HC Deb 11 March 1970 vol 797 cc1499-523
Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move Amendment No. 53, in page 46, line 25, at end insert: (2) Regulations under this paragraph may apply section 33 of this Act with such modifications as may be required to substitute in it for the reference to section 30, 31(b) and 31(c) of this Act a reference to the corresponding provisions of the regulations. The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) drew the Committee's attention to the fact that paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 does not enable regula- tions about offences in fishing vessels to apply to stowaways and to seamen conveyed in such ships in the same manner that Clause 33 applies Clauses 28, 30, 31(b) and 31(c) to such persons in merchant ships. I think that what we are doing in the Amendment will commend itself to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 54, in page 47, line 9, leave out from 'officer' to end of line 12.

No. 55, in line 18, leave out subparagraph (3).—[Mr. Goronwy Roberts.]

Order for Third Reading read—[Queen's Consent signified.]

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.

It is only a little over three months since my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade stood here to move the Second Reading of the Bill. For a Measure of this size and importance to pass through its Committee and Report stages in so few weeks, especially when it is remembered that the Christmas Recess of one month has intervened, is, I think that the House will agree, a remarkable achievement. Members of the Standing Committee can rightly congratulate themselves. The Bill received a gratifyingly smooth passage in Committee. It has been fitted out with two new Clauses and many blemishes in the paintwork have been re-touched where they were pointed out by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

It may well be that the vessel shall receive a further refit in another place, but the gleaming modern structure before us now is already an immeasurable improvement on the creaking timbers of the 1894 Act.

It is, I think, largely as a result of the expert and seamanlike attitude of all members who have contributed to the work on this Bill that we have made such tremendous progress. The proceedings have taken place in a spirit of mutual confidence which has certainly made the work a pleasure to me and which has, I think, helped all the hon. Gentlemen to stay the course. It is because we all have the best interests of our seamen, their employers and their families at heart that we have been able to discuss their problems openly, fully and, above all, sympathetically. We have all done our best to meet the claims upon us of all sections of the industry, to see that all legitimate interests have been protected. It is not always a good idea to try to be all things to all men, but I think we can say that we have managed to be many good things to very many good men in this Bill.

The Merchant Shipping Acts have long been a subject of discontent on all sides of the industry. I hope that they will now cease to be a subject of discontent, even if they continue to be the subject of some argument. Both seamen and shipowners have felt hampered by their provisions in their efforts to modernise the industry and improve its efficiency. The Pearson Report was accepted by the industry after its publication as being a sound and equitable basis on which to revise the merchant shipping legislation. To an exceptional degree, the recommendations of the report have been implemented in the Bill after long discussion with all parties concerned.

We have been fortunate in having the report of an impartial inquiry as the foundation stone of this legislation—legislation which all parties can, therefore, recognise as being to the benefit of the industry as a whole and of all those men who work in it. A Measure embracing such a variety of people as this is, of course, bound to appear more attractive in some of its parts than in others according to the point of view from which it is seen. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said so ably earlier this evening, the Bill represented the highest common factor of agreement and as such was well worth getting and implementing. Not everybody got everything, but I think that everybody got something, and that something was very substantial indeed.

This is a varied industry. It includes shipowners and shippers, trade unions and associations. The M.N.A.O.A. and other officers' associations together represent about 45 per cent. of the seafarers engaged in this industry in the United Kingdom. We should pause and ponder over this fact, which I regard as a most encouraging fact—the gradual increase in the percentage of the seafaring labour force which one can fairly describe as being specialised and coming within the category of officers. This is the nature of the labour force. We are not today dealing with an industry in the 19th century sense of a mass of downtrodden and driven wage slaves fighting a small group of rapacious employers. We are dealing with an industry which is modernising itself in regard to its manpower and methods of training and recruitment as well as its methods of operation on board ship.

We have done our best to reconcile all the interests involved in the industry. As I have said, the Bill represents the highest common level of agreement possible. But the balance of advantages has been established both by Pearson and, subsequently, by the abundant discussions which took place, and all parties have declared themselves, in the main, well pleased.

As my right hon. Friend said at Second Reading, the Pearson Report called for a new Bill which would jettison many obsolete provisions and much unnecessary detail. It recommended that the Bill should be designed to deal with matters broadly by principle and policy and to foster and not to inhibit future developments, and that the details and administration should be left to regulations made under the Bill. While this is, of course, a wise and prudent way of ensuring future flexibility, it was, I think quite rightly, pointed out that, in spite of the safeguards of consultation and of parliamentary approval by negative or affirmative resolution, it would be wrong to expect hon. Members to pass the enabling Clauses without having some idea of the measures envisaged. The Committee stage in particular has helped us to clarify many of these doubts, both in the indication of the possible eventual contents of the regulations which I made available to members of the Committee and also in the verbal assurances which I have been able to give.

