HC Deb 11 May 1970 vol 801 cc861-87
Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1. line 29, after 'master', insert 'or skipper'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment, it will be convenient to discuss Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Mr. Baker

Yes, they are substantially the same, except for Amendment No. 2. They are perfectly simple and straightforward.

I was encouraged by the reply made by the Minister of State in Committee to the debate on the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, when he said: As regards the word 'skipper', certainly we shall consider whether that is necessary and appropriate for insertion."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 28th April, 1970; c. 5.] Since then, however, no Government Amendment has appeared giving effect to my suggestion and, for that reason, I have felt obliged to table these Amendments.

They seek to do the obvious, which is to take cognisance of the long-standing use of the word "skipper" in our inshore fishing fleet. The expression "master" is totally unknown in the fleet, certainly in that of North-East Scotland, the reason being that one finds three classes of skipper—the share fisherman skipper, the owner skipper, and the self-employed skipper. In no case of which I am aware is the skipper of an inshore boat referred to or known as "the master".

I call in aid a leaflet numbered N.I. 47, issued by the old Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, paragraph 1 of which says: For National Insurance purposes a share fisherman is someone who is or has been employed in the fishing industry as the skipper or a member of the crew of a fishing vessel.… It goes on to describe that person in more detail.

Then, in paragraph 16, which is headed, What is the third additional rule?", it says: If you are the skipper or a member of the crew of a fishing vessel of which either the skipper or any of the crew is owner or part-owner, you must also prove that there was good reason for not having fished… I agree that that information has no legislative backing. It is not a Statutory Instrument. Nevertheless, it takes cognisance of the fact that the word "skipper" is commonly used by the inshore fleet.

I hope that the Minister will not say that the situation is reasonable or that the word "skipper" is adequately covered by the use of the word "master"—or, indeed, that in other legislation the skipper is referred to as "the master". In my view, legislation should be clear and readily understandable. It should employ traditional words which are commonly used, understood and recognised by any branch of industry. Traditionally, the skipper is the effective man in charge of the vessel.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirk-dale)

When this matter was raised in Committee, I had a good deal of sympathy with the point put forward by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker). I still have, since the inclusion of these Amendments in the Bill will make no difference to its intentions.

However, the arguments which have just been adduced by the hon. Gentleman to support his Amendments put me in some difficulty, and my sympathy is diminished. On our merchant ships, the word "skipper" is used frequently. On the majority of vessels operating from the Port of Liverpool, the word is more commonly used than "master". There are other ports in which the term is always "the captain". But everyone appreciates that the person concerned is the master of the vessel in law, and even those who refuse to use the word "master" in normal circumstances will do so when pushed if they are defending a right or liberty or making a complaint, in which case they make the word sound a condemnation of the attitude of the person holding authority.

I do not think that these Amendments would serve any useful purpose. Neither would they make the legislation more clear. The Merchant Shipping Act contains no such provision, and Clause 11 of this Bill should do much to remove any doubt from the hon. Gentleman's mind.

Having said that, I return to my original comment. The Amendments make not an ounce of difference. If it pleases anyone to add the words "or skipper", why not include them?

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

While the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) is right when he says that it is customary to refer to "the skipper" of a fishing vessel rather than to "the master", and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) says, it is widespread in the merchant shipping fleet, I am advised that the Amendments are not only unnecessary but inadvisable, for reasons of drafting.

When the hon. Gentleman raised the point in Committee, I was glad to say that I would look at it. I have done so, and find that, quite apart from the fact that the Amendments are unnecessary, we may get into some difficulty if we adopt them.

The term "master" has been used in this Bill, as in the Merchant Shipping Bill now before Parliament, for the legal reason that that term is defined in Section 742 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, as including every person, except a pilot, having command or charge of any ship. That definition obviously covers the skipper of a fishing vessel. For that reason the term "skipper" was dropped from the Merchant Shipping Bill. Since this Bill, like the Merchant Shipping Bill, is to be read as one with the Merchant Shipping Acts, it is unnecessary to add the word "skipper", as proposed, since it is already included in the term "master".

Moreover, I am advised that if it were to be included in the Bill, the result would be to throw possible doubt on the meaning of the word "master" as used in the Merchant Shipping Bill, because if in two statutes which are to be read as one, as we note from Clause 11(3), one expressly refers to "master or skipper", as the hon. Gentleman wishes, while the other uses "master" only, intending none the less to include a skipper, uncertainty whether such was, in fact, the intention might arise. Having looked at the matter and having ascertained the position carefully, I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Before I sit down, I should point out that the effect of the proposed Amendment to Clause 3 would be to change the provision in the Bill, which reflects similar provisions in the Merchant Shipping Acts, whereby application for a certficate is made by the owner. This seems to be the appropriate procedure. The hon. Gentleman did not make a point on this, but I thought I would mention it. I do not see any reason to provide alternatively for the owner or skipper to apply for the certificate. The present procedure for other types of vessel has caused no trouble in the past. In any case, as a matter of drafting I think that excluding the word "master" would be inconsistent with the other Amendments proposed.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

The right hon. Gentleman said that I did not refer to Amendment No. 2. I did, in that I tried to classify the various types of skipper—the owner skipper, the shore fishing skipper and the employed fisherman skipper. I think that that has a bearing.

