HC Deb 13 March 1964 vol 691 cc882-939

Order for Second Reading read.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

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

I am very conscious of two things. One is the great honour which falls to me as a private Member to bring the Bill to the Mention of the House. The second is that this is Friday, 13th March, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) said, and They that go down to the sea in ships are highly superstitious people. I hope that it is not an omen against the Bill that it should come forward on this day.

We live in an age of artificial catastrophe. Man has conquered matter and the elements, to a great extent. He travels in the elements, and sometimes both matter and the elements let him down. When it happens, the results are frequently catastrophic. We in this House seek to alleviate them and to avoid the hazards which cause suffering and misery to those who are involved and to those who survive.

I think that every hon. Member would wish to pay tribute to our sailors. They have always been a source of great pride to this nation, and I think that we as a House of Commons have served them well. There was Samuel Plimsoll and his agitation for the load line, and the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which is practically the guiding line for merchant shipping legislation. I wish to pay tribute to those who have negotiated on behalf of the Government and the interests concerned the Convention which, I hope, we will very shortly ratify in this House.

There have been four Conventions, and they have been brought about frequently as a result of shipping disasters. The first Convention, that of 1912, came about as a result of the "Titanic" disaster. We ratified it as an Act in 1914. It had no effect because of a larger and international disaster, the First Great War. The second Convention was that of 1929 which was ratified by 18 nations. The third Convention, the one of 1948, came before this House in 1949. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who is present today, took part in the debate on it.

In all these Conventions we were the Power which took the greatest initiative. We were what is known as the "bureau Power". This time, however, it has been carried out by the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation held in London. There is a requirement that there should be 15 signatures, of whom seven must be nations having a register of 1 million gross tons of shipping. Today there are 16 signatories, six being nations with a million gross tons. I hope very much that our ratification will be the psychological one that will make the Convention come into effect 12 months after the date on which we ratify it. It is for that reason that I commend the Bill to the House.

The Bill is highly complex and technical. I hope that I shall not weary the House too much, but I must explain the application of this Measure. It applies to cargo and passenger ships of 500 tons or more, and a passenger ship is defined as a vessel carrying more than 12 passengers. It involves those who take part in international voyages, and has the same application as the 1948 Convention. It extends the tonnage of vessels requiring a radio certificate. It excludes, however, Chapter 8 which involves nuclear propulsion, because I am advised that this is both complex and controversial and is considerably premature as none of these vessels is likely to take to sea for some considerable time, and premature legislation of this nature might, in fact, inhibit their development. It also excludes fishing vessels, naval vessels and trooping vessels. These are in fact excluded explicitly from the Convention.

The 1960 Convention applies in general terms this requirement for passenger vessels. In Clause 1, I am asking the House to replace the 1948 Convention by the 1960 Convention, and by doing that we shall then enforce it. I hope that it is right at this time, in case reference to any topical disaster might be brought into the debate, to say that this regulation applies only to vessels which are built after the Act comes into force, and that vessels built before that happens cannot be affected by the construction requirement.

I should like first to deal with the passenger shipping safety construction rules referred to in Clause 8(a). The alterations are mainly minor ones. They are in general terms, but they provide what I think is very important, namely, a higher standard of sub-division in certain forms of vessel, and higher standard of ballasting. I attach great importance to this in the inclining test, because it frequently happens that when a vessel has been damaged by collision with an iceberg or with another vessel, water gets into the vessel and upsets its balance. It is true that in many cases watertight bulkheads will limit that, but that is one of the major hazards after an accident, and I am sure that the House would wish to legislate on this matter.

The life-saving Clauses are perhaps the most important features of the Bill. It is interesting to note that in the 1948 Convention—and I think that it was wrong in this respect—inflatable life rafts were not only excluded but were prohibited. That to my mind was a retrograde step, but this has been put right, and I am asking the House to put it right in our legislation for international vessels. We have used them for domestic vessels. We have used them by bilateral agreements for vessels crossing the Channel, and I think that the inflatable life raft should be used on all vessels.

When the "Andrea Doria" was in collision with the "Stockholm" she very rapidly got into a list of more than 22 degrees. On her portside, which was the side away from the collision and higher up out of the water, it was impossible to use the gravity davits, with the result that all the portside lifeboats were useless. Under the old regulations a vessel was compelled to carry life rafts which would take one quarter of the passengers, and lifeboat accommodation for the entire passenger element. Here we are continuing the lifeboat accommodation requirement, but we are compelling inflated life rafts to be carried to provide accommodation for the passengers over and above the lifeboat requirement for the entire passenger element. I think that this is a good and useful Measure, and it also includes the provision that these inflatable life rafts should be secured to the vessel, because if passengers are asked to jump to the water from a considerable height, during cold weather especially, they run the risk of drowning.

Another element of great importance is that contained in Chapter 2 of the Convention, namely, the requirement for fire-fighting appliances. I am informed that most of these are built into a vessel, so this again will apply principally to vessels built after the passage of this Bill. This provision requires carbon-dioxide appliances to be built into vessels for fire smothering purposes. It also gives a clear definition of the amount of water that is to be available for fire-fighting purposes. I am sure that the House will welcome these provisions.

Radio apparatus is dealt with in Chapter 4 of the Convention, and the Bill seeks to compel radio telephone or radio telegraph apparatus to be carried in vessels of between 300 tons and 500 tons. This provision is in Clause 15(a). It also provides for what I think is an extremely important factor, namely, that there should be a continuous radio watch. This was formerly provided in passenger vessels and cargo vessels of more than 1,600 tons, but it is now to be provided in ships of 300 tons. The continuous radio watch and alarm system will mean that when a disaster occurs small vessels near the scene of the accident will be able to pick up messages for help, and even if they cannot themselves render assistance, they will be able to ensure that the message is passed on and help is provided. If I might refer to the "Andrea Doria" disaster again, it was an automatic watch-keeping appliance which woke up the radio operator on a fairly small vessel, and he was able to summon assistance.

Chapter 6 of the Convention deals with the carriage of grain in bulk. This is a revision downwards. It provides slightly less strict requirements. I welcome this, because, living as we do in an age of technological change, we have the bunk ore carrier and the bulk grain carrier, and these vessels are equipped to carry a highly fluid commodity such as grain without losing their balance and their stability. It therefore seems realistic that we should relax the previous requirements so that these vessels can be used to the maximum advantage.

Chapter 7 is the inevitable chapter on dangerous goods. A United Nations Committee of experts continually considers this matter, and it is also kept under continuous review by the expert committee of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. This is a matter which, because of technical and chemical changes, needs to be kept under constant review, and I know that the House would wish that to be done. When one considers the increasing export of chemicals from this country, one realises that it is in the national interest to make our regulations and restrictions as modern as possible.

In Clause 2 I am seeking powers to make rules for the construction and survey of the hull, machinery and equipment, of cargo vessels. This is the first time that this has been done. Safety equipment is surveyed biannually. These provisions are in general terms in the Bill and they overlap what is required by classification societies, such as Lloyds of London, for insurance and underwriting purposes. I am seeking leave for the Ministry of Transport, or the classification society which is authorised by the Minister to survey the hull, machinery and equipment of a ship and to report to the owners as soon as possible, normally within 14 days.

I now turn to the rule-making provisions. The Minister is empowered to make rules known as "cargo ship construction and survey rules," in Clause 2. This is new to United Kingdom law, except for the load line requirement. In the Second Reading debate on the 1949 Measure it was said that the load line requirements were being left out. That was not accurate. There are three forms of load line, dating back to 1894.

One of the difficulties about an international agreement is that it operates at the frequency required by each Government concerned. It is difficult to attain the ideal, and we always have to compromise. The rules require that a Statutory Instrument must be laid in order to reduce the tonnage covered by the Bill. In every case there would be full consultation with the interests concerned. In this type of legislation Governments of all parties have a record of having had the most thorough consultation with the interests concerned. We are a maritime nation, and we know that we live very much by our merchant marine. We need only look at the distinguished persons, representing this country, who have not only been consulted but who are signatories to the Convention. This fact should dispel any fears that there may be.

Clauses 2 to 7 deal with vessels of 500 tons or over, whether or not they are engaged in the international cargo trade. It is our duty to ensure the safety of those who go to the sea in ships, whether or not on international voyages. This part of the Bill may also affect vessels below 500 tons, but I would never seek to put our country at competitive disadvantage, and for this reason I have stressed that there should be adequate consultation, in the fine tradition that we have developed in this respect.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Can the hon. Member clarify the meaning of Clause 2(3,b)? The Explanatory Memorandum says: The new requirements will in the first place apply only to ships of 500 gross tons or over which he has just dealt with. Those ships are already covered in existing legislation. The Memorandum then goes on to deal with paragraph (b) and he will see that that paragraph refers to sea-going ships of not less than such lower tonnage and of such description as the Minister may…specify", with various exceptions. Can the hon. Member enlighten the House as to what ships are left after those exemptions are taken into account? What ships are newly covered by this legislation? The exemptions are given, but we cannot infer what ships will be drawn into the provisions.

Mr. Webster

Perhaps I did not make myself clear at the beginning. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East says that vessels of 500 tons or over are already covered by the previous Convention. The Bill includes vessels which do not go on international voyages. That is the difference. Vessels below 500 tons are outside the Convention. I am seeking powers to go beyond the terms of the Convention in order to make sure that safety restrictions are adequate in the case of vessels just below 500 tons.

As an experienced mariner, the hon. and gallant Member will be aware that various merchant fleets in competition with us have vessels which, if not precisely 499 tons, are nevertheless very close to the limits of restriction without having to fulfil the requirements of the Convention. I am sure that he welcomes this change, which is bound to be in our interest, provided adequate consultation takes place, as it has always done in the past. It will help to create a common standard of safety.

As I have said, this is a technical Bill, but it seeks to simplify an expression of which I heard only recently, namely, the "declaration and survey" procedure. This is made by the surveyor to the owner and the classification society, and it is referred to in Clause 2(5). The old procedure of the 1894 Act requires the surveyor to declare to the owner who, within 14 days, must deliver the declaration to the Ministry of Transport. The Bill allows the owner and the classification society to agree upon a procedure in this respect for safety purposes, when outside a British port—for instance, in Japan. I am sure that the House will welcome this speeding up of the old procedure.

Clause 2(4) deals with the fees which may be prescribed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—and, incidentally, I hope that he will long be my right hon. Friend—by way of Statutory Instrument. The surveys are to take place annually in the case of inflatable life rafts and radio equipment. In the case of the load line I am providing for the existing frequency of inspection, namely, five years. That is provided for in Clause 3(3), but because of technical improvements which have taken place I provide in subsection (4) for the extension of the period between load line surveys to six years.

