With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 19, at end insert—
'(1A) Where any part of a harbour authority's harbour is contiguous to an area which (apart from this subsection) is not within its harbour or the harbour of any other competent harbour authority but which is within an active former pilotage district, any reference in this Act to the authority's harbour or its approaches shall, subject to any order made under subsection (3) below, include a reference to that area; and where by virtue of this subsection an area is included in the harbour of more than one harbour authority, those authorities shall exercise their pilotage functions in relation to that area jointly.'.
No. 4, in page 2, line 11, leave out subsection (3) and
'(3) If the Secretary of State considers that it is not necessary in the interests of efficiency and safety of navigation:
and the Secretary of State may in any case where he considers that it is necessary in the interests of efficiency and safety of navigation that a competent harbour authority should exercise pilotage functions as respects any harbour authority's harbour he may by order provide that this Act shall apply to that competent harbour authority as if its harbour included that other harbour.'.
Clause 1 ensures that responsibility for considering pilotage requirements is placed on the appropriate harbour authorities. The clause empowers the Secretary of State, where there are likely to be overlapping or conflicting jurisdictions between different harbour authorities, to provide by order that designated harbour authorities should exercise functions that would otherwise be enjoyed by another harbour authority.
As the Bill stands, the present pilotage limits will be drawn solely by reference to the relevant harbour limits. That will mean a fragmented pilotage service in the Thames estuary. This is especially relevant to the maintenance of maritime safety as it will leave areas of hazardous waters outside the proposed limits for compulsory pilotage.
As we all know, the Thames estuary is an area of comparatively shallow water, heavily used by all sorts of traffic such as chemical carriers, container ships, supertankers and passenger ferries at the mouth of the Thames just 10 miles off shore. That ought not to be left to commercial considerations alone. In order to reach the oil wharves on the tide, deep-draughted tankers drawing up to 45 ft and carrying 100,000 tonnes of oil must negotiate the area south of the Trinity buoy at low water with only 4 ft under-keel clearance. The bottom there is notoriously unstable and subject to sand waves. The navigable channel is only about half a mile wide at best and requires a constant update of knowledge. There is no discernible radar picture and it is just 12 miles off the Essex coast, being some 15 miles seaward of the Port of London authority limit.
Do the Government really consider that the pilotage can be safely withdrawn from that area, which is very busy and close to the population centres around Margate and the north Kent coast as well as Essex? It is also a well-used fishing ground.
Immediately north of the Sunk and 10 miles beyond the Harwich harbour board limit is the approach channel to the Haven ports of Ipswich, Harwich and Felixstowe. Ships of up to 13 m draught have to navigate there, dependent on the rise of the tide, with just 1 m under-keel clearance in a channel half a mile wide in a cross tide to the busiest port in the United Kingdom. All in all, that, arguably the busiest stretch of water off our shores, is a somewhat hazardous area in which to navigate. Yet, in the proposed legislation, it falls into no man's land.
The sea is an unforgiving element, as we have learned just recently to our cost in the tragic ferry disaster. We must not take unnecessary risks. That is why the amendments to clause 1 will maintain the present pilotage limits allowing competent harbour authorities to reduce pilotage limit only upon application to the Secretary of State. That will give effect to the Select Committee's recommendation that initially harbour authorities should take over responsibility for pilotage districts as they presently exist, and harbour authorities which consider that the pilotage districts may he safely reduced should have to seek parliamentary approval.
Clause 12 deals with joint arrangements. The amendment to the clause is consequential to the new inserted subsection of clause 1(1A). It ensures that any provision for joint arrangements made under clause 12 does not affect the mandatory requirement for joint arrangements under clause 1.
I hope, in the interests of safety alone, that the Minister will pay attention to the amendments I have moved, and that he will accept them.
I want to intervene on a point of legality to find out whether the competent harbour authorities are to include the Queen's harbourmasters. It seems that there may be a difference of opinion here because in my part of southern England there are four competent harbour authorities but there is also a Queen's harbourmaster.