Mr. Roberts:

I stand corrected. The hon. Gentleman did in that passage bring this point out.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will regard his exercise this afternoon, which I understand and sympathise with, as having clarified beyond doubt what is intended. Indeed, it is not simply an assurance from this Box that he is getting, but a fact that the two Bills—Acts as we expect them to be—are to be taken as one. I hope that that will suffice for him to inform his constituents that the term "skipper" may continue to be used widely and, may I say, specifically, on occasions, but that the legal term "master" is convenient and effective.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making the position abundantly clear. In view of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment,

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

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

The Bill before us went through its Committee stage with great dispatch. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) point out, it should not be thought, therefore, that it is for that reason an unimportant Bill. Far from it. The reason for the speed with which it was taken was that hon. Members on both sides wholly agreed with the purpose and importance of the Bill.

The Bill is important because it seeks to fill a gap in our merchant shipping legislation. The Bill will enable rules for the safety of fishing vessels to be made where none could be made before. However, the Bill and the rules to be made under it should be put in their proper context. This is one of the measures necessary to implement the recommendations of the Holland-Martin Committee of Inquiry into Trawler Safety. I should not like to give the impression that the passing of the Bill, or the making of rules under it, will be the complete answer. We all know that this will not be so. We shall have to return to the question of trawler safety and, indeed, of safety at sea from time to time.

Much responsibility also lies on both sides of the industry to implement other recommendations in the Holland-Martin Report, and I have been particularly gratified to note the responsible attitude shown by both sides of the industry and the undoubted progress which has already been made. Indeed, some owners have anticipated matters that will later become mandatory under the Bill.

The Government and both sides of industry are working together to cut to the minimum the risks facing fishermen in their dangerous calling. It is impossible to eliminate these risks altogether, except of course by keeping the vessel in port. But we intend to do everything possible to require that the trawlermen have a safe vessel, modern safety equipment, and safe working conditions on board. I know that there is no dispute about that in any part of the House.

I should like now to turn to one or two points which were made in Committee and then to cover very briefly some additional points concerning the safety of trawlers which I know to be in some Members' minds.

Many Members are interested to know what rules will be made under the Bill, and when they will come into effect. As regards the scope of the rules, I distributed a memorandum prepared by my Department to the Committee which showed very broadly what subjects would be covered under the Fishing Vessel Construction Rules in Clause 1 and the Fishing Vessel Survey Rules relating to construction, safety equipment and radio equipment under Clause 2.

The Fishing Vessel Construction Rules, which will initially apply to fishing vessels of 80 feet or more in length, will cover a range of subjects including structural strength, stability, weathertight integrity, means of protection for the crew, structural fire protection and other important subjects. The drafting of these rules is under consideration and the industry will be fully consulted. Initially, the rules will probably not apply to inshore vessels, but rules will need to be drafted for them in due course.

In the important area of stability, the Board of Trade has now completed its selective investigation of the stability characteristics of the distant water fleet, and work is continuing with the examination of stability data voluntarily submitted by owners of other distant water trawlers and of near and middle water vessels.

I have been asked whether the rules that we propose to make on construction will apply to existing as well as to new vessels. It is difficult to give an exact reply to that question at this stage, but in general the full force of the rules will apply to new vessels and, as far as reasonably practicable, to existing vessels.

For example, it has been found that a number of vessels do not come up to the stability standards recommended by the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, but so far it has been found possible to remedy the defects without major structural modifications. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to restrict a vessel's area of operations where it cannot meet the I.M.C.O. criteria for severe icing conditions. On the other hand, there are some matters, such as structural fire protection, where it would be prohibitively expensive to bring some of the older vessels up to the required standard, and that is not our intention. In such cases exemption from full compliance with the rules will need to be granted, but with conditions designed to achieve appropriate compensating safety standards.

Rules for the survey and certification of vessels to ensure that they comply with the rules applicable to them will be made under Clause 2. In this connection I should like to clear up one possible misconception which may have arisen in Committee from the fact that in our memorandum to the Committee we said that the annual survey shall, subject to consultation with the industry, initially apply in respect of the radio rules to fishing vessels above 60 ft. First, our powers extend to vessels of any size.

Second, I was asked why we proposed stopping at 60 ft. and not going below that figure. I should emphasise that this limit was a suggestion on the part of the Board of Trade based on practicability and will be subject to consultation with the industry, and we hope very shortly to have a meeting with the industry on this matter. I understand that below about 60 ft. it becomes increasingly difficult to find appropriate space for extensive radio equipment. Moreover, the smaller vessels often tend to fish close inshore. Nevertheless, this is a matter which we shall be considering further and very seriously with the industry.

