§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Roy Mason)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill represents a most important step forward in the safety of life at sea and in the modernisation of the Merchant Navy, and improves the conditions of service and amenity at sea for seafarers. It is a Bill that will be generally welcomed by all in the shipping industry and, I would have thought, from all quarters of the House. It is a long-awaited and much-needed reform.
Hon. Members will remember that as a result of the seamen's strike in 1966 a court of inquiry was set up by the Minister of Labour under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Pearson. The court produced its final report in February, 1967. This report, which was, in general, accepted by both sides of the shipping industry, has been the basis for subsequent negotiations within the industry and for the Bill which we are now considering.
The Pearson Report was in two parts. The first part contained valuable recommendations about industrial relations in the shipping industry. It has been the basis for negotiation which has since taken place within the National Maritime Board and I understand that considerable progress has been made in reaching agreement upon the steps to implement it.
The second part of the report contained various suggestions for revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts in so far as they apply to the terms and conditions of service of seamen. This second part of the Pearson Report has been the starting point for the present Bill. It is, therefore, right that at this stage I should pay tribute both on behalf of the Government and on behalf of both sides of the shipping industry to Lord Pearson and the members of the court of inquiry for a most valuable report. Their report has indeed provided an excellent foundation on which to fashion the Bill.
1311 I should like also to acknowledge with gratitude the great help and assistance which we have had from both sides of the shipping industry, to the National Union of Seamen, the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers Association, and the British Shipping Federation. They have been most helpful.
In short, therefore, the results of the Pearson Report have been progressed on two fronts. On the one hand, an agreement has been worked out in the National Maritime Board about the industrial provisions, and, on the other hand, the Government are now bringing forward the Bill in order to revise the provisions in past Merchant Shipping Acts so as to sweep away outdated and obsolete requirements and to provide a better basis for the future.
I am sure that I am right in saying that, in general, the attitude of both sides of the shipping industry is that the implementation of the two results of the Pearson Report, that is implementation of both the industrial provisions and the legislative provisions which we are considering today, is, broadly speaking, an acceptable package. No doubt one side or the other may have some reservations about some particular part of the provisions. There has been some sensible give and take and I believe that neither side would wish to press their objections to the extent of prejudicing the implementation of these provisions as a whole. The overall result now achieved should be a considerable step forward for the efficiency, safety and general well-being of British shipping and for the lives of those who serve in British ships.
As the House knows, the Pearson inquiry dealt only with merchant seamen. However, many of the provisions in the Bill are applicable also to fishermen. Indeed, it is right that they should apply to fishing vessels and to fishermen so that they too enjoy the advantages that will flow from this new legislation. After all, fishing vessels are ships and fishermen are seamen. There are, however, some differences in conditions in the fishing industry from those in the merchant marine and these make some differences desirable in the statutory provisions.
1312 While the fishing industry was not a part to the negotiations in the National Maritime Board which followed the Pearson Report, nevertheless while the Bill was being drafted there have been consultations with the various representative organisations of that industry and I should like to acknowledge with gratitude the great help which we have had from them—in particular, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the Trawler Federations.
It would not have been right to leave the fishing industry subject to the archaic provisions of the old Merchant Shipping Acts which we are now sweeping away. In these circumstances, most of the provisions of the Bill will apply to fishing vessels and fishermen, and Schedule 1 contains some additional special provisions for them. There are, however, some differences which seem appropriate, especially regarding discipline, and I shall have more to say about that later.
While on the subject of fishermen, I must add that my predecessor as President of the Board of Trade received last July the very valuable Report of the Holland-Martin Committee on Trawler Safety. He said at the time that the Government had decided in principle to accept the recommendations of that report, subject to consultation with the fishing industry about the details and about financing. This consultation is at present proceeding. It is, however, possible for us to implement some of the provisions of that report in the Bill, such as control of work and rest periods and certification of officers.
The central theme of the Bill is modernisation of the statutory requirements which at present govern life at sea. Some of these are really quite ancient, and some have their origin as far back as 1850. The present provisions on the subjects which we are discussing today are mainly contained in Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and Parts III and IV of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906, though some parts of subsequent Acts are relevant also. I mention this to stress, as did the Pearson Report, the striking antiquity of many of these provisions.
I think it right to say that the age and the archaic nature of some of those 1313 provisions, set in the conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries, have been blamed for much of the unrest in the shipping industry in recent years. Many of the provisions are far too rigid and out-of-date. Some are harsh in their application; many are obsolete and do not reflect the realities of modern industrial life. We therefore propose to remove these obstacles to industrial peace and to foster more modern developments.
I think that we have struck the right balance. On the one side, the Bill contains provisions about conditions of living and working at sea and protection from abuse and exploitation ashore, particularly when seamen are abroad. On the other side, there are provisions concerned with the maintenance of good order and discipline for the preservation of safety in both the public interest and that of the seamen.
I must emphasise the paramount concern of us all with the maintenance and improvement of standards of safety at sea. This is a fundamental part of the background to the Bill. Against this background, the aim of the Bill is to create circumstances in which the terms and conditions of service of seamen can be maintained and improved. I fully recognise that this is very largely a matter of industrial arrangement within the industry. However, in the special conditions of seafaring life, statutory provisions are necessary to protect the arrangements from abuse and exploitation and to ensure that agreements are maintained.
The Pearson Report called for a new Bill which would jettison many obsolete provisions and much unnecessary detail. This has been a formidable task; 400 Sections of old Acts were reviewed and, as a consequence, over 200 of them will be repealed and will not appear either in the Act when passed or in regulations made under it. Pearson recommended that the Bill should be designed to deal with matters broadly by principle and policy and to foster and not inhibit future developments. The report suggested that the details and administration should be left to regulations made under the Bill.
The Government have accepted that recommendation, and, as a result, the Bill is flexible and is largely of an enabling nature. It gives power to make regula- 1314 tions over a wide range of subjects. It has always been the practice of the Board of Trade to consult as widely as possible before making regulations in shipping matters. However, I thought it right to give particular emphasis to this point in view of the wide range of powers of regulation which are sought in the Bill. There is, therefore, in Clause 94 a firm requirement that consultation shall take place with both sides of industry before regulations are made.
I turn now, briefly and in broad outline, to the provisions of the Bill. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be dealing with some of these in greater detail in his speech at the end of the debate if he is so fortunate as to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
First, there is a group of Clauses, Clauses 2 to 19, which deal with employment on ships and payment of wages. Seamen attach considerable importance to the protection given them by their articles of agreement. This is a contract of employment which deals with their employment on a specified ship or ships for a definite period. The system of providing for a crew agreement of this type is retained in the Bill, but we have made provision for more flexibility. The form and contents of the agreement may in future be developed more freely by the industry. There will no longer be the requirement that the engagement and discharge of seamen should take place before a Board of Trade official, although he will still have overall power to supervise where necessary.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
The Bill is not clear on whether it is intended that the Board of Trade should provide a model crew agreement. Is that so?
§ Mr. Mason
The question whether a model ought to be provided is, I suggest, a good topic for the Committee stage, and there is no reason why it should not be sensibly discussed there.
As I have said, we do not think that it will be necessary for a Board of Trade official to be present at the engagement and discharge of seamen in future, and we hope thereby to save some Government staff. I should add that the character and conduct markings on the discharge of seamen will be abolished. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] No doubt, 1315 those of my hon. Friends who are aware of seamens' complaints will welcome that. We hope, therefore, to save some Government staff.
On wages, a number of archaic and obsolete provisions will be dropped. The Bill will provide for arrangements which will retain the protection needed and enable the Board to ensure that there is no abuse and that checks can be made to see whether there is satisfactory compliance with the statutory requirements about manning. I should add that, although the system of crew agreements is fundamental, seamen are often in the regular employment of a shipping company or the industry, and the Pearson Report rightly looked forward to the development of more general contracts in the future. There is, therefore, provision in Clause 2 for powers of exemption from crew agreements where the Board is satisfied that the seaman is adequately protected by alternative arrangements.
There is a further group of Clauses, Nos. 20 to 26, which deal with health and welfare—in short, the conditions of living and for medical treatment on board. There are no major changes here, but there is the introduction of some improvements in detail, and also considerably more flexibility through powers to deal with such matters to a greater extent in regulations than is at present the case. This section of the Bill, therefore, makes great advances for the seaman: character and conduct markings will be abolished on discharge books—no necessity for a Board of Trade official at engagements and discharge—better articles of agreement—improved arrangements for hearing disputes.
I now turn to Clauses 27 to 33 and 34 to 38, which deal with the important matters of discipline and safety. A measure of discipline is vital for safety and efficiency at sea, for the sake of both the ship and the seamen. On the other hand, there is no doubt that there is need to modernise and bring up to date the present statutory provisions. In all this the Report of Lord Pearson's Committee has been most valuable. The recommendations of that committee reached the conclusion that it was clear beyond doubt that a special disciplinary régime of some kind is required by the special conditions of seafaring life.
1316 Discipline is necessary in the interests of safety in order to secure, promote and co-ordinate action by the crew on any occasion of emergency for saving the passengers, the crew, the ship and the cargo from the perils of the sea. Discipline is necessary in the interests of efficiency in order to secure the proper operation and handling of the ship and its equipment at all times.
Also, discipline is necessary for preserving law and order in the confined and inescapable conditions in which a ship is a total institution and in which the seaman works, eats, sleeps and spends his leisure time in the same limited area and with approximately the same people as his workmates, companions or neighbours. Discipline is, therefore, necessary in the interests of safety, and its preservation is of the highest importance in the public interest; but it is necessary that it should be kept in a way which is as much in keeping as possible with the requirements of modern life.
There are four main ways in which misconduct at sea can be treated. The Pearson Report recognised and found room for them all in a pattern of measures necessary to meet all circumstances, and this is the pattern which is followed in the Bill. First, misconduct can be regarded as a breach of contract and dealt with as a civil liability. Most offences will probably be dealt with in this way and there are provisions in the Bill about civil liability. Secondly, misconduct could be dealt with on board ship by a fine imposed by the master or some other authority. This procedure would be suitable for dealing with minor offences on board. Thirdly, there is the disciplinary procedure of the industry in which a joint committee ashore reviews misconduct at sea. The development of these arrangements is most certainly to be encouraged.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Clause 36 refers to a ship's disciplinary committee. Who does the right hon. Gentleman visualise will serve on that committee?
§ Mr. Mason
The Pearson Report visualised, and I agree, that officers and crew men on board would make up these disciplinary committees. Of course, this is to be an experiment on board some ships and we shall have to see how 1317 it works It is one of the possibilities held out by Pearson. At some ports, with the co-operation of the Transport and General Workers' Union, disciplinary committees have already been established and to some extent work quite effectively. Here we have a possibility of getting away from the rigid system on board ships which we have had in the past.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
The right hon. Gentleman refers to "some ships" being used for the experiment. How will these be selected?
§ Mr. Mason
I do not think that I should be responsible at this stage for selecting the ships. If the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, he will no doubt hear many ideas put forward about how this should be done. Considering the size of the Merchant Navy, if the experiment is to be carried on it will not be confined to the "Queens" but will have to be in selected vessels ranging from the more massive to the cargo and smaller type of freighters.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I agree with the establishment of disciplinary committees. But we must take particular care of the person who is to be disciplined. Has my right hon. Friend anything to say about representation on a man's behalf in these circumstances?
§ Mr. Mason
That was also mentioned in the Pearson Report and in due course will be mentioned in my speech. A right will he gradually developed through this experiment for a seaman, even when he appears before the master, to have a friend representing him. This is a flexible system we are developing. The seaman appearing before the master will be able to have a friend with him. This and the creation of these committees on hoard will open the way to a better disciplinary procedure aboard ship than hitherto.
Lastly, the more serious cases of misconduct can be treated as statutory offences to be prosecuted in a court on shore. There is need for all four methods and provision is made for these in the Bill. We all hope that recourse to the courts will be infrequent, but safety at sea clearly requires that certain degrees of misconduct should be subject to statutory offences.
1318 I hope that the House will forgive me if I dwell for a moment on the Clauses dealing with misconduct, as these have been subject to much discussion with both sides of the industry. Clause 27 deals with misconduct of a flagrant character which is likely to endanger the ship or the people on board, and Clauses 28 to 31 deal with less serious but potentially dangerous actions such as drunkenness on duty, disobedience to commands, persistent neglect of duty, combination with other seamen to disobey commands, neglect of duty or impeding the ship and absence without leave.
I would emphasise that in drawing up these provisions in this way, we have followed closely the recommendations of the Pearson inquiry, which considered these matters at considerable length. It felt that it was necessary to have these various provisions and the report set out the reasons for this in some detail. However, I must explain that, after discussions with the shipping industry, I have attempted to group the most flagrant offences in Clause 27.
It is only to the offences in this Clause that a penalty of imprisonment attaches. It does not apply to the offences, which are still serious but not quite so serious, in Clauses 28 to 31. In particular, the penalty of imprisonment will no longer apply to desertion or disobedience. I am sure, as was Lord Pearson and his committee, that such provisions are necessary in order to provide that safety at sea shall be protected adequately. However, these offences are those of a serious kind and the more numerous less serious matters will no doubt be dealt with in the other ways which I have mentioned.
One of these methods is the system of shipboard fines and these are dealt with in Clauses 34 to 38. The Bill follows the recommendations of the Pearson inquiry. It felt that the system of on-hoard fines must be retained primarily to deal with casual seafarers who only join for one or two voyages and that the system should be exercised with moderation and discrimination.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
What is the view of the National Union of Seamen and what sort of discussions did my right hon. Friend have with it on this point?
§ Mr. Mason
The N.U.S. was involved throughout the Pearson inquiry, so it was conversant with how the Pearson Report developed. It had talks with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Board of Trade before I went there and I myself have met representatives of the union, including the general secretary. No doubt my hon. Friend has noted with pleasure that, as compared with the July Bill, we have lessened the harshness of the disciplinary provisions.
The present arrangements for on-board fines, are, therefore, retained, subject, however, to safeguards in the manner of operation. But there is also provision for the powers of the master to be transferred wholly or partly to ships' disciplinary committees and for experiments in such committees to be conducted. The National Maritime Board is considering such arrangements and I wish to encourage it by these provisions.
Another important part of the Bill deals with civil liability for damages for breach of contract for absence without leave. The Pearson Report recommended that it should be possible to offset such damages against wages and this will be done by authorising deductions from wages in regulations under Clause 10. But the report also recommended that the liability should be limited to £100 or £10 where there were no special damages and provision is, therefore, made for such limitation.
I apologise for dealing at such length with matters of discipline and civil liability, but I felt that while such Clauses are only a minority of those in the Bill, nevertheless they might be of special interest to the House. The disciplinary provisions are much less harsh than in any previous Acts and have been made more acceptable to the seamen by amending the July Bill.
Other Clauses to which I should draw the attention of hon. Members include Clause 42. This removes the exclusion of seamen from the protection of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875. It also provides a method by which they may withdraw their labour from a ship in appropriate circumstances. These are two other advances which will be welcomed in the industry.
Another group of Clauses, 43 to 60, deal with manning and certification, in 1320 quiries into fitness or conduct and investigations into shipping casualties. Here, our approach has been to provide as much flexibility as possible, because there are likely to be substantial developments in the future in the manning of ships and in the types of qualification needed to meet those changes in manning and in the techniques of operation. We therefore need flexibility, but we must have some control because safety of life at sea can be directly affected.
Then there are sections dealing with arrangements for the relief and maintenance of seamen left behind abroad, for matters relating to deceased seamen and for various other subjects such as documentation. We have tried broadly to maintain existing arrangements while removing some of their complications. The liability for financial arrangements for seamen left behind abroad has been placed on the shipowner instead of on the Government. This is an expense which I think that the industry and not the taxpayer should bear in future.
I should like now to turn again to fishermen. Provision is made in Clause 90 and Schedule 1 for the application of most of the provisions of the Bill to fishing vessels. There are some differences between the operations and conditions of service of fishing vessels and merchant ships, and these have been taken into account. Thus, most of the provisions will apply to fishing vessels, but the regulations to be made for fishing vessels will be different from those of merchant ships. There will, therefore, have to be separate consultation about them.
I must refer especially to the question of discipline for fishermen. Here we have thought it right to make some difference in the provisions to take account of differences in the way the two industries operate and the fact that the Pearson Report related to the merchant service and not to the fishing fleets.
On discipline, Clause 27, about the most serious offences, and Clause 28, about drunkenness on duty, will apply to fishermen as well as to seamen. The other disciplinary Clauses will not apply to fishermen, but there is provision in Schedule 1 for regulations to be made by affirmative Resolution procedure in order 1321 to apply to fishermen disciplinary requirements of this kind should that prove necessary.
However, I also recognise, and I must emphasise, that in the fishing industry there is at present in operation a system of port disciplinary committees, and that fishing vessels, unlike merchant ships, tend to operate from one particular port. We shall, therefore, be able to take into account the way in which these committees are operating in framing any regulations about discipline for fishermen.
The provisions in the Bill represent a considerable modernisation of the statutory requirements for service at sea for officers and men of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. In putting them forward, I am acutely conscious of the great importance of both the British shipping and fishing industries to our national life.
We now have more British merchant tonnage than ever before, and as we all know there has recently been substantial modernisation of the shipping industry. It is an industry which is making a very large contribution to our invisible earnings, and these, in turn, are crucial to our overall balance of payments. My desire is to foster the efficiency of that industry by providing a proper modern environment in which people can serve.
In this process we have to safeguard, in the interests of all, safety at sea and, at the same time, foster conditions which will make life at sea as attractive as possible to all who serve there. I hope, therefore, that the provisions of the Bill will enable the shipping industry and the officers and men who serve therein to make an even more valuable contribution.
I believe, also, that the provisions will be of great benefit to the fishing industry and there, also, will provide a substantial modernisation of conditions of their service at sea. Some of the recommendations of the Holland-Martin Committee on Trawler Safety are covered in the Bill. I hope that others principally concerned with the construction and equipment of trawlers will be covered in a Bill on trawler safety and related matters which I hope to introduce later this Session.
This Bill is the first attempt to provide comprehensive legislation for seafarers for 75 years. This is a major advance for 1322 British shipping and British seamen. It is a new charter for a new generation of seamen. The House should be proud of the Bill. After inquiry and some torment, and genuine consultations all now agree with this charter. This is a Bill that will be regarded by all in shipping as a major milestone in our Merchant Navy's history. It will be the guide line and, indeed, the strong framework in which our modern merchant fleet will work for many years to come.
I am certain, therefore, that the Bill provides the basis for modern conditions of service at sea today and an exciting progressive charter well beyond the seventies.
§ 4,23 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
The whole House will wish to thank the President of the Board of Trade for the very lucid manner in which he has put the Bill before us. He was, perhaps, inclined to gloss over his own personal contribution here, because it will be remembered that he was the Minister of State at the Board of Trade in charge of shipping between October, 1964 and January, 1967, when a very great deal of the preliminary work on the Bill was done.
It is true to say that the origins of the Bill go back, not to the 1966 strike, but to the strike in 1960, when hon. Members will remember that two seamen at Southampton were prosecuted for deserting their ships. This it was that brought to the notice of all concerned the fact that the 1894 Act was long overdue for reform and modernisation. When one bears in mind that that Act—
§ Mr. Heffer
I am sorry to intervene, but the origin goes back even further. It was first thought of with the 1947 strike, which was an unofficial strike that had very wide reactions.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman is right, but I am sure that nothing was ever done about it after that strike, whereas I hope to show that a lot was done after 1960.
The 1894 Act was itself a consolidation of much earlier legislation going back to 1850 and beyond, to the days when all ships had sails, when voyages lasted for months, when communications 1323 were primitive or non-existent, when conditions on board were crude and insanitary and when the maintenance of discipline was harsh and despotic, and the temptation to desert and become a pirate was almost overwhelming. In those days, relations between seamen and owners were themselves crude and harsh.
Perhaps I may quote from a speech made by Lord Stowell in the "Minerva" case in 1825. He said:On the one side are gentlemen possessed of wealth, and intent, I mean not unfairly, upon augmenting it, conversant in business, and possessing the means of calling in the aid of practical and professional knowledge. On the other side, is a set of men generally ignorant and illiterate, notoriously and proverbially reckless and improvident, ill-provided with the means of obtaining useful information, and almost ready to sign any instrument that may be proposed to them; and on all accounts requiring protection, even against themselves. Everybody must see where the advantage must lie between parties standing upon such unequal ground, and accordingly these special engagements, so introduced into the mariners' contract lean one way, to the disadvantage of the mariners, and to the advantage of their employers, by increasing the duties of the former and diminishing the obligations of the latter.It was in those circumstances that Parliament intervened, and passed a series of Acts, designed to protect seamen, providing for the supervision of engagement and paying-off, fixing standards of food and accommodation, providing rights to complain to justices of the peace or to consular offices, and so on. These Acts also provided a very severe code of discipline with severe penalties for desertion and many other offences. There is now a great mass of legislation aimed at securing safety at sea, covering the certification of officers, standards of manning, lifeboats, and the rest.
