HC Deb 02 June 1942 vol 380 cc610-20

In this Act and in the principal Act— pilot boat" means any vessel-regularly employed in the pilotage service of any pilotage district, but includes any vessel which, for the time being, is being used in the pilotage service of any pilotage district in the British islands; British ship" does not include a ship forming part of His Majesty's Navy, but includes any other ship which belongs to His Majesty, or is held by any person on behalf, of or for the benefit of the Crown; ship" includes every description of vessel used in navigation not propelled by oars; mariner" in relation to a ship, means the master or a member of the crew of the ship, being a person employed or engaged in seagoing service in that ship, and not being a member of His Majesty's naval forces, or a person to whom the provisions of Section four or Section five of the principal Act apply; port" includes any dock, harbour, pier, quay, wharf, mooring, anchorage, or any other similar place; place "includes any point on land, in the air, or on or in the water.—[Petty Officer Herbert.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Petty Officer Herbert

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

I am following the process, already so gloriously begun by the Government, of tidying up the definitions. I would ask the Committee to glance at the Schedule. The first half of it consists of consequential Amendments; and then, suddenly, with out a word of warning, we are launched into definitions. In line 22 there is a reference to the definition of "pilot boat." We have to go to the principal Act, and, having done that, to the Pilotage Act, 1913, and then we have to add the words set out in the Schedule. I have tidied that up by taking the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and putting them together. I have done the same thing in this new Clause, to all the definitions. I hope it will be accepted. If not, I shall really challenge a Division. The question will then arise of the tidy way of inserting the Clause in the Bill, and I hope that the Government will add this Clause to their own Clause 8.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I would like to support my hon. and gallant Friend in tidying up this Bill, and I hope that these excellent definitions will be accepted. It is amazing that it should be necessary always to search these past Statutes, turning over one volume after another in order, as "The Times" says this morning, to collect the rags and tatters of a definition in a series of Statutes. I wonder why this is so—perhaps indeed it is that Parliament is suspicious of the judiciary and that it meets its suspicion by the stupid, trying and exasperating practice of legislation by reference. Brevity is claimed, but brevity is really thrown to the winds. It is better to repeat at length in a Bill than to delve into one dusty tome after another which, besides wasting time, encourages irritability, which in turn tends to mar judgment—not to say anything of dirty fingers from the dusty books. It is in this complicated business that bureaucracy finds it roots. I support my hon. and gallant Friend who gives great service to this House and his country by stripping the humbug and dispersing the pomp by which mankind surrounds itself, "and by blowing away the dusty gossamer that is wound around the best intentions.

The Solicitor-General

I am sorry that the Government feel that they are unable to accept my hon. and gallant Friend's suggested new Clause, especially in view of the pleasing manner in which it has been put before the Committee. I would like to say one or two things with regard to this point, because my hon. and gallant Friend has raised the matter more than once when this Bill has been before the House. He said that he views with no alarm the general question of bringing forward a Bill by repeal and re-enactment. I would like to consider two points. The first is that, if you have a Bill put forward in that way which was three or four pages longer than this Bill, two points would arise. It would be difficult for the House then to distinguish between the new and the old in spite of the present difficulty which my hon. and gallant. Friend has graphically described. They have then to compare and decide what are the new points to which they have to direct their minds. There is the other point, which my hon. and gallant Friend will also realise to the full, that we are bound to take longer because, with the best will in the world, of the tendency to discuss the old points which have been made before in addition to the new.

The only other aspect is, as I have tried to indicate in dealing with other of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendments, that we must make an effort to deal with every conceivable set of circumstances. It is useless if we are going to give up that somewhat unequal struggle and allow the Bill to go forward and not attempt to deal with the difficult concatenation of circumstances which arise. We have to convey to the courts the matter which they will have to consider. My hon. and gallant Friend was rather disposed to waive that aspect, but we clearly have in mind, what this Bill envisages, that, if pension is refused by the Minister, there is the right of action in the courts. Therefore, if the claimant can bring himself or herself within the class of persons and the class of circumstances, the matter comes to the courts and the courts have to decide whether it is an injury caused by ordinary risks or by war risks. The matter may well come before them, and the Bill has to be prepared in order to convey the meaning to the courts.

