HC Deb 09 February 1954 vol 523 cc1085-95

7.33 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman

The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), in page 2, to leave out line 11, is not selected.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I wish to elicit some information about an aspect of the Bill which arises under Clause 1. Provision is made in subsection (1, b) for the surveyor of ships to be satisfied that the space provided for the working of the boilers andmachinery and the ventilation and lighting of the space are adequate. I am concerned, as are all navigating officers and seamen associated with the matter, with the ventilation and illumination of engine and boiler spaces.

It is true that provision is made for a surveyor to determine whether the ventilation and illumination are satisfactory, but I gather that there are no regulations which will enable the Minister to determine whether the work is being carried out effectively. The matter applies particularly to officers and men in engine rooms who are sailing in tropical or semi-tropical waters. They are confined in these enclosed spaces, some of which are inevitably very small, and the weather makes their task doubly difficult.

If there were to be such regulations, they could be debated if they were laid upon the Table on some subsequent occasion, but if such regulations are not forthcoming, I should like an assurance that the Ministry will keep a very close eye on the matter. It may be a small point, but it is one which substantially affects the men concerned. I hope the Minister will give me the assurance for which I ask or give some indication that on a future occasion regulations will be provided which can be debated in the ordinary course.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Clause 1 (2) provides for the alteration of the law relating to the deduction from gross tonnage of the amount of propelling power space. Under the present law there is a 32 per cent. reduction if the propelling power space is more than 13 per cent. Subsection (2, a) provides that it shall be a 32 per cent. reduction if the power propelling space is 13 per cent. of the gross tonnage, and subsection (2, b) provides that if the power propelling space is less than 13 per cent., the 32 per cent. deduction shall be proportionately reduced.

As I understand it, the terms of the Clause are based on the findings of a very eminent committee which reported in 1950, and which was appointed by the Institute of Naval Architects. On the committee were naval architects, ship owners and marine engineers. They advised on a short-term policy with regard to the calculation of registered tonnage, which was that where the propelling power space was either more or less than 13 per cent., then 32 per cent. deduction should be allowed and not, as provided in the subsection to Clause 1, that it should be proportionately reduced. That seems fair enough. If the 13 per cent. propelling power space is increased, the 32 per cent. is not proportionately increased.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend could explain the reason for putting those words "proportionately reduced" against the 32 per cent. reduction, when the propelling power space is less than 13 per cent. of the gross tonnage.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

I have tried to ascertain whether the Bill would affect the Plimsoll line or the loading line in any way, but I have not received an assurance that it will not do so. I should like the Minister to give a categorical assurance that the Plimsoll line, which is sacrosanct so far as I am concerned, will not be interfered with in any way.

He told us on the last occasion that there were two methods of ascertaining tonnage. One is the gross tonnage, or overall size of the ship and the displacement of the water. The second is the net tonnage, which is the earning capacity of the ship when the engine-room space and the stokehold are taken away. If the ship remains the same size in gross tonnage and the engine-room space is small or large, the Plimsoll line should remain the same as it is. If it does not, then perhaps the Minister will tell us.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) told us that if the carrying part of the ship is 12 per cent., then 21 per cent. is deducted, and if it is 13.1 per cent. then 32 per cent. is deducted, and there is a graduation between 21 per cent. and 32 per cent. If that is the case, it means an increase in the carrying capacity of the ship. I cannot for the life of me see how, if the tonnage carried by a ship is increased, it does not put the ship lower down in the water and alter the load line. Perhaps the Minister will let us know whether there will be a gradual, uniform scale which alters the Plimsoll line. If a ship will carry more under the new calculation which we are introducing today, that is bound to affect the buoyancy of the ship, the safety of the ship workers at sea and the load-line.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned the engine-room. If we are to have a bigger carrying capacity because the engine-room and the stokehold are smaller, will there not be a tendency then to reduce the size of the stokehold and of the engine-room? They are small enough now, heaven knows, particularly in tropical climates when men have to be down below attending to the fires and in the engine-room. If we are to introduce this new method of calculation we ought at the same time to introduce some new method whereby a minimum size of engine-room and stokehold could be determined. To remove the temptation to which I have referred, we should lay down a minimum capacity in that way.