Since 1894 this legislation has been added to frequently, and there are now more than 50 Acts on the Statute Book amending or adding to the 1894 Act; and also a great number of regulations. But it is true to say that the main structure, certainly as regards Part II of this Bill, and other parts, has remained substantially unchanged. Perhaps, in retrospect, it is astonishing that the industry should have put up with this legislation for as long as it has. Perhaps, it reflects the innate conservatism—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and I spell it with a small "c" 1324 because this is not a party political occasion—among those who serve in ships and serve the sea.
Conditions have changed beyond all recognition since 1894. Ships themselves are much larger, and have increasingly sophisticated engines and equipment on board. Communications, first by telegraph and then by radio, have enabled ships to maintain contact with the shore and with their home ports at all times. Seamen have participated fully in the growth of trade unions which are able to look after their interests and negotiate with their employers vastly more satisfactorily than Acts of Parliament can ever hope to provide for. Most important of all, there has been a great, and for long unrecognised, change in the relationships that must exist, and do exist, between officers and ratings, between masters and their crews, between employees and employers in the industry. Yet the 1894 Act has remained the principal instrument regulating conduct and relationships to this day.
The President of the Board of Trade suggested that perhaps we should be proud. I am not sure. It was a matter of pride for our 19th century predecessors that they saw the evils which existed and legislated to put them right and took a leading part in the progress for reform of life at sea. But we are now, rather belatedly, bringing the law into line with reforms which the industry has in recent years initiated and carried through. It is right that this point should be made: it was not until 1960 that the official world woke up to the need for amending the legislation.
The first efforts were made in the National Maritime Board, but within a year or two it became apparent that the gulf between the parties on the Board was so wide that no progress could be made. In 1962, the Ministry of Transport, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), began to take a hand. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade, and the House, would wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's Parliamentary Secretary, Vice-Admiral Jock Hughes Hallett, who set in train a review of the 1894 Act. He chaired a Committee in the Ministry which produced proposals which, in 1963, were put to the National Maritime Board, which was asked to nominate delegates for consultation. The 1325 first meeting was held on 17th October, 1963. A month or two later, the then Member for Southampton, Test, Mr. Howard, asked the Minister of Transport what action he was taking. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said:'… I have invited representatives of British shipowners and seafarers to join my Department in a detailed examination of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts relating to seafarers in the hope that agreed proposals for revision of the Acts in this respect may be worked out. These matters are most complex and the discussions, which began in September, and which are entirely without commitment, will inevitably take some time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 15.]My right hon. Friend has turned out to be a more accurate prophet than he knew, for it has taken six years.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
While he is giving these accolades to his colleagues, would the hon. Gentleman be equally generous in remembering that even in 1960 seamen had to go to gaol to make their protests against the 1894 Act?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I have already made that point. By the time that I have sat down I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not feel that I have been short in generosity.
By any standards, six years is a long time, and I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been impatient to see this Bill. The President of the Board of Trade was right to claim that it is the product of long consultations and, in my view, as an agreed package, which is what it substantially is, it has been worth waiting for.
I have nothing but praise for all those who, by their long and patient consultations, have been able to achieve this package—and not only the Ministers of this Government and their predecessors, and Lord Pearson and his colleagues—I join in the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid—not only to the officials of the Board of Trade who have worked long and hard, but to the officials of the organisations—the unions, the masters' and the officers' associations and the British Shipping Federation. The Bill reflects great credit on all concerned.
The President of the Board of Trade referred to this Measure as the Pearson package. I am happy to adopt his 1326 phraseology. The Official Opposition's attitude is that we warmly support the Bill. While we have a number of points which we shall raise in Committee, some of which I shall raise today, we are in substantial agreement, and our approach, like that of the President of the Board of Trade, is that this is the first time for 75 years that this House will have the opportunity of legislation in this important field and it is, therefore, right and proper that we should bend all our efforts to ensuring that we get the Bill right.
The President of the Board of Trade described the Bill as an enabling Bill, which is correct, for it provides for no fewer than 35 different sorts of regulations. Therefore, the Bill is but a bare skeleton and the flesh remains to be put upon it. The flesh will take three forms, of which the regulations, although important, are only one. There are the agreements which have been reached and which will undoubtedly be reached in the National Maritime Board. Those who have had the opportunity of studying the year book produced by the Board will know how far-reaching those agreements are.
Thirdly, there is a growing number of company agreements and company employment practices involving ships' liaison representatives, the modification of the traditional distinctions between officers and ratings, fringe benefits, pensions, and so on. All these are to be regarded as the flesh which will go on the Bill. We shall be concerned with the regulations, but it is right that we should remember at all times that behind them will be an impressive array of negotiated agreements and a growing body of progressive employment practices. It can be said that the Bill and the regulations are primarily to deal with the exceptions, whereas the normal relationships between employers and employees will rest on the agreements and employment practices.
I should like to say a few words about the regulations. These were proposed by the Pearson Committee to give greater flexibility to the law in this respect and room for experiment by ship owners in such things as manning, in order to make provision for the new developments in certification and to make the operation of discipline more flexible. But this proceeding by delegated legislation puts the 1327 House in a little difficulty because we run the risk of debating the Clauses without the benefit of knowing what the substantive provisions will be. In some cases it will be impossible for us to have meaningful debate unless we have something before us in the way of draft regulations.
I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will feel it possible, before the Committee stage or before we reach the relevant Clauses in Committee, to let us have drafts or dummies or even headings of the sort of things that he intends to cover in the more important regulations. I have seen the Board of Trade's proposals, in outline headings, for the disciplinary offences. I should have thought that we must have at least something like that. If I were asked to specify which regulations would be most important for the Committee to have before it, I would say the regulations dealing with wages and accounts, disciplinary offences and rights of appeal, ships' disciplinary committees, manning and certification, relief and repatriation, and discharge books, and with the hours of work for fishermen and fishermen's offences. I shall return to the latter point because I am not sure that there is not an issue between us. I hope that the Minister of State, when he replies, will be able to give assurances about the availability of these draft or dummy regulations.
It would be easy in a debate like this to go into a series of Committee points. I will resist that temptation. But the fact that we do not raise a point today does not mean that we do not regard it as important—
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's agreement.
Let me try to cover a few issues of principle. First, I want to consider the changes of certification and manning. The Pearson Committee said that the only reason for the existence of these provisions is safety. As the President of the Board reminded us, safety runs like a golden thread through the Bill. The trend today is for smaller and more highly qualified crews, providing for inter- 1328 changeability and general purpose manning, which in turn predicate higher standards of training.
The industry suffers from a high rate of turnover. I have the figures produced by the Registrar-General which show that, in a single month, out of a total manpower of 97,800 in the Merchant Marine, nearly 3,000 men joined and just under 2,500 left. That is a very high rate of turnover by any standards. The Pearson Committee urged the industry to examine the reasons for it. It is significant that the wastage is very much lower in those trades which use specialised vessels, and when I say that I am thinking particularly of the tanker trade. This raises the whole question of job satisfaction, career prospects and related issues. They are all involved in the Clauses dealing with certification and manning.
Obviously we shall need to give close attention to the Clauses concerned with discipline. We welcome the shift from criminal to civil liability as the basis for dealing with many minor offences. But we do not understand why the Board of Trade has felt it right to depart, even since July, from the clear Pearson recommendations to make it an offence for a seaman improperly to leave his post or to be asleep on duty. These were both in Clause 27 of the July version of the Bill. They fall squarely within the right hon. Gentleman's definition of "flagrant and serious offences", and we are entitled to an explanation why they are not in the Bill. They seem to be crucial to safety and are not merely disciplinary offences.
§ Mr. McNamara
If the hon. Gentleman makes the point that they are crucial to safety, surely they are covered by Clause 27.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I agree that perhaps that could be the right place, though I am advised that they would be more appropriate to Clause 28 or Clause 29. However, I do not think that they are covered by Clause 27 as they stand at present.
The right hon. Gentleman has remarked that character reports in discharge books are to be dispensed with, and I welcome that. They have become rather a farce. There are only two forms of reports. A seaman can have "V.G.", meaning 1329 "Very good", or "D.R." meaning "Decline to report". A "D.R." entry in a discharge book is a very black mark and, therefore, it is all too frequently avoided.
This is now coupled with a great reduction in the number of offences and the severity of the penalties. There could be a risk that the Bill might be interpreted as a licence to bad characters to run riot.
In this context, I welcome the statement by the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen in his union's journal last September. Mr. Hogarth said:The safety, welfare and the employment of our members must be protected at all times. We shall not, therefore, hesitate to support demands for drastic action against offenders where in our view such action is warranted.I turn to the proposal to set up ships disciplinary committees. This is a new departure for the United Kingdom, though I understand that similar procedures have worked for some time in Norwegian ships. It is regarded by the National Union of Seamen as a matter of great importance, and rightly so, though there are some misgivings amongst masters. I have heard it said by one that he would not like to be the master of the first experimental ship. Nevertheless, the Pearson Committee recommended that the Bill should provide opportunities for experiments in this direction, and I am interested to learn that this is what the President has in mind at this stage.
I have seen the preliminary document agreed in the National Maritime Board for a committee which would exercise the functions of the master in determining whether an offence has been committed, leaving the decision on any penalty to the master. It would provide for a committee drawn from panels of officers and seamen in a strict rota and, therefore, with no chance of selectivity.
It is right to have these limited experiments and that they should be tried on different classes of ships. They should work well on the ordinary liner/cargo ship or tanker with a small crew. I can see greater difficulties in the giant passenger ships, such as the "Queens", with very much larger crews, simply because of the time involved in getting committees 1330 together; yet those are the ships where the record shows a greater number of infractions.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Clause 42 and the right to strike. Again, that is regarded as very important by the union. We are glad that it has felt it right to accept the limitations in the Clause that the ship should be in the United Kingdom, that she should be safely moored, and that 48 hours' notice should be given after the ship has been moored before labour is withdrawn. We all hope that we shall never see a repetition of the disastrous events of 1966, but I agree that this specific provision is a necessary and proper safeguard to ensure that the legitimate interests of seamen are backed by the lawful withholding of labour in extreme circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the application of the Bill to fishermen, and here we confess to some puzzlement. He recognises, as we do, that there are considerable differences between the fishing fleet and the merchant fleet and that they call for different treatment. We do not necessarily agree that the main offences provided for in the Bill for merchant seamen should be provided for by regulations for fishermen. These are serious offences carrying serious penalties, and it is not right that they should appear in regulations where, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, they cannot be amended by this House. All that can happen is that regulations are brought before the House by the right hon. Gentleman and if, after the debate, he feels that he has them wrong, he has to withdraw them and start again. In this Bill, we will be able to amend the offences Clauses as the Measure goes through its stages. The same maximum penalties will be applicable to fishermen, and this House should have the right to debate the Clauses. They should not appear as regulations. Subject to anything which may be said later, it would be our intention to seek to have disciplinary clauses for fishermen included in the Bill and not in regulations.
Furthermore, a number of offences were to have been in the Bill providing for fishermen arising specifically out of the dangers of alcohol, following the Holland-Martin Report. The Schedule in the Bill does not now even empower the President of the Board of Trade to make these regulations.
1331 The Holland-Martin Committee recognised that, on fishing vessels, although one is dealing with only a small minority of men, drink can be a serious problem. I understand that the British Trawlers' Federation was given an undertaking by the Board of Trade that three extra offences would be included in the legislation: first, reporting for duty under the influence of drink or drugs; second, bringing intoxicating liquor on board without permission; and third, neglecting or refusing to join a ship or, indeed, leaving the ship while proceeding to sea. I have been given to understand that it is not unusual for a fisherman to arrive on board his ship drunk and for him to fall between the ship and the quay as the ship is leaving the quay, or even to jump overboard.
§ Mr. McNamara
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the case reported earlier this year, which it was not my intention to mention, where a ship's runner went into a public house, got a drunken fisherman to sign articles and took him aboard ship? That was all the responsibility of the owners and the captain. He went below, caused malicious damage, but no action was taken by the captain.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
It is a new departure to make allegations of this nature in this Chamber without evidence to support them. The Hull fish dock is in my constituency. Can the hon. Gentleman cite any statistics to show the number of men who fall in the dock in this fashion? I do not know of them.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Of course not. The hon. Gentleman knows that it would be unreasonable to come to the House with such statistics. I am sure that he has read paragraphs 254 and 255 of the Holland-Martin Report, in which the committee say:We have heard a considerable amount of evidence that drink amongst crews is a major factor affecting safety.They go on to describe what they themselves saw. I am sure that there is nothing much between us on this matter. If I have 1332 sought to exaggerate the problem, I ask to be forgiven. But I hope hon. Members opposite will recognise that there is a problem. The Holland-Martin Report regards it as a major factor affecting safety.
It has been suggested that these offences have been omitted at the instance of one of the unions involved, but in view of the safety record of the trade unions, I find this difficult to accept. We regard the relegation to the Schedule of the main offences and the omission of others as important matters. If by any chance they remain in the Bill as regulations, then it would be right that the House should have, not merely a 90-minute debate at the end of the day when general regulations come forward, but a full day or a half-day to discuss the matter.
I come to the question of ships' runners. Why does Clause 7 of the Bill not apply to fishermen? Surely many of the evils involving runners taking bribes have happened in the fishing ports? Why has this matter been left out of the Bill when it applies to all others who arrange for crews to join ships? Surely the employers and unions are at one in deploring the practice of seamen giving bribes; Clause 7 should apply to fishermen as to the rest of the Merchant Marine.
I should like to turn to the Duncan Report on overseas representation. The President of the Board of Trade will be aware that paragraphs 17 to 20 of Chapter 9 contain sweeping recommendations about the limitation of consular duties with reference to seamen. With this, they recommend a substantial reduction in the number of those overseas posts. But an examination of the Bill shows that a dozen specific functions for consular officers still remain, such as the discharge of seamen overseas, cases in which seamen are left behind, where there are disputes about food, wages and so on. What consideration has been given to the Duncan proposals? Can we be told something about the intentions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in regard to the number of posts? I agree that it has come into the picture rather late in the day, only in July of this year, but the House is entitled to know the Government's intentions.
Finally I raise a point of general principle which I have discussed with a 1333 number of interests involved. It is a proposal which has not been universally applauded. I put it forward more from the point of view that it should be aired and discussed than that any firm decision should be embodied at this stage in the Bill. Indeed I myself have reached no concluded view at all.
This matter concerns the tendency to regard only four parties as being involved in legislation of this sort, namely the masters, the officers, the seamen and the owners. Is there not a fifth party concerned, namely, the public interest which is represented by the Crown? The Crown's interest—Irefer principally to the disciplinary provisions—arises firstly because the laws of England—or the laws of Scotland—ought to be observed in British ships on the high seas or in British territorial waters; and secondly, because it is a British interest when a British ship is visiting overseas to ensure that the crew should be well behaved both afloat and ashore. Yet apart from the master there is no agent of the Crown present to uphold this public interest. Does this not place on the master's shoulders some sort of obligation to uphold the laws of this country in a ship in which he is serving or at least to ensure that the breaches are investigated and reported? No specific obligation of this sort is spelt out in the Bill though perhaps it is implied.
May I explain the sort of situation I have in mind. Let us take as an example a breach of the general criminal law—where there has been fighting or an assault or, let us say, a case of sexual assault on a young seaman, which mercifully happens very rarely. If this happens on shore it can be the subject of immediate complaint to the police. But, at sea the only person to whom the victim can complain is the master.
It has been represented to me and has been confirmed—though for obvious reasons no specific case can be quoted—that complaints of this sort have been occasionally hushed up. There has been pressure on the complainant to withdraw his complaint or it has been turned aside with a view to avoiding a scandal. What then happens is that the young seaman goes ashore complains to his parents and they seek an investigation by the employers but are told, "We have no record of anything of this sort having happened 1334 on board the ship". I make it clear that this occurs only on very rare occasions indeed. But as the Bill stands there is no specific obligation on the master to prevent this happening. I concede that the existence of a legal obligation cannot of itself guarantee that it will be observed, but it would help to minimise the risk of something of the sort happening.
Should there not be a specific duty to record in a special log the fact that an incident has been reported together with its general nature and the parties involved where their identity is known? Such an obligation would stand as an express recognition of the fact that the master as well as being the employee of the company and the captain of the ship is the only available instrument for upholding British justice in British ships on the high seas. This proposal when it was put to the representative bodies did not receive unanimous support but it is worthy of consideration and perhaps the matter will be returned to in Committee.
It must be rare for a Government to bring forward a Bill which is the product of as much consultation as this Bill. It is certainly rare for a Bill to receive such a warm welcome from Her Majesty's Opposition as I have been able to give it. Perhaps these two facts are not unconnected. We look forward to working with the Minister of State in Committee to make still better what is already a thoroughly good Bill. I very much hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will feel it right to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
First of all I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for deploying his arguments on this legislation with his customary clarity. However, I know that he will agree that several questions remain unanswered, and no doubt they will be dealt with in Committee. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) despite sonic of the animadversions in which he indulged, for paying a worthy tribute to the officers and men of the Merchant Navy.
In the First World War it was within my knowledge that thousands of officers 1335 and men of the Merchant Navy lost their lives, torpedoed and went down, with vessels being lost on innumerable occasions. They had similar treatment in the Second World War. Between the wars I estimate, without going into detailed statistics, that the average losses of British ships registered in the United Kingdom of various kinds over the last 20 years amount to some 20 ships per year.
The number of casualties which occur in ships are not recorded. There is no statistical evidence, but in the opinion of the National Union of Seamen and the Navigating Officers' Association and other organisations associated with the Merchant Navy the number of casualties per year amounts to several thousands.
We are not dealing primarily with matters of safety, health and general conditions of seamen. We are dealing with belated legislation which has become a necessity. Should any hon. Member accuse me of being impatient, of being a young man in a hurry, I can only reply in extenuation that I have waited 58 years for this legislation. When I was associated with the National Union of Seamen as an assistant branch secretary on the Clyde 58 years ago, I heard a great deal from the seamen themselves, and from both deck and engine room officers, about the need for revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts.
A great deal has been said about the disciplinary clauses embodied in the Bill, but very little evidence statistically about the number of disciplinary offences that occur.
The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford referred to occasional drunkenness aboard ship, particularly among fishermen. I recall that Commodore James Bone—one of the three famous Bone brothers, a famous shipmaster and Commodore of the old Anchor Line many years ago—on one occasion when I had to offer an apology to him because many of the men who joined his ship were under the influence of drink, remarked that he could not understand how anybody would go to sea sober.
Commodore James Bone may not be regarded as an unprejudiced authority.
1336 However, I have engaged in some research, which is not altogether customary for me, and discovered that Dr. Samuel Johnson—what greater authority could I mention?—said that no man would be a sailor who could get himself into a gaol; that being in a ship is being in a gaol with every chance of being drowned; and that a man in a gaol has more room, better food and better company.
I recall the conditions that prevailed almost at the beginning of the century when I was first associated with seamen. For example, the pay of the men. Deck-hands were sailing across the Atlantic on short voyages of three to four weeks for £3 10s. a month, the men in the stoke hole, because practically all ships were coal-burning at that time, got £4 a month, and trimmers got £3 a month. Men on long voyages—for example, from this country to the River Plate—lasting three or four months were paid 5s. or 10s. a month more. Often they were paid less, because the voyages were longer and it was assumed that they would be discharged with a considerable volume of money which they could spend to their hearts' content.
That was the situation. But what were the conditions like? I recall the fo'c's'les, the galleys and the food that was provided. The conditions were abominable.
I am not blaming the enlightened shipowners of the present day. Conditions have now improved almost beyond measure. We can hardly compare the accommodation and conditions of 50 or 60 years ago on board merchant vessels registered in the United Kingdom with conditions today. For example, the old fo'c's'les and galleys in which men were herded together have gone. Now they are provided with cubicles, and accommodation has been improved. There has been a vast improvement.
However, there are still difficulties, problems and grievances. The greatest grievance amongst seamen is that they have had to wait so long for legislation of this character. I am not going to criticise any Government. When I was in Labour Governments I considered that they might have introduced legislation of the character that is under review this afternoon. But they failed for one reason or another. Nevertheless, the demand has consistently been made not 1337 only by men of the lower deck, but by officers who recognised the need for revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts, not only because it was desirable in the interests of safety, discipline, health and welfare aboard ship, but to attract men to the sea.