I wish to ask the Minister a question about the clause, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. My question concerns the Minches. If the clause were agreed to, would the Stornoway authority be the competent harbour authority? What kind of authority would it exercise over the passage of what I believe are called the ULCCs, which go down through those waters from Sullom Voe in Shetland? I accept what the pilots have told me— that it is a safe area through which to navigate huge ships.
However, I am not sure whether ships with draughts of up to 80 ft can safely navigate the passage. Speaking as a layman with no navigational expertise, I recall a large stern trawler from Hull — a ship that is very much smaller than a tanker — going aground in the Minches when fishing for mackerel some years ago. Despite the reassurances that have been offered by the pilots. those tankers should be directed to the west of Lewis and the Western Isles when they are proceeding to and from Sullom Voe. If the clause were accepted, would the Stornoway harbour authority become the competent harbour authority for the Minches?
I wish to join my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) in expressing some doubt about the clause. I support his amendments. The question of harbour limits is a crucial one in my part of the world. The Gloucester port is slightly outside my constituency, but Sharpness is in it. The pilots go aboard to bring vessels to those two ports way down the Welsh coast at Barry, which is many miles away.
As everyone knows, the Severn is a notoriously difficult river. It frequently shifts its channel, has the highest tides in the United Kingdom—almost in the world—and is a tricky business. It is not clear from the arrangements that are outlined in the Bill which harbour authority will be responsible for it. There are three candidates: the Gloucester harbour trustees, the Sharpness board or the British Waterways board. I understand from a letter that I have received from my noble Friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, who introduced the Bill in the other place, that those authorities will have to sort that matter out among themselves.
There is an element of vagueness about the arrangements which is undesirable in so difficult and dangerous a channel, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell us which authority will be responsible and what its duties will be. I hope that he will be able to set at rest our anxieties about pilotage in the area.
I wish to support the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), which have a vital part to play in pilotage in the outer reaches of the Thames. My hon. Friend has explained the technicalities, so I shall not dwell on them. The Minister well knows my reservations about the Bill, which seems to represent a piecemeal approach to the problem. As I understand it, responsibility will ultimately be given to the Port of London Authority, a body in which I do not have complete faith. In a letter to me, the Minister mentioned that it had undergone a sea change. That was a somewhat Freudian remark. Will the Minister accept the amendment so that that sea change can also be a safe change?
I have great sympathy with the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), and I await the Minister's answers with great interest. Many of us will attach great significance to those answers. I hope that the Minister will understand that it is not enough to give us a generalised answer; we need a specific assurance that he and his colleagues have grasped the safety aspect of what we are saying. We are entitled to a clear assurance about some of the hazardous areas from which compulsory pilotage has been withdrawn, and we need to know that the Minister is satisfied that the safety of those at sea is not being endangered. That is the point that has been put to us by pilots. I suspect that my hon. Friends, too, have been approached by pilots and persuaded of the importance of the case.
The Bill proposes that certain areas shall have compulsory pilotage withdrawn from them, and that the limits will be reduced back to the areas of the harbour authorities. Thereafter, the harbour authorities may apply for the limits to be extended, but an appeal can be made against such an application. The Goodwin sands, the north foreland of Kent, the Trinity buoy area and the Thames estuarial area are self-evidently hazardous places, and that is why they were included in the pilotage districts before. The Minister says that it is unnecessary to have compulsory pilotage in those areas, and that the matter should be left to the judgment of the new competent harbour authorities.
I am certainly one of those hon. Members who needs persuading that it is right, in the interests of safety, to make this withdrawal of compulsory pilotage. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has some convincing explanations if he intends to oppose the amendment. I hope that he will give us some assurance, perhaps even in the form of accepting the proposals.
Anyone who knows the Mersey knows that, in the past, we have had a number of harbour authorities. We had the Mersey docks and harbours board in my day. Then there were the Manchester ship canal, the Manchester docks and so on. The harbour authorities of Liverpool, Manchester and Garston have made an effort to provide the means whereby the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company could, if required, exercise pilotage functions on their behalf.