I was also asked when the rules under the Bill were likely to be made. In reply I said that they would be done with due speed and expedition, but I had to say that there was a great deal of work to be done, both within the Board of Trade and in consultation with the industry, and it would be wrong of me to lead hon. Members to expect that the rules will be ready within 12 months of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent. It is clear that we must get the rules right rather than rush them.

I can understand the concern of hon. Members that the rules will not be ready before the next winter. I should, however, point out that a number of other measures are being taken by the Government and the industry to improve safety standards in the meantime. For example, the Government have been providing a support vessel off Iceland during the winter months, and I have been gratified to note the progress which has been made by the industry itself in giving effect to a number of Holland-Martin recommendations. I have in mind those relating to reporting procedures, which are extremely important the implementation of Code 1 of the Fishermans Safety Code concerned with the equipment and construction of trawlers; safety equipment and survival clothing; and the restriction of working hours on board. All this is in progress, and the progress is most gratifying. Thus, while it will be difficult to prepare rules within 12 months from the passage of the Bill into law, that should not be taken as meaning that no progress is being made on safety. Indeed, the contrary is true.

There was some discussion in Committee on the reference in Clauses 1, 4 and 5 to the word "master", and the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) has since moved his Amendments. I have replied to the hon. Gentleman's observations, and I am most grateful for his response to my explanation.

Some hon. Members have asked about our long-term intentions with regard to support vessels. The Holland-Martin Report said that complete coverage of all the main fishing grounds could be achieved only by providing three or more support ships. The report went on, however, to say that it would be realistic to gain experience initially with the operation of one vessel only; after two or three years the position should be reviewed with the industry in the light of the experience gained, with a view to deciding whether the support services should be extended.

The Board of Trade accepts that one support ship should be stationed off Iceland each winter, although there is now no commitment to provide more. As the report recommends, we propose to evaluate the experience of the support vessel before reaching a decision whether more should be provided. Hon. Members will have noted my announcement in the House recently about the purchase of a Swedish vessel which, after conversion, will be stationed off Iceland this coming winter and provide the same facilities as those which were successfully provided by the "Orsino".

Some hon. Members have mentioned the possibility of engaging Royal Naval fishery protection vessels in fishery support work. In any long-term appraisal of the role of a support vessel the position of protection vessels will obviously have to be borne in mind. There is never any difficulty about co-operation between the Service and the civil Departments, particularly in a matter of this kind, and I give those who brought this matter to my attention a complete assurance that this constant readiness to co-operate will continue.

There is, however, a distinction between the functions of fishery protection vessels and those of fishery support vessels. It is not thought that fishery support is a proper task for the Royal Navy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the Minister would assist the Chair. His remarks appear to be somewhat wide of the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Roberts

It is most likely that your are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that I have been venturing from in-shore into deep waters. However, with your consent, I shall conclude this part of my speech by saying that the purpose of the support vessels will be to render assistance—technical, medical and otherwise—to our fishing fleet in areas of hazard, but that from time to time it may be found appropriate to ask Service Departments, in this case the Royal Navy, to assist, although that is not a normal use of fishery protection vessels.

Finally, I propose to say something about the Amendments made in Committee. Most of these were of a technical nature, which do not alter the substance of the Bill materially, but the House may like to note the inclusion of Clause 7(2), which lays upon the Board of Trade a statutory obligation to consult organisations representative of persons who will be affected by these rules before any such rules are made. This subsection was included in deference to the wishes of the House on Second Reading—I believe that it was the hon. and learned Member for Darwen who raised the matter very forcefully, and he was supported by hon. Members on both sides—and I hope that it commends itself to the House today.

We have not found it practical or necessary to proceed by affirmative Resolution since, by providing statutorily for the fullest consultation, bearing in mind the very technical nature of the rules to be drafted, there is a consensus on both sides of the House that we can safely proceed by negative resolution.

Other Amendments made in Committee provided that the references to the radio rules in Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 9 were extended to apply also to rules for direction finders and rules for radio navigational aids. Another Amendment to Clause 5 clarified the requirements for notifying alterations to vessels or equipment in respect of which a certificate had been issued.

With these fairly minor Amendments, I am confident that the Bill as it stands, together with certain additional powers in the Merchant Shipping Bill now before Parliament, will enable the Board of Trade to put into effect those recommendations in the Holland-Martin Report which require statutory power. I have stated that the Board of Trade intends to give priority to making rules under the Bill. I am glad to say that preparations to that end have already started. It is a question not of paper priority but of actual priority. I am pleased that the excellent advice available in the Department has been applied to the necessary and very important task of framing the rules. I have been able to give the House a brief indication of the likely scope of the rules to be made.