An annual survey of ships' machinery, technical and safety equipment and emergency provisions is laid down for some vessels. There is reference to fire control by means of fire-proof bulkheads. Having seen what can happen as a result of fire—and we had the example of a foreign vessel recently which I cannot comment upon since the matter is still sub judice—we can appreciate that the requirement for provision to be made to prevent fire spreading is a necessary one.

Clause 9(b) provides for the inspection—I believe for the first time—of both fire and damage control provisions. When we read of the confusion that can arise among those on board a vessel, especially a passenger vessel, after a disaster, when parents may be separated from their children, and people may run about in panic, we realise how necessary it is that somebody should keep a clear head, and should know the emergency precautions which should be brought into force for fire and damage control.

The 1948 Convention remissly forbad the use of inflatable life rafts. We have enforced the provision of these in certain cases. We have enforced their use by bilateral agreements with vessels on the cross-Channel voyage to France. It is right that we should provide adequately for these in the Bill. The requirement that there should be buoyant equipment for only one-quarter of the people on board was quite inadequate. It is important, for medical reasons, that people should not suffer shock through being immersed in cold water for any length of time. Life rafts keep them out of the water, thereby considerably increasing their chance of survival.

I was an airman during the war, and I was fortunate enough never to have to use one of these appliances, but I know that their record is a fine one. We must also insist on the most stringent requirements is for inspection of this equipment. It must be readily serviceable, because it can perish or puncture. I shall insist strictly on rigid inspection of this equipment.

I have said that we are increasing the radio requirement for vessels of below 500 tons to vessels of between 300 and 500 tons. The radio requirement is done internationally under the Convention, and I have stated how much more assistance is readily available to vessels in distress.

Clause 12 deals with the renewal of radio certificates for small cargo ships". It is not my wish to have the use of these small vessels held up but to provide flexibility of survey, if the vessel is being surveyed anyway and is within two months of the next survey for wireless purposes. I suggest that she can be surveyed straight away for wireless as well and given an extension of the certificate. I have already adequately discussed the continuous radio watch and I attach very great importance to this and to the annual survey of life rafts and lifeboat equipment as well as radio.

This matter was the subject of Press discussions after the "Lakonia" disaster. There is nothing worse when a vessel is in distress than that these things should go wrong. The clauses and chapters of the 1948 Convention as regards the safety of navigation I retain basically unaltered. I also seek to relax, on the advice of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, the regulations about bulk cargoes and I also deal with dangerous cargoes. This is something in which in my previous business association with the exporting of acetylene I have had a mild interest and I know that the regulations applying to those which operate in this way require to be brought up to date continually.

The House will be glad to know that this matter is being looked at all the time and when we consider the increased exports of chemicals from our very dynamic chemical industry it will be seen that this is in the interest of our export trade. There are provisions for equivalents, that is to say, that a vessel coming into this country from a foreign port and under foreign registra- tion shall be exempted from these regulations if it provides an equivalent certificate of inspection in its country of registration.

It is also my desire that the Convention should be flexible and should an Amendment be required for, for instance, fire fighting, as a result of existing inquiries, the powers to amend should be provided. I am informed that no such power exists, but there was a unanimous decision in previous Conventions on the subject when we were the bureau Power. Now it requires a two-thirds majority in the specialist committee and a two-thirds majority for all contracting States.

Under Clause 16 I require further information to be given by masters in the case of freezing conditions and in the case of wind strength of over 10 on the Beaufort scale. These requirements are important, particularly if no storm warning has been given.

Regarding ships carrying passengers, I am tightening up the definition which is in the old Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, Section 271. A judgment on this is as recent as 1954. A vessel carrying more than 12 passengers could not be prosecuted for doing so and for not being up to the required standard, unless the master was caught twice. I think that once is bad enough. It may possibly affect some of my constituents in the "once-round-the-island business" at Weston-super-Mare, but a guaranteed standard will keep them above reproach. This is important for all concerned. There is the risk—I think it is a hypothetical one—of a cargo boat putting to sea with more than 12 passengers on it. I do not believe that this has ever been done and I do not believe that there is any risk, but I think that pleasure boats should be kept under control.

I wish to give notice now that I propose in Committee, if the House grants the Bill a Second Reading, to introduce an Amendment to give exemption to a vessel undergoing trials so that she can take more passengers. I do not mean that there should be advertising for passengers or plying for hire, but that friends of the crew and people like that should be allowed to go on the trial. This is established practice and I hope to give these people exemption from the general provisions of the Act.

I have wearied the House at great length because it has been necessary to explain a highly technical and complex Measure. I very much hope that the Bill will commend itself to the House. I am convinced that there is no hon. Member present who does not feel that we should do everything we can to maintain a high standard of safety in this country and to set an example to others, and I want them to see that this Convention, which I consider has done most valuable work for safety, is carried into effect.

1.5 p.m.

Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

I rise to support the Bill as one of the Members of Parliament representing the third port, Hull, and to speak on behalf of merchant seamen. I endorse what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said in his tribute to our merchant seamen—officers and men.

The object of the Bill, as has been stated, is to make such additions and modifications to the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act, 1949, as will enable this country to give effect to the 1960 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which would replace the Convention of 1948 and impose improved safety standards at sea.

I wish, first, to protest against the Government's treating international convention business as private Members' business when it should be Government business. Secondly, I wish to protest at private Members' time being improperly taken up by Government business in this way instead of being used for its proper purpose, that is, private Members' business.

The 1949 Act has been referred to, and quite rightly, as the foundation of the Bill. It was, of course, a Labour Government's Measure. The Bill was introduced 15 years ago this month, and that is a long time to wait for further legislation in view of the present march of science at sea and the disasters which still occur, involving serious loss of life to passengers and, especially, to crews.

It is important to note that the Labour Government introduced a Bill only nine months after the signing of the 1948 Convention, whereas it has taken this Government three years and nine months after the signing of the 1960 Convention, with which we are dealing today, to do so. In other words, this Bill should have been introduced three years ago instead of one of the several Tory Government Bills of far less importance.

Mr. David James (Brighton, Kemptown)

Does not this indicate that the Conservative Government have been far more active than their Labour predecessors?

Commander Pursey

How can the hon. Gentleman say that? The point I am making is that the Labour Government introduced their Bill only nine months after the 1948 Convention was signed whereas the Tory Government have taken three years and nine months after the signing of the 1960 Convention to introduce a Bill. Surely, if the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention he would have understood the point that I was making, which was that this Bill should have been introduced three years ago for the benefit and safety of seamen.

Mr. James

I am only suggesting that we have been busier than hon. Gentlemen opposite when in office.

Commander Pursey

That is absolute nonsense. The Labour Party was far more active in promoting major legislation which was of importance to the whole country, instead of legislation, such as has been introduced by this Government, for only interested parties. I should be quite happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman on that argument.

The 1949 legislation was introduced as Government business on a normal day as the first Order of the Day, and not by the "side door" method of private Members' business on a Friday. As a result, about 17 hon. Members, including the "shipping lobby", took part in the debate. Today, there are only about a dozen hon. Members present. The "shipping lobby", except for the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner)—who, we all know, has an active interest in shipping—is conspicuous by its absence. The members of that lobby are more interested in profits and not in safety at sea.

Six hon. Members who took part in the debate in 1949 are still hon. Members of the House, but I am, apparently, the only one of those who made a contribution in 1949 who is present at this debate. Incidentally, the speech which I made on that occasion will stand up to examination—unlike many speeches made in this House. Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, who was then the hon. Member for Lonsdale, set the theme for the Tory opposition and the shipowners. He said: 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 we do not want to run any risk of putting our ships off the sea."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1238–9.] It is to be hoped that we shall not hear any nonsense like that today from hon. Members opposite. Safety of life, particularly among the crews, should be the first consideration of every owner who sends a ship to sea.

The 1949 Act dealt with major problems of construction of ships, life-saving appliances, radio direction factors, opening in passenger steamer hulls, watertight bulkheads and the carriage of dangerous goods and grain. The Bill deals with the construction and survey of hulls, machinery and equipment of cargo ships and will apply not only to cargo ships registered in the United Kingdom, but to foreign cargo ships in United Kingdom ports unless they are exempted.

The 1949 Act dealt with ships of between 500 and 1,600 tons. In the new requirements for cargo ships. Clause 2(3,a) of the Bill contains provisions applying only to ships of not less than 500 tons. That is the same argument put the other way round. As I said when I intervened earlier, included in the provisions of subsection (3,b) are sea-going ships of not less than such lower tonnage but it gives a lot of exemptions. Yet the Explanatory Memorandum states that Clause 2(3,b) enables new requirements to be extended to ships below this tonnage. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary—because, after all is said and done, as this is Government business he is primarily responsible for the Bill—what new sizes and classes of ships are included, particularly under Clause 2(3,b)?

Among the new requirements for all sea-going ships, passenger and cargo, are that masters shall be required by the provisions of Clause 16 to report further dangers to navigation: …(a) air temperatures below freezing point associated with gale force winds causing severe ice accretion on the superstructure of ships; and (b) winds of force 10 or above on the Beaufort Scale for which no storm warning has been received. A further new requirement under Clause 17, as stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, is that …no ship can sail with more than twelve passengers aboard unless it carries a passengers' certificate issued on annual survey applicable to the voyage on which the ship is about to proceed. This is to ensure—I believe for the first time—that a survey has taken place at least once in each year.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said it is seldom that merchant ships go to sea with 12 passengers. But that is incorrect. There have been any number of occasions when merchant ships have been used to evacuate refugees from various countries when almost any numbers have been taken aboard. There are further new developments for life-saving appliances and radio equipment in survival craft with which the hon. Gentleman dealt, and I will not discuss now. These subjects may be thrashed out during the Committee stage.

I will now deal with the general picture of this covered by this legislation. There are still too many "coffin ships" going to sea, passenger and cargo, and more stringent requirements about safeguards are required particularly because—

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

When my hon. and gallant Friend refers to "coffin ships" is he referring to British vessels?

Commander Pursey

Yes, British "coffin ships" are still going to sea. Consider the list of casualties and sinkings and loss of life.

Passenger ship owners pay too much attention to comfort and and not enough to safety. People are enticed on board "plush" ships which are death traps. It would be wrong to mention particular ships, because other owners who take similar risks should admit to them- selves, if they are quite frank, "There, but for the grace of God, go I". Everyone with any knowledge of the sea appreciates that hazards of wind and sea may still overcome the wit of man. But how often does a disaster start from a small beginning which should have been discovered'? During the war, merchant ships survived bombs and torpedoes. Why are there so many peacetime casualties, involving sinkings and serious loss of life? Fire at sea is a serious menace. But naval aircraft carriers—the most inflammable ships afloat—have mastered both the risks of bombs and fire.

