§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to enable the Minister of Transport to implement the 1948 International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. This convention was signed by His Majesty's Government's representatives and 27 other nations on 10th June, 1948. We have taken the lead in such matters during the last 100 years. In fact, it was just 99 years ago that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade was established. I am glad to say that since then, Parliament itself has always taken a very keen and lively interest in the problem of safety regulations as applied to our Merchant Navy. However, it was not until 1894 that Parliament itself engaged upon a quite monumental piece of legislation that eventually contained 748 Sections and 22 Schedules. That Act is still today the principal Act which governs the affairs of our Merchant Navy.
In 1906 the standards that were applied to our own British shipping were applied to foreign flags entering United Kingdom ports, but it was the disaster to the "Titanic" in 1912 that first influenced the British Government to commence the policy of convening international conferences to consider this problem. One was held just before the first World War, but the decisions of that conference did not become operative because of the war that followed. After that conflict the British Government again took the initiative, and convened an international conference in 1929, when 18 nations then signed the convention. In 1932 the House passed the Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act, which enabled the first convention to become operative in international safety matters.
The Bill before the House is to enable the Government to ratify the 1948 Convention, which will take the place of the 1929 Convention. In view of our past history, I recall that when I became Minister of Transport it appeared to me that while the deathless heroism of the 1226 Services and of our Merchant Navy was fresh in our minds, we could not too soon organise, or take the initiative in calling together, another international conference for the purpose of bringing these safety regulations up to date with regard to our modern practice and experience. In a matter of this kind, however, before a Minister seeks to convene an international conference, it is quite clear that it is desirable to get agreement and understanding between the various sections of our own shipping industry. I am very gratified to be able to inform the House that, from the commencement of this initiative, all sides of the shipping industry of this country have co-operated in the very fullest sense, so that I was able to be represented at the international conference by a very powerful and experienced British team.
I must call to the notice of hon. Members that probably the most important position that had to be filled was that of the individual who had to preside over such a conference and lead the United Kingdom delegation. I desire to take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) for accepting my invitation to be the leader of the United Kingdom delegation and to preside over this important conference. It would have been impossible to find a more qualified or respected chairman for an international conference than my right hon. Friend. His early experience in the higher ranks of the Civil Service, which included, I would remind hon. Members, a period at the head of the Ministry of Shipping in the First World War, was followed by a varied succession of high offices at home and overseas and in the Cabinet during the war. When I say that this was no ordinary conference lasting for a few days, but that its proceedings extended over a period of something like seven weeks, and that there was quite a number of important committees, the House will appreciate that while I am moving the Second Reading of the Bill from this Box, possibly there is no Member in this House who is more knowledgeable on the subject than my right hon. Friend who is sitting opposite to me today.
I propose, in dealing with the Convention, to refer only to those parts of the 1227 regulations annexed to the Convention, which introduce major advances on the standards set up by the 1929 Convention. In chapter 2 of the regulations, which deals with the construction of ships, important provisions in regard to structural fire protection in passenger ships have been written in. Hon. Members will find the powers necessary to enable me to give effect to those provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill. The provisions of this chapter of the regulations dealing with construction, and of chapter 3 dealing with life-saving appliances, apply to new ships, the keels of which are laid on or after the date on which the Convention comes into operation, namely, 1st January, 1951, subject to certain other conditions. Each administration, however, is required to consider the arrangements on existing ships which do not already comply with the provisions of the new Convention. This follows the precedent of the 1929 Convention.
In the 1929 Convention, cargo ships only came into the picture in respect of the carriage of radiotelegraph apparatus. The 1948 Convention, however, goes much further and, for the first time, includes regulations which require the carriage of life-saving and fire appliances on cargo ships of 500 tons and upwards, and the issue to cargo ships of safety equipment certificates covering the survey of these appliances. Clauses 2 and 8 of the Bill will give the Minister the necessary powers.
Chapter 3 of the regulations will, perhaps, be of special interest to the House, as it deals with life-saving appliances. In future lifeboats for all new ships must be not less than 24 feet in length and must have rigid sides and internal buoyancy. If they are to carry more than 60 persons, they must be either motor lifeboats or capable of propulsion by some form of hand mechanical gear. Every passenger ship and every cargo ship of over 1,600 tons gross must have at least one motor lifeboat or mechanically hand-propelled lifeboat, and in large passenger ships lifeboats fitted with permanent wireless will be carried. On the smaller passenger ships and on all cargo ships as well there must be portable radio sets for use in the lifeboats.
1228 Perhaps the most important single provision which has been introduced is that in future all new ships of over 150 feet in length must be fitted with mechanical davits of either a gravity or lulling type. These davits must be sufficiently strong to enable the lifeboats to be launched with their full complement of persons and equipment even should the ship be listing as much as 15 degrees. Powers to implement these provisions of the Convention are in Clauses 1, 2, and 3 of the Bill.
Radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony are dealt with in chapter 4 of the regulations, and here the major change that will be introduced is that when the Convention comes into force all passenger ships and all cargo ships of 1,600 tons gross and upwards will have to keep continuous watch on the distress frequency, either by means of qualified radio officers or, if no officer is listening, by means of the auto-alarm, an instrument which on receiving a distress signal will operate a system of alarm bells. The Convention extends the compulsory carriage of wireless so as to cover the large class of cargo ships between 500 and 1,600 tons gross, which can meet the requirements by fitting a radiotelephone or radio telegraph installation. Clause 3 of the Bill gives me power to make the necessary rules.
Among the general requirements covered by chapter 5 of the Convention, the most important single change made was to extend very considerably the compulsory carriage of direction-finding apparatus. Under the 1929 Convention, only passenger ships of 5,000 tons and upwards had to carry these direction-finders, but under the 1948 Convention the requirement will again be extended to all ships of 1,600 tons and upwards, passenger and cargo, when engaged on international voyages. This is a major advance because a direction-finder is not only a valuable aid in fixing a ship's position but can be used to guide a ship to a vessel, or even a lifeboat, sending out a distress message. Provisions in the Bill about direction-finders will be found in Clause 5.
The Convention also deals, in chapter 6, with the carriage of dangerous goods and grain. This is the first time that provisions governing the carriage of grain have been inserted in international conventions of this character, although I 1229 should like to inform the House that it has been the practice in our own Merchant Navy for the past 50 years. In this case it is a matter of bringing international standards up to what has been practically the prevailing standard in the British Merchant Navy.
With regard to the provisions that deal with the carriage of dangerous goods and explosives, the Conference was not able to come to detailed decisions on this very complex and difficult matter. Therefore, the Convention contents itself with classifying and prescribing requirements and precautions in the packing and marking and the stowage of dangerous goods. It has at least taken the problem one step further, in so far as it is recommended that a further study of this difficult traffic should be conducted by the Safety Committee of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. That is a body, again, which was established on the initiative of the British Government after the war for the purpose of relating and co-ordinating experienced maritime opinion on such subjects and to establish a liaison with the United Nations Organisation.
Clause 6 of the Bill deals with radio navigational aids other than direction-finders. The 1948 Conference fully recognised, of course, as we all do, the increasing importance of these radio aids to shipping, but decided that the time was not yet ripe to make any of them compulsory. I think the House will agree—and I trust that I shall have full support—that it is of the utmost importance that where radar or any other navigational aid is carried on board ship, it shall be efficient, and this Clause will give the Minister the necessary powers to ensure that that is the case. It will also enable the Minister to secure a proper standard of performance of apparatus, such as radio beacons, which transmit signals to ships from the land, or from a station such as a light vessel.
It may be appropriate if at this point I draw attention to an important feature of the Bill: namely, that the powers sought in the Bill—and I want hon. Members to note this—go beyond those strictly required to implement the 1948 Convention. For example, the rule-making powers sought in Clauses 2 and 3 in relation to life-saving appliances and radio would enable the Minister to apply 1230 certain provisions of the Convention to ships not covered by the Convention. An instance of this would be cargo ships of less than 500 tons gross.
I therefore wish to make it clear that, before making any rules which go beyond the Convention requirements, either because they set up a higher standard than the Convention requires or because they apply Convention requirements to ships outside the scope of the Convention, there will be the fullest consultation with all sections of the shipping industry. Clause 34 provides that all rules and regulations to be made under the provisions of the Bill, and the rules for lifesaving appliances, shall be statutory instruments, and shall be subject to annulment by negative Resolution of either House of Parliament. This, in my view, provides a useful safeguard to all who may be affected by any action taken under the powers sought in this Bill.
Clauses 7 to 17 relate to surveys and certificates, and are, I am afraid, inevitably very complicated, so perhaps the House will allow me to explain in very general terms what they mean and involve. The Convention applies to ships belonging to Convention countries when engaged on international voyages, and the rules to be made under the Bill are intended generally to apply to United Kingdom ships on international voyages, and also, in certain circumstances, to coasting and other classes of ships. Ships not registered in the United Kingdom will have to produce certificates issued by the Governments of the countries in which they are registered.
Whilst from a perusal of this group of Clauses it may appear that there are a great many different forms of certificates, there are really only four basic types; the safety certificate for passenger ships; the safety equipment certificate for cargo ships; the radio certificate for cargo ships; and the exemption certificate to be used as circumstances may demand. This group of Clauses covers the issue of all the necessary certificates, and ensures acceptance of the appropriate foreign certificates.
Clause 22 replaces a similar provision of the 1932 Act, but in two important respects amends the existing obligation on masters to go to the assistance of persons in distress. In the first place, it extends this obligation to cover aircraft 1231 in distress on the water; and secondly, the obligation arises on receipt of distress information from any source, from wherever it may come. Clause 27 gives effect to the provisions in the Convention authorising administrations to permit the carriage on board their ships of more persons than would otherwise be allowed where this is necessary because of a threat to their lives.
Clause 33 is an important Clause about which the House will expect me to say something. It provides for the charging of fees under the Merchant Shipping Acts and for the disposal of fines. The Convention provides for the issue of two entirely new certificates—the safety equipment certificate and the safety radio telephony certificate—and the Minister must have power to levy fees for the issue of these certificates. In almost all cases the fees now charged for various services under the Merchant Shipping Acts are at, or very nearly at, the maximum under the various Statutes authorising them. With the increase in costs in recent years the level of these fees is now no longer such as recovers to the Exchequer a reasonable proportion of the costs of the services rendered. The opportunity is therefore sought under this Clause to give the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, powers to revise the maximum amounts of these fees. The regulations which would be made would be statutory instruments subject, under Clause 34, to annulment; and it is my intention that before any fees are fixed the shipping industry shall be consulted.
In taking the Convention and the chapters and regulations together with the Bill, it is possible for me to give only a general review of their scope and contents. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with his own seagoing experience, will be able to answer any queries which may arise in the Debate. I trust that the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities will also give the House the benefit of his exceptional knowledge on this subject. I am confident, however, that I can count on the support of all sides of the House in enabling His Majesty's Government to ratify this Convention.
I see in his place the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) who, with his experience in the Royal Navy, 1232 is likely to speak for the Opposition. Let me say just this: whilst the Royal Navy protects this country, I think that the Merchant Navy is essentially the lifeline of the country. In neither peace nor war would it be possible to maintain the supplies to this country on which our economic, financial and military strength depend unless we could depend upon the courage, devotion and efficiency of the officers and men of the Merchant Navy.
I also remind the House, although I am sure it is not necessary to do so, that the Merchant Navy was in action on the first day of the war, right through the war to the very last day. I wonder how far it is generally known in this country that the Merchant Navy suffered a higher casualty rate in the war than any other branch of our national Services? Out of a total strength of 180,000 officers and men of the Merchant Navy, 32,000 lost their lives. That represents a terrific toll; and yet immediately after the war, despite the process of demobilisation that took place, it was remarkable, stimulating and thrilling to see how rapidly the strength of the Merchant Navy was once more restored. In our fight for economic recovery, the British merchant shipping industry is making as good and as rapid a contribution as any other branch of our national life.
I know, therefore, that a Measure of this description, which goes a small way towards repaying the debt of gratitude of the nation to this service, will be wholeheartedly welcomed. I ask the House to set its seal to this Bill, which has been initiated by the Government in cooperation with the shipping industry, although, of course, they did not see the Bill until it was presented. I trust that it will go through with the unanimous support of the House, and that we shall have co-operation in remedying any weaknesses during the Committee stage.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to my past connections with the Admiralty. I can assure him that all those connected with the Royal Navy give 100 per cent. support to the admirable and moving tribute he has paid to the Royal Merchant Navy. I rejoice in the fact that I am a good deal more fortunate than some of my colleagues on this bench in regard to the Bills which the Government present to the 1233 House. Last year I was able to support wholeheartedly the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill which resulted from an international convention, when there was a large measure of agreement between the countries with maritime interests. That Bill, like this, was also the result of very close co-operation between the Minister, the shipping industry and the seamen's unions. Therefore, for the second time that I have had to deal with Bills from the right hon. Gentleman's Department, I can congratulate the Minister on bringing to the House a Measure which will be welcomed in all quarters.