The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford was on a good point when he mentioned that men go to sea for perhaps six or 12 months and then remain ashore for a period. I think that he must have extracted that from the Pearson Report. It may have been an original idea of his own. It is not often that men among the ratings on the lower deck prefer to remain at sea for a long period. Men naturally, after a period of service at sea, want to go ashore. They may be married and have children, so they want to join their families. On long voyages they are divorced from them for long periods.
I want to direct the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade—and I hope that we may have a reply from the Minister of State—to wages. Clause 8 proposes that if men are not paid their wages immediately on discharge—and we must bear in mind that they are entitled to payment of wages in full on discharge—they shall be paid a sum of not less than £30, but may have to wait seven days before receiving their full payment.
It is remarkable that in the 1894 Act—I will read it if hon. Members wish, but I do not suppose they care to challenge it—there was a proivsion that if men were not paid in full immediately on discharge they should receive the sum of £2, but that, for every day following, if payment had not been made, they were entitled to receive an extra day's pay. So that Act was more flexible and benevolent towards the men concerning the payment of wages than is this Bill. I should like to know why.
Now I come to the question of allotments. I cannot understand why there are so many restrictions in connection with allotments. Anybody who has any association with the sea, or knows anything about seamen, is aware that when a seaman signs articles he can claim an advance. He can make an allotment. Under the 1894 Act an allotment could be made, and in the course of the voyage 1338 a man could cancel the allotment if, for example, as a result of a communication sent to him he learned that his wife had deserted him, or had misconducted herself. No provision of that kind is contained in the Bill. Indeed, the question of allotments is herded round with all kinds of restrictions, and I am not sure why this is so.
I deal, next, with the question of discipline. My right hon. Friend seemed to assume that as a result of the consultations with the unions concerned they were satisfied with the disciplinary Clauses. But that is not so; far from it. Let me give an example of what I mean. Under Clause 28 a man who has committed, or is alleged to have committed, an offence which might include drunkenness—and I mention that specifically—can, on summary conviction, be sent to prison for two years and fined £100. Nothing of the sort is embodied in the 1894 Act, and perhaps hon. Members will allow me to read what that Act says, because it is remarkable that there should be such a vast difference between this legislation and that passed 75 years ago.
Section 220 of the 1894 Act says:If a master, seaman, or apprentice belonging to a British ship, by wilfull breach of duty or by neglect of duty or by reason of drunkenness"—and it will be noted that the following language is similar to that used in the Bill—does any act tending to the immediate loss, destruction or serious damage of the ship, or tending immediately to endanger the life or limb of a person belonging to or on board the ship; or (b) refuses or omits to do any lawful act proper and requisite to be done by him for preserving the ship from immediate loss, destruction, or serious damage …he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, but he cannot on summary conviction be sentenced to two years' imprisonment or fined £100. The total penalty provided by the Act is that he shall be liable to imprisonment for any period not exceeding 12 weeks without hard labour. I cannot understand why the disciplinary provisions of the Bill are harsher than those of that Act passed 75 years ago.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Section 680 of the 1894 Act provides for a penalty of two years imprisonment for a misdemeanour, which is what the offence was. I think that it is much the same here, but if I 1339 am wrong I shall be delighted to be corrected.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am basing myself on the 1894 Act, which was referred to by my hon. Friend, and, I think, by the hon. Gentleman. So far as I know, there was no amendment of that Act which in any way revised its disciplinary provisions. I cannot understand why we are now proposing to impose harsher discipline. What statistical evidence is there, for example over the last years, that there is greater indiscipline now on the part of seamen aboard British vessels? Unless there is evidence of that kind, I cannot for the life of me understand why it is necessary to make the disciplinary provisions harsher than they were under the 1894 Act,
§ Mr. Mason
I think that my right hon. Friend must be under a misunderstanding about the Bill compared with the old Act. As regards drunkenness on duty, my right hon. Friend will see that Clause 28 provides for a maximum fine of £50, but no imprisonment. Only Clause 27 relates to imprisonment. The progress that we have made means that, for seamen, there is a reduction in the number of disciplinary provisions from 15 in the old Act to 7 in the Bill. Imprisonment is down from five special provisions in the old Act to one in the Bill, that is Clause 27. As regards fishermen the disciplinary provisions are down from 12 to 5, and the imprisonment provisions are down from four to one, that is Clause 27.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I accept what my right hon. Friend says, but that is only a modification of what appeared in the 1894 Act. What he has read out is less harsh than what is proposed. I can only assume that the Board of Trade has discovered that acts of indiscipline on board ships are more numerous now than they were before, but I am not aware of that, and we ought to be given some information on the matter.
I come, now, to the most important issue of all. This is an enabling Bill. My right hon. Friend said so, and the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford endorsed what my right hon. Friend said. We are concerned about the regulations which are to be made after con- 1340 sultation with the various organisations associated with seafaring men. That is all very well, but suppose no agreement is reached about the regulations to be issued on the question of discipline. If the Shipping Federation, representing the ship owners, and the National Union of Seamen, representing the seamen, discuss the question of discipline and disagree on some item, what will the Board of Trade do?
It is obvious that the N.U.S. is unhappy about this question of regulations. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would agree to this. The union suggests that the regulations should come before Parliament, be debated, and even voted upon, but that may not be possible within our parliamentary procedures. Nevertheless, the union's view fortifies the hon. Gentleman's contention that in this matter of regulations we ought to be much more specific in the Bill about the fines to be imposed, the reasons why they should be imposed, and indeed about a variety of other matters contained in the various Clauses.
I deal, next, with why this legislation has been initiated. Had it not been for the seamen's strike last year, it is questionable whether even this Government, with the best will in the world, and benevolently disposed as they are towards the seamen of this country, would have initiated this legislation. The fact that it has been brought in demonstrates that if the industrial workers of this country want something to be done, they must begin by withdrawing their labour.
It was noticeable that that strike could, in the interests of the country, have been brought to an end much sooner than it was. Here I do not indulge in undue criticism of members of the Government or any particular member of the Government but I recall, and I hope that hon. Members will excuse me for what may appear to be egotism, that some days after the strike began I advised the Minister concerned to intervene. I was told that it was not the business of the appropriate department in the then Ministry of Labour concerned with industrial matters to intervene unless both sides agreed to ask for intervention. As a result, we had a strike lasting six or seven weeks, to the detriment of the seamen and to the disadvantage to the country through loss of 1341 exports. As a further result, we had the Pearson inquiry, and so we have the present legislation. It was a great pity that on that occasion the Government did not act more speedily and more drastically.
When I speak of the conditions of seamen I make no criticism at all of ship owners. The United Kingdom shipping industry is competitive. We have to compete with older maritime nations such as Greece and several others, and with newer maritime nations such as the Commonwealth countries—Australia and New Zealand—as well as with Japan, West Germany and the Scandinavian countries. The remarkable fact is that the wage rates of United Kingdom seamen are amongst the lowest of any merchant seamen.
It is sometimes assumed, particularly since the last seamen's strike, that conditions are vastly improved and that our seamen are highly paid. There can be no challenging the statistics I have seen because they are provided by, among other authorities, the International Labour Office, and they leave no doubt that our seamen's wages are much lower than those paid to the seamen of a dozen, or even a score, of other maritime countries.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
Is the right hon. Gentleman making the point that our seamen's wage levels relative to those paid in Western Europe and North America are relatively much worse than wages in other occupations are to those paid in comparable occupations in Western Europe and North America?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not using that argument at all: I am putting a simple point. There is a great deal of exaggerated and extravagant talk about seamen being very well off, particularly since the last strike, and as a result of inquiries. But the fact should be placed on record that their wages are amongst the lowest paid to seamen of any maritime country.
I understand that the men are now putting in a claim for increased rates of pay, and I hope that what I have said will be borne in mind when there is any confrontation in future between the Shipping Federation, representing the employers, and the National Union of Sea- 1342 men and other organisations representing both officers and men. I say that particularly, because, as the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford has so rightly said, we have to attract men to the sea, and we have to attract those men who will regard the sea as a career or a profession.
I hope that there will be some discussion that will lead in the future to men being allowed to take their wives with them. I understand that officers on some of the larger tankers are allowed to do this, and that the same practice is in operation in other maritime countries. I should like to see deck ratings and engine room ratings, or at least some of them, allowed to take their wives with them. This practice should not be confined to officers only.
There have been improvements in accommodation. During the First World War I was asked by the newly-created Minister of Shipping, Lord Maclay, to visit some of the shipyards—where were being built ships rather like the Liberty ships of the Second World War—to see whether the accommodation could be improved. We always called Lord Maclay "Holy Joe", because he always made Christmas presents to his seamen of copies of the New Testament. I say it with all due respect to him—he was a very fine person. I recommended cubicles accommodating four men, rather than having all the crew collected in the fo'c'sle and the galley—
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvin-grove)
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that a very important accommodation point arises as ships get bigger? The bulk carriers get bigger, and as unloading facilities get quicker and better, a form of shuttle service is created which means that the men are living on board all the time. They do not get ashore, and they have no break. In those circumstances it becomes more important than ever to ensure that their accommodation and other facilities on board ship are vastly improved.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is quite true. On the other hand, those associated with the shipping industry know that men very often go on a short voyage, perhaps for four or six weeks, or a couple of months, come back, a nd take their discharge. They are then out of work, and may have 1343 to wait for weeks before getting another ship.
I should like to see men employed by a shipping company all the year round. That is not a new idea. Many years ago one of the co-managing directors of the Cunard Line was Algernon Henderson, also of the Anchor Line, a very enlightened person. It may surprise many hon. Members to know that even in those days there was such a thing as a Socialist shipping millionaire, in the person of James Allen, and Algernon Henderson was also inclined that way. He used to ask me for books on Marxism. I did not know much about the subject myself, but he asked for books like that. He was very anxious that the seamen employed by the Anchor Line and the Cunard Line should be employed all the year round.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on introducing the Bill. I am glad to hear from hon. Members opposite that they will seek to make Amendments, and we on this side will produce some of our own in an endeavour to improve the Bill and satisfy the seamen and officers concerned. The Bill will bring a vast improvement to the conditions of seamen, but much yet remains to be done.
For 58 years, I have been associated in one way or another with the seamen of this country. They are the salt of the earth—if I may use a cliché, though a worthy cliché about them. We must do everything we possibly can for them. At the same time, we must also do everything we possibly can to develop, cherish, and nourish our shipping industry.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and to pay tribute to him for the work which he has done over so many years for the seamen and the merchant navy of this country. I do not often have the opportunity to catch the eye of the Chair. It is generally considered, since I am a P.P.S., that it is better for me, if I have anything worth saying, to let my shadow Minister or Leader say it, and, if I do not have anything worth saying, it is better to keep quiet anyhow. Therefore, I have never before had the opportunity to follow the right hon. 1344 Gentleman in the Chamber, and the occasion this evening is one of the pleasantest one could have to do so.
What the right hon. Gentleman said about our Merchant Navy, our seamen and our fishermen is echoed in all parts of the House. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude, in two world wars and in peace time, for the work which they have done. What the right hon. Gentleman suggested as regards improving conditions at sea his proposal that more wives should be able to go to sea with their husbands, and so on, is given a warm endorsement on these benches. I can think of nothing worse for, so to speak, labour relations on board than having a few officers able to take their wives with them, but none of the crew. A good deal still needs to be done in that regard. No doubt, a good many wives will not want to go. I cannot imagine many wishing to undertake the journey on a trawler in the North Sea or to Iceland.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) said, we give the Bill a warm welcome. It is a pity that it has not so far had more publicity in the fishing ports. I was distressed to hear this morning that 80 copies which had been ordered by the British Trawlers' Federation had not yet been delivered. Our constituents in the ports should by now have been in a position to put views to us on the Bill. If they have not been able to obtain copies, this can be a great disadvantage to both this debate and the debates in Committee. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look into the question of delay in that respect. It shows a certain degree of inefficiency.
I shall confine myself to the fishing industry. In this respect, the Bill is concerned with safety, the safety of men, not the safety of equipment, which will be dealt with, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in another Measure to be introduced later this Session. In considering discipline, we should address our minds, first, to the question of safety, and then with an understanding that we are dealing in the context of discipline with only a small minority. The vast majority of fishermen do not need disciplinary boards. They stick to the rules of good seamanship and good conduct; they have a proper regard for one another's safety. But there are always, particularly in the 1345 fishing ports, a few bad men, men who, in the past, when they have got into trouble in one port, have promptly moved on to another. They have become known as "cowboys"—not "midnight cowboys" but just bad cowboys.
No one dealing with the subject of safety can underestimate its importance. All those who have had to visit the homes of people bereaved as a result of a loss at sea know what a difficult experience it is and will wish to do everything possible to get safety right.
My hon. Friend found himself in a little trouble when he spoke about drinking, the effect which it can have, and the need for discipline in this respect. It is usual, before a ship sails, for the men to have a few drinks before going on board, and I see nothing wrong in that. On the occasion when I spent some time on a trawler, I was taken into the public house before going aboard. I did not want anything to drink at that stage at all, but I was made to have a drink—a Guinness—by the skipper, and I had lost that Guinness before the boat had passed the harbour entrance.
There are, however, some men who will not only take on a "skinful" before going on board but will in that state try to take quite a bit on board with them. They then become a nuisance to the ship, they become a danger to its safety, and quite often they can become a danger to themselves as well. They will try to jump off the ship when it is going through the lock gates. They have been known, on occasion, to believe that, by diving off the ship, they will be able to avoid going to sea, and there have been one or two cases of fishermen drowning as a result.
When a fisherman jumps a ship like that at the early stage, it is possible, of course, for the ship to turn back, but in the circumstances it is most unlikely that it will. The crew do not want it to turn back, and neither does the skipper. They want to go after the fish out at sea, so they put to sea a man short, and that can be the start of some of the trouble.
I am, therefore, disappointed that certain categories of offence which one was given to understand would figure in the Bill, that is, those relating to reporting for duty under the influence of drink, taking intoxicating liquor on board, neglecting or refusing to join, or 1346 leaving the ship while proceeding or about to proceed to sea, have now been dropped. It is my understanding that these additional categories of offence which were considered necessary by the Government have been dropped because of pressure from the Transport and General Workers' Union. I say that in the presence of hon. Members opposite, and I hope that we shall hear that my understanding is wrong. If, however, it is correct, I can only say that the Transport and General Workers' Union cannot have been carrying out its primary duty to its members, which is to do everything it can to improve safety. I consider that those provisions should appear in the Bill, and that there should be included in Clause 28 also a provision dealing with a seaman improperly leaving his post cm being asleep.
I turn to the port disciplinary committees. I would always regard the operation of the law to be an action of last resort. We shall have failed to get the right type of men and management into the industry if many more cases come before the courts of fishermen or seamen jumping their ship, failing to turn up, or being drunk. We should be able to prevent this if the port disciplinary committees do their job properly. They have an opportunity to register fishermen, information can be exchanged between ports, and they can suspend a fisherman if they consider that he is not up to standard. The port disciplinary committee in Lowestoft has got off to an excellent start, and the branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union has been absolutely first-class in the way in which he has co-operated. I pay him that tribute. If the disciplinary committees work properly, the other measures in the Bill will not have to be used.
I end by referring to a matter which was drawn to my attention some months ago as a result of the loss of the Long-hope lifeboat men. The motor vessel "Irene" went aground off the North-East Coast of Scotland. Only about one and a half hours before she went aground she radioed her position as being off the Norwegian coast—a fault in navigation of some magnitude. An inquiry has been going on—it was not a British ship—and the Board of Trade knows that I have been taking some interest in it. As a result I have had some correspondence with a 1347 navigator who is, quite rightly, concerned with proper navigation by ships and who feels that the standards are not high enough. If there are people at sea who are incapable of navigating or of running a modern ship properly, other people's lives are put at risk. This is what happened with the lifeboat which went out to the "Irene".
It has been drawn to my attention that once a person has a master's certificate he has it once and for all. It appears that he need not have periodic checks or tests to see whether he is fit, whether his health is good enough, or whether he has been trained in using modern equipment. A master may be at sea for a few years, then decide to have a few years on the shore and then he goes back to sea. He does not have to take a fresh examination or pass a fresh test. Too much confidence is placed in the original test.
This matter should be reviewed. I am surprised that this point has not arisen before. I understand that there is no control over bad health, bad eyesight, alcoholism and a good many other things. We should seriously consider a short-term licensing system which would enable a check to be made.
The right hon. Member for Easington spoke about people going to sea with a bit of alcohol in them. That may have been all right in the days when they had to clamber up the rigging and when steam engines were not very delicate instruments. But nowadays, with modern ships and enormously intricate equipment, enormous damage can be caused if they go aground, as happened with the "Torrey Canyon". It is important that only people with the highest qualifications should man ships. That is why I strongly support all that the right hon. Gentleman said about accommodation and conditions for seamen.
We can give the Bill a warm welcome. We hope that it will provide a new charter for the seamen and fishermen of this country and that they will prosper and give this country the service which they have given it in the past.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I most heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend 1348 the President of the Board of Trade on introducing the Bill. I am grateful to the Government for proposing to amend legislation which for too long has adversely affected the merchant seamen and the maritime fleets of this country.
The name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has been a byword in my home, which has a maritime connection of many, many years, during my father's time and since. I am sure that he must be overjoyed that he has been able, in his lifetime, to accomplish so much on behalf of the Merchant Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We in the Shipping and Shipbuilding Committee serve him loyally, and I hope that he will be able to guide us in our deliberations for a long time to come.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) spoke about drunkenness on board ship. Perhaps I can be a little lighthearted for a moment. I remember, when I was a boy, seeing a ship signing on. A drunken sailor came up the gangway. There was no doubt about this trimmer: he was well and truly trimmed. We had a very competent but ugly second engineer—the ugliest second engineer in the world. He said to this fellow, "You are drunk." The trimmer looked at his ugly face and said, "Yes, but I shall look better than you do in the morning." I come from the port of Liverpool. I hope that I shall not be the last Member representing a Liverpool constituency to speak. It is only right that we should pay testimony to the people of the maritime service who have so often sailed out of Liverpool for the benefit of this country. I should like to refer—and we have been allowed some latitude in the debate—to another person in the last war to whom the merchantmen of Merseyside are more grateful than anyone else. During the war he guided many merchantmen in and out of Liverpool, and he died a very early death. I refer to Captain Johnnie Walker, R.N., whom we knew so intimately in my town of Bootle. The number of U-boats which he sank in the war is a matter of history and interest. However, it is only fitting that, as he guided so many of our merchant ships safely in the war, his name should be on record in our debate on this Bill. He and his men did much for the country in the war.
1349 It has been said that young men tend to do one trip and leave the sea. I can confirm that it is not unusual, so bad have been the conditions at sea in many cases. There is a well known saying in Liverpool and throughout the Merchant Navy describing a man as "having swallowed the anchor". It is to be hoped that it will not occur in the future to the extent that it has in the past.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend refer to the Allan Line. My father sailed as a fireman and trimmer in the "Virginian", one of its ships. Before him, my grandfather served with the Guion line, which was the forerunner of the Allan line. Despite the conditions at sea, my father always maintained that the best employer at sea was the Allan Company. When speaking of the past, when ship owners were so maligned and people were as poor as mine were, it is noteworthy that men such as my father could find the charity to recognise the endeavours of that company. I have documents in my possession proving that it founded a concern called the Allan Line Mutual Benefit Society. My father was one of the last to benefit from it, and he died at the age of 74. I am glad to put that on record, because I may have other comments to make later on which may not be so pleasant to hear.
I claim the right to be able to talk about strikes. In the unofficial strike of 1969 with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who was not then a Member of this House, I saw the need for a quick and complete change in the legislation affecting shipping. We spent every day for eight or nine weeks trying to end the strike. It was a very difficult one, and we could see what was bound to happen. We talk about patience, and 1894 is a long time ago. Our seamen have been extremely patient in resorting to strike action so rarely. Theirs must be one of the most remarkable industrial records in history. Since the start of the National Union of Seamen, I believe that there has been only one official strike.
Some hon. Gentlemen opposite are given to referring in an off-hand way to people who go on strike "so easily". Here is a service which in all its long years has had hardly any official strikes. We should put on record our appreciation of that, because the industry is vital 1350 our economy. When hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the "Mafia" and the "Olympian disregard" of the country's economy, let them remember the reason why people commit the acts that they do.