Will the Minister tell us in clear language whether this alteration will affect the buoyancy of ships at sea? After I had read the Bill, and read again the discussion which took place on the Second Reading, it was clear that there is need for a comprehensive Merchant Shipping Bill, because many vital changes have taken place.

7.45 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman

This argument is going beyond the Clause.

Mr. Awbery

We are doing something to alter our shipping system, and I am throwing out a suggestion that a comprehensive Shipping Bill should be considered by the Ministry at an early stage to deal with the new problems which have arisen.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

Hear, hear.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member cannot pursue that argument on this Clause.

Mr. Awbery

I am sorry if I deviated, but the Minister will know what I have in my mind. This is one Bill, but we want a larger one. I want to protect the men as much as I can. Many hon.Members will have seen a picture called "The Cruel Sea"and will have read the book, in which case they will know something about what these men who go down to the sea in ships suffer. We ought to make things as safe and pleasant as we can when these men are following their avocations. If the Bill is to change the Plimsoll line it will alter the buoyancy of the ship and make it more difficult for these men. I am not a seafarer, but I am glad that the Seamen's Union have agreed to the Bill—so far as I can gather. Probably they are satisfied, but I feel I should not be doing my duty if I let the Bill go by default.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is talking about the Bill. We are discussing the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Awbery

I am dealing with the Clause, Sir Rhys. The question of the buoyancy of the ship arises in Clause 1. I am trying to point out that if we pass the Bill as it is, the buoyancy of the ship will be affected and, through that, the lives of the men.

Ihope that the Minister will give serious consideration to this matter and give us a categorical assurance; and not only to myself. I have read the Bill a few times and have tried to grasp how the Clause will affect the men. I am not clear about it in my own mind, and I want the Minister to make it clear, not only to me but to the men who will have to work under these conditions.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I want to ask the Minister a question on the Clause, which provides that the alteration envisaged shall be subject to the approval of the surveyor of ships. Clause 1 says: In ascertaining the registered tonnage of the ship the deduction allowable for that space under section seventy-eight of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 (b) shall not be made unless the surveyor of ships is satisfied that the space provided for the working of the boilers and machinery and the ventilation and lighting of that space are adequate. How is the surveyor of ships to be satisfied? There is no provision in the Bill for procedure whereby he can be satisfied.

If we turn to subsection (5) of the same Clause we read: Where under the foregoing provisions of this section the making of the deduction mentioned in subsection (1) of this section, or its computation in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, depends on the surveyor of ships being satisfied as mentioned in paragraph (b) of the said subsection (1),… There is not a word as to how the surveyor of ships is to be satisfied; what evidence he will require; how that evidence is to be adduced, and how it is to be considered by him. The Clause goes on to say: …and the deduction…has been made and so computed but a surveyor of ships, on inspecting the ship, fails to be satisfied as aforesaid… Why should he fail to be satisfied? What kind of evidence will satisfy him, and what kind of evidence will fail to satisfy him? These matters should be made clear. Paragraph (b) says that if the deduction: …has not been made or, as the case may be, has not been so computed, but a surveyor of ships, on inspecting the ship, is satisfied as aforesaid…. It does not rest there. It is not merely a question of inspecting the ship. From the general tenor of this Clause it is obvious that some other evidence will be required by the surveyor of ships. The Clause continues: …the surveyor shall inform the registrar of British ships and the registered tonnage of the ship shall be altered accordingly. That is all very charming and very smooth, but it does not indicate how the surveyor of ships is to be satisfied; what evidence he will require; how that evidence is to be adduced, and whether it is to be conveyed from the surveyor of ships to the registrar of British ships in writing, verbally, or otherwise. This is a little Bill, but it is important to seamen. The question of the approval of the surveyor of ships and the manner in which he will convey to the registrar of ships either his approval or disapproval is relevant under this Clause, and the Minister should give to the Committee the answers to the questions which I have put. I am limiting myself expressly to this narrow point, because I want to say something more on the Bill as a whole when it comes to be considered by the House.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

I make no complaint at the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have asked questions about the way in which this Clause will operate. I do not claim that this Bill is particularly easy to understand. In the case of an existing ship the new and more favourable computation will apply only if the owner has made a request in writing to that effect and the surveyor of ships is satisfied.

