§ 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.
I am particularly happy to introduce the Bill, because I am certain that it fills an important gap in our safety legislation. I believe that both sides of the industry will welcome the Bill and recognise its necessity.
Deep-sea trawling is generally known to be a hazardous occupation, but it is not always realised just how great the risks are. Calculations for accidents at work among fishermen aged 15–64 in England and Wales over a four-year period showed that they were more at risk than the average male worker by a factor of no less than 17 times. This was five times higher than the degree of risk even in coal mining.
That bald comparison needs little embellishing to emphasise the importance of the Bill. Moreover, the calculation which I have mentioned related to all fishermen including those in the inshore fleet, so that the degree of risk for those serving on deep-sea trawlers is probably even higher. No doubt fishing will continue to be dangerous, whatever we do, but an accident rate as high as this must be reduced.
There was a time when the accident rate was appallingly high in merchant shipping generally, but, starting in the 19th century, successive Governments have been active in raising safety standards. There is now a large body of safety legislation in and under the Merchant Shipping Acts. Because of the international nature of merchant shipping, these standards have been embodied in a series of international conventions, in which the United Kingdom has taken a lead, and, especially since the formation of the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, just over 10 years ago, the pace of international work on marine safety has been high. The present casualty rate of the British merchant 277 fleet is, indeed, now one of the lowest in the world.
It is rather a paradox that we should be talking today about fishing, which is one of the most dangerous occupations in Britain, when we have one of the safest merchant fleets in the world. That contrast shows what can be done by government action and government drive.
Understandably, because the merchant fleet is engaged in international voyages, this work has concentrated largely on improving standards on first passenger vessels and then, in the 1960 convention and the legislation which has followed it, also cargo ships. Now it is time to put a corresponding degree of effort into the safety of fishing vessels.
A number of disasters have occurred to emphasise the dangers to which especially the distant water fishermen are exposed. In 1953, for example, three trawlers were overwhelmed within a month of each other. In 1955, the "Lorella" and the "Roderigo" capsized off Iceland on the same day. In 1965, the "Blue Crusader" and the "Boston Pioneer" were lost within a month.
That disaster occurred when I was Minister of State, with responsibility for shipping. I shall never forget the position which it put me in, as the Minister answerable to the public for safety, when I found that we lacked even the powers to introduce the safety regulations that might have averted such losses.
As Minister responsible for shipping and safety at sea, I always see the national picture—not just Aberdeen, Lowestoft, Grimsby, or Hull. I am deeply aware of all the accidents and not just the fears and anxieties in one port, especially after an accident. I read all accident reports and consider the causes, such as instability, fire on board and freak waves in force 10 gales, clawing a trawler down to the depths of the ocean, smashing it to smithereens, vessel and men never to be seen again. Many of these reports remain imprinted on my mind. No one will ever fully realise their impact.
Hon. Members will no doubt remember my experience of going to sea overnight in a small trawler and being caught in a force 8 gale. The vessel was the "Ross Tern". I witnessed the fight back home for six hours as the vessel ploughed back to the quieter waters of the Humber.
278 Standing on the bridge with the late skipper, Mr. Charles Hodson, I saw holes in the sea like vast set pots, and as we sank into them gigantic waves swept over the vessel. All the time, racing through my mind were the many reports of instability, freak waves and vessels lost at sea. It was a most frightening experience, which I shall never forget, and it has strongly endeared the fishermen of our islands to me.
At the beginning of 1968 came the loss of three Hull trawlers within less than one month. My predecessor lost no time in setting up a committee of inquiry under Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin to examine the major factors affecting the safety of deep sea trawlers and their crews, and to make recommendations. In only 14 months the committee made an admirable job of this task, which was daunting in the range of topics to be considered.
The committee's report was printed and published last July. It included no fewer than 83 recommendations dealing not only with the structure of fishing vessels and their equipment, but also with such matters as fatigue, working conditions, conditions of employment, and management, all of which were shown to have a bearing on safety.
The recommendations are of varying importance, of course, but there is no one area that can be singled out as providing the key to safety. The committee emphasised the need to act on all its recommendations if a reasonable standard was to be achieved.
Immediately upon publication, my predecessor announced that the Government accepted the report in principle, subject to consultation with the industry as to its detailed implementation and financing. We are anxious to put it into effect as fast as is reasonably practicable. Immediately after publication of the report consultation with the industry began, and is still continuing. Responsibility for implementation is divided between the two sides of industry, on the one hand, and the Government, on the other. There are some matters which could be put into effect without delay, and I am glad to say that the industry has wasted no time in getting on with its own negotiations and introducing the improvements recommended.
279 We, too, are making progress with carrying out those recommendations which lie within our existing powers, and the House will know that we have already again stationed a fishery support ship off Iceland this winter. However, many of the recommendations addressed to the Government require not only detailed and lengthy discussions with the industry over the formulation of regulations, but also the provision of the necessary powers for the Board of Trade.
Fortunately, the Merchant Shipping Bill was already before the House, and we have taken the opportunity of introducing provisions there which will enable us to implement six of the Holland-Martin recommendations, relating to hours of work at sea, certification of trawler officers and accident reporting. Only last week a new Clause was approved in Committee which will give powers to implement the recommendations relating to safe working practices on board. It is also our intention to introduce a new Clause extending the Government's powers to require the carriage of radio installations on the lines of the Holland-Martin recommendations. As these provisions apply to merchant shipping vessels generally, it was thought appropriate that they should be included in that Bill.
The Bill before us now will give us the rest of the powers that we need and will enable us to implement six other Holland-Martin recommendations. Clause 1 will enable us to make rules covering four important aspects of the construction of trawlers that were dealt with in the report.
First, on stability, standards for new trawlers will be based on stability criteria drawn up by I.M.C.O. and, as far as possible, we shall seek to apply the same standards to existing ships. This may be a difficult matter, where substantial modification is needed, and we are in the middle of a programme of tests to find out the stability characteristics of all the vessels in the deep-sea fleet.
Second, rules will be made on weather-tight integrity similar to those contained in the Load Line Rules, 1968, for merchant ships, giving statutory force to the Code 1 of the Recommended Code of Safety of Fishermen on Trawlers which 280 was prepared by a committee under Board of Trade chairmanship only last year.
Third, rules on hull strength will be largely based on the standards set by the Classification Societies. And, fourth, rules will be made for structural fire protection, a matter of particular importance in view of several serious fires which have occurred on modern freezer trawlers in recent years. Here again. there may be difficulty in applying the desirable standards to existing ships.
Under Clause 2, the Board of Trade proposes to make rules whereby those vessels to which the rules are applicable would be subjected to annual survey or inspection. In addition to structural safety, these surveys will also cover lifesaving appliances and radio, for which rules applicable to fishing vessels already exist. Wherever practicable and appropriate surveys will be delegated to Classification Societies, and this will substantially ease the load of additional work for the Board of Trade's professional staff.
To enforce the survey requirements, fishing vessels will be required by Clause 4 to hold appropriate certificates issued under Clause 3. The Holland-Martin Report recommended a single fishing vessel certificate covering all the principal aspects of the ship's safety, but it may prove more convenient to have separate certificates for construction, life- saving appliances and radio.
In issuing certificates it will be possible under Clause 1(2) to exempt a vessel from any safety requirements and to impose conditions for doing so. This will probably be necessary for those vessels which cannot be brought up to the I.M.C.O. stability standards very quickly.
An important feature of the Bill is that under Clause 1(1) different rules can be made for different classes of vessel, and under Clause 11(4) rules for different descriptions of vessel may be brought into force at different times. The point of this is that the same rules would not be appropriate for all kinds of fishing vessels, nor can we expect to solve all the many problems in devising appropriate rules simultaneously. We shall have to have certain priorities.
The Holland-Martin Report related specifically only to deep-sea fishing 281 vessels, but it would be a mistake not to consider also the very much larger fleet of inshore fishing vessels, whose crews share many of the risks involved in deep-sea fishing. For this reason, the Bill applies to all fishing vessels, but our intention is to make rules in the first place for vessels covered by the Holland-Martin recommendations.
The rest of the Bill needs little explanation. I would mention only that Clauses 1, 4 and 5 contain penalities for contravening the rules, for going to sea without the appropriate certificates and for altering vessels for which certificates have been issued without notifying the Board of Trade. Clause 6 contains the power to prescribe fees, in particular, in regard to surveys, certificates and exemptions.
I am well aware that the full implementation of all the Holland-Martin recommendations will entail considerable cost. Preliminary discussions are being held with the industry to try to clarify what the nature and extent of the costs are likely to be, so that decisions can later be made as to how they should be shared. There will be close consultations on this question with my right hon. Friends the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, as well as with the industry.
As hon. Members will realise, the Bill is a vital first step. It is an essential enabling Measure, and the regulations that we shall make under it will deal with some of the most important matters in the Holland-Martin Report.
Formulation of these rules is a major task, but we are pressing on quickly in consultation with the industry. Together with the relevant clauses in the Merchant Shipping Bill, this is a vital part of the joint effort that we are undertaking with the industry to improve safety standards in fishing, and I believe that the intention of the Bill will be applauded on all sides.
This Bill is concerned with the vital subject of safety at sea. In British merchant shipping, we have progressed from a state of affairs in the last century when our safety record was bad, through Government intervention and efforts by both sides of the shipping industry to our present position in which the safety 282 record of British merchant ships is one of the best in the world.