We are very glad to give our unqualified support to this Bill, which will eventually give effect to the recommendations of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. It is true that this convention represents some 20 years of progress in the constant battle against the elements to improve the safety of transport by sea. The fact that this convention represents agreement with as many as 31 different countries is itself a tribute to the singleness of purpose with which these problems have been approached. It is remarkable, when we are concerned with maritime affairs, how much good will there is on all sides.
I am quite sure that this agreement is in a very large measure due to the leading part that was played in these discussions by the British delegation. In merchant shipping, from time immemorial, this country has led the world, and in welcoming this Bill I join with the Minister in his tribute to those representatives of the great shipping industry, the Chamber of Shipping, the Shipping Federation and the seamen's unions, for the work they did at the conference. I also add our congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), for the admirable work he did in presiding over these deliberations.
The Minister took us very rightly through past history and the main provisions of the Bill. I do not propose, therefore, to go into any details this afternoon; but there are several implications which are of vital importance to British shipping. As the Minister said, this Bill in many respects goes considerably beyond the regulations of the International Convention. This means, as the Minister told us, he is seeking power to impose 1234 upon our shipping industry conditions which may be much more onerous than those imposed upon the shipping industries of other countries. We do not complain of that. I think it is true to say that British shipping legislation has always been ahead of international agreement, and the safety precautions taken by the industry have been generally in advance of legislation. Yet the Minister is taking upon himself a heavy responsibility, as he admitted. It depends on how he uses this responsibility that the future prosperity of the industry will largely rely, and upon the prosperity of the industry depends the earnings of our ships of foreign exchange—a very vital and important source of invisible export. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be cautious in exercising these very wide powers.
I welcome the strong assurance that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to exercise these powers, he will take into full consideration the views of those who have to carry out the regulations. We have noticed that there is no provision in the Bill that consultations shall take place in this regard, although provision for consultation is made in Acts dealing with other industries. I think I am right in saying that provision was specifically made in the 1914 Merchant Shipping Act. That Act was never brought into operation, and it was superseded by the 1932 Act. I admit that although that Measure was introduced by a predominantly Conservative Government there was no provision made in regard to consultation. It may be that that Act is a precedent for excluding consultation from this Bill, but at a later stage we may wish to seek to amend the Bill in this respect. I do not want to close the door on that possibility. On the other hand, it has invariably been the practice of the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry to take the industry into consultation. This has become almost automatic, and the relations between the industry and the interests affected and the Departments concerned have been so happy that it may well be that statutory provision will not be found necessary.
The Minister referred to the setting up of an Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, which I suppose will shortly degenerate to "Imco" and will be set up under the aegis of the United Nations.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thought so. I understand that this organisation is a kind of international forum on merchant shipping problems, and will be more or less in permanent session. No doubt from time to time they will be making recommendations, but the House must consider very carefully the effect on the shipping industry of constantly changing regulations as a result of the deliberations of this organisation. As the Minister said, it is 20 years since the last international maritime convention was held. I do not see that it is necessary to have so long an interval as that in future, but at the same time it will make matters very difficult for the shipping companies of the world if changes in regulations come at too frequent intervals. I hope the Government will look carefully into this matter, because it may be found advisable in deciding the terms of reference of this new organisation not to put forward proposals for changing substantially the safety provisions at more frequent intervals than, say, five years. I hope the Minister may find that point worthy of consideration.
In conclusion, we do not know when the Bill is to be brought into operation. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it depends on the Convention being ratified by at least 15 countries, of which no fewer than seven should have a minimum of 1 million tons gross of shipping. The Convention, however, has done extremely well to reach agreement on so many valuable recommendations for furthering the safety of life at sea, and we hope that by January of next year the necessary number of qualifying countries will have accepted its provisions, so that both the Bill and the Convention can become operative in the next two years. We are very pleased to support the Bill.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
As a miner and one who has also been to sea, I welcome the Bill. I believe that we are doing a wise thing in ratifying the 1948 Convention, and that the fact that we, as one of the great maritime nations of the world, are doing so will encourage other countries to follow our example. Some of the trade unions which have taken part in the Convention 1236 have authorised me to say that they appreciate the work of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), who was chairman of the Convention, and also the sympathetic way in which the Government have accepted the Convention. On behalf of the National Union of Seamen, radio officers, navigating officers and engineering officers, and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, I tender thanks to the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities for his work and the Government for taking this step.
I have lived for many years among the seafaring people; my wife's people were seafarers and she herself lost two brothers at sea in the last war. As a miner I can appreciate that sailors live a hazardous life, just as mine was in the mines. Indeed, in some respects theirs is worse because the miner has some home life every day of the week whereas the sailor is at home only intermittently, when he goes ashore. In South Shields especially, my home town, which suffered the greatest casualties among seamen during the war, the Bill will be recognised as a great step forward in furtherance of an international standard of safety for those who are employed at sea.
There are hundreds of detailed regulations in the Convention, and I cannot, of course, deal with them all today. But the trade unions are pleased that direction finders are to be put on all ships over 1,600 tons, that for the first time an international standard is laid down for the safety of cargo ships, and that distress signals are to be carried. This life-saving apparatus is to be carried by ships of over 500 tons gross, also wireless, but I suggest that the Minister should keep an eye on ships under that tonnage with a view to supplying them, too, with suitable life-saving apparatus. There is to be an international code for lifeboat men, who must have a certificate of competency. There must be sufficient illumination of the launching gear and also of the lifeboat during the launching.
Arrangements must be made for warning passengers and crew of a ship that it has to be abandoned, and to prevent water from being discharged from the engine room into the lifeboat. There must he a muster of persons before embarkation. Lifeboats themselves are 1237 to be subject to a standard. Each must carry a portable radio. Distress rockets, capable of reaching a high altitude and being visible for a 50-mile radius, and life lines which can be thrown with reasonable accuracy for 250 yards must be carried. There must be three pints of water per person, instead of one pint as heretofore. The trade unions are also pleased about the fire fighting and fire drill regulations.
I do not wish to strike a discordant note, but in the mines it is laid down that there must be one first-aid man to every 25 men employed. The Factory Acts also stipulate that so many men trained in first aid must be present, according to the number of workers employed. But I cannot find anything in the 1929 Convention or in the 1948 Convention which says that there must be trained first-aid men in sea-going ships. A certificated master of a deep sea-going vessel has to have his first-aid certificate, but where there are coasters with uncertificated masters it will be found that most probably they have not got a first-aid certificate. Even in a deep sea-going vessel, where the captain must have his first-aid certificate, that one is not sufficient for such a ship. The position is even worse in coasters where there is probably none. I suggest to the Minister that he should consider taking up this question with the shipowners and the unions, and that through them he should induce more crews to get their first-aid certificate. The shipowners could be asked to give some inducement to their men to take these certificates, so that if a seaman is injured at sea there will always be someone with some knowledge of first-aid to give elementary medical treatment until such time as he can be properly attended to when the ship reaches port. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this question.
In conclusion, I again say "Good luck" to the Minister for bringing this Bill forward. I hope we shall get the requisite number of countries to accept ratification, so that there shall be an international standard for the whole of the mercantile marine all over the world, and that the utmost safety will thereby be provided for the seamen who go down to the sea in ships.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
The mercantile shipping industry, with which is closely associated the shipbuilding industry, and which during the war we were so proud to call the Merchant Navy, is I suppose, along with agriculture, amongst our most important industries. That is not only because of the numbers engaged in it, but because of the extraordinary contribution which it makes to our economy. There is also the fact that it is our lifeline in both peace and in war, and that must commend to all sides of the House any Measure so important as this which concerns itself with that branch of our industrial strength.
Our country has traditionally been the leading maritime Power, and that must also make this Measure a very important one. It gives power to the Government to approve of the Convention which in itself represents the accumulated wisdom of many nations in regulating safety at sea. Safety at sea may be said to be based upon the state of the vessel itself and the way in which it is handled and laden. Devices are provided such as radio and life-saving apparatus which can be used in the event of accidents occurring. Naturally this Convention covers all the various ships, and the problem with which we are faced is that our ships have always been ahead of legislation and of the average international practice. We are very proud that that is so. I am quite sure that the shipowners, those who represent the seamen and all concerned would wish our standards of safety to be the finest in the world. The industry and this House will always be found ready to try to maintain that extremely high standard.
Speakers from both sides of the House have paid tribute to the men who man these ships, and for all these reasons there can hardly be an hon. Member here who would doubt the propriety of taking this important step forward, which insists upon proper standards in our ships and in tying up with other nations in insisting upon proper international standards. While that must be in our minds, let us not forget some of the difficulties through which our shipping and shipbuilding industries have passed in times gone by. Let us take care that in providing for the safety of our men at sea we do not go too far in advance of the average practice of the leading mercantile nations, because 1239 we do not want to run any risk of putting our ships off the sea.
I can remember the time when a tanker from Abadan to Swansea or Grange mouth had to be sent round the Cape of Good Hope in order to keep it from being tied up and the crew rendered unemployed. Such was the situation only 15 or 20 years ago, and many fine ships were tied up in all our ports with skilled officers and men, whose life career was the sea, left to take any job they could find. It may be possible to plan—I do not know that it is—within a group of countries, whose economies are associated, so that we can avoid unemployment. It has not been proved yet. But whatever may be possible within a country or group of countries is not necessarily possible in an international competitive industry such as that of shipping. There is the possibility that with the enormous amount of shipbuilding now going on all over the country—I believe we are building in our yards more than half the ships of the world—we may reach saturation point, and may bring ourselves to the situation in which there is the severest competition in shipping.
We must temper our desires to secure the best possible comfort for ships, passengers and crews with the knowledge that any steps we take are simultaneously taken elsewhere. A leading shipowner said to me the other day, "We do not mind being the leaders, but we cannot afford to lead by five or ten years." Let us bear that in mind and let us be sure that the appointed day under the Bill will not be in advance of the signing of the Convention. I am not quite sure whether the Bill does not give the Minister power to make the appointed day when he likes, but it should not be ahead of what is done by other nations.
We want a high state of comfort not only for our passengers and crews, but to attract people to travel by sea and thus prevent too many of them going by air. I myself have travelled long distances by air and I have frequently gone to the ends of the earth by sea. Infinitely I prefer the sea. Why does one prefer the sea? Because it is leisurely and agreeable and it is a great change not always to be in a hurry, but also because it is comfortable, and, I confess, because it is safe. I am not so young and so 1240 air-minded as to ignore the question of safety. Therefore, for passengers we must continue to give the very highest standard of comfort and an absolute assurance of safety. Safety depends as much, perhaps more, on the skill, diligence and care of masters, officers and men as upon the regulations themselves, and it is by no means certain that we shall contribute as much to safety by new devices as we shall by having a really high standard of care of the devices we have got.
I do not, therefore, say that we must not go forward; I say, on the contrary, that all sides of the House should, and no doubt will, welcome the Measure and that it is right that we should make this progress, but that we must be just a little careful to remember the bad times from which our shipping industry suffered in the past and not try to attain too high a standard without consultation all round and full thought of the consequences. It has been a practice in the Board of Trade and, more lately, in the Ministry of Transport to consult the shipowners and the seamen's unions, and I have no doubt that the tradition of full discussion will continue whatever party is in power. It is supremely important that that should be so, and that in itself will be some safeguard against our penalising our shipping in its world competition.
I welcome the provision for giving the master some information about the stability of his vessel. This is the first time such a provision has been made. The loading and ballasting of a ship is a very highly skilled job, as anyone will know who has travelled on cargo vessels and seen the master, or, more usually, the mate at work. The complex variety of goods which have to be stowed in a ship is beyond belief and any aid which can be given to a master in dealing with a new vessel whose behaviour he cannot know in advance is welcome. I give a blessing to the Bill. I hope that it will contribute not only to safety at sea but also to the maintenance of the magnificent tradition of the British Merchant Navy.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinley (Bootle)
I want on behalf of the seafaring population of Bootle and also their relatives who never go to sea but who wait for the others to come back, 1241 to thank my right hon. Friend for the Measure which he has introduced and the Opposition for the assistance they are giving the Government in its passage. I cannot speak from any seagoing experience—what little I have is secondhand—but I can tell a story. Stories of different kinds may be told in this House. This one is true, although I know there are many kinds of true stories. Once upon a time three jolly sailormen met at a caravanserai on the dock road in Liverpool and celebrated their going away. They still had some money left. When they were eventually emptied out of the dive clinging to each other, they made their way to the dock to join the ship, but discovered that the ship had not waited for them and had gone. So they shook hands like real comrades and decided to find jobs ashore and wait for the ship to come back, when they would all go back as messmates on that ship. I tell that story because one of the three jolly sailormen was my father. The ship never came back and so he swallowed the anchor and went to sea no more.
Such an occurrence naturally inspires anyone associated with a port with a desire to see as much safety provided in our ships as is humanly possible. Therefore, while I welcome the Bill and hope that it will become law—indeed, its passage is now guaranteed, thanks to the Opposition—I also hope that we shall not be content with the level of the provisions laid down in the Bill but that, in so far as we can co-operate with the best of the shipping firms, we shall be able to secure even better conditions for those who go to sea.