Men do not go to sea for the love of God or for love of their employer. They go because they have to. I can speak about this with some insight, because I know why members of my family went to sea and why they were disciplined. But there were not only bad conditions at sea. They often came back to deplorable conditions at home, and those members of the family left behind had to live with those conditions. The disciplines of poverty and necessity made the British maritime service what it is and made men put up with such conditions at sea. Ship owners are still rich. The poor are still poor. But the country is rich.
I have in my possession the discharge certificate of one sailor. It has been said quite rightly that a man should remain with one company, but why does someone with the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington say that that should be so. This certificate of discharge shows that the sailor concerned, at the age of 13, was serving off the coast of Cuba in one of the Larrinaga boats. How could anyone judge the character of a 13-year old sailor? Against the word "ability", there appears the entry "Very good". Against "General Conduct", again the entry is "Very good". That boat sailed out of Liverpool before the turn of the century.
What happened to that 13-year-old boy? Who was he? He sailed with many companies during the Boer War and two world wars and spent 50 years at sea. The shipowners of those days did not give him a red cent in compensation. That is the sort of situation which has made us the people we are. One company should have the responsibility. It has been too easy for ship owners to take advantage of youth and then disregard it. That is still the position today. A man can serve two years here and three years there, but no one has full responsibility for him.
I asked just now who was that 13-year old boy. He was my wife's father. He was a dignified sailor, if ever I saw one. He never raised his voice in criticism 1351 of anyone. He raised his family and plied his honourable trade till the day he died.
If I have done nothing else today, I have placed on record his contribution and that of hundreds of thousands of other British sailors who served their country in peace and war and got very little compensation for it.
Without extending the situation much further, I want again to put on record something I touched on earlier. We talk about the contributions which Governments have made and why they did not do what they should have done. I remember that during the 1960 strike I contacted the then Minister of Labour. I believe that he is in another place and is now known as Lord Blakenham. He was then Mr. John Hare—a Minister of Labour in those days. On 23rd August, 1960, I had reason to send him this telegram:I request your urgent intervention on behalf of Mr. Patrick Neary who has now been imprisoned for activities in British ports during the unofficial seamen's strike. I regard the sentencing of this man as unjust and contrary to the best traditions of British democracy. Further, I claim that the law under which this man has been punished is being wrongly used and apart from this my firm belief is that the 1894 Act should have been amended a long time ago.That was part of the telegram that I sent to the Minister at the time. I received an undertaking that amending legislation would be introduced at the earliest opportunity. It has taken a long time. It is a big job, and I do not want to be churlish about it. But I am only one of a legion of people who have been claiming that this legislation should be amended on behalf of sailors.
As late as 1966 there was on the Order Paper a Motionrecognising the tremendous contribution made by the Merchant Navy to the history, prosperity and continued economic growth of our country, requests most strongly that all concerned in the ownership, control and administration of this service, make new and immediate endeavours to avoid disturbance of this maritime service by strike action.It went on to reaffirm:that the first call on any industry is the dignity, wages, hours and conditions of those employed in the industry, and therefore urges a reappraisal and full examination of such fundamental factors in so far as they apply to the Merchant Navy in 1966, and in the 1352 light of modern conditions in industry generally, in order that industrial peace be maintained in the service, and full social justice accorded to those employed therein.In one sense I apologise for reading that. On the other hand, it would be unfitting if I did not refer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), who is sick at the moment, and who has done so much in her lifetime for seamen. She led the six signatories supporting that Motion.
Clauses 35 to 38 are the disciplinary Clauses. They are the nub of the Bill. The Minister has been very co-operative in discussing matters with those who are interested in the Bill, and he knows that these Clauses can create an explosive situation if they do not satisfy the Merchant Navy. We are concerned about safety in ships, and the safety of all people at sea. I therefore ask that these matters be further discussed in Committee, especially from the point of view of disciplinary committees.
In the debate today there has been some talk about experimentation with disciplinary committees. I do not agree with this. We have waited for too long for this advance in dealing with discipline. I want the Minister to consider applying this provision to all ships, and making the obvious recommendations and exceptions. Rather than that these provisions should apply, perhaps, to only 10 ships here and there, they ought to be made to apply to all ships. Having made that provision, we could go on to make exceptions. It has been suggested that these committees should consist of two ratings, two officers and the master. That might be a good thing. It is a matter for discussion.
But I want to make an appeal for many of those who have gone out of my port, and no doubt many other ports in many parts of the world, who are poor people, who have little education and, although they have been jolly good sailors, have not had the opportunity of becoming articulate. It took the working classes a long time to become articulate. It took us a lifetime to learn to express ourselves, and even today many men find grave difficulty when faced with any kind of authority. We have all been placed in positions of authority in which we have had people coming before us and have felt sorry for them because they have not been able to express themselves properly. 1353 It is therefore important that the best men in the ship should represent the unfortunate persons who are under discipline at any moment. I asked my right hon. Friend to give this matter some consideration and I was glad of his assurance that he had thought about it and had it in mind.
I am not satisfied that justice is being done in relation to the fines imposed on seamen and owners respectively. A poor person who is fined £10 may find it very difficult. There is a tremendous difference between the value of £10 to him and the value of £100 to a master or an owner. We go up to £200 in Clause 27, which is an almost astronomical figure for many of the people that I am talking about. We should keep a proper balance. Why should there be an imbalance between wealthy people on the one hand and poor people on the other. We should take into account whether a man is poor or rich, and judge him accordingly. A decent moral Government would impose punishment which is related to the crime and the wealth and position of the man who commits it.
Under Clause 39 an owner should be made to produce evidence of all that he has had to do if he is in any difficulty about the payment of wages over a period of 21 days he should have to produce the evidence to show that he cannot pay the wages at a certain time. I shall not try to reiterate what my right hon. Friend has said about that business.
On the question of allotments, I reaffirm what my right hon. Friend has said. Why should a sailor be in any different situation from anybody else? More things happen to sailors at sea than happen to most other people. Therefore a sailor should be in the same position as anybody else in respect of the allocation of money. He has an obligation to his wife and children. From my knowledge of sailors I can say that they are most assiduous in carrying out those obligations. We should ensure that the sailor is given the right to allocate money in the manner in which he wishes to do so.
On Clause 8, there is now provision for a £30 payment limit on completion of a voyage. That provision must be examined closely in Committee. It might cause a serious upset among sailors at 1354 sea. The figure may need to be increased substantially.
I want to see the Bill provide compensation in bringing to future generations a greater degree of that which others did not have. If there is one industry that deserves to be treated in this way because of the hardship that its members have had to put up with in the old days it is merchant shipping. I have been full of bitterness on many occasions in respect of happenings in the industry. It may be that I have not sounded bitter, but I do not know anybody who has expressed more bitterness, on occasion, about the conditions in which many of my people have had to live.
I hope that the Bill removes all bitterness, because the only thing that springs from hatred and bitterness is more hatred and bitterness. We must look to the future, almost to the time when ships put to sea unmanned. We must ensure that in the interim period the right calibre of man is taken into the service. I want the Bill to bring about a greater interchangeability of codes of welfare and safety on an international basis. I hope that it will do something to bring about the greater uniformity of ships which must come about with the worldwide development of containerisation.
Above all, I want the Bill to contribute to giving greater dignity to seamen. To working people "dignity" is the finest word in the English language. It applies especially to people who go to sea in ships leaving behind them wives who must look after the home and bring up children without their husbands' help. I know of many cases where the mother has had to be wife, mother and father. We must bring dignity to bear upon sailors' home conditions and apply a higher degree of welfare services so that the wives and children of sailors will be maintained on a basis of equal dignity with the families of men who live at home.
The Bill is a fulfilment of a pledge given long ago. I am glad that it has at long last been produced. I hope that the operation of the Bill will help to establish standards of safety and justice in seafaring throughout the world and help to maintain the traditions of this great service on true British maritime standards.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Many hon. Members wish to speak. This will be possible only if hon. Members will speak a little more briefly than hitherto.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) spoke with emotion and from a connection with the sea. Many hon. Members have some connection with the sea. I have a connection with the Royal Navy and a family connection with the Merchant Navy. It was a pity that the hon. Gentleman attacked owners. The future of the industry depends to a large extent on co-operation between owners and the National Union of Seamen.
The whole House will agree with the hon. Gentleman as to the debt that Britain owes to the Merchant Navy in war and in peace. We know well the great sacrifices of the Merchant Navy in war. In peace its contribution to our island economy is one of no less importance, particularly at a time like the present when the shipping scene is altering greatly with the advent of bulk carriers and container ships. Never has it been more necessary for Britain to adapt herself to the new conditions. We have often been inventors, but sometimes there has been a failure to be sufficiently adaptable to new methods. It could be said that Norwegian owners adapted themselves much more quickly to the application of oil tankers than British owners did. The fault lies partly with the owners and partly with the Treasury.
This is still a very important national industry. It is sad that other merchant navies now exceed ours in size. Liberia and Japan have larger merchant fleets than we have. However, we still have a fleet of 21½ million tons and we still have 13 per cent. of the world's shipping, although that is a much smaller proportion than used to be the case. Our merchant ships are manned by no fewer than 34,700 officers, 54,300 seamen, and 31,400 Asians who are domiciled outside the United Kingdom. Although little may be said about the latter category, we must always remember their great work and the sacrifices that they, too, 1356 must make in time of war. I am happy that there is a trend of increased numbers of personnel, although the latest return shows that the number decreased by seven.
It is not easy to make a Second Reading speech on this complicated Bill. Despite its lengthy gestation period we are presented with no fewer than 96 Clauses, the bulk of which merely empower the Minister to make regulations. If this whole subject is to be debated sensibly in Committee, the Ministers should be more forthcoming. Their thoughts on a number of the regulations are known to outside bodies, and before the commencement of the Committee stage Parliament should be taken into the Ministers' confidence.
I congratulate the Government on including Clause 94, which deals specifically with consultation. This will give both sides of the industry much more confidence in the regulations. However, we want to know what is in the Government's mind. Another factor is that, before the regulations are drafted, the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee may be known, which may alter the Government's thinking on some matters. It would be a pity if regulations were made and had to be changed shortly afterwards because of the proposals of the Rochdale Committee.
One thing which stands out a mile in connection with this industry is the great turnover, not in officers, not in Asians, but in United Kingdom seamen. No fewer than 18,000 left in the last 18 months, there were 8,200 newcomers, and 6,500 re-joined. This trend is common to a number of industries and to the Services. It is becoming harder to persuade people to stay on in a job.
I am glad that the Pearson Report emphasises that what is needed is more of a career and that no effort should be spared to provide a greater continuity of career. Companies continuing to employ men might be one solution. Perhaps a tax solution could be arranged. It is in the industry's interests and in the nation's interests that men should be encouraged to stay in the industry much longer than they do at present.
Despite all the regulations which will be made under the Bill, there are a number of matters which must be decided outside the Bill, and they are some of 1357 the most important factors which were discussed by the Pearson Report.
The first is interchangeability or general purpose crews, which, with the development of new types of ship is more important than ever before. Experiments have already been carried out, but I hope that everything possible will be done in the regulations to facilitate co-operation between the companies and the National Union of Seamen in adopting one of the two possibilities.
A second bone of contention is the degree of manning by Asians. It is understandable that the National Union of Seamen should be jealous to see that this is not extended. Its attitude so far has been reasonable. But shipping is a competitive industry, particularly in the cross trades, and it is essential that it should be thoroughly efficient and keep down its costs. There are advantages in the overseas recruitment of Asians. It may help to check flags of convenience, but it involves an outflow of currency from an industry with enormous foreign currency earnings, which we must safeguard by proper regulations.
It is difficult to argue about the legal language involved in disciplinary offences until the Bill is in Committee and we can discuss whether Clause 28 is better than the old Section 27, and whether the terms of the new Clause 27 go wider than the old rules, as has been suggested. Although the disciplinary committees are to be on an experimental basis, we need to know exactly how they are to be composed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) made some suggestions but the Government have not said what is in their mind or how far they intend to go. Paragraph 296 of the Pearson Report says that jurisdiction should for the time being remain vested in the master. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Bootle that these committees should be set up wholesale, whereas other hon. Members have recommended that they should be tried in just a few ships.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
I said not that they should be set up on every ship but that it should be the general practice and that there should be exceptions on some ships which I am sure we can all agree upon.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's views, but in these days when passengers travel increasingly by air the conditions in ships must be thoroughly up to date. For many years to come the Merchant Navy will be of the greatest importance to this country, and we can no more afford to lag behind in the conditions of service than we can in availing ourselves of the most modern techniques. We are anxiously awaiting the Rochdale Report, which will take a more general view of British shipping. Meanwhile, I hope, when the Bill is in committee, that the Government will tell us what they have in mind for the regulations.
The Pearson Report wanted flexibility, and this is necessary. It is astonishing that the 1894 Act has lasted as long as it has. Although this must be decided primarily between the two sides of industry, Parliament should know what are the proposals.
§ 6.25 p.m.
Mr. John Homer (Oldbury and Halesowen)
We have been enjoined to keep our speeches short, and I shall seek to keep to that injunction. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has just left the Chamber. When I went to sea as a young man, many years ago, his name was a topic of conversation in the fo'c's'le, and so was the 1894 Act which we are replacing. I never thought then that I should have the great honour to sit on these benches behind my right hon. Friend and be able to take part in a debate on this subject.
The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) spoke of the innate conservatism of this industry, and he was kind enough to say that he spelt conservatism with a small "c" We should not be surprised at the innate conservatism of those who earn their living on the sea. This is the tradition of the industry. These are traditions which have for many years served that industry well in the buffetings of peace and war.
Anyone who associated with the industry today must be struck by the readiness of owners, masters, officers and seamen, through their union, to look at things afresh. As the hon. Gentleman said, the 1359 industry is obliged to think afresh. The investment of capital in new container ships is so vast that single companies cannot afford it, and consortia are being established. Indeed, so expensive are these new ships that even single merchant navies sometimes cannot afford the investment and international consortia have to be established to cope with these new monsters which will soon replace the traditional cargo liners with which we have been acquainted for so long in the oceans of the world. There is now a blurring of the edges, which means that in the next decade we shall see a substantial transformation of one of the most traditionally run industries of this country.
I welcome the Bill. It may be belated, but, to use a nautical phrase, it is just about in time for the Board of Trade to take a pierhead jump and catch the boat.
The changes that we are witnessing are likely to increase in tempo and scale, and they must mean that fewer officers and men will earn their living by going to sea, but I think there are great opportunities for making this a profession. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have emphasised the need to try to remove the casualness of employment at sea. They have touched on a fundamental aspect of modern development. This will be difficult, however much one may improve conditions aboard ship. Going to sea will still mean hardship and loneliness; not everyone can take his wife with him. It will mean for many a young man the feeling of losing opportunities which he might find elsewhere.
I therefore welcome most warmly all those suggestions which have emerged in the debate that we should begin to look at this industry with the opportunity the Bill presents to us. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington was quite right in saying that the Bill finally emerged from the turmoil and unhappiness of the seamen's strike. We now have an opportunity to look at the industry in the broadest sense. I believe we should find the Merchant Navy Officers Association and the National Union of Seamen helpful in this regard. Although Pearson said that sometimes he thought the members of those associations more conservative than the organisations themselves, I think 1360 We are likely to find a great response in the industry to the debates on the Bill.
So much must be tackled in Committee that it would be invidious for me to introduce more than two or three points for discussion now. I am exceedingly disappointed that the Bill makes no provision for safety. This may appear nonsense, because the Front Bench speakers have said that the essence of the Bill is safety. It is regrettable that there is no provision in it to enable the President of the Board of Trade to introduce regulations dealing with safety aboard ship. This is especially regrettable because next year the International Labour Office will have a convention on safety at sea before it.
It is worth while drawing attention to what is dealt with in that international convention. It includes:a further study of accidents in ships, and of means of preventing them…investigation and reports of accidents, research into prevalent hazards indicated by statistics, provision of accident prevention regulations, training programmes and publicity, international cooperation both in attaining uniformity of occupational safety standards and in promoting safe working standards.Pearson had something to say about loss of life and the extraordinary number of accidents which happen aboard ship. I found the figures he gave disappointing. I thought there had been some improvement. One talks about safety at sea and thinks of collision avoidance regulations and things of that kind, but I am thinking about the loss of life and accidents which take place aboard ship.
The Pearson Committee said:by any standard it is now recognised by the industry that the incidence of both fatal and other accidents is much too high and must be reduced…. We believe that consideration should also be given to a requirement to report all accidents, to the provision of arrangements for inspection and to the appointment of safety officers and safety committees on board ships. Consideration might also be given to the question of whether legal enforcement is desirable.It is to be regretted that the Bill is silent on that most important aspect of the Pearson Report.
We have heard a great deal this afternoon about discipline. I am with those who take the view that the introduction of what, after all, is a quite revolutionary conception in the maintenance of discipline at sea by the establishment of 1361 disciplinary committees should in the first instance be by way of control and substantial experimentation. The point of view which has been expressed that the industry at the moment is capable of having the shock of disciplinary committees aboard ships, subject to certain exceptions, paints too rosy a picture of the problems which face those who have to maintain discipline in ships at sea.
This is not like working in a factory. If a man reports late too many times at a factory he may get his cards. If he is away from duty too many times—and a man at sea may be 5,000 miles from home—the other men have to "carry" him. Everyone knows this, including the crew. Therefore the crew ought to be brought into this matter. The House should look at the experience the industry has had of liaison representatives. Owners, officers and masters were scared about liaison representatives. They were horrified that they might be regarded as shop stewards, so the name was changed. There were controlled experiments and agreed experiments. Now I am delighted to know that owners and masters are asking that liaison representatives should be appointed in ships. If this is done in a reasonable fashion, the provisions in the Bill about disciplinary committees will ensure that there is a similar experience.
The provisions dealing with discipline are defective, however. I cannot understand—I hope that the Minister of State in reply to the debate will explain more adequately than has so far been explained —the relationship between the Merchant Navy Establishment procedure of discipline and the on-board imposition of fines. It was suggested that we do not know about the incidence of indiscipline aboard ship. The Pearson Committee dealt with the very important aspect of control of discipline through the committees of the Establishment. It said that between August, 1965, and July, 1966, 2,400 cases were dealt with; there was a penalty in 1,370 cases, in 700 cases a final warning was given, and in 318 cases there was a discharge.
I hope that the Government will welcome an expansion of the disciplinary procedure of the Establishment. In this procedure, the seamens' union and the employing agencies are all involved, and where the seaman against whom a report has been made is satisfied that he should 1362 have the benefit not merely of representation by an accused's friend, as has been suggested, he has the representation by his trade union official. I think the Bill is defective because it is silent on the Establishment procedure. That procedure remains non-statutory, yet under the Bill we are to establish a new fabric of statutory penalties and quasi-judicial tribunals alongside those representing over 50 per cent. of those involved in the industry and growing and most useful work by the disciplinary committees.
I wish to raise a point on behalf of the officers. They are at a disadvantake in respect of both the disciplinary procedure and the Establishment procedure. If officers are reported by the master, a report can go to the owners and a report can go to the Establishment. So far as I can see, those reports remain confidential. A man has the right to know what charge he has to answer. He has the right to be represented. If an officer is reported, as far as I can make out he has no right to know what is in the master's report or to give his personal observations on the report. In this respect, the officers of the Merchant Navy are at a grave disadvantage. I hope that if in Committee we consider the question of the Establishment we shall also be able to consider the special position of the officers.
For those of us who had a long association with the British merchant service, this is a very happy day. I am happy to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, in order to congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
We have heard in the debate a number of reminiscences. As the Bill has taken so many years to see the light of day, it is not surprising that many Members with long experience of the industry who have been should refer to their experience. I will not stand aside from this general process. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) said in paying tribute to a colleague of mine when I was at the Ministry of Transport, Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett. I know from personal 1363 experience and as a result of day-by-day working with him that he took these matters extremely seriously. He set in train the events which have led to the Bill. I pay my personal tribute to him.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) said. We are concerned with a measure which must stand the test of a good many years. There are very few votes in merchant shipping legislation, and there is always tremendous pressure on Governments to find time for all kinds of Bills. We must therefore take account of the fact that the Bill must stand up to the new types of ships, the new types of activity in which shipping will engage and the new techniques of manning. We must ensure that what is done now is flexible enough to meet the challenges which time will bring.
