HC Deb 11 March 1970 vol 797 cc1483-90
Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in line 6, after 'may' insert: 'after giving notice in writing to such officer of their intention so to do'. The point here is so obviously in accord with natural justice that I am sure that the Minister will spring to his feet after my second sentence and say that he will accept the Amendment. The Clause deals with inquiries into matters of unfitness to discharge duties, serious negligence, and so on.

All we ask is that the person who is in peril should have notice in writing of the Board of Trade's intention to hold an inquiry. It is very little to ask, and I hope that the Minister will instantly comply with our request.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

All I need say tonight is that I would like rather more time to consider the matter in detail. It is not quite as simple and instant—if I may use that word—as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I agree with the spirit of the Amendment. It is the Government's intention that the point should be covered, though possibly not quite in the way the Amendment proposes. I have not finished looking at the possibility of doing this under the rules as to the conduct of inquiries to be made by the Board of Trade under Clause 59.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will seek permission to withdraw his Amendment I shall try to ensure that the matter is dealt with before the Bill becomes law, or I will let him know.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I note that it is the Government's intention to concede the principle of the Amendment, and in the light of that assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, Withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I beg to move Amendment No. 40, in page 25, line 35, at end insert: (6) Where the certificate of any officer is suspended pursuant to subsection (1) of this section and such suspension is subsequently terminated either under subsection (3) of this section or pursuant to the findings of any inquiry held under subsection (1) of this section, the court, upon the application of the officer, or the persons holding the inquiry, may order that compensation be paid to any such officer for any expenses or loss of earnings which he may have incurred, or any part thereof as the court or the persons holding the inquiry shall determine, and the decision of the court on such an application shall be final. (7) Any such compensation ordered to be paid shall be paid by the Board of Trade out of moneys provided by Parliament. The Amendment appears to us to raise important questions of principle and this is an occasion where we are praying in aid the Pearson Report when the Minister is going against it. We are dealing here still with inquiries into an officer's position. Subsection (4) provides for the cancellation of his certificate or, in the case of an uncertificated officer, for censure, which is a very serious matter in both cases for the rest of the officer's career. It also deals with costs and says that a report can be sent back by the inquiry.

Under subsection (5), the Board of Trade is empowered to recover certain moneys. But the fact remains that an officer who is cleared—and this does happen and is liable to happen in future—receives no compensation. This seems to us very unjust in the circumstances. A good deal of publicity will probably have attended the inquiry, particularly if it has been caused by a shipping casualty.

Paragraph 194 of the Pearson Report points out that the officer has been unjustly deprived of the opportunity of earning his livelihood and goes on to say that the only remedy is for the court to have discretionary power to indemnify the officer in respect of loss of earnings. That seems to us to be a very strong case. In Committee, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was some objection in precedent about our proposal, but the fact remains that this situation is not on all fours with most inquiries of the kind. Shipping casualties attract a lot of attention in the Press and even on television and the officer concerned will be in a particularly difficult position even when he is cleared. The least that can be done would be to compensate him for loss of earnings.

The officer has been trained as a seafarer and without his certificate he cannot practise his calling. I think that it is up to the Board of Trade to find a way of putting him back in some reasonable kind of position. He will suffer tremendous lass, including a loss of prestige. The least that can be expected is some compensation for loss of earnings where the Board of Trade has gone wrong and started an inquiry against an officer which was not in the event justified and he is cleared.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) speaks so persuasively that it grieves me to have to say that I do not find a way of accepting the Amendment. But I have every sympathy with what he says, and indicated as much in Committee. The Amendment would create an unfortunate precedent. I am advised that it is against the general principles of our legal system that a person—[Interruption.] It is not a proper comment on our legal system simply to say, "Dear, dear", in that tone of voice.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

It was a friendly interjection, and it was "Be a devil for once."

Mr. Roberts

Very well! But the hon. and learned Gentleman might get more than he bargains for. I have been fairly kind to him this evening and I may decide at a later stage to have another change of heart and mind.