We have a right to congratulate ourselves upon the fact that so many of the maritime nations of the world have been prepared to sit round a table and establish a common standard of safety measures at sea. That in itself is worth noting and remembering, and I hope that in the near future the same nations will come together again not so much for another safety convention but for the kind of convention which should follow logically. Once the ship has been made safe, as the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said, it should be made comfortable too; the men who sail the ship have a right to be safe and comfortable during their work. As we are securing a measure of safety for the larger 1242 vessels, is there not some means of getting the goodwill of the best shipping firms so that we can obtain similar advantages for the men who do not have the benefit of going to sea in the big ships but man the little ones? If we can secure that, in addition to this Bill, then every maritime port in the country will again give thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister and also to the Opposition.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)
I have a strong feeling that there is no real necessity for me to intervene in this Debate in view of the clear note attached to the Bill and the lucid speeches delivered by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Debate, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), and by other speakers, but it would perhaps be churlish if I did not respond to the courteous invitation extended to me by the right hon. Gentleman, and that must be my excuse for taking up the time of the House for a few moments.
This country has been privileged from early days to take the lead in international maritime affairs. Our great Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 has provided a model for the legislation of many other countries on merchant shipping. The two previous International Conferences on Safety of Life at Sea, the first following on the "Titanic" disaster, which some of us must remember clearly, and the next in 1929, were initiated by the Government of this country; and it is pleasing to find at a moment when the prestige of our country is somewhat dimmed—one must hope only temporarily—to find that we are again in a position to take the lead.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I say it is pleasing to find that we have the opportunity of again taking the lead.
The Convention with which the Bill is concerned covered a wide and varied field. There were many aspects which were given to committees to discuss and elucidate, and the sittings of the Con- 1243 ference extended over a period of seven weeks of most strenuous work, as the Minister has reminded the House. The Minister has been good enough to make some kind references to the part I have been privileged to play in this matter, but I should like to say to the House what I have said already to the Minister privately, that in my view there are two main factors which contributed to the undoubted success of the International Conference.
The first was the quite remarkable spirit of co-operation with which the delegates of the 33 countries that took part in the Conference came together. I say that is true of every delegation which took part in our discussions, and in that connection one must remember that the delegates were not only the representatives of governments, but they represented shipowners and seafaring communities in all the various countries concerned. That was the first factor which in my view contributed to the success of the Conference, and it should be kept in view that many of the delegates came with wide experience, with strong views of their own, and that when differences of opinion arose they showed a most commendable and remarkable spirit of accommodation. For that we must be grateful to them.
The other factor—and I am glad to have an opportunity of saying this publicly—was the quite remarkable service rendered throughout the sessions of the Conference by the departmental representatives attached to it; representatives of the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, the Foreign Office and others. Those people contributed greatly by their devoted labours to the success of the work, and it is fitting that a tribute should be paid to them.
There is no need for me to go into detail in a matter so complicated as this, when it is perfectly clear that there is no inclination on the part of anyone in any corner of the House to raise matters of controversy. The point put by an hon. Gentleman opposite about the provision for medical services on board ship is a matter to which the Minister may desire to give attention, but I believe it is true to say that there has not, as far as this country is concerned at any rate, ever been any ground of complaint on the 1244 score of the inadequacy of medical service on board our ships. It is an obligation on shipowners to make adequate provision for the medical care of seamen. All navigating officers are required, I believe, to have experience in first aid, and it may well be that more specific provision is not necessary having regard to the different conditions under which men live on board ship from those which obtain in factories and in mines.
However that may be, a matter of that kind can be explored in Committee. I merely wish to say at this stage that I am pleased and proud to have had an opportunity of making some contribution to this, I think, quite notable advance in the conceptions which are accepted by the maritime countries of the world as to the standards that should be applied; a notable advance also in bringing all the important developments of science which are relevant to the subject matter of the Convention to bear on the problem of safety of life at sea. I conclude by congratulating the Minister and the Government sincerely on having so expeditiously initiated the legislation which is necessary to enable this country to adopt the recommendations of the Conference.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
I join in welcoming this Bill and, as a representative of the Senior Service, in paying a tribute to the Mercantile Marine. I should also like to pay a tribute to the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and to congratulate him on the brief speech and the survey which he has made. However, I must take up two points to which he referred. The right hon. Gentleman is the first to strike a discordant note and to introduce a matter entirely outside the scope of this Bill, that is, the prestige of this country. I want to say quite categorically that the prestige of this country as far as the Mercantile Marine is concerned, as far as the Navy is concerned, as far as the economic position is concerned, and as far as a number of other matters outside the scope of this discussion are concerned, never stood higher than it is today.
§ Commander Pursey
The second point I can deal with with less emphasis. It is the point about first-aid. Honestly, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and everybody else concerned not to underrate the importance of first-aid at sea where one is confined to the resources of the ship. Moreover, there are accidents at sea seldom met with in other walks of life—boiler explosions, the results of collisions, structural failures, and many others. It is quite true that on the larger ships the masters have certificates and are qualified in first-aid. There is also the medicine chest in the ship with the requirements for first-aid that can be given. But in the smaller ships men undergo the greatest suffering and the greatest hardship before—after a number of hours in many cases—they are able to get any attention except the rough rule of thumb treatment that any one gets if there is no experienced man available. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman never again to make a speech like that, under-rating first-aid measures at sea, particularly in the smaller classes of ship where few of the necessary requirements are available.
With regard to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) whom I am pleased to see in his place, as I sometimes follow him on other occasions, I should like to congratulate him on his speech this afternoon. There are however one or two points in his speech with regard to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Bill which should be taken up. The hon. Member referred to parts of the Bill which go further than the Convention, and he said that they would impose much more onerous conditions on our shipowners. Do not let us exaggerate small matters and try to make mountains out of molehills. The total amount of expense that will arise as a result of any of these additional requirements, applied to the income of the shipping lines for a year, will be like a pinch of salt in the ocean, so that there is no reason at all to quibble about that.
The hon. Member expressed the hope that the Minister would use his powers with care. The Minister himself has said that he would consult all sides concerned so that there should have been no qualms or fears on the part of the hon. Gentleman. I personally would suggest, and I hope that I shall get the 1246 support of Members on this side of the House—certainly I shall get support of officers and crews of the ships—that the Minister should go as far ahead, particularly with safety measures, as he gets the power to go. There should be no such thing as hesitation or consideration of second thoughts, but use should be made of the maximum amount of power for the safety of the men who "go down to the sea in ships."
The second point referred to by the hon. Member for Hereford was the question of cost, competition in the foreign trade, exchange and so on—again a financial feature. Are we to measure the safety of the men who serve at sea in one scale and finance in the other? That was the point which the hon. Member was making. His point was that if we went further ahead than other maritime nations it would impose additional costs, and in consequence would handicap our shipping industry. That is purely a financial argument and I say that safety at sea must come before financial considerations.
§ Commander Pursey
Of course they all die millionaires.
Another question I wish to refer to is that of not making changes too frequently, and in particular of not making major changes under five years. I am not attempting to quote the hon. Gentleman and I do not wish to put the bias against him, but I think that puts the matter in a nutshell. I would say to him that with the rapid march of science, particularly as a result of the developments since the war, no improvements in aids to navigation ashore or afloat should be restricted by any time period. If tomorrow an invention is produced which would cost money, but would be an advantage to ships and those who sail in them, there should be no question of delay because of any time factor. The answer is to go ahead. There will not be any question of making large alterations to structures because of the difficulty of such alterations. Let us have at sea every possible aid which science can provide to prevent the loss of ships and their crews.
A point was made by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) to which I would refer, although I am speaking in his absence. He spoke of the difficulties 1247 caused in times gone by, by ships being tied up and the crews being unemployed, and he wondered whether planning could solve this problem. He said it should be possible to plan so in national affairs, but not in international affairs. Why not? The Merchant Service today is reaping the advantage of full employment in this country which we have never had before. So long as we can go on planning and maintaining full employment, so long will the shipping industry share those advantages. The hon. Member mentioned the question of reaching saturation point. Of course shipping companies and shipbuilders will have to decide how far they are going with new construction. Obviously if they go on at the war rate and the post-war rate, they will over-reach saturation point. The answer is to scrap the old ships as they get the new ones. The hon. Member referred to some anxiety particularly mentioned by a captain friend of his, that they did not want to be five or 10 years ahead again, because of the handicap—only a financial one—that would result by their being further ahead in shipping safety measures. That argument has had its day so far as this side of the House is concerned. Safety measures have to come first.
What does this Bill deal with? It deals with seven main problems relating to the safety of ships at sea and their crews. It is the crews about which we need to be concerned, as well as the money invested in the ships. These problems are to be dealt with by rules to be made by the Minister. These include the construction of ships—an all-important matter, particularly to smaller ships—life-saving appliances, radio direction finders, openings in passenger steamers' hulls, watertight bulkheads and the carriage of dangerous goods and grain. These safety measures, as the Minister has said, have been accepted by both sides. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities paid a tribute to the representatives. I wish to register a point here. In the near future the position of these delegates will have to be considered by the Ministry so that a larger proportion of them represent the officers and the men in the industry. The bias today is too much in favour of the owners, and it is only with great difficulty that the representatives of the crew are able to put forward the reforms which are long overdue.
1248 These safety measures will be welcomed by the industry. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) said they will be welcomed by the wives. Speaking as a representative of one of the four constituencies of Hull, the third port in the country, I can say that the wives welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. My only criticism is that the Bill does not go far enough and that a lot of the reforms should have been introduced long before. I am prepared to admit that there have been six years of war and four years of the aftermath of war, but a number of these reforms, marching in line with the development of scientific advance, should have been introduced before the war. Life at sea, despite the advance of science, is a hazardous business, and consequently it behoves the Government and shipowners to do everything to reduce the risks to which the ships and the men are exposed.
I have no wish this afternoon to make any charge against any shipowners and I am always glad to know that we have shipowners represented on the other side of the House, so that we have one side represented there and one represented here. I should be glad to hear if any hon. Member opposite could say that a certain line had never lost a ship and never lost a man. If anything of that nature could be said, I should be prepared to pay my tribute. No reputable owner wants to lose a ship, but there are still disreputable owners, particularly those who take advantage of registering British ships under a foreign flag, especially under the Panama flag, in order to avoid conditions laid down in this country for the running of merchant ships. This problem of British ships registered under foreign flags and carrying British crews will have to be tackled by the Minister. It is no good having these Conventions, Bills and Merchant Shipping Acts if these "spivs" in the industry can dodge the issue by registering their ships under a foreign flag.
There are still too many "coffin ships," ships which sail and are never heard of again. Too many are lost after accidents which could have been avoided or which they should have survived. There are still too many lives lost at sea which ought to be saved in peace time, even after an accident or collision. This not only applies to larger ships, but in particular to the coastwise ships, the smaller of which are not covered by this Bill. 1249 As long as even one ship is lost under conditions which can be considered attributable to man as distinct from being attributable to God, it is a blot on the escutcheon of British shipowners and British shipping as a whole. I can remember the time when the Navy produced a White Paper every year on ships lost and damaged at sea. The number was diminished, and, with the modern aids of science, information of weather and so on, it ought to be possible still further to reduce the number of accidents at sea and consequently to reduce the loss of life.
The problem of construction has received much consideration, but in the event of collision it is essential that the openings in the hull and the bulkheads referred to in this Bill, should have been closed before and those left open should be in an efficient condition so that they could be closed immediately to maintain the watertight compartments of the ship. It is most important that constant attention should be paid to that factor. The development of wireless and allied scientific apparatus, radio-telephony, radar and the like, and the broadcasting of weather information, have introduced several important aids to the navigation of ships at sea. These aids also enable a ship in trouble to be found, whereas without them she could not have been found.
Twenty years ago, I had what was probably a unique experience in a search at sea. I was in the aircraft carrier "Eagle." We were on our way from England to Gibraltar and received a wireless message that a Spanish aircraft had left Spain for America with the intention of landing at the Azores and had not been heard of since. We altered course west and started to search. We searched for a week and then found the aircraft. It was a bigger problem than finding a needle in a haystack. The main reason why we found the aircraft was because a merchant ship, on the night of the flight, had heard an aircraft and reported her position. As a result we went to the other side of the Azores, where we would not have gone otherwise. There was an unfortunate sequel in that the pilot of the aircraft was Major Ramon Franco, the brother of General Franco, arid when I was in Spain during the Civil War I found that he was head of the Spanish Air Force. He owed his life to a British 1250 merchant ship, but was responsible for bombing British ships taking refugees from Spain and taking in food. The point of the story is that if it is possible to find an aircraft at sea—she was found at night by means of a light—it is also possible to find ships under such conditions. With the aids to navigation the number of casualties at sea and the loss of life should be considerably reduced.