I should, perhaps, point out in this connection that, in response to the general feeling expressed in Committee, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), the affirmative Resolution procedure has been adopted for the regulations relating to disciplinary committees. I think that this change, although it admittedly places a further strain on the already crowded parliamentary timetable, is justified in view of the novel nature of this provision. I join hon. Gentlemen opposite in regarding this in some ways as the most important provision in the Bill. I do not say that I share to the full their anxieties and apprehensions about the dangers of this innovation. I am an optimist in this. I believe that if we have carefully selected and promoted experimentation we shall find that the industry will be coming to our doors and asking that the extension of the committee principle shall be made as quickly and as widely as possible. It would be impossible for me to list all the separate subjects to which contributions have been made in the progress of this Bill so far without spending a great deal of time on them. I would, however, like to remind the House of some of the more important ones.

The paramount consideration when one is dealing with employment at sea is that of safety, and this has been stressed repeatedly both in Committee and here on the Floor of the House, and in proper, legitimate and necessary discussions we have held outside. The most obvious contribution to the Bill itself has been the addition of the new Clause on safety regulations which it was decided to add in the light of the views expressed in the Committee. Much work is being done on safety both in this country and internationally, and it would have been a grave omission if we had not taken the opportunity which the Bill offered of enabling us to implement any moves towards greater safety which are likely to arise in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) made a worthy contribution to this important aspect of the Bill.

As has also been said many times during the progress so far, an important contribution to safety is the maintenance of good order and discipline. It is not only high winds and stormy weather which can put a ship at risk; there is as much danger, or perhaps more, if the crew of a ship cannot be relied upon to respect the word of the master and to carry out their duties efficiently. Much must, of course, depend on the personality of the master. But his authority must have behind it the force of the law, which has, as it were, a power to create passively a climate of order and discipline aboard ship which is in many ways more important than the ultimate sanctions which the Clauses carry with them.

I do not think I need comment on the interesting and stimulating debate which we have had on the so-called penal Clauses, except to say this. There is an argument for retaining in a Bill Clauses which are unlikely to be invoked except in a very small minority of cases. In fact, this is the position now as regards the disciplinary provisions which have come down to us from 1894, and all that.

It is a matter of judgment—and judgment by all sides of the industry, not just by the employers, by the way, because we deal with associations which are not employers but which represent as much participatory workers in the industry as the members of the unions which we have heard mentioned. It is, as I say, a matter of judgment how far and how fast one can go in jettisoning what one might call a long-stop deterrent. There is virtue in this in relation to discipline at sea and the maintenance of safety, to which in a paramount way discipline is directed.

As I see it, the Bill as a whole turns on the new provision for disciplinary committees and the operation of discipline and sanction by the master and committee in relation to each other, however this may be decided on, so that we can reasonably hope that almost all offences will be dealt with on board ship by the master, assisted in the way we have tried to describe, by representatives of his crew. The exceptions will be those coming within the scope of Clauses 29, 30, 31 and so on, and Clause 28, too, and they are the cases which everyone reasonably agrees must inevitably proceed under the terms of those Clauses.

As I see it, that is the situation the emergence of which is made possible by the Bill. I shall say no more on that aspect of the matter. I think that we have reached a reasonable consensus on it today, and the Bill will become law with something of the same unanimous enthusiasm with which it was first greeted.

This Merchant Shipping Bill is not the end of the road. The 1894 Act was succeeded by other Merchant Shipping Acts, and the same will, no doubt, be true of the present Bill. The disciplinary provisions are right and necessary for the present time, but circumstances can change. We all hope that they will change in such a way that some succeeding enactment may well jettison provisions of this Bill of which we are rightly proud. For instance, what happens to the old Clause 2 crew agreements? I think that we all look forward to the time when crew agreements in the form in which we have discussed them and provided for them in the Bill will not be necessary. The same will happen with other provisions. This is not the last word. No Bill ever is. Circumstances, and the maturity of relationship of thinking, and attitude, lead to fresh enactments from time to time. We shall look ahead in this matter. There may be a later Merchant Shipping Bill which will do a number of things in regard to this Bill because circumstances have changed in the meantime.