I take that as preliminary to asking my hon. and gallant Friend to consider one of the points with which he has made great play, and play which we have all enjoyed. I refer to the question of a ship. He said, "Why should we turn back to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894? Why make the definition the meaning which is in the Merchant Shipping Act?" Those of us whose interest in merchant shipping cases is somewhat less spasmodic, although our interest in ships may be more so than that of my hon. and gallant Friend, know that if we give the reference to the Merchant Shipping Act, we bring in the result of years of authority where the question of the ship has been considered by the Court, and which is conveniently collected in some two pages of definitions. Therefore, our definition puts it beyond doubt that a ship has the meaning which is in the Merchant Shipping Act, and in the various cases that have been decided under that Act. If we were to put it out in full a doubt would be raised and it would be said that, if you wanted to have the same meaning as is in the Merchant Shipping Act, then why do we not put it in the same wording as is in that Act?

Petty Officer Herbert

Does my hon. and learned Friend say that the Judge who if he reads that "ship" has the same meaning as in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, knows just what case-law to apply will do something quite different if the definition is included in this Bill? Surely he will apply the same case-law. The only addition will be that we too shall understand it.

The Solicitor-General

I will not say that I have any doubts about my hon. and gallant Friend's last proposition, because that might be misconstrued, but with regard to his first, there is no question at all. It is one of the great facts of construction, as he will soon learn, that words in one Statute are attempted to be construed by the meanings attached to the same words in another Statute. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and myself have many times tried to argue along that way, and I am sure that he has committed the same error as I have on many occasions. We have said that they were the words in the Statute and that the meaning under the Statute was clear. I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend and I will get very far by arguing in that way, but where you put that a ship should have the same meaning as in the other Statutes, then the law attached to the other Statutes automatically attaches to this.

Dr. Thomas

Why does my hon. and learned Friend find it easy to define "harbour" but not "port," "tidal water" and not "a mariner," and "salvage" but not. "pilot boat"? Will he say why it is easy in the one case to put propositions to the Committee and in other case extremely difficult?

The Solicitor-General

There used to be a quotation in my youth—and I suppose it still exists—which ran: I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts. Apparently my hon. Friend would change it to this: "I do not like the Government even when they are prepared to meet me."

Dr. Thomas

My hon. and learned Friend accuses me of not liking the Government when they attempt to meet me. I am hoping they will meet me all the way and merely suggested that what is logical in a previous Clause is logical in this one.

The Solicitor-General

It only shows the danger that occurs when we try to meet hon. Members in certain of these minor matters. I am trying to explain what I believe is a useful and not unimportant matter, namely, the definition of a ship. I have read and heard everything which my hon. and gallant Friend has said on this matter, and I have tried to apply it. Considering the many years of difficulty which I have myself experienced in reference to construction, considering the problem with which we are dealing—and I would ask him to give it his honest consideration—is it not more important that the House of Commons, which universally desires to improve the position of mariners and to enlarge the circumstances under which they should receive compensation, should see without any doubt what is the new ground they are to cover and decide whether it is sufficient or not than that we should be spared the amount of trouble of merely turning up a couple of Acts? Which is the best? I suggest, after all consideration of my hon. and gallant Friend's view, that it is better to know what we have to do and how we are to do it.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

This all comes of the Government yielding to the blandishments of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert). I hope the Government will derive a lesson from this sad and bitter experience. As I understand it, the hon. and gallant Member wants to tidy things up. No one will take exception to that, but he is, in fact, only muddling things, as I shall show without entering into all these legal subtleties. He says he is anxious to avoid legislation by reference. Why has he not done it by his Clause? May I direct his attention to the third paragraph, in which he refers to the provisions of the principal Act? I do not know anything about that. Would he tell us about it? If that is not legislation by reference, I would like to know what is.

Petty Officer Herbert

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means.

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. and gallant Member drew it up himself, so he ought to know what it means.

Petty Officer Herbert

It is not my composition. These are the words intended to be used by the Government draftsman, but properly set out.

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. and gallant Member has made matters very much worse. Now we know all along what we suspected—that this is not his own composition. He has been in the hands of someone else, but the others, apparently, were wiser than he, because they did understand that it. was impossible to define everything. Of course, you cannot define everything. You must be careful, when you seek to define, to do it accurately. What has the hon. and gallant Member done? In the last paragraph of his Clause there is an attempt to define the word "place" as including any point on land, in the air or on pr in the water.