There have been many milestones on the way: international safety conventions in which the United Kingdom played the lead, and the building up during the last few years of the international structure of the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation.
The state of affairs in the fishing industry, and, in particular, the deep-sea fishing industry, has, however, been different and much less satisfactory. There has been little regulation while our attention was concentrated on merchant ships. There are now about 18,000 men who serve on fishing vessels, of whom approximately 7,500 serve on the distant water fleets. Between 1958 and 1967, there were 208 deaths on deep-sea trawlers, and less than half of these were due to casualties to the ships themselves. Accidents to individual fishermen were at least an equally serious cause of death.
It is time to put this state of affairs right. We have had the valuable Holland-Martin Report, and we are now proceeding in various ways to implement the recommendations. In the Merchant Shipping Bill we are taking the powers which are needed to regulate the manning question, and the prevention of accidents on board ship, where at present there is a gap in what the Government can require.
The Bill which we are considering today is concerned, on the other hand, with the structure and equipment of the trawlers themselves. Here, too, we must take powers to lay down proper standards and see that these are maintained. This will be a very considerable task, but I know that in this effort we shall have the willing help of both sides of the fishing industry. The Bill represents a very great step forward, therefore, in safeguarding safety at sea, and I commend it to the House.
In conclusion, as an ex-mineworker and one who has had experience of a dangerous occupation, now having responsibility for making the regulations that will determine the degree of safety at sea, I believe that we in this House should all humbly remember that in the remoteness of this Chamber and the type of life we lead it is rate that we personally share the grief and sorrow of major accidents and 283 tragedies. Because of that, it makes it all the more important that we collectively apply our minds to making the lives of those who earn our wealth in these dangerous occupations much safer and, at the same time, lessen the grief and heartaches among our people.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
Like the President of the Board of Trade, we warmly welcome the Bill. It is a curious thing that when the House is dealing with ships both sides seem closer together than on almost any other occasions, certainly much closer than when we are dealing with aircraft, a subject which seems to divide rather than unite the House.
I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Opposition, of thanking Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin and his colleagues for their fascinating report which, to a layman such as myself, is very clearly written. I thought, for example, that the committee, in dealing in paragraph 83 with the difficult problem of stability, expressed itself in four lines in a way that was a revelation. It said:Stability is a property which the designer can put into a ship in any required quantity; if the quantity is deficient the ship may capsize in extreme weather, if it is excessive the ship will probably be unnecessarily large and expensive, difficult to operate and stiff and uncomfortable in her movements.That, in a nutshell, sums up the dilemma and the width of the bracket in dealing with the matter. I do not think that I have ever heard a difficult problem more concisely and succinctly expressed.
There is one sentence in the report which I would not commend. It is about the only one and it comes in paragraph 99, when the committee is talking of the difficult problem of getting about trawlers:We recommend that an investigation be made into the ergonomics of human locomotion in an oscillating and slippery environment…I was tempted to draw from that parallels from the modern political scene, but I thought, in view of the love feast between the two sides of the House on this topic, that it would be dangerous to do so.
The Bill is very thin in weight because all the serious matters are to be dealt 284 with under regulations, in the modern way; and I make no complaint about that. We have, of course, no idea what the regulations are to be except from the brief remarks of the Minister. It is for consideration whether there should not be written into the Bill, as was done in the Merchant Shipping Bill, a statutory obligation to consult. I am sure that that will happen, but it is just as well to make it quite clear beyond doubt.
It is customary, on a Bill of this kind, for the Opposition to say that while welcoming it they will examine it very closely in Committee, line by line. I do not think that it would be honest to say that of this Bill, because there is very little to examine. The examination will take place when we get the regulations. That is the important stage. One thing I might say to the right hon. Gentleman on that is that I noticed that the regulations under Clause 7 of the Bill are to be subject to the negative Resolution procedure.
I understand the reason for that. I here will be many. This House cannot clutter itself with affirmative Resolution procedure under every Bill, because if it did so it would grind to a halt. But the affirmative procedure gives the House very much greater control m the way of amendment. If I may repeat what I said in Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill, under the negative procedure regulations are very often brought into force before the House has a chance to discuss them; whereas under the affirmative procedure regulations are brought in in draft and, therefore, in practice, there is an opportunity of amending them; not technically, but in practice. The Government can more easily withdraw the draft and make it again in amended form. Under the negative procedure it is often impossible for the Government to do so.
I want it to be clear that I am not asking that all these regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure, because that would be asking too much. But I am asking, first, that there should be a statutory obligation to consult and, secondly, that regulations should come before the House before they are put into force. I dare say that it will not be necessary in a great majority of cases to pray against them. But if it is necessary we want to have a feeling of reality about it, and to know that the regulations can 285 be withdrawn and relaid, if the House so feels, without loss of face on the part of the Government or without loss of administrative convenience. That is all I want to say about the machinery of the Bill. It is important, because the Bill is purely an enabling Measure.
The rest of what I have to say is mainly a series of questions. I begin with stability. In paragraph 87, the Holland-Martin Report suggests that further investigation by the Board of Trade should be made as to the extent to which the existing fleet fails to measure up to the I.M.C.O. standards. That is a very difficult question. Has the Board made the investigation? If so, what is the result? The problem is very difficult and will be very expensive to remedy. According to paragraph 96, structural strength seems to have been generally satisfactory.
What has happened about the recommendation relating to survival clothing? We all remember that, in one of the disasters mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, one man's life was saved because he was wearing survival clothing. The court of inquiry attributed his survival to that fact. It is a matter of great importance and I hope that we shall have some information about it, and about any further studies on the dreaded problem of ice accretion.
The report reads very solemnly en the question of ice accretion. It comes generally to the conclusion that nothing much can be done about it except for the skippers to run for it, if I may use that expression, at an early stage. Although the report makes recommendations, it concludes that these must, in a sense, be marginal and that, when the dreaded ice begins to form, the only thing that can be done is to get out of the area. Therefore, of course, the fleet will depend increasingly, I believe, upon the protection vessel which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I wonder whether we could have more information about how the "Orsino" is faring—I think that it is still called the "Orsino". Other countries, particularly the Federal Republic of Germany, have many more vessels than we have, and I wonder what the Board of Trade's plans are to get our protection a little higher up the international league and more nearly the equivalent of the German basis.
286 Indeed, is there any hope, as we move into the European Economic Community, of getting this matter of protection vessels on an international basis? Is seems desirable that that should be done in Europe. I hope that efforts are being made to achieve it. I am sure that it would be much less expensive if ancient rivalries could somehow be sunk. It would be to the advantage of all.
My other questions relate to cost. The report, although it has a chapter on the matter, is vague on the subject. It was fairly specific on that part of the new code of safety which we are not dealing with in the Bill—that is to say, dealing with the human factor, which will be dealt with by regulations under the new Merchant Shipping Bill. But, as far as the physical environment is concerned—the ship and its equipment—we are very much in the dark, and, of course, it is of paramount importance. At present, the modern subsidy to this fleet runs to about £4 million per annum and I have seen it suggested that the cost of implementation of these proposals will be perhaps as much as that. Therefore, if most of the cost is to fall upon the industry, the whole benefit of the subsidy—and it has been of great benefit—will be cut down.
I know that it is impossible to quantify exactly, but may we know what the Board of Trade thinks will be the cost to the industry of the measures proposed in the regulations and how it sees the cost split between the Government and the industry? If it cannot be done, then it cannot be, but it is a matter of enormous importance, because this is an industry in competition with many other countries and cost is, therefore, of the essence.
I share all the words the right hon. Gentleman so movingly uttered about the drama and tragedy and importance of the fishermen who go out particularly into the middle and further waters. The risk is alarming still—17 times above the average, broadly speaking. But it is also true to say that less than half of the deaths at any rate are due to the matters we are discussing in the Bill. Most are due to human negligence and disregard of things which should be regarded. This is responsible for far more accidents.
That does not mean to say that the matters in this Bill are not important, 287 because the causation is twofold. It is easier to be negligent, and more understandable to be negligent, if one has bad equipment than if one has good, and, therefore, if we provide good equipment and good ships the chances of negligence itself are much reduced. For that reason, among others, although recognising that the human factor is more important than the physical, the physical factor is by no means to be despised.
The Opposition give the Bill a warm and speedy passage.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Like my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, whose eloquent and moving speech I enjoyed, I warmly welcome the Bill. I go further. As a back bencher representing a fishing port, I feel privileged, as we all are, to play a small part in legislation which will make the lives of these intrepid and at times fearless men more comfortable in dangerous Arctic waters.
This is an enabling Bill, but on the Statute Book it will give a cutting edge to the Board of Trade and enable it, through statutory regulations, to carry things which, in the past, we have desired to get, but which were left to voluntary means and activity. I am sure that the Bill will pass quickly to the Statute Book. In a way, it is a twin of the Merchant Shipping Bill—at least, it is complementary to it—for there are many Schedules in that Bill which appertain to fishermen's lives. Such is the deep concern of the House that I believe we shall quickly get the Bill through Parliament.
I want to say without much ado that I echo what my right hon. Friend said about statistics of casualties and accidents to deep-sea fishermen. He is of coal mining stock, like myself, but deep-sea fishing has a much higher incidence of casualties than coal mining has, despite the popular view of city dwellers. The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) talked about the human factor, and it is not unimportant, despite the improved ships which we hope will be built in future.