I began by attempting to put the Bill in the context of the implementation of the Holland-Martin recommendations as a whole. I referred to the dangers of the fisherman's calling and to the responsibility of all those concerned to minimise those dangers as far as possible. It is clear that all those concerned are taking those responsibilities seriously, not least the Department with which I have the honour to be associated. The loss of the three Hull trawlers came as a great shock, not only to the people of Hull but to the nation as a whole. Many Members have since paid tribute to our fishermen, their bravery and fortitude, and to their families. I believe that, through the Bill, the House will be proud to discharge its responsibility in helping to minimise the dangers which this intrepid band of men and their families face.

5.43 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

It would be fair to say that we have given the Bill a very fair wind at every stage and that we have been as brief and co-operative as any Opposition which I can remember have been about any Bill. The reason is that the Holland-Martin Report commanded the respect of both sides of the House and all sides of the industry. Therefore, we shall be happy to see the Bill on the Statue Book before anything awful happens to stop it.

In those circumstances, it may be wondered why we have tabled a Motion to enable a debate to take place on Third Reading. The reason is that we were invited, quite properly, by the Minister of State to table a Motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) suggested that we should know a little more about the application of the construction rules to existing vessels. The Minister of State said that he welcomed my hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government might fill in the detail a little more and he thought that we could do it at a later stage, if not on Report, then certainly on Third Reading, subject to the usual Motion that there should be a Third Reading debate. That is why we are having a debate.

The Minister of State has always been as good as his word. Although what he has told us is not very detailed, he has said something about the principles on which the rules will be drafted. He said that initially the rules will not apply to in-shore vessels. I suppose that that is right. After all, it was the deep-sea vessels and the disaster to the three Hull trawlers which provoked the Holland- Martin Report. But, as my hon. Friends who represent ports with inshore fleets contend, and as the Holland-Martin Report suggested, the dangers of inshore fishing are just as grave as, although rather different from, those in the more distant waters.

Secondly, the Minister said that the rules will, so far as reasonably practicable, extend to existing vessels. There may have to be some limitation on the areas in which existing vessels fish if they cannot be adapted to comply with the new rules. The new rules will have to be modified in some cases, particularly in connection with fire precautions, as the Minister mentioned. That information will help the industry in making its plans.

I still hope that the rules will be drafted more quickly. I made that point in Committee, and I was somewhat rebuked by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) on the ground that consultation in these matters was very laborious and detailed, as it is. But we should have the rules quicker than under the timetable adumbrated by the Minister because we are dealing with the lives and limbs of very brave men, and it might be that every day counted. I hope that speedy and concentrated progress will be made in the rule-making procedure.

We have been interested in the information which has been circulated about the experiments in de-icing equipment and the experiments on the "Boston Phantom"—the fitting of sleeves and overshoes, impulsing and all the new suggestions by which the de-icing procedures which have become common form for aircraft might be adapted for fishing vessels. I suppose that that process will continue.

But, as the Holland-Martin Report said, and as the Government accept, although the problem of de-icing can no doubt be lessened and mitigated by such procedures, the dangers of the ghastly black ice of the Arctic can be combated only by turning round and leaving the area. That was the conclusion in the Holland-Martin Report. In spite of the ingenuity of our inventors and developers, when this terrible peril threatens the master must take an instant decision to leave what may be a very profitable fishing ground and run for it. That is not the course of a coward but a course of bravery in those circumstances. That has to be emphasised, because there must be a temptation in those circumstances to have one more go before turning round.

I was interested to hear what the Minister had to say about support ships and collaboration with the Royal Navy. I hope that there will be collaboration with the support ships of other European countries, something mentioned in our previous proceedings. The other countries have some very good ships, and I see no reason why there should not he an international code of conduct by which we all support one another.

Finally, may I do what we have all been asked to do and that is, in a matter which concerns the safety of these brave men, call attention to the great work of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. I know that there is nothing about this in the Bill and, therefore, it is technically out of order on Third Reading, but I have said it now and I hope that little boost or "commercial" will mean that when people are thinking of these men they will also dig a little into their pockets and contribute to that worthy charity.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

This is a good Bill. However, it is more than that; it is a humane Bill. It means much in the saving of life and limb for many of our constituents and much in terms of suffering saved to their womenfolk. Since the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) rightly gave himself the credit for being so helpful, I must add that for a humane Bill of this kind we could not have had a more humane Minister.

There was perhaps a slightly controversial note in Committee when I objected to one of the hon. Members opposite using the term "shop stewards on board vessels", which I thought was emotive and tended to give a false picture about an innovation that we all hope will come about soon. The Minister courteously sent me a letter about this matter quoting Clause 19 of the Merchant Shipping Bill saying that this was sufficient to give him power for regulations to be made for the appointment of safety representatives on trawlers from among the crew. This is most important.

On the fish dock in Hull I have allowed Transport and General Workers Union officials to see this letter, and I read it to my constituency party meeting on Sunday morning. It received 100 per cent. support. We should go ahead with this innovation, although I know that the skippers are a little chary about it. They have objections because they think that it is dangerous to begin too soon on what they deem to be a sweeping change. They fear that perhaps an incompetent delegate or union official may sometimes inflame the situation and undermine discipline. I do not expect this, and I believe that we should begin on an experimental basis.