I am concerned about whether the Bill goes far enough. This may seem odd because there have been some mild complaints that perhaps it goes too far in giving the Government too much power to make regulations. What worries me is that the Pearson Report urged that we should have a comprehensive measure. The Bill is not a comprehensive measure. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, is not being completely repealed. It is untrue to say that no attempts have been made at legislation on merchant shipping since 1894, as several hon. Members have alleged. At least 12 Merchant Shipping Acts mentioned in one of the Schedules to the Bill are being amended by the Bill. I therefore hope that we shall hear from the Minister of State that it is the Government's intention, once the Bill is on the Statute Book, to give very early consideration to consolidating the Merchant Shipping Acts generally. I do not deplore the Bill in the slightest because it does not attempt consolidation, but consolidation should have very high priority in the next Parliament.
We are providing a statutory framework only. By the Bill we are not seeking to regulate every type of activity or to lay down anything more than certain minimum standards for the shipping industry. In matters of welfare and safety, for example, most shipping companies in this country behave in a much better way than some companies abroad. 1364 I do not say that every British shipping company is absolutely perfect, but I urge the House to remember that the standards observed by British companies go beyond those which the Bill seeks to lay down. All that we need to provide is a substructure to ensure that bad practices are not engaged in by shipping companies and to give every encouragement to the better ones to do even better.
I have said that there have been complaints from this side of the House, and, indeed, from the benches opposite, that the powers conferred by the Bill on the Government to make regulations are extensive. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford paid in asking the Government to let us have, in a suitable form, a sight of what they intend to do by way of draft regulations. We know the procedure of the House and how easy it is to let regulations go through without debate. If we have a particular anxiety to debate a matter in a regulation, a good deal of pressure is put on us by the usual channels, with which we are all familiar, not to take up the time of the House late at night. There is always the risk that in this way things slip through. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to assist in this regard.
I am puzzled by Clause 94, which invokes the negative procedure. Subsection (1) gives us power to pray against regulations, with one exception, and it is in respect of this exception that I should like an explanation. The exception isregulations made under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act.Paragraph 2 of the Schedule refers to disciplinary offences on board fishing vessels. If my reading of the Bill is right, this means that regulations relating to disciplinary offences on board fishing vessels will be subject to the affirmative procedure. Why should it be necessary that regulations on disciplinary offences on board fishing vessels should come before the House for affirmative Resolution procedure whereas all the many other regulations made under the Bill will be subject only to the negative procedure? I should be grateful if the Government would explain this. I see the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, (Mr. McNamara) fidgeting. Perhaps he knows the reason.
§ Mr. McNamara
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the reason; that is for the Government. But is the hon. Gentleman objecting or merely seeking information?
§ Mr. Hay
I thought that I made my position clear. I said that I should be grateful if I could be told by the Government why they chose to do it in this way. There may be a very profound and important reason for it, but this point should be elucidated.
I do not wish to say much about discipline. Many of the speeches today have revolved around discipline and drink. I do not want to talk about the second, but I should like to say a few words about the first.
I do not disagree with the formula which the Government have adopted in the Bill, following the recommendations of the Pearson Court of Inquiry, concerning the way in which disciplinary offences should be dealt with. The President of the Board of Trade was at some pains to repeat them; I will not go over them. However, I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind, as we consider the disciplinary Clauses, the paramount importance of retaining the responsibility of the master of the vessel.
It is intended to make minor disciplinary offences a matter of breach of contract, to be dealt with in that way; the slightly more serious ones will be dealt with by the master and the very serious ones will perhaps be dealt with in court. What worries me is that we may be whittling away the persuasive effect of disciplinary sanctions, which are not necessarily there to be used but are there because they act as a deterrent. This is an important matter to bear in mind. The fact that there are certain penal provisions in the Merchant Shipping Acts gives the master of a vessel a certain degree of reinforcement. It provides a deterrent to bad behaviour by men and the converse is the case. If one removes these provisions, there is the risk, to put it no higher, that men may think themselves no longer under proper discipline, and discipline in a general sense thereby suffers. We must be absolutely clear that we should not undermine the authority of the master of the vessel because he is the man who must at all times be in complete control of the ship and its complement.
1366 Clause 48 is unusual. It raises the question of the crews' knowledge of English and I cannot trace any reference to this in any Merchant Shipping Act.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
There is one in Section 12 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906.
§ Mr. Hay
That shows that I should have consulted my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) earlier. Perhaps the fear that I might be incurring a fee prevented me from doing so. I am obliged to him and leave the point with alacrity.
Hon. Members have talked about the conditions of life on board ship. We must bear in mind that we are dealing nowadays with a much younger type of person than in the past. When one talks about merchant shipping, there is always the feeling of the sea shanty about it. But we are dealing now with an increasingly technological industry in which equipment, engines and all manner of things to do with ships are becoming more science-based. The people who have to operate them are more intelligent, better educated, better trained and, on the whole, younger, and therefore we must ensure, as far as it lies within our power in the context of the Bill, that the conditions on board are as attractive as they can be made for the men who still want to go to sea.
Mention has been made of wives on board. No one has pointed out, however, that one of the biggest deterrents to having wives on board ship is nothing more nor less than boredom. When ships are engaged in long voyages, from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam, for example, taking many weeks round the Cape, what is the woman to do? The man can find something to do. The experience of the industry is that the wives get fed up with it after the first few months and want to go off the ship.
We have to take account of the fact that this is a very different industry today from what it was even 20 years ago, and I believe that it will be even more different in 10 or 20 years from now. That is why the Bill must be as flexible as possible so that it can stand the test of time in this constantly changing but ever more important industry.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) spoke for us all when he voiced our feelings at having to wait so long for the Bill. I thank him not only for his speech but for being the spokesman, as he so often is, for backbenchers on this side of the House.
I am not parochial but we have heard a lot about Liverpool, so I will remind the House that Hull is still our third port. Besides having magnificent cargo docks, one of which was opened by the Queen recently, we have the biggest deep sea fishing fleet in Western Europe. So, thousands of Hull workers and not least their wives will hail this Bill, particularly its safety regulations, with much joy in the coming years.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on his lucid exposition of the Bill and, indeed, I thank the Government on behalf of the people of Humberside for bringing in the Bill so speedily, particularly in view of the Holland-Martin Report after the trawling disasters we had early in 1968.
In view of what I said then, I propose to leave the main part of the Bill to those who are better qualified, being perhaps former merchant navy men or coming from ports with large merchant fleets. But I know that the National Union of Seamen has welcomed the Bill. I personally welcome the sweeping away of old, archaic provisions dating back almost to the seventeenth century; and I particularly view the Bill as an essay in democracy, in the power that the Board of Trade will have to set up ships' disciplinary committees. This is a great step forward because I take the view, that in our legislation, we should as far as possible give the men in these floating factories, as I term them, laws and day-by-day terms of service and working conditions which are as close as possible to those of shore-based workers. I therefore welcome anything that makes the men feel that their conditions are closer to those of their comrades and colleagues based on short.
The Bill has changed completely from the one published in July. I understand, having listened to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that the owners do not like some of these changes. In the fishing ports, we recognise and welcome 1368 the change which puts fishing fleet disciplinary matters in Schedule 1. They are no longer included in the main Clauses 34 to 38. The future conditions of discipline in the fishing fleet are to be determined by regulations of the Board of Trade. The Schedule deals with the safety of men and later, I gather, we are to get a Bill which will deal with the safety of the ships.
I believe that cargo vessels, as floating factories, are completely different from fishing vessels. I also believe that these are really too utterly different industries, although they both operate at sea.
Hon. Members may consider that it would have been more logical to have had all matters concerning fishermen and their safety dealt with in a later Bill, which could have related to fishing vessels. The only reason this has not been done—I hope that the Minister will explain this clearly—is, I gather, speed. No doubt my right hon. Friend considers that the quicker we get the Bill on the Statute Book the quicker we will ameliorate the conditions of men working in fishing vessels.
I gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft that he believes that the separation, so to speak, of fishermen in the Bill—in that they are dealt with in the Schedule rather than in Clauses 34 to 38—has resulted from pressure brought to bear by the T. & G.W.U. I see no objection to this, since we gather that there will be consultation before, during and after all the events mentioned in the Bill.
§ Mr. Johnson
I welcome what has occurred, and I will explain why.
It has been suggested that the Board of Trade may act more leniently towards fishermen than Clauses 34 to 38 would allow. My answer to that suggestion is that we should look to our port disciplinary committees for help and give them increasing powers and duties. After all, it is far better to have a system of voluntary discipline from the men, working in conjunction with owners in joint 1369 committees. That is preferable to discipline being imposed by the Government. These committees work on a voluntary basis and since they are not statutory bodies I cannot expect the Minister to give a close reply about the work they do.
Having discussed the activities of the joint committees with dock workers and owners, I assure hon. Members that it is felt in Hull, and probably in Grimsby, that these committees have a much greater part to play in future. I have every reason to believe that in Lowestoft, Leith, South Shields, Fleetwood, Aberdeen and elsewhere these joint committees are doing equally good work, not only in matters of discipline but in helping to get the industry into better shape.
In Hull—I imagine that this happens in other ports—we have an efficient fishermen's ragistration scheme. In my constituency it functions under the guidance of a former T. & G.W. union official, Mr. Bob Head, who is doing an excellent job. Men who are not conforming to the standards of behaviour and discipline that are required on vessels can be suspended from the registration list or, in certain circumstances, have their names deleted from the list. The members of the T. & G.W.U. welcome action being taken against hands who misbehave or who do not pull their weight because they are determined to keep up the standards of deckhands.
If, by bad behaviour, or for some other reason, a deckhand is not deemed a fit man to go to sea out of Hull or any other port, and his name is struck from the registration list, he will have to leave the industry. I submit that that is a more severe punishment than any fines, even of £50 or £100, that might be specified in the Bill.
I call in aid in this connection the comments in the Holland-Martin Report about the work of the joint committees. There is every reason for my right hon. Friend to remove these committees from their present non-statutory basis, and I suggest that he should consider making them statutory bodies. Vesting day for this purpose could be in, say, two years' time, by when all the various joint committees could be got ready for their new status. Holland-Martin comments on the functioning of these committees in glowing terms. The report says that they are 1370… a means of controlling the quality of the labour force…unsatisfactory workers may be eliminated or suspended from the register…Reference has been made to the practice of owners' agents recruiting crews at the last moment before going to sea. If all fishermen were on an official list and if only those on that list could go to sea, the vicious practice of runners picking up crews at the last moment to make up the complement of a ship's crew would come to an end. As for them using whisky to persuade men to go abroad, we heard a wonderful tale earlier about a man who dived into the harbour because he did not want to go to sea. I wonder how many fishermen dive into Hull dock and return to their families because they do not wish to go to sea in the boats in which they have signed on? I do not know of any such cases.
Holland-Martin also says:… the sanction of suspension or dismissal from the register may be used to enforce standards of discipline ߪand later, in chapter 12 of the report, this point is amplified.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider placing these committees on a statutory basis and giving them more power. This would make for greater functional democracy in our fishing ports. Owners and men would more easily get together, not only to settle their differences but to set standards of behaviour and discipline, and these standards would then be more easily enforceable.
I am sure that ports other than Hull have schemes like the one I have described. A scheme of this type is a more democratic way of organising the industry than anything laid down hard and fast in law enforced by penal sanctions. The industry can put its own house in order, but it needs committees of this kind to be at the centre.
Holland-Martin makes severe comments about men being under the influence of alcohol, and Clause 28 refers to the offence of men reporting to ships under the influence of drink. I gather that the fines are not to exceed £100. However, Holland-Martin is doubtful if fines will provide a complete solution. I am more than doubtful. The present Board of Trade regulations only make a contribution to the question of discipline and thus insuring that men are suitable 1371 types to go to sea. Statutory matters of that kind only provide an atmosphere. They cannot provide a positive solution.
I hope that any training courses will emphasise the dangers of drink to young deck-hands. In cricketing language, the law in these cases is only a long—stop. It merely gives the atmosphere in which the men can work efficiently and without danger.
In regard to paragraph 4 of the Schedule, I believe that the question of hours of work of fishermen is most important. Some of my constituents work 18 hours, or even more, hauling in fish in the most strenuous part of their voyage. Tired and inefficient men can mean accidents. I hope that all fishing workers in their international organisation or in their national union will attempt to get a maximum set for the working day. Following the lines of the Holland-Martin Report, I asked the Minister what was the percentage of its recommendations which did not need legislation. The reply was about three-quarters. It includes such matters as protective clothing and covers the matter of shore leave between voyages, which is a most important matter. I believe that fishermen stay too short a time on shore between ending one voyage and going off on the next. I feel that it is important that they should have about four days between voyages of 16 to 20 days. I understand that vessel owners and the union are negotiating on these matters at the moment. I hope that they can be settled amicably since it will lead to a better atmosphere in the application of other matters in the Bill.
Deep sea fishing is a tough industry, and sometimes it can be a savage industry. The men in it deserve the best possible working conditions. I believe that the Bill when implemented will provide a genuine fishermen's charter.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
It is a pleasure to take part in a debate such as this in which, broadly speaking, the "competitive insult system" has been abandoned and both sides of the House are in broad agreement on the matters under discussion. In such an atmosphere the House listens to sincere 1372 and well-informed speeches, as has been the case in this debate hitherto.
I welcome the Bill to the extent that it brings up to date the regulations concerning the Merchant Navy, which is one of Britain's most important industries, but is almost unheeded and unsung. In our obsession with achieving exports we sometimes forget what a huge proportion of our vital exports is carried by sea, and can be carried in no other way. The debate gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the masters and officers and crews of merchant ships. I speak with great emotion about these men, having had over 30 years' experience in working with them in peace and in war.
In passing, I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will talk to his colleagues. He must realise that since our ships ply all over the world, the officers and men in them need to be able to see how their ships could be defended if necessity arose, not only in war but in conditions of harassment below the threshold of declared war. This is one of the matters which is of concern to officers and men in the modern fleets of today.
I should like to deal with two points in the Bill, one relating to living conditions and the other to disciplinary matters. Let us rejoice in the enormous improvements which have taken place in recent years in the conditions for crews. I always thought it horrifying that ships in the past were designed so that the crew normally lived up for'ard in the fo'c'sle. One can imagine what life was like, being battered and banged when going into a head sea. Nowadays men are very much better accommodated, fed and so on. The days of theDirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March daysare not gone but going fast.
The skills required by the men are greatly different in these modern days. In the old days we thought about lookouts, holy-stoning and red lead. Nowadays it is radar sets, echo-sounders, automatic scrubbers and paint sprays. This is nowhere more true than in the engine room. It used to be said that one could put one's head down into the engine room hatch and shout, "Are ye there, Mac?". and the reply would always come back, "Aye". They did a tremendous job. One used to think of sweating stokers 1373 shovelling coal. Nowadays it is white overalls, automatic boiler controls and diesels. The days of biscuits and weevils are being replaced by refrigeration, air-conditioning, good meals and cabins for all. In these days, therefore, it is right to overhaul the law and the regulations affecting the men and how they live in our ships.
Coming to disciplinary matters, I tend to take a different view from many other people. Many have taken on the idea of ships' committees, as envisaged in Clause 36. I ask the President what are the principal reasons for its inclusion in the Bill? It cannot be a slavish wish to include all the findings of the Pearson Report—not from a Government who behaved as they did over the Report of the Boundaries Commission. Therefore, we must put that theory on one side. The Pearson Report itself is half-hearted about the whole idea of ships' committees. It gives many reasons against the idea. What considerations were, then, uppermost in the President's mind when he decided to include it in the Bill?
The reasons against the ships' committees have not been retailed by any hon. Member who has spoken so far in the debate. The Pearson Report says in paragraph 295… it is … the essence of the proposal that the ship's committee should always be a mixed tribunal including at least one rating and at least one officerThat is common ground. Then it goes on:There would be a danger of serious difficulties arising. A division of opinion on the ship's committee between the officers' representative or representatives and the ratings" representative or representatives might spread antagonism between the two sides throughout the ship's company and do great damage to morale. Moreover, a ratings' representative on the ship's committee would be in an awkward position. Sometimes the evidence would compel him to join with the officers' representative or representatives in finding that the accused seaman did commit the offence and ought to be fined. But some members of the ship's company who had not heard the evidence might remain convinced that the accused did not commit the offence or ought not to be fined, and so there would be resentment against the ratings' representative who had concurred in the unpopular decision.That is a very strong point clearly set out in the Pearson Report. I should like to know the Minister's views on that argument.
1374 The National Union of Seamen apparently objected to the master having the jurisdiction on the ground that—this can be seen from paragraph 294 of Pearson—although the great majority of masters exercise it justly, there is a small minority who do not.I believe that it is a very small minority of masters who do not exercise this power justly. In the great majority of cases masters of ships are wise, experienced and just men, and I am sure the President would join with me in paying tribute to them.
I doubt whether the National Union of Seamen would wish to see the disadvantages which I have read from the Pearson Report introduced to deal with this tiny minority of allegedly unjust masters. This is especially true when the appeal procedures outlined in the Bill come into force. I am in favour of these appeal procedures. When they are in force they should take care of the points perfectly adequately.
On a practical point, I have always admired the way that masters of merchant ships exercise authority. I have often felt, lying in my bunk, that with no Naval Discipline Act to back them up they do a remarkable job. They must depend absolutely upon their own individual personality for maintaining discipline, and upon very little else.
I am sure that any experienced officer or rating in the Merchant Navy knows that a happy ship can result under a captain who is known to be firm and strict, yet fair and just. They also know that this result is not achieved by a Captain Bligh personality. In parentheses, I believe that this may be a libel on Captain Bligh who, our history books tell us, was a quite humane person.
Great care must be taken, in introducing any new procedures, that the authority of the master is in no way undermined. The master ultimately is responsibile for the safety and well-being of his crew and decisions have to be taken by him and discipline enforced sometimes in an instant. There is no time for a committee meeting or any long rigmarole in these circumstances. But I emphasise that it is important to ensure that safeguards are available for any ratings who feel that they have been unjustly treated. The proposed procedure 1375 in the Bill achieves this. I should also like to see some safeguard against frivolous appeals. This would be a valid point to be taken in Committee.
I do not believe that there should even be experiments with ships' committees. The possibility that ships' committees might be introduced in some ships but not in others would be a potentially constant irritant. It would adversely affect industrial relations on board and achieve the very opposite of what the report and the Bill and both sides of industry set out to achieve.
The master is usually colloquially and affectionately known on board ship as "The Old Man". Only an arrogant an can wish to dispense with the accumulated experience of the past.
The Minister and other hon. Members have spoken of the paramount importance of safety at sea, and the Pearson Report emphasises the need for discipline at sea, which must be different from conditions ashore. I agree with both these considerations for they are but two sides of the same coin.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
My constituents physically live near and by the sea. A large number build ships, another large number repair them, and a final considerable number sail in them. Indeed, many do the lot. It is interesting to note that in almost every family in South Shields there is somebody who has been connected in one way or another with ships, and very often with all three occupations: building, repairing and sailing in them. Therefore, it is not surprising that my constituents have urged me for some time to do everything that I can to see the Bill, or a Measure of this kind, on to the Statute Book. Indeed, long before the seamen's strike the matter was being discussed with me, and anxieties were expressed about the delay years ago in bringing this Measure forward.
Amongst my constituents are some of the more vigorous and vital members of the National Union of Seamen who have always made clear that they, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), have not been prepared to tolerate any kind of injustice, whether it appeared to come from their 1376 leaders or from their masters, in past years. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington was able to make his contribution today, because no one has played a bigger part in the fight for better conditions for seamen in past years. His record is well known amongst all involved in the industry.
I welcome the comments that have been made by hon. Members on both sides on the immense revolutionary change that the Bill represents. At long last we are bringing up to date legislation concerning conditions, discipline and other matters that have lagged behind for so long and tended to cut off seamen from others in our community as though they lacked the kind of responsibility that others possessed. This was deeply resented by many of my constituents who took a very different view of the position. So it is not altogether remarkable that my constituents, members of the National Union of Seamen, and other bodies, welcome many of the provisions of the Bill.
However, they still have many criticisms to make. I should like to mention one criticism which has not so far been voiced. While it is understood and welcomed that special reference and special legal provision needs to be made for those going to sea in fishing vessels, many of my constituents argue that the same point can be raised on behalf of those who are employed, for example, on cross-channel ferries and operating in coastal waters. It is hard to see why an argument that applies to fishing vessels and has prompted the decision to give them special consideration should not also apply to other categories of ship. If the argument is that it is because they are moving from a fixed port, that also applies in many other cases.
Let us consider the length of voyage. Some fishing vessels go on quite extended voyages to their fishing grounds and may be away for as long as other vessels, or much longer. The size of vessel varies enormously. Size is not dictated according to whether it is a fishing vessel or not.
Changes are taking place in the seagoing industry generally. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friends to let us know whether further consideration may be given to the position of men on short 1377 voyages and operating in home waters where conditions, discipline, safety on board, and so on, might be more analogous to the situation in factories on land than on vessels.