I was in my constituency at the weekend talking to a fisherman who is now 70 and who spent many years at sea. He said to me, "Of course, we are a race apart. 288 Our psychology is geared to monetary incentives and our take back pay is based upon a percentage of the catch". So, amidst all the hardships and dangers at sea they are inclined to take chances—particularly young skippers who have their way to make in the future with their owners—and even in icing conditions the Holland-Martin Report says that they will wait for "just one more haul". Therefore, it behoves us, as was said by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen, to give our men the best possible ships that we can.
The Merchant Shipping Bill has been mentioned. There were many hon. Gentlemen who compared the vessels, and, even more so, would compare the fishing vessels that we are talking about today, with floating factories. We must make every effort to try to get conditions on our floating factories on the water as near as possible to those in the factories on shore; and this is what we are attempting to do in the Bill.
We must beware of making the Holland-Martin Report into a bible, but there is no doubt that in at least one respect it is a bible for fishermen, and for legislators, too. It says, in paragraph 123:Unlike most merchant ships, a trawler (even an old-fashioned side trawler) may be regarded as a small floating factory on which men are employed to process fish on large modern freezers, where the handling and processing of the catch is relatively complex, the analogy is even more appropriate. It is somewhat illogical that employees in factories should be protected at work by legal regulations on the design and operation of machinery when no similar requirements exist for the protection of trawler men at sea.This is the object of the Bill, and it indicates the new approach of many hon. Members who have been talking this way in another Committee.
I now deal with the parts of the Bill which, in my view, are vitally important. Clause 1 is paramount. I want to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). Soon after the 1964 election he came to Hull and at that time some people may have thought that his mind was, if not obsessed, at least certainly fixed on this matter of safety. He came to the fish dock and the words which were always on his lips were "stability and design", but particularly "stability". Following that visit, many hon. Members on this side of the 289 House went to the National Physical Laboratory, at Teddington, and saw a fascinating experiment about size, shape, design and dimension of vessels, and particularly about stability. Later, there came our shattering disasters in Hull in 1968.
I firmly believe that it is the Minister's intention—and it should be—that the Board of Trade must and will seek statutory powers to lay down stability standards for all new trawlers. The position is not quite so simple with the older trawlers, but there are standards laid down by I.M.C.O. Since all our own vessels are built with 40 per cent. of Government money and all are vetted by the White Fish Authority, we can easily obtain these standards in the new vessels.
I have yet to meet a fisherman who does not believe that stern fishing is safer than side trawling. This is absolutely clear; there can be no discussion about it. I have met no one who denied this—certainly not in the case of freezers. In wet fishers one vessel, the "C. S. Forester", of Hull, is not only a magnificent vessel, but has almost cracked all records for value of catch as well. It is a convincing success both to the owners and to the fishermen themselves.
What of existing vessels and their stability? It was not easy to do, but an investigation was made into the loss of the two vessels, the "Ross Cleveland" and the "Kingston Peridot", and I am informed that both were below I M.C.O. standards. As I understand, at the moment an investigation is taking place at Government expense into all vessels in service. I believe that this exercise should be sharpened up. The quicker we can get this work done the better. This is the view of most people in the industry to whom I have spoken.
It is imperative for the Government to take powers immediately, to forbid the use of all trawlers below standard. We owe it to our men to do that, and I never wish to hear again the 19th century words used to me sometimes during January, 1968—the "floating coffin". I add, in fairness to the Hull firms in my constituency, that even without legislation all the Hull trawlers have been insured by the mutual insurance companies and were inspected. The Holland-Martin Report is very fair about these matters.
290 The Minister mentioned what, to me, is a sinister feature of recent years—the serious fires that have occurred upon our trawlers. I am thinking about the "St. Finbar" off Labrador in 1966. Although we had an official inquiry into the loss of that vessel, local opinion showed scepticism about the findings. It would be contentious to use the words which have been used on the dock and elsewhere about "whitewashing". Again, to be fair, I must say that the Holland-Martin Report does state again that Hull firms have done good work on a voluntary basis in the matter of making their ships safer for dealing with the danger of fires on board. But we still need measures—and the Bill will provide them—on the Statute Book to tighten up our standards.
Clause 3 of the Bill deals with fishing vessel certificates and Clause 4 says that no boat can go to sea without those certificates of safety and seaworthiness. I can confirm from my own experience in the Fisheries Committee of the Council of Europe that the West Germans have these conditions. Those of us who have been lucky enough to go aboard German vessels and the protection vessel "Frithjof"—and I am as jealous as anyone of my own fishing fleet and my own people here—will know that the quicker we have conditions like those throughout our fishing fleet the better it will be for our men in the industry.
Earlier, I heard the hon. and learned Member for Darwen talking about international help on the seas to give assistance to vessels in times of difficulty. It is my understanding that this is obtained. There is no walk of life and no field of economic activity where one has more camaraderie and more genuine association—except perhaps in mining than amongst seamen on the sea itself—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
May I raise a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker? This has become a bit too much. We have teachers here lobbying Members. There are about 50 or 60 of them outside, with 20 or 30 police standing out in the cold. There is plenty of room in St. Stephen's Hall, yet they are not being admitted there.
I claim that constituents have a right to come here and lobby their Members of Parliament. I have raised this before. I do not know who gives anyone such as 291 an official of the House power to stop people coming to lobby their Members of Parliament.
Will you please order that anyoneanyone—who is outside now, and who wants to come in to see his Member of Parliament, is to be admitted, and stop officialdom interfering with the rights of constituents?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
I am obliged to the hon. Member for drawing the attention of the House to the situation which he has outlined. Perhaps the Serjeant at Arms will take note of his remarks.
§ Mr. Johnson
Before that intervention, I was dealing with the happy subject of camaraderie on the high seas. I know that Portuguese hospital ships off Newfoundland will give aid to anyone, as will Communist, for example, Polish fleets.
This is not the day for long speeches, because so many of the points which arise, particularly about accidents on ships, will be dealt with in Committee. It is, therefore, superfluous to deal with them now, but I must refer to one or two matters.
Clause 1 refers to equipment and machinery. Like the Minister, I believe that a much more careful examination must be made into accidents on deck. There was some high-falutin' talk about the "ergonomics of human locomotion upon an oscillating and slippery surface". Holland-Martin has something to say here. I think that the university—hon. Members can guess which one—at a deep-sea fishing port will best be able to tackle this matter of the design of hand rails, doors, etc.
I sometimes marvel at the money spent by big business on designing chairs, sofas, and furniture for the interiors of houses. If a little of that money were spent on designing the interiors of fishing vessels, there would be far fewer accidents as a result of people slipping on decks covered with fish offal, and suchlike.
We all accept the need to improve the standards for guarding winches. Fishermen often talk about the dangers of winches and other machinery on deck. Factories on land must guard their machines. We must ensure that factories at sea do the same.
292 I am sure that all these matters will be scrutinised carefully in Committee. I welcome the Bill, and I wish it a speedy passage on to the Statute Book.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
I, too, give the Bill a very warm welcome. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in his place because, although the President of the Board of Trade has undoubtedly had a good deal to do with the Bill, I fancy that the right hon. Member for Grimsby, in his previous job as President of the Board of Trade, played a part in it, until he found himself kicked upstairs in a rather strange way early last autumn.
All those who represent fishing constituencies, and, indeed, the whole House, know the appalling distress which is caused by the loss of a trawler, or the loss of an individual fisherman. Certainly, the loss of a trawler results in an atmosphere of gloom which spreads way and beyond the immediate industry. We therefore welcome the Bill and all that it will do to help trawler safety.
I come immediately to what I think has been one of the major difficulties in providing safety. Since the war the industry has not been showing a large enough return on capital to invest in new ships and new equipment which would have done much to alleviate the problems of safety which we are debating today. It will be no good making orders and regulations about safety unless, at the same time, we make certain that the industry is in an economic position to make a profit afterwards.
I make no bones about it. There is only one way in which the industry can be helped to make a profit, and that is on the end price. I hope that the Government will not resort to giving additional subsidies in order to make these improvements to vessels, but that they will go on with a policy which will ensure that an economic price is paid for the catch. This will enable investment to take place in the industry so that it keeps up to date and provides a reasonable return for all those engaged in it, be they employers, or employees. This return includes keeping the vessels in a safe and proper condition for people 293 to work in. That is the right way to tackle the problem.
One matter which needs consideration is the provision of an additional radio station. Owing to the drilling for gas and oil in the North Sea, considerable demands are made on the Humber and at Whitley Bay radio stations. There is considerable delay in getting messages through from ships at sea because of the congestion, brought about largely by the oil rigs. The other day I tabled a Question to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications asking whether he would consider providing an additional station, in view of the express need for it. The right hon. Gentleman replied that this was no longer a matter for him, but for the postal authority, or whatever it is called.
This is a matter for the House, and this is a good opportunity to raise it. I hope that the Minister will do what he can to help in this respect. The other day a skipper told me that his was the eleventh call waiting to be passed through the Humber radio station. It might have been an urgent call, and he would have had to wait for up to two hours, and that is a very long time indeed. Something needs to be done about this problem.