I have listened with the greatest sympathy to all the arguments put forward in Committee for improving further the conditions of seamen. It is a fact that almost all seamen, with only a very minute number of exceptions, are paid the full amount of wages due to them on discharge. It does happen very occAs Ionally, however, that this is for some reason impossible, and it is most important that the seaman or his family should not suffer from this. On reflection, after listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), who made a very fine contribution to our discussions of this important matter in Committee, I came to the conclusion that £30, the minimum originally proposed, was too small and that £50 fitted the position best. Equally, we thought that the provision of a floor of one-quarter of what was due would provide the flexibility which my hon. Friend thought was best provided by regulations. It is a matter of judgment. I found his proposal attractive but on balance thought that we should pick up one of the good provisions of the 1894 Act and that normally the provision for a floor of one-quarter was the right thing to do.

I have considered the points made about breaches of contract under Clause 10 and we have amended the Bill to restrict the seaman's liability to suppression of wages to breaches only of his current crew agreement. This was greeted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) with satisfaction.

It was argued in Committee by hon. Members on both sides that, where a man was unemployed or left stranded abroad, or both, as a result of his ship's relinquishing its United Kingdom registration, he was entitled to some safeguards. Accordingly, we have amended the Bill to ensure that a seaman in this unfortunate position will be entitled to two months' wages and to maintenance and repatriation by the owner of the ship.

Further, it was felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in particular that the regulations relating to disciplinary committees should be made subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure, and I was glad to accede because I knew that both sides of the Committee agreed with him and, indeed, with me that this was the right thing to do.

The Bill represents an essential measure of modernisation and is indeed most necessary. It will do much to improve the conditions of seafarers in the British merchant fleet. The Bill has been improved in Committee and by the House on Report. A number of most useful Amendments, contributed from both sides, have been incorporated. The result is a Bill which, while it may not please everyone in all its details, is nevertheless the result of a balanced and general consensus. It is based upon the Pearson Report, not in every detail because the House has introduced some modifications. But nevertheless, broadly speaking, it remains true to say that the Bill is based upon Pearson and it should therefore be generally acceptable to all the various bodies in the shipping industry. Moreover, it contains great benefits for the fishing industry also.

The Bill is mainly an enabling Measure and a considerable number of regulations will have to be made under it. This will represent a formidable task for my Department. However, I hope that the details which will eventually be contained in these regulations will, like the Bill, be acceptable to all sides of the industry. We have rightly provided in Clause 96 that the regulations will come before Parliament on either the negative or affirmative Resolution procedure and, more important, that they will be drafted after consultation with both sides of the shipping and fishing industries as appropriate.

The Bill is a Measure of which the House and the country can well be proud. As I have said, it is not the last word on the subject. We shall watch its implementation closely. If in due time it proves necessary to legislate again on some of these provisions, it will be all the easier to do so because so much will already have been achieved in this Bill and because whoever succeeds us in consideration of these matters will look back to Second Reading, Committee and Report stages for inspiration for how to turn a Committee of the House and the House itself into a working group striving to attain a common objective.

11.42 p.m

Mr. Wingfield Digby

The right hon. Gentleman has given an admirable summary of the Bill and of our deliberations. It has been a complicated Bill and much work has been put into it, not only by the right hon. Gentleman himself but by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I can say in justification that we have improved it. It is not our intention to oppose the Third Reading. In fact, we give the Bill a qualified welcome and feel that we have done something towards its improvement.

It has taken a long time to get it through Committee—14 meetings of the Standing Committee to consider its detail and complications—but we have been able to get down to brass tacks—if I may use that expression—fairly well. This has been for three reasons. First, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it was soundly based on the Pearson Report. I have seen many reports, but few have stood up to detailed examination in Committee better than the Pearson Report. It is only right to take this occasion to express our appreciation to Lord Pearson and his Committee for their valuable work. They provided valuable guide lines for our deliberations in Committee.

Secondly, we have been aided by the fact that there was a large measure of prior agreement within the industry about these provisions. Had there not been, it would have been extraordinarily difficult to discuss many of the points which we had to discuss and to reach sensible agreements. Thirdly but not least, it is, as the right hon. Gentleman recognised an enabling Bill, perhaps rather more so than some of the constitutional purists among us would like, but in the circumstances it is difficult to see how else it could have been done in order to provide adequately for the future in changing times.

The Bill has a long history. It had a long gestation and we have had the additional complication of having to look at the July Bill and the October Bill before we could sensibly discuss any of the suggested Amendments. The long delays between the time the Bill was announced and the time when it was printed not unnaturally led to certain suspicions, which, happily, have been only partially justified in the event. I hope that the conversations behind the scenes helped in the long run.