Apart from that important point which many of my constituents have raised, there is a real welcome and pride that it has been possible to bring this Measure forward in this Session.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Like the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I do not intend to detain the House for long. Along with hon. Members who have spoken with great friendliness, I, too, welcome the Bill. There are a large number of men from Northern Ireland in the Merchant Navy. I have cousins at sea, and it is hardly possible to sail on a merchant ship anywhere in the world without finding an Irishman either below or above deck.
There are a number of points which might be raised during the debate on the Bill, and some have already been mentioned. I should like, first, to say a general word about the background to the Bill. A major reform of this nature has, of necessity, a long gestation period. A multitude of old Acts govern relationships at sea, together with regulations made on each ship, and it has taken a long time for the Government—and I am not laying the blame on any particular Government—to get round to the chore of going through the various Acts, weeding them out, and drafting the Bill. The Bill itself will probably have to remain on the Statute Book for a long time, because a general consolidation Measure such as this, rather like the constitution of a newly emerged country, is designed to last for some time, and it is not easy to change it.
There have been rapid changes in conditions at sea. In his Report Lord Pearson referred to containerisation, to roll-on and roll-off, to ferries, and to other developments in our Merchant Navy. These developments, rather like the developments in aviation, take place so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up with them.
When I came into the House about 10 years ago, a great discussion was taking place in the shipbuilding industry about whether 100,000-ton tankers would 1378 be generally accepted, whether they were capable of being navigated and sailed properly, and what would happen if there was a disaster. Now they talk, not about 100,000-ton tankers, but about building 150,000-ton, and even 200,000-ton tankers. It may not be long before atomic power is adopted by the merchant navies of the world, particularly those which ply the deep sea trade. All these things bring about tremendous changes in the functions of, and the skills required from, a merchant seaman. We therefore must be sure that the legislation we draft is flexible enough to take care of the completely new requirements for which this new world of the merchant navy will call.
Seamen are a very conservative race of people. Indeed, many shipowners are ultra-conservative. The criticisms made against such bodies as the National Maritime Board show how reluctant people are to change the existing machinery. Lord Pearson in his court of inquiry took evidence from a wide range of bodies and shipping companies, and went in great detail into the matters which should be covered by legislation for our navy. He dealt with such matters as the engagement and discharge of crews, wages, health and welfare, which are of growing importance—and I welcome the provisions in the Bill about these matters —the method of dealing with offences by seamen, and so on.
I draw the attention of the House to the change which has occurred in the degree of responsibility which must now be accepted by seamen. I think that this answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). Now that ships are so much more advanced and more expensive, greater skill is required by seamen in handling them, because, if there is any neglect or default on the part of a seaman, the amount of damage that might ensue can be considerable indeed. Against that background, it is perhaps good to note that the penalties laid down in the Bill and the nature of them have been reduced.
The Bill deals also with such matters as civil liability, absence without leave, smuggling, trade disputes, manning and certification, and the death abroad of a seaman. The provisions in Clause 31 about disciplinary committees cause me 1379 some anxiety. I wonder how practical they are. Perhaps the Minister will say a little more about this when he replies to the debate.
In opening the debate the right hon. Gentleman referred to these provisions being introduced on a few ships on a trial basis to start with. I wonder how these ships will be selected. Does the Minister intend to apply these provisions only to tankers, or only to container ships? If they are to be applied to all classes of ships, how will he single out the ships on which the trial is to be run? I cannot imagine shipowners and skippers queuing up at the Ministry to ask for the new ideas to be tried out on their ships, and I therefore foresee some problems arising because of these provisions.
As an island nation, we are, of necessity, a maritime nation. Unfortunately, our share of the world's merchant shipping has fallen, but it still represents a substantial proportion of the total world shipping. Our fleet totals 21½ million gross tons, and represents about 13 per cent, of the total world tonnage. There are more than 113,000 seamen registered, not including Asian seamen. The merchant shipping world is intensely competitive. Speaking as a Member for a shipbuilding constituency, I naturally look to the British Mercantile Marine as our first customer. Substantial sums of money, both private and public, have been put into modernising our yards in Northern Ireland. It is important, not only for the prosperity and welfare of this country as a whole, but for the prosperity of our shipyards and all those who depend on them, that our Merchant Navy should be competitive and prosperous.
Shipping companies registered abroad, particularly in the Far East, but also in such European countries as France, benefit from subsidies while shipowners who have their vessels built in British yards sometimes suffer certain disadvantage by having to pay over the odds becase they are not purchasing ships at the subsidised prices. This means that our shipping must be competitive, and if wages are to be increased, as the Bill provides, the productivity of the men employed must be commensurably increased.
Lord Pearson has stated in the Report that such another strike as that which 1380 was the background to the Bill would be disastrous to the British shipping industry, Therefore, a little more than the provisions of the Bill is required by those responsible for running the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) has said that in shipping disputes a fifth party is the national interest. The national interest is not only involved in detailed matters of disputes and wages but is important in a wider context. The Bill must therefore be applied flexibly so that our shipping may continue to sail the seas, and bring in those valuable invisible earnings which will enable the country to remain in the vanguard of the major shipping nations.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The crews of the Post Office cable ships are concerned about the Bill, and I am here to express their fears. I speak as one who has, through the Post Office Engineering Union, long been concerned with their welfare.
Before 1st October these men were servants of the Crown and were therefore not subject to the Merchant Shipping Acts. They had a separate code of regulations, and their negotiations were conducted quite separately. On 1st October, consequent on the changed status of the Post Office, they ceased to be civil servants, with the result that the Merchant Shipping Acts now apply to them unless they are specially exempted. I believe that these men ought to be specially exempted.
The Government assured all Post Office staff, including the cable ship crews that their conditions under the Post Office Corporation would be in no way different from those that they had enjoyed under the Post Office, unless those conditions were varied by negotiation or, in some cases, by arbitration. Because of those assurances, it is felt that the Government should insert a Clause exempting the Post Office cable ship crews at least in respect of the conditions. If that is not done the Government will, however, inadvertently, be changing staff conditions without the agreement of the unions, and breaching assurances given by the Postmaster-General.
For many months the Post Office and the unions have been drawing up a code 1381 of discipline for insertion into the Corporation's articles, and this code is very different from that in the Bill. If the Government have drawn up an alternative code, it is wrong that Post Office cable ship crews should not be exempt. In this respect, the provisions of the Bill should not apply to cable ship crews, and if the Government are not prepared to give their assurances the force of law at the first opportunity the cable ship men must naturally wonder why. If some of the Clauses are not to apply, why is that not stated explicitly in the Bill?
The Post Office has stated in writing that it would stick to its disciplinary code. It said that although the assurances it gave would not be binding in law, the integrity of the Corporation as an employer is such that however strained relationships might become there could be no question of the Corporation ignoring its undertakings.
An important consideration is what might happen in the event of an industrial dispute. Before 1st October legal penalties could not be applied to the cable ship crews when they took militant action but the Bill makes them subject to legal penalties. This is a very clear case of their conditions of service being substantially altered without the agreement of the unions concerned. The Post Office has stated that the old arrangements worked satisfactorily for both sides in the peculiar circumstances of working at sea.
Whether or not the Bill applies to the cable ships, some of the legal penalties are unnecessary. No one can contest the fact that safety at sea is all-important. No one will deny the need for penalties to ensure the safety of men at sea. But a distinction must be drawn between legislation which forces men to be concerned with safety and legislation which forces them to undertake routine duties unconnected with the ship's safety. It has been argued that a ship is not a factory, but in certain respects it can be just that. It can be both ship and factory, and that is why, although I see the reason behind Clause 27, I do not regard Clauses 28, 29 and 30 as essential.
Assuming that the Bill is to apply to cable ships—I sincerely hope that it never will—Clause 29 could be used against men refusing to operate cable laying 1382 equipment. No question of safety would be involved. It would be similar, in principle, to men refusing to lay cable between two towns in Great Britain. A simple industrial relations dispute could lead, under this penal Clause, to men being fined £50 each. It should be made clear that the only actions which should lead to legal penalties are those involving danger to men. There should be no legal penalties where the only thing at issue is commercial profit.
I ask the Government to consider carefully the question of exempting the Post Office cable ships from the Bill. Following long experience of good working —this is acknowledged by the Post Office and the unions—a new code of discipline has been worked out. All concerned are sure it is best suited to the unique situation of the cable ships. All are certain, too—this is important—that it fulfils the obligation on the Government following the assurances which they gave to the Post Office staff. In these circumstances, I am sure that the Government would do well, even at this stage, to discuss with the Post Office unions involved the Amendments necessary to ensure that the Government's assurances are given the authority of law.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I apologise for having had to leave the debate on two or three occasions. I had to meet some deputations to discuss a dispute which is exercising our minds at the present time.
In his opening speech, the Minister said that he thought that the Bill would alleviate the harshness of discipline at sea. I think that that is an exaggeration. Discipline is not harsh in the Merchant Navy to-day. Nor do I think that it is discipline which is responsible for the high turnover of seamen in employment at sea.
I wish briefly to look at the Clause dealing with offences and discipline largely because I regard the wording as very loose. I do not wish to take Committee points, but I hope that, when the Bill is in Committee the Minister will consider this aspect of the matter. Here are some instances of what I mean.
Clause 27(1) refers to offences by seamen under the influence of drink or drugs 1383 at the time, and Clause 28 refers to a seamanunder the influence of drink…to such an extent that his capacity to carry out his duties is impaired".The expression, "under the influence of drink" is a lawyer's expression, and it is extremely difficult to interpret. Today, we have the breathalyser for the motorist, and he is run in if his blood contains more than a certain percentage of alcohol. We know that many people are perfectly capable of driving their cars even if their blood contains that percentage of alcohol. It may be that the intention is to apply a similar sort of test to seamen at sea. That would be most unfair because, under Clause 27, the penalties are severe—possibly two years' imprisonment, or, on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £200. That is a very severe penalty, and that point should be looked at.
Clause 29 refers to a seaman disobeying a lawful command relating to the operation of a ship or its equipment. Many lawful commands might not relate to those two matters, and one can well imagine arguments which might go on in trying to decide whether they did. I realise that there is a reference in Clause 30 to persistent disobedience and so on, but I consider that that matter, too, should be looked at.
Clause 31, dealing with absence without leave, uses the word "recklessness". Who on earth can interpret what recklessness is? In Clause 39(2) there is a reference to absence due to an accident or mistake. I presume that these sanctions are put in for a purpose, and it is right that they should be there, but the use of words of that kind in the Bill could lead to endless argument so that no decision was ever reached. I hope that the loose wording will be dealt with in Committee.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), I am concerned about the proposal that all or part of the master's disciplinary powers should go to a disciplinary committee. At this stage I am not so much concerned about how effective such a committee would be. What worries me is the effect it will have in reducing the status of the master. I do not see how it could do other than that, 1384 and, in my view, the master's status requires bolstering.
We all know that the man going to sea nowadays is no longer the horny-handed shellback; often, he is a skilled technician of considerable education. The effect of this is not to make the job of the master or officers easier; in many ways, it requires higher standards from master and officers. I view with considerable concern a possible reduction in the status of the master which might well lead to a reduction in the calibre of the man going into the Merchant Navy. I have the greatest admiration for the captains of our merchant ships, and I should be most distressed to see any lowering of the calibre of the men.
If there is a disciplinary committee, who will be responsible for disclipline? Without discipline, safety is endangered. Again, I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester that it may be very unfair to ask two crew members who may be friends of the man under investigation to judge whether he is guilty, and I agree with the suggestion which came from the benches opposite that it might be better to get the best man in the ship, whoever he may be, to act as the friend of the accused.
Presumably all the sanctions are there because they are necessary. Even if they are in the background, ultimately sanctions of a sort are required.
I agree also that there must be an appeals procedure. My last conversations with merchant navy officers took place some years ago. They always told me that by the time they had gone through the procedure of punishing a man and then dealing with his appeal, it was not worth doing anything about it. I am not certain what is the answer, but I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that with the appeals procedure there should be some sanctions dealing with the frivolous appeal. That is very important.
I welcome the Bill. We have been served extremely well by the Merchant Navy in war and in peace. Its losses have been tremendous, but it has never failed us. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, this is the first legislation that we have had for many years. I hope that we get it right so that it serves us in good stead over the 1385 years ahead. I hope that the Minister will keep a very open mind on Amendments which may be tabled when the Bill goes to Committee.
§ 8.02 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
My interest in the Bill lies in the fact that during a period of my life I had an opportunity to serve and work on ships, perhaps unfortunately not as a deckhand, but first as a checker and then as a purser. In that time, I was able to see life from within a ship, and, while I have no doubt that conditions on board our ships have changed greatly over the years, I found that living was good. It must be said that the sleeping quarters were not to be matched with those in first class hotels. Officers and some of the stewards slept in the dining saloon, while others used the fo'c'sle.
Still it was a good and interesting life, and in it one realised the importance of discipline, the enormous powers of the captain and the fact that that power is accepted by every person on board ship. Indeed, if it were not accepted, chaos would be the result. When any trouble occurs on board ship with any crew member, the captain intervenes to exercise his discipline, and it is respected and accepted by every individual aboard.
My other interest in the Bill arises from the fact that I represent one of the great seagoing and seaport areas of the United Kingdom. My constituency lies along the south bank of the River Clyde. Govan has been a pioneer in the shipping side of industry. We built the first ships to cross the Atlantic, and they sailed from Govan. It has continued to thrive on the shipping industry. I make no mention of shipbuilding, which is not appropriate at the moment. Nevertheless, the great ships which have sailed on the oceans in many cases have been built in Govan. Perhaps the greatest was the "Queen Elizabeth", which was built on the northern bank of the Clyde.
The port of Glasgow covers a vast area of which Govan is a part. Last year, the port sent out 3,049 ships. Into the port of Glasgow there came 3,045 ships. Employed in those ventures there were 1,975 registered dock workers, of whom, on average, 1,319 were regularly employed. That represents an employment strength continually of about 65 per cent. While that is not so good as we would wish, it shows a healthy state of affairs.
1386 Into the country through the port of Glasgow there came £152,256,477 worth of imports, commodities which we needed for all phases of our life. From Glasgow seaport there went £158,746,297 worth of exports. That gave us a balance in our favour of £6,489,820, which indicates the state of the city's export and import trade.
The port is paying its way, and, as people who are interested in the port, it is our business in this House to see that it continues to pay its way and produce the surplus which is necessary for expansion.
I do not intend to say much about the Bill at the moment, because it is the type of Measure which we can best deal with in Committee.
The main difficulties of the seamen appear to centre round Clauses 28, 29 and 30. I have gone to some trouble to consult the seamen about the Bill, and this is the view of those with whom I have been in touch. I have heard one of my colleagues say that these Clauses could quite well be omitted and do the Bill no harm but a lot of good. I hope that my right hon. Friend takes note of that. There are others among the seamen who feel that Clauses 34 and 35 cover adequately the misdemeanours alleged to be dealt with in Clauses 28, 29 and 30.
When we have substantial agreement among seamen about the value of this Bill we should listen to what they say, particularly with respect to changes which seem minimal. The seamen are not happy about Clause 8(2) and (3). Neither are they content with Clause 39. It is important to realise the attitude of the men for whom this Measure is being introduced. These constituents of ours have given tremendous support to us as Members of this Government. On Clydeside the seamen have co—operated excellently in working to produce a surplus. As Clydeside has done something for us, it is entitled to ask us to do something for it.
I am sure that my hon. Friends with similar interests will have the same account to present to the House. That is my position. Most matters can be dealt with more fully in Committee, and I will leave matters there until we reach that stage.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I begin by endorsing everything that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) has said about the significant contribution which seamen are making to the balance of payments via the shipping industry which they serve. This was a well-deserved tribute, which is given too infrequently. The whole House will be pleased that the hon. Member has made it. Equally, I should like to say how pleased I was to hear the substantial figures of trading for the Clyde. Although my connection with the Clyde is remote I do have one, and we are all pleased that these figures are growing month by month.
This is a difficult Bill for some of us. Those of us who feel we have an interest in the industry, as I have, and my interest is well known, may also feel that our competence to speak on the particular subjects dealt with in the Bill is limited. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) have a special experience which qualifies them to make comments, particularly on the disciplinary aspects of the Bill, of interest to us all. I have no such experience and my comments are to some extent more general.
This Bill is substantially welcomed by the whole industry. Although we shall undoubtedly have some interesting and possibly prolonged arguments in Committee, the general feeling is that it is overdue. We shall be very glad to see it reaching the Statute Book and there is little doubt that the tone of industrial relations, if we get our answers right, ought to be substantially improved. We should also pay tribute to the Pearson Committee, not least to those who gave evidence because it is on the basis of that evidence that the excellent report has been written and it is on the basis of the report that the Bill has been so carefully drafted.
I want to raise two relatively small but important points of principle. The first arose from the speech by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), to whom we listened with interest and delight. He raised the point about the comparative position of the British sea- 1388 man's wage. In a brief intervention I was unable to make the point I would have liked to have done, which was simply that if we go back 60 years we would find that British seamen's wages were pre-eminent. We all recognise that they have fallen, certainly in relation to the United States and Canada, where special subsidies and other conditions exist, but equally in relation to Scandinavia, which they have been behind probably for some decades, and also, more recently, they have fallen behind other countries in Western Europe particularly France, West Germany and possibly more recently Italy.
This is one of the general consequences of the prosperity of the Common Market which is raising wage levels, not least those of seamen, in Western Europe. The point I wanted to make was that it may be, and this is subject to statistical proof, that the absolute position of our seamen has fallen faster than the absolute position of other United Kingdom wage earners. I doubt it, but the important conclusion which we should draw from the disadvantage which our seamen suffer is that this is a disadvantage now shared, to some extent, right across the board.
We should take note of the fact that members of the United States Congress recently increased their salaries from 30,000 dollars to 42,500 dollars per annum. This perhaps emphasises that Members of this House are in some sort of comparable position. The doorkeeper of the United States Congress earns, I am told, 8,000 dollars a year, which perhaps suggests that these comparisons should be kept as part of a whole, rather than taken in isolation.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
In the temporary absence from the Chamber of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), it is incumbent upon me to say that the comparison that he made was not between the doorkeeper of this House and the doorkeeper in the United States Congress, but between sailor and sailor all over the world.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I do not think that there is any dispute between us. The comparison between sailor and sailor is important and interesting, and if our sailors are comparatively badly paid so are people in many other occupations in this country over the same range of comparison.
1389 I turn briefly to another issue which has some relevance: we all know the phrase, "the revolution of rising expectations", and we know that this applies equally within the shipping industry. A ship in this respect is not unlike a house, except that it is much more comprehensive, and often includes a hospital and a whole range of facilities which are normally to be found in a small town. That situation applies, at least, in a large passenger liner.
Even here, there is within any large fleet, and within the world fleet, a spectrum of conditions, which is an inevitable and unavoidable function of the age of the fleet and the age distribution of the fleet. Normally a ship, like a house, is built to last for at least 25 years and normally, within the stock of ships as within the stock of houses there will be the new, the very best, the mediocre and the old. We are concerned to generalise as far as we can and as fast as society can afford, both within the maritime realm and the housing realm, and all the other matters that we discussed, the very best. But if we are too ambitious in our attempts to generalise we can easily bankrupt society. This applies equally in our wholly legitimate preoccupation with the best standards in shipping, which we want to see generated throughout the fleet as fast as we can so that we can build and replace the older ships with the most modern.
We can allow ourselves to be carried away all too easily if we look at the 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of ships launched within the last three or four years and say, "These are the conditions that we should have in all the ships. What a pity we did not have them 25 years ago." My answer is that by the logic of events, in 25 years' time we shall be making the same comment with regard to the newest ships then being produced, which will compare favourably with those that we are now building and regard as something wonderful.
The industry has been described as a conservative one. It may interest hon. Members if I describe an incident which I believe is absolutely true and which illustrates this point in a way more favourable to the industry than hon. Members may imagine. I am told that on the very first occasion on which the United States navy considered putting a 1390 steam engine into a ship the then Board of Admiralty, or whatever it was, in the United States was most reluctant to do this, and was persuaded against the advice of many admirals. Eventually a design was produced and when the Board considered it it decided, on the basis of various old criteria, that although the ship would have a steam engine and a screw, because it was a naval vessel it should also have some masts and sails.
The ship was built with mast and sails, but in the process of being built it was discovered that it would be necessary to reduce the size of the boilers. Upon reducing the size of the boilers they found that it would be necessary to reduce the size of the screw. As a result of all this the whole thing became a farce, and the ship was ultimately launched with neither steam nor screw. This is an illustration of the way in which the conservatism of marine or martime matters is by no means the prerogative of our own maritime industry or of any other maritime industry but is fairly widespread and possibly more deep-seated in this area than in others.