I agree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher Cook) said about the support ship. I am surprised that we cannot write into the Bill a statutory duty on the Government to provide one. I feel that after a year or two there may be a sliding away from the responsibility to supply one, and I should like to see the Bill contain a provision to ensure that we have our share of support ships on duty.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that this, or any other, Government would deliberately go out of their way to withdraw the services of a support ship?
§ Mr. Prior
I think that it is possible. After all, we have had a support ship for only two years, and perhaps in a few years' time, when all these safety regulations have been introduced, the Government may say that there is no need for a support ship. We have had a support 294 ship for only two years. Before that one was not considered necessary, and the time may come when that view is taken again. The hon. Gentleman believes that no Government would get out of the responsibility to provide a support ship, but I think that there is every reason for writing that responsibility into the Bill. It would make it necessary for the Government of the day always to fulfil this obligation. That is what I should like to see.
§ Mr. McNamara
Thinking about the hon. Gentleman's argument and his own party's suggestions on cutting Government expenditure, it might be an idea to write it into the Bill.
§ Mr. Prior
I would treat that sort of remark with the contempt it obviously deserves. Certainly, I would like to see written into the Bill something committing all Governments to having a support ship. I would have thought that a reasonable thing to do.
We come now to the question of the financial effect of the Bill and its effects on public service manpower. There are two points here. The first is that the surveys which will have to be carried out on every facet will have to be done by skilled labour; the annual survey dealing with radio and with life-saving appliances, I would have thought, could have been carried out by the fishery officers in the ports concerned. I would like to hear what views the Government have on this. The fishery officers are in constant touch with the industry. They generally get on very well with the industry and they would seem to me to be the people to carry out this job, without any additional cost to the Exchequer.
Finally, I would like to know when—given a fair passage of the Bill through the House—we are likely to have the rules brought into operation. The sooner the industry knows what it has to do, the quicker it can get on with it and the quicker it can make its dispositions of cost. The fishing industry is now enjoying a minor boom. It probably has a little more money at the moment than it may have at some time in the future. From all points of view, therefore, the sooner this is brought in the better.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)
I am, like many other hon. Members, very glad to see this Bill before the House. My only regret is that we were not debating it some time ago. It needed the terrible tragedies which overtook the "Kingston Peridot", the "Ross Cleveland" and the "St. Romanus" to bring forward this piece of legislation. It appears that there is nothing like a disaster to concentrate the mind. It was only then the "Orsino" was sent out to do the essential services which we now hurry to say are so necessary and which the Germans accepted as such as far back as 1948.
We have a very long way to go. When one reads the appendix to the Holland-Martin Report, with its description of the German support ships and their enormous range of specialist services—right down to operating theatres—we realise we are only now, rather late, coming to the beginning of a very long road indeed. The appalling accident rate is something we have known about for a very long time. Holland-Martin goes back into the 'fifties with these figures. The bald statement in terms of "standard mortality ratio"—the rather strange dehumanised concept—is something which should have taken up more of our attention a long time ago.
I was struck by the fact that although it is the disaster that overwhelms a boat that hits the headlines, it is the continuing series of minor mishaps—minor in the sense of numbers involved, but all too serious and perhaps final for the individual involved—which are a feature of the statistics. As the Holland-Martin Report says at paragraph 10:It is clear that accidents to individual crew members at work, occurring when their ships are not in danger present an equally serious—if not more serious—problem.I at least would like to see a great deal more work done on this subject.
Since March, 1968, we have made good speed. Sir Deric Holland-Martin and his Committee are to be congratulated, as are the Government, in that we are beginning to make up some of the leeway. The Bill will be widely welcomed in my part of the world, the port of Aberdeen, where fishing is one of our basic industries. It is interesting to see that over 296 1,600 men are employed in the Aberdeen fleet. In 1948 the figure was 2,600. This partially represents the onset of mechanisation—the industry's productivity rate is one which could be copied with great advantage in many other parts of Britain. It also reflects the nature of the industry itself. There will always be a tendency for men to drift out of fishing. Almost every year recently recruits have been outnumbered by the losses from the Aberdeen fleet. This reflects the fact that it is a hunting industry. It is a dangerous trade, and life in the fishing fleet will always be rough.
For all that, we have a duty as legislators to minimise the hazards inherent in the trade. There is a perhaps rather parochial but still understandable feeling in Aberdeen that when we talk in terms of the fishing industry too often we are talking about the Humber. The near and middle water fleet is too often neglected. This is true whether we are considering rationalisation of the industry by I.R.C. or safety regulations.
There are one or two specific recommendations in the Holland-Martin Report which refer to the near and middle water fleet. I hope they will not be forgotten when the Government consider what action and regulations they will introduce under the enabling Statute. An enormous amount has been done, probably in every one of the fishing centres. Certainly when it comes to radio and radio communications I have now very few complaints from the men serving on the Aberdeen boats. The regular reporting every 24 hours and the standard of radio equipment is considered satisfactory at the present time. I welcome the fact that statutory force has been given to the improvements that have been voluntarily made. It is certainly necessary to ensure there is no slipping away from the standards we would all like to see.
Many aspects of the Bill are highly technical and laymen like myself are well advised to keep away from them. I too, like the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cook), was impressed by paragraph 83, dealing with the definition of stability. Those three or four lines are fascinating. There is one general comment which could be 297 made by anyone, however inexpert his mind may be:If the quantity"—that is, of stability—is deficient the ship may capsize in extreme weather, if it is excessive the ship will probably be unnecessarily large and expensive, difficult to operate and stiff and uncomfortable in her movements.It seems the disadvantages fall very sharply into two sections. No one wants a ship which is unmanœuvreable, a ship that cannot be worked efficiently. But in general terms there must never be a tendency, as perhaps there has been in some cases in the past, for the factor of expense to bulk too large in the consideration of where the balance on stability should be struck.
We are faced with the situation where we will for some time be using the older boats, where the stability ratio cannot be altered. I hope we shall not relax the pressure in the field, for instance, of de-icing the equipment merely because of the harsh realities that the Holland-Martin Report refers to. It may be true that we are a long way away from an adequate answer. It may be that pneumatic sleeves, and so on, have not been developed to a stage where they are the complete solution. But given the nature of the industry and given the financial pressures in the industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said, I suspect there will always be this temptation to make one last haul before running for cover when the meteorological people warn that the conditions for icing are approaching fast. We must not relax the search for the answer.
One of the recommendations of Holland-Martin is that the Board of Trade should consider commissioning design studies for stern trawlers in the smaller range. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said, no fishermen would deny that the stern trawler was intrinsically a safer fishing vessel than the conventional side trawler. The Holland-Martin Report mentions this at some length. It admits that there is some argument within the industry about the economic viability of stern trawlers in the near and middle-distance category. In Aberdeen where we have a large fleet of over 100 vessels we have no stern trawlers.
298 We had one short-lived experiment—a very small boat that was really a pocket trawler and it did not last. There is one due to arrive soon, ordered by an owner noted for his progressive attitude in this field. I very much hope that it will be a success. There can be no doubt that the greater confidence that stern trawling gives to the crew is a considerable element in improving the safety record of the fleet. When it comes to shooting and hauling the gear there can be no room for argument on this point. I hope that the Board of Trade will consider whether there is some way in which it can act as a catalyst to encourage what must be an important development, which has been far too long in coming in the near and middle-distance fleets.
The Bill is only one side of the story. I welcome the fact that we are now taking action in the Merchant Shipping Acts to deal with what has been called the human element. We all hear stories about how men have been fishing for literally 40 or 50 hours at a stretch. It is very difficult to get the kind of manning structure which will allow six hours off regularly in 24 in a middle-distance boat where, as Holland-Martin points out, the entire crew of 11 is needed to work the gear. This is mast important and the biggest single contribution that can be made to trawler safety. The endurance of the trawler men is something which we can admire, but at the end of the day the kind of conditions and pressures under which they have to work when they are at the fishing grounds must militate against efficiency and do a lot to encourage the kind of personal accidents to which I have referred.
Of course, Holland-Martin will be expensive, in terms of the crewing element, the time off and the longer stay ashore between trips. It will also be expensive in terms of boats and equipment once these regulations are finally promulgated. This is something we will have to face, the Government as much as industry, if necessary in partnership. We cannot go on paying the kind of price that we are paying now. It does not matter how much lip-service we pay in terms of admiration for the men who catch the fish which we eat so casually at our dining table; we have to recognise 299 the financial implications and do our utmost to ensure that the fleet is safe and that it operates under the kind of conditions which encourages men to stay in an industry which is of great importance to this country and particularly to the areas in which it is based.
It is an industry very uncertain in its distribution. Where fishing is important it is very important for the locality concerned. I was impressed by what the President of the Board of Trade said about the feeling of powerlessness when he discovered that he could not even lay regulations because he had not got the powers. At least we are now sweeping that away. That must be a cause for celebration. My impression is that in the fleets the men are aware of the safety factor as never before. That is why, for example, they are pressing for joint safety committees in every port, a recommendation of Holland-Martin which I hope will not be forgotten but will be implemented in the near future. I am certain that the Government, having got the power, will now press on energetically and lay the regulations.
I was glad that the Opposition so freely and properly promised their support and co-operation. I believe that the Minister's approach will be welcomed by all interested in the industry and that there will be enthusiastic support for the work which has been started.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
This has been a harsh winter in the North Sea and in our debate today we feel a sense of sadness for the lives that have been lost in the fishing industry recently. There is no doubt about the widespread support and agreement for the Bill. Anything that can be done to increase safety for our fishermen will be welcomed, and I join with my right hon. and hon. Friends in giving a warm welcome to the start made through the introduction of the Bill.
