matter of fact, and as no one, least of all anyone on the Opposition side of the House, would wish to be put in a position such as that which you anticipated in your last reply, would it not be possible for further inquiries about a strict matter of fact to be undertaken before we proceed with the Report stage of the Bill?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has made his request. Inquiries will, of course, be made, and I shall make a statement at the beginning of the other business when we come to it.