Within the last seven years we have seen our shipping industry take some dramatic steps forward. They are the most dramatic steps that have been taken for a long time. Some very bold decisions have been made, and some large sums of money have been committed. With every day that passes hon. Members realise how much more old-fashioned the concept of sides in industry is becoming, and that we are dealing with the whole industrial front, and that it is essentially a co-operative process in which large numbers of men perform special functions of different kinds. If, by passing this Measure we can help to put this concept out of the way, behind us, the Bill will have served a very useful and constructive purpose.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
If I do not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) I am sure that he will forgive me. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member made his comment upon the Common Market. If he had been I might have been ten 1391 minutes later in starting my speech. I was rather horrified by what the hon. Member said about making alterations to the Bill in Committee. I volunteered to go on the Bill in Committee, hoping that the hon. Member for Langstone would be on the Ports Bill in Committee. If that is not to be the case I shall be a very reluctant volunteer.
I join in the general welcoming of the Bill. I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend taking notes on the Front Bench—the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment and Productivity—because he and I have spent many long hours talking about various types of industrial legislation, not the least of which was obviously this Bill. I am therefore aware of the work that has been done in all the Government Departments, and not only in the Board of Trade, in making the Bill acceptable to all parts of the industry. We often tend to think in terms of one Department being the parent, but in this case many Departments have been involved.
I also welcome the fact that many interests have been consulted in the preparation of the Bill. So many have been consulted that we have had a wonderful metamorphosis taking place between the Bill as published in July and the Bill that we are now discussing. I am glad of that. At the start of the debate, when the spokesman on the Opposition Front Bench said that they were in agreement with the Government over the Bill I thought to myself, "Oh, my goodness—we are back to last night again", particularly when the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) nodded in agreement. That fear has now happily gone, as a result of some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and the interesting comments of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin).
The old Act was passed in the days of sail and steam, when there were no modern communications, and when seamen and fishermen spent months or even years away from home. In those days their only contact with civilisation and with their home country—the only unifying forces for them—were the ship in which they sailed and the ship's articles. They were bound by the slavery of the 1392 ship's articles. The 1894 Act was regarded in its time as the charter of the industry, as this Act will be. Like many Charters, it needed to be updated. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) is a little older than I am, but our backgrounds are similar. We were brought up to believe in three things. We wanted to end decasualisation in the docks; we wanted to nationalise the docks, and we wanted to get rid of the 1894 Act—and in the lifetime of this Government it looks as though we shall achieve all three objectives.
The 1894 Act has been part of the folklore of our families long before the 1967 strike, something we knew all about before it was fashionable. It is something that we were brought up on. But now we have come to a different situation. We have new means of communication. More regular trips take place. Crews are now flown out to their ships. There is a rapidity of movement between crews. The whole atmosphere has changed. There is therefore need for the change that has taken place, and particularly the disciplinary changes. In the past men were held down by fear—the fear of deprivation and of what might happen to them. Now that fear can be replaced by trust, understanding and respect. People can work as members of a team and not be held in fear and subjugation.
I deal mainly with the labour relations question, not because I have no suggestions to make on other questions, but because I realise that other hon. Members representing ports, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), wish to speak.
I want to set out the basic principles upon which I and the union of which I am a member stand in relation to the Bill. Any regulation governing the safety of a ship, its crew, or its passengers, or which seeks to enforce any act or omission which would otherwise place them in jeopardy, must be rigorously enforced and backed by the force of the law. That is what I jotted down when the hon. Member for Lowestoft was speaking. That is the first general principle. I do not say that in punishment we should necessarily revert to flogging and keel hauling. However, there should be everything but that to enforce safety 1393 at sea—the safety of the crew, the ship, the passengers and the cargo.
Having said that and established that I am talking about safety, I go on to say that any regulation which is not concerned with safety under that broad definition but which is concerned with working practices—as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said, a modern trawler is very much a floating factory— must be governed by rules governing industrial disputes. The matter should be settled by both sides of industry. That is why I especially welcome my right hon. Friend's recognition of the splendid work which has been done by both sides of industry on the disciplinary shore based bodies.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft chided us about "industrial cowboys". Disciplinary committees are the very bodies to deal with these things. Because of the information that goes from port to port, in many cases they can penalise to a much greater extent than the old Act; namely, by depriving a man of his livelihood. When the original register was set up at Grimsby, a considerable number of those who applied to go on to the register were not considered, for a variety of reasons. Because such committees can deprive men of their livelihood, they are much more powerful sanctions than any that exist under the criminal law.
It is not so long ago that when men pleaded guilty before the courts in Hull to being drunk on board ship or to committing some other offence on board ship, they were sent downstairs, having been fined; and the owner's representative paid the fine for them and the ship's runner took them back to sea, often to the same boat. That is a practice that a disciplinary committee can depart from, because it puts the responsibility where it should lie—upon the workpeople with whom the person concerned must work and whose living he endangers and upon the employers whose profitability, or take-home from the subsidy, he endangers.
The third principle is that when the authority of a skipper of a trawler or a master of a vessel is concerned with the safety of his ship it should be paramount; where it concerns an industrial matter it should be open to the techniques of industrial management. The 1394 need for the skipper's authority is recognisable and understandable under the concept of the original Act but is not so relevant to the present day. The Bill should become the basis of a dignified legal contract of employment and not be the basis of legal bondage.
I add my weight to the comments which have been made by some of my hon. Friends about some of the provisions of the Bill. I think that Clause 27 is sufficient in itself. As I said in an interjection during the speech of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, if the dereliction he described was sufficiently serious as to endanger the crew or the safety of the vessel I am with him 100 per cent. in seeking to punish the wrongdoer. If it becomes an industrial matter, however—if it becomes, say, a question of a man sleeping to on his watch, at a time when there is no possibility of danger—that should be an industrial matter. In that sense, Clause 27 covers the problems referred to by the hon. Gentleman. Clauses 28 to 31 and Clause 34 and associated Clauses spell out matters which I find reprehensible, and they should be deleted because Clause 27 is enough.
Those are the main disciplinary Clauses, except for Clause 90. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that this Clause is a reasonable recognition of the situation in the fishing industry. However, it provides a safety net in that if either side of the industry finds that it cannot work the system, or if the President of the Board of Trade deems it necessary in the public good, he can intervene.
Basically, it should be left to the industry. If we can do this for the fishing industry, we should be able to do it in respect of merchant vessels which are on articles of home trade charter. The merchant service already has a recognisable disciplinary committee. Its present system of appeals and representation can be used. Basically I believe that the system should be extended to the whole of the merchant marine.
But I realise that specific problems attach to ships on long charter—for example, tankers, which may touch the United Kingdom only once in 18 months, bulk carriers and tramp steamers—in respect of which it is necessary to have the type of disciplinary arrangements set 1395 out in the Bill. The National Union of Seamen recognised this and, since the union represents the men, we should accept it. What we have done for the fishermen, we can do for the seamen of the home ports.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington has already mentioned Clause 8 and has said that the men are in some ways worse off under the Bill than they were under the 1894 Act. Under the proposals the men are entitled to £30. I would like to see that raised to £100, as I am a pretty reasonable sort of fellow. I mean this quite seriously. Very often men come home with a great deal of money outstanding to them, and it is not too much to expect that they should be allowed to take £100 if there is £200 or £300 outstanding.
I think there is perhaps a slip in Clause 10(a), which refers to the Board of Trade making regulations—… authorising deductions to be made from the wages due to a seaman … where a breach of contract is alleged against him …The words—where a breach of contract is alleged" is an extension to the Bill which was introduced in July. It is almost an "In Place of Strife" situation. I am certain that was not intended, and this should be looked at. This is sufficiently important to be mentioned now.Clause 35 deals with appeals and disciplinary offences, and I want union representatives to have the right to attend.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle in urging that the words—The Board of Trade may make regulations …for the establishment of disciplinary committees should be substituted by the words—The Board of Trade shall make regulations …".There should then be a number of exemptions. It is always easier first to establish the principle and then to specify the exceptions. I, too, believe that there would be certain exceptions, but, because of the nature of this legislation, I would be happy if the President of the Board of Trade could be allowed a period of years in which to establish these committees, and provision made for him to name the date.
1396 If there were to be disciplinary committees aboard the merchant ships there would be powerful grounds for having proper shipboard representation on trawlers. This is essential. The Holland-Martin Committee suggested experiments on this, but those experiments have not yet got off the ground. It is vital to the future of the Bill and to industrial relations that the men on trawlers should have a shipboard representative. When seamen were thinking about a liaison officer, it was said that there could not be two skippers on a ship. But people who talk in this manner do not pay sufficient attention to the experience of the Merchant Marine where, after a time, skippers and companies asked for the men to be appointed so as to prevent avoidable trouble. Also, because of the situation created under Clause 90, it will be far easier in terms of industrial discipline if it can be demonstrated that the interest of the men is represented on board.
We do not want a master to be dictated to on how he shall control his ship, how he should fish or when he should shoot the trawl and when he should haul. The functions of this person would be to tell the skipper that in his opinion it was dangerous to do something which was against the interests of safety. He should not be able to insist upon it but he should be able to say that a certain situation will be logged. Not long ago in Hull a skipper was fishing in bad weather, and the scuppers were blocked because the men were filleting and gutting and the skipper did not want to lose fish overboard. This was understandable, but during the very bad weather the men were worried about it. This is the kind of thing a shipboard representative can do. It would not take authority away from the skipper.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am not thinking of the man being appointed for years. He would be a working member of the crew chosen, with the approval of the union, to be the crew's representative. He would be in a position to see that precautions to ensure safety were carried out.
§ Mr. McNamara
Although the hon. and gallant Member says that that is what the captain is for, the biggest criticism which men in the whole merchant service have is that the captain so often is judge, jury and executioner. This is not fair. This is the biggest crib of the lot.
I shall not be drawn on the question of drunkenness, but I think a great opportunity has been missed because the Bill does not get away from the myth that the skipper is the employer of the person who signs articles. We should get away from the theory that there is a difference between the skipper and the crew; they are all members of the company. They should be recognised as such, and there should not be this artificial distinction which is a hangover from the past.
When I interrupted the speech of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, I referred to a case in which a representative of a company persuaded a man by bribing him with extra wages to go to sea. The man was taken on board, and the captain knew the state the man was in but did not have him looked after, although he was in that condition. The captain enabled him to get more liquor and he did great damage. This was the responsibility of the agent of the company, and the captain who is the agent of the company, and the company which allowed this situation to come about. The only person who took the blame was the poor half-drunken constituent of mine who in a pub was persuaded to go to sea against his wishes. That is the worst possible example of a situation under the old Act which I hope will soon disappear.
This must be a proud day for my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill on Second Reading. It is a good Measure and it can be made even better if all the Amendments which I hope to see made in it are made in Committee. Then it will be a great Measure, a credit to our Government and party.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for his opening speech. He very clearly outlined the position, and we are all grateful that we had that clear exposition.
1398 I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). It cannot be said too often how much we in this movement owe to him for the great fight which he has put up over the years, not only for the seamen, but for all the working people of this country. But he will always be known in particular for his great work on behalf of the seamen and as someone who, at one time, began a union for the seamen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and myself have close experience of the struggles of the seamen over the years to eliminate the 1894 Act. The fight has been going on for a long time. My memory does not go back as far as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington because I am not as old as he is, but I can remember the struggles, fights and strikes which have taken place in Liverpool and in the rest of the country since the end of the Second World War. In each of the seamen's struggles, official or unofficial, for better wages and conditions, the dispute has not gone on for more than a week without the workers demanding the abolition of the 1894 Act. It has been a natural demand since they suffered as a result of the Act and were put in the position of second class trade unionists by it because they were unable to act in the way in which the average trade unionist would act.
I remember the 1947 seamen's dispute I remember an individual who became a Labour councillor in Liverpool being imprisoned at that time. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and I acted as arbitrators, if I can use that word. We were the people who sought a solution to the 1960 strike. We travelled not only to the Isle of Man but, it seemed to us, to just about every port in the country. We met both union officials and the seamen on strike. We discovered that most of the arguments were between the union officials and the seamen rather than the employers, although basically the dispute was about wages and conditions. At that time we learned how the seamen felt, particularly about the 1894 Act. They continuously demanded that something be done about it. During that fight we received guarantees from the Government that something would be done to amend it.
1399 Those two strikes, which were both national strikes, were unofficial. We said to the workers in the industry, "Your job is not to struggle outside your trade union. If you are not satisfied with your trade union you must do something about improving it."
The third great strike, the 1966 strike, which could, and should, have been avoided, was a national strike. It was made an official strike by the trade union. It was one of the few official strikes which the National Union of Seamen has conducted. During that struggle, the demand automatically arose for the abolition, or at least changing, of the 1894 Act. We had the Pearson Report, from which the Bill arises. The Government have kept their pledge and we in the Labour Party should take it upon ourselves in our localities to explain to the people, particularly the seamen, their relatives and friends, that we are keeping our word. All honour should be given to the Government for this.
But it would be wrong to believe that there are no fears or hesitations about the Bill on the part of the N.U.S. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) quoted from the September issue of the union's Journal. He naturally quoted the part which suited his argument and I do not criticise him for that. So he will forgive me if I quote the part which underlines the fears which the union has. The article was written by Mr. Hogarth, the general secretary. He said:Unfortunately, the Bill reflects the belief that fines are still a necessary deterrent to indiscipline. Therefore, it proposes that the authority of the master to impose them shall be retained. This is enough to cause dismay, quite apart from the proclaimed intention to dramatically increase the sums of money which can be extracted in this way. We have always been opposed to both fines and the method of their imposition.Mr. Hogarth then makes an important and telling point which I hope the Government will note. He says:There is no evidence that monetary punishment prevents indiscipline, neither is there any evidence that good order on board ship would collapse in its absence. We have always felt that the facility with which fining may be carried out offers a convenient shield behind which inept shipboard supervision may safely shelter. In our view there is adequate machinery at the disposal of all interested parties 1400 with which to deal with industrial indiscipline. Consequently, the authority to fine is both unnecessary and redundant.That is a very clear statement of the position of the union and I hope that, in Committee, the point will be noted. This is why some of us take the view that Clauses 28, 29 and 30 could be dropped as being totally unnecessary. If they are not dropped, at least they should be drastically altered. Clause 30 could be interpreted to operate against workers who have gone on strike. But at the same time the Bill, for the first time and quite rightly, gives a seaman the right to go on strike, which they have never had before. There does appear to be a contradiction between Clause 30 and Clause 42, which gives that right to go on strike. Clause 30 says:If a seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom—Those words could be interpreted, particularly by a master or employer, to argue that a combination of the workers to take some form of strike action, or industrial unrest, could be a form of indiscipline. I hope this matter will be cleared up and a clear interpretation given as to what precisely it means.
- (a) persistently and wilfully neglecting nis duty; or
- (b) persistently and wilfully disobeys lawful commands; or
- (c) combines with other seamen employed in that ship to disobey lawful commands …".
Like the seamen, I have for long argued that the men should have shipboard representation. In every dispute that has arisen the seamen have demanded a representative on board, rather like a shop steward in a factory. It is appreciated that there can be only one master of a ship, but the men want a representative who can discuss with the master any matters, such a discipline, that arise.
United States seamen have had a system of shipboard representation for many years. Their representatives on board have power to consult the master about any subject. I urge the Minister to appreciate that this whole question goes beyond the need for shipboard and shore-based disciplinary committees. I hope that there will be written into the Bill a provision to enable seamen to have the shipboard representation to which I have referred.
1401 It has been rightly point out that there is a big turnover in the number of seamen entering and leaving the industry. In the past ports like Liverpool had high rates of unemployment. The life of the area was geared to the sea, and the majority of young workers were employed in the docks, at sea or in one of the service industries concerned with the docks. However, with the growth of alternative industries, such as the motor trade, people are attracted away from the traditional types of employment. Some do a few trips and then settle for a job ashore.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington said, we must ensure that seamen get decent wages, a proper career structure and the best possible living conditions. They should also be able to take their wives with them. Liverpool is still one of the biggest recruiting areas for seamen. I dare say that there are more Liverpool seamen in Southampton than there are Southampton seamen. A life at sea must be made attractive for those who are willing to make a career of it.
I fully understand why the National Union of Seamen is concerned about Asians. If the Asians received the same level of wages as British seamen, the British seamen would have no fears since it would be sensible for shipowners to employ British seamen. But the facts are that the Asian seamen are paid much less and their conditions are much worse. That is why the N.U.S. takes that particular attitude.
I conclude by saying that the Bill is a very great advance indeed. I am proud to be a member of the party which has brought it forward. It remains for us in Committee to iron out some of the problems and seek to improve the Bill in any way we can.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
I confess that I have never been to sea except as a passenger, but I have certain qualifications to speak in this debate. First, I represent one of the major seaports in the world. Secondly, my father was connected with the sea for 51 years, which, although perhaps not a record, is a very long time.
Reference has been made to the wages and conditions of seamen in pre-war days. 1402 I can remember exactly the wage of a seaman just prior to the war. His wages amounted to £7 a month. The turning point came when Ernest Bevin as Minister of Labour brought in a new deal for seamen. It was suddenly realised after about a year of the war that the Merchant Navy was important to the country.
The closest I ever got to going to sea was when I was a university student. I put an advertisement in a local paper during the vacation "University student requires vacation employment. Anything considered." I was visited by the captain of a pleasure yacht. He told me how much he would like a university student to go along as a member of the crew. He told me where we were going, and I got the impression that I would have a wonderful time. When I went down to see the craft, I asked where I was to sleep. But when he showed me the living quarters, I could not get off fast enough. The living accommodation was appalling.
I also remember before the war my father taking me as a young boy over a large passenger liner, and I saw some of the passenger accommodation. He then took me down to see the crew accommodation, where the conditions were shocking. This was in great contrast to a visit I made the other day to the QE2 when I was taken to see the new crew accommodation. There was just no comparison. However, there are still smaller ships—and certainly this applies to some of the pleasure yachts—in which the crew accommodation leaves a great deal to be desired. I hope that when the Minister makes regulations under Clause 20 dealing with crew accommodation he will so draw them to cover all the various types of ship which go to sea, including pleasure yachts as well as passenger liners, tankers etc.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said about Clause 8(2). It refers to the amount payable to a seaman as wages due to him at the time of discharge, and says:not less than £30 shall be paid to him at that time and the remainder within seven days of that time".I would make a plea that it should be much more than £30. Whether it is set at £100, £60, £70 or £80, it would be 1403 a very great advance on £30. A man who comes home from sea after a nine-months' voyage has a lot of money due to him. He will probably find that his wife has been waiting for him to come home to pay the rent or the gas bill or something like that. He may also want to go out and have a little celebration with the lads. Therefore, £30 is not enough in many cases.
I welcome the setting up of ships' disciplinary committees. The shipboard liaison officers, where they are in operation, are accepted and welcomed. I am sure that disciplinary committees will also be welcomed.
I hope that, concerning discipline, a distinction will be made between offences which affect the safety of the ship and other minor offences. I am not sure whether we can eliminate entirely Clauses 28, 29 and 30. If we eliminate them we may put ourselves into difficulties.
The Bill should have appeared a long time ago. However, I am very proud that this Government have brought it in at last.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
When we discuss ships, shipping and seamen the atmosphere in the House is more cordial than when we discuss aircraft and other more modern inventions. That may be because of the benign influence of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) for whom this must be a very proud day. I hope that this is by no means his swan song on the subject, or, indeed, on any subject.
The repeal Schedule in the Bill is probably bigger than any repeal Schedule in any Bill in living memory. When we look at the sheer weight and bulk of the Merchant Shipping Act and realise what we are repealing and see what we are putting in its place, the balance is remarkable. This shows in graphic form, I will not say the warnings, but the notice that some hon. Members have taken of the fact that we are leaving an enormous amount to subsequent regulations—almost the whole affair. This has advantages because they can be changed more easily. On the other hand, it has disadvantages because, when the regulations come before the House, they cannot be amended. They can only be rejected 1404 or accepted. So this House is parting with a good deal of authority and opportunity by adopting this process.