There are dangers in adopting this holus-bolus, and it must clearly be understood that here is no challenge of any kind to the skipper's ultimate decision. He is the master of the vessel and must make all decisions. Whatever the weather and working conditions, the skipper is in charge. On the other hand, as the Minister knows, there is anxiety among my constituents and elsewhere about this subject, regarding fishing in high gales and other matters of safety.

We talk now about ships being floating factories, and they are certainly becoming more technical in design and gear. Our "deep freezer" trawlers go away for seven or eight weeks, and are literally factories at sea. It is important that we have this experiment of a union representative on board to look after safety conditions. I hope that these men will be carefully picked, will take courses at the local nautical college and will be equipped like their colleagues—

Mr. Dunn

I know that my hon. Friend does not mean it but be said "picked". No doubt he means "appointed" or "elected".

Mr. Johnson

I take my hon. Friend's point, and I am indebted to him. They can be elected by the crew or in any other way on shore. What we want are first-class men to take part in this important step forward. If these men succeed in this job as we hope, it will make the womenfolk on shore feel safer when their men are at sea. Once this scheme gets under way, I would assume that any complaints lodged on board the vessels will come back to the port safety committees for discussion on shore in a calm atmosphere. I accept that the vast majority of skippers do discuss matters with their mates and are fully aware of what is in the minds of their crew, but there are some skippers who are not quite so safety conscious.

I want to make a short comment about the Government vessel "Orsino" and the Swedish vessel costing about£90,000, which will succeed it. We welcome this acquisition. If we find from experience that we need another vessel, I hope that the Government will not be parsimonious about giving our fishermen such a support vessel. I support the suggestion from the Front Opposition Bench that they should work with other similar vesselsPortugese, West Germans, Soviet and Polish.

Lastly, my King Charles' head, the stability and design of vessels. On 3rd March we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that 80 per cent. of the fleet had been completely examined and only a quarter did not come up to the I.M.C.O. standard. Only six or seven of those could not, by adjusting their deadweight, reach the safety standard. What will happen to those few vessels which we do not believe should have any further working life? That is a matter for the Minister and the Government in consultation with the industry.

It only remains for me to thank very sincerely the Minister for what he has done and hope that the regulations will soon be on the Statute Book.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) on the question of safety officers on ships because it is not a matter upon which I am particularly knowledgeable, coming from an area of the country where by and large boats are very much smaller and where it is not unknown for a father to serve under a son acting as the skipper of a boat, and where the fishing is done on a co-operative basis. These issues do not arise there, although I appreciate that great importance is attached to them in certain quarters elsewhere.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill and welcome it. I would make one further observation to what has been said in its praise. The British are not always very keen for anybody to tell them how to look after themselves better. They are extremely slow in adopting measures of any kind in many critical situations. But it will be agreed that the time has come for the introduction of this Bill. There is a wide body of opinion throughout the industry and the country which feels that the time has come for a much more stringent look at safety at sea and that all should co-operate towards that end. For that reason the Bill will have a warm welcome in the House and in the country.

6.1 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I, too, add my welcome to the Bill and congratulate the Minister on its passage. I was very pleased to hear him say that in his mind and that of the Department its operation would have priority, for that will bring much comfort to those who have spoken worked and agitated, perhaps over two generations or more, to introduce better safety precautions in our fishing fleet.

May I utter a slight note of apprehension about the Minister's statement that it will take 12 months at least after the Royal Assent before the rules are put into operation. His Department has so much documentation and there has been so much discussion with all sides of industry during the last two years that it should have somewhere in draft form the sort of regulation which will be required. Clearly much work has been done. We have heard that a preliminary survey has already been carried out. That should give the Department a basis on which to draft the rules.

I hope that when the survey was made those vessels which were thought to be unsatisfactory for distant-water fishing from the point of view of safety were noted and that a warning was given, however politely, that when the rules were formulated those vessels might fail to fulfil the necessary requirements. I hope that the scrap-and-build programme will be enforced vigorously and that when the rules are made that they will not be amended in individual cases in the way suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke).

Once they are made, they should be rigidly enforced because, as he rightly said, the lives and limbs of the fishermen and the happiness of their families are involved, and the rules should not be bent in favour of the owners of the vessels.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

It was not I who suggested that; it was the Minister who suggested that in respect of certain new fire precaution rules it might not be possible to exact the full rigour of the law on all existing vessels because they were so built that it would not be possible to install the necessary apparatus. I was merely echoing what he said. It was not my suggestion.

Mr. Jeger

Whoever made the suggestion, I oppose it. There are far too many old vessels still in operation which could constitute a menace to life and limb. We should seek to modernise our fishing fleet, whatever it costs.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

When it is found necessary, for quite practical reasons, to make an exception, and when that affects safety, we shall have to insist on comparable or similar provisions. If it is found impossible to insist upon the requirements of the new Act and exceptions must, therefore, be made, before they are made and before use is continued we shall have to insist on a standard of safety the same as that in the Bill.