The Minister of State has been tactful, a patient pilot aware of the shoals to port and starboard, or should I say to left and right, and with good humour and extreme patience and understanding, he has achieved a great deal. It always means much to the Opposition to see that a Minister is trying hard to appreciate what they have in mind, for they do not have the advantage of professional advisers, as have the Government.

We believe that on this occasion we have proved to be a constructive Opposition. It was a good-humoured Committee stage. Perhaps in this we were helped by the fact that both sides of the House have shipping committees which frequently meet as far afield as Southampton Water and the Clyde. Members know each other better than if the only contacts were across the Floor of the House. There have at times been a little ground swell, owing to storms in the outer distances, outside this House. On the whole it is remarkable how well we have kept our good humour.

One problem is that this is a changing industry. It is difficult to see the way in which it is going, with ships both large and small. I see that orders were placed in Belfast the other day for tankers of over 260,000 tons. That, we are told, is nowhere near the limit. These ships are managed by smaller and smaller crews, with great responsibility placed on the masters and men. We also have the fairly new problem that despite these changes the turnover among the seamen has been very much more rapid than before. This creates problems because men are no longer so willing to devote a lifetime to the sea.

The difficulty of foreseeing future problems is the main justification for allowing so much to be done by regulation. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that we shall hold the Board of Trade accountable, to produce these regulations quickly and with the utmost care. Parliament is jealous of its rights and we are underwriting with Parliamentary authority these various provisions yet we are not at all sure what we are really underwriting. We are however grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us some idea of the kind of points likely to be covered by the regulations, although of necessity, we did not get a lot of the answers we wanted. There have been points of controversy. The disciplinary Clauses in the Bill was one such point, although it did not give rise to so much controversy as it might have done. We live in days of great hazards for shipping—the "Torrey Canyon" and the explosions in the tanker in the Mozambique Channel remind us of this.

Pearson reminded us of the increased dangers of smoking in these giant tankers, and it appears that we do not really know as much as we thought we did some time ago. It appears that these explosions are not easy to account for. In the circumstances it is important from the point of view of this side of the House that the authority of the master should not be eroded for the safety of the ship and those who sail in her. We see a danger of this happening in these days when authority is more easily questioned than in the past. The endangering of a ship and its crew can be done without realising what is happening. With these modern techniques the dangers are perhaps greater than they were.

When we come to ship disciplinary committees it is a little hard for us to envisage how they will work out. We very much hope that they will be tried as an experiment and a certain amount of caution will be used about where they are started. We know some details about how it is proposed they should be run, with this rota of officers and ratings. It is to be an alphabetical rota and I wonder whether the " A "s will not become rather good seamen's lawyers. I also wonder whether, if certain people come up on the rota, hard-pressed masters will be more reluctant to call the committee. We are anxious lest hard-pressed masters, who have great responsibilities, have an extra burden placed upon them because the disciplinary committees do not approach their tasks in the right way.

One or two hon. Members opposite were confident that those appointed to the committees would approach their task with great responsibility, and I certainly hope that that will be the case. The Board of Trade, in framing its regulations, must be prepared to learn how best these disciplinary committees should be run. It may be even that their composition will have to be a little different from what was envisaged by the Maritime Board.

We have had discussion on the fishing fleet and its special circumstances. Details about this have been left considerably to the regulations. There is, therefore, an even greater responsibility for the Board of Trade here.

As has been recognised, but we have not said much about it in these debates, the right to strike after 48 hours in port is an important innovation. Mr. Hogarth has welcomed it as a development of far-reaching importance. It is part of the package and we shall wait to see how that works out in practice and whether it operates for the benefit of the industry. It must not be forgotten that the owners have a difficult task to perform in these days of acute competition, and they have an important part to play for the nation in earning foreign exchange.

We touched on a number of other problems. I was not very happy that the way in which we left the question of payment of wages on discharge was particularly technological or modern and that we may not have to think again about that. The idea of calculating just before a ship reaches port seems rather strange in modern days. In large ships with a large staff, like passenger liners, it is understandable, but in the case of smaller ships it seems to me to be something that is rather old-fashioned that will have to be looked at again before many years are out.

The question of safety is extremely important and I am glad to know that because of the initiative of the Federation there is already progress in safety measures and the appointment of safety officers. The Minister was right in saying how pleased he was that we had been able to insert into the Bill a new Clause dealing with safety measures. As I have said previously, there are so many accidents these days that this obviously merits special attention.

I am still not quite happy about inquiries into shipping casualties and the effect on officers' careers, because so much publicity attends any casualty today. We have only to think of the notice that was taken of the "Torrey Canyon". I served on the Select Committee which looked into that case, and the amount of literature which was churned out about it was quite extraordinary.

