HC Deb 26 May 1970 vol 801 cc1724-58

Lords Amendments considered.

Clause 7

PAYMENT OF SEAMEN'S WAGES

Lords Amendment:No. 1 in page 4, line 39, leave out subsection (2) and insert: (2) If the amount payable to a seaman under subsection (1) of this section exceeds £50 or such other amount as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 9 of this Act and it is not practicable to pay the whole of it at the time of discharge, not less than £50 or, as the case may be, the amount so prescribed shall be paid to him at that time and the balance within 7 days of that time.

3.4 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be convenient if we were to debate, at the same time, Lords Amendments Nos. 3, in Clause 8, page 6, line 1, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert: (2) The account shall be delivered not later than the time at which the balance of wages is payable to the seaman. No. 4, in Clause 9, page 6, leave out line 43, and No. 5, in page 6, line 43, at end insert: (f) varying the amounts referred to in subsection (2) of section 7 of this Act.

Mr. Roberts

We are taking together a group of Lords Amendments relating to Clause 7. While I do not propose to detain the House at any length by repeating all the arguments which were advanced by my noble Friend in another place in rebuttal of the proposals contained in this group of Amendments, perhaps I might mention two points.

Amendment No. 1 would seem to be concerned firstly with removal of all reference to the account of wages from this subsection and also to removing pro. vision for adjustment and for the payment of the balance of an increased amount.

Secondly, Clause 7(2) provides for the payment of £50, or one quarter of the amount payable. The Amendment would substitute for one quarter such other amount as may be prescribed by regulations made under Clause 9.

To deal briefly with the latter point first, the provision for one quarter is definite and is not dependent on the views of the day. It depends on knowing the amount payable, and it is related to an amount shown in the account of wages which the Amendment seeks to remove. Thus the Amendment must rely on the alternative of a prescribed amount.

There is little objection in principle—indeed, I have indicated this more than once—to this method of achieving flexibility and enabling changes to be made in accordance with changes in wages and in the value of money, but if we retain the account of wages, this method is unnecessary. We can rely on the alternative one-quarter without having the inconvenience of making new regulations as values change.

The chief object of the Amendment, however, would seem to be the removal of the link with an account of wages, and the Amendment is clearly related to Amendment No. 3. As, Mr. Speaker, you have indicated that that Amendment should be considered with this one, I must deal with both Amendments.

Under the Bill the object of Clauses 7 and 8 is that the net wages shall be paid in full on discharge in accordance with an account of wages delivered to the seamen not less than 24 hours before discharge. This account may show the estimated amount—this is an important point—calculated on the basis of the estimated date of arrival. The correct amount may be calculated after arrival and an adjusted amount and the balance due, if any, paid within seven days. If the amount due as shown in the first account exceeds £50 and it is not practice able to pay it in full at the time of discharge, not less than £50, or one-quarter, shall be paid on discharge and the balance within seven days.

Under the Lords Amendment it is still provided that the wages shall be paid in full on discharge, but there is no provision for an account of wages before discharge so that the seaman can tell what is due to him. I have no doubt that payment will be made in full in many cases, and an account will accompany payment, but it does not provide for this. If it is not practicable to pay the full amount at the time of discharge and the amount exceeds £50, then not less than £50, or an amount prescribed by regulations, shall be paid and the balance within seven days. It is provided under Lords Amendment No. 3 that the account of wages is to be delivered not later than the time at which the balance of wages is payable, that is, within seven days.

Under the Bill it appears to me that the circumstances in which it would not be practicable to pay wages in full at the time of discharge would in effect virtually be confined to availability of money, whether cash, cheque or other form, at the point of discharge. Under the Amendment, practicability could also be related to difficulty in calculating wages and producing an account in time for discharge. There are thus likely to be rather more payments left to be completed after discharge under the Amendment than under the Bill unamended. There will be a growing tendency to leave calculation to shore offices after the ship has arrived. This would seem to be the intention.

I do not think it right to encourage a practice in which seamen would not receive the balance of their wages, which could be a considerable sum, or know what wages were due to them until seven days after they have been discharged. By that time they might be many miles away, either at home on leave or in another ship, and would hardly be in a position to dispose of the wages or to query the account. Nor do I see how it will be possible to know whether the amount due exceeds £50.