What is required is fire safety equipment and the proper training of crews to enable them to use the appliances. We have all seen pictures of ships on fire, with the vessel listing over, with boat falls dangling down the ship's side and sometimes a boat hanging by one fall. Anyone with experience of the sea will ask how this can happen in this year 1964, in view of all the scientific developments and apparatus that are available.

Why not fit water sprinkling devices, as in factories and aircraft carriers, to dowse a fire at its onset? Why not fit automatic boat disengaging gear? More than 50 years ago the Navy had automatic boat disengaging gear which ensured disengagement of both ends of a boat. It was impossible for a boat to be released at only one end and held at the other end so that the passengers were thrown out.

Why is something not done to ensure the rescue of people who have been in the water for hours? The hon. Member rightly referred to passengers being in cold water and suffering shock. There have been cases involving our own ships doing rescue work. That is where I get at odds with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). Passengers have been in the water in life-belts for hours. When they have reached rescue ships, British and others, they have still not been saved.

The explanation is that when ladders are put down passengers in the water are not fit to be able to climb up them. During the war naval vessels and merchant vessels were fitted with safety nets. Those nets are so made that they can be put over from a davit or crane. One or more men can go down to get the survivors out of the water into the net. Then the net can be hoisted up. Why is not more of that done? In recent passenger ship disasters hundreds of lives have been lost because people who survived the actual leaving of the ship, and were in the water for hours, could not be saved when they reached rescue ships.

The Bill also provides for fire and damage control. That is a good thing, but why was it not introduced 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago? The First World War provided experience of fire and damage control in merchant ships. Collisions are, of course, a serious problem. Stability is then not under control, but it should be possible, if the ship cannot be saved, to ensure the saving of the crew.

I could go on to give further examples. I admit that good firms provide good ships and good standards and are to be commended, but there are others. It is the others that this legislation is to deal with. Everything should be done for the safety of passengers and crew. We should go further into the causes of loss of life at sea, not only through actual collision and fire, but the results which follow. Much more has to be done and much more money has to be spent on safety precautions in order to lessen the serious loss of life which still goes on unnecessarily.

1.24 p.m.

Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)

I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) will forgive me if I do not follow the points that he developed. I think that he was concerned chiefly with the terms of the Convention rather than with the terms of the Bill.

I wish to remind the House again of how very important it is that the Bill should obtain a Second Reading today. It is important not only for British ships and British shipping, but to the shipping of the world.

As the House has been reminded, an International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was signed in London as long ago as the middle of 1960, but by agreement that Convention cannot become effective until a date 12 months after 16 countries have deposited their acceptances with the body which rejoices in the name of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation.

Seven of those 16 countries must have more than 1 million gross tons of shipping. Up to the present, 16 countries have accepted the Convention, but of those only six have not less than 1 million tons of shipping flying their flags.

I agree that, traditionally, this country has always taken a leading part in advancing safety measures, both nationally by example and internationally by advocating and supporting agreements aimed at increasing the safety of crews and passengers in ships. I agree to a certain extent with the hon. and gallant Member in regretting that during the last three and a half years it has not been possible for the Government to find time to legislate for the acceptance of the 1960 Convention. That has been disappointing, but now there is hope. The United Kingdom, of course, has more than 1 million tons of shipping, so the Convention can become operative one year after acceptance by this country.

I am a shipowner and I know that all sections of the shipping industry, tankers, liners, coasters, tramps and all who sail in ships are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) for bringing the Bill before the House today. All who heard him will join with me in congratulating him on the ability with which he conducted his task and the extensive knowledge he displayed not only of his Bill, but of the formidable document of 500 pages which is the Convention.

The House will appreciate that the drafting of the 1960 Convention was a very long and arduous process not because the representatives of so many countries—43 took part in the discussions—held divergent views on the objectives to be attained, but rather because of the extremely large number of questions, many of them highly technical, which demanded detailed examination.

When a question of safety of life at sea is concerned, it is important to find not just a good answer, but the best. Hon. Members who do not live in the shipping world may be surprised to learn, for instance, how difficult it was to arrive at a decision on exactly what was the best design for a life jacket, something which many of us would think comparatively simple. The determination of the best structural design, aimed at fire protection, of course, calls for a consideration of a host of factors.

The shipping industry remembers very well the close co-operation which it enjoyed with the Ministry of Transport during the international conference in 1960. The shipping industry has learned to regard my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary as a Minister who is intensely interested in the industries with which he is concerned in the House and who is a good friend of those industries. I point out to him, if I may, that it will be equally important that the Minister of Transport ensures as close consultation with shipowners when the Bill becomes an Act as was the case during the proceedings of the conference.

After the Bill becomes law, the Minister of Transport will be obliged to draft a number of rules, Statutory Instruments, instructions to surveyors, and so on, in order to comply with the terms of the Convention and to ensure that our ships and shipowners do the same. It is proposed by the Bill to give considerable powers to the Minister. It may happen that differences of interpretation of the Convention will arise between one maritime country and another, and such differences of interpretation may adversely affect the competitive position of British shipping.

This is something which is not wanted either by the Minister or by the industry. I believe that shipowners and classification societies, their marine superintendents and surveyors, and so on, will be able to give great help to the Minister if he seeks their co-operation in the weeks and months ahead. I very much hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give us an assurance today that, on the matters which arise out of the Bill, particularly the drafting of rules and instructions, he will ensure very full consultation with the shipping industry. I have the feeling that he will, in fact, be glad to give that assurance.

The terms of the Bill are in conformity with the provisions of the Convention. So far as I am aware, there will be no dissentient voice to divide the House today. I am sure that all engaged in shipping welcome the Bill and hope that it will pass through all its stages here and in another place without delay.

1.34 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) in congratulating the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) both on the clarity of his presentation of the Bill and on his remarkable technical knowledge. It is a very complicated subject, and I have no doubt that many hon. Members, if they had been present today, would have had considerable difficulty in following the technical aspects of the Bill.

To my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), I say that the kind of speech which he made might very well have been made 30 or 40 years ago, when shipowners and ship builders were less enlightened than they are now. I came into the business way back in 1911. For many years, I was associated with the seafarers' side of the mercantile marine, and I had to visit many ships at that time.

During the First World War, when the Ministry of Shipping was presided over by the father of the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), Lord Maclay, head of Maclay and McIntyre Ltd., of Glasgow, I was asked to inspect the standard ships then being built mainly on the Clyde, and particularly the accommodation for the crew. I learned a good deal about this subject.

There is no doubt that, in the past, complaints were justified about the attitude of shipowners and ship builders alike. Most of us have read—I am sure that every hon. Member present has read—about the prolonged controversy associated with the Plimsoll Line and the great difficulty experienced by the late Samuel Plimsoll in persuading Governments, shipowners and all concerned with mercantile marine matters to adopt a safety load line.

For the most part, those days are past. When my hon. and gallant Friend referred to "coffin" ships, I naturally, asked him whether he meant British vessels. Although there may be defects in crew accommodation and, in particular, the training of crews in lifesaving devices and apparatus and the necessary activities connected therewith, I doubt very much that there are today any British vessels, even cargo vessels, which could be regarded as "coffin" ships.

I welcome the Bill, but I have one or two questions to put about it. As I understand it, the Bill is to deal not with existing vessels, but only with vessels to be constructed after the Bill becomes law. I should have thought that rules regarding fire-fighting appliances and the provision of watertight compartments, which latter devices are effective to a considerable degree in maintaining the stability of a vessel in the event of a collision or some similar disaster, might very well have been applied to existing vessels, where necessary. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare may have an effective reply to this point.

Mr. Webster

I may be able to help the right hon. Gentleman if I use quasi-legal terms. Fixtures are something built after the Bill becomes an Act. As regards fittings and appliances which are movables, the Bill can he enforced in vessels which already exist.

Mr. Shinwell

That seems to be satisfactory. I only hope that it is carried out.

I think that there is some justification for the criticism my hon. and gallant Friend made of the Government for not ratifying the Convention. The Government might have found time for ratification. Nevertheless, I know what happens sometimes when Conventions are settled. I had experience of this sort of thing myself in Geneva in connection with the coal mining industry. Some years ago, I was responsible, as rapporteur there of a commission concerned with coal mining, for obtaining the consent of all the coal producing countries to a Convention which provided for a 7¼-hour day for miners. This was way back in 1930. That Labour Government did not last very long; Labour Governments in the past did not last very long. But in the future they will last a long time. I hope that that does not unduly depress hon. Members opposite.

None of the countries was prepared to ratify the Convention and the Government who succeeded the Labour Government at that time certainly paid no attention to it, as the result of which there was considerable dislocation in the coal mining industry. Even now, there is no 7¼-hour day. There is a 7½-hour day, although it actually means an 8 hour day with what is called walking time to and away from the pit in which the men are actively employed. Anything done now is brought about by negotiations. The Government should play their part. When a Convention is reached I think that it is the responsibility of the Government of the day to ratify it and set an example to other countries.

With regard to foreign vessels, I know that in Clause 6 reference is made to a ship not registered in the United Kingdom, but if an accepted safety convention Certificate equivalent to a cargo ship safety construction certificate is produced—there is a similar reference in subsection (6,b)—a foreign vessel shall be exempt. What is to happen if a foreign vessel arrives in this country after the Bill becomes an Act and is unable to produce the certificate? What recourse have we got, except, as I understand it, that the master of the vessel if he proceeds to sea can be fined up to £100? That is not a very serious penalty.

Mr. Webster

I understand that there is power of detention of the vessel, but I should like to confirm that.

Mr. Shinwell

It is not contained in the Bill; it may be in the Convention. If so, no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will look at this and satisfy us that foreign vessels can be detained.

A similar point was raised by the hon. and gallan[...] Member for Barkston Ash about interpretation. Undoubtedly, interpretation varies as between one country and another, and the interpretation by another maritime country, for example, the Greeks, who are, perhaps, a little more careless or casual in matters of this sort—I do not want to refer to what happened recently, because, as the hon. Member said, this is sub judice—may be more flexible and less rigid than the interpretation placed on the provisions of the Convention by our own Government. We have to be very careful about it. The Parliamentary Secretary will be able to advise us on this matter, and if there is any omission in the Bill as regards the position of foreign vessels arriving in this country, whether as to the interpretation of the safety certificate or in any other aspect, no doubt that can be remedied in Committee.

I am satisfied that the Bill will be welcomed by seamen's organisations in the country and by the officers' organisations. So far as I know, they have made no complaints about the provisions of the Bill. Just as they welcomed the Convention, so they will welcome the ratification of the provisions of the Convention, and I hope that the Government, in spite of their tribulations and vicissitudes, will find time to bring the Bill into effect.