There is a special responsibility on the Board of Trade because it has seen fit to take, and the House has accorded to it, so many powers to make regulations. I hope that the Department will not feel that there is no urgency about this matter once the Bill is passed. There is great urgency to press on with this work, even if it may place a special strain on the Department. Many very large ships are sailing the seas with extraordinarily small crews. The work has changed a great deal, and this must be taken fully into account.

Above all, however, both sides of the industry must co-operate if we are to compete with flags of convenience and nationalism in ship-owning. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has at last recognised the enormous importance of invisable earnings, and particularly the invisible earnings of the shipping industry. It is essential that the industry should try to get together and continue this co-operation so that the new Act comes into effect without friction.

Finally, from this side of the House, I should like to pay a tribute to all seamen in British ships who have served our island home so well in war and in peace. They are well deserving of the little time and attention that we have devoted to them in recent weeks in Parliament.

11.55 p.m.

Mr. McNamara

May I follow the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) in what he has said about safety. I do not think that any hon. Member disagrees about the paramount importance of safety, or about the ultimate responsibility of the captain for the safety of the crew and the pas- sengers. Quite properly, the keynote of all our debates has been the paramount importance of the safety of people, whether seamen, fishermen or passengers. That was why there was little debate on the major Clause which dealt with this subject.

May I also join the hon. Gentleman in thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for his patience and good humour throughout the protracted passage of the Bill. The Minister, as the first man in his Department, made a splendid speech in launching the Bill, and it was left to other Ministers in the Department to sit in Committee on two mornings a week and go through the Bill Clause by Clause, argument by argument. It is right that we should join with the hon. Gentleman in appreciating what my right hon. Friend has done to try to meet the points which have been raised on both sides of the House.

My right hon. Friend paid great courtesy and consideration to the Committee when he sent to it the draft headings of the regulations which it was proposed to introduce under the Bill. Although, obviously, we could not know how every "i" was to be dotted and every "t" crossed, at least we had an inkling of what was proposed. I do not know whether this has ever happened in the past, but it was of great help to the Committee. When the regulations come before the House we shall look at them carefully, but nevertheless we have had this opportunity of knowing in advance what was in my right hon. Friend's mind.

The Bill is of considerable value to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), as we both have a considerable number of constituents who are fishermen. It is an extremely good Bill which goes a long way towards adopting an attitude towards industrial relations which, after the statement of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary earlier today, I hope will become the keynote to industrial relations in the industry. The Bill is a tremendous step forward, and is appreciated as such by many of my constituents and neighbours who are in the fishing industry. Granted we have not got everything—it is a lucky man who will always get everything—but we have got a considerable part of what we wanted, and the Bill is to be strongly commended for that reason.

May I also thank my right hon. Friend for what we have achieved on the affirmative Resolution procedure. He rightly paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) for the part he played in this. It is necessary that Parliament should deal with the matter in such a way as to ensure that these new problems can be given careful examination when they arise.

Although we may differ on some of the points made by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the nature of the new disciplinary committees on board ship, nevertheless it is right that we in Parliament should keep an eye on them. I do not, however, regard them with quite the same amount of caution as do hon. Gentlemen opposite. I feel that because of the responsibilities placed on the men in the industry they will rise to the occasion. Nothing helps people better than to have a degree of responsibility given to them. We all know how successful shipboard liaison committees have been in the Merchant Navy and we also know how embryonic shipboard relationships have grown up and have helped in the relationship with the ship's captain. We can look to the future with a considerable degree of confidence.

I share the concern which has been expressed about the large turnover of crews. One hopes that the new charter set out in the Bill and the new attitudes which are permeating the industry, as well as some of the changes that have taken place in industrial agreements within the industry, will ease many of the stresses and strains upon seafaring men. Many trawlermen are away for periods of up to sixteen weeks before they return to their home port and men in the merchant marine are away for much longer periods. It is hoped that with the improvements which will result from the Bill and the attitudes which will permeate the industry, there will not be the rapid turnover in the supply of labour which has occurred in the past. The sea will always have a great attraction for our people, and for those who go to sea some of the difficulties involved in life at sea may be lessened.

I have one point which I should like to raise with my right hon. Friend. It relates to the strike clause and the four hours' notice point. As I read the Clause, once 48 hours' notice has been given that is sufficient. But it has been pointed out to me that once a ship has been safely moored and the 48 hours notice has been given, what would happen if the order is given for the ship to be put to sea? My interpretation of this situation is that if it ever came to court, which I very much doubt, it would be thrown out because it would be seen as a way of trying to evade statutory responsibility. I wonder if my right hon. Friend would deal with this matter since it has not been raised either on Committee or Report.