I, too, was impressed by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, not only for its content, but particularly by the point he made about the safety record of the British merchant fleet over the last century and the very much better record that has been built up as safety regulations, with Government intervention to make them work, and which have 300 worked their way through the industry. This must happen in the fishing industry, too.
The safety of vessels is very much in question in all sections of the fleet. It affects those involved in the most direct ways. The difficulty of obtaining crews to fish in certain waters today shows the extent of the concern about safety. To what extern does the Bill apply to the construction and design of inshore boats? I understand that it applies to any fishing boat, and I would be interested to know whether that extends to the very smallest boats which go out to pick up a few lobster pots off the coast.
The original concept was that Holland-Martin should involve itself with vessels over 80 feet. That seems to indicate that the smaller boats have not necessarily been considered with the same scientific attention that has been devoted to the larger fishing vessels. The right hon. Gentleman said that these regulations would apply to the trawler fleet. I would like greater clarification about the timetable and the development of the administration involved. I imagine that the advantage of this will be that experts will have the chance to consider the needs of the inshore fleet in the same way as they have considered the needs of the deep-sea fleet. Design studies are particularly helpful. I was glad to hear about the provisions being written into the Merchant Shipping Bill. Obviously, the human factor is at least as important as the construction factor in terms of safety.
They have the advantage of being comparatively cheaper, particularly in relation to the expense of alterations for ships coming under the survey. Human details, such as clothing, training, medical inspections, radio procedures and fishing hours, are extremely important to safety, but they do not represent the comparatively large capital involvement needed to make our trawling and fishing fleet much more secure.
Clause 1(2) of the Bill needs clarification. The President of the Board of Trade told us that it was to provide for those boats which could not be brought up to I.M.C.O. standard. Will those vessels be named, so that the fishermen will known what is involved if they sail on them? If we are to have a code of regulations on safety for fishing vessels, all who are involved in the 301 industry should be told as soon as possible which vessels comply with the regulations and which do not.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
May I, like all hon. Members who represent seaports, give a warm welcome to the Bill, not only because it is so necessary but because to a large extent it finishes the Government's support of the fishing industry. I do not mean that the support will not continue, but the fishing industry in Hull has a great deal for which to be grateful to the Government, including the I.R.C., the E.F.T.A. Agreements, the Merchant Shipping Bill and now this Bill. My constituents have much to thank the Labour Government for, and the people there, the families and the unions, are conscious of this.
Will the Minister tell us more specifically what are the plans to replace the "Orsino"? How far have negotiations gone for the building and construction of a specific ship or to obtain a similar type of vessel? The "Orsino" is not due to be chartered again to the Board of Trade, and we should like to know what vessel will replace it. Could an early statement be made on this?
May I ask what has happened to Recommendation 83 of the Holland-Martin Committee, which concerns the establishment of the much-needed National Trawler Health and Safety Committee? The first annual report of the T.U.C. Centenary Institute of Occupational Health gives, on page 14, several possible explanations of the high death rates of fishermen, and states:Deep sea fishing attracts unusual men who follow an arduous and exacting job but to elucidate the causes of disease and injury among them demands a prolonged and detailed study of a large fishing population which has not yet been done.There are many reasons why it has not been done. Valuable work has been done amongst Grimsby fishermen, and there is an interesting statistical table at the back of the Holland-Martin Report, but there has not been an overall look at the picture. What is the reason for the various types of disease referred to in the Holland-Martin and T.U.C. Reports? Surely, to find the answer to this was specifically the job of the National Trawler Health and Safety Committee. What has happened to that excellent idea and why has it not been developed? 302 I hope that my hon. Friends who are members of the Committee which is considering the Merchant Shipping Bill will forgive me if I refer to points which I have made in that Committee. There is no provision in the Bill for a safety representative either from the union or elected from the crew aboard when the trawler is at sea. This is an important omission from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) in Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill moved new Clause 3, paragraph (b) of which reads as follows:the setting up in ships of committees of persons employed in ships to which the regulations apply to be known as ships' safety committees;".My right hon. Friend the Minister of State replied in this way:The main fishing ports have already established port safety committees on which owners, officers and fishermen are represented, and this may be the best way to handle business in that industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 26th February 1970; c. 621–2.]I disagree with my right hon. Friend. The port safety committees are in the ports and not on the vessels. The situation in a port is very different from that in a fishery vessel at sea in bad weather.
There are trade union representatives on the port safety committee, although they are heavily outnumbered by owners, insurance companies and various other representatives, but there are no lay members of the trade unions on it. This may be a criticism of the trade unions. Men who are working in this difficult environment from day to day should be on the committee. Even more important, there should be representatives at sea who are able to deal with safety matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) referred to paragraph 123 of the Holland-Martin Report:It is somewhat illogical that employees in factories should be protected at work by legal regulations on the design and operation of machinery when no similar requirements exist for the protection of trawlermen at sea.But it could equally well read:It is somewhat illogical that employees in factories should be protected at work by legal regulations on health and safety when no similar requirements exist for the protection of trawlermen at sea.We all agree with that, and that is why we welcome the Bill.
Clause 8(1)(a) of the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill, to which 303 we gave a Second Reading yesterday, provides that:at a factory at which ten or more persons are for the time being employed by the occupier to work in the factory (exclusive of casual workers), there may be appointed from among them by the recognised trade union or unions persons to act as safety representatives under this Act in the interests of the persons so employed;".That is obviously a most important provision which could adequately fit the situation on the trawler. It is particularly important because the trawler owners have set their minds against this sort of representation. They have not dealt with the recommendation in the Holland-Martin Report that there should be a re-examination by unions and employers of the complaint procedure on board trawlers. This is regrettable since Holland-Martin went to some length to look at the complaint procedure and recommended that experiments should be made by the progressive firms to look at the matter of representation at sea.
It must be remembered that we are dealing with the human element. Although we can legislate as far as possible for machinery to be covered, for winches to be guarded, and for there to be no fishing in particularly bad weather, we have to consider how to enforce that legislation. I suggest that it should be enforced by the safety representative on board the vessel who is able to lodge a complaint with the skipper about a particular piece of machinery or a certain labour hazard.
When the Bill goes to Committee I hope that my right hon. Friend will look again at this problem. The situation is somewhat illogical bearing in mind the good example set by the Marine Federation to the trawler owners and also remembering the provisions contained in the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill which we discussed yesterday. Therefore, there should be similar legislation for the fishing industry. I urge this course upon the Government since it is of great importance.
I should like to echo the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) as to the need for adequate consultation in the industry when regulations are being drawn up. If it cannot be written into the Bill, perhaps the House can be given an 304 undertaking that both sides of the industry, employers and unions, will be given adequate opportunity to examine proposed draft regulations before they come before the House, particularly when they are subject to the negative Resolution procedure.
It is important that both sides of the industry should be able to see regulations since many of these matters are highly technical. There are places, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar), into which laymen should never trespass, but we are dealing with men and their representatives who are employed in what all recognise as being the most highly dangerous industry in the world. Therefore, they should be given full opportunity to examine the machinery and regulations under which they will be required to work.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could say in his reply to the debate whether Clause 1 of the Bill, or indeed the regulations under the Merchant Shipping Bill, cover adequate lighting for the working area on the decks. There is provision in recommendations that where oil lamps exist there should be secondary electrical lamps, but it has been brought to my attention by the men's representatives that they would like specific undertakings about adequate lighting on the working deck surface on board vessels.
I should also like to ask whether, under Clause 1, regulations will be drawn up to safeguard the use of wires. I am informed that what frequently happens is that where wire has been discarded as unsuitable for trawling, it may often be used for smaller jobs on board ships such as winching, small runs of wire on deck, and things of that nature. These wires often are corroded and dangerous. Will adequate regulations be drawn up under the Bill to cover the use of wires to prevent the possibility of accidents?
We all welcome the Bill. When one says that it is long overdue, it also means that one regrets that it was ever due. It is a sad reflection that at this time in the 20th century a Bill needs to be introduced to protect the lives of so many men in this industry and also to protect the future of their wives and families. I should like to put on record my appreciation of the warm and sincere way in 305 which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade introduced the Bill. He expressed the feelings of our constituents in words far better than the majority of us could hope to use.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
Like everybody else who has taken part in the debate, I welcome the Bill and the manner in which it was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. Anybody from a fishing port would acknowledge the emotion he expressed, having himself been to sea. He understands the emotional impact of a disaster in a fishing port. It goes far beyond the people immediately involved. It has the same impact as a mining disaster or some other great natural catastrophe. The Measure is welcome because, although it will not make conditions absolutely safe—and none of us can hope to do that—it will make the situation as safe as possible so far as legislation can achieve this end.
I will not repeat many of the arguments which have been put forward; they have been expressed far better than I could express them. I should like to take up the matter mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) about the negative procedure. I have often thought that there is a case in this House for having, in addition to our present Select Committee on Statutory Instruments which merely exists to see that the Ministries have complied with various requirements, smaller committees, such as a fisheries committee, to consider the various matters and suggestions that arise before a matter comes finally before the House for approval.