Mr. Jeger

I am very glad to have that reassurance.

My hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) referred to the crew's representative who would be the spokesman and secretary of the men, as it were, to whom they could go with their problems, and who would be their spokesman when they were back on shore. He suggested, as is suggested in the Holland-Martin Report, that a trial should be made with certain vessels and owners. But I disagree with paragraph 250 of the Holland-Martin Report, which expresses a wish to encourage progressive firms to negotiate directly with the Union on introducing the system on specially selected ships. In my opinion, this is a need not in respect of the most progressive owners but in respect of those who are not progressive. Progressive owners, who take a pride in their ships and an interest in their crews, would naturally not need spurring in this way, but those who are not progressive would need to be encouraged to introduce more progressive measures into the running of their vessels.

Mr. Dunn

May I remind my hon. Friend that under the regulations there will be no differentiation between good owners and bad owners. The Bill gives the Board of Trade authority to make regulations to provide for any of these matters.

Mr. Jeger

I am aware of that, but I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of it. I was replying to a point which had been made suggesting that this should be tried as an experiment on certain ships. My objection is to the suggestion of an experiment where it is bound to be successful instead of an experiment where it is much more necessary—with the owners who are not so progressive.

As the Holland-Martin Report points out in paragraph 224, …in recent years—and particularly since the trawler disasters early in 1968—there has been a general increase in safety-consciousness throughout the industry. I concur in that statement. I trust that the speedy operation of the rules, when they are formulated, will keep up the good morale which has been engendered in the industry by the inquiries which have been held and by the speedy action of the Government in introducing safety Bills of this kind, and that the fishing industry will benefit thereby to a great extent.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

I, too, warmly welcome the Bill, particularly as it will eventually affect the inshore fishing fleet, a subject to which I shall return in a moment.

I pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State to the Board of Trade, who has been extremely courteous and helpful about the representations which I have made to him personally and during the passage of the Bill. He and other hon. Members rightly referred to the bravery of the fishermen of our nation. Several hon. Members rightly emphasised the stress under which the families of our fishermen are placed while their menfolk are at sea, and we should be churlish if we did not welcome the Bill, which will help them indirectly.

It was brought home to me very forcibly at the week-end what our fishermen have to face, because on Thursday of last week skipper John Cowie of the motor fishing vessel "Flower" of Buchie was washed overboard and lost. I was reminded of the Bill as I read of this tragedy, for it brings to a total of 13 the number of men who have been lost from my constituency since the beginning of December of last year—that is, a little over 1 per cent. of the fishermen employed in the industry. It is a terrible tragedy—the type of tragedy that the people on the north-east coast of Scotland have had to face for generations. Therefore, anything that we can do by the Bill to help to prevent loss of life must be warmly and thoroughly welcome on all sides of the House and in the country at large.

In his Third Reading speech, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, as has been mentioned before, that the construction rules will apply in the first instance only to vessels of 80 ft. and over. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) mentioned this fact, too. I should like to press the right hon. Gentleman again, as I have done in the past, that consultation, which will rightly take place, should go on with the inshore side of the industry concurrently with other interests in the fishing industry generally.

I do not see why, for instance, the Scottish Inshore White Fish Producers Association or the North of Scotland Light Trawlers Association should not be brought in from the word "go". Perhaps even then it may not be possible to make the rules apply immediately and initially, but, nevertheless, let us have consultation right down the line, if for no other reason than that the inshore men will have an idea of what they will have to face when the rules for the inshore—that is, the under 80 ft.—vessels are brought into effect. I hope that the Government will bear this in mind.

Secondly, I wish to refer to the wireless rules. The Minister of State said again that he had considered the question of vessels under 60 ft. in relation to the wireless rules. He said that vessels of under 60 ft. normally fish, as the nomenclature is, inshore. That, however, is not altogether true. Many vessels from, say, 45 ft. to 60 ft. go considerable distances from the shore. Indeed, from my constituency they go round the Pentland Firth into the Minch, and, as we all know, the weather in both those places can be extremely treacherous. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will have yet another look at this question and see whether he cannot bring the rules down to 45 ft. at the most.

I should like to refer also to stability. The right hon. Gentleman again said that stability was being considered and studied for the deep-water fleet, and, indeed, for the middle-water fleet as well. It is equally important that stability be looked at for the inshore vessels. I have in mind the "Coral Isle", which foundered with all hands in December last year. We do not know what was the cause of that tragic disaster, but it is conceivable that the boat turned turtle. We simply do not know what happened. Therefore, I would press again that the stability factor for the smaller class of vessel be looked at in detail with the other classes as well.

The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members referred to the support services and the ships stationed in northern waters. It is quite out of order for a Member of this House to appeal to the gallery, and I would be called to task if I did, but I would mention the support that is rendered by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, as did my hon. and learned Friend. It is what I might call the land support for our fishermen. It does a wonderful job, and I commend its work to the House and to the country at large.