There are good intentions behind the Amendment. It is the desire to relieve some masters of this burden on their time and energy, which, it is argued, should be devoted to safe navigation, and it is the desire to use the facilities of modern computing apparatus in order to make the calculations of wages ashore. But I cannot accept the Amendment and the others which go with it. We will, of course, endeavour to ensure, particularly when making regulations under Clause 9(e) about accounts, that the form of the accounts and provisions for estimates go a long way to reduce the burden on the master.

But, as I said both in Committee and on Report, I do not think that the master's burden should be eased at the expense of the seaman or that modern methods of calculation should in effect mean that the seaman waits rather longer for what is due to him.

I have not addressed myself specifically to the Amendment in lieu thereof, in page 5, line 2, leave out " his " which you, Mr. Speaker, did not immediately include in this group, but perhaps you will allow me to speak to it later should that be necessary.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As appears rational, we are taking Lords Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5, together with the Government's own Amendment in lieu of Lords Amendment No. 1, together with the two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)—the first in Lords Amendment No. 1, at end add: Provided that where a seaman, not later than twenty-four hours before the time of discharge, gives notice in writing to the master that he intends to go to sea again in another ship within seven days after the time of discharge, he shall be paid in full at the time of discharge. and the second Lords Amendment No. 3, after ' which insert: ' the wages are or as the case may be '. I hope that that is clear. The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to reply to what is said about the Amendments.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

It will be no surprise to the Minister of State to realise that the decision which the Government have reached on Amendments from another place is profoundly disappointing—and I mean that in no party sense, because we have all sought to find a solution to what we all recognise to be a serious problem.

The problem can be simply stated: how can we reconcile the desirability that members of the crew should be paid in full and should receive a written account of their wages at the time of discharge with the desirability of avoiding a situation in which the master of the ship has to spend the last hours of the voyage, when he should be attending to the navigation of the ship, in preparing a lot of accounts and documents?

The Pearson Report addressed itself to the problem at some length but we all agreed that the solution proposed was not entirely appropriate and did not deal with the problem. Hon. Members will read in paragraph 360 of the Pearson Report: That is an intolerable burden when it has to be done by the master himself while the ship is approaching the port of destination through crowded waters and is entering the port and proceeding to a berth and tying-up. I draw attention to the strong language used by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his colleagues—" an intolerable burden ". We are not, therefore, talking of a matter of minor importance. The fact that a problem needed to be dealt with was made clear during the Committee stage when, as reported in col. 153, the right hon. Gentleman said, I do not think that we solve the difficulty in the Bill. It will require thought by all of us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,Standing Committee A, 22nd January, 1970; c. 153.] That is exactly right.

The House will remember that on Report I said, …we have been unable to reach any conclusion on accounting which we feel we can put before the House at this time. It may be that in another place we will have solutions to deal with this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 1430.] In another place they tried twice—first with an Amendment in Committee and then with a different Amendment on Report, which we have before us. Even so, looking at that Amendment, although it was a great improvement to my mind on anything in the Bill and on anything which had been considered earlier, I felt that it did not entirely meet the requirements of the two cases. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, adverted to the case of the man who is likely to go to sea again within a short time and felt that some provision should be made for him. That is why my right hon. Friends, my hon. Friends and I tabled yet a further Amendment to the Lords Amendment in the hope that at last we might find ourselves with a provision which would deal satisfactorily with the problem which all sides have agreed does exist.

We have accepted all along that, whenever it is practicable, seamen should be paid in full at the time of discharge. Secondly, we accept—although we had arguments about it—that where it is impracticable he should get £50 on account. Thirdly, we accept that the seaman should be entitled to a full account of his wages when the balance of over £50 is paid. But we believe that on the whole —and this is a question of degree—the balance of advantage lies in relieving the master of any obligation—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members below the Bar are making too much noise.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Jenkin

No doubt the Chief Whip is laying plans to save his majority and his seat.

As I said, we think that the balance of advantage lies in relieving the master of any obligation to produce a written account of wages when the £50 is paid. But we make it absolutely clear in the Amendment which we have on the Order Paper that where a seaman, not later than 24 hours before the time of discharge, gives notice in writing to the master that he intends to go to sea again in another ship within seven days after the time of discharge, he shall be paid in full at the time of discharge. We accept that that is the critical case.