§ Mr. James Johnson
Could we not follow the example of the city of Bucharest, which has a fisheries committee that meets to discuss a Bill beforehand and indeed shapes Bills for Ministers?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. We should not pursue that matter too far since it is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Clegg
With the best will in the world, I could not follow the hon. Gentleman as far as Bucharest. To turn to particular items, the Bill is not concerned in the first place with the industry, but with the shipbuilding industry which is going to build and develop new trawlers.
306 What liaison exists between the Board of Trade surveyors and the shipbuilders engaged in building trawlers about the application of the new standards? May we be told more about the research aspects? The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) raised one aspect about de-icing procedures. Personally, I feel that not enough has been done in research. Many of the regulations will deal with the structure of the ship, the ballast and stability of the vessel, and so on, but I hope that in addition there will be research into the machinery used on board to make it safer and, if the matter comes within the purview of the Board of Trade, to make living conditions on board better than they are at present. This is a problem for the industry. It has not only to get safe ships if it is to get crews, but ships with better living accommodation. On the East Coast, the competition from shore-based industry for labour is so intense that, unless there is a combination of safety and comfort at sea, there will not be a viable fishing industry, because the men will not be there to go to sea.
I want to refer to the problem of the inshore fisherman. The President of the Board of Trade was in my constituency recently, and he knows that there are many to be found there. I was glad to hear that consultations are to take place, and presumably they will be the last phase of the operation. But what concerns me is the ability of the inshore fishing interests to take part in those consultations. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could instruct his Department to liaise with the fisheries officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who know what these men are thinking and what their problems are. I hope that there will be adequate liaison on that point.
I welcome the Bill. I think that it will be the start of a new era in the profession. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said. We want a viable industry. To do that we must get new trawlers and modify our old ones as soon as possible. The more viable that the industry is, the sooner we can have new vessels, especially the stern-trawling type recommended by the Board of Trade.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
Before coming to the burden of my remarks, I 307 want to take up two points which have been raised in the debate. First, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) spoke about accidents on board trawlers. I believe that the White Fish Authority is about to undertake a research programme into the causes and results of accidents on a statistical basis, at least, in the very near future. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can confirm that.
The other point was that made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) who spoke about the endurance factor and the working hours. His remarks in that respect are as applicable to the inshore fleet as they are to the other sections of the fishing industry.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I give a warm welcome to the Bill. The President of the Board of Trade referred to the fatalities that there have been over the course of years. In the replies to a series of Questions which I asked the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in January of this year, some very disturbing results were shown.
One of my Questions asked for a comparison between the fatality rates in various selected industries. Taking an average of the five years to the end of 1968, at one end of the scale I found that the number of people killed in the motor car manufacturing industry was 0.2 persons per thousand employed. Over the same period in the coalmining industry, the figure was 0.37 persons per thousand employed. In other mining and quarrying, it was 0.75 persons per thousand employed. At the other end of the scale I found that in fishing the figure was 1.85 persons per thousand employed. Over that period of five years, I found that it is almost six times as dangerous to be a fisherman as it is to be a coal miner, and 2½ times more dangerous to be a fisherman than it is to be employed in other mining and quarrying.
Another measure of the problem that one faces in the context of safety at sea is that, over a similar period to the end of 1968, an average of no less than 10 men were lost at sea or died of injuries each year in the Scottish inshore vessels. In England and Wales, the average was 308 only two per year, although it is fair to point out that slightly fewer men are employed in the inshore fleet in England than are employed in Scotland.
The figures for the distant water fleet for England and Wales show that 107 men were lost at sea or died of injuries in the same period. That is an average of 21 a year. The figures were tragically inflated by the loss of the three trawlers "St. Romanus", "Kingston Peridot" and "Ross Cleveland". It was the loss of those trawlers which was the genesis of the Bill which is before us today, via the Holland-Martin Report.
The Government are right to extend the provisions of the Bill and the scope of the Holland-Martin Report to other fishing vessels registered in the United Kingdom. Naturally, I am concerned with safety in the inshore fleet because I have in my constituency probably the biggest concentration of inshore vessels in any part of the United Kingdom.
It is also a tragic fact that two vessels based on my constituency or crewed by my constituents have been lost with all hands in the past two years. I refer to the "Refleurir" and the "Coral Isle". The latter vessel disappeared with all hands in December of last year and, as this is possibly the first opportunity of doing so, I am sure that hon. Members will join me in expressing our sympathy to the relatives of the lost crew. In addition to the six men who were lost in the "Coral Isle", in the past three months a total of nine men have been lost from my constituency, and one was very seriously injured.
It is a truism that fishermen are extremely brave men. I have heard it said that they are men who work with death at their left hands. They are by no means morbid about it. By nature, they are of a cheerful and resilient disposition. It is also true to say that familiarity with the sea does not breed contempt in our fishermen. But it breeds a sort of casualness, and I hope that this Bill and its progeny in the shape of Statutory Instruments will provide safety measures which fishermen themselves would never dream of applying.
There is no doubt that some of the results of the rules and regulations will be unpopular with owners and skippers. However, we as a House have to face the responsibility of seeing, on behalf of 309 fishermen and owners and, more important, the families of fishermen, that everything possible is done to apply the results of modern design, research, and so on.
I should like at this juncture to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Board of Trade, who has been extremely courteous and helpful to me during the course of the representations that I have made to him about the safety at sea of the inshore fleet. I have one or two questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who I understand will reply to the debate and who has a great knowledge of the problem.
First, the rules will eventually give rise to modifications and alterations in the structure and equipping of vessels. Will such modifications rank for grant? I have in mind, for instance, the installing of power blocks. It is conceivable that, as a result of the research which has been done, the installation of power blocks may be obligatory in inshore vessels.
Will the certificates which are to be issued under Clause 3 be, in effect, certificates of sea-worthiness overall? Will they include not only the structure of the vessel, its water-tightness and all other things like that, but also its stability, as it were?
What about surveyors? The "Financial effects of the Bill and its effects on public service manpower", on page ii state thatThe administration of requirements imposed under the Bill will involve a small increase in the staff of the Board of Trade engaged in marine surveys.If all fishing vessels are to be covered annually, it seems that more than a small increase will be necessary to cope with this certification. How many people does the Board of Trade foresee being employed in this way and when will a sufficient number become available? In the interim, has the Board of Trade considered utilising the services of surveyors at present employed by insurance companies and so on?
When is it anticipated that the certificates will be applied to inshore vessels? I have no doubt, from the terms of the Bill, that they will be. But what kind of time scale is involved?
310 The Government say, quite rightly, that consultations are necessary before the rules are framed and brought before Parliament. I hope that the Government will not be dilatory in bring forward rules for the inshore fleet as well as for other parts of the industry. As I have tried to point out from the figures, it is equally urgent for that section of the industry as for the deep sea trawlers.
In opening the President mentioned stability tests for trawlers. May we have art indication, again as regards the inshore fleet, about the work being done on the stability of inshore vessels? This is important, because, for economic reasons, some boats are going further and further afield—that may not be quite the right expression when applied to fishing. However, they are going much further away from the shore than was the usual procedure earlier.
I am sure that as the Bill progresses through Committee many points will come to our notice. I have had a certain amount of correspondence with boat builders in my constituency, and I anticipate more. I very much hope that action can, and will be, taken as speedily as possible not only in the interests of the safety of the fishermen themselves, but also, as I said earlier, in the interests of the families who wait at home. There is a tremendous strain on those families, and anything we can do to improve the safety of the men who go to sea in fishing vessels will be appreciated throughout the land—not least in the fishing ports. For this reason, I give a very hearty welcome to the Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
My interest in the fishing industry stems from connections in my constituency with the inshore fleet. But once one gets interested in fishing, one tends to get interested in the industry as a whole. Therefore, I can welcome the Bill as sincerely as almost every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken.
The fact that I am interested in the inshore fleet reinforces in a way, that most of the dangers to those who go to sea in ships exist, with some exceptions, very close to the shore. Therefore, the provisions embodied in Clause 3 apply as much whether ships go far out to sea or stay close to the shore. This needs stressing particularly.
311 One of my hon. Friends mentioned support ships. This matter also needs following up. Whilst I have most connection with inshore fishing, I hear from others what is going on. I believe that the pattern of fishing changes, but that there is not sufficient flexibility in the help that is given by support ships as the fleet moves about. I wonder whether we might hear something about that.
Naturally, because my constituency is connected with the inshore industry, I wonder what impact the Bill will have on the inshore fleet and whether the considerations which will have to be borne in mind and the certificates which will have to be given will put a limit on where boats may go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) mentioned the economic factor forcing people to go further out to sea. He also mentioned power blocks. I believe that these may, in certain circumstances, enable people to go on fishing because they have power to help them, whereas, so many years ago, when they did not have the power to help them, they could not have gone on fishing. Therefore, the fact that we use science and invention to help leads, to a certain extent, into further danger. I hope that the provisions that are made will be sensibly applied. It is difficult to understand from the Bill who will do what, particularly concerning the inshore fleet.
The majority of points which could be raised have already been made, but I should like to mention one which, whilst not in the Bill, has a great effect on safety at sea—namely, forecasting.