As no commitment has been given, I want to know whether the Government's view is that that can be agreed. At the moment the matter is up in the air, and I do not know what is happening. If the changes are to come about, we should know precisely what is happening, what harbour authorities are likely to take over and what the special problems in certain areas will be. I am not an expert on pilotage, unlike the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thompson), who is a much greater expert than I, because he was a Mersey pilot and understands the business thoroughly. He worked on the river for years; I worked only on the boats that were tied up. We need an answer to this question about what is happening, and whether the best arrangements are being made.
I wish to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who, I am delighted to hear, did some work in Liverpool at some stage of his career. What concerns me is that the Minister will tell us whether commercial or safety interests are to be paramount. That is what the amendment is about. The pilots on the River Mersey have said, both to my right hon. Friend and others, that they fear that the competent harbour authority might pay more attention to commercial interests than safety interests.
I trust that the Minister will reassure us that safety will be the paramount consideration and that commercial interests will take second place.
The hon. Members for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) spoke about safety, and I suspect that "safety" will be the key word throughout our debates. It is important that we have safety in the forefront of our minds when we talk about pilotage, and it must not be overridden by commercial considerations.
The hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) has introduced an interesting amendment which highlights the problem of overlapping competent harbour authorities in areas that are dangerous for shipping. I listened to the hon. Gentleman with care when he spoke about the Trinity buoy. At low water there is only 4 ft of under-keel clearance. The sea bottom is notoriously unstable and subject to sand waves, the channel is not easily navigable by radar and it is only 10 miles away from the Essex coast. The Thames estuary and the east coast ports of Felixtowe and Harwich are areas of great activity. There is a great deal of continental traffic and there are many ferries and ro-ro vessels. It is a hive of activity. We must know who is to be responsible for the safe navigation of these waters and which harbour authority will have that responsibility. Emphasis must be placed upon the safe navigation of our waters around the United Kingdom and where pilotage is necessary, pilotage must be provided.
There is no dispute about safety being paramount, and the Bill places an absolute obligation on ensuring safety. Competent harbour authorities will be subject to the responsibilities and duties that are set out in clause 2. The only matter for debate is where responsibility lies for safety — in other words, where does the buck stop? It has been difficult in the past to determine where the buck stops, and this has had a bearing on the number of pilots that have been required. It has been a matter of great debate within the industry over many years, and it has addressed itself constantly to the sort of pilotage that is required and the number of pilots that are needed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) spoke about the Queen's harbourmasters. They will not be competent harbour authorities. There are provisions in clauses 12 and 13 for determining the relationships between them and the competent authorities. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) asked about the problems that might be associated with the Manchester and Mersey docks. We hope that agreement will be reached on sensible proposals for the estuary. If that is not possible, clause 12 allows the Secretary of State to call for information that will enable him to make satisfactory arrangements. We hope that there can be voluntary agreement.
We are dealing with a complex Bill that contains many clauses, and one gathers that we shall be doing so for two or three hours. My hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) and I are being told that it is hoped that satisfactory arrangements will be made, but the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has asked for specific assurances. We want to know what is to happen, and so do pilots. The response of my hon. Friend the Minister is hardly satisfactory.
Where there are overlapping responsibilities between competent harbour authorities as defined in the Bill, the authorities will get together and make arrangements for pilotage. If it is found that it is not possible voluntarily to make such arrangements, there are powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State to intervene. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) that there is a problem about Gloucester and Sharpness. I shall be introducing an amendment to enable the Secretary of State to deal with problems of passage.
I think that there is an agreement already between the harbour authorities in the area which I represent in part that will result in a Mersey docks company. In the past there was a tremendous number of ships on the Mersey and a considerable number of pilots were required. The comparison between Merseyside then and now is a tragic one. Those of us who come from Merseyside feel ill every time we look at the river. There is nothing much moving on it but there is still some activity. Some pilots will be needed but there will be others who will not be required. Who will be responsible for paying off the pilots who are not needed? From where will the money come? I want a firm assurance from the Minister. Will the new authorities have to find the money, or will they be given special assistance by the Government to help them overcome the problem?
