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Merchant Shipping Law Amendment Act 1853 (C 131)

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendment made: No. 52., in page 69, line 45, at end insert—

`2A. At the end of section 546 (salvage of cargo or wreck) add—
"(2) In this section 'tidal water' means—
  • (a) any waters within the ebb and flow of the tide at ordinary spring tides; or
  • (b) the waters of any dock which is directly, or (by means of one or more other docks) indirectly, connected with any such waters.";
  • and the existing provisions of section 546 shall accordingly constitute subsection (1) of that section.'. — [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 69, line 47, at end insert—

    '3A. After section 634A insert—

    Matters to be considered by general lighthouse authority before closure, etc., of facilities operated by them

    634B. — (1) Before bringing into effect any proposal which may result in a reduction in the number of persons to be employed or the hours of attendance to be worked at any lighthouse or lighthouse shore station a general lighthouse authority give written notice of any such proposal to the local authority within whose area the lighthouse shore station is situated and shall consider any representations received from that authority within a period of three months from the date of the notice.
    (2) In formulating any proposal referred to in subsection (1) above the general lighthouse authority shall have regard to the desirability of enabling every employee to be made wholly or partly redundant by the proposal to continue to live and work in the same locality, and the notice to the local authority required by virtue of subsection (1) above shall specify what provision the general lighthouse authority propose to make by way of housing accommodation, financial assistance and retraining or, if the general lighthouse authority consider no such provision is necessary, their reasons for so deciding.
    (3) "Local authority" for the purpose of the application of this section means in relation to—
  • (a) England and Wales, the council of a county;
  • (b) Scotland, the regional or islands council; and
  • (c) Northern Ireland, the district council."'.
  • The amendment would impose duties on the general lighthouse authorities before the closure of, or reduction in staff at, any of their lighthouses or light stations. It arises from the problem of automation of lighthouses and the closure of sound fog signals undertaken by the lighthouse authorities — principally by the one that concerns me, the Northern lighthouse board—in recent years.

    Clearly there are many pressures on the lighthouse authorities to cut costs at present — from the Government and from shipowners who have to pay light dues. There was a considerable outcry when the light dues were increased a year go, and pressures to reduce costs have weighed heavily on the lighthouse authorities. The march of technology means that automation techniques, which have led to some staff being made redundant, have been implemented. My worry is about the consequences of the automation programme on the individuals concerned and the communities in which they live.

    The problem is not unique to the United Kingdom. I understand that a programme in Canada has led to the automation of 85 of the 266 light stations there, and 230 men have been retired, retrained or reassigned. There are difficulties for the individuals involved. For many, it means giving up tied housing. Many may be in late middle age and find it difficult to retrain for new employment. It is also difficult to find employment. Many lighthouses are in remote parts of the country, where employment is not easy to find at the best of times, let alone at a time of high unemployment.

    It is not easy for men to uproot themselves from communities in which they may have lived for a long time and brought up a family. There are also problems for the community. They are often remote and sparsely populated. It is proposed to automate the lighthouse on Bressay, which has a population of only 333. Taking one family from that community would have a significant impact. Fair Isle has a population of only 66. One lighthouse has already been automated, and the House will realise what an impact the removal of a family would have on that community. It would affect social life and mean

    that the local authority would have greater difficulty in providing services, which would become more expensive per head of population.

    Losing a keeper and his family and making local assistants redundant can have a devastating effect on a remote rural area. The process has been quiet. We are talking about the loss of one job here and two jobs there. While closures do not attract the same public attention as a pit or major steelworks closure, they can have a similar impact proportionately.

    The amendment would impose a duty on the lighthouse authorities to give local authorities notice when they are about to implement a closure or reduce staffing. There is no such duty at present, but a lighthouse may be a listed building, which means that the local authority is brought in if it wishes to do anything with that building. That is the mechanism by which the local authority in my constituency has been alerted to a possible closure and the consequences for the local community.

    The amendment asks the authorities to consider the impact of their actions on the community. It would allow a local authority, in conjunction with the board, to see what can be done to find alternative employment for those affected. It would also allow the local authority to draw attention to cases when, on grounds of safety, it believes a light should be saved.

    There has been considerable resistance to demanning of lighthouses in British Columbia. An independent review found that one quarter of stations should be kept staffed. It also suggested that the role of coast watchers should be enhanced because there was a clear need for help for boaters and tourists in some remote areas. Drawing a proposed closure to the attention of a local authority would enable some local input to be made if there was a safety reason for keeping a lighthouse open.

    The amendment would also give boards a statutory duty to have regard to social factors when they make a decision. I have had considerable correspondence and meetings with the northern lighthouse board about automation and closures, and particularly about its proposed closures in my consituency. In my experience, the commissioners are sensitive and aware of the impact of their decisions on communities, yet they come back to me and say, "That is not within our statutory remit. We cannot do anything about it. We are helpless. We have a statutory duty to supply a lighthouse service and our scope for action is circumscribed. We cannot take into account social considerations." The amendment would allow them to do so. It would trigger off consultation with local authorities.

    1.45 am

    The Under-Secretary of State, Lord Brabazon, told me in a letter that in areas such as my constituency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board is always on hand to provide help. I certainly welcome the work of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, but even if the Minister cannot accept the amendment — I certainly hope that he will—it would be very encouraging if he were to give some indication that the lighthouse boards would seek to make contact with local authorities, and that even if it were not a statutory duty they would do that as a matter of practice and that they would also make contact with boards such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board so that it would have good notice of where there was likely to be redundancies and it would have advance warning so that it could take immediate action. Subsection (2) of the amendment contains some things that we should like the lighthouse boards to do if there were proposals to close down a particular lighthouse. It would require them to redeploy any redundant employees in the locality, to provide housing for those who would lose their tied housing, and to make financial provision for redundant employees or to provide retraining.

