HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc1724-7

At the end of Questions

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 20, 54 and 81.

In February last year, following the tragic loss of three Hull trawlers, I appointed a Committee of Inquiry into Trawler Safety under the chairmanship of Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin. Its report is published today and copies are available in the Vote Office.

I am most grateful to the chairman and his colleagues for the exceptionally valuable work which they have done. The Government accept the report in principle, subject to consultation with the industry as to its detailed implementation and financing.

The Committee's recommendations fall into four categories. First, they propose that a support ship should be provided on a permanent basis to give trawlers meteorological, medical and technical assistance; it should be stationed mainly off North-West Iceland in the winter months, but should go wherever it was needed during the rest of the year.

Secondly, the report makes extensive recommendations on the construction of trawlers and on safety and fishing equipment. Amongst the more important matters covered are stability and structural fire protection.

The third category of recommendations, on which the report lays much emphasis, relates to conditions of work on beard trawlers. The report argues that many accidents to crews and casualties to vessels result from fatigue, and recommends that, after consultation between the owners and unions on the most practical way of achieving them, longer minimum rest periods at sea and longer breaks in port should become mandatory.

Lastly, a number of recommendations relate to management and training in the industry, and are addressed mainly to the industry itself.

Taken as a whole, the recommendations of this extremely thorough report will profoundly affect every aspect of the fishing industry—the construction of vessels, the conditions of employment and the economics of the fishing operation. I am sure that the recommendations are right in principle. I shall now need to consult the industry in order to obtain their views on the technical and financial implications of the recommendations. In co-operation with my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, I shall initiate these consultations at once.

Meanwhile, I am glad to announce that the Government will again provide a support ship off North-West Iceland this coming winter.

Mr. Wall

While welcoming this comprehensive report, particularly as it affects the support ship stability and conditions of work, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, whether he will give serious consideration to building a specially designed support ship on the lines of the German "Frithjof"? Secondly, what will be the approximate cost of these recommendations and how will it be divided between the Government and the industry?

Mr. Crosland

The question of a specially designed support ship is discussed in some detail in the report. Compared with having the "Orsino" this winter, this is a longer term issue which I shall need to discuss with the industry.

It is not possible to put a precise figure on the cost of these proposals, but it will be substantial. How this should be shared is one of the most important matters I must discuss with the industry.

Mr. James Johnson

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend, who, like myself, has a big deep sea fishing fleet in his constituency, on producing this report, and also offer my thanks to the Committee? I believe that the report can be the basis of a genuine fishermen's charter for the future.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that many of the proposals in the report do not need legislation in the autumn in the Merchant Shipping Bill? Will he get on at once with the job of implementing all the recommendations which can possibly be carried out?

Mr. Crosland

I judge that about a quarter of the recommendations will involve legislation. I shall seek to put some of the provisions in the Merchant Shipping Bill when it is reintroduced next Session. Other provisions may need a separate Bill.

On the general point, my hon. Friend knows that, representing a fishing constituency, I feel strongly about the matter. I am sure that this must and should be a breakthrough on the whole question of safety. In this industry the number of fatal accidents is about 17 times the average and many times the number in the coal mining industry.

Dr. Winstanley

Whilst welcoming the report and the right hon. Gentleman's Answer, may I, having worked as a deck hand on a deep sea trawler—albeit more than 30 years ago—draw attention to the fact that rest periods at sea and breaks in port have been urgent matters for many years, and that they could be dealt with immediately without waiting for other matters to be dealt with?

Mr. Crosland

I think that the industry has been slow on the matter that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which is one of the central recommendations of the report. I shall want to discuss with both sides of industry how rest periods can best be dealt with. I am anxious not only to have these rapid discussions, but to introduce legislation at the appropriate moment to make these rest periods mandatory.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the report has been warmly received by the Transport and General Workers' Union? Although it differs on matters of detail, it warmly welcomes the Government's decision to press ahead, and, in particular, my right hon. Friend's statement that he is eager to introduce legislation. On behalf of the Members of the union and, in particular, their wives and families, I thank my right hon. Friend for his attitude to this matter.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

On behalf of this side of the House, may I endorse the Minister's thanks to Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin and his colleagues for an extremely thorough report. In view of what will undoubtedly be an important addition to the Merchant Shipping Bill, may I suggest that any debate in the House should await the reissue of that Bill during the next Session?

Mr. Crosland

Yes, Sir. I should think it most unlikely that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will provide time for debate in the next three days, anyway.