HC Deb 12 July 1966 vol 731 cc1217-8
Q6. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Prime Minister what Government Departments have been involved in the meetings held with the National Union of Seamen, Officers' Association and shipowners to consider the revision of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894; and when these meetings commenced.

The Prime Minister

The meetings, which began in December 1963, were conducted first by officials of the Ministry of Transport and later, when that Department took over responsibility for shipping, by officials of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Lloyd

Will the Prime Minister now concede, in view of the dates which he has given, that the whole and main responsibility for the delay in the revision of the Merchant Shipping Act has been that of the Government—not the shipowners—and in particular his Government?

The Prime Minister

This is an extremely complicated matter, as the previous Government and we have both found. There are 200 Sections involved in the Act. The previous Government had charge of these difficult and complex negotiations for ten months. Obviously, they could not have finished them in that time. While we were having discussions, and making progress also, the talks were broken off when the dispute began between the two sides in November of last year. That was why the delay occurred. Now, however, as the hon. Member will know, the Pearson court of inquiry is specially charged with bringing this matter to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not true that considerable progress has already been made as a result of the discussions between the shipowners and the National Union of Seamen and other seafaring organisations and that considerable credit is due to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, who has taken a prominent part in these discussions?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I think that considerable progress was being made until the talks were suspended last November. I believe now that the right course is for the court of inquiry to get on with this task. It has, however, been very complex, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite will know. In addition to the complications of the Act, they had to consult, and we have had to consult, no fewer than 15 Departments of State which are materially affected.