There are occasions when we must indulge in controversy, but I do not believe in looking a gift horse in the mouth. I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member on introducing it. I hope that the Government will respond accordingly.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on bringing forward the Bill and on the manner in which he did so.

I am sure that the House was very interested by the reference of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to his visits to merchant ships some years ago, and I am sure that he will be one of the first to agree that crew accommodation in such ships, particularly tankers, has improved out of all recognition in recent years. It is up to us to make sure that in other directions, too, conditions improve.

I take this opportunity of reaffirming my admiration for the Merchant Navy in all that it does in peace and, of course, in war. I am glad that we have a chance, even on a Friday afternoon, to discuss the very important question of safety at sea. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is four years since this Convention was negotiated, and it is perhaps a little disturbing for a maritime nation like our own to find that no fewer than 34 nations have still not ratified the Convention, and that those include some of the big sea-going nations and also countries, like Liberia, which are well known for flags of convenience. I hope that the Bill goes through Parliament speedily and that some of those other countries will ratify the Convention.

If we needed any reminder about the importance of safety at sea we have certainly had it in recent weeks and months. It seems a very long time since the "Titanic" disaster, which I am sure made a deep impression on many of us. It certainly made a deep impression on me, because my mother's family was closely connected with the foundation of the White Star Line and of some of the rather unconventional types of design that went into ships in those days, when a long narrow ship was thought to be extraordinary. It is interesting to note, in that connection, that today we have gone in the opposite direction, and got back to the beamier ship. The "Titanic" disaster resulted, I believe, in the first of these big international Conventions. It is very nice to know that they are continuing and doing such excellent work.

There are many details of the Bill that can be discussed in Committee—subjects like fire fighting, where, undoubtedly, there have been a great many improvements owing to the marvels of modern science. I want to refer particularly to Clause 9, which deals with life-saving appliances. It is remarkable that nowadays, when we have so many wonderful inventions, that we have not been able to get further with lifesaving appliances at sea. The Services have managed to go a long way in this direction and it may be that there are lessons still to be learned from them.

When the Bill becomes law it will, I understand, empower the Minister to make regulations which go even beyond the Convention. It could be that that is necessary. We have had yet again recent evidence of the difficulty of lowering lifeboats under certain circumstances and it always seems to me that just when they are needed most it is most difficult to lower them. I understand that it will be a requirement of the Convention that all lifeboats be lowered at least every four months, a stiffer requirement than we have had in the past. This is all to the good, because one always wonders in these cases whether there was anything wrong with the gear, or whether it was merely a case of the list of the ship.

One wonders whether, in 1964, the raft may not, in some circumstances, be far more satisfactory than it has ever been before. It is nice to know that under the Convention there is now to be a requirement that enough inflatable rafts for at least half the crew must be provided, although it may well be that even this is not enough. In the case of the most recent disaster, that of the "Ambassador", which had on board more rafts than she would be required to have under the new Convention, let alone under the old one, there were reports that the rafts capsized in the very unusual seas which there were at that time. I wonder whether we have the shape of the raft right, whether it ought not to be circular rather than oval.

With the experience of the Services to build on, I cannot help wondering whether there is still not room for improvement. I was particularly glad to learn, in an Answer I received from the Minister of Transport on 10th March, that, since the date of the Convention. he is continuing with tests into these matters, that in 1962 stability tests were carried out, from which I hope useful lessons were learned and, that tests are now going on into low temperature operation, into the durability of fabrics out of which inflatable rafts are made, and into location by radar.

It would be a mistake if we thought that the 1960 Convention, good though it is, is the be-all and end-all and that further action is not required. It has long been a tradition in this country that we led the world on maritime questions. In the case of safety of life at sea, particularly, it is up to us to make the running and lead the world.

I am sorry that it has not been possible in the Bill to introduce the question of nuclear proplusion, because there are a number of nuclear-propelled nuclear submarines at sea and also some nuclear ships, including the United States "Savannah". Who can tell when these vessels will become rather more numerous on the high seas? The problem of screening, to which they give rise, has caused anxiety in some ports, possibly unnecessarily. I hope that the Minister, who has been rather slow in coming forward with a nuclear ship, to the disappointment of many of us, will look into the safety question for nuclear propelled merchant vessels, which I am sure will come to the fore in the future.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I think that I am right in saying that in the 1960 Convention references were made to nuclear ships, but that the Soviet Union and other nations associated with the Convention afterwards expressed apposition. It may well be that, because they could not get complete unanimity, there have not been the references to it which there should have been.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, but I am sorry to hear it, because the Soviet Union has an icebreaker, the "Lenin", which is nuclear-propelled. I had hoped that the Soviet Union would have been in the van in this matter. There is a slight danger about not going on and considering the type of regulations which may be necessary when nuclear-propelled merchant vessels come to use the ports in this country and elsewhere. There are grounds for a lot of prejudice on this issue.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister, when he makes the regulations under the Bill, will take advantage of the fact that he is empowered in a very general way and will not hesitate to go beyond the terms of the 1960 Convention, where that is necessary. In most cases that would not put us at a disadvantage with our world competitors. There is a great deal of competition at the moment. I believe that in this matter it is up to us to lead the world, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will remember that when he frames the regulations.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on introducing the Bill. Whatever may be said about the action or inaction of the Government, I am sure that we shall all afford my hon. Friend all the credit due to him for introducing the Bill.

I welcome the Bill, but I have a few points to make on it. These points have already been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby). They relate very largely to the question of saving life at sea, which must be of prime importance to us. The Bill brings into effect the 1960 Convention and enables the Minister, in some cases, to make regulations that go a little beyond the Convention.

As to saving life at sea, the main feature of the Bill which I welcome is the recognition of the value of inflatable life rafts. We have now had a great deal of experience with the various types of inflatable life raft. I do not think it would be going too far to say that anyone who has knowledge of the sea regards these as by far the most advanced form of life preservation which can be carried in ships. In my view, they are better than lifeboats and certainly a great deal better than other kinds of buoyant apparatus which rely very largely on keeping themselves afloat with people hanging on to them rather than carrying people out of contact with the water and, indeed, in some kind of shelter from the elements, which the inflatable life raft now provides.

One of the problems facing any person, body or country, in the matter of preserving life at sea and securing safety at sea is technical advance. It is interesting to see that this Convention came only 12 years after its predecessor, although previously the gaps between Conventions had been considerably longer. I have no doubt that there will be another Convention before many years have passed because of the continual technical developments which are taking place everywhere at present.

Leaving aside technical developments, there is one point on the Convention which still causes me some disquiet. As I understand it, there is a differentiation between passenger ships and cargo ships. Under the Convention, passenger ships are required to carry sufficient lifeboats on each side to accommodate half the number of people on board, plus buoyant apparatus which will accommodate another one-quarter. Therefore, if all the life-saving apparatus can be launched from the ship, there is enough room for one and a quarter times the number of people on board. It is not always possible to launch lifeboats, because of a list. Therefore, if a ship is listing very badly, the life-saving apparatus is sufficient to accommodate only three-quarters of those on board. As I understand it—I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to correct me if I am wrong—sufficient lifeboats must be carried on each side of cargo ships to accommodate all the members of the crew, and in addition there should be buoyant apparatus capable of accommodating a half. Thus the cargo ship, if damaged and if half her lifeboats cannot be launched, still has enough apparatus to accommodate more than everyone on board. I do not understand why this differentiation should be made between passenger and cargo ships. The life of a passenger is as important as the life of a member of a cargo ship's crew. Both are human beings and it should be for us to legislate to ensure that all human beings, whatever their standing aboard ship, stand an equal chance of survival.

Commander Pursey

Might I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are fewer people aboard a cargo ship than a passenger ship?

Mr. Atkins

I agree, but I still do not see why people on board passenger ships should have what amounts to a smaller chance of survival compared with those employed or taking passage on cargo vessels. I may be wrong and, if I am, I am sure that my hon. Friend will correct me, but I raise this point because I understand that under the Bill the Minister is empowered to make regulations going beyond the Convention. This is one case where I should like him to do that, if it proves practicable. I appreciate, on the point about extra lifeboats, that it probably will not be possible for anything to be done in existing ships. Nevertheless, many of the provisions of the Convention apply to new construction.

I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will give an indication of intent, because I am not expecting him to announce that he is making regulations affecting nuclear propelled ships. We would welcome an assurance that he will not hesitate to make regulations covering the rather different dangers which accompany nuclear propelled vessels as soon as necessary. We all recognise that there are considerable dangers and we hope that he will not delay in making regulations for the safety of persons carried in nuclear propelled ships.

Clause 17 clears up a difficulty and doubt under Section 271 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. There are around our coasts a large number of small vessels which habitually take more than 12 people out to sea, on excursions and day trips, which may not now be covered under the old Act. It is important that all people who go to sea should be afforded the maximum protection for which we can legislate.

2.4 p.m.

Mr. David James (Brighton, Kemptown)

In common with other hon. Members, I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on introducing this valuable Measure. I support almost everything that has been said but I should like, first, to apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) for what occurred earlier, when it seemed to me and, apparently, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that he was introducing a party political note which was completely unnecessary. I took him up on the point and despite his remarks about it having taken far too long to see this Bill introduced and to ratify the 1960 Convention, I agree with his conclusion, if not his reasons for reaching it.

Considering the unanimity which exists about the desirability of the Bill, I am wondering why it could not have gone through on the nod. Would it not be possible to introduce a Clause at a later stage whereby any subsequent international Convention could be ratified by Statutory Instrument, laid before Parliament if need be? We should not have to wait four years before introducing a Bill in chapter and verse, par- ticularly since, as hon. Members have pointed out, the speed of change in these matters and the improvements in techniques of safety at sea are likely to continue to accelerate.

I have strong views about the in-appropriateness of lifeboats and I will draw on my personal experience at sea to show way I hold these strong views, particularly since I will probably end up by being the last man alive to have seen a lifeboat launched from a ship of the old school off Cape Horn.

At the age of 17, as an unsuccessful schoolboy, I baled out and got a job as an apprentice in a four-masted Finnish barque called "Viking" which was sailing to Australia. It may interest trade unionists to know that my wage for an 80-hour week was 10s. a month. Of course, I was the lowest form of life; although an ordinary seaman got £2 10s. a month, an able seaman £3 10s. and a third mate was a rich man on £5.

Mr. Mellish

There was a Tory Government in power then, too.

Mr. James

Be that as it may, the Finnish President's name was Svinhufud, or pighead. Those were the conditions at the dawn of my life, although I appreciate that we are now dealing with an entirely different set of circumstances. I joined the ship at Copenhagen, the vessel having arrived from the Baltic with a load of timber. Within 12 hours of joining the ship we had got into serious trouble because the wind veered 8 points when we were going through the narrows between Helsingör and Helsingborg and there was the Swedish coast only 300 yards under our lee. We had to drop anchor with all sails set.