This is the point which the Minister of State in another place rightly made—that it would be entirely wrong for a seaman to be discharged from Ship A and to go to sea again in Ship B without having time to know what was his full entitlement from his wages earned in Ship A. Therefore, we say that in those circumstances he should be entitled, on giving notice, to require not merely to have an account but to be paid in full. Even though it was impracticable to pay all the rest, he would be entitled to be paid in full and to get a full account. I recognise that this will still impose some burden on the master in the last few hours of the voyage when he should be navigating, but it will be very much less than the burden which will fall on him as the Bill stands, when he will be under an obligation to make up accounts even if he is to be paying only the £50 or the quarter of the wages for every seaman on board ship. This seems to meet all reasonable claims and I hope that even now the Minister of State will accept this proposal.

In another place Lord Brown suggested that the duty of preparing accounts could be delegated. Of course we are dealing with only a minority of ships—that is agreed on all sides. For the most part, most seamen will be paid in full. We are dealing with a minority of ships where there is a very small crew and very few officers. Those are the ships which do not carry pursers or other officers able to carry out pursers' functions, and where the master himself has to do all this work. Is it practicable in these circumstances that he should delegate this function? I suggest that it is not. The master is personally liable in respect of any over-payment of wages to any seaman, and in these circumstances it is unrealistic to expect the master to delegate that function to his other officers.

In any event, to whom could he delegate it? To his first officer? Many first officers would object fiercely to any suggestion that they should be given additional tasks at a time when the ship is approaching port. They have a very hard time at that point and in the following hours, and it would be wrong to impose that obligation on them. This is not an appropriate task to give a junior officer. In any event, I am informed that there are now about 750 uncertificated officers in the Merchant Marine and that there is a great shortage of officers. This, therefore, would not seem to be a feasible solution.

The whole position has been made. more difficult by the Amendment which the Government forced through on Report, and it would seem that the proposal of the Lords is infinitely more appropriate. While we recognise that £50 may become out of date—if the Labour Party remains in office it will become out of date extremely quickly—we believe that the right way to deal with the problem is not to lay down one-quarter of wages, which will mean a full calculation having to be made before arriving at the sum to which a seaman is entitled on account, and we prefer the suggestion that the Government should have power, by regulation, to vary the sum of £50 as the circumstances require. Whatever the Minister says about this being a compromise proposal, we believe that it has merit and that it represents a better alternative.

This is the fifth or sixth attempt we have made to deal with a problem which Pearson acknowledged and which Government spokesmen in both Houses have recognised. Pearson used strong language when talking about the " intolerable burden " that is imposed on albeit the minority of masters who must carry out this complicated accountancy work in the last few hours of a voyage.

Together—in another place and by the suggestions of my hon. Friends—we have found a solution which appears to meet every reasonable requirement. We shall, therefore, be extremely disappointed if the Minister cannot accept our proposal and send the Bill on its way containing a solution which appears to meet admirably a problem which we all recognise exists.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I accept that hon. Gentlemen opposite are endeavouring to find a solution to this accountancy problem. However, they have dismally failed.

The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) said that, in the language of the Pearson Report, an " intolerable burden " is placed on masters. He went on to qualify that by saying that this applies to only a minority of vessels with very small crews and few officers.

I could appreciate an intolerable burden being placed on a master whose ship carries a large contingent of deck-hands and engine-room and other crew members, but if this applies to only a minority of vessels with very small crews, I cannot see how an intolerable burden is placed on masters in preparing these accounts.

Have those in another place and hon. Gentlemen opposite who are responsible for the Opposition Amendment to the Lords Amendment received any representations on this subject from the appro priate organisations of seamen? If so, may we hear of them? I am not aware of any such representations.

I speak with many years' knowledge of this subject. When ashore, a man completes his job and receives his wages in full at the end of the week or at the time of discharge; although I appreciate that in this case it is a temporary discharge. I cannot imagine why seamen should be given an inferior status.

The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford suggests that paying £50 to a seaman at the time of discharge would provide an effective solution to this problem. Is he aware that that amount is hardly one month's wages these days? I am not altogether happy with the way the Bill is drafted, either, and I shall have something critical to say about the Measure later.

We are told that if a crew member advises the master, 24 hours before the vessel is expected to reach port, of his intention to join another ship, he will receive his wages in full. That is a strange suggestion. A crew member of, for example, a vessel on the Transatlantic trade will sail for three or four weeks at the most and, after a short period in port following discharge, is likely to remain with that ship. Indeed, many of the crew often work in port on various activities connected with the ship which they have just left. These men know that they are going back to sea aboard that ship. Rarely do men on the liner trade leave their vessels if they are satisfied with the prevailing conditions. This applies to the majority of men employed by the big liner companies.