Petty Officer Herbert

It is the Government's definition, not mine. If the hon. Member had been here earlier, he would have understood. These words are already in the draft.

Mr. Shinwell

I am not quarrelling with the hon. and gallant Gentleman because he accepts the Government's wording. I am asking that when he does accept the Government's wording he should know what it means, if he is so anxious to have the meaning of this Clause accurately defined. When he talks about a place being in the air, can he define that? What actual relationship has it to the matter under review? What is the point of all this? Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not fully acquainted with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, he ought to recognise that the courts are. One would imagine from what he says that no case affecting a merchant seaman ever came before a court of law. They are before the courts almost every day, and there is a great body of reference dealing with such matters. It is not a very difficult thing for the courts to define the meaning of a ship, a seaman, or a place, because of the precedents and various references that are within their compass. I much prefer that method, although perhaps it is seemingly difficult, than to define narrowly these various terms. That is my objection to the Clause. If this were accepted, we might circumscribe the meaning of this Bill and to that extent tie the hands of the courts. That would make things very much more difficult. I do not perceive any injured seaman being unprotected as he might well be because of the attempt to seek an accurate definition.

I know that the Merchant Shipping Acts are not altogether satisfactory, but if I had to choose, I should accept them. The hon. and gallant Member has been led into this by people—I think they are called sea lawyers—who have an inaccurate knowledge of the position. This must be said as against those who have advised the hon. and gallant Member. It was time this was said in the House. I recognise that trade unions are not always right, but when it comes to questions of compensation they are usually right. The whole of my hon. and gailant Friend's argument has been against the trade unions, who have accepted this Bill. As against the people who have advised my hon. and gallant Friend, I would' point out that the National Seamen's Union, which is the national organisation of seamen, have not found anything to complain of in this Bill. If they had, they would have said so. The Navigating Officers' Union have accepted it. I do not know from whom the hon. and gallant Member can have received evidence, unless it be the Mercantile Marine Services Association, which is not a trade union. Therefore, if my hon. Friends and I have to choose between the advice which the hon. and gallant Member has received from the Mercantile Marine Services Association and the advice we have received from the National Seamen's Union and the recognised Officers' Union, we will accept the latter. In the circumstances, I think it would be better to reject the new Clause. At any rate, on the merits of the case, apart from any advice rendered by any organisation, I say that the definitions which my hon. and gallant Friend has sought to introduce into the Bill are so worded that they would make it more difficult for the courts to decide, and I am satisfied that they would render no service to the seamen. I hope the Government will resist the new Clause.

Petty Officer Herbert

I am wholly unpersuaded by the arguments that have been made. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well), what have the the trade unions to do with this? I do not take my advice about language from the officers and men of any kind of union. I have had scarcely any discussion about this matter with any union. What does it matter? I have sufficient knowledge of the law and language to make up my own mind on this point. With regard to one particular point that has been mentioned, the definition of "ship," would my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General like to have it this way?—as I suggested the other day to the draftsman: 'ship' shall have the same meaning as in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, namely, any description of vessel used in navigation not propelled by oars. That is the only one that seems to worry my hon. and learned Friend. Why not alter that one and accept the rest? [Interruption.] In general, I ask any hon. Member to look at the Schedule and at my Clause, and say which is the better. I am wholly unpersuaded, and I shall ask the Committee to divide on the matter. The hon. Member for Seaham was not present when I made my first remarks. I said that the first thing is for us in this House to be clear as to what we are doing and why we are doing it; secondly, that it must, if possible, be plain to the" subject, and, thirdly and lastly, plain to the Judges. The Schedule is not plain to anyone, and I shall vote against it.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

As a humble Back-bencher, I sympathise very much with the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) in his desire to simplify our legislation, and I fail to see the strength of the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University is not attempting to impose his own interpretation, but is asking the Committee to accept the principle of not bringing in legislation by reference. It is an attempt to put a stop to an evil. It is all very well for one hon. Member to speak of how Judges will react to this Schedule, but I would say that we do not want only the Judges in this country to understand our legislation; we want to make it as simple as possible, so that the great majority of people will be able to read it, understand what it means, and make up their own minds.