It seems that we are embarking on a Second Reading debate. We shall be dealing with the details of compensation arrangements and who will pay. The short answer is that the ports will pay. We shall deal with the details of the compensation arrangements as we proceed with our consideration of the Bill.
There are areas that have special problems because of their history and it is not good enough to say "the ports". There are real problems and the Government should have a responsibility to help the ports to deal with them. If there is a good answer set out in the Bill, I shall be prepared to accept it, hut I am not satisfied with the Minister's response so far.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask questions and as we continue to discuss the Bill he will receive detailed answers. If I may say so, he is asking questions which are related more directly to other amendments.
The present system of compulsory pilotage is limited. In the London district, for example, compulsory pilotage applies only to ships going to and from ports in London districts. Vessels going through the district are not required to take pilots. I discovered this when I visited the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale). It is possible for vessels making their way to Ipswich not to take on a pilot as they pass Harwich. We must not run away with the idea that the present system is all-embracing, and that we are ruining it through the Bill.
The amendments assume that the justifications of the boundaries of the pilotage districts remain valid, although they were drawn up at the turn of the century or, in some cases, earlier. But it must be recognised that conditions have changed dramatically since then. Patterns of trade, shipping movements and the available navigational equipment, for instance, have altered beyond recognition.
I have two further objections to the amendments. First, they would give the Secretary of State responsibility for setting the limits of pilotage, whereas one of the prime purposes of the Bill — I appreciate that this is a controversial matter — is that they should be locally determined. Secondly, they would require the competent harbour authorities to operate jointly in the outer pilotage areas. In some areas, that would be an unecessary administrative complication. Surely it would be better to leave the local competent harbour authorities to decide the best arrangements in their local circumstances.
We believe that the sensible way forward is to allow the competent harbour authorities to consider the pilotage needs of their ports afresh in the light of modern conditions, without being constrained by a structure that grew up in wholly different circumstances.
My hon. Friend has made much of the Government's desire to pass on the final and ultimate decision to the local authorities concerned. How does he square that with the Secretary of State's remarks in the House on 9 March? My right hon. Friend said:
Safety cannot be inhibited by any pressures. It is the first prerequisite, and all hon Members would expect it to be the prerequisite of any Government, to establish regulations on safety at sea."—[Official Report, 9 March 1987; Vol. 112, c. 23.]
My right hon. Friend was saying that safety was the Government's responsibility. Should not the Government therefore take responsibility for it in the Bill?
The Government are taking the responsibility of hoping to obtain the agreement of Parliament to the Bill. We believe that the people who know the local conditions in the approaches to the quayside are the right people to determine the number of pilots that will allow for the safest possible conduct of shipping within their authorities. I know that that is a matter for debate, but it is precisely because the Government believe that the local competent harbour authorities are best able to determine the safe number of pilots that we are trying to persuade the House to accept the Bill.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) talked about Stornoway. Stornoway is not a competent harbour authority, because it is not at present an active pilotage district. However, if it wishes to become so, under the terms of the Bill, it can apply for an order.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would answer a specific question. He tells us that conditions have changed since the pilotage districts were first established. Does that mean that some body or authority has made a scientific reassessment of pilotage needs? In the case of the Thames estuary, for example, has some body decided that there is no longer a prima facie need for compulsory pilotage from the Goodwin sands? Or does my hon. Friend mean that an arbitrary decision has been made, and that hopefully we shall eventually claw our way back to common sense when the needs of the area have been established? If there has been a reassessment, is not my hon. Friend obliged to place the evidence on safety before the House before asking us to reduce the pilotage areas'?
The competent harbour authority would not necessarily have navigation control, unless it asked for the appropriate orders. If it did so, it could then take control if it felt that that was part of the CHA's responsibility under the Act, which is to ensure safe passage not only within their areas, but in the approaches to their harbours.
That partly answers my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate); however, let me reply to his question about how the competent harbour authorities were originally designated. The definition of such authorities arose out of a number of byelaws and historical precedents. There is discretion for those who know what part of the competent harbour area they can designate for compulsory pilotage. If, knowing the local conditions, they are not satisfied about the harbour limits, it is open to them to extend those limits.