We welcome the powers given the Minister by the Bill, particularly those dealing with ships of between 500 and 1,600 tons which have had little attention given them before, but on which the life is hardest and conditions worst. Hon. Members on this side of the House, with the officers and men and their organisations, hope that now that the Government have carried through their legislative programme outlined in "Let us Face the Future," they and the Minister will give consideration to introducing a completely new merchant shipping Measure. The existing Merchant Shipping Act has been amended considerably and a new Act is long overdue. The organisations will not rest contented until we have a new Merchant Shipping Act. This Bill is a step in the right direction. It deals only with a part of the problem, but it is a particularly important part, as it is mainly concerned with personnel, including passengers, especially crews. I welcome the Bill and hope it will have a speedy passage because this country should lead the maritime nations. What is said during the passage of this Bill and what is done in this country will have an important effect on the smaller Powers and encourage them to pass necessary legislation, so that the Measure can be brought into operation on the appointed day. I support the Bill and give it every welcome and hope that that day will be fulfilled.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) in his arguments because I wish to be very brief. Like everyone in the House, I welcome the Bill. It is an admirable and proper thing that this country should lead the way in the safety of men first and ships second. I am very pleased that this Bill is before us. We must remember that it is a 1251 British Bill and it is our own affair. The fact that it covers a Convention is by the way. It is our Bill and concerns what is to happen to our men and our ships.
There is a great deal in the Bill about safety precautions to be taken when an accident happens. That is a very good thing, but it is far better not to have an accident. The greatest of all navigational aids which have come to light in the last 10 years is radar. I am a little sorry that there is not a more positive mention of radar in this Bill. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate I should like him, if he can, to give us some indication of the measures which under this Bill he is entitled to take—what orders he is to make—in order to try to bring into use this very necessary and most important new scientific aid to navigation. When he does take such measures I hope that he will have the power of inspecting the sort of radar that is installed. I do not wish to strike a discordant note but radar can protect and can indicate things other than rocks and coasts and the like it has another use, and it is the duty of any Government to see that when radar is installed in a ship, it can be used for as many eventualities and emergencies as may arise.
I am sure that there is a ready answer to the only other point which I wish to make. I cannot understand why, in Clause 29, troopships are exempted from the provisions of this Bill. When I was a small boy I remember being very sad when I had recited to me a poem beginning, "Toll for the brave," which was about the loss of the "Royal George." I do not want to have any more tolling for the brave. I do not agree with any idea that because soldiers are serving their country in one of the Fighting Services they should be exposed in peace-time to any more risk than anybody else when they go abroad. I hope that the soldiers in the House will not mind my saying that they need a lot of looking after in ships. I would very much like answers to those questions. Like everyone else I wish the Bill every success and the men who are to work under the provisions of this Bill the best of luck.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Solley (Thurrock)
The merchant shipping industry plays an important part 1252 in the life and economy of my constituency. Nowhere in the country will this Bill be more welcomed than in Thurrock. Indeed, the people of Tilbury, which is an important part of Thurrock, will say that this Bill is another milestone along the road towards maximum safety for crews and passengers in our merchant vessels. I should like to congratulate the Government not only on taking steps through the medium of this Bill to implement the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which was signed on 10th June, 1948, but on going beyond the agreement reached in that Convention, and enabling the Minister, by regulations, to make provisions for the safety of crews and passengers far beyond that which was envisaged in the Convention.
I notice, for example, that under Clause 1 of the Bill, the Minister can make rules prescribing the requirements with which the hull, equipments and machinery on all British passenger steamers shall comply. I would ask the Minister not to be guided in this matter by the minimum requirements of the Convention but to use to the fullest possible extent the powers which are to be conferred on him by this Clause, in reaching a higher degree of safety than has ever been reached before, and in leading the world in the technicalities of the hulls, equipments and machinery of steamers.
The Minister has said that he will consult fully with the shipping industry. We on this side of the House are fully aware that the shipowning section of the shipping industry unfortunately has a preponderant voice in the representations made to the Minister.
§ Mr. Solley
I am glad to hear that my conception of the position is not correct. I was guided in what I was saying by the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey).
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
It is necessary to make clear that a number 1253 of the arguments used by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) will be dealt with during this Debate, but we were anxious not to stop the flow of his eloquence by intervening on each point.
§ Mr. Solley
In a number of minutiae my hon. and gallant Friend may perhaps have tended to overstate his case but my hon. Friends on this side of the House will agree in substance with his contentions. Even if it be the case, as I concede it to be for the purpose of my argument, that the representatives of the seamen have an equal voice with the representatives of the shipowners in the making of representations, I would like the Government to pay heed to the necessity of putting safety first rather than the profits and capital investments of the shipowners. I know that this plea will not fall upon deaf ears. The very contents of this Bill are evidence of the Government's desire to do their very best for the safety of crews in our merchant vessels.
I am sorry that the conference which drew up the Convention was unable to agree substantially on the question of the carriage of dangerous goods in ships. That is a matter of considerable importance, and I hope that when the Minister makes his rules he will do so on the basis of what he considers to be desirable in the interests of making ships safe when they carry dangerous goods. I hope that when he comes to make these rules he will not be limited by the difficulties which the representative of His Majesty's Government may have met in the negotiations for this International Convention when the question of dangerous goods in ships was being discussed.
necessity of putting safety first, rather than
I hope also that the Government can give an assurance that they will at some stage—if not on the Committe stage of this Bill perhaps on some subsequent occasion, through the medium of another Bill—deal with the undoubted danger of British ships, registered under a foreign flag and employing British crews, engaging in merchant shipping to the danger of the crews and of passengers and to the detriment of the good name of British shipping. I do not wish to enlarge upon this point; its importance is manifest. I hope that the Government can give us an assurance today that they are fully alive to this problem, and that they will 1254 take all reasonable steps to deal with it as expeditiously as possible. I conclude by heartily congratulating the Government upon introducing the Bill. I wish it a speedy journey through its different stages of Parliamentary procedure.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
I am sure that the House will support this Bill, as it has always supported any Bill for the safety—it might be more accurate to say the greater safety—of ships and of those who "go down to the sea in ships." The Minister touched upon certain Clauses. He was wise in not going into great detail because the greater part of the Bill is highly technical. I do not suppose that anybody in this House is qualified to comment upon most of the Clauses.
The Minister said that British standdards were frequently higher than the standards of other countries. He might have added that the standards of the majority of private owners are considerably higher than the standards required by the Ministry. All the suggestions made upon the opposite side of the House that shipowners put money before safety were without any foundation whatever. They were the sort of political speech that we hear at street corners in places like Hull and Southwark. The knowledge contained in practically every Measure for greater safety at sea for British shipping, has been arrived at by trial and error by private owners in ships that were privately owned and administered. That is how the Ministry has got its knowledge that these things are possible.
In the course of Debate, upon these matters the Minister said frankly—as long as he continues on this line no one will quarrel with him—that advice had been taken from experienced men of all sorts of different types and also, I am glad to say, from the National Union themselves. The Bill is the result of advice given to the Minister by everybody connected with the industry. As long as he takes that sort of advice I shall be quite satisfied to see him in his present position. At Blackpool, shortly, there will be other ideas put forward. If the Minister falls for any of those suggestions, God help the shipping industry. Let us hope that he will be able to withstand them all.
1255 In the Convention, which is rather technical and difficult, the point which stands out is that it is the result of knowledge that has accumulated for 21 years and which is now brought forward in a separate Bill. It will be the standard for international safety from the time that the Convention is signed by the appropriate number of countries. Some of the debates were described by one who was there, a very knowledgeable man, as being interminable and incomprehensible. That would be an apt description of many speeches to which we have to listen in this House, and so we can quite understand the feelings of many people who were present. In particular, I would draw attention to a couple of matters which are not so highly technical. Perhaps hon. Members who have had something to do with ships will appreciate them.
I am all in favour of radar. Anyone who is not in favour of it would be very silly, especially if he had no knowledge or experience of the matter. It is laid down that a ship is not in sight of another ship if it is seen only through radar. This is most important. I have held that every scientific instrument made for the safety of ships at sea is not equal to one captain who is a properly skilled navigator and seaman. He is the best safety precaution. Radar may be absolutely faultless and perfect, but the man watching it is only human. He may go to sleep. If the man is aloft, or is stuck up on the edge of the bridge, it is very difficult for him to go to sleep, but if he is in a confined space looking at the radar instrument, it may be very difficult for him to keep awake. Radar has gone a long way, but I am glad that it is laid down that a ship is not in sight of another, in the ordinary parlance of maritime law, if it is only visible through radar.
The only other thing, and a good and sensible thing it is, which I want to mention is that when rockets are fired to show that a ship is in distress and to make it possible to locate her, they can be fired with a parachute attachment so that the red flare from the rocket, instead of going up and coming straight down, can hang in the sky for some considerable time. These are small things, but they have all been arrived at by trial and error, by experiment at the hands of skilled men. 1256 Generous owners have sent out these things to be tested and have incorporated them, when fully tested, in some of the ship designs.
I think the international arrangement is a good one. If a ship has a certificate of safety the certificate is current in any country and in any port. For instance, a British ship may get one of the certificates in a foreign port. It would still be valid anywhere she went. There is just a wise little safeguard. If the authorities of the port think that the ship is not safe up to the conditions of her certificate, she may be inspected by a port officer, and whatever fault is found has to be put right. I think that is wise.
Other people have given reminiscences; I shall give one. I was on a most important troopship which was about to sail. The ship was surveyed the day before sailing. There were the customary tests of the lifebelts which all looked very nice, clean and new. The difference between buoyancy and non-buoyancy for a human body in a lifebelt is small, a matter of about 20 lb. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will know just what it is. The inspectors hung a 20 lb. weight on one of the lifebelts and threw it overboard. It went down like a stone. These were kapok lifebelts which had been taken ashore and dry cleaned. The dry-cleaning process had taken all the buoyancy out of them. Instead of those lifebelts we had 10,000 very greasy, dirty-looking life-belts full of buoyancy, one for every man in the crew. When a certificate is given for safety to the ship's lifebelts and equipment, it is good only for the day on which the certificate is issued. If the ship's officers and crew do not keep that equipment in good order it may deteriorate from then onwards. In three months' time the master may say: "I have a certificate here. Look at it." It is wise that the port authorities should have the right to inspect ships, if they think that the standard of safety is not up to the standard of the certificate.
I would refer to only one other matter, which is very important, and on which one or two other hon. Members have touched. It is the coastal trade of this country. It wants a lot of protection. It is a very important private enterprise which commends itself to me. There are hundreds of skilled men—I am not exaggerating—operating around the country and owning one or more ships, up to quite 1257 big companies. Their captains are not certificated but they are none the less good seamen. They know their way round the coast all right. Some of these ships which we see going past this House down the Thames go from the Thames to the Tyneside and make about 70 round voyages in the year. That is an average for the first-class ships. These men have not certificates, but I judge by results. These ships want care and protection. There is some slight danger that they are a little bit over-burdened with this and that regulation. We should do all we can to encourage them.
One thing that they are up against is foreign competition. I am not quite sure how the figures stand now, but practically every Continental country used to send coastal ships trading round our coasts. The custom then was for a Continental ship to take a full cargo to a port on, say, the South Coast and there discharge it. That would cover the cost of the round voyage. It would then pick up some other cargo, at whatever charge it could extort from the shipper, deliver it somewhere on our East Coast, get paid for doing so, and then make the homeward journey to its own port. This practice militated against our own coastal shipping. Foreign ships can work and trade in this country, but our ships cannot go and trade in theirs. I do not know the latest figures, but in the four years before the war, this foreign trade round our coasts had doubled itself. No doubt, when this market is open, the same ships or others like them will return.
It might be asked how those ships can compete against ours. Some of the reasons are very obvious, one being that. Continental shipyards can build ships—if they cannot build them now they will be doing so soon—considerably cheaper than we can. There was one particular case—and hon. Members opposite who speak of unemployment in the past should remember this—during the time of great unemployment, when our shipyards were having a thin time and many skilled workers were idle, when the Scottish Cooperative Society ordered a ship to be built in Holland; that was their little contribution to our unemployment problem. That ship operated around our coast having cost considerably less than the same type of vessel built here. At that time Dutch ships, in addition to being 1258 built cheaply, used to be given some sort of subsidy by their Government; the wages of their crews were less than ours, their men worked longer hours and lived much more comfortably than the crews in our own ships. All that we were up against.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to let us know what consideration his Department are giving to this matter of our coastal trade, and I hope he can give the promise also—with which, I believe, the House would be in agreement—that any nation which has not signed the Convention and is not observing its undertakings, shall not be allowed to enter the coastal trade around our coasts.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I am not altogether happy about the atmosphere of the Debate and what has been said in it. Today, it seems, most hon. Members feel that they are giving something, or making a sort of present, to the Merchant Navy. My opinion, however is that much of what is embodied in the Bill is long overdue and should have been the subject of legislation, not last year or the year before, but before the war.