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) asked me how the surveyor is to be satisfied, and what was the general procedure to be followed. It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member does not fully realise that surveyors ofships are employees of the Ministry of Transport and directly under the control of my right hon. Friend and that they are, in respect to all the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts, constantly going on board ships to examine them for all purposes, for example, the general standard of accommodation for the crew, and so on. One of the advantages of the present system is that there is extremely little formality about the procedure. Nearly all the surveyors of ships are ex-seafaring men, who are familiar with ships.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I want to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that in no Clause of this Bill do we find any provisions for the making of rules and regulations. In view of that fact, it is up to the Minister to give a very clear explanation of the point I have put, and he is not doing so.

Mr. Molson

It is not reasonable of the hon. and learned Gentleman to interrupt me on a point of that sort just as I am in the middle of explaining it.

I was saying that the surveyors of ships are constantly going on board ships, and they carry out inspections of the ships for all the purposes required under the Merchant Shipping Acts. There is no question of making rules and regulations, any more than my right hon. Friend makes rules and regulations for the work of the civil servants in his Department. These surveyors are experienced in the work, and they are directly under the control of the Minister. They have the confidence both of the trade unions concerned and the employers. I am glad that it is possible to introduce a Bill which does not provide for the making of rules and regulations.

If at any time, or for any period of time, a surveyor is not satisfied as to the adequacy of the ventilation, lighting, and so on, the ship concerned will not enjoy the more favourable deduction which is provided for under this Bill. It has not always been entirely clear that what happens in the case of an existing ship and what happens in the case of a new ship are two different things. In the case of an old ship which does not satisfy the surveyor's requirements as to the standards of ventilation, lighting and space, that ship does not, during the time that he is dissatisfied, enjoy the more favourable deduction which is provided for under this Bill. During the period when the ventilation, lighting and space are inadequate the ship falls back to the deduction which is provided for under Section 78 of the Act of 1894—which is one and three quarter times the size of the engine room.

I think it is only right that this Bill should not deprive existing ships of the benefits which they now enjoy and have enjoyed under the Act of 1894. In the case of new ships, on the other hand, when they are first surveyed or on any subsequent survey, if the surveyor comes to the conclusion that the ventilation, lighting and space are not adequate, that new ship will not enjoy any deduction whatsoever from the gross tonnage in order to arrive at the registered tonnage. That is because we consider that there is not the slightest reason why new ships should not be designed and built with adequate ventilation, lighting and space. There is that difference between the old and the new ships.

Mr. Shinwell

I spoke very briefly at the outset because I wanted to help not only the Parliamentary Secretary but the Committee—and I did not think that this debate required to be carried on at great length—but I am bound to say that the statement which he has just made disturbs me considerably. I have the utmost confidence in surveyors, because I have a great deal of experience in this matter, but I never suspected that in the matter of adequate ventilation and illumination a surveyor had no rules or regulations to guide him. What determines the adequacy of ventilation or illumination? Is it merely left to the judgment of the surveyor? Obviously if it were a dispute might easily arise between the surveyor and those who sailed on a ship which he had inspected, and the Ministry would be embroiled.

8.0 p.m.

I think the hon. Member must go a little further. I always thought that the surveyors were not a law unto themselves but worked on pre-determined lines which were probably the result of custom or tradition or, it may be, the result of rules and regulations laid down by the Ministry. Before the Ministry of Transport was created, indeed, before the Ministry of Shipping emerged, we had the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade. I always thought, during that period, that surveyors could not do as they pleased but must conform to certain rules concerning ventilation and illumination.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would care to look into this matter a little more closely. Frankly, whatever confidence is reposed in surveyors as a whole, I am not prepared to agree that they should be a law unto themselves in determining whether ventilation and illumination in the more confined spaces are adequate or not. I ask the hon. Gentleman to go into the matter more fully.

Mr. Awbery

If we are not laying down a new formula for the surveyor to ascertain where the load-line is on a new ship, then when he measures it the load-line will be higher on the side of the ship than under existing conditions.