I said on Second Reading that this was a good Bill and it could perhaps become a great Bill. It is now a considerably better Bill. I would have no hesitation in commending the Bill to my constituents.

I said on Second Reading that those who live in, and hon. Members who represent, ports had always had three grievances. One was the casual nature of dock labour, the second was our desire to have the ports taken into public ownership, and the third was our desire to have a radical reorganisation and alteration of the Merchant Shipping Acts.

The first we got way back in 1966. The second is now under consideration in Committee. As for the third, this Measure will soon be on its way to the House of Lords. Those who live and work in port areas, whether they earn their living on the sea or in industries connected with the sea, have a lot to say in favour of the Government under Labour. I am pleased to welcome what I regard as a much better Bill.

12.5 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

This is a good Bill and few things are more important than having our Merchant Navy in good shape. At this late hour I will be brief, especially since a number of hon. Members wish to speak.

I wish to make it clear at the outset, without mincing words, that the so-called penal Clauses should remain in the body of the Bill, and everybody knows that.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. and gallant Gentleman should speak for himself.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Unfortunately, at the last ditch the Government seem to have refused to stand by what they said they would do, for they have thrown the onus back on to the industry; and if the employers are expected to stand firm against what is a major departure from Pearson, they obviously risk the threat of industrial action being taken against them, with consequent damage to both sides of the industry and to the nation. I fear that this will be seen as a weak-kneed performance by a weak-kneed Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]

On a wider scale, it is a regrettable manifestation of the current trend to diminish the restraints of discipline in any shape or form, and hon. Members will agree that a seagoing ship is the last place where this trend should be manifested.

Mr. Harold Walker

I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. Is not discipline in that Service governed by regulations? Incidentally, did I hear him say "we the employers"? In other words, does he wish to declare an interest?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The Minister must have misunderstood me, and I do not think I used the word "we" in that context. As for the Royal Navy, on Second Reading I paid tribute to the way in which the masters of merchant vessels manage to exert their influence in ships by the force of their personalities with the minimum of regulations and legal restraints.

I am very much opposed to the inclusion of Clause 37—disciplinary committees—what the Minister described as perhaps the most important part of the Bill. I do not want to sound obsessional about this, but there are some things which float by on the sea of legislation which, when one is in opposition, stick in one's gullett simply because one believes them to be wrong, and for no other reason.

First and foremost, the disciplinary committees must inevitably diminish the authority of the master; and, as any seaman knows, a weak master means an unhappy ship. We should not, by Statute, create weak masters, and thereby create unhappy ships.

There are already two new safeguards in the idea of the "seaman's friend" and the right of appeal from a decision of the master. These are two useful safeguards and there is no conflict between the two sides of the House about them. They should be given a fair chance to work properly and they should certainly not be tried out under the shadow of the introduction of ships' disciplinary committees.

I believe, also, that the disciplinary committees will, in practice, be liable to lead to industrial unrest on board, for reasons which were very well summarised in paragraph 295 of the Pearson Report, which states: There would be a danger of serious difficulties arising. I will not read the whole of that paragraph, but it should be read very carefully by anyone who is considering the subject at all seriously. Paragraph 296 states: On a balance of considerations we think the jurisdiction should, for the time being at any rate, remain vested in the master … That is a clearcut and not a delphic utterance.

What has also been very clearly brought out is that these committees will tend to make mountains out of molehills, and magnify minor offences out of all proportion—and we are only talking of minor offences. I believe that the vast majority of seamen would rather be dealt with by the master and have done with it, and not have some little peccadillo of theirs noised about the ship through the whole paraphernalia of calling together the disciplinary committee. In practice, I think that the disciplinary committees will prove terribly difficult to work. A further point, dealt with by the Minister in Committee but not mentioned since, is the difficulty arising in mixed crews and the application of the Race Relations Act.

I have earlier paid a tribute to masters, as have many other hon. Members. I think that it is quite wrong to whittle away their already small disciplinary powers to vanishing point. I do not believe that the "silent majority" of experienced and long-term seagoing men want this disciplinary committee idea. They want, as the Minister said, to look forward in a modern industry, and not backwards to "Battleship Potemkin."

Anything which the Bill does to remove aspects of life in the Merchant Navy which are bad is to be welcomed, and I end by imploring the Government not to remove one of the good things, which is the power, the authority and influence of, and the respect for, the master.

12.12 a.m.

Mr. Dunn

I, too, welcome the arrival of the Bill at the destination which the House once set itself. I join with those who have paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, but it would be right at this stage to say that co-operation is a twofold thing, and that the hon. Members for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) and Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) both made very telling contributions to that co-operation, without which the Bill might not have arrived tonight in such an acceptable form.