The position applying to men serving aboard tramp ships is different. They may sail for up to two years. After a voyage of that length, or even of a number of months, they should, on their return, know that they will receive their wages in full, which might be £300 or £400. To receive £50 is no good to them.

Nor is it satisfactory for them to be told that they may, 24 hours before the ship reaches port, tell the master of their intention to join another ship. How will they know, at that time, that they will be joining another vessel? Generally speaking, when a man returns from an extended voyage aboard a tramp vessel —he may have been away for many months—he wants a decent period of rest ashore.

We must not forget that frequently a man will sign on on the Clyde and find himself landing back in this country at Liverpool. Or he might sign on in Liverpool and berth at one of the London docks or in the North-East. These men wish to return to their homes. Are they to wait seven days before receiving the full wages due to them? This is an intolerable burden to place on any seaman. I therefore applaud the efforts of the Government to find a satisfactory solution to this problem.

The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford said it might be difficult for the master of a vessel to delegate these accounting functions to other officers. But the average master has a reasonably clear idea of what must be paid. He knows the monthly wages. If it is a matter of only a few days pay, because the ship may not reach port at the expected time, then the amounts can be adjusted. To deprive a seaman of the major portion of his wages simply because difficulty has been experienced by a master or some of his officers as a result of accountancy difficulties is asking too much.

While I recognise that hon. Gentlemen opposite have sincerely tried to find a solution to this problem, I trust that their Amendment will be rejected; and I am sure that the problem is not as difficult as the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford imagines and that the Government will do what they have said, and proceed by the method proposed in the Bill.

3.30 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

It is not usual, I understand, for the Leader of the House to intervene in the detail of such a Bill as this, but I have listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and have taken note, as we always do, of what he says on this or any other matter affecting merchant seamen.

I was once my right hon. Friend's constituent and, in a humble way, sought to help him when I was a youngster. I always knew that he cared for merchant seamen and the members of the mining community so that what I now seek to do is to pay a tribute to him on what may be the last occasion on which he will address this House. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on all sides will wish him well. My right hon. Friend has been a great parliamentarian, an outstanding Minister and a great friend to many of us. I can say no more than that. I want to pay him the greatest possible personal tribute that I can.

Hon. Members: Hear hear.

Mr. Speaker

The intervention is completely out of order, but most acceptable.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I, too, wish to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). We have crossed swords on many occasions, but on what may be the last time that either of us will speak in the House, it gives me great pleasure to support what has been said by the Leader of the House. The right hon. Member talked a lot of horse sense just now, as he usually does. I certainly wish to add my tribute to him.

I do not suppose that I would have intervened at all in this debate but for the fact that I was about to enter on the voyage to Nirvana. At that moment I should not like the master of the crew to be below deck working out the wages of the crew. I would hope that he would be steering the ship and leading me to some pastures new and even more delectable than this ancient House.

I do not think that either Front Bench has this matter right even yet. I do not speak, as does the right hon. Member for Easington, as an expert, but I am quite certain that a seaman who has been abroad on a tramp ship for months, or perhaps years, and is paid off at Tilbury or some other port will want to draw the great bulk of his money then and there. He does not want £50, he could probably spend all or most of that in one night at Tilbury.

What bothers me is that no one seems to have taken note that we now have radio. Surely in these days the master of a ship can find out before sailing up the Mersey or the Clyde just how many chaps wish to sign on for the next voyage and, therefore, how many will be involved in payment up to date. It may be that only 5 per cent. of the crew will so wish, but I criticise the right hon. Gentleman when he talks of only a few people. A tramp steamer may carry a crew of 30 or 40. The master may be faced with a complicated problem, as I had when I had to work out the remuneration of my platoon during the war. Not being a Senior Wrangler like some of my hon. Friends, it took me a great deal of time to work out my sums. The same difficulty may present itself to a good many masters. The probability is that a master will not have to deal with as many as 30 or 40 men, because a good number of them will, if asked, say that they are signing on for the next voyage, in which case the question of pay in full at that time will not arise.

It should be perfectly possible for the shipping organisations to work out a code and use a computer to calculate the wages on information radioed from the ship. The master would then be saved that work. He would get a message enabling those being paid off to be paid pretty well in full when the ship berthed, wherever that might be.