What is the trend of modern events? With the number of new institutions that have been set up in the Services, I would very much like any legislation coming before the House to define up to the latest stage the exact activities and rank of many of the people in the Services. I would like there to be a modern definition of "mariner" and not have to refer back to an old Act which brought into being, in a special set of circumstances, certain categories, with the result that those who might to-day be considered as mariners are kept out because of the conditions that appertained when the old Act was passed. For instance, the trade union movement has made great strides forward since 1890 and 1893, and there has constantly been amending legislation defining the many activities of trade unions. I think it would be wrong for the secretary of the trade union branch at the present time, when asked by one of the members of his branch what powers trade unions have with regard to certain things, to say, "There is the Trade Union Act of 1942 and the Trade Union Act of 1941, but with regard to the point you have raised, you must refer back to the Trade Union Act of 1898 or 1890."

Apart from dealing with the individual points raised now, it is time that hon. Members indicated to the Government in the best possible way that when legislation is being brought forward concerning pensions or any other aspect of the national life, that legislation should be brought up to date. As a matter of fact, it is within the power of any hon. Member to say that the definition of a mariner or a pilot boat in the past does not meet with the requirements of modern times and the requirements of the men engaged in those services to-day. I cannot see any logical reason why, when legislation is brought forward, there have to be references back. I hope the Government will take note of this protest, not with regard to one or two small points, but on the general question of making legislation of a sort which the greatest number of people can understand clearly. The working class men whom we represent on this side of the Committee would never dream of going into the libraries to turn over what have been referred to as the dusty old tomes of the past. "When men at sea, or other people, want to define a pilot boat, I trust it will not be necessary in future for them to delve and dig deeply into the

Division No. 9.] AYES.
Bevan, A. Hurd, Sir P. A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Bowles, F. G. Maxton, J. Wayland, Sir W. A.
Buchanan, G. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.) Wright, Mrs. Beatrice F. (Bodmin)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Oliver, G. H.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Davies, Clement (Montgomery) Silverman, S. S. Petty-Officer Alan Herbert and
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) Tasker, Sir R. I. Dr. Russell Thomas.
Hughes, R. M. Tate, Mavis C.
Adams, D. (Consett) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Peto, Major, B. A. J.
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Hambro, A. V. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock) Hannah, I. C. Raid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh) Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Baxter, A. Beverley Haslam, Henry Rickards, G. W.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M. Roberts, W,
Beechman, N. A. Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N. E.) Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Boulton, W. W. Heneage, Lt.-Col. A. P. Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)
Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R. Hepworth, J. Shinwell, E.
Browne, Capt. A. C. (Belfast, W.) Howlett, T. H. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Bower, Norman (Harrow) Hicks, E. G. Spearman, A. C. M.
Cadogan, Major Sir E. James, Wing-Comdr. A. W. H. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Jeffreys, Gen. Sir G. D. Strickland, Capt. W. F.
Christie, J. A. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cobb, Capt. E. C. Jewson, P. W. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Collindridge, F. John, W. Sutcliffe, H.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Kimball, Major L. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Lawson, J. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cox, Captain H. B. Trevor Leighton, Major B. E. P. Tinker, J. J.
Gripps, Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford Lipson, D. L. Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.
Daggar, G. Little, Dr. J. (Down) Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)
Davidson, Viscountess (H'm'l H'mst'd) Mac Andrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Watkins, F. C.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Mack, J. D. White, H. (Derby, N. E.)
Dobbie, W. McEntee, V. La T. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Donner, Squadron-Leader P. W. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. McNeil, H. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwelliy) Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Mathers, G. Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir J.
Etherton, Flight-Lieut. Ralph Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Woodburn, A.
Foster, W. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. (Rochdale) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Frankel, D. Morris-Jones, Sir Henry Wootton-Davies, J. H.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M. Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral). Noel-Baker, P. J. Mr. J. P. L. Thomas and
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Orr-Ewing, I. L. Mr. A. Young.
Grimston, R. V. Paling, W.

past, but that they will be able to look at the last Act which was passed, in which there will have been stated exactly what those things mean. This would get rid of all the useless and tiresome drudgery of delving into the volumes of the past.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I wish to say just a word to enhance the explanation given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) from the document to which he referred. The definitions he has adduced in his Amendment are the definitions in the original Act which he has accommodated to meet the new Act. We should like to assure the Committee that we have been advised by no sea lawyers—in fact the only one to whom we have listened has been the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell).

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 19; Noes, 103.