But, while hon. Members can congratulate themselves on an achievement, we ought to resolve that never again shall the House get into a state of complacency in this matter. For far too long the problem has lived with us, and for far too long have we been unable to deal with it because of complications which were almost impossible to clear up without consultation. We should make up our minds that from this day forward consultation and review shall be a continuing thing, because the hazards at sea are of a changing pattern because of new and emerging demands made upon those who go to sea and sail these ships.

I do not, with respect, follow the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in what he has said about discipline. People should be encouraged to discipline themselves. I look forward to the day when, in a future Merchant Shipping Bill, it will no longer he necessary to include penal provisions. When that day arrives, the shipping industry will have come of age. There are reservations and I respect them, but unless we make a sincere attempt to overcome some of the problems of the unnecessarily rigid discipline of the past, we shall not develop successfully in future.

For a long time there have been serious attempts to solve great problems concerning non-payment of seamen. I hope that the House will keep under continual review what happens in those circumstances. I hope hon. Members will agree that when a seaman is not paid his just due after undergoing the arduous. challenging and hazardous life at sea, he is entitled to ask for all that is due to him. We should hunt out anyone who does not discharge his obligations with honour. We should decide whether these scavengers—I use the word advisedly—should remain in the industry.

I hope this Bill will be the forerunner of many more of its kind. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had of being associated with all, from both sides of the House, who have worked on it. I was delighted to work with my hon. Friends in the Committee. This has been an experience which will remain with me forever and a day.

12.17 a.m.

Mr. James Johnson

Despite the jeremiad of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), this is an historic occAs Ion for hon. Members, who, like me, represent great seaports.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is turning the clock forward with a vengeance, because the last such Act was passed in 1894. We moved a long way forward in the 12 or 14 weeks that the Bill was in Committee. Some appear to forget that this Bill deals not only with seamen but also with fishermen. I looked at the clock when I first heard the word "fishing" spoken in the debate. The time was 11.14 p.m. I heard it again at 11.40. This Bill is a fishermen's charter. It is very important to the people I represent in the largest fishing port in the United Kingdom and to the thousands of ancillary workers such as the bobbers on the dockside.

It is a very good Bill. Listening to the Report stage four or five hours ago, I was not sure that we were debating the same Bill that we began to discuss on 2nd December. The fishermen have no complaints about it. I cannot imagine the Transport and General Workers Union sending me a circular about it.

I want to speak of my appreciation of the Minister. He knows that I do not believe in sycophantic adulation, but in twenty years in which I have been in the House, off and on, I do not recall another Miinster who has been so courteous and so accessible to his back benchers. He said that everyone got something in this Bill. We who have sat behind him have got something from him. He has been a veritable Santa Claus. The industry has got most out of him. We tend to forget that there was a mark 1 Bill. I know of no other Minister who has had a Bill published in the summer and then, because of consultations with every section of society, produced a mark 2 Bill in November.

I agree with William Hogarth, that well-known leader of the seamen, who said: We are witnessing the last days of the old regime as epitomised by the 1894 Act. In view of what I have heard the seamen's leaders saying, I cannot believe that they are almost seething about their conditions and about the dangers of the penal Clauses. The penal Clauses are the most controversial part of the Bill. Nobody, least of all the union, denies the need for discipline. The sea is a cruel master. Emergencies are sudden. Survival is often slender. Danger is ever present. The National Union of Seamen has said: The safety of men and ships in which they sail has always been given the highest priority by the National Union of Seamen. Clause 28 is a must for a union. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not accept some Clauses, the seamen need them; and I applaud the changes which have been made to the Bill.

If he does not think me impertinent, I want to compliment my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the way he answered questions about communicants with the union. We frequently speak about industrial democracy and about making contacts with the men and seeing their point of view. Both Ministers have done that to the nth degree on the Bill. As I said about the somewhat less happy phase of the debate, if earlier there had been closer contact by the union with back benches some things which were said might not have been said.

There are many good things in the Bill. Clause 37 is the most important Clause, speaking as a member of a trade union. I believe that ships are floating factories. I want conditions for merchant seamen to be as near as possible to those that exist in factories on the land. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said about the need for thought to be given to the welfare and working conditions of the men, following the 1966 strike. Britain has the finest seamen and the highest standard of discipline in the world. I believe in industrial discipline. It is courageous of the Minister to introduce the beginnings of disciplinary committees; this is a major advance. Some people are scared stiff of this concept. We on this side are not. It is an important beginning to securing what we hope will be conditions approximating to working conditions in factories ashore.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The hon. Gentleman pointed at me when he used the expression "scared stiff". That is not a fair expression. All I want to do is to see the best discipline, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, not altered just because it is so good.