I hope that my hon. Friends will go further into the question of why this business should have to be done on the ship. We are not today working with signals and Aldis lamps. We do not run up flags to pass messages. It is all done by radio now, and with all our present-day shore facilities it should be possible for the problems to be worked out as I suggest. There are difficulties, but they should be viewed in the light of the 1970s.

It might mean that crew members would have to commit themselves a little earlier about signing on so that the master would know that he was dealing with, say, only one-twentieth of them. The central organisation ashore should then be able to work out the answers and flash back in code the entitlements of the crew members concerned. I am sure that this problem could be solved on a far better basis than those on either Front Bench at present appear to be contemplating.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I, too, commence by paying a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), and supporting what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I can tell my right hon. Friend that a deputa tion of seamen now in the Lobby has asked me to support " Manny Shinwell, who is the friend of the seamen ". Whatever my right hon. Friend may advance on behalf of the seamen, I will do all I can to help him. He and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) have always been good Parliamentarians, and those who have been Members for some time know just what that means.

I hope that, for once, my own Front Bench will grant my right hon. Friend what he has asked. He fought his first election 62 years ago, and I understand that he will not be fighting another. We now have an opportunity of showing the friend of the seamen that we appreciate the good job he has done for them, and that we have a Government able and willing also to help those seamen and him and, in that way, demonstrate their appreciation of his efforts.

As the hon. Member for Ormskirk has said, there are now a thousand and one ways in which this problem can be tackled. We have the Giro system, and we have the international banking credit system. The mere sending of a radio telephone message could result in a Giro credit on which the crew member could draw on landing. The amount due could be brought up to date to within two or three days of the ship putting into port. A message could be sent to the shore organisation: " So-and-so is entitled to £340-odd. We are paying him the £340. Please let us know the balance due, so that we can give him a cheque, or credit his Giro account, or pay the amount into the local bank and arrange for him to draw it." Most, if not all, ports have post offices, and post offices are open for most of the day. Although the banks do not open on Saturdays, if the men were given cheques they would be able to cash them on a Monday if their ship came into port on a Saturday.

I represent a dockland area, and I hope that we can get the Government to see that here is something which should be put right. Just because there may be difficulties over the timing as these are the last few days of this Parliament, let us not say that this cannot be done. Let us say that if it can be done it will be done even though we have to make some technical arrangement to get over the problem presented by these being the last few days of this Parliament.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

We are all glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is present and that he has been able to join in this debate. He was, of course, supporting the Government in their advice to reject the Amendment. I believe that if my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) had been present in the House a little earlier he would have found that out.

Mr. Arthur Lewis: I was here.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I hope that the Minister of State will be able to make clear that some of these matters may be capable of resolution by regulation. The comment made by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) was a very sensible and rational one. It supports the position adopted by the Government in rejecting the Lords Amendment.

Many of us welcome the alterations which were made when the Bill was going through the House and which resulted in the Clause as it now stands. It constitutes a very considerable improvement for seamen, and we would be very sorry if changes were now made which in any way limited those improvements.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

With the permission of the House, I wish to speak again briefly, first, to join with the Leader of the House and others in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I could speak at great length on this and I should like to do so, but my right hon. Friend will understand that I am under constraint today. There is not one hon. Member on either side of the House who does not regard my right hon. Friend's voluntary removal from these precincts with deep regret and who does not recall his contributions to our parliamentary life, both as a Minister and as a back bencher, with great respect, and his personality with very great affection.

My right hon. Friend is, of course, entitled to something more from me, namely, to say that I entirely agree with what he said. I do not pretend that the Clause as it left this House settled this rather difficult problem, but the Lords Amendment and the Amendment proposed to that Amendment are not feasible alternatives. There are technical reasons for this and a practical difficulty. Those who indicate to the master in writing that shortly after docking they will be going on another voyage would be paid off in full. What is there to prevent every member of the crew indicating in writing that this may very well be so? Is there to be a paraphernalia of proof that what they say is genuine? There could be an altercation between the master and the crew on that point. Were it only for this practical difficulty, I do not think we could accept the Lords Amendment.

3.45 p.m.

I was impressed by what was said by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). In a very fair speech I thought that he came down, on balance, in favour of allowing the Bill to go through as originally intended. He suggested that the industry should examine how these arrangements can be improved.