Normally aloft in a square rigged ship there is a large margin of safety because the force of the wind keeps one against the yard and the list of the ship is on one's side against the elements. But when one anchors into the wind one not only has the bucking and pitching enormously magnified, but l50 feet aloft one must contend not only with the wind but also with the canvas trying to knock one off the yard at the same time. It was an appalling experience, second only to making a maiden speech in Parliament.

We were soon over that and there followed a comparatively calm trip down the Atlantic until we were off the Cape of Good Hope, when we ran into a hurricane. Then the wind came fair and I was privileged to see, probably for the last time this will ever occur, three sailing ships racing for the same tug off East London-South Africa, in December, 1937.

After discharging our cargo of timber we continued on to Australia in ballast and loaded the holds with grain. We had an unpleasant reminder of how remorseless the sea can be a few days before we sailed, when the German four-masted barque "Admiral Karpfanger" sailed. We waved her goodbye to be later informed that she had never been seen again.

Almost 26 years ago to the day we, in our turn, 1,000 miles west of Cape Horn, were sailing towards the North Atlantic, south of 50 degrees, in the Antartic Convergence, where cold water from the Bellinghausen Sea brings icebergs up into the shipping route and we were keeping a very sharp look-out for ice. They were unhealthy waters to be in and in that extraordinary area, known as "The Howling Fifties", where there is no land mass to break up the eternal seas, which are known as "grey beards", one sees seas 20 to 30 feet high with crests 400 yards apart.

It was in those circumstances about 7 o'clock in the morning, when the watch below was still asleep and the watch on deck was under the forecastle head because it was too cold to work, that the only other British boy on board was washed overboard. It was a difficult operation to heave a large square rigger to and it is necessary to get, for real safety, about one-third of an acre of canvas off her. This is necessary to bring the ship into the wind. It must be remembered that enormous pressure is placed on the ship by the tremendous windage, and, like a modern slab-sided steamer, she develops a heavy list; and it was under these conditions, which are still applicable to disaster at sea today, that we had to try to launch a lifeboat.

This dilemma has already been referred to, but at least we knew that our lifeboats on both sides were sound. Quite obviously we could not use the weather lifeboats, but if a ship had been damaged and the lowered boats had also been damaged only the boats on the weather side could be used, which is usually impossible. But, in any case, the first difficulty in launching the lifeboat then is to make sure that one lets go the falls at exactly the same moment—when a ship is rising and falling 20 ft.—to ensure that the lifeboat is not suspended at one end or the other and that all the members of the lifeboat crew are not tilted into the sea.

Having contrived that, one is still by no means clear of difficulty, because in such conditions both the sailing ship and the slab-sided steamer will be making a good deal of crab-like leeway, and the life-boats company have to push off remarkably smartly if they are to get clear of the 7,000 tons of bulk that is bearing down on them. This lifeboat got away. I was not privileged to go with it, but I went 100 ft. aloft to the mizen crosstrees; and even at a range of 400 yards or 500 yards the lifeboat was out of sight, showing how puny we still are in relation to the elements.

Unfortunately, the men were unsuccessful in their search, but there then came the further hazard of hooking the boat on to the falls again, with the same job of getting it on to the falls simultaneously at both ends—otherwise one is apt to put the crew into the sea.

An important point arises from that. Today's sailor is, of course, as good as his forebear, but his craft is no longer the same. Most of his life is spent doing different sorts of things. We were managing an acre of canvas—33 sails controlled by rather more than 350 blocks and tackles. Our entire life was spent maintaining, supervising and hauling on ropes to trim sails. This was our everyday business.

That is not the case today. The sailor today does not spend much time with ropes,—one has only to see ships come alongside to realise that warps do not play the same part in his work. The analogy is to give the pilot of a jet aircraft the reins of a stage coach, and say, "You are qualified to drive things along—take this lot". The nature of the thing has changed. The modern seaman cannot be expected to handle boats as we used to, simply because he is undertaking his work in another context.

Another difference is that in the days of the sailing ship much time was spent aloft and, inevitably, a young crew was immensely active. From going aloft five or six times a day, one was athletic, and used to gymnastic type of performance. Getting in and out of lifeboats did not present us with a great problem, but it is idle to say that the same thing applies to today's middle-aged sailor, as I would be, or to the much older passengers who might be expected to get into life-boats in similar conditions.

That being so, we should advance the terms of this Convention. We should recognise that, in modern conditions, the life-boat has become not so much a lifeboat as a death trap. A great deal more research is necessary to get inflatable life rafts right, so that they do not overturn, and also to ensure that there are enough of them—on both sides, in case one side is damaged—for the whole ships' company and passengers.

I must apologise for drawing upon my own experience to illustrate the point, but I feel very strongly on this subject. The moral is that the more mechanised seafaring becomes the more we tend to forget that the sea is always the enemy. It is so easy to be complacent when voyage after voyage goes by without disaster or difficulty, but recent incidents, such as that involving the "Lakonia", and the merchant ship the other clay, remind us that the sea is ever against us. We must not be the last country to ratify conventions such as this in the future. We must be the first to bring safety provisions at sea up to date.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

We all know my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. James) as an author, and it has been pleasant to have a narrative extract from his personal experience. I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), not only on the way in which he has introduced his Bill, but on his good luck in having the opportunity to do so. I hope that his Measure has the same good fortune as had my Home Safety Bill. I can think of no occasion on which so technical a Bill has been made so well understood.

I have a constituency interest in this Measure, because Samuel Plimsoll died and was buried in my constituency. His experience shows the alteration there has been in the mood of the times, because his Bill was at first turned down. He got so angry that he shook his fist at the Speaker. He subsequently had to apologist. for that, but his demonstration aroused so much concern in the country that a Royal Commission was appointed which ultimately produced the Plimsoll Line. Samuel Plimsoll was at that time the Liberal Member for Derby. It is not without significance that he left that party because of what he felt was its breach of faith in neglecting shipping. We have only to look today at the empty benches of the Liberal Party to realise how right his contention was.

Another very famous man in my constituency did a great deal to develop shipping interests. Although Sir Francis Pettit Smith was a farmer, born in Hythe, he invented the steam screw propeller to replace the paddle. The story of how he convinced shipping interests, and, particularly, the Admiralty, of the efficiency of the new apparatus is very interesting.

The Admiralty eventually agreed to build a ship—quite rightly called H.M.S. "Rattler"—and the argument was settled by a tug-of-war with a paddle steamer. The new invention was so effective that, although the paddle steamer was trying to go full out ahead, the screw vessel was able to pull it at 2½ knots in the opposite direction. That was probably the first and last naval tug-of-war. This so impressed the great inventor, Brunel, that he at once went to see the vessel.

Recent tragic losses at sea bring back to us the need always to be on the alert. I welcome the Bill, and I find it is particularly gratifying to find also welcoming it my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), who is one of our best-known shipowners.

Accommodation for ships' crews has been mentioned particularly. All shipowners today take a special pride in the way in which they accommodate their crews. I have been fortunate to see a number of great oil tankers. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown, after his windjammer days, could see the accommodation in them, he would think it better than that of luxury liners. The captain and senior officers are provided not only with fine accommodation for themselves, but also for their wives and children, and even a tutor is provided for the children. This is how accommodation in ships has developed over the past century.

I was born in Liverpool and I remember the aftermath of the "Titanic" disaster. I remember my father taking me as a child on the overhead railway which runs above the docks. I remember his pointing out one of the ships which were even then called "coffin" ships. I remember the horror in my mind as a child and how I wondered why the ship was not shaped like the coffin. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey) that ships of that kind exist today. He is living in the past when he thinks that.

We should pay greater regard to modern inventions when we consider shipbuilding. The shipbuilding industry could learn a great deal from the aircraft industry about the provision of life-saving apparatus. I have mentioned the development of the screw to drive a ship. This development occurred outside the shipbuilding industry. Life-saving apparatus for aeroplanes have developed rapidly because they were necessary and because the industry was not growing up within old conventions and ideas.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown that there should be greater development of inflatable rafts. Yachtmen use these in quite small boats because they are so transportable and can be carried by one man. They would be useful on board ship because their transportability would avoid the great difficulty caused when one side of the ship is damaged or is on fire. I would not say that there could be immediate application of the development of the chute used to enable passengers to descend from a damaged aircraft but its development might be considered as a life-saving apparatus at sea. These are developments outside the industry.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and the sponsors of the Bill will give due regard to encouraging manufacturers who are not necessarily directly connected with the sea to develop their ideas. In the building industry, with which I am, naturally, more familiar, the progressive steps taken by the Minister in the matter of building regulations and in encouraging people from outside to come into the industry are producing novel ideas. The same could be applied with success to the shipping industry.

I had intended to raise a number of points about details but my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare explained the Bill so well that it would be wasting the time of the House if I questioned him again about them. There are, however, two outstanding points which I should like to mention.

Clause 17 requires passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people to be surveyed annually. I welcome this provision, but I should like to know more about it. Does it cover the ordinary vessel that goes from the beach out to sea on what used to be "the 6d. sick", but is now "the 5s. joy-ride"? If so, does it include a thorough inspection of the engine? I have had experience of having to tow one of these boats behind a small sailing boat simply because the engine had broken down. There should be a thorough examination not only of the engine, but also of the ground equipment. Many of these boats do not carry enough rope and when they break down in deep water they are unable to anchor.

The Clause appears to apply only to vessels which go to sea. I quite understand that boats which sail on the rivers are not required to observe these regulations, but I should like to know whether it is intended that the regulations should apply to ferry boats such as those that ply on the Mersey and in the Thames Estuary.

I welcome the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown that there should be provision to enable acceptance of the next safety Convention to be made much easier. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has noted this point and will be able to give the House an assurance on it. I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on the way he has prepared the Bill in great detail and the trouble he has taken to introduce what I regard as one of the most important Private Members' Bills that we shall have considered during the lifetime of this Parliament. Whilst I welcome the Bill generally, I also regret that the Government have not found time before this to introduce a Government Bill to ratify the Safety Convention. It seems strange that a great maritime nation such as ours should have delayed so long in ratifying a Convention which is of great service to world shipping.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), I have a constituency interest in this matter, because there is a very large shipbuilding yard in my constituency. I know that the shipbuilding industry will welcome the provisions in the Bill and I would ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary either to deal in reply to the debate or later look into points which I regard as of some importance. I notice with regret that many shipowners sailing under flags of convenience will not be bound by the terms of the Convention, simply because it has not yet been ratified in certain countries. I am also concerned that many shipyards in various parts of the world build ships at cut prices. It is said that the Japanese yards can quote rates as much as 20 per cent. below those quoted by builders in Great Britain. I wonder whether some of this cheap building is not at the cost of safety at sea.