Mr. Johnson

That is a non sequitur. It does not follow that what is now the highest standard in the world will be lost merely by attempting to introduce what on shore has been over the years a first class exercise between employer and worker.

There is a need for flexibility and tolerance for men working on board vessels. The Minister spoke about the personality of the master. Like my right hon. Friend and the N.U.S., I believe that the master must always be in charge. I believe, as they do, that it is on the initiative of the ship's master that a charge goes forward.

I have the highest hopes of the Bill in its mark II form. I hope that any earlier misunderstandings and any potential dangers will soon be cleared away. The Under-Secretary of State today gave an assurance that, if both sides of the industry wish it, changes will follow. I am sure that my hon. Friend meant that and that both the employers and the men will accept it. As one who served on the Standing Committee, which was most harmonious, I wish the Minister success. He has had success in the past few weeks, and I am sure that he will have it in future. He deserves success, and so do the men who go to sea on our behalf.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Horner

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) spoke of the dangers of disciplinary committees. I admire his consistency. On every occssion that this matter has been raised he has made his opposition plain. He has introduced a variety of points, and has always condemned the proposition. Tonight, he reminded me of a bosun's " peggie ", whose job, among other things, is to bring the food of the bosun and the bosun's mate from the galley.

On the voyage that I have in mind, the bosun's mate consistently objected to the quality of the food. He raised his objections with the bosun's " peggie ". After about 4½ months at sea, the bosun said to the bosun's mate, "You have been on about the food throughout the trip. What is wrong with it? ", and the bosun's mate said, "Look at the shape of it". He objected to the shape of the duff. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester has been objecting to the shape of the Bill during its voyage in the last four months.

I said earlier that I had sought to ascertain the number of cases which have resulted in prosecutions of seamen under the existing law in the last five years. I told the house that I had been defeated in my search. I have now succeeded in the search. The total number of seamen prosecuted under the obnoxious 1894 Act in the last five years is four. The total amount of fines collected from those four prosecutions is £25. This is a tribute to the good sense of the seamen which has prevailed during the operation of the 1894 Act which the Bill replaces.

I hope that we shall try to keep matters in perspective and that those of my hon. Friends who have felt that more should be done will feel that what has been promised to be done, and the endeavour of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to bring about consultations between the two sides of the industry, will produce the avenue which we have been seeking and will obviate the impasse which we might have encountered earlier today.

Mr. McNamara

My hon. Friend would, I think, agree that the argument could be used both ways. It could be that there have been so few prosecutions because the provisions were not needed and the industry could do without them. Others have urged that the presence of the Acts has acted as a buffer. After what my hon. Friend has said before, I very much welcome what he has just said.

Mr. Horner

Everyone hopes that the discussion earlier today, and the objections raised by one section of the industry to certain provisions, will in no way tarnish or diminish the pride which the Government are entitled to take in honouring the undertaking they made about three years ago that they would seek to reform the old, outmoded, creaking legislation. They have done that.

If I have any misgiving about the Bill it is whether we have done enough. We have all talked about flexibility, and have touched on the new features emerging in the Merchant Navy. Perhaps within a few years the officer on the bridge will also be performing much of the work now done by the engineer below. Crews will not be divided between deck and engine room, and the multiplicity of tasks that must be performed to an increasing degree of skill, requiring increasing technical knowledge, will be done by the single all-purpose crew. Those are the kind of developments that are emerging in respect of the employment of seamen and officers.

Let us consider the employment of ships and what they will be required to do. In the next decade that will be covered by this legislation there is the possibility of million-ton tankers. Already there are 250,000-ton tankers, reaching up to 500,000 tons. I do not know whether it will ever be possible to build millionton tankers, but that is the proposition that is emerging. Therefore, I wonder whether we have seen far enough ahead. We have tried to throw off the shackles of the past, and I think that we have done so. My right hon. Friend said earlier this evening that the Government are fully conscious of the need to maintain flexibility, and this was encouraging. I hope that the Bill will in no way limit the scope or flexibility of the Government or the industry, and that we shall not say in the future that it would have been better if we had not done this or that. My misgivings do not go very deep. Because of the way in which the industry has approached this problem and is continuing to do so—and I hope that it will be inspired by the debates here—it may well be that they are wholly misplaced.

I regarded it as an honour to serve on the Standing Committee. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the courtesy and sympathy he showed throughout our long sittings, which have brought about the situation in which this can now be an agreed Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.