The Bill, which is based upon the Convention of last year, is, perhaps, the first real effort since 1932 to do something in a reasonable way for the Merchant Navy. The Bill is designed to amend and supplement in some degree the provisions of the Bill which was passed through Parliament in 1932 following the 1929 International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. The main concern at that time was the question of the load-line, to which reference has been made today. To my amazement, however, except for a remark by the right hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) the word "Plimsoll" has not been mentioned. The proposals with which we are concerned today are the result of a petition or convention signed by the representatives of 29 nations. The Bill, when it is implemented, will be the result of agreement by, perhaps, an even greater number of nations.
I should like to refer briefly to events leading up to the present time. It is 70 or more years ago, I think, since the Plimsoll load-line was agreed to as a result of the experiences of the "coffin 1259 ships" and the awful disasters of the sea, and following the work of Plimsoll in persuading Parliament to agree to the introduction of the load-line. That remained in operation until 1906. Some alterations were made, rightly, in the shipping Acts at that time. I remember, as a youngster, hearing a great deal of criticism of the then President of the Board of Trade, the late Mr. Lloyd George, who raised the Plimsoll line and in doing so caused considerable commotion in shipping circles. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether in the recent Convention or in the framing of the proposals contained in the Bill, any consideration was given to the restoration of the original Plimsoll line. The load-line now in operation is that which was adjusted, I think, by the President of the Board of Trade in 1908.
When hon. Members speak of hurried legislation and all the efforts which have been made—one hon. Member suggested we should not introduce these Measures more frequently than at five-yearly intervals—we should remember that nothing reasonable has been done for merchant shipping since 1932. Because of dissatisfaction in shipping circles and the many disasters which occurred, an attempt was made in 1913 to introduce new legislation, following the agitation for the raising of the Plimsoll line. As one who has shipping interests in various ports, I believe that many of the shipping disasters since that time have been due in no small measure to the fact that the Plimsoll load-line no longer exists.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think that the hon. Member is speaking under a misunderstanding. Every ship, of course, today has a load-line. The Plimsoll line certainly continues to exist.
§ Mr. Keenan
I agree that the Plimsoll line is still called the load-line, but it is not now the same line that was introduced by Plimsoll; it is higher. It has not been adjusted back to the level to which Plimsoll, by his life's work, succeeded in getting agreement.
In 1913 an effort was made to do something along the lines of the proposals embodied in the Bill. They were not, of course, as up to date; nevertheless, the effort was made, but the 1914 war prevented their completion. It is rather 1260 extraordinary, especially when hon. Members say we should not initiate Measures such as this more often than every five years, that we had to wait for the results of the 1930 Convention to be embodied in the Act of 1932 before any further tangible steps were taken. Nothing has been done since. We have not progressed very far, because in the Convention of 1930 the very subject I am ventilating today—the original Plimsoll load-line—the conclusion was reached that there was no reason whatever for thinking that the alteration which had been made in the load-line made ships any less safe. Having perused the names of the signatories of that Convention, I feel that financial interests in shipping were far better represented than were the men who sailed in the ships.
In the years which have followed we should have travelled very much further than is the case. I am sorry to see that there is not even a mention of any restoration of that line. The phrase "safety at sea" is meaningless unless there is a proper load-line which keeps every vessel within a satisfactory limit. That fact was obvious 70 odd years ago, and it is still obvious today. We know that in the period between the wars ships left these and other shores and were never heard of again. How far their disappearance can be attributed to lack of safety provisions is a matter of guesswork, but until the suspicions which have been engendered are removed, we cannot complain if those who sail in ships believe that the absence of proper precautions was the cause of their disappearance.
In this Bill the Minister takes power in respect of certain provisions. I was glad to hear so many hon. Members express the opinion that we should not wait for other countries to do these things. If we wait for a lead from the rest of the mercantile countries of the world, with the possible exception of America whose standards are higher than our own—
§ Mr. Keenan
Standards in Scandinavia, except on the question of accommodation, are no higher than our own. We have already given a lead in many respects and I consider that we must give a lead here. 1261 I was glad to note that mention was made of those ships which go under the Panama flag. I hope that the Ministry will be able to do something to prevent transfers of the kind mentioned. We ought to be able to deal with some of those who have financial interests in shipping firms. In recent years, and particularly during the effort to get ships for Palestine, we know perfectly well that certain financial shipping interests in this country transferred ships to the Panama flag so that they could do what they wished and avoid the safety measures with which they would have to conform if they had continued to sail under the British flag.
I should like to have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the precautions mentioned in several of the Clauses in respect of the safety of passenger vessels will have equal application to cargo vessels. I should also like to know whether the Ministry have given any further consideration to the adoption of the parachute distress signal, the Schermuly rocket flare. Within the last two years two demonstrations of this flare have been given for the benefit of Members of Parliament and others concerned. This flare, which is used for signalling at sea, is a costly one. A wire is pulled from the end of a cylinder and automatically a flare is sent up to a height of many thousands of feet. It can be seen for a distance of 50 miles and has an exposure of approximately one minute. I saw a demonstration at Brighton when I was able to compare it with other recognised apparatus in use. None could compare with it, but the trouble is that it is costly. I suggest that those who sail the seas are entitled to this further safety precaution. They are the people to whom we gladly pay tribute—the men who made a greater contribution than did any other service during the war, when the death roll was 32,000 out of a strength of 180,000. No service has had less done for it than the Merchant Navy since the end of the war. Are the Ministry considering the value of the Schermuly rocket with a view to making it compulsory? It is the best apparatus of its type known today.
In our coastwise traffic I do not think that we have any need to worry about foreign competition. There is an obligation upon us to do everything we can for the men who sail in these ships. Those 1262 of us who are concerned with dockyards, as I have been for many years, have had the opportunity to inspect many of these ships, some of which are 40 or 50 years old, and we agree that something should be done. I know that this is not the time to talk about accommodation, but I wish to suggest that the problem of loading is one which should be tackled. I refer particularly to the loading of bulk cargoes, including grain. I appreciate that the Board of Trade have not been indifferent to this question.
On many occasions bulk grain is not correctly loaded. There may be a portable bulkhead, in which case if the ship is carrying grain, there should be a certain percentage of bagged grain. The fact remains, however, that there have been occasions when risks have been taken, because it is cheaper not to bag grain and not to have the portable bulkhead. Within the last 20 years or so ships have been built which are tankers of a kind, in which there is no need for a bulkhead or for bagging. I have seen small coastwise vessels where a couple of dozen bags of grain would be used to prevent the rest of the grain from shifting. In my judgment, something more should be done. Definite standards should be laid down for the protection of ships carrying bulk cargoes. The Minister has an opportunity now, and I hope that when we come to the Committee stage, something will be done.
There is a reference in the Bill to the question of deck cargo. Those of us who are concerned with the loading and discharging of ships know something about this subject. I have frequently seen very high deck cargoes coming into Liverpool, and no doubt they come into other ports as well. Sometimes, half the cargo has been lost overboard, or a ship comes into port with half the cargo over the side instead of on the deck. I think too great an allowance has been made on this question of the extent to which a ship should be loaded with a timber cargo. It is considered that a deck cargo does not prejudice a vessel in very deep water or in heavy seas, but what I am concerned about is that there should be a better arrangement of deck cargoes than there is at present.
My experience has been that deck cargoes are loaded far too high. What does this mean to the crew? If the crew's quarters are forward in the forecastle, 1263 they often have to climb over the top of the cargo, though sometimes a passage Us made through it for them. Often enough, the passage does not exist, and, in other cases, where it did exist, it is destroyed by the shifting of the cargo. The regulations should be much more definite on this point.
In the regulations that will be made under this Bill, we should see that no ship is allowed to be loaded to the extent that will prevent a reasonable passage to and from their quarters to the members of the crew. Although the recent tendency has been not to have the crew's quarters forward, as in the old days, but to place them aft, the problem still arises and free access for the crew must be ensured. Today, when we are concerned so much with large shipments for the export trade, we must consider particularly the extent to which these large cargoes are to be allowed, when they create so many difficulties for the crew. These are matters which should be taken into consideration by the Government in the interests of the crews of these vessels. I realise that I have made one or two harsh criticisms, but I have done so largely because we are today feeling too proud of ourselves for what we have done, when it is really nothing to be proud of, but something that should have been done long ago. I hope the goodwill of the House, which I am sure the Minister has in connection with this Bill, will enable him to go forward and make a good job of it.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
I am sure that the shade of the late Mr. Plimsoll, a distinguished private Member of this House of his own generation, must have hovered benevolently over this Debate, although at times puzzled and perplexed by the references to his famous load-line made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan).
Two hon. Gentlemen have already raised a point to which I should like to refer before passing to the main issue of the Bill. It was a reference to ships trading under foreign flags, particularly that of Panama. I believe that, during the Palestine troubles, there were certain ships which were chartered and sailed under foreign flags by those interested in one of the protagonists in that country, but am I not right in saying that no ship 1264 can be transferred to a foreign flag at present without the permission of the Government? I only wish to protect the Government from some of the more vociferous hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the Minister. The references made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) and the hon. Member for Kirkdale, had they been accurate, which, of course, they are not, would have been a reflection upon the present Government. Having brushed aside their irrelevancies—
§ Commander Pursey
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to me, will he state specifically where I was wrong? I referred to ships registered under the Panama flag—but I made no reference to Palestine—by certain people who would be able to operate them on a lower standard than that of this country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot deny that, and, therefore, there was nothing in what I said to which he could take exception from the point of view of accuracy.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
All I said was that no British ship can be transferred to a foreign flag without the permission of His Majesty's Government. That, I believe, is incontestable. That makes the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he said that it is happening at present, if it meant anything at all, an attack on his own Minister. That is all I said, and that is what I repeat. I am sorry to have to correct the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because I was about to congratulate him on having addressed the House for 15 minutes without making a single reference to the British Legion.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
Hon. Members who had the honour of being present in the last Parliament may recall a Debate which we had when the war was drawing to a close on this particular topic of the Mercantile Marine, in which I had the opportunity of intervening. I expressed the hope that, when hostilities were concluded, it would be possible for some Convention of this kind to be agreed upon. It was very difficult in the years between the wars to reach agreement with some of our foreign sea-going competitors, because they were among the Axis Powers, and it was therefore diffi- 1265 cult at that time to arrive at any agreement on anything at all, let alone the subject of merchant shipping.
Now, we have this excellent Convention, and, here again, may I disabuse the minds of certain hon. Members opposite, some of whom are so extremely ill-informed on this Bill. They seem to think that the ship-owning interests predominated in the delegation which negotiated this Convention, and I appeal to the Minister to confirm what I say. Surely, long and useful preliminary discussions took place on the National Maritime Board, a body which consists of representatives of all those interested and on which the Merchant Officers' Guild and the National Seamen's and Firemen's Union, and all other bodies representing sea-going personnel, have adequate representation. If there is one criticism which one might make of the composition of the delegations which went to negotiate this Convention, I think it is one that is inevitable and inescapable. It is that—and I think the Minister will confirm this—by the very nature of their calling, it is impossible for sea-going representatives on the National Maritime Board to have continuity of service. They come and go; their ships come into port and sail again for the seven seas. There are representatives of the sea-going personnel, but, of course, those representatives are constantly changing, owing to the fact that they are sailors and are not all permanently ashore. I hope hon. Members opposite will therefore disabuse their minds upon that subject.
Comfort in ships has increased, very largely owing to the switch-over from coal to oil fuel. Anyone who has been on a voyage in a ship driven by oil immediately notices the cleanliness and pleasantness of the surroundings, and it is upon that point that I would offer some observations concerning those ships which are still coal-burning, notably the coasters and the colliers. When the war was reaching its close, such was the pressure upon the tonnage of this country that a number of unsatisfactory vessels came into use in our ports to meet the grave need. There were some French, some Greek and some Scandinavian ships, and we often found that there were appalling conditions in some of these foreign colliers. Some of the more aged of ours also had bad conditions, but it was always noticeable that, ship for ship, 1266 according to age, the British ship was superior in her accommodation. Some of the colliers built during the war, and which are now engaged on coastal traffic, had really quite splendid modern quarters for their crews.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull—and here I am going to agree with him for once—referred to the medical arrangements on board ship. I should like to endorse what he said. Of course, the ocean-going ships of considerable tonnage carry a doctor, but not so the coastal craft. It would not be possible to allot one doctor to each coaster. Therefore, it is unavoidably the case that the medical knowledge displayed on some of those ships is, to put it mildly, primitive. I could tell the House one or two stories about that which would probably be out of Order. But the fact remains that in a number of these coastal vessels the one cure prescribed for all ills, including, almost, a broken leg, is a stiff dose of castor oil. There is a first-aid box, but a good deal more could be done by way of training and instruction of ships' officers in this direction.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull also said that the bad old days had gone so far as seafaring was concerned because we were now in an age of full employment. He said that we should not now see our rivers cluttered up with the tramps and other craft as were the Fal and the Dart in 1932 and 1933. So we are, but there are highly disturbing signs and portents at this very moment. Only the other day the National Coal Board expressed anxiety as to whether they could sell their commodity at competitive prices abroad. If that situation develops there will be a decline in the cargoes available for British ships. Let us not assume that we shall not get back into a situation in which British shipping will be put in considerable jeopardy. That is all the more reason why, while the situation is propitious for making these reforms, and while we have the opportunity and the funds for carrying them out, we should improve our craft, and put the safety appliances into operation.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, too, that purely financial considerations no longer weighed with hon. Members opposite. A week today, at about this hour, we shall be a good deal wiser and so will they. We shall find that, indeed, financial considerations do weigh, and 1267 weigh heavily in the affairs of this country. But, again, this seems to me the psychological moment for making the reforms to which our sea-going officers and men are so highly entitled. It is a pleasure to take an afternoon off from dull care when contemplating next week's Budget, and to find the House unanimous in its desire to further the welfare of those who sail under the Red Ensign.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I have no desire to introduce any discordant notes into this Debate, because in my judgment we are discussing this afternoon a Measure which is long overdue. Whilst I subscribe to the many tributes paid by the Minister to all concerned in the introduction of this Bill, I wish to say a word or two about a colleague of mine with whom I was associated for a number of years. He is Mr. Jarman, the late General Secretary of the Seamen's Union, who worked unceasingly in an effort to convince hon. Members of this House, Government Departments and shipowners, that measures for life-saving at sea should be implemented at the earliest possible moment. I am sure that a large number of my colleagues with whom I served not only in the 1914–18 war, but since in the Merchant Service, would wish me at this moment to pay a tribute to Mr. Jarman for his efforts on their behalf. It is a tragedy that he was not spared long enough to see the introduction of this Bill today.