I am sure that shipbuilders here will welcome particularly the provisions in the Bill dealing with ship construction and with the requirements of the certificates which are to be issued. We have a tradition of fine building. The "Titanic" disaster has already been mentioned. That ill-fated ship was built in my constituency. The yards of Harland and Wolff have a reputation for building many fine passenger liners.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James) pointed out that, no matter what safety precautions one adopts, even the ones in this Convention, one cannot be absolutely certain of safety. He illustrated most graphically the risk of lifeboats on one side of a vessel being damaged and the only safe ones being on the windward side, therefore being impossible to launch.

Commander Pursey

On the leeward side—not the windward side.

Mr. McMaster

I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. When the "Titanic" was built it was thought that it would be absolutely foolproof, that it would be impossible to sink. But we all know how the disaster occurred when the vessel hit an iceberg. The disaster and the facts which the hon. Member for Kemptown recited go to illustrate that even in these days of very high speed travel it is impossible to be completely safe and to take precautions which are 100 per cent. sure.

In view of the disasters of recent months, I feel that a Convention such as this should be ratified immediately by the countries concerned. That is in the interest of shipowners throughout the world, not only from the point of view of safety in respect of passenger and cargo vessels, but because of the bad effect that such disasters can have on the mind of the public. Surely it is not in the interests of the shipping industry that people should be discouraged from engaging in such a pleasant recreation as a summer cruise? But unless passengers are certain of their safety, they will be deterred from taking what can be one of the best and perhaps most relaxing holidays that they could have.

In the more prosperous world in which we now live, which seems to promise more leisure for many more people, and also more pay, many more people could enjoy such holidays. Therefore, it is in the interests of the shipping industry and the shipbuilding industry that people should not be deterred by the kind of accidents which have occurred and the loss of life which has been occasioned simply because precautions outlined in the Bill have not yet been put into effect.

For these reasons I welcome the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare again. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary particularly to consider the point about the safety of the construction of vessels built in shipyards elsewhere.

2.33 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

The debate has been one of the most interesting that I have listened to for many a long day. Every hon. Member who has spoken has had a great knowledge of the subject. I am a little scared that I shall not maintain the very high standard of debate that we have had.

The Parliamentary Secretary must answer one question when he replies. He must explain why the Government had to use private Members' time to ratify the 1960 Convention, why they took four years to do it, and why they did not have consultations with the Opposition to ensure that they would be given all the facilities and time required to get the Bill through quickly whenever they wanted it.

I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary takes the point—all his adult life he has been associated with the sea—that in the delay which has been occasioned over the ratification of this Convention we have for the first time as a nation set a very bad example to the rest of the world. Before that time—there is no party politics in this argument—Britain's position was unequal.

Having said that, it would be churlish of me not to say how grateful we are for the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) and the extraordinary way in which he introduced the Bill. I have listened to many Second Reading speeches from Front Benches and back benches, and I thought that his style today in putting forward a technical Bill was extraordinary. He made this technical Bill come to life, he made it very interesting, and he was ready and able to answer any questions put to him.

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who questioned some of the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) about "coffin" ships. The trade unions concerned, notably the National Union of Seamen, have at no time approached us on this side of the House about so-called "coffin" ships. The N.U.S. has approached us from time to time, quite properly, about accommodation for crew, and I have no doubt that there is a long way to go before the whole of that problem can be remedied; but this is not to be confused with the sort of ships that my hon. and gallant Friend had in mind.

I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend would not like it to go out from the House that there is on the high seas today a considerable number of British ships which are virtually death traps for those who sail in them. I know he did not mean that. I put it on record that, if there were any ships of that kind, I am certain that the unions would have been the first to approach us and make sure that we raised the matter on the Floor of the House, which we certainly would have done.

As a result of the Bill, many of us have had to do some research. I do not claim to be an expert in these matters, except that I come from the dock industry, in which I have spent many years, and during the last war I was for six years closely allied with the Merchant Navy. Anyone who has seen the Merchant Navy at first hand cannot help having tremendous admiration for its skill and, during war time, its enormous courage. I always felt that to be in the Merchant Navy was far more dangerous than to be, as I was, a soldier. My moments of fear occurred when I went aboard ship and sailed away with the Merchant Navy. I was always grateful to be back on shore again.

As the Bill is concerned with safety of life at sea, I point out that it is interesting to note that only at the end of the last century was safety at sea ever thought about. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James) gave us some interesting personal experiences. It is hard to believe that in the lifetime of some hon. Members safety at sea was not considered to be all that important.

The first official body to consider the question of boats and life-saving appliances was a Select Committee of this House, which was appointed at the end of the last century. In its report it drew attention to the necessity for the judicious placing of bulkheads, stressing that these should divide a ship into compartments in such a way that in an accident the damage would be isolated and the ship would remain afloat for sufficient time for those on board to get clear.

The argument about sub-division and provision of lifeboats continued for many years. The "Titanic" has been mentioned. It is interesting that for many years, in the early part of the century, there were people who thought that it was futile to have sufficient lifeboats on board ship to accommodate all members of the crew and passengers. Right up to the time of the "Titanic" the argument raged.

When the "Titanic" disaster occurred, it was felt by those who argued in this way that their arguments were justified, because the "Titanic" had lifeboats for about 1,200 passengers and yet only 700 people were saved. In that day and age, those people argued that that proved their case and that it was a waste of time to have x number of lifeboats. I am glad to say that public opinion would not stand for that sort of rubbish, and that that idea was quickly dispelled.

The first international Conference on Safety at Sea came as a consequence of our earlier Select Committee and also of the "Titanic" disaster. The Convention was signed on 20th January, 1914. It is interesting that the first international conference dealt with the sub-division to which I have referred concerning the placing of bulkheads, life-saving appliances, navigational rules, wireless telegraphy, which in those days was in its early beginnings, the construction of ships, fire protection and safety certificates. It applied these principles only to merchant ships carrying 12 or more passengers.

The second international conference, again held at the request of the British Government, took place in 1929. By that time, considerable experience had been gained during the First World War, particularly concerning the abandoning of ships. Among the matters that were agreed in 1929 were emergency means of lighting, line-throwing equipment, lifeboat drill and fire patrols. The conference ensured that ships of over 1,600 tons gross were equipped with radiotelegraph installations. All this stemmed from the Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Then we had the third international Convention, arising, again, from a conference held at the request of the British Government in London. This applied more generally to cargo ships. The Convention, which replaced the 1929 Convention, came into force the following year in November, 1949.

The last conference—the fourth international conference to be held this century—was held under the auspices of the United Nations. The conference was necessary because technical advances and experience since 1948 had served to outdate the earlier conventions. The main changes in the 1960 Convention concerned construction and fire-fighting, the survey of cargo ships and life-saving appliances. It would be impertinent even for me to imitate the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, who spoke so well and made his points with great clarity.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) that we have to ask one or two questions and obtain assurances from the Minister. I will come to these presently. The results of the fourth international conference concern such matters as a higher standard of structural fire protection in new cargo ships, the compulsory provision of inflatable life-rafts, changes in the design of life jackets and the lowering to 300 tons gross of the limit for the compulsory provision of radio-telegraph equipment.

Under the Bill, power is properly given to the Minister for the drafting of Statutory Instruments. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash that before any Statutory Instruments are drafted, there should be consultation with all the interests concerned. I acknowledge the Chamber of Shipping of being one of the foremost to be consulted and I suggest that the trade unions should be included, also. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give this assurance so that all who are very much concerned in the subject will be satisfied.

I am sorry to raise any carping criticism, but I notice that the Bill, applying the Convention, deals with penalties in terms of fines, money. There is no question of imprisonment. In the Harbours Bill, however, which is an entirely British effort, the Government talk in terms of sending masters to prison and all sorts of things for offending in a number of ways, none of which is more serious than anything contained in the 1960 Convention.

I leave with the Parliamentary Secretary the simple thought that when the Harbours Bill goes to another place he might consider bringing some of its punishments and penalties more into line with those under the 1960 Convention. There was great logic in some of the arguments which Her Majesty's very able Opposition put to the Harbours Bill. This is now borne out by an international convention of which I knew nothing at the time.

Mr. Shinwell

In the case of the Harbours Bill, the harsh penalties were imposed because property is concerned. Today's Bill is a matter only of safety.

Mr. Mellish

My right hon. Friend is far more shrewd than I am. He is, of course, correct, although I did not realise that. Ships which ignore a control of movement order could endanger property. To be fair to the Parliamentary Secretary, however, no one has been more keen or more desirous of ensuring safety, as was the purpose of the Harbours Bill, than he. He was, however, a little too enthusiastic about the imprisonment provisions.

There is no mention in today's Bill of nuclear ships, and this is understandable, for the simple and obvious reason that we do not have any and, as far as one can judge, we will not have any for a long time. This is a sector which is to be left to other more progressive nations. Whether we shall get any nuclear ships associated with our Navy is another matter and is outside the scope of the Convention.

As the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash said, 16 nations have already ratified the Convention. It must, however, be recorded that when depositing the instrument of acceptance, three States—the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the Hungarian People's Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—made some reservations concerning nuclear ships. They said, I am told, that the procedure for admitting nuclear-powered vessels into foreign ports was not necessary, could impede the exploitation of nuclear-powered vessels, would be detrimental to the construction of such ships, and so on. I am told that the vast majority of the nations which have ratified do not accept the objections made by those three nations.

Perhaps that will give the Parliamentary Secretary the opportunity to say a word or two and whether that explains why we ourselves have not done anything about it. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare may have the answer, but I do not ask him for it now. It should, however, be recorded that already objections concerning nuclear-powered ships have been raised by three countries, although I gather than these have aroused consternation among the other countries who were parties to the Convention.

The Bill has our good will. We of the Opposition will do anything we can to ensure its speedy passage into law. The official channels, I gather, are the right procedure. I hope that Committee time upstairs will be found quickly. There will be no excuse for delay. We have waited long enough for what should have been a Government Measure. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has devoted his good fortune in the Ballot to promote a Private Member's Bill and the whole House is indebted to him for giving us a Bill which is of tremendous importance not only to this country, but to the world.

2.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)

I begin by adding my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on his success in the Ballot. I also thank him for agreeing to introduce this Measure, which enables Britain to ratify the 1960 Convention. He has, as hon. Members will realise, chosen a Bill which the Government strongly support and which, as we have been told, is assured of equal support from both sides of the House.

