HC Deb 16 May 1958 vol 588 cc806-9

12.27 p.m.

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

I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out from the first "the" to the end of line 17 and to insert: number by which the amount substituted by paragraph (a) of this subsection is to be multiplied shall be three hundred in any case where the tonnage concerned is". Hon. Members will remember that in Committee I moved an Amendment relating to the 300-ton platform and the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) pointed out that the wording did not seem clear and might be capable of misinterpretation. I have carefully considered his points and I think that the House will agree that the present form of wording leaves no one in any doubt as to its meaning regarding the 300-ton platform. The tonnage referred to is that defined in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

Amendment agreed to.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When the Bill was before the House for Second Reading on 7th February the Joint Parliamentary Secretary intimated that the Government would move Amendments both in Committee in this House and in another place, so that the provisions of the International Convention relating to the limits of liability of seagoing ships, which was signed in Brussels in October last year, could become part of our law. This undertaking was welcomed by all sides of the House. The Bill has now been amended in Committee to include the provisions of Article 3 of the Convention. I hope that the House will send it to another place so that the other Amendments, which it was not possible to move in Committee because of the narrowness of the Title of the Bill, will be inserted and the full provisions of the Convention brought into the Bill.

On behalf of the supporters of the Bill, I would thank my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the assistance which he and his advisers have given. I would thank also Members on both sides of the House who have given their support to the Bill and have helped by suggesting points for consideration.

If ever reform were needed, this is surely a case for urgent reform. Last year, in life claims alone, a figure of 47 proved claims, totalling £163,076, had to be scaled down to £30,442. In certain cases the proportion of the scaling down was even more startling. Nine of the above claims, totalling £42,876, were scaled down to £3,684. In another reference, three of the above claims, totalling £11,475, were scaled down to £723. In that case, the innocent parties received 6 per cent. of their claims and the wrongdoer was relieved of 94 per cent. These figures and others appear in a Written Answer in HANSARD for 25th March, 1958, column 32.

I therefore ask the House to give a Third Reading to the Bill so that it may become an Act at the earliest possible moment.

12.32 p.m.

Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)

I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, I express my appreciation of the intentions of the promoters of the Bill as a Private Member's Measure. We are all very happy to see that those who are engaged in the Merchant Navy are to be rewarded to a certain extent under the provisions of the Bill. The old figures of compensation which applied were most unjust to those who carried out this very important service on behalf of the nation.

Everybody is not always satisfied with legislation, or even with this Brussels Convention recommendation, but it is a source of satisfaction to those who know anything about the Merchant Navy to read the provisions of the Bill. The Bill is one of the best things that has happened to the Merchant Navy for a considerable time, and I am extremely thankful to its sponsors. Its proposals will not only considerably help those who serve on large vessels travelling throughout the world, but will be a great asset and advantage to those on smaller vessels.

So far as I know, this is the first time a minimum tonnage has been laid down for shipowners' liability to compensation, and I believe the shipowners are, in the main, happy about it. If compensation is limited simply on the basis of the tonnage of the vessel—trawlers, fishing vessels and ships of that description—it becomes extremely difficult for the men to receive their just payment after accidents and other incidents affecting their employment.

I add my word of praise to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. When the Bill was before us on Second Reading it was, as the sponsors will agree, rather sketchy, but the Parliamentary Secretary has made it into a respectable Bill. It is nice to be able to say something in praise of the Ministry of Transport, because I very often fall out with the Ministry on other matters. I congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The Bill alters figures which have been in operation for almost a hundred years affecting those engaged in the Merchant Navy. I give my strongest support to the Third Reading.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. Neave

I would join with the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) in congratulating the promoters of the Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) and Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham). I thank the hon. Member for Stepney for his co-operation in Committee on many points, and also the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood).

As the hon. Member for Stepney has said, the Bill is a very important item of legislation in the history of the Merchant Navy. The task of the Government is to ratify the 1957 Brussels Convention as soon as possible. This was the object of my introduction of the new Clause which embodies some of the most important provisions of the Convention. Hon. Members will know that the Clause raises the monetary limits for personal and property claims and is generally agreed to by the unions concerned. I would like to thank them, and particularly the National Union of Seamen, the Merchant Navy Officers' Association and the Transport and General Workers' Union, for the assistance they have given during consultations with my Department. I am glad that they are satisfied with these new limits.

I would remind hon. Members that a great deal remains to be done in another place, where we have to complete our implementation of the whole Convention.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.