In my judgment, repetition is one of the worst features of discussion in this House, and I have no desire to repeat any of the points made in the speeches to which we have listened so far. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) said all it was necessary to say on behalf of those engaged in the Merchant Service, but I should like to extend my tribute to include a large section of the Merchant Service in the London area. Many points were made about which I do not desire to say anything at this juncture, but I must confess that I was disturbed at the utterances of the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). It is very unusual for him to use such words as he used this afternoon when he implored the Minister to adopt a go-slow policy which I feel sure most hon. Members would not welcome.
1268 Those of us who have served at sea know only too well the dangers which confront those who follow that calling. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that this Bill is the end; it is merely the beginning of the fulfilment of what we in this House have claimed since 1945 for those gallant comrades of ours who serve at sea. We cannot do too much for them, and I hope that in the coming months my right hon. Friend will consider the smaller vessels and the difficulties of our coastwise shipping. Many of the ships are a discredit to us. Many of them should have gone out of service long ago. If it is possible to increase the life-saving facilities on the smaller vessels, I am sure that we shall all be very pleased. We must ensure that the inspections which are provided for in the various Measures which pass through this House are, in fact, carried out, because the inspection of ships is of primary importance. Too long in the past we have suffered from these skimpy inspections; many ships have gone to sea in an unsafe condition. I therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman to see that the officers appointed—and I do not care how many are appointed or what expense is incurred—ensure that the inspections are carried out in accordance with the Acts of Parliament which are passed in the interests of this gallant Service.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
In company with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and the Minister of Pensions, it is my privilege to share the representation of the City and port of Cardiff—a port which has played a great part in the life of the Merchant Service. I know that in that area, as well as throughout the island country to which we belong, there will be a warm welcome for this Measure. I am glad that both sides of the House support this Measure so cordially, although I must express surprise at the way in which some hon. Members on both sides of the House, when speaking on a Measure which is non-controversial, are able to work themselves up almost into a passion. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) does not think that I have him in mind, although, after the eloquent way in which he addressed the House this afternoon, I only wish that it had been 1269 my privilege to hear his eloquence when he was on the bridge of a ship. I am quite sure that it would have been just as informative as his contribution this afternoon.
Reference has been made to the transfer of British ships to the Panama flag. The Parliamentary Secretary informed me recently in a Parliamentary answer that, with his permission, 135,000 tons of British shipping had been transferred to the Panama register, but his reason, which he gave in a Written Reply so that I had no opportunity to comment on it at the time, was that they were very old ships and that it did not matter very much. I hope that the references which have been made to this matter in the Debate will make my hon. Friend aware that this can develop into a serious question. In one week recently on three ships the British flag was hauled down and replaced by foreign flags, by permission of my right hon. Friend. That matter needs watching.
I am glad that provision is made in the Bill whereby direction-finders are to be made available on ships of 1,600 tons and over. I believe that to be one of the most important parts of this Measure. Last autumn when I was on a small merchant ship, the Steamer "Hawkinge," of 4,500 tons dead weight, we were caught in a hurricane in the Belle Isle Straits. Visibility was nil, the ship was rolling, and the only way in which that ship and her crew were saved was through the direction-finder, the ability of the radio officer, the captain and his shipmates. The direction-finder, of course, is most valuable when near shore, and it gives to the master of a ship a feeling of confidence which otherwise he would not enjoy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirk-dale (Mr. Keenan) referred to safety measures in relation to deck cargo. It is obvious that in a merchant ship nine times out of ten the crew will be found in the forecastle and they have to climb over the deck's cargo to get amidships. If they have to climb over pit props for example, then indeed accidents are far more likely to happen. I hope that we shall be able to deal with that point in Committee.
I join with hon. Members in all parts of the House in paying tribute to the 1270 Merchant Service not only for their gallantry but for their constant loyalty.
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, I agree we owe a great deal to their toughness. At times they have been a forgotten factor in our community, although I am not laying blame anywhere for this. We have only remembered them when they have come ashore for brief intervals. Their ship is not only the place of work but is the home of these men. I rejoice at the new spirit which is abroad in dealing with the Merchant Service. I know that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are concerned with improving the comfort as well as the safety of these men, and I am very glad that this Measure has come before the House.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)
I should like to add my voice to those of other hon. Members who have welcomed this Bill. The only point I particularly want to raise concerns the power in Clause 23 which will be given to the Minister to make rules wherever possible or necessary to ensure that there will be proper handling of dangerous goods. I hope that he will not only use that power to make new and stringent rules wherever necessary, but will also ensure that existing rules and regulations are carried out to the utmost, particularly in relation to the handling and transport of explosive cargoes.
We in the fire-fighting services of London have reason to feel somewhat perturbed about the present situation in the Port of London. War has bred a certain carelessness in the handling of explosives which was inevitable. Care has been relaxed. It may be that we in the fire-fighting services are somewhat over-cautious on this matter, but I am sure that that will be counted as merit rather than otherwise. Nevertheless, there are reasons for being perturbed about this matter. My only reason for intervening in the Debate is to ask the Minister to see that this carelessness which has grown up as a result of war conditions, will be dealt with and that new and existing regulations will see to it that the maximum amount of safety is guaranteed in the handling of cargoes of explosives.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I also want to say a word or two about the men "who go down to the sea in ships." A fortnight or so ago I was walking along the Embankment when I came to the bust of Samuel Plimsoll. I took off my hat in reverence to a great man who did more to save the lives of the seamen of this country than any other man who ever lived. I felt that I could hear the voice of Samuel Plimsoll putting his case for a Plimsoll line on ships over half a century ago, and perhaps, for all we know, his shadow still hovers over this Chamber listening to the Debate. This Bill is a continuation of the great task which he started in the middle of the last century.
I have been told that when Samuel Plimsoll went to Hull, he was stoned by the very men he was trying to save in the sailing ships. I am not blaming the sailors, because there was an agitation by the shipowners who detested the rules and regulations which Samuel Plimsoll wanted to introduce. I am glad to pay a tribute not only to our gallant seamen for what they did in the war, but also to that great man, Samuel Plimsoll. When I go down to the docks, taking the lads with me, I have pleasure in pointing out to them the load-line. I say, "See that circle with a line through it, with the words L.R.—Lloyds Register? That is the load-line, and it was Samuel Plimsoll who agitated in the House of Commons to have that line put there in order to prevent ships from being overloaded."
§ Mr. Awbery
Reference has been made to ships that were known as coffin ships. I do not think there are coffin ships today in the sense that we understood that phrase years ago. What were known as coffin ships years ago were those ships which were overloaded deliberately, which went out to sea and were sunk. Nobody knew any more about them, except the owners who went to the insurance company and picked up the money. Those were known as coffin ships. I do not think there are coffin ships today, but at the same time I believe there are conditions in our Mercantile Marine which are undesirable and I believe there is much room for still more improvement.
I rose not only to pay tribute to Samuel Plimsoll, but also because I represent a 1272 great port. Bristol was at one time the second port in this country and it was from that port that Cabot sailed in his little cockleshell of 70 tons to find what we now call the United States of America. I am not myself a seaman and I have never been to sea, but I come from a seagoing family and my father sailed round Cape Horn on ten occasions in a sailing ship of 600 tons. He has told me a good many tales of the conditions in the sailing ships of those days. The food they received was almost beyond human consumption; the wages were £3 a month, for seven days a week, 12 hours a day, which worked out at an average of 2s. a day and 2d. an hour, plus, of course their bread and their keep. When I was a lad my father always told me, "It is a dog's life; never go to sea if you can possibly avoid it." Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I find myself in the House of Commons and not on the deck of a ship.
Since those days there has been a tremendous increase in the interest in the human element of our Mercantile Navy, and I am glad that we have had an assurance from the Opposition today that they will give their wholehearted approval and blessing to this Bill, as all good men should. I am here to pay a tribute to the finest seamen in the world. Because they are the finest seamen in the world, they deserve the finest conditions and the finest devices that the mind of man can conceive to save their lives when a danger arises. I am convinced that many of the great disasters at sea in the past could have been avoided if this Convention, which we are discussing today, had been in operation years ago. On many occasions in this House we have discussed Factory Acts introduced to protect the conditions of the men in the factories. Now we are discussing a Convention to protect the lives of men at sea. We satisfied ourselves by saying that the disasters of the past were acts of God. I am not convinced that most of those accidents were acts of God at all; they were due to the neglect of man. In this Bill we are trying to remove some of that neglect.
We have heard comments on deck cargoes. I have seen a ship coming up the Bristol Channel with a deck cargo of 12 ft. of timber and with a cable round the ship and the cargo to keep the cargo from moving. Those things should not be. 1273 Surely the men deserve something better than that to protect them. I am satisfied that the casualty list is growing less as far as our sea-going fraternity are concerned. The food is better; the water is purer; accommodation is more substantial; and there have been improvements in every way; yet I believe there is room for further progress. The preservation of life at sea and ashore is the primary object of a government and I am glad that the Government are introducing this Bill dealing with the construction and the stability of ships, with the condition of the lifeboats, with life-saving apparatus, and with radio aids. All those are necessary.
I think, too that there should be a uniform standard as far as the maritime nations of the world are concerned. If, as one hon. Member said, we are to prevent undue competition between the maritime nations of the world, there must be some uniformity of standards. Those who have high standards are unable to compete with those who have low standards, and because of that undue competition, as the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) said, we may, when competition becomes more acute, find ourselves in a difficult position because we have a high standard while other nations' standards are low. I suggest to the Minister that, in order to obtain a high standard in the ships, there should be more frequent surveys. We have the Number Three Survey very often, and it is very severe. I think it might be made more frequently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) spoke about the Panamanian ships. Twelve months ago, I asked about two ships in one of the ports of South Wales that were changing their flag to the flag of Panama. I was given to understand that the owner of one of the ships was domiciled in South Wales. The people repairing the ship were unable to obtain the materials for the job, but the owner was able to do it for them. Rumour in the port was that one ship was to carry illegal immigrants to the East. Whether that was true or not, I cannot say.
I am glad that on this Bill there is co-operation between the Government and the Opposition, and between the Government and trade unions concerned and 1274 the owners themselves. There has not always been that sort of co-operation. Reference has been made to our friend Jarman. I should like to mention Harold Wilson, who did a great work among the seamen. The provisions contained in this Bill are the very thing for which he was fighting. He was sent to prison in Cardiff for six months for fighting for these things. He was a generation in advance of his time. I want to pay tribute to the Merchant Navy's war record. During the war one sailor in every six was drowned or killed.
This Bill is the climax of many years of effort. The 1929 Convention gives way to the 1948 Convention. The new Convention will be superseded by another at a future date. It has been suggested that that should be in five years' time. I hope the position will be reviewed in five years' time, and that another Convention more in harmony with that time will be prepared. I ask the Minister to consider the hostels for seamen. At some of the ports the hostels provided for the seamen during the war are now being closed, and the men who come ashore at night have nowhere to go but to the public houses. I also ask him to consider lifeboats, about which nothing has been said here today, so far as I remember. Sooner or later the lifeboats must become a national responsibility, and not the responsibility of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. That Institution has done a great and noble work, and no one would say a word in disparagement of what it has done, but this is really work the Government should do, because it is a part of the great work of the saving of the lives of the seamen of this country.