I was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) whether this could be done by regulation. I doubt that as the Bill stands, but there is no reason why, while allowing the Clause to go through unamended, the industry should not consider further what can be done. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the use of radio and other instruments to have the amount of pay calculated in advance to enable an account to be delivered on board and adjusted later. This is one of the methods which are being contemplated.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington has had a lifetime of experience of these matters and speaks for the seafaring community. As he said, the basic calculation in the vast majority of cases is done well before hand and in the two or three final days when the master may be hard pressed it is only the additional adjustments, arising possibly from a lengthening of the voyage, which need to be calculated. For all these reasons, but substantially because I am convinced that my right hon. Friend speaks for the seafaring labour force, I think that the House would be well advised to disagree with the Lords on this Amendment and to reject the well-intentioned Amendment to that Amendment so as to enable the Clause as it stands to go forward as part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment to the Bill in lieu thereof agreed to:In page 5, line 2, leave out ' his '.—[Mr. Goronwy Roberts.]

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8

ACCOUNT OF SEAMAN'S WAGES

Lords Amendment No. 3:In page 6, line 1, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert: (2) The account shall be delivered not later than the time at which the balance of wages is payable to the seaman.

Question, That thisHouse doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment —[Mr. Goronwy Roberts]—put and agreed to.

Clause 9

REGULATIONS RELATING TO WAGES AND ACCOUNTS

Lords Amendment No. 4:In page 6, leave out line 43.

Question,That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment —[Mr. Goronwy Roberts]—put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 5: In page 6, line 43, at end insert: (f) varying the amounts referred to in subsection (2) of section 7 of this Act.

Question,That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment—[Mr. Goronwy Roberts]—put and agreed to.

Clause 12

POWER OF COURT TO AWARD INTEREST ON WAGES DUE OTHERWISE THAN UNDER CREW AGREEMENT

Lords Amendment No. 6: In page 7, line 39, after " due " insert " to a mistake,"

Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment—[Mr. Goronwy Roberts]—put and agreed to.

Clause 15

RIGHT, OR LOSS OF RIGHT, TO WAGES IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES

Lords Amendment No. 7: In page 9. line 26, after "ship"insert: or its ceasing to be registered in the United Kingdom

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I believe that this is the last of a series of Amendments on a matter which, if the point had not been raised, would have represented a very serious lacuna in the Bill. The need to deal with seamen on the change of registration of a vessel is of great importance. I am glad that by this Amendment the matter will be fully cleared up.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 8: In page 9, line 29, at end insert: () A seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom shall not be entitled to wages for any period during which he—

  1. (a) unlawfully refuses or neglects to work when required; or
  2. (b) is absent without leave; or
  3. (c) is incapable of performing his duties by reason of an illness or injury which is caused by his wilful act or default."

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The provisions which the Amendment seeks to add to the Bill were the subject of considerable discussion in Committee and on Report. It will be agreed that at all stages there has been full and fair discussion of the various points. The conclusion was reached that they are not necessary in the Bill. They are, as I said on Report, essentially a re-enactment of the substance of Sections 159 and 160 of the 1894 Act, with the addition of absence without leave and injury caused by the wilful act or default of the seamen.

Pearson recommended their inclusion but made the point that they could well be included as a standard provision in authorised agreements. It is our basic view that these matters, and indeed others similar to them, are best provided for in agreement.

In paragraph (b) of the Amendment there is no sophistication of the phrase " absent without leave ". In Clause 39(2), in an entirely different context, the provision as to absence without leave is sophisticated, in that certain contingencies and conditions apply.

Because the Amendment in any case is not sufficiently precisely drafted, and because we wish that this kind of matter was dealt with in authorised agreements, I advise the House not to agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am astonished at the Minister of State's final comments. The Lords Amendment is merely to replace, with theipsissima verba,a provision that was in the Bill when the Government themselves introduced it. It will be remembered that it was on Report that this subsection was removed. All that their Lordships have done is to say that the Government were right in putting the subsection in the Bill in the first place and that it should not have been removed.

I imagine that on this Amendment, too, I shall be rash enouh to cross swords with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). If I am not straying too much out of order, may I associate this side of the House with what was said by the Leader of the House and by other right hon. and hon. Members in tribute to the right hon. Gentleman.