However, what we are also doing, from the point of view of the constitutional procedures of this House, is perhaps even more interesting and better because in July, by accident rather than by design, a draft Bill in detailed terms was put before the House for discussion. It was not just a White Paper, a Green Paper, a Black Paper or anything like that; it was an actual Bill drafted in precise legal terms. Therefore, the House has had an opportunity for three or four months to consider the wording of the Bill which has become, as it were, a draft before the second Bill containing the Government's more concluded views on the subject has come before us. This was more by accident, because, without wishing to strike any discordant note, the Government produced the July Bill only as a result of promises given in the House. I do not believe that they intended—why should they?—to proceed with the Merchant Shipping Bill in the last Session. The result of this accident is an experience that I hope will spread into other walks of life in this House. I hope that in future the Government will produce draft Bills and give the House three or four months to think about them before producing their concluded views in a Mark II, instead of just a Mark I.
It is not true to say that the large merchant marine Shipping Act of 1894 has remained in that form since then. There have been six or seven major amending Acts—in 1906, in 1925, in 1932, in 1948, in 1949, and others. What is true is that Part II of the Bill has not been seriously attended to since 1894, and when one reads Part II and sees the sort of detailed and paternalistic regulations that were made under its provisions, one realises that it reads like another age. There are all those provisions about lodging houses, and how it is important to see that the poor seaman is protected against rapacious lodging house keepers, and "emigrant runners licences", licences to stop runners from seeking business from would-be emigrants. Paternalism run riot, it seems now, in an age which one sometimes thinks of as being an age entirely of laissez faire. Whereas today we are striking away the shackles of paternalism and recognising, as has been said 1405 so often in this debate, that seamen neither want nor require in the modern world the sort of paternalistic protection which they received in 1894 and in previous Victorian Statutes.
They are fully-fledged citizens and trade unionists, and that cuts both ways. Not only do they have the rights, but also the duties and freedom from paternalistic protection of the type that I have been mentioning, and that brings me straight away to the vexed question of the Asians, which was dealt with in some detail in the previous legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) asked why it was necessary to provide that seamen could speak English, and I ventured to refer him to Section 12 of the 1906 Act which deals with the question of the employment of seamen who cannot speak English and who are primarily Lascars. What we must find out from the Government—we hope tonight, but if not tonight, then very soon—is what they propose to put in their regulations in place of the provisions of the previous Statutes relating to the employment of Asians in the merchant shipping of this country.
We appreciate that the Government are in a great difficulty. We appreciate that they have their own legislation on race relations to consider, and that they have the marked antipathy of the N.U.S. to continuing anything in the nature of second-class seamen. On the other hand, a great deal of the economy of the Merchant Navy depends on the Asians. The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) were very significant. He said that there were about 50,000 United Kingdom seamen and 31,400 Asians employed in the Merchant Navy registered in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to convey to the House—
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
That is the last thing that I want to do. It was not my phrase, but somebody else's, that he did not want them to be treated as second-class seamen, and nor do I. I mention the matter only because it is an example of the vital importance of the regulations that are to be made under the Bill. It is these regulations, and not the Bill itself, which, in a sense, we ought to be discussing, because they will bring the main debate. However, we can compare, and it has been compared, the difference between the July and the November Bills.
The President of the Board of Trade has said that the November Bill lessens the harshness of the July Bill, and the changes were commented upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who quite rightly said that Clause 27 has been somewhat whittled down in the four intervening months. In July, the provision was that a seaman employed on a ship registered in the United Kingdom… who while on dutyshould be liable to conviction. Paragraphs (a) and (b) have been excluded since July, and (c) has been qualified by the words
- (a) improperly leaves his post; or
- (b) is asleep; or
- (c) is under the influence of drink or drugs …"… to such an extent that his capacity to carry out his duties is impaired …'There has been great attack on this Clause on the ground that fines do not keep discipline. This is an attitude which I think cannot be sustained. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said, that laws only give the atmosphere: they do not give a positive solution. Of course they do not give a positive solution, but we must have them in this walk of life—as, unfortunately in many other walks of life—because there is a very small proportion of men to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft referred as "cowboys", by which I think he meant an undesirable and rather vagrant type of seaman who goes from place to place and who is not amenable to the sort of discipline which is much the best discipline, and that is the social condemnation of one's fellow workers. That is much the best discipline in all walks 1407 of life, and not only at sea. But since men of this type are not amenable to it, one must have the fines and one must create the offences to deal with them—
§ Mr. McNamara
I think that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) nodded his agreement with me when I said that if a person is not amenable there is no place for him in the industry.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
If such persons could be excluded from the industry it would be a great thing for everyone, but it is not possible to exclude all malefactors from any industry, including the fishing industry and the industry of the Merchant Navy.
The second point on which there is a distinction between the July and the November Bills was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, and it relates to the fishing industry. It was positively written into the July Bill that those employed in the fishing industry who reported for duty under the influence of drink or drugs, or brought intoxicating liquor on board, or neglected or refused to join the ship or left the ship while it was proceeding to sea or about to proceed to sea should be guilty of an offence.
That provision has been removed, and we now do not know what, if anything, is to be put in its place, because all that is to be made the subject of regulations under Schedule 1. It rather looks as though nothing like that is to be put in its place, as there would otherwise be no point in removing it from the body of the Bill. I wonder whether the Government can lay their hand on their heart and say that it is not unduly risking the safety of such vessels, fishing vessels, to omit any such provisions under the new arrangements.
I put this question to the Minister of State: is it true that, at an earlier stage, the Board of Trade agreed positively with the industry that those matters should be made the subject of an offence? If it did so agree, what is its reason now for resiling from that agreement? Has the Board of Trade reasons other than mere consultation? Has it reasons in logic as well as reasons in industrial politics? If it has, we shall support it, because we have no desire unnecessarily to increase the harshness of any Measure. But we have 1408 fears—my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and Carshalton (Captain Elliot), who know something about life at sea, have expressed them—that seafaring practice will be endangered if there is to be a lessening of the sanctions against that sort of behaviour, which can be dangerous, particularly in a small ship in bad weather.
The third matter on which there is a variation, though I am not sure that it is much of a variation, is the question of the committees and discipline afloat. First, may I say something about the interesting and moving speech of the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner), who knows a good deal about this subject. He called attention to an interesting omission, as he thought, from the scheme set out by the President of the Board of Trade in his opening speech.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to four methods of enforcing behaviour at sea, and the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen was by no means sure whether those four methods included the new and successful "establishment scheme". I think that it probably was covered by the third of the right hon. Gentleman's four headings, but, whether it was or not, the hon. Gentleman raised an important point, saying that the operation of the establishment scheme, though generally satisfactory, was defective in that officers were worse off than ratings in the sense that ratings, under the establishment scheme, had the normal facility open to anyone charged with an offence, that they knew what the charge was in some detail and had an opportunity to answer it, whereas—surely, by an unexpected paradox—the officers had no such opportunity since the report was a secret report by the master. Since we are dealing with discipline and matters of fair hearing, perhaps the Minister of State will satisfy us on that point.
I come now to the even more vexed question of the experimental committees at sea, the shipboard committees. This brings in the whole philosophy much canvassed in the debate of whether it is better to be tried by one's fellow men or by the master or a magistrate. The general view of the House seemed to be that it is better to be tried by one's 1409 fellow men. I have great doubt about that as a general principle of life—
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
—I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me. I have appeared in professional matters before professional bodies, and I find them much more severe and savage when dealing with their fellow practitioners than any judge.
§ Mr. Shinwell
To remove any misunderstanding, what I mean is this: I have much more sympathy with those who are doing the trying than with those who are being tried.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It was Bishop Colenso, much attacked by Mr. Gladstone for heresy, whom Mr. Gladstone tried to get before a synod of his fellow bishops. Colenso said that he would rather be tried by the laity of the Privy Council and refused to appear before a synod because he knew how savage one bishop could be to another. When one is considering the question of being tried by one's fellow men, one must not assume that it is in the offender's interest necessarily that he should be so tried. Voluntary committees, on shore or at sea will have only the enormous sanction of keeping a person from his job, not allowing him to go to sea, blacklisting him.
This is a very savage penalty and there is nothing in between, no rebuke or something of that sort. However if a man goes before a tribunal or someone such as a master, there is a gradation of penalties, some quite small. I know that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) does not think much of fines, but they are not quite as savage as blacklisting. That is a second advantage which, while not overwhelming ought to be considered.
These shipboard committees were much disliked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester and much liked by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and others. Perhaps the Government have got it about right, in between the two. They have taken the provision to have experiments. Can the Minister of State say what the powers of these committees will be? In Paragraph 296 of the Pearson Report it 1410 is clear that Pearson regarded these as essentially advisory. The report says:On a balance of considerations we think the jurisdiction should, for the time being at any rate, remain vested in the master, but that the additional safeguards mentioned above should be introduced.That referred to a mixed tribunal of assessors sitting with the master. We all agree with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others that the liaison officer is a good development. How right the hon. Member for Bootle was when he said that many seamen are unable to express themselves properly. There is a classic case of the sea, Herman Melville's "Billy Budd", which depends entirely upon that. Therefore, the liaison officer who can express something which the seamen cannot is essential.
There is all the difference in the world between being in a representative capacity, even an advisory capacity, and being in a judicial capacity. I hope the Minister of State will make clear whether these committees are to be fully judicial, and if they are, are they to be responsible not merely for the verdict but also for the sentence? Although I know it will all come out in regulations, it is such a revolution—and that is the word used by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen—that we ought to know a little more about these committees. They have loomed very large in our debates.
This has been a very good evening and we must ungrudgingly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done. We think there are several things that can be improved in Committee but if we enter Committee in the cooperative spirit that has been shown all round today we are in for a very agreeable time.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)
This has been an informed and instructive debate in which every speech—I have heard most of them—has made a real contribution.
It has been distinguished particularly by the powerful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who spoke from the basis of a wealth of honourable experience and achievement in the reform of the industry. We are all delighted to see him here, 1411 although he has been subject to a temporary indisposition. If he speaks so powerfuly when he is not 100 per cent. well, one wonders how he will speak in the Bill's later stages when he is fully recovered.
The Bill has been generally welcomed. First, this is because it is a genuine attempt to set out in statutory form the broad recommendation of the Pearson Committee, whose report was itself generally welcomed. Second, it is the fruit of considerable discussion with all parts of the industry, during which Ministers made constant and, I think, effective efforts to accommodate frequently conflicting views. No thoughtless undertakings were given but, there was very close consultation which, from time to time, possibly gave the impression that the attitude was more favourable than it actually was. While not all of the Bill is regarded as ideal, I think that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said in a striking speech, everyone will agree that it represents a tremendous step forward for the industry.
The industry is not only one of the oldest but also one of the most important in Britain. Our merchant fleet now totals slightly under 24 million gross tons, or rather more than 11 per cent. of the total world tonnage. At the end of October of this year it was manned by almost 100,000 British merchant seamen. I will come to the Asian point later, if I may.
The industry makes a major contribution to the economy and to the invisible earnings segment of the balance of payments. In addition, there are nearly 18,000 regularly employed fishermen in the United Kingdom, and the deep sea sector of the fishing fleet alone comprises some 550 vessels.
The immense contribution to the economy and to the character of the country made by the industry often is made under conditions of acute discomfort and even danger. It is vital that conditions of service in such an industry should be made as attractive and as just as possible.
As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said, to achieve this a great many antiquated provisions need first to be swept away. The Bill 1412 does exactly that. Many of these provisions were unduly harsh, and they are now being jettisoned. Among them there was the fact that deserters were imprisoned or forcibly placed back on their ships, practically as they were in the days of the press gang. That is no longer the fact, of course, but it is taken out of the Statute by the Bill.
In addition, seamen will no longer be branded for life by adverse markings in their discharge books since such markings will no longer be made. Expenses for medical treatment will no longer in any circumstances be the liability of the seaman when abroad. Moreover, the Bill will sweep away outdated provisions which, while not being very harsh, are obsolescent. Seamen will no longer have to be engaged or discharged in the presence of a Government official, though he will be available in case of need.
A statute is needed which, in the words of the Pearson Report,… should be designed to deal broadly with matters of principle and permanent policy, and to foster and not to inhibit future developments.These developments not only include technological advances, changes in size and structure of vessels and the increasing sophistication of equipment. They also include the developing concept of the ordinary seaman as an increasingly trained technician, educated in responsibilities as well as rights.
It is a remarkable and significant fact that so large and increasing a proportion of the modern merchant fleet are officers. Of the figure of 100,000 British merchant seamen that I mentioned, 47,000 were officers. We can draw an important conclusion from this. It is that we are dealing with an industry—and here I strongly echo what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington about the future of the industry and the status of those employed in it—where technical qualification is increasingly important, and where the old rigid concept of hierarchy is giving place to a technical democracy.
The Bill reflects this fact in the disciplinary Clauses. It certainly does so in the Clauses relating to health and welfare, the arrangements for paying wages, and the regulations which will be introduced to organise qualification and certification. It is a Bill not only to liberalise 1413 and humanise but also to modernise conditions of work on board ship, so that we can look forward not only to technical and technological progress but also to an increase in the status of every rating who takes part in the important work of this industry.
Further, we thought it essential that this reform should, as far as possible, be implemented by regulation. Hon. Members on both sides are well aware of the advantages and disadvantages of proceeding by regulation. The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) put the matter very fairly and succinctly. I see nothing to quarrel about with him on the question of constitutional principle.
But there are advantages. It adds flexibility. That was one of the main points made by the Pearson Committee. That is why the Bill is largely an enabling Bill. Under the present Merchant Shipping Acts, of which there have been a large number many regulations have been made. We propose to continue a practice which is not new in this field or many other industrial fields, but also to make statutory provision, in a special Clause, that there must be consultation with both sides of the industry before a regulation is drafted. Thereafter, as before, there is provision for regulations to be subject to the negative Resolution procedure, and in one case provision is made for regulations to be made by way of affirmative Resolution.
Some hon. Members have asked why this has been done. This arises in Schedule 1, which provides for making regulations concerning offences by fishermen. These would be of a kind which are covered for merchant seamen by Clauses 29, 30 and 31. We thought it right to make any such regulations subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure because, should they be made, they would introduce for fishermen offences similar to those which are regulated for seamen by the Clauses in the Bill. In that way the parliamentary consideration which is available in respect of the provisions concerning merchant seamen will be provided for in a somewhat different way for fishermen.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The point that we made is that if they are in the form of regulations they cannot be amended. The 1414 right hon. Member must address his mind to that argument.
§ Mr. Roberts
I have done so. It is not quite true to say that they cannot be amended. The hon. Member has in mind the fact that if regulations do not meet the wishes of the House they must be totally withdrawn. But they may be totally withdrawn, amended in the light if what the House has said about them, and brought back. The hon. Member is quite fair about this. There is a difference in that in dealing with Clauses amendments can be made progressively in Committee, whereas in dealing with regulations there must be a total presentation and, if necessary, a total withdrawal, and then, I suggest, a fresh presentation in the light of the Amendments which the House has made clear it wants to see made.
§ Mr. Hay
Could the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between adopting the affirmative procedure and the negative procedure, if the Government's intention is to give the House the opportunity of suggesting Amendments? Does not the negative procedure give exactly the same opportunity as the affirmative procedure?
§ Mr. Roberts
There is a difference. The affirmative Resolution procedure makes it more certain that there will be opportunityfor discussion in the House. I grant that it is not a difference in principle, but in practicality it is well worth having.
A number of hon. Members have raised points on the Clauses relating to discipline and good order on board ship. Some have expressed reservations on these sections of the Bill. I expect that in Committee we shall have extensive and responsible discussions on these and other Clauses. These provisions are designed to protect safety. They represent the consensus beyond which it would be dangerous to go, at least at present. Compared with existing provisions for discipline they are considerably less harsh. For instance, they restrict the penalty of imprisonment to the truly serious offences, and make it possible for the less serious offences to be dealt with on the spot, with proper safeguards against the substitution of authoritarianism for authority and proper provision for effective appeal. If these provisions can be improved in Committee, we shall all be prepared to listen 1415 and to take part in constructive discussion.
I am tempted at this stage to deal with Clauses 27 and 28, but they raise points which should properly be dealt with in Committee. There has been some confusion about the purpose of Clauses 27 and 28. We can clarify it in Committee. The essential point is that Clause 27 deals with the most serious offences, for which, rightly, stiff penalties are proposed, while Clause 28 deals with a condition—that of drunkenness on duty—which is potentially dangerous to the ship and its crew.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen asked why this version of the Bill is different from the July version. He suggested that the Government had yielded to pressure. There are two answers to that. First, paragraphs 252 and 253 of the Holland-Martin Report make a very strong argument for our doing in the Schedule what we propose to do. They are lengthy paragraphs which I cannot even paraphrase at this time of night.
Secondly, the hon. and learned Gentleman somewhat controverted his argument in a way most agreeable to me. I wish that we had two bites at every statutory cherry. That is an ideal situation which the House and Ministers would like to achieve—that the Government lay before the House not only a White Paper but a first draft and then, after two or three months, there is another draft. Nothing concentrates the drafting mind so wonderfully as a draft which might well be adopted by the House, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson in another connection.
I regret that before rising to speak I did not have time to examine the question of Asian seamen. While I will be prepared to say more during later stages of the Bill about this subject, in the meantime I assure the House that nothing appears in the Measure specifically for Asian seamen. The protection of the full provisions of the Bill are applicable to all seamen. There is absolutely no intention to create first-class and second-class seamen.
In the time available to me I am unable to mention every point of substance made in what has been a compendious and worth-while debate. The matters which I am perforce obliged to omit will inevitably be raised in Committee. Several 1416 hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) and the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby)—it is right that in a debate of this kind we should range around the compass—asked me to indicate the content of the regulations, and the matter was dealt with in another way by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen.
In Committee we will do our best to give broad indications of the content of the main regulations. It will not be possible to produce draft regulations at that stage, though I appreciate that that was not the intention of the question. There are several months' work to be done and hon. Members will wish to see full consultation taking place with both sides of industry before the regulations are drafted. In the meantime, I will do my best in Committee to give some indication of what the regulations will cover.
A related point, model crew agreements, was raised. This matter had occurred to me in a personal capacity, though not Ministerially. I have, therefore, been looking into it. Crew agreements will be worked out first within the industry, both sides being in consultation with the Board of Trade, and then they will be approved by the Board of Trade. Whether we can produce a model or a number of models I cannot say, but this question can be pursued in Committee.
A number of hon. Members, among them my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) raised interesting topics. It was suggested, for example, that the £30 minimum payment on discharge was on the low side. This, too, can be considered further in Committee, though there are certain difficulties attached to putting the figure at too high a level. They have no doubt occurred to some of my hon. Friends.
An ingredient of the Bill which attracted the attention of many hon. Members is the composition of ships' disciplinary committees. Such committees might consist of the master as chairman, two officers and two ratings. The Board of Trade will consider any proposals for the composition of disciplinary committees that might be worked out by the National Maritime Board. Whether 1417 there should be an experimental number of ships subject to this provision and whether we should broaden the base in this matter might also be matters for the National Maritime Board. It of course is an effective body on which both sides of the industry are represented and a body which in the past has effectively tackled a number of questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and also the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) raised the questions of how far and how fast disciplinary committees should be set up. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) very much doubted whether they should be set up. These are the two ends of the spectrum. I think the balance of argument in the House tonight has been in favour of as rapid as practicable and acceptable an expansion of this idea of a ship disciplinary committee.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen asked what the powers would be. These will be contained in regulations, but the hon. and learned Member was right to ask for a preview. We regard them as partly or fully according to the circumstances taking up the powers of discipline, of deciding on on board penalties, subject of course to appeal on shore.
§ Mr. Horner
This means that the master would have to surrender his disciplinary powers, and this would entail looking at the Clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. Roberts
Partly or wholly according to the circumstances, I stress that this is not something one would do at one fell swoop in regard to the whole industry. Clause 36 enables us to approach this somewhat revolutionary proposal and put it into effect slowly or quickly according to the general acceptability of this arrangement by the industry.
An important point was raised by a number of hon. Members in relation to discipline about the role of the accused's friend, the friend or counsellor from among the crew who would attend the accused when he appears before the master or before a disciplinary committee, and the rights which such a friend should have. At the moment his rights of speaking are somewhat circumscribed. I am for the fullest rights possible for this friend to speak on behalf of the accused.
1418 Standards of education have increased among seamen over the past 30 years or more, but there are still a great many ratings who find it extremely difficult to explain to a superior officer or even to a committee composed partly of their own friends exactly what the circumstances were and what their defence would be. Therefore I incline very much to listening favourably in committee to a suggestion that the rights of a friend to speak should be as full as possible.
I must apologise to the House that I have not by any means covered all the points which have been made. I do not think I have left a single point out which cannot be adequately tackled in Committee. I wish to say how proud I am to be associated with my right hon. Friend in presenting this Bill, and I heartily commend it to the House.
§ 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).