It is true, as some hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), have guessed, that the Government had, perhaps, a hand in the drafting of the Bill—I concede that. I mention this to make the point that the drafting was undertaken only after the most exhaustive and thorough consultation with all the interests concerned. I stress "all".

We have been criticised, both by the Opposition and by my hon. Friends, for not introducing the Bill sooner and for not introducing it as a Government Measure. I will be honest. It would, I suppose, have been just possible to have introduced it during the 1961–62 Session of Parliament.

Mr. Mellish

Why did not the Government do it?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Certainly, it would not have been possible to do it before that because of the very necessary consultations to which I have referred. The only thing which has prevented us from doing this was lack of parliamentary time. I should, perhaps, remind hon. Members of the great volume of important legislation which the Government have laid before Parliament during the last three Sessions.

Mr. Mellish

Such as the Resale Prices Bill.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I will say, in passing, that that has beaten this Bill, but only by a very short head. I am no prophet, but I should say that this Bill will arrive on the Statute Book first.

Mr. Shinwell

The Government will be in trouble then.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

The legislation to which I have just referred touches nearly every facet of our national life and it will, we are confident, promote the social and economic well-being of the people. I should find it very hard to say which of the Measures we have passed in the last three Sessions should have been delayed in order that the present Bill might have found a place earlier in the Government's programme.

Lack of legislative time is a very real problem for an Administration like ours, which is dedicated to the task of bringing outdated laws up to date and modernising the commercial and industrial structure of the country. However, better late than never. We shall do our utmost to facilitate a smooth and swift passage of the Bill to the Statute Book. I am glad to have the assurance that the Opposition will co-operate in this task.

However, we must not exaggerate what has been lost by the delay. Sup- pose, for example, that the Bill had reached the Statute Book in 1962. We should still be waiting for the Convention to come into force. It would then have come into force in August this year. As it is, and assuming that this Bill reaches the Statute Book in May, the Convention will come into force in May, 1965. Therefore, the delay will not have been one of several years, as I think some hon. Members have been inclined to suppose. It will have been a delay of nine months.

Mr. Mellish

It is not only a question whether there was delay, but that Britain should have given a lead. This is what we have always done in the past, and this is what we are all sorry about.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I appreciate the point, but I do not think that there is tremendous substance in it in this case because we took a lead in the arrangements for drawing up the Convention, and I am sure that no maritime Power has for a moment doubted our intention to ratify it as soon as we could find the parliamentary time.

Mr. David James

Could my hon. and gallant Friend deal with the suggestion which I made, that we should in future seek to ratify these Conventions by Statutory Instrument and not by legislation?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I proposed to deal with that point later, but since my hon. Friend has raised it I might as well reply to it now.

I am sure that one could not give an absolute undertaking that that would be so. No one can foresee what will be written into any new convention, and any Government would have difficulty in persuading Parliament to give, not even the Government of the day but a future Government, a blank cheque, as it were, to legislate so as to bring into force a convention of the future which may cover many matters of a controversial nature which cannot be forecast.

As a rule, a good many provisions of these conventions can be brought into force without legislation. Indeed, in this case the parts of the Convention which amend the "rule of the road" at sea have already been brought into force because they are capable of being brought into force by Statutory Instrument. I cannot go beyond that.

I now comment on some of the points raised in the course of this very interesting debate. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), in referring to shipping interests, said that their main interest was profits and not safety at sea. I think that that was a most ungenerous and, indeed, uncalled for thing to say. The standards achieved by British ships today are achieved with the good will and co-operation of the shipowners and are, I should say, the highest in the world.

Then the hon. and gallant Member made the remark about "coffin" ships, which has been referred to by several Members, including the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I agree that it would be very hard to justify this description of any British ships today. It is quite wrong to assume that, because a ship is lost at sea in heavy weather, or as a result of a collision, stranding, or whatever the reason may be, it is necessarily due to a material failure. There can be human failure as well, and we must recognise that.

The hon. and gallant Member reminded me of a good example of this. He said that in the Navy for a great many years automatic disengaging gear was in use for seaboats. That is true. I think that it was called Robinson's disengaging gear. If all went well, the two falls were slipped simultaneously and the boat landed more or less horizontally in the water. However, I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will agree that it would be wrong to suppose that this always happened.

On occasions, the officer lowering the boat allowed the for'ard fall to be lowered more quickly than the aft fall with the result that the boat was already at a steep angle when the gear was released. On other occasions, with one man at the bows fall and one seaman at the fall aft, a young seaman who, at the order "Out pins", should have taken out the safety pin, failed to do so with the result that only one of the two falls disengaged and the bows of the boat fell into the sea while the stern remained airborne. It is not true to say that all these risks would be eliminated merely by having perfect material.

The hon. and gallant Member asked one question which I should like to answer. He asked what new classes would be included in the Bill under paragraph 3(b) of Clause 2(2). That provision, I understand, allows my right hon. Friend and successive Ministers of Transport to lower the 500-ton limit by Statutory Instrument. It would be possible under the Clause to go beyond the Convention and, by ministerial order, to bring the limit down to, say, 300 tons. That is a further answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James). There is an example in which a change in a future convention could be brought about without need for fresh legislation.

The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East also referred—and I am grateful to him for having done this—to the special cases in which merchant vessels sometimes have to carry passengers for special reasons. He asked what happened under Clause 17 in that case. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has put his finger on a point which was overlooked when the Bill was drafted. There will have to be a power of special exemption in these cases, and it is our intention to try to persuade my hon. Friend to put down an Amendment in Committee to provide for such exemptions being made.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) welcomed the Bill and said how eager he was to see the Convention come into force. My hon. and gallant Friend bears a name that is famous in the shipping world, and I put it to the House that his attitude to the Bill should dispose of any idea that shipowners are dragging their feet.

My hon. and gallant Friend asked for an assurance that there will be full consultation in drawing up the Statutory Instrument which will be needed to implement the Bill. I gladly give that assurance. I also say that we shall consult, as we always have done in these matters, the seafarers' unions, and that is my answer on this point to the hon. Member for Bermondsey.

The right hon. Member for Easington, in a most agreeable speech, if I may say so without impertinence, referred to the changes which have taken place in the standards at sea within living memory, and the changed attitude of all those concerned in these affairs. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's tributes to the standards of British ships, and I endorse them. For instance, it is extraordinary how crew accommodation has improved, especially in the large tankers. Since I have been in my present post I have been on board big tankers just completed, and I have noticed that even the most humble members of the crew have cabins of a standard of luxury and size which I never had until I became a post captain.

The right hon. Gentleman then asked an important question about existing vessels. He asked how far there could be retrospective application of some of the new standards to existing ships. The answer to that is that the provisions of the Convention with regard to life-saving appliances will be applied to existing ships, and that it is our intention to apply the new standards with regard to sprinkler systems and so on as soon as is reasonable and practicable to do so.

I cannot be more precise than that, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that if a liner comes in for a major reconstruction—as they sometimes do—we have consultations with the owners in an endeavour to arrange that as far as possible her standards are brought up to the current standards provided for in the Convention of the day, which in future will be the 1960 Convention.

The hon. Gentleman then asked about foreign vessels. The position is that if a foreign ship has no accepted safety convention certificate, that is to say, if she flies the flag of a nation which is not a signatory to the Convention, or if she does not have a certificate, our own domestic rules apply to her. If she wishes to trade in a British port, She will be surveyed under British rules and regulations, and we shall issue a certificate. We have power to detain vessels if we are dissatisfied with their standards. They are carefully investigated, and if they cannot produce proper certificates, or if there is any question of their being unseaworthy, we can detain them.

Mr. Shinwell

Does that mean that in the event of a foreign vessel arriving in this counter being unable to present a certificate which complies with the provisions of the Convention, that vessel could be detained? Would not there have to be some consultation with the Government of the country in which the ship was registered?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

If the ship does not have a certificate, the literal answer is "Yes". We have a power of detention. Whether or not that power would be exercised would depend on the circumstances of the case, but the ship would be investigated and examined. We have ample control over that.

Dr. Alan Glyn

This is rather important. If a ship arrives at a British port and wants to unload cargo and take on either passengers or cargo and we are not satisfied with its standards, what in fact happens?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

At present, the certificates apply to passenger vessels. If a passenger vessel attempted to sail from our ports without a Convention certificate or a certificate of any kind, a great deal would happen. She would not be allowed to sail until there had been a careful survey and we were satisfied that she was seaworthy.

The right hon. Gentleman then asked a more difficult question about dubious certificates, those issued by countries which it was thought were not as strict as they should be in seeing that everything was as it should be. The real answer is that we can only trust that all the member nations will take their responsibilities seriously. In the main, this trust is not misplaced. In many cases the PANLIB nations delegate most work in connection with surveys to classification societies, and the approved classification societies are perfectly reputable in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) referred to life-saving appliances, and said that the fighting services had made tremendous progress with them, and were still carrying out research. We realise this, but it is fair to mint out that the application of all these requirements to merchant vessels is more difficult, not only because of the great expense of some of the very sophisticated survival clothing and life-saving jackets that are supplied, but also because they require a certain amount of training if they are to be properly operated, and also a good deal of maintenance. All these things are more difficult to arrange for in the Merchant Navy. I shall say more about that later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) referred to the value of inflatable life-rafts. I wholly agree with what he said. We can take some pride in the fact that Britain took the lead in the development of the modern large inflatable life-raft. My hon. Friend also asked about the difference in the rules for life-boats in cargo and passenger ships, respectively. The more generous rule that prevails in cargo vessels is simply and solely a question of what is practicable. If we laid it down that a big passenger liner had to carry twice the number of life-boats needed to carry all the people on board, substantial modifications in design would become necessary. It would not be practicable.

My hon. Friend also suggested that there may be some laxity at present in the issue of passenger certificates in respect of casual pleasure boats. That does not occur, in my experience, and if I may digress for a little I should like to tell the House of a personal experience of mine. Hon. Members may remember that in 1951 the City of Bath decided to put on a show in which Boyd Neel and his orchestra embarked on a large river barge which had been made to look like King George III's barge, and played suitable music in the course of the Bath Festival. For this, it was necessary to have the barge move for 100 yards from the time the performance started until it was over. The motive power had to be supplied by boys of the Priory Park School, dressed as eighteenth century sailors.