I first entered politics when the right hon. Gentleman's name was one with which to frighten children. Since I have had the privilege of getting to know him slightly personally—I could not claim more than that—I have realised that first impressions were misleading and that no one can be more benign than the right hon. Gentleman.

I had a relation who was a very senior civil servant in one of the Departments for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible when he was Minister of Defence. Although he was a high Tory, perhaps one of the highest I have ever known, the tribute my relative paid to the right hon. Gentleman's period of office remains with me still: he said of a particular matter with which the right hon. Gentleman had to deal, " No Minister could ever have handled it better ". It is right that this tribute should be repeated.

I hope that this time I shall not cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). May I be permitted to say how much we shall miss him and the contributions he makes to so much of our legislation and debate. I was made to feel sorry that we did not have the benefit of my hon. Friend's advice in Standing Committee; because, if we had, we might well have found a solution to some of these difficult problems. We wish my hon. Friend well.

The Pearson Committee recommended that the provision that seamen shall not be entitled to wages in certain circumstances should be included in an Act or in regulations. The Government accepted that recommendation. The provision was included in the July, 1969, version of the Bill. It was again included in the November version, when no doubt strong representations had been made by various organisations that it should be struck out. The Government made no move to exclude it in Committee, though at that point the provision came under criticism from some hon. Members opposite. It was only on Report that the provision was excluded.

We were told, not that the provision was in any way undesirable, but that it could very well find its way into crew agreements—that is, that we were concerned only with the form and not with the substance.

I am strengthened in this view because the Government spokesman in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Brown said this: I should make clear that we are not arguing against its substance …"-[OFFICIAL REPORT,House of Lords,8th April, 1970, c. 175.] That is right. It would be difficult to challenge the view that a seaman who unlawfully refuses or neglects to work should remain entitled to his wages.

One of the consequences of the removal of the subsection is that some people in the merchant marine appear now to be under a considerable misapprehension as to what has been done. I quote briefly from an article in the May issue ofThe Seamanwritten by Mr. Hogarth, the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, for whom I have a high respect: A most significant change has been made to Section 9 which had the effect of limiting possible deductions from a seaman's wages only to those occasions when a breach of his contract of employment has been alleged; the clause authorising the ' no work no pay ' principle has been removed … If that is the conclusion that Mr. Hogarth draws from the omission of the Clause, it is very unfortunate. The only implication is that the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen interprets the removal as meaning that a seafarer should be entitled to his pay if he is absent without leave, or if he refuses to work, or if he is unable to work due to injury occurring from his own fault. Mr. Hogarth may be under that impression, but he is wrong, because most of these cases would be bound to be covered by contract—in other words, we are discussing the form and not the substance.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. Gentleman appreciates that what we are concerned about is that seamen should be treated as nearly as possible like any other employee.

Mr. Jenkin

I am coming to that point. The hon. Gentleman served on the Standing Committee. We had very full discussions on what came to be called " the disciplinary Clauses ". It was recognised on both sides that, although that may be a desirable aim, in the circumstances of life at sea it simply is not practical. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity here, because on a number of occasions he argued cogently that the nature of life at sea and the need for discipline, which is recognised on both sides, means that employment at sea cannot be equated in all respects with employment ashore. It is unfortunate that, having struck the provision out of the Bill, the Government should be encouraging the misconcepts which appear now to be rife as a consequence.

4.0 p.m.

The argument is—it was put by the Minister of State in this House and by his right hon. Friend in another place—that the provisions of the Clause should be included in the agreement. I think there is, to put it no higher, some doubt about that. Clause 7 provides for the payment of wages in full. There seems to me to be some argument—this has been vetted by a legal authority—that no agreement can supersede or nullify a specific expressed statutory obligation. the obligation to pay wages in full. It may be that the Minister of State's legal advisers say that that is not a bar.

Mr. Goronwy Robertsindicated assent.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman is nodding assent and perhaps, therefore, he will take the opportunity to make it clear. All I can say is that it is not clear beyond a peradventure. Indeed, some reputable lawyers have expressed opposing views.

However, even if they are wrong and agreements can provide for wages to be withheld in the circumstances provided in the Lords Amendment, it seems to me that under the Bill that agreement would still require approval by the Board of Trade, and perhaps the Minister of State will not be altogether surprised if some people in the industry do not have quite that same confidence that Ministers will not be pushed off their perch when considering some of these matters.

