§ As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I understand that one or two hon. Members have a few short observations to make on the Third Reading of this Bill. Before they do so, I should like to thank the House for the very expeditious way in which it has passed this Bill through all its stages up to the present, and, particularly, to express my thanks to the Committee who gave it such complete and exhaustive examination. The Bill asks for power to ratify two conventions, one relating to safety of life at sea and the other to the load-line. This is the first occasion on which universal agreement has been reached by the principal maritime Powers upon a subject of such vast importance. When this Bill is passed, there will be greater security at sea for cargoes, crews and passengers; there will be better provisions with regard to the construction of ships and their division into watertight compartments, there will be better and more frequent wireless watches kept, and the wireless arrangements will generally be of a higher standard. The load-line practice will also become uniform.
Only two objections were raised to particular Clauses of the Bill. One was the objection to the change in helm orders. From time immemorial, as the House is aware, an order "port" has meant that the ship had to be turned to 743 starboard, and the order "starboard" turned the ship to port. That is being abandoned in favour of the direct method. One may generally sympathise with the navigators who were reluctant to make this change, but, nevertheless, they have been willing to consent to it in view of the other advantages which are to be obtained, and I want to take this opportunity of assuring them that ample notice will he given before the new Clause is put into effect. The Government accepted an Amendment to bring the wording of the Clause changing the helm orders more into line with the Convention, and I hope the Amendment that we accepted will give satisfaction.
There was one other misgiving that was felt by certain shipowners about the powers of the Board of Trade. As a result of the very full explanation given by the Solicitor-General, I think we may claim that those misgivings have been removed, so that the Bill will make its way to the Statute Book with complete concurrence and good will. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for the support that he has given us, and I should like to say how pleased I am to learn that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Captain Moss), who was an outstanding opponent of the Measure, has been satisfied. Therefore, I think there is no further point of dissension between any Members of the House. The Bill goes to its final stage under a good augury, and I hope everyone concerned will combine to make its beneficient provisions a success.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
It is quite a. new experience to be able to agree with the Government, and I think I am right in giving a blessing to the Measure on behalf of the party to which I belong. We ought to congratulate all those interested in shipping, both employers and employed, in that they have achieved agreement in securing the passing of this Convention into law. I am very pleased, from another angle, that they have developed in this a greater international spirit than has been the case in connection with some other undertakings. The Bill will make life safer at sea, not only for the crews but for travellers as well. I sincerely hope, in adopting these Con- 744 ventions, it will be taken for granted that they are intended to bring the worst up to the best and that no advantage will be taken by everyone to force the best down to the worst. I think I may say, on behalf of the men who are employed as crews, that we welcome this Measure.
§ Captain MOSS
I am glad of this opportunity to say a word or two on the Third Reading, partly because I was one of those new Members who had the temerity to say a few words in humble opposition to what has proved to be, after all, a most important Government Measure. I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to give the House some indication how it comes about that I was able to withdraw my opposition. It may be partly for the reason that I have just given, and it may also be partly due to the fact that I was faced with the alternative of going down with all my flags flying, but I think it is principally due to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee, when he said that, if the navigators of the service could understand and appreciate all that the Bill meant in so far as safety of life at sea is concerned, affecting, as it is bound to affect, all the maritime Powers of the world alike, the navigators in the British service would willingly make the sacrifice which Clause 29 undoubtedly entails.
Clause 29, as it, stands at present, still gives misgivings to many who believe that, if it were given as an instruction to the profession in its present phraseology, it might lead to confusion, misunderstanding and, perhaps, disaster. I am glad to think we have the assurance of the Board of Trade that some time will elapse after the Convention has been ratified by the five principal contracting countries before this instruction is issued through the usual notices to mariners. I am also glad to have the assurance, and I know that those who have supported my contention will equally be pleased to have the assurance that, before this instruction has been finally drawn up, it will have the collaboration and the assistance of those associations which look after the interests and the welfare of the men who go down to the sea in ships. I am authorised by two large associations to say that this Bill, creating as it does a considerable and very responsible change in the details of the daily life and duty of our mercantile service, will be carried out in the same spirit of 745 loyalty and co-operation which has characterised, not only for years, not only for generations, but for centuries, the conduct of the men of the British mercantile marine.
Sir J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
I am sure the House is very pleased to have heard the views of master mariners voiced by one who, by his own long experience in that profession, is better qualified than anyone else in the House to speak for them. They have shown in this an example of the patriotism that they have always shown, and we are delighted that, although their natural feelings were against the change they have withdrawn their objection in view of the greater advantages secured by the Bill for security at sea for the whole community. I wish to say a single word as one who in Committee voiced the doubts and difficulties in the mind of the shipping and commercial world as to the Clause which the Parliamentary Secretary referred to as the Board of Trade regulations. The great trouble in the mind of those who were disturbed was due to the fact that they had not all the information behind them. In Committee the Solicitor-General made a very clear explanation of the position and it came out perfectly clearly that the only points that were in reserve were very important points in connection with security and safety at sea.
There was a misapprehension, as often happens possibly, because, in common parlance, of red herrings being drawn across the path, that shipowners and others wished to lower the standard. I therefore think that it is only right that the House should realise that we altogether stand for the best and highest standard upon the question of life saving and security. We very fully appreciate the splendid position which the Board of Trade in this country has maintained in holding up that standard, and we are pleased to feel that now they have been able to hold up foreign nations to the high standard which they very rightly expect in this country. The explanations of the learned Solicitor-General have dispelled those doubts, and the feeling of the community now is that there is no point in the Bill which gives any further anxiety, and, what is even more important, this country can now tell the other maritime nations that it 746 is going to carry the Convention into full and complete effect. I therefore ventured to trespass for a moment or two upon the time of the House in order to mention these facts, and to add that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the Board of Trade for the way in which they have carried this matter through.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.