People may say that we have all the weather forecasting that we need. But I have heard from fishermen in my constituency, particularly those who go for line fishing in the Faroes and that part of the world, that, whilst there are perfectly good weather forecasts made at night and at midday, at the time of day when they finish their day's fishing they do not have adequate weather forecasts to enable them to decide whether to stay and fish for another day or to make for home. A synopsis of the weather at 6 o'clock in the evening would require about another two minutes of broadcasting time.
I should think that even the "popsiest" of "pop" music devotees 312 would be happy to give up two minutes of broadcasting time to ensure a greater measure of safety at sea. I hope that this will be borne in mind.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
We were all impressed by the sincere way in which the President of the Board of Trade spoke and the general interest which he and his predecessor have taken in the Bill. I hope that he has been equally pleased by the support which the Bill has received from every speaker in this debate. This underlines the importance of the Bill—although there is not much meat in it. The meat comes later when the Board of Trade regulations are published.
I was glad that the Minister said that there would be full consultation with all sides of the industry before the regulations are published. I would remind him of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said about the problem of the negative procedure. Could all these regulations be tabled together? It would be a pity if they came up one after another. The Opposition will certainly want to debate them when they are tabled. When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the regulations to be published? I appreciate that he cannot give us an exact date but it would be helpful to know whether it would he in the next month or the next three months. I imagine that they would be published, at any rate, before the Summer Recess.
The accident rate in the deep-water fleet is, of course, far too high and must be reduced, and the Bill will, we hope, help to reduce it. But it is only fair to point out that the industry itself has done quite a lot in this direction and has set certain standards. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the mutual insurance companies in most of the major ports have played a great part in promoting safety. These are co-operative and non-profit-making bodies.
I was struck by an article in the Fish Trades Gazette on 25th February, in which the writer said:In my experience of the industry, I have seen the local owners lead the industry and be far ahead of Government regulations in providing radio, radar, fire-fighting equipment, navigational aids, self-inflating dinghies, one man centre line boat davits and many other things.313 I only quote this to put the record straight and to show that, although the accident rate, as has been agreed, is far too high, the industry has not been negligent, but has done all it can to reduce it.
I turn now to Clause 1 and the Holland-Martin recommendations 16 to 25. These hull, equipment and machinery regulations will obviously apply to all new ships, but I am still not clear what the Government have in mind about existing vessels. Are there to be special regulations for each type of ship, as the right hon. Gentleman hinted, or will there be general regulations, with exemptions, which the Bill allows him to make, for specific ships? Will these be merely by classes or types of ship, or will they also affect the area, or perhaps the season, or the amount of catch which each ship is allowed to take from the sea, as these factors obviously affect stability to some degree? There is a danger that if we have too many classes under regulations, particularly with regard to fishing grounds and seasons, and we may get into such confusion that this Bill will do more harm than good. I hope that this will be borne in mind when the regulations are drawn up.
On recommendation No. 19 of the Holland-Martin Report, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen mentioned the I.M.C.O. standards of stability. How many existing ships would pass that test? I appreciate that the Minister may not know this figure, but it was discussed when the Holland-Martin Report was presented to the House. Probably the Minister has some idea whether the majority of existing ships are likely to pass the test or not. If not, of course, a rather serious situation arises, because I understand that it is a costly job to improve the stability of ships and we do not want to put too many older ships out of commission too quickly.
The Holland-Martin recommendation No. 22, on fire hazards at sea, has been referred to. This is accepted as one of the greatest risks to be run at sea, since it is so much more dangerous than fire on land. The Holland-Martin Report on page 44 said:The Hull Steam Trawlers Mutual Insurance and Protecting Company has led the way in formulating standards of structural fire protection for Hull trawlers and we consider that 314 full account should be taken of this work in formulating the statutory requirements.To what extent is that a fact? In other words, are the majority of older ships likely to conform or could they conform without too much additional expense, to the necessary improvements required to check the spread of fire?
A number of hon. Gentleman have referred to the application of these regulations to the inshore fleet. They will apply, I suppose rightly, first to the distant-water fleet. I am sure that the Minister will want to say something about the inshore fleet, whether there will be entirely different sets of regulations—obviously there is even more diversity among inshore vessels than distant-water or middle-water vessels—and whether he agrees with the suggestion that the fishery officers should be consulted about the inshore fleet, because they are very experienced in this type of work.
I turn now to Clause 2 and Holland-Martin Recommendations Nos. 7 to 15 and 26 to 39, which cover practically all the safety equipment requirements in a ship. We all agree that safety is essential. I was particularly pleased when the Minister made it clear that the recommendation that distant-water trawlers should carry wireless as well as R/T was to be enforced, and, in fact, is in force and working satisfactorily. This is a very important matter.
The matter of inflatable boats and survival suits has been raised, as has the ever-present danger of black ice, which affects stability. I know that some experiments have been done on these matters. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman could make a short reference to them, but we should like to know who will be responsible for research into safety. The Board of Trade is drawing up regulations and will be responsible for making exceptions, and issuing certificates. But is there any organisation responsible for research into safety into fishing vessels? The White Fish Authority considers an aspect of this work, but the basic job of the W.F.A. is on economic research. A lot of fallout effects problems of safety, but do the Government intend to give the authority a little more scope in this respect? Most people would agree that research into this aspect of safety at sea will be of great value. Perhaps the 315 W.F.A. can be given a wider field to cover?
The subject of fatigue is covered by a number of recommendations in the Holland-Martin Report. The House can lay down statutory provisions in regard to hours of work but it is very difficult to enforce these on the fishing grounds, as anyone who has been there knows. The question of the turn-round of the ship and, perhaps, the need for more leave between fishing trips, particularly distant-water ones, should be considered, but this and the whole question of the human element and of manning is referred to in the Merchant Shipping Bill, so I must not discuss it at any length here. This also applies to training, which the House will agree is very important, because it, too, effects the human element. With properly trained and certificated seamen, accidents are much less likely.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) talked about a safety representative at sea or, as many other hon. Members would describe him, a shop steward at sea. I do not believe that this is necessary. I should like to read from a letter which I have received from the Hull Trawler Officers Guild on this matter:I would…like to state that we as a Guild representing the Trawler Officers of Hull consist of 300 Members who are very competent. experienced and time-served Fishermen, we know our ships and we know what our job is, we will not in any way have our authority as Skippers undermined by Shop Stewards (Ship Board representation) this will not work.I mention this only to point out that the whole question is not as simple as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North implied. Indeed, there seems to be considerable opposition to the suggestion from certain parts of the industry.
If the hon. Gentleman examines everything that I have said on this issue he will find that neither I nor the union has at any time ever challenged the fact that ultimate responsibility for the safety of the crew, the craft and the cargo should be with the skipper. The hon. Gentleman is under the same misapprehension in considering the phrase "shop steward" as the guild is under.
§ Mr. Wall
I accept that, but the hon. Gentleman must equally accept that in a small ship with a small crew there is a danger, if a person is doing the sort of work the hon. Gentleman has in mind, that there could arise a conflict with the skipper, or that his authority might be challenged. We should not forget that most ports have port discipline committees which work well. Perhaps we should leave them to undertake this work.
§ Mr. Wall
This matter is not easy to resolve, and it is causing considerable concern in certain sections of the industry. The hon. Gentleman and I must agree to disagree about it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen and others raised the question of support ships. It is encumbent on the Government to supply adequate support for the fishing fleet, in the same way as it is becoming their resonsibility to supply air/sea rescue services. Today, R.A.F. helicopters are having to do this job, and in this technological age this type of work has become part of the services that must be provided as a national emergency service.
One ship, the "Orsino", is not sufficient, although she has done a good job. I do not know how much she has cost to charter, but she is not designed for this support task, and I agree with hon. Members who have called for the building of a specially designed ship along the lines of the German "Frithjof". Protection of this kind used to be provided by the Fishery Protection Squadron of the Royal Navy, we are here discussing the question of safety against the elements and not against an enemy.
In this connection, the letter from the Hull Trawler Officers Guild, from which I quoted, also stated that there had been a…very strong complaint from …Members regarding the service or lack of service of the Fishery Protection Vessels …and 95 per cent. of the Hull Fishing Fleet are at present fishing off the Norwegian Coast while "Orsino" is stationed off Iceland.The point is that with just one ship, the "Orsino", operating off Iceland, if 95 per cent. of the fleet is operating off Norway, the "Orsino" cannot give a great deal of help in those circumstances.
317 A case occurred recently when a man was injured off Bear Island and a Norwegian frigate had to steam for 16 hours to pick him up and then steam 16 hours to get him to hospital in Norway. I hope that the Government will look at this matter, remembering that in the old days ships of the Royal Navy were specially allocated and their crews were specially trained for fishery protection work. Today ships are detached for this purpose from the Western Fleet, and we do not have the same liaison and service.
I support the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen about the need for co-operation with support ships of other nations. It was pointed out that co-operation exists. It does. But what we need is co-ordination to ensure that Norwegian vessels will be in certain waters at certain times, that Icelandic vessels will be in other waters and that British vessels will be elsewhere, so that all areas are covered by support ships of various countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that the real need was for an adequate return on capital so that money could be reinvested in ships and equipment. This brings me to the whole question of cost. The Minister will recall that when the then President of the Board of Trade presented the Holland-Martin Report to the House, I asked him—this was in July, 1969—what will be the approximate cost of these recommendations and how will it be divided between the Government and the industry?He replied: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 1725–6.]I imagine that those discussions are still going on.