    As I have said, job opportunities could arise out of the closure of lighthouses. For example, some of the older lighthouses can become tourist attractions and can be converted into museums. That is a possibility for the Sumburgh lighthouse in my constituency. At Cape Spear, in Newfoundland, several jobs have been created in the locality by the Canadian parks taking over the lighthouse and making it into a culture centre and a museum. Such initiatives could be taken, and the local authorities could get in on the act very quickly if they had advance warning.

    In regard to redundancy provision, the northern lighthouse board is considering the position of mobile keepers. Negotiations are in train with regard to seeking a small improvement in the agreed contractual redundancy provisions to take account of keepers losing housing. I understand that that will need the approval of the Secretary of State and I very much hope that when the time comes he will give his approval. However, that applies only to a small number of keepers—the mobile keepers. I would wish further consideration to be given to those who are in non-mobile grades who may also find themselves without work.

    There are a number of automated lighthouse people who have been in the service for many years and who have found that they will not reach promotion to the rank of principal keeper, when three or four years ago they fully expected to retire at the grade of principal keeper and enjoy all the pension rights of that grade. In my constituency it is very unlikely that a certain keeper who otherwise might have expected to be promoted before retirement will be promoted. At a very late stage in his working life, he cannot look forward to the pension that he thought he would receive. The Government should address themselves to this situation, since lighthouse keepers will obviously lose out.

    I should like to ask the Minister one specific question about Irish lights. It has been represented to me by lighthouse keepers that there were enhanced redundancy provisions for some of the keepers who were in the employment of the commissioners of Irish lights. Will the Minister confirm whether that was the case and whether any increment was given for which the Secretary of State gave approval?

    Finally, there is the question, who pays? In his letter Lord Brabazon says that if the costs were to fall as a charge on the general lighthouse fund, it would increase the pressure to raise the light dues. The Government must face up to that problem. During the 1984–85 coal dispute the then Secretary of State for Energy, now Secretary of State for Wales, came to the Dispatch Box week after week and proudly announced enhanced redundancy provisions for those who were to lose their jobs in the mining industry and said that help would be given by means of British Coal Enterprise Ltd.

    The scale of this problem is entirely different, but the impact on the communities involved will be almost the same. We are dealing with communities. The loss of only a small number of jobs will have a great impact on communities where there is little alternative employment. The problem cannot be left just to the lighthouse boards, given their present financial structure. The Government must provide assistance for the many communities in the Highlands and Islands and in parts of Wales, England and Northern Ireland that are faced with a very real problem.

    I have listened very carefully to the arguments of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlancl (Mr. Wallace) and I understand his motives, but the Government cannot support his amendment. I know that he has in mind the particular circumstances of lightkeepers in his constituency. The northern lighthouse board is the responsible authority, and I am sure that within the constraints of its statutory obligations to the mariner it has a proper concern for the interests of its employees.

    The board hopes that a substantial element of necessary staff reductions can be achieved by natural wastage. During the last year, the board's redundancies within the hon. Gentleman's constituency have been limited to three persons, each in a separate location. It has no immediate plans for further compulsory redundancies, though a few more may be unavoidable in the longer term.

    Given the very small numbers concerned, even allowing for the remoteness of some of the affected communities, I do not think that it would be practicable or desirable to impose the kind of duty on the general lighthouse authorities that the clause proposes. However, I shall follow up the hon. Gentleman's point and suggest to my noble friend in another place that he should ask the northern lighthouse board to advise local authorities, the Scottish Development Agency or the Highlands and Islands Development Board, as may be appropriate, and any other local enterprise agencies that may be operating in the area of any proposed redundancies. On the basis of that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

    I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance, and I look forward to its implementation. I asked in particular about provision being made for redundancy, but as the hour is late, I suggest that the Minister should deal with that in correspondence.

    I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendment made: No. 48, page 71, line 30, at end insert—

    'MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT 1906 (c. 48)

    Omit section 52 (provisions with respect to mortgages of ships sold to foreigners).'.

    No. 53, in page 72, leave out lines 10 to 36 and insert—

    Inspection and admissibility in evidence of copies of certain documents.

    75A.—(1) Where under any enactment a document is open to public inspection when in the custody of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen—
  • (a) there may be supplied for public inspection a copy or other reproduction of the document instead of the original; but
  • (b) the original shall nevertheless be made available for public inspection if the copy or other reproduction is illegible.
  • (2) Where the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen destroys any document which has been sent to him under or by virtue of any enactment, and keeps a copy or other reproduction of that document, then—
  • (a) any enactment providing for that document to be admissible in evidence or open to public inspection, and
  • (b) in the case of a document falling within subsection (1), that subsection,
  • shall apply to the copy or other reproduction as if it were the original.
    (3) For the purposes of this section, and of section 695(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 in its application to documents in the custody of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, a copy is to be taken to be the copy of a document nothwithstanding that it is taken from a copy or other reproduction of the original.'.

    No. 10, in page 72, line 37, at end insert—

    'In section 92 (unregistered British ships)—
  • (a) omit "British"; and
  • (b) after "employed in them," insert "or shall so extend in such circumstances as may be so specified, in either case".'.—[Mr. David Mitchell.]