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Application Of Civil Jurisdiction And Judgements Act 1982

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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'The provisions of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 shall not apply to vessels registered pursuant to section 12 of this Act where such application would mean that a vessel would pass from the jurisdiction of a Scottish Court to that of a Welsh court.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause arises from concern about the impact of the Bill on jurisdiction of the Scottish courts over Scottish fishing vessels. We are worried about the establishment of the centralised register in Cardiff as it relates to the provisions of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982, schedule 8, paragraph 4 of which provides that for proceedings
"which have as their object the validity of entries in public registers"
the appropriate court in which to pursue the action is that for the place where the register is kept. Obviously that raises grave doubts about the jurisdiction of Scottish courts over Scottish fishing vessels, given the establishment of the centralised register in Cardiff.

I hope that the Minister will allay the fears that have been expressed over three specific matters. First, can there be a challenge to the validity of entries in the register and would that take place in the Scottish or in the Welsh courts? Secondly, will a challenge to the refusal of an entry on the register — which could take place by judicial review—still be able to take place in Scottish courts? The third question is whether Scottish courts will retain jurisdiction over the affairs of Scottish fishing vessels.

9 pm

These are not minor matters of legal nicety but concern about an individual's right of redress. I recently came across somebody—a constituent of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)—who was pursuing a considerable case against British Telecom because his Cellnet machine was not working properly. He was at a fairly advanced stage of preparing his case when BT told him imperiously that it would not answer to his case in any Scottish court because it is registered in London.

There is a great danger that, if there is a dispute involving Scottish fishing vessels, the relevant parties might, unbelievably, have to travel to Wales to fight the case. Clause 20 of BT's contract provides that any dispute must be taken in an English court. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is utterly unacceptable to the people of Scotland.

That is a helpful intervention and it emphasises the general support for the proposition that the Bill should not inadvertently remove legal affairs involving Scottish fishing vessels from the jurisdiction of Scottish courts.

I am sure that that was not the Government's intention and that if there is any threat to the jurisdiction of Scottish courts, it is an accident. The Government are, however, responsible for persuading the House that they intend to tackle the matter. They can either accept new clause 3, which would remove from the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 the registration of Scottish fishing vessels and prevent jurisdiction from being moved to Welsh courts, or the matter could be tackled by regulation. The Government could thus provide that the port of registration is where the register is kept, rather than there being a central register in Cardiff. Whichever route the Government choose, they have a responsibility to allay the anxieties which arise out of the transfer of jurisdiction affecting Scottish fishing vessels from Scottish to Welsh courts.

I also am worried about the possible effect of the Bill on Scottish fishing vessels. I wrote to the Minister, who reassured me that disputes involving registration would be decided in a Scottish court and that matters such as those which would arise out of a collision could also be dealt with in a Scottish court. He said, however, that disputes about the validity of registration, which I took to mean the particulars of a vessel, would still he decided in a Welsh court.

I should like the Minister to confirm that my impression is correct. He said that disputes about the validity of a register entry are rare. Will he take on board the worries that have been expressed by Opposition Members and fishermen? Fishermen are worried that in, for example, a dispute about the particulars of an entry, they would have to go down to Wales. If such disputes became fairly common, perhaps the Minister would he willing to reconsider what the Bill proposes.

As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has explained, under the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, it is a requirement, in proceedings about the validity of entries in a public register, for the courts where the register is held to have exclusive jurisdiction. That means that when the central register of fishing vessels is established in Cardiff, it will be for the courts in England and Wales to exercise jurisdiction in any such proceedings related to that register.

I do not believe that it would be sensible to depart from established practice in these matters, but I can reassure the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald), who made inquiries a few weeks ago, that actions that challenge the validity of entries in the register are extremely rare, and that jurisdiction of the Scottish courts over other matters concerning fishing vessels will not be affected by the establishment of the register for fishing in Cardiff.

The more important and more likely challenge concerning registration would be a challenge to a decision by the Secretary of State to refuse registration, or to deregister a vessel. Such a challenge would be by way of a request for judicial review and could be brought in courts anywhere in the United Kingdom. In such cases, it would therefore be open to a fishing vessel owner to sue in Scotland if he so wished. In a whole host of other cases involving fishing boats, such as collision actions and wage disputes, the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is not affected.

What would be the position if mortgages were registered against a ship in the Welsh courts and there was a dispute about that? Would that have to be done in the Welsh courts?

If a dispute arises over the question of mortgages, that is for the Scottish courts, because that is where the issue arises. If it is a dispute about the register, then it would be a matter for the English or Welsh courts.

Is it possible for the Minister of State to qualify how rare is rare? How rare are challenges of the validity of entries? It would help if the House were to know how minor is the matter we are discussing.

How rare is rare is a question that often exercises one's mind, but not in the precise circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Such challenges are so rare that I am not aware of a case.

I thank the Minister for going into such detail and for attempting to quantify how rare is rare. The House is broadly assured by what the Minister has said. I hope that he will keep the matter under review to make sure that no inconvenience to Scottish fishermen arises out of the legislation.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.