The Holland-Martin Report suggested that the increased manning scales recommended might alone cost £1-4 million. Much of this manning problem may be overcome by greater automation, which may reduce the size of crews, as has already occurred in the engineroom. Can we have an approximation of the Government's views on the total cost of these regulations and of the share as between Government and industry?
Though we talk of cost, the House as a whole recognises that men's lives are 318 above cost. The loss of the "St. Romanus", the "Ross Cleveland" and the "Kingston Peridot" shocked the nation. Fishermen pursue a dangerous trade. The Bill will not prevent such tragedies, but it will make them less likely. This, at least, we owe to the men who died.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)
Although I speak tonight as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, I remind hon. Members that I am also the representative of a fishing constituency. For many years I have been concerned, both as Parliamentary Secretary and as the hon. Member for Leith, with the high cost of fishing in terms of men's lives. Thus, tonight I am doubly pleased to be playing a part in getting that price down.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) said that often in this House hon. Members spoke of Hull and Grimsby—he might have mentioned Lowestoft and Fleetwood—as representing the whole of the fishing industry. That complaint was somewhat different from the one I received in a recent fishing debate from the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who asked if an hon. Member who represented an English constituency would be allowed to participate, apparently indicating that only Scottish hon. Members wished to speak on the subject.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade pointed out precisely what we are discussing. He said that the Bill covered all fishing vessels but that we needed certain priorities. The House will accept this. It is out intention to implement the Holland-Martin recommendations for deep-sea vessels, and no hon. Member would argue that this should not be one of our firs priorities.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) questioned me about the support price costs. The Estimate provision in the current year is £3 million in capital grants—these are paid through the White Fish Authority—and £4 million in operating subsidy. These are Great Britain figures covering the deep sea and inshore fleets, and it will be seen from these figures that we 319 have made allowance for considerable assistance. In addition, I agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that for the first time for a considerable period the fishing fleet has been doing rather better. We are grateful for this.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen also raised the question of stability. The check on the stability characteristics of the existing distant water fleet is about 80 per cent. complete. It seems that only about one-quarter, if not less, of existing trawlers do not meet I.M.C.O. standards and will need modifications or limitations. The answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) on this aspect is that this check would be applied to other vessels if necessary.
The question of survival clothing has been examined by a committee of the Board of Trade in conjunction with the question of inflatable life rafts, and we understand that all vessels sailing to distant waters from all ports are having their life rafts fitted with aluminium foil bags. Our view is that, for the present at least, these provide the only practicable solution to the problem. Obviously we shall go on considering what can be done.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft asked me about the question of manpower. As my right hon. Friend said, survey work will be left to classification societies, wherever that is appropriate. A small increase in the professional staff of the Board of Trade seems unavoidable. We shall consider what help can be given by others, such as fishery officers. No matter who does the work, it will cost something. It is important to ensure that whoever does it has the right qualifications and knowledge of the subject. For example, it seems best to employ Post Office surveyors for radio, as is the practice for merchant ships.
Safety committees have already been set up in all the deep sea fishing ports. This follows the recommendation of the Holland-Martin Committee.
As to research, in submitting the report of his committee, Sir Deric Holland-Martin referred to work which had been completed by an inter-departmental committee established by the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology in February, 1968 to consider whether any 320 research work should be undertaken into technical aspects of trawler safety in addition to the various studies already in hand.
This committee had concluded that there was no need for new studies, but a need, rather, for closer evaluation of studies—for example, on de-icing equipment—which had already been usefully developed. Further trials are still being carried out--for example, of the various types of equipment specially installed in the "Orsino". The Board of Trade and the White Fish Authority are continually engaged in research of this kind, as on other matters relevant to the problem. I assure the House that this work is proceeding.
Clause 1 provides for the provision of adequate lighting. However, the manner and the use of lighting and other equipment is covered by the new Clause in the Merchant Shipping Bill on safe working practices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) raised a question about the National Trawler Health and Safety Committee Recommendation No. 83. This question was discussed briefly with both sides of the industry soon after the publication of the Holland-Martin Report. It was the general opinion of both sides of the industry that the safety committees in the ports were working well and there was probably no need to set up a co-ordinating committee. However, no final decision has been taken, and the matter can always be considered further.
The House will agree that the Holland-Martin Committee has shown us the way to achieve greater safety with its comprehensive and far-reaching report. This is concerned not only with the more obvious matters directly affecting safety, such as the design of the ships, but also with matters affecting the quality of the industry and the environment that it provides for the men working in it. Indeed, the report stresses that all its recommendations should be taken together if a satisfactory standard of safety is to be achieved.
If this is done, and the recommendations are put into effect conscientiously, I believe that we can hope to see a change in the whole atmosphere of the industry.
321 We should see not only a safer industry, but also a more contented and efficient industry, better able to meet the competition that it faces from the fishing fleets of Europe.
This hopeful prospect depends to a great extent on the willingness of those in the industry themselves to make changes. I believe that the willingness is there, and so far as it lies in our power we on the Government side will try to ensure that the impetus given by the Holland-Martin Report is not lost.
Of course these changes cannot all be achieved without cost. Even though the final result may be a more efficient and profitable industry meeting the cost during the initial years will be a problem. In particular, compliance with the regulations that will eventually be made under this Bill, and also under the Merchant Shipping Bill, will undoubtedly add to the costs which the fishing industry has to bear; and the Government are conscious of this.
Many of these costs will arise on capital account and will qualify for grant-aid in the same way as any other improvements to fishing vessels. This answers the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) under the current support arrangements at the rate of 35 per cent. for deep sea vessels and 40 per cent. for the others. These rates apply equally to the construction of new vessels so that added costs of this kind will receive the same treatment.
To an extent also the measures will affect operating costs. Here again, under the present deep-sea subsidy arrangements these extra costs will be automatically taken into account in arriving at the total operating subsidy to be paid in each period. The inshore subsidy arrangements are somewhat different, since they do not provide for an automatic adjustment of rates. Rates are, however, reviewed annually and any increased costs arising in respect of safety measures will be taken into account in the same way as all other factors affecting the profitability of the fleet.
We recognise that the full and immediate implementation of all the Holland-Martin recommendations would nevertheless leave a heavy burden to be shouldered by the industry, although until the content of the various rules 322 and regulations yet to be made is known it is difficult to get a very clear view of its magnitude. Most hon. Members will agree with this. To guess at it would not help us much.
Timing will be an important factor influencing the cost of such new requirements as the Board of Trade may impose under this Bill for the safe construction of fishing vessels. New ships should not raise many problems, but applying similar standards to existing vessels could be a much more difficult matter and the cost of the necessary alterations could be substantial.
Thus there are likely to be difficult decisions to take in individual cases, balancing safety, the cost of alterations, and the remaining useful life of the ship. In some cases it may be reasonable to exempt certain ships from some of the requirements as permitted under Clause 1(2), and simultaneously restrict the ship's operation in some way—for example, by not allowing it to operate in the most hazardous sea areas in the winter. There may even be some cases in which the only sensible and economic course is to withdraw the vessel from fishing altogether. That is some reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon).
Obviously these problems cannot all be solved at once. To avoid any disruption of supplies, the Board of Trade will have to take into account the rate at which new ships are likely to enter the fleet and phase a programme of improving existing ships accordingly. This will demand close consultation with the industry.
It is the Board of Trade's normal practice in regulating the safety of merchant ships to arrange full consultation with both sides of the industry, and the same practice will be applied in this case. Indeed, this process has already started, and discussions on various technical matters are in train.
I assure the House that there should be no fear that new regulations will be suddenly proposed without warning. However, in view of the concern which hon. Members have expressed on this point, my right hon. Friend is ready to add a provision to the Bill making it mandatory, before introducing regulations, to consult the representatives of 323 those in the industry who would be affected by them. This provision would be similar in form to Clause 94(2) of the Merchant Shipping Bill. It would give statutory force to what is in any case the Board of Trade's intention.
I should now like to say a word about the inshore fishermen. They have not been brought into the public eye by spectacular and tragic losses such as afflicted the deep-sea industry two years ago, and which have afflicted the industry for many years before that. One had only to listen to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade instancing cases over the years to see that a big price has had to be paid. They may not face the icing hazards of the Iceland fishing grounds in winter, but the seas around our coasts can be violent, and the inshore fisherman does not have the comparative comfort and protection of a large, modern stern-trawler.
This is why the Board of Trade proposes, once regulations for the deep-sea fleet have been put into effect, to consider to what extent similar protection should be extended to inshore fishermen.
§ Mr. Hoy
No; until we get a complete record of all that has to be done it would be impossible to make a forecast of any kind. I have given the assurance that once the Board of Trade has dealt with this it will be extended to inshore fishermen.
The Board's staff will need to consider all the factors affecting the safety of the smaller vessels before deciding what 324 safety provisions would be appropriate for them; such decisions will be taken only in full consultation with those affected in the industry and, as with the deep-sea fleet, the cost will be an important factor to be taken into account.
There has been much talk of cost, and I have had to say something about it; we have to recognise that it will be little use making the industry safe if it ceases to be profitable. But profitability can be bought at too high a price in men's lives and the time has come to bring that price down; I believe that in providing the Board of Trade with powers sought in this Bill we shall be opening the way for some real progress in that direction. Because of that I feel it a great honour and privilege to be given the opportunity of saying these few words in support.
§ 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).