I hope that, even if I have not answered all the questions to everyone's satisfaction, I have at least addressed the points that have been made. I ask the Committee not to accept the amendments.
I have had to weigh carefully in my mind the paramount importance of safety. When such a change is made, I feel that safety must overrule what my hon. Friend the Minister has been saying. He has not convinced me, and I have a feeling that he has not convinced many of my hon. Friends. I only wish that he had been able to do so.
I would emphasise that the matter was considered by the Select Committee on Transport, which recommended that initially harbour authorities should take over responsibility for pilotage districts as they now exist. My view, therefore, is backed up by the Select Committee. Bearing in mind the dangers of the approaches to the Thames estuary——
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) and others have underlined the fundamental flaw in the Bill. The Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, is handing over totally, the responsibility for compulsory pilotage in the waters around this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) pointed out, that is to be done without any assessment of whether safety measures have been examined or brought up to date. The point does not concern the number of pilots; it goes to the core of the safety argument. We have heard nothing this evening that convinces us—convinces me, at any rate— that anything has been done that should relieve the Government of the ultimate responsibility for ensuring safety. It is not sufficient to hand over that responsibility to CHAs. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to address his closing remarks to the question of who polices the policemen. We are giving the responsibility to the CHAs, and the Government will have no responsibility for seeing what they do thereafter.
|Division No. 143]||[7.00 pm|
|Anderson, Donald||Madden, Max|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Beith, A. J.||Moate, Roger|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Pike, Peter|
|Brinton, Tim||Porter, Barry|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Skinner, Dennis|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Spearing, Nigel|
|Gould, Bryan||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Stott, Roger|
|Haynes, Frank||Taylor, Matthew|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Trotter, Neville|
|Howells, Geraint||Wallace, James|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Sir Julian Ridsdale and Mr. Malcolm Thornton.|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Ancram, Michael||Jones, Robert (Herts W)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Knowles, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Bright, Graham||McCrindle, Robert|
|Browne, John||Malone, Gerald|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Marlow, Antony|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Burt, Alistair||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Butterfill, John||Neubert, Michael|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Norris, Steven|
|Colvin, Michael||Onslow, Cranley|
|Cope, John||Pattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Couchman, James||Portillo, Michael|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Powley, John|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Rathbone, Tim|
|Fallon, Michael||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Favell, Anthony||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Forth, Eric||Spencer, Derek|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Galley, Roy||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Greenway, Harry||Stern, Michael|
|Gregory, Conal||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Harris, David||Waller, Gary|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Heddle, John||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Wheeler, John|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Wilkinson, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Jackson, Robert||Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Richard Ryder.|
I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 3, leave out 'or 1986' and insert '1986 or 1987'.
This is a constituency-based amendment. At the present time, Scalloway, in the Shetland Isles, is not within a pilotage area although pilotage operations take place. It is the will of the harbour authority — the Shetland Islands council — that Scalloway be formally made a pilotage area. If it had to wait until after the Bill becomes law, it would be unable to license those persons who presently carry out the pilot duties— albeit on a part-time basis—but would be bound by the four-year period from the appointed day.
It has been suggested that a pilotage order could he promoted prior to the appointed day and that has much to commend it. It was originally suggested by the noble Lord Brabazon that Scalloway should be included as part of the Sullom Voe district. With respect to the noble Lord, I must point out that Scalloway is on the west coast and Sullom Voe is on the east coast, so perhaps, geographically, that is not the most sensible solution.
If a pilotage order was promoted, there is a possible difficulty — that the Bill as it stands does not make provision for an act of pilotage in the present calendar year, 1987. Obviously, if a pilotage order was to be promoted and passed and if the district was to be an active district as defined in the Bill, the only time that would be available for an act of pilotage to be made and in respect of which a return could be made, would be in the year 1987.
It is for that reason that this simple amendment is made to extend, by one further calendar year, the years in which returns can be made in respect of acts of pilotage.
I am advised that our lawyers do not think that this amendment is strictly necessary to achieve what is desired by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)—to have Scalloway made an active pilotage district. However, we accept his point, and to make things clear we are prepared to accept the amendment.