There have been too many occasions during the passage of the Bill when the package recommended and agreed by Pearson has been departed from. If the Minister of State can give an undertaking that if a reasonable clause along the lines of the proposed Amendment were sought to be included in the crew agreement and were approved by the Board of Trade, I would then accept that the criticism ceased to have any validity.

It has been suggested that this question can be dealt with in the regulations authorising deductions. I have looked at the draft regulations under Clause 10 of which the Minister of State was good enough to give us headings. I do not find these very encouraging. The draft says that the deductions to be authorised under regulations might comprise a number of things like stores, radio messages, portages and so on. It then refers to damages for breach of contract for absence without leave subject to certain conditions. There is nothing about unlawfully refusing to work or about being unable to work because of injury due to the fault of the seaman, or anything of that sort. Therefore, I am not sure that the regulations as they are at present in mind are adequate to cover the position. No doubt, the Minister of State will wish to refer to that matter.

Having considered this at some length, and on several occasions, I remain of the view that the provision should be in the Statute and should not merely be left to regulations. It is necessary—we have been informed of this forcibly—that the authority of the master and of his officers should be backed by the existence of an expressed statutory provisions. There is value in this. A ship may be well away from any source of help. Discipline has to be maintained. To be able to point to a specific statutory obligation may be of help to a master in seeking to maintain discipline on board his ship.

I am sure that another place, if I may say so, was right to restore the Clause to this form in which the Government originally introduced it and took it through Second Reading and Committee, and I hope the Government will now recognise that in this matter their first thoughts were best.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I want to make two quick points in reply to the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), namely, that the Board of Trade would approve what the hon. Gentleman called a reasonable crew provision in a crew agreement covering these points. This is the undertaking which he has sought. I anticipated that he might raise this point because I have certain sympathy with what he has said, and I am in a position to say explicitly that the kind of agreement which he has in mind would be approved. This is the advice that I have received.

Similarly, on the legal point in relation to Clause 7, I can only say that the legal advice which I have is that his fears would not be realised. But I agree that there may be varying interpretations.

On the central issue, the point is well taken. This Clause was in the previous versions of the Bill. That is quite right. That was a straight ball. It had, however, constantly given us difficulty. We let it go, and finally we decided that it was best to take it out because this kind of question is best left to industrial nego tiations. I would have expected the Opposition to join with us in accepting this position because we have been at one in looking forward to more and more of this kind of provision being the subject of industrial negotiation and appearing in agreements.

It is for those reasons, on which I will not expand, that I fear that I cannot accept this Amendment, and I therefore ask the House to disagree with it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20

CREW ACCOMMODATION

Lords Amendment No. 9:In page 13, line 43, leave out subsection (7).

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this we can also take Lords Amendment No. 20—new Clause " D "—Tonnage measurement and certificates—in page 42, line 5, at end insert new Clause " D "— D. For subsections (5) and (6) of section 1 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1965 (tonnage regulations) there shall be substituted the following subsections—

  1. ' (5) Regulations under this section may make provision for the alteration (notwithstanding section 82 of the principal Act) of the particulars relating to the registered tonnage of a ship.
  2. (6) Regulations under this section may provide for the issue by the Board of Trade or by persons appointed by such organisations as may be authorised in that behalf by the Board of Trade of certificates of the registered tonnage of any ship or of the tonnage which is to be taken for any purpose specified in the regulations as the tonnage of a ship not registered in the United Kingdom, and for the cancellation and delivery up of such certificates in such circumstances as may be prescribed by the regulations.
  3. (6A) Regulations under this section requiring the delivery up of any certificate may make a failure to comply with the requirement an offence punishable on summary conviction with a fine not exceeding £100.'"

Mr. Roberts

I agree, Mr. Speaker, that it would be convenient to take these two Amendments together.

I could give a more expanded reason for our agreeing to these Amendments, but suffice it to say that my advice is that the House should agree with these Amendments, which are linked.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26

EXPENSES OF MEDICAL TREATMENT, ETC. DURING VOYAGE

Lords Amendment No. 10:In page 16, line 25, after " the " insert " reasonable "

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that we might take this Amendment with Lords Amendment No. 11.

Mr. Roberts

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps, on second thoughts, we had better take Lords Amendment No. 10 first.

Mr. Roberts

Amendments No. 10 and No. 11 are linked. We agree with these two Amendments. You would probably call the following Amendment separately, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Duty overrides discretion