HC Deb 17 December 1935 vol 307 cc1543-7
44 and 51. Mr. EDE

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether he has considered the report of the inquiry into the loss of the "La Crescenta"; and what action he proposes to take thereon;

(2) whether, in view of the recent reports on the losses of vessels at sea, he proposes to introduce legislation to strengthen the requirements of the law as to the seaworthiness of ships and manning regulations?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the findings announced by the Wreck Commissioner in connection with the loss of the steamship "La Crescenta," he proposes to introduce amending legislation to the Merchant Shipping Acts, altering the regulations regarding the manning of merchant ships and generally strengthening the provisions of the Act for safeguarding the lives of men at sea?

54. Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to Lord Merrivale's recommendation in the "La Crescenta" case; and whether he will consider a review and revision of the Merchant Shipping Act?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make public the findings of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee in regard to the question of manning?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the committee appointed to inquire into the steering-gear of cargo vessels has yet completed its task, and whether he intends to make public the findings of that committee?


Notice of appeal has been given in respect of the findings of Lord Merrivale's Court in the case of the "La Crescenta" and this appeal will in due course be heard in the High Court. These findings are therefore at present sub judice. Apart from the question of overloading, the findings deal with questions of the manning and the seaworthiness of the ship. Respecting manning, the questions raised are in the main similar to those raised in the reports of the earlier inquiries. The Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee already have this matter under consideration at my request. As regards seaworthiness, the points raised by the report relating to ship surveys are similar to those brought out at the previous inquiries, and the matter is under discussion between the Board of Trade and the Classification Societies. The question of the type of steering gear used on some of the ships which have been the subject of these inquiries is under examination by an expert committee, set up by me in July and their report will reach me I hope early in the New Year. The action to be taken as a result of the formal investigations depends largely upon the outcome of the inquiries and discussions referred to above. The reports of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee on Manning and the Steering Gear Committee will be published as soon as they are received, and the results of the discussions between the Board and the Classification Societies will also be made public. I should add that the Board of Trade, after consultation with the Classification Societies, issued through the shipowners' organisations in August last recommendations to the shipowners as to certain precautions which should be taken forthwith in view of the questions raised by these inquiries.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance, in view of the grave anxiety existing among the members of the Mercantile Marine, that as soon as he receives these reports he will consider promoting legislation to give effect to them?


Yes, if fresh legislation is necessary I will certainly do so. I need hardly assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I look upon this matter just as gravely as they do themselves.


Is it within the province of the right hon. Gentleman's Department to advise the Public Prosecutor to watch the proceedings to which he has referred with a view to taking criminal action if the results demand it?


The particular case which, I think, the hon. Gentleman has in mind is sub judice at present. I would, therefore, prefer not to say anything on the subject at present.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Advisory Committee on Manning decided their policy as far back as October, 1934, and will he publish their report forthwith?


I must have notice of that question.


I have given notice of it in my question.


I have given all the information that I can make available.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether it is his intention to cause an inquiry to be held into the loss of the "Joseph Medill," in the North Atlantic?


I have just received a reply from His Majesty's Government in Canada consenting to the holding of a formal investigation in the United Kingdom if thought desirable, and a formal investigation is, accordingly, being ordered.


Will the right hon. Gentleman also inquire into the loss to the "John Public" during the last four years?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his Department sanctioned the sailing of the "Joseph Medill" from England to Canada without wireless equipment; and if he will review the conditions under which such exemptions are granted?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. As regards the second part, it is the duty of the Board of Trade to carry out the provisions of the law incorporated in the Merchant Shipping (Wireless Telegraphy) Act, 1919, as qualified by the Merchant, Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act, 1932. The latter Act was passed in pursuance of International Conventions including the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1929. As I informed the hon. Member on 5th December the exemption in question was granted in accordance with a definite provision of that Convention. Applications for exemption will continue to be most carefully scrutinised on their merits but, as at present advised, I see no reason for a review of the conclusions reached by the International Conference of 1929.


Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider it advisable, in view of the fact that this ship went down with all hands, that a more careful investigation should be made before ships are allowed to undertake voyages without having wireless apparatus on board, as it is almost certain that if this vessel had been equipped with wireless the crew might have been saved?


I am afraid that is a matter of conjecture, but certainly every case is very carefully scrutinised on its merits.


Is it not the case that this vessel went along what is considered to be the main route of American shipping and would, consequently, have got into touch easily with other vessels when the danger was discovered if there had been wireless equipment?