HC Deb 02 August 1966 vol 733 cc255-8

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (by Private Notice) asked the President of the Board of Trade what information he has as to the fate of the pleasure boat "Darlwin", which left Mylor Creek for a trip to Fowey and back with 31 people on board and has not returned.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)

I understand that the "Darlwin" left Fowey at 4 p.m. on Sunday, 31st July on a return journey to Falmouth. She was last seen at 4.20 p.m. by fishermen outside Fowey and there has been no trace of her since then. She was towing a 16 ft. skiff, which was seen last night by an R.A.F. helicopter drifting about 10 miles south-west of the Eddystone Lighthouse. A search took place throughout yesterday, and has been resumed by the R.A.F. and ships in the area today.

I have appointed a Board of Trade surveyor to hold a preliminary inquiry and I shall decide, in the light of his report, whether to order a full public investigation.

I am sure that the House will join me in expressing deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who are missing.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Wilson

While wishing to express every sympathy with the relatives of those who are missing, may I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether the inquiry will go into all aspects of the case, particularly the effectiveness of the regulations and their enforcement? How is it possible to hire a pleasure boat, with apparently no passenger certificate and no survey, and go into the open sea with at least double the number of permitted passengers? It would not be possible to do this with a motor coach. One could not overload an unlicensed coach. Why is not the same protection given to those hiring pleasure boats?

Mr. Jay

The inquiry will go into all the relevant facts. It is certainly the case that this ship should have held a certificate. It did not do so, and, as far as we are aware, no application was ever made for one.

Mr. Corfield

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I express our profound sympathy with the families of those who may, although we hope not, have lost their lives?

I should like to ask two questions. First, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that this ship did not carry the certificate required by Section 17 of the 1964 Act, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), what are the, so to speak, policing precautions which his Department takes to ensure that pleasure steamers do not ply for hire without a certificate?

Secondly, what measures are taken to bring to the notice of potential passengers the fact that a certificate of survey is required so that they can ensure that the ship bears something upon it which shows whether it has one?

Mr. Jay

I agree with the hon. Member that all these matters should be examined. We have only had news of this since yesterday, but I understand that it is the responsibility both of the police and of the Board of Trade's survey officers to see that the law in observed.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I say to him that this is the second time within a very short period that we have had this dreadful sort of tragedy. While nothing can erase the agony of these parents, can we not make sure, by means of publicity, that people know the regulations, that they are stringently enforced and that those who go on these sorts of trips have some sort of protection?

Mr. Jay

I agree with my hon. Friend As she knows, an investigation is being held into both these accidents. I think that I had better not say much further until I know the full facts.

Mr. Webster

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps are taken by the Board of Trade to ensure that vessels taking more than 12 passengers on a pleasure cruise comply with Section 17 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1964?

Mr. Jay

If a certificate is applied for, a survey is made and steps are taken to see that the regulations are complied with. If no application is made, the law is being broken, and it is very much more difficult to ensure safety.

Mr. Tilney

Since the son of two of my constituents is among the missing, and since Liverpool is much interested in the reform of the Merchant Shipping Act, under which, I understand, this boat sailed, could the President of the Board of Trade say that when that Act comes up for amendment he will see that any boat shows a licence of seaworthiness and the crew also carry licences of competence in seamanship?

Mr. Jay

I will certainly examine that, and I have already made some preliminary inquiries today.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Bowden.

Mr. Bessell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Private Notice Question to the Board of Trade relates to a boat which set sail from a harbour in my constituency. I have been endeavouring to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and you have called hon. Members representing Exeter, Weston-super-Mare, and so on. May I not, in those circumstances, be permitted to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker

I tried to get in everyone I could who had a local interest. Mr. Bessell.

Mr. Bessell

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I would like, if I may, to join with other hon. Members who have expressed their sympathy with the next-of-kin of passengers in this ship.

May I ask the President of the Board of Trade two questions? What precise precautions are taken to investigate ships before they leave harbours when they are carrying passengers in large numbers? Secondly, are any precautions taken by harbour masters, particularly at Falmouth and Fowey?

Mr. Jay

I could not answer the latter question without notice, as to the precise precautions which are taken at Fowey. Generally, the system is that the precautions are enforced when the certificate is applied for. After that, it is the general duty of the officers concerned and the police, so far as possible, to see that people do not break the law. It may be that these precautions should be tightened, and I am looking into that.

Several Hon. Membersrose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Bowden.