When a ship comes into port she is handed over to the harbour pilot, the dock pilot, who is not on the same status as a deep-sea pilot. Yet he is responsible for manoeuvring a ship in a small space, which is very difficult, and I ask the Minister to consider placing these men on the same basis as the deep-sea pilots, because their responsibilities are the same. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies to the Debate, will answer these questions.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Many who have taken part in this Debate were able to speak with far more intimate knowledge of the sea than I can lay any 1275 claim to, but I think I can claim, on one or two grounds, the right to say a few words. For one thing, I was editor of the "Merchant Navy Journal" during the war, the organ of the Merchant Officers' Federation. I regard it as a great privilege to have been able to serve that organisation in that way. In 1935 I spent a good many months off the coasts of this country in a rattle tub of a ship of a kind that is not covered by this Convention. I was appalled at the conditions in the ship for the men and the officers, and since then my intense interest in the merchant seamen's conditions has developed.
I claim a modest right to speak, too, because, after all, the Clyde has done as much as any other river for the Merchant Navy of this country and the merchant navies of the world. We welcome this Bill. Scots Members of Parliament and the Clydeside seamen welcome the Bill. I was glad that, while tributes were paid to Samuel Plimsoll, a word of tribute was also paid to Mr. Jarman, for if it had not been for his work, this Convention would not have developed in the way it has, and this Bill would not have been shaped as it is. I think one should add some words of tribute also to people like Captain Coombs, the President of the Merchant Officers' Federation, and Mr. Douglas Tennant, who springs from Clydeside, and has been for many years secretary to the Navigators' and Engineer Officers' Union. Their work is, to some extent, enshrined in this Bill.
We all know the perils of life at sea, but there are others beside the seamen who will welcome this Bill particularly, and they are sailors' wives. The anxieties that the seafarers' wives go through are not often told. I imagine, too, that the members of that great collateral, the watch ashore, will follow the progress of this Bill through Committee with interest, and be profoundly thankful to Members on all sides of the House who help to make the Bill even better than it is at present.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) is to wind up the Debate for the other side, because he and his family have always taken a most profound interest in all questions affecting the welfare and safety of our seafarers, and it 1276 is right that he should play an important part in this Debate. We shall never be able to eliminate the hazards of the sea, the great natural hazards which yet are a stimulus to the men who go to sea. The sea is a great calling, and part of its attraction lies in its adventurousness and its perils, but so far as science and ingenuity can contrive to reduce the perils, and to make life better for the men at sea, we should encourage all such efforts. I hope that this Bill will have a successful passage, and that the Minister will look with a kindly eye on any efforts we may make to improve it at later stages.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I must thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) for the kind remarks he made about my family and myself in connection with shipping in Scotland. If I may touch on a personal note which he has started, it is to me a rather remarkable thing that my father, who is in his 92nd year, has seen the whole progress of the British Mercantile Marine from the days of sailing vessels, and he is extremely interested in this latest development with regard to the safety of ships.
As the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) said, it is remarkable to find twice in one year the same Minister coming to this House with a Bill which gets universal approval. That, I believe, is a unique record for any Minister of this Government. Perhaps we might well look for the reason for it in the personality and general conduct of the Minister, but I must not go too far or I might find myself qualifying for the Transport Commission. I think that we have to watch the Minister of Transport very carefully. He has a most persuasive way which conceals a relentless purpose when he knows what he wants and is determined to get it. Today we need not worry about that aspect of the Minister because we are all in agreement with the object of this Bill which he has brought before us.
There is another reason why both the Bills which the Minister has brought before the House in the last year have received universal approval, and it is the obvious one that they both deal with shipping. The first dealt with the conditions of life on board, and this one deals with the conditions and safety of 1277 ships. Throughout our history as a nation, where anything to do with the Merchant Navy has been involved, the nation has worked as one with the minimum controversy. We have had a remarkable record of labour relations in the shipping industry for a great many years. Conditions, on the other hand, have not been everything that could be expected in the past. It takes time to bring ships, of all things up to date. We cannot do it overnight, and I think that there has been great restraint and understanding on the part of all concerned in the relationship between employers and seamen. The National Maritime Board is a classic example of joint consultation on conditions of service between employers and employees.
The Bill, of course, implements a Convention which is a remarkable achievement in its own way, and without going over the ground already covered, I think it is worth rubbing in that the Conference was attended by no fewer than 30 nations with full delegations and by three or four observing nations. There were seven weeks of highly technical discussions, and a number of controversial points came up which were bound to arise. Some nations had certain enthusiasms, but it is a remarkable tribute to all those negotiating that agreement was reached in the end on a document which was not signed by the 30 nations but by 28, with the orthodox and proper abstention of Russia and Yugoslavia. I hope that in spite of that abstention, those nations will be inspired by the unanimity of the other nations, and that some good results may come. I hope that their ships will not fail to conform to the standards of safety laid down by the Conference and by this Convention.
I think that it is worth while pointing out the actual composition of the British delegation. Some hon. Members opposite seem to have the fear that the representation of the sea-going officers and men was not adequate, and that there was more representation of shipowners and shipbuilders. I do not think that numerically that is so. The actual delegation was a most remarkable mixture of talent. The Minister of Transport was there, and representatives of the Admiralty, the Foreign Office, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, 1278 the Post Office, the Meteorological Office, Trinity House, the great classification societies, the organisations representing the sea-going officers and men and, last but not least, the shipbuilders and shipowners. That was a remarkable team to get together and to work together. Not only had we this very large number of delegates but a number of expert advisers.
I have brought this in for two purposes. There is no doubt, from everything that I have been told about this Conference, that the British delegation did distinguish itself quite remarkably. I have met foreign shipowners who attended, and they were full of praise for the way that the British delegation worked, and the organisation put into the Conference in advance, which did tremendous credit to all concerned. Tributes have already been paid today to the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), in which we must join. Tribute must also be paid to some of the senior officials of the Ministry of Transport on whom fell the heavy load of organisation and keeping the whole Conference going. I think it is only right that we should depart from the Parliamentary practice of never saying anything about civil servants except to be rude about them, and say that on this occasion we can do nothing but give them the highest praise.
Another thing remarkable about the Convention and the Bill, which may be because of the excellent preparatory work done, is that they are models of clarity. One can read this Bill and know what it is trying to do. That is a very remarkable achievement in these days. The Minister has got over certain difficulties by not annexing the Convention to the Bill. He has published the Convention as a separate White Paper. Had he had to work it into the Bill, there might have been real trouble. The Bill is understandable, and if one studies the Convention, apart from those sections of it which only highly technical experts could possibly understand, the Convention is also a model for that kind of international conference. It is better than the earlier one which it replaces. It has tidied up the lay-out of the Convention, making the articles at the beginning quite clear-cut and laying down basic intergovernmental procedure; and then come the regulations dealing with the technical matters.
1279 I do not propose to go into details about the Bill or the Convention. Many points have been covered in the course of this Debate, and if we started on any of the details of the Convention or the Bill we should be talking for hours, and I do not think to any great advantage.
I mention one particular point at this stage because it was touched on by hon. Members opposite. That is Article 9 which requires a two-thirds majority of the participating nations to amend the Convention. It is important that in an international convention of this kind, which has very great implications on the design, structure and lay-out of ships, it should not be too easy to amend it year by year. Hon. Members opposite take another line on that. They say that as soon as there is any new practice available it should be incorporated, if necessary by law, in any new ships that come out and possibly also in existing ships. When we get down to the kind of matter dealt with by this Convention, it is better to get reasonable stability and make certain that there will not be too much chopping and changing. That safeguard is given by the central committee of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, which is watching this thing, and if there is some new development which emerges which it is very desirable to incorporate into shipping practice, then it can come up for consideration, and with a two-thirds majority we can get that new development incorporated. I think that is a sensible safeguard.
There is a danger in anything to do with the safety of ships. Seafaring people do not forget that the sea is a hard master and tests out very carefully indeed all the things done to it. When a ship of new design goes to sea, the best and most skilful calculations may all be proved quite wrong, owing to the quite unpredictable things that one meets at sea. It therefore behoves people to move fairly carefully and slowly in trying new safety devices and new techniques for subdivision or anything like that. The old devices which we have got and the structure that has been developed, have been developed over a long period, and one wants to move very carefully in trying any thing radical and new. The 1280 Convention is very sound in its provision for revision.
There is one other point about the Convention worth mentioning, and that concerns the grain carriage regulations. It is undoubtedly excellent that at long last there is to be a uniform standard of fitting for the carriage of grain in deep-sea ships. One small question on this concerns the fines imposed if a ship, whether British or foreign, arrives in a British port with its equipment, the grain feeders, and so on, not in accordance with the regulations.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is right, the shifting boards and feeders. I was really taking up the point made by the hon. Member in another way. We find in the Bill provisions for fining the master of a ship, whether foreign or not, arriving in a British port with its shifting boards not in position or in bad condition. A ship which arrives in that condition must have been in grave danger at sea, because a shifting cargo of grain can cause the loss of a ship. Yet we find the maximum fine that can be imposed on summary conviction is £100, and on indictment £300. I was most impressed this afternoon to discover that precisely the same fine can be imposed for making a false statement when registering a pig. If the Minister refers to Question 59 of today, he will find that is so. I do not know whether the sense of proportion of the Minister of Transport or that of the Minister of Food is out in this respect, but that does raise an important question.
Obviously, we do not want to lay down in Acts of Parliament excessive fines which courts would have great reluctance in imposing; but equally, we cannot help recalling a time between the wars when ships sailing under a certain flag, not British, were trading between the Black Sea and this country and arriving here without shifting boards of any kind. They were duly and properly fined £100. Now to have fitted out their ships properly in the Black Sea would have cost them anything from £2,000 to £2,500, and it obviously paid them much better not to do so and to pay the £100 fine. That is a very difficult thing to deal with, because we do not want to make the fines so heavy as to make the 1281 bill unreasonable. However, now that all these nations have at least initialled this Convention, I hope that sort of thing will cease, and that ships of all flags will keep to the rules and regulations in the same way as British ships, by and large, have done for a very great many years now without the need for close supervision.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), who is not here at the moment, said one or two things with which I should like to deal. He mentioned the Plimsoll line, and I think he probably realised that the load-line is a very proper and effective successor to the original Plimsoll line. Perhaps he will read my speech in the morning and get some comfort from what I say. I think the House should know that during the war, when shipping space was very scarce, it was found possible to increase the amount of shipping space, without danger to the ships, by permitting ships sailing in summer conditions to load to their tropical load-line. Normally ships have three load-lines: winter, summer, and tropical marks. The pre-war rules for load-lines, made under the scrutiny of the classification societies, had such a margin of safety that during the war, with the agreement of the classification societies and the trade unions, ships were allowed to load down to the tropical line in what was known as the summer zone. I only mention that to show that with the present load-line there must be a very substantial margin of safety, because during the war there was never any question—
§ Mr. Awbery
The Plimsoll line was fixed according to the displacement of the ship. I understand that during the 1914–18 war that was altered, with the result that the load-line was raised a few inches, and it was never put back to its original position. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale was referring to.
§ Mr. Maclay
I do not remember offhand the history of each change in the position of the load-line. I am only trying to make quite clear that, whatever the calculations, under normal conditions, such as we have now, there is such a margin of safety that, with the agreement of all concerned loading to the tropical mark was allowed in the summer zone. I think that is a great testimony to the safety margin.
1282 I entirely agree that the question of deck cargoes needs watching closely. People are sometimes very frightened at seeing a ship come into harbour with a 15 ft. deck load of timber, secured apparently by pieces of rope and wire. If anybody who sees a ship so loaded looks closely, he will find that in almost every case it is a highly skilled job to stow a deck cargo well—and deck cargoes are stowed well; they are secured by a series of chains with toe and buckle, and occasionally wire ropes are necessary to fill in the places where the chains do not exactly fit because of the size of the pieces of timber. The general practice of all shipowners who send their ships to sea with timber deck cargoes is to take the most extreme care, and I do know—and I think an hon. Member opposite mentioned this—that masters going to sea in very bad weather sometimes prefer sailing with a deck cargo on top of the hatches to sailing without one, particularly in heavy seas.
§ Mr. Awbery
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale was not so much about the deck cargo itself, as the danger to members of the crew going from the forepeak to amidships.
§ Mr. Maclay
I respect the hon. Gentleman for so adequately looking after the interests of his hon. Friend in his absence. The difficulty of getting men backwards and forwards over a deck cargo in bad weather conditions is very worrying. As a matter of fact this concerns one of the bees in my own bonnet, because I have always believed that sooner or later every ship should manage to get its crew amidships. Aft is better than forward, but as technical design improves, and as more and more ships become diesel engine driven, the crews will be brought amidships, which will solve a whole lot of problems consequent upon their being fore or aft—not the least of these being to obtain hot food. However, that is not the subject of this Convention.
I do not want to go through all the details mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) but half-way through his speech I did promise that I would touch on some of the points he made, which I think are probably better dealt with from this side of the House than from the Government Front Bench, although I have every confidence that the Parliamentary Secretary could deal with them, because in a matter 1283 connected with shipping I am sure that he is eminently fair and reasonable.