I finish where I commenced. I give a warm welcome to the Bill, and I hope very much that it will be implemented as soon as is humanly possible.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Dunn

I, too, welcome the Bill, and I join in the citations of congratulation offered to my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he would wish me to include in those congratulations the Opposition Front Bench, too, who proved so helpful in the discussion about the Bill prior to the Standing Committee, probably making contributions to thought in the preliminary drafting, and also the Holland-Martin Report. We should look back to that report as probably the moment in time when the impact for the industry was really felt and there was the urge to get safety into its right context for the men who sail these vessels in such hazardous conditions and who, from time to time, are responsible for such heroic acts of individual bravery.

Most of the crew members belong to the Transport and General Workers' Union. I know that they would wish me to say to the House that they are grateful for the co-operation which has been shown and for the dispatch and speed which has been adduced to the Bill. They hope that in another place it will enjoy the same fair wind to bring it back to this House for the Sovereign's consent.

I should like to sound one note about the Bill. I hope that when it is finally enacted and all the regulations are made, there will be continual attempts to improve the regulations and that there will be no complacency, although I appreciate that my right hon. Friend would never suffer from that human frailty. I hope that there will be continuous review and that, perhaps, the Bill gives the opportunity, which has been sadly lacking for some time, for an international agreement with I.M.C.O. to provide some of the other support that these fishermen require.

There is much yet still to be done, and there is not all that much time to keep on doing it, because the parliamentary timetable is very crowded every day. If, however, my right hon. Friend keeps this matter continuously under review for ever and a day, his name will be remembered by fishermen and seamen.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I join my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite in welcoming the Bill, which is very properly welcomed in Hull and all fishing ports, because it is a Bill for which fishermen and their families have been asking for many years and something about which the union, in particular, has played a large part in making proposals and producing suggestions for improving conditions at sea. It is extremely important that the union, with the owners and the Board of Trade, should have been in considerable discussion about how the Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill should be implemented and how best the three parties can tackle the tremendous problems in the industry.

The whole House and the nation were shocked by the tremendous tragedies which occurred at the Port of Hull a little while ago, and we have had fresh and sad illumination of this tremendous problem when the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) spoke about the tragedy which happened in his constituency within the past week. I know that the sympathy of all the House, particularly of hon. Members representing sea and fishing ports and their families, will go out to the family of the hon. Member's constituent, because it is a most tragic and abrupt thing to happen.

When we think in terms of accidents at sea, however, we too often think in terms only of the fatalities that occur. One of the reasons why the Bill is particularly to be welcomed is not only because it very properly deals with questions of construction and stability, but because it deals also with equipment and machinery.

Paragraph 123 of the Holland-Martin Report states: 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 trawlermen at sea. That criticism has been most admirably met by the Bill. Although our minds are shocked by fatalities at sea, in many ways the most serious tragedies concern men who are maimed in heavy weather by falling against machinery or slipping on the decks, or getting their hands chapped, or limbs mutilated or badly scarred, or suffering other serious injury. In some ways we find the parallel in the coal mining industry. There, one thinks also of the terrible disasters, but one also remembers the tragedy of the man who is badly injured by a fall of stone in the pit or by being caught in machinery. The parallel is apt.

The Bill deals with the myriad accidents which can happen at sea. It treats the trawler, for the first time, as a factory, and regulations will be introduced which will be as stringent and important as those existing for shore-based factories. The Clause providing for this is especially to be welcomed.

In that context one looks at Clause 7(2). It is obvious that all the interests in the industry will have to be consulted when regulations are to be brought into use. Not only the owners but the men who work the machinery and handle the tackle must be considered when the rules are being drawn up. The men actually doing the job know the particular hazards and difficulties that face men at sea when using this sort of machinery in heavy weather in a situation that changes not only climatically but in terms of what is happening on deck. These are the men who will have to be consulted, so that it is very right and proper that this subsection should be included.

Whilst we are at times naturally jealous of our right to have positive regulations, there are occasions, as some of us who have sat on the Committee on Statutory Instruments know, when we are glad to have, as in this case, regulations subject to negative Resolution. The degree of technical knowledge and complexity involved needs a man skilled in marine engineering, in fishing engineering and in nearly every other art and science associated with the sea to appreciate what is needed. It is enough to know that in this case a person feeling aggrieved will be able to make representations to his Member to invoke the negative procedure to get the point debated.

My hon. Friends the Members for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) and for Kingston up Hull (Mr. James Johnson) spoke of the important rôle to be played by the safety representatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole was right when he said that in this respect we should not be looking at the progressive firms so much as at those that are prepared to take risks. I agree that it is important that those firms should be subjected to the new procedures. After all, if everyone was perfect there would be no need for safety representatives. In addition, the knowledge that there are safety representatives will give a degree of confidence to the men and their families.