The city asked the Admiralty if it would assist in arranging this, and I came into the matter because I was then Vice-Controller of the Navy. The one great anxiety we had was whether there would be a dry spell before the event, because the barge drew 3 ft. 4 in. of water and we reckoned that the river might be shallower than that. Two days before the first performance I was visited in my office by an official from the Ministry of Transport, who said that the Ministry had read of this event in the newspaper and that it could not be allowed to take place because the barge did not have a valid passenger certificate. Fortunately we were able to point out that owing to the method of propulsion being used the barge would never be technically under way, and, therefore, there would be no voyage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown fascinated the House when he described the difficulty and danger of lowering and recovering lifeboats at sea. I endorse all that he said. Many officers of the Royal Navy would bear out every word he said, because of the tremendous trouble they had in 1939, in practising the old-fashioned "visit and search" of neutral vessels in the North Atlantic. What he said is perfectly true. The seamen and the officers had had no experience of lowering boats in very big seas. It was a most alarming process to begin with, but as he rightly said, with experience these things became easier.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) referred, first, to Plimsoll. As a matter of interest, there is soon to be another load-line convention. I thought that that might interest the House. I think that in 1966 there is to be an international meeting to bring that side—it is another facet of safety not concerned with this Bill—up to date.

My hon. Friend then went on to appeal for more regard for modern invention in the shipbuilding industry. There are a great many people, of whom I am certainly one, who would agree with my hon. Friend there. What is perhaps more important is that the people who agreed included the newly elected president of the Chamber of Shipping, to whose presidential address I would invite my hon. Friend's attention.

He also asked whether Clause 17 applied to day-trip pleasure boats and their engines as well. The answer to that is "Yes". Indeed, it applies to boats in rivers as well. My hon. Friend asked whether it applied to ferries. Again the answer is "Yes", unless they are the kind which are hauled along the bottom by chains.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) also raised the question of flag of convenience ships which may not be bound by the Convention. I think that I have answered that already. As a matter of fact, most of the flag of convenience countries are signatories to the Convention, and, therefore, will be bound by it when it comes into force. He then expressed concern about the safety of passengers who go on pleasure cruises. I am sure that everyone would agree that it is important that a high standard of safety should be observed. Nevertheless, in spite of the tragic disaster of the "Lakonia", it is only fair to point out that the standard, as a whole, is very high. Indeed, I would say to my hon. Friend that it is very much safer to go on a pleasure cruise in a ship than on a motoring holiday.

Mr. McMaster

Could my hon. and gallant Friend tell me what consultation he had with the shipbuilding industry before the terms of the Bill were drafted and if there were any comments as a result of that?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

There were formal consultations with the shipowners.

I listened to what my hon. Friend had to say about different standards. The point is that there may be different standards in different shipyards, but this is not governed so much by the shipbuilder as by the shipowner, who asks that the ship should be built. I can assure my hon. Friend that, whatever the shipowner may ask for, he cannot operate the vessel unless it comes up to the minimum standards laid down by the Convention.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey was warm in his praise for my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, and I am sure that we on this side of the House all appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman referred to the great skill and courage of the Merchant Navy, and I am sure that we all endorse that too. It seemed to me that it was far more dangerous to be in the Merchant Navy during the war than it was to be in the Royal Navy, but what the statistical figures show I do not know. The hon. Gentleman then had some interesting things to say about the slowness of the development of what might be called a public awareness that something could and should be done about safety at sea.

That is very true. It is doubtless the result of a tendency on the part of the public to regard shipwrecks and disasters at sea as acts of God. It is only fair to add, whatever the public may have felt about this, that the insurance world did not share that view and for a very long time the trail of safety was blazed by the underwriters of Lloyd's who set up this greatly respected institution of survey by the insurance agents.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman made a point about penalties. Without wishing to be drawn too far, I would say that in considering whether a fine is appropriate as a penalty one, among the many things to be considered is whether the offender himself is likely to pay the fine imposed. But I will certainly consider the point to see whether the penalties to be imposed under the provisions in the Bill ought to be increased.

My hon. Friend has explained what changes will result from the coming into force of the 1960 Convention and I have little to add. From the point of view of the shipping industry, by far the most important innovation will be the issue of certificates relating to the hull, equipment and machinery of cargo vessels. Our decision to delegate this work to approved classification societies has been made in the interests of economy and convenience. Lloyd's surveyors have a world wide reputation for professional competence and integrity and nothing would be gained by duplicating their work.

From the point of view of the public the most interesting feature of the Convention are the changes which it will allow in the life-saving equipment carried by passenger vessels, to which many references have been made in the debate. Inflatable life-rafts will now be allowed, or, indeed, will be required to replace, the heavy and not particularly satisfactory rafts now required as "[...]uoyant apparatus". It will be permissible—as I think my hon. Friend said—for up to one-half of the total number of people carried on board to be carried on inflatable life-rafts. My hon. Friend made one slip of the tongue regarding the achievement of this. It will be achieved by permission to reduce the capacity of the ships' lifeboats by one-quarter so that the life-boats need only carry three-quarters of all on board provided that there is a further 50 per cent. capacity in respect of the inflatable life-rafts.

The 1960 Convention also permits the use of more efficient life-jackets, a matter which was not referred to at great length in the debate. This life-jacket will be more efficient in the future partly because the existing requirements that lifesaving jackets must be capable of being put on back to front has been dropped. So long as a jacket had to be symmetrical it was impossible to design one which would keep the face of an unconscious person clear from the sea.

In future, inflatable life-jackets will be permissible for the crews of cargo vessels. This means that highly specialised and efficient types comparable to those used in the fighting Services could be developed. It may surprise hon. Members to know that the design of even the most simple kind of life-jackets present complex technical problems. Accordingly, a committee was set up some time ago to deal with this matter and it is hoped to finalise new and better designs in about three months' time.

I wish to explain why we advised my hon. Friend against including in the Bill the provision necessary to ratify that part of the Convention dealing with the safety of nuclear ships. Not only would such provisions be lengthy, but they might also be highly controversial. Moreover, in our judgment they would be premature. Apart from the "Savannah" which is, in reality, a demonstration ship, there are no nuclear-propelled merchant vessels in the world and none is expected before 1967 at the earliest.

While there is still no certainty about when an economic reactor can be developed, it is almost certain to differ radically from types of reactor visualised in 1960. Nevertheless, the mandatory provisions of Chapter 8 of the Convention are drawn in the broadest terms. We are, therefore, satisfied that we can support and ratify the Convention, including Chapter 8, and give an assurance that the requisite legislation to cover nuclear ships will be laid before Parliament before Britain operates such vessels of her own. We are advised that such an assurance will render our ratification valid and acceptable.

I have nothing more to say, except that I commend this Measure to the House.

3.21 p.m.

Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)

If I am not the only hon. Member of this House, I can at least claim to be one of the few who served throughout the recent war in the Merchant Navy. Perhaps on that ground the House will bear with me if I contribute briefly to the debate on a Bill in which I have a very close and understandable interest. Having served throughout that period in the Merchant Navy, I should like, following my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to say how much I feel that the interests of British merchant shipping today owe to the keenness with which he has dealt with his responsibilities since assuming them.

I wish to touch on what the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said about the apparent dilatoriness of Her Majesty's Government in seeking to ratify the 1960 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. I agree with the hon. Member that there are probably many of us who would like to have seen this matter dealt with somewhat earlier than it has been. On the other hand, he may perhaps agree that one of the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have not given this the same high priority they might otherwise have thought necessary is solely that the record of British shipowners and shipping in this matter has been a very good one. It has been generally accepted in the House today that the reference to "coffin" ships which one occasionally hears certainly does not apply to any ships sailing under the Red Ensign.

I do not propose to seek to detain the House for more than a few moments. In looking at the Bill all of us will be delighted to see that something is being done to legislate about the construction of ships. In these days new methods are, quite rightly, being tried in British and other shipyards. New and much larger ships than we have seen before are being used to deal with new problems and new types of cargoes. Not infrequently we hear of ships breaking into two or even more pieces, so it seems right and proper that thought should be given to the question of new regulations and safety measures in matters of construction.

I wish to touch on the question of life-saving apparatus. It is suggested that in inflatable life-rafts and other lifesaving apparatus portable radio sets should be automatically accommodated. I am delighted to note this. If I may draw from personal experience, I can tell the House that on one occasion during the war I had the misfortune to sit on a life-raft for some days. That raft had been designed to accommodate supplies of water and biscuits, but it had apparently not occurred to the designer that if a raft is thrown off the deck of a ship there is a fifty-fifty chance of it landing one way up or the other.

Twenty-five of us had the tantalising experience of sitting on that raft for nearly three days, knowing that we had water and biscuits underneath which we were not able to get at because it had not occurred to anyone that the raft might not necessarily land in the water the other way up.

It is this sort of thing which, all these years later, people have, presumably, thought about. I suppose that, if we are to have not only water and biscuits but portable wireless transmitters fitted into life-rafts, accessibility will be thought about. I hope that it will dawn upon designers that some of the unfortunates who could finish up sitting on a life-raft may not know the first thing about operating portable transmitters. Although it may be a far cry from not knowing how to get at water and biscuits on the other side of a raft, the problem of operating portable transmitters and lifesaving equipment of this type must be carefully considered, and some very carefully thought out simple operating instructions for people who may never have seen a portable transmitter in their lives before will have to be provided.

I am glad, too, that further thought and legislation is to be devoted to the matter of dangerous cargoes. Cargoes which are dangerous in war time may not necessarily be dangerous in peace time. I am reminded that, during the war, if one was taking a cargo of Scotch whisky as an export from this country to the United States to help to pay for the smokeless powder and T.N.T. which one would be bringing back, one had to remember that the Scotch whisky was no less dangerous as a cargo if the ship were torpedoed than would be the high explosives on the journey back.

I recall how, in those days, one sometimes judged one's nightwear by the type of cargo being carried. If there were iron are in the hold, the ship would go down in a matter of seconds, so one tended to sleep fully clothed, ready to rush out or deck in the hope that one might just he able to jump over the side before the ship went under. If, on the other hand, something like high explosives was being carried, one got into one's pyjamas and relaxed each night knowing full well that, if anything should perchance happen, one would very soon either be playing a harp or meeting one's friends in the other place.

All these things need more thought today. There are tankers of vast size now at sea carrying completely new types of cargo, liquefied gas and the like. It is right and proper that, after all these years, we should be giving completely new thought to every conceivable safety measure.

One or two hon. Members have touched upon the question whether safety requirements are even now what we should like them to be, whether, for instance, in the light of the recent tragic experience, cruising ships are all that we should ask. I make only this observation. In the end, it is the human factor that matters most of all. People may have done their lifeboat drill with unfailing regularity or on as many occasions as they cared to do it at sea and in port, but the conditions of a drill are utterly different from the conditions of an emergency.

No matter how efficiently things may have been done in the drill, we cannot legislate in this place or anywhere else to control the way people will react in an emergency. So far as one can legislate, what is now proposed will be a very great help, but it is reasonable to bear in mind that one thing the House can never do is to legislate for the human factor.

I welcome the Bill, as will everyone who has known or been associated with our Merchant Navy. I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) for his part in sending the Bill on its way to the Statute Book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).