As I was saying, it would create an unfortunate precedent to accept the Amendment. It is against the general principles of our legal system that a person who is put in jeopardy by reason of his conduct being the subject of judicial inquiry is compensated for his loss of earnings if he is subsequently discharged as innocent. This is one of the ordinary hazards of life. It affects us all.

For instance, a person charged with a criminal offence may be suspended from his employment pending the trial; he may be put to the considerable inconvenience of finding bail; he may be remanded in custody. If he is ultimately acquitted, he may, at the court's discretion, be awarded costs against the prose- cution, but there is no question of his being awarded compensation for loss of earnings, or for any inconvenience that he has suffered. In the comparable occupation of aviation, when certificates are suspended, no compensation is payable. There is no precedent for the Amendment, which would be contrary to current practice.

There is a further objection. If a court is given discretionary power to order compensation for loss of earnings, the order would have to relate to a liquidated sum. The persons holding the inquiry would have to determine the precise amount of the compensation, for it is basic principle that a court should not make an order for payment of an unliquidated sum. Ascertainment of the sum would be difficult and could well be the subject of dispute. It would lengthen the proceedings and would also be undesirable in that an inquiry of this kind would not be equipped to deal with such matters.

The main argument against the Amendment is in the first two objections which I tried to put, despite the interjection of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). There are substantial analogies, especially as between officers in the Merchant Navy and in civil aviation. I do not know how we could do what the Amendment suggests without transgressing some important principles which so far hold the field.

Mr. Horner

We are discussing the Merchant Navy and not civil aviation and someone has to make a start. I am disappointed with what my right hon. Friend has said. If the Board of Trade rightly reserves the power to prevent a man from following his profession because of alleged misconduct, or incompetence, or other reason, and an inquiry makes it clear that, while properly suspended, he was nevertheless unjustly suspended, in the sense that the charge against him was not proved, it is wholly reasonable that someone should compensate him.

There are many risks in following the profession of sea going, but this is one risk which we seek to reduce. A man's professional advancement may be endangered. He may undergo the humiliation of appearing before a court and the circumstances may be distressing for an officer. If, at the end, he is upheld by the court, why cannot the court have the power to say that he should be compensated?

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) has said most of what I would have said. One of the arguments I dislike most—and it may well be that I will find oneself on a future occasion having to advance it, but I still dislike it—is, "If I am just to this group of people, I shall have to be just to a whole lot of other people as well." That argument seems to have little merit, although the requirements of the Treasury, or something of that sort, may force one to use it.

However, here the Minister is on very weak ground. He mentioned the criminal law and said that if one were put in peril of trial, one might lose one's job. That is a peril to which we are all subject under the general law, and I accept the doctrine that it is one of the hazards of life. But the Merchant Navy officer has special risks and special responsibilities and a high duty, and these may appear to have been broken. If he is put on trial and deprived of his means of livelihood, but in the end cleared, he will have lost a great deal of money in the interim.

If we take the professions—barristers, solicitors, doctors—as far as I know there are no interlocutory proceedings in those professions. They are free to continue to practise until they have been found to be guilty of whatever offence it is by the appropriate body and been disbarred, suspended, unfrocked or whatever. The only other example which is in parallel is that of the air pilots. We ought to look at this principle as a whole because I do not believe that it exists as a principle. Here we have someone, not the man's employer, but some Govern-

ment Department stepping in and, in the interests of the public, saying that until that man has been cleared he is not to be allowed to go to sea. It is extremely hard that he should not be entitled to be recompensed out of public funds for the loss he has suffered if he is cleared.

I am prepared to advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to divide the House unless the Minister is willing to have second thoughts.

Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)

Because my hon. Friend says that he intends to divide the House on this matter, and because I shall have to vote with the Government for the first time in my life if he does so, I feel that I must explain my action.

It seems that the objections raised by the Minister to this Amendment are quite conclusive. If we are to allow compensation to be paid in such circumstances, there can be no possible reason why we should not do the same in the ordinary courts of the land. It would make the administration of justice quite impossible if everyone who was acquitted was entitled to be compensated for any loss that he had sustained.