On the other hand, I could not help feeling that my hon. Friend was a little unkind in his reference to the arguments advanced by the Holland-Martin Committee. Paragraphs 247–250 of the report looked at the representations made by the unions, and tried to fit them into the context of an industry in which the owners were completely hostile to the whole idea of having any sort of shipboard representation. It will be remembered that earlier this year we had one shipowner making a statement to that effect, although since our Committee proceedings the secretary of the vessel owners' organisation has said that the owners will abide by anything for which there is legislation.

The Holland-Martin Committee was looking at the difficulties existing in the industry and at the uniqueness of this experiment, and asking itself where was the best point at which to try to implement these procedures. I am sure that the union would much have preferred to have this matter agreed industrially but, as it was not so agreed, it had to look to this House further to elucidate the situation.

I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, West and Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) were correct in suggesting caution. It is important that this scheme should not go off at half cock but should be seen to work and to be worked by responsible individuals, and that the unions and the owners should come together in trying to work out a sensible system. It is much better to proceed in that way than to seek to rush it too much. One sudden bad example of a man going "bolshie" or a skipper being awkward could ruin what I believe to be one of the most promising developments in the whole range of industrial relations in this industry. In the same way, one would like the safety representatives to go cautiously rather than rush in.

My right hon. Friend spoke of rules and regulations being introduced in 12 months' time, but I hope that he did not mean that they will then all come out in one lump. Would it not be possible for some of the rules and regulations to be introduced over a period, keeping 12 months in mind as the period in which they would all be published rather than when they would first start to appear? Various rules and regulations based on experience and service could be made quite quickly. That method might be a little untidy, but it would add greatly to the confidence of those in the industry.

We know from experience that the Board of Trade will be working very hard on this aspect. We have already had the splendid heading notes of regulations that will be introduced. This has been a most welcome innovation, as it was in connection with the Merchant Shipping Bill, and my right hon. Friend is heartily to be congratulated. There is nothing worse than to be a member of a Standing Committee and have to discuss a Clause stating "regulations will be made" when one has only the vaguest idea what the regulations will be. Provision of headings indicating the nature, though not, of course, the detail of the rules was of great assistance to us.

In both Western and Eastern Europe we have a great number of nations all with fishing fleets and a number of support vessels. This is an excellent opportunity for a degree of international co-operation and for getting all the countries together to work out some sort of timetable and agree on fixed locations where all the fishing ships of all the nations will know there will be a support vessel. This could be a most positive form of international co-operation which would go across all ideological boundaries.

No matter what we put into legislation, into a merchant shipping or a trawling safety Bill, this will be a dangerous industry. From the nature of the element with which fishermen deal it is bound to be dangerous, but wherever possible it is our duty as a legislature to ensure that fishermen, and workers in all callings, should work in the safest and most modern conditions.

The Bill goes as far as possible to implement that, it is very welcome, and my right hon. Friend and the Department and all concerned deserve to be congratulated.

6.31 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like briefly to make two or three points, first, on the important question of de-icing. Further experiments have been conducted last winter in the "Orsino". These have not yet been evaluated. I imagine that they will be looked at by a number of Departments and possibly by outside institutions. The correlation and interpretation of data, I should imagine, will be important in this connection.

I agree, of course, with what the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said, that the only possible course for safety at present is for the master to make a decision. This must be understood to be a technical decision and not in any way an aspersion on his morale. As the hon. and learned Member said, it might well prove his courage and a certain amount of sacrifice in a financial sense.

The second group of points on which I give reassurance concerns the pace at which we shall work on these rules. They are mostly rules although there is one set of regulations. I cannot promise that the pace will be greater than I have indicated. However, on the question of looking both at having concurrent consultations about different territorial types of vessel and possibly size of vessel, certainly I can give the undertaking that so far as possible that will be done. There will be examination on the widest possible front.

Priority will emerge when various types of regulation come out. This deals with safety. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) about the danger of accident which probably is higher concerning inshore fishermen than those in the middle water and deep sea fleets. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) reminded us of the role of I.M.C.O. which is now preparing a code of safety for fishermen with the I.L.O. and the F.A.O. I understand that what they are putting together comes very close to what we in this country have already done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) made a very timely point about the safety representative. I entirely agree with the tone and spirit of what he said. It is a very important reform that we are launching. It is being done by consultation and regulation. It is well to avoid certain emotive and disturbing phrases and words in this connection. I welcome very much what my hon. Friend said and I should like to repeat it. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale spoke of a continuous review. The necessity for this is accepted. We must constantly look at these rules and regulations.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their very kind references, some of which were made to me personally. I remind them that it was my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, when he occupied my position four years ago, who poignantly experienced for himself the hazards and dangers which beset the fishermen and came back to the Department to set his hand to the preparation of these reforms. Other Ministers, of course, have been concerned, not only those in this Government.

I was very glad to hear the tribute paid to the hon. and learned Member for Darwen and those who worked with him in Committee on this Bill and on the far bigger, but in this respect perhaps not more important, Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill. We were fortunate to have the help of the Government and of the Opposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Back to