The main point made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull, as far as I could make out, was that safety must never be assessed against finance or vice versa. In other words, safety must always be the main consideration, and finance the secondary consideration. Broadly speaking, we all agree with that, but on such a matter the question has to be examined carefully. Passenger ships and cargo ships can be made safer by spending a certain amount of money on them; but what would be ridiculous would be to make it so safe by subdivision that the ship could not possibly load cargo. That is an extreme case. What I think hon. Members opposite have been trying to say—and I agree—is that we are all concerned to see ships made as safe as we can make them.
But we must bear in mind the practical use of the ship; and, although this has been criticised by hon. Members opposite, we cannot go too far ahead of other nations in taking extreme measures for safety. We must make certain that British practice is as good as the best. In the past we have always been ahead of other nations, and we shall continue to be ahead in the future, but when we come down to some of the possible suggestions that can be made for improving the safety of ships, we can reach ridiculous extremes, in improvements that will certainly make ships more safe but will reduce their earning capacity to such an extent as to make them non-competitive. As I have said, the merchant shipping industry in this country has been away up in the forefront, and I hope that we shall always be in that position.
§ Commander Pursey
I was not arguing that an undue amount of money should be spent on construction or reconstruction. I was merely relating the financial factor to new aids for navigation which have come along as a result of scientific development, such as improvements in radar and so on. I took up the point because of what the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) said.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) seemed to get into trouble for saying what I have tried to repeat, that there must be moderation 1284 in these extremes of safety measures. We simply cannot go right ahead of other nations. With a Convention like this, this matter is all-important, because a universal standard can be produced which means that no one is given an undue advantage or is put at an undue disadvantage. It would be impossible, in a period of bad freights, for British ships to compete with foreigners if the foreigners continually carried grain without shifting boards and the British ships had to fit these boards at a cost of anything up to £3,000. That is the advantage of these conventions. We must do out utmost to bring others along with us.
There is another point I should like to take up, and that is the suggestion from hon. Members opposite that these reforms are long overdue and we should have had a Bill of this kind some time ago. I do not think it would have been humanly possible to have had a Bill like this some time ago. This business of safety at sea is a slow developing process, and we have to work up to an international convention. It is remarkable that so soon after the war it should have been possible to produce a Bill of this kind. Obviously, we learned a lot in the war about safety, and a lot of the experience gained during the war has gone into this Convention. It is quite wrong to imply that these reforms could have taken place long ago, because it has been a matter of getting individual nations to see the light and come along and work on an international basis.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer, except to refer to what the Minister said at the end of his speech. We all agree that we must pay tribute of the highest kind to the men who gave their lives in the Service in the two wars, but I should like to add to that and say that we must remember also all the men who have lost their lives, not during the war, but as pioneers in one way or another in shipping. We have been told by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) that he does not like the phrase, "An act of God," because sometimes "neglect" could be read for it. I do not think that is very often a fair criticism of British ships at sea. For "neglect" I would substitute "the gaining of experience." There is no doubt that with new types that have been 1285 evolved and tried out there have been losses. As I said earlier, the sea is a very hard master, and what has been proved to be right over a great many years is not something we should dispense with too easily. In any alterations in design, such as the turret ships, which were a very unsuccessful experiment and a dangerous one—and there were one or two losses of that sort—there is danger.
The Minister also said that, in spite of these great losses in personnel during the war, it was most encouraging to find that immediately after the war there were waiting lists for every branch of the Merchant Service. I have received a stream of letters from constituents who want to go to sea, and I have found that what the Minister said is absolutely true, which is a high tribute to all concerned. The Minister also paid tribute to the contribution the Merchant Service is making to the recovery of the country and the balance of payments. That is, of course, a matter of great pride to the industry, and the industry are confident that, given a straight run, they can help the nation in international competition. But, as some of my hon. Friends have said, do not let anyone fool himself, because there is a period of acute and difficult competition in the years ahead which cannot be avoided. Despite that, the industry welcomes this Convention, believing that the reforms are necessary and admirable, and will do everything they can to make the implementation of the Convention a success.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)
We have had a very interesting Debate during which a general welcome has been given to the Bill my right hon. Friend has brought forward It is a non-controversial Measure. As the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) said, and he was reinforced by the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), this is the second occasion during the last 12 months that my right hon. Friend has brought forward a Measure that has been received with acclamation from both sides. I regard this with some mixed feelings, because by nature I have a combative temperament. Today, I stand here in an atmosphere which is most agreeable and 1286 I do not have to restrain the fires of controversy which sometimes boil within me. Perhaps at some time I shall get my right hon. Friend to produce a Bill on which I shall be able to have a bit of a fight with the Opposition.
This Bill is having rather a different course from the 1854 Bill. The Government of the day then got their 548 Clauses through the Committee stage which lasted only 4½ hours. I am afraid that we are not what our predecessors were. Perhaps I ought to call the attention of the Leader of the House to this. It has been interesting to see the way this Bill has developed as a result of the 1894 Act. The Convention and the measures that have followed, have not altered the main structure of the 1894 Act, but brought it up to date and in line with modern developments in the industry and in safety devices. We all welcome the fact that this Bill has been received so well by both sides of the House, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) who was speaking on behalf of the trade unions. It is, of course, a machinery Bill, and therefore a number of the matters we have been discussing are not really appropriate to the Bill in the first sense, since they will come along at the regulation stage, when it will be possible to have ample discussion under the negative resolution procedure that we all know so well.
What my right hon. Friend is really asking for in this Bill is power to make the regulations. Therefore, he devoted himself to explaining the need for these powers, leaving the actual content of the regulations for a later date. I should like to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs about the present position as regards a number of these regulations that will come into force in due course. It would be wrong to suppose that we shall be inviting the industry in this country to undertake something entirely new by putting these regulations into force. In many ships these appliances in the matter of safety of life at sea are already in existence. What we are doing is to ratify an agreement which brings into line a great many other countries. It is important that we should make this point and not allow the impression to get abroad that we are having to bring up our standards of 1287 safety from a low level. As the nation which took the initiative in calling this Conference, what we have done is to bring a large number of other nations into line. That is to the benefit of every seafarer, wherever he may be, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs made that point as strongly as he did. It is true that in certain directions we shall be lifting the standard somewhat higher. That will be done by agreement with all those in the industry.
In a Debate such as this it is not surprising that almost every speaker says he has been to sea, or worked in a port or has a relative who has been to sea. After all, we are a nation of 50 million people, none of whom lives more than about 100 miles from the sea, and it is in our interest that we should know as much as possible about this matter. I cannot deal with some of the points which have been raised tonight, as I must confine myself to the provisions of the Bill and the regulations that spring from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) made a number of interesting points in a well-informed speech. He knows the Bristol Channel very well indeed, but I do not feel that that subject is within the ambit of the Bill and I must ask leave not to reply to him tonight.
The hon. Member for Hereford, in opening the Debate for the Opposition, said we were going further than the Convention provided for in certain respects. He did not take exception, but merely asked us to be careful. The consultations we have with the industry will ensure this; there is no lack of confidence on the part of the industry that we shall run too far ahead of them. My right hon. Friend will, of course, reserve the right on all occasions to take the final decision, but I can foresee no matter on which he will want to run far ahead of the industry. My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs said that changes in practice should not be frequent. I agree.
In the field of testing new devices and equipment I believe there should be a long period of experiment and trial. That is one of the reasons why radar has not been made compulsory at the moment—a point which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland). Considerable experience was gained during the war, starting 1288 with the old 268 set, but every one of the nations at the Safety Conference agreed that it would be a little early at present to make radar compulsory. The number of sets in existence, and being produced, means that it would be some time before every ship of over 500 tons or 1,600 tons—or whatever the tonnage was—could get a radar set of any real utility. We are not, however, dropping behind. The Ministry have issued a specification for radar sets. Wherever sets are established they must conform to that minimum standard. We have also made provision for testing; three types have been approved, and are now available for owners to put into their ships as they come on the market. That reinforces the point made about the need for continuous experiment before something which is final is written into the Convention.
The hon. Member for Hereford hoped that I.M.C.O. would not be in permanent session. The organisation is not yet set up. This country is still the bureau power for the purpose of these safety regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring and the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) both referred to the question of medical aid. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) said, we are fairly well covered on all deep-sea ships. All navigating officers must have a knowledge of first-aid. Passenger ships must carry doctors if they have more than a certain number of passengers. In the case of coasters the situation is a little different. I suppose that in the past a coaster, by definition, meant a ship which remained just off the coast, which meant that it ought to be able to get help quickly. I have not examined this point, however, and perhaps we might deal with it in Committee.
The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) raised the question of the Convention being accepted by other nations. As the Explanatory Memorandum says, there must be 15 acceptances of the Convention, including seven by countries which have at least one million gross tons of shipping. The Bill, according to Clause 37, will not come into force untilsuch day as His Majesty may by Order in Council appoint.The intention is that the Bill shall come into force when acceptances have been 1289 made by the other nations. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities also referred to the co-operation between the nations attending the conference. It was remarkably good; the whole atmosphere was one we should like to see in other international conferences. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs for what they said about the services rendered by the Departmental officials. It would have been a little immodest for my right hon. Friend to refer to that himself, but I saw our officials working late into the night to prepare papers for the next day. They rendered excellent and devoted service during the conference.
§ Mr. Callaghan
No. The Conference did not report until last June. The speed with which the Government always move means that we have introduced legislation—which has met with the full approval of the House—very rapidly. I understand that other nations are now preparing their own modes of ratification. We do not know what the position will be, but we are taking the lead, properly so, I think, as the largest seafaring Power.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) said that some of these reforms should have been introduced earlier. As I have already said, many have been introduced in our own ships. It is the other nations we are bringing up to date in various respects. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle asked why troopships were excluded. If he will look at Clause 29 again he will see that it provides that the Admiralty does not have to produce evidence that they have acted in accordance with the Convention. That does not mean that the Minister and the Admiralty will not prescribe substantive rules for the carriage of soldiers and other military personnel in troopships that will be on the same level as those coming under the Convention. But this exemption for His Majesty's ships was made in the Act of 1894, and has been carried on in this Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) asked that coastwise shipping should be protected 1290 against foreign competition. I do not intend to follow him on that point, but there are good reasons why we should have free and open ports in this country if we are to expect the same conditions elsewhere. I would not like to pursue that point very far.
§ Captain Marsden
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that our coastal ships get the same facilities in other ports as we give here, because they are not allowed into those ports?
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is quite true that our coastwise shipping is having a difficult job to survive at the moment. That is probably because of the low charges made by the railways. It may surprise hon. Members, but coastwise shipping would be in a difficult position if it were not receiving a subsidy in order to enable it to carry on. It is vitally important that coastwise shipping should be maintained and the crews kept together in case of a further emergency. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Mr. Sargood) raised the question of the carriage of explosives. I would like to assure him that at this moment a working party is engaged in sorting out war-time relaxations in order to tighten up the provisions covering the carriage of explosives from enclosed docks. We want to segregate as far as possible the carriage of explosives so that they will only go through docks which are not in confined spaces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) gave the Bill a welcome, but he said other things, too. He argued that nothing had been done for the Merchant Navy since the end of the war, and I will reply to him very shortly with four brief answers. An establishment scheme has been approved, and it has brought a measure of security to the industry; there is a continuous high level of employment; the Seattle Convention found its place in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1948, and finally there is this Bill. My hon. Friend also referred to the load-line, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs made some observations on that too. No country at the Conference suggested that anything was wrong with the load-line. We ourselves do not think there is. I can say straight away that if we thought there was anything wrong with the load-line provisions, which are so fundamental 1291 to the safety of our ships, we should have no hesitation in bringing it to the notice of other nations involved in order to get it righted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Mr. G. Thomas) referred to the usefulness of radio direction finding. That is one of the most important parts of this Bill. It is one of the ways in which science has come to our aid and has enabled us to bring forward a further convention of this nature. We all recognise the practical possibilities of radio aids and the way they have developed during the last 20 years. The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs asked whether the penalties are high enough. That is a point we might look at in Committee, and if it is desired to do so we can meet the hon. Member.
I should like in conclusion to bring out a new point of importance, which very much attracted me as I saw it on my way through the Bill. It concerns the position of a master who is told that another ship is in distress. As is well-known, it is the duty of a master if he receives a message from any ship saying it is in distress, to go to the aid of that ship with all despatch. One small and significant way in which that regulation has been tightened up is that the duty is now laid upon him to go to the aid of that ship whether he gets a message from another ship or from any other source. In a small way that shows how we are constantly trying to improve these regulations to bring them into line with marine practice, and to build on what I think is a sound foundation.
I believe that the safety in British ships is as good as that of any other nation and better than most. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our record, and in bringing forward this Convention it is not designed to imply that our levels of safety are low. Indeed, they are not. Our levels of safety are high, and rightly they must continue to be high, for all those who go to sea. It is with great pleasure that I commend this Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Solley
Could my hon. Friend deal with the question of the lower degree of safety in some British ships manned by British crews but which fly a foreign flag?
§ Mr. Callaghan
All I can say is that if a ship flying a foreign flag comes to a 1292 British port and it is found to be in an unsafe condition, it can be detained by the Ministry's surveyors. The same conditions of survey and level of safety would apply to any such ship visiting our ports as we already apply to our own ships.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.