It ought to be remembered that not everyone who is acquitted is not guilty. All that has happened is that he has been found not guilty. If it were to be the law that everyone acquitted was entitled to be compensated for any loss that he had sustained it seems that there would be some awful abuses. It is something which we could not possibly contemplate. Since, if it is done in the one case there is no reason why it should not be done in the other, I must vote against this Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 107, Noes 145.

Division No. 83.] AYES [10.47 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Bruce-Cardyne, J. Dodds Parker, Douglas
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N & M) Drayson, G. B.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Buck, Antony (Colchester) Eden, Sir John
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bullus, Sir Eric Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Biffen, John Chichester-Clark, R. Fair, John
Biggs-Davison, John Crouch, David Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Black, Sir Cyril Crowder, F. P. Fortescue, Tim
Blaker, Peter Currie, G. B. H. Fry, Peter
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Dance, James Gibson-Watt, David
Body, Richard Dean, Paul Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)
Brewis, John Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Goodhew, Victor
Brinton, sir Tatton Digby, Simon Wingfield Gower, Raymond
Grant, Anthony Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Gurden, Harold Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) MacArthur, Ian Scott, Nicholas
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Sharples, Richard
Harvie Anderson, Miss McMaster, Stanley Stodart, Anthony
Hawkins, Paul McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Hiley, Joseph Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Hill, J. E. B. Miscampbell, Norman Taylor Frank (Moss Side)
Holland, Philip Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hordern, Peter Monro, Hector Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Hornby, Richard Montgomery, Fergus Waddington, David
Horner, John More, Jasper Wall, Patrick
Hunt, John Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Walters Dennis
Hutchison, Michael Clark Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. whitelaw Rt. Hn William
Iremonger, T. L. Nabarro, Sir Gerald Wiggin Jerry
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nott, John Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Osborn, John (Hallam) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Jopling, Michael Page, Graham (Crosby) Woodnutt, Mark
Kaberry, Sir Donald Peel, John Worsley, Marcus
Kimball, Marcus Percival, Ian Wylie, N. R.
Kirk, Peter Pike, Miss Mervyn Younger, Hn. George
Kitson, Timothy Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Knight, Mrs. Jill Price, David (Eastleigh) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lane, David Pym, Francis Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Mr. Walter Clegg.
Abse, Leo Hazell, Bert Ogden, Eric
Allen, Scholefield Heffer, Eric S. O'Halloran, Michael
Anderson, Donald Hooley, Frank Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis & Tipt'n) Hooson, Emlyn Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Armstrong, Ernest Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Palmer, Arthur
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bishop, E. s. Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pavitt, Laurence
Blackburn, F. Hunter, Adam Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hynd, John Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Booth, Albert Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Pentland, Norman
Boston, Terence Janner, Sir Barnett Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Judd, Frank Rees, Merlyn
Buchan, Norman Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Lawson, George Roberta, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Leadbitter, Ted Robertson, John (Paisley)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Rose, Paul
Carmichael, Nell Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Rt, Hn, William
Concannon, J. D. Loughlin, Charles Rowlands, E.
Confan, Bernard Luard, Evan Shaw, Arnold (IIford, S.)
Crawshaw, Richard Lubbock, Eric Shore Rt, Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Dalyell, Tam Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.) McCann, John Silverman, Julius
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) McElhone, Frank Slater, Joseph
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) McGuire, Michael Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Delargy, H. J. Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Doig, Peter Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Taverne, Dick
Dunn, James A. Mackie, John Tinn, James
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) McNamara, J. Kevin Urwin, T. W.
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Varley, Eric G.
Ellis John Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Wainwright, Richard (Coine Valley)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Malialieu, E. L. (Brigg) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Marks, Kenneth Wallace, George
Faulds, Andrew Marquand, David Watkins, Tuder (Brecon & Radnor)
Finch, Harold Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Whitaker, Ben
Fitch, Alan (wigan) Mendelson, John Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Miller, Dr. M. S. Winstanley Dr. M. P.
Galpern, Sir Myer Milne, Edward (Biyth) woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Golding, John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) woof, Robert
Grey, Charles (Durham) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harper, Joseph Moyle, Roland Mr. R. F. H. Dobson and
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Norwood, Christopher Mr. Neil McBride.
Haseldine, Norman
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