Mr. Molson

The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point and I will gladly look into the matter further. As I understand the position it is that down to the present time there have been all kinds of requirements in ships where the surveyor has to be satisfied. Those standards have been broadly agreed between the trade unions concerned and the owners, and the Department which I represent has acted as the surveyor who has enforced those general standards in the ships. Under the Bill we are taking a step further forward. Until now there has been no requirement that the surveyor should be satisfied as to the living conditions, shall I call it, of the engineers in the engine room. We are making it a condition for the future that if ships are to obtain the more favourable deduction which is provided in the Bill, then the surveyor mustbe satisfied that the engine room is large enough to provide reasonable amenities for those who work there.

Mr. Shinwell

Conform to certain standards.

Mr. Molson

The right hon. Gentleman says "certain standards." As I said to the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, no rules and regulations are laid down but in practice conditions in engine rooms in modern ships are in general acceptable to those concerned. That, as I understand it, is the present position.

This Bill, therefore, represents a very definite step forward in the direction of providing for additional inspection, but the right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point; he wonders whether this discretion may not be a little too extensive. I will gladly make inquiries from my advisers and I will communicate with him further upon the subject. I hope that that deals with the question of the standards in the engine room and the way in which the surveyor shall be satisfied.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) returned to the point which he raised on Second Reading. I thought I had given him an assurance which was so explicit that I had brought reassurance to his mind. As reported at column 2003, I said: …this Bill will in no way affect the law concerning load lines. There is no question whatever of reducing the margin of safety in that respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 2003.]

Mr. Awbery


Mr. Molson

The hon. Gentleman has asked me about this and I should like to give him the explanation. I listened to what he said today and I believe he misunderstands the meaning of gross tonnage in the case of a merchant ship. It is a measure of space and not of weight.

Mr. Awbery


Mr. Molson

It is not displacement; it' is the space in the ship. The purpose of the Bill is to encourage the design of ships to be carried out in such a way that a larger proportion of the space in the ship is used for cargo instead of for the engine room. But that in no way affects the legislation relating to the loading line. There is no change whatsoever in the guarantees of safety provided by that legislation. Indeed, in one important respect reduction in the size of the engine room is likely to increase the factor of safety, because it will be possible to divide the ship in a better way in order, if she is holed in one part, that the danger of her sinking will be less.

Mr. Awbery

It is still not clear to me. The purpose of the Bill is to enable a ship to carry more cargo. How can a ship carry mote cargo if it does not go deeper into the water?

Mr. Molson

I am not saying that a ship might not go deeper into the water. I was saying that this Bill in no way affects the legislation about the loading line, so that it would be illegal to load her so heavily that she went below the loading line.

Mr. Shinwell

Can I help my hon. Friend in this matter? Is it not the case that to effect an alteration in the load-line or the Plimsoll line, an Amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act is required, and that is not provided in the Bill?

Mr. Molson

I am much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his assistance.

Mr. Awbery

I am not convinced.

Mr. Molson

I should not expect anyone to be able to convince the hon. Genman, but he is more likely to be willing to accept an assurance from his right hon. Friend than he is to accept it from me. We have both agreed in giving that assurance and I trust that even if he does not quite understand the position, he will, at any rate, assume that we are both speaking in good faith and that the trade unions representing seafaring men also understand the matter and have satisfied themselves upon this point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)referred to his Amendment which you, Sir Rhys, did not select. May I tell him that this Bill is the result of consultation between all the interests concerned with shipping. We have reached agreement with 26 of the 28 foreign or overseas Governments with which we have reciprocal agreements upon this matter. What my hon. Friend is asking is that this large concession should apply in respect of ships where the engine room is less than 13 per cent. of the space. He really did not advance any argument as to why that should be done.

It has always been the view of the Government that although power was taken in the Act of 1894 to allow that deduction to be made it was unreasonable to use it. It would at the present time be opposed by the trade unions, by the dock and harbour authorities, and would not be acceptable to the overseas Governments with which we have reciprocal arrangements. The effect, therefore, of making that Amendment in this Bill would be that we should, in fact, be breaking the reciprocal agreement which we have arrived at and which we have now agreed with these foreign countries to amend.

In the United States of America, for example, a Bill somewhat similar to this Bill has already been introduced into the Legislature to give effect to this agreement. Therefore, as the effect of the Amendment would inevitably mean the destruction of the Bill, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that we had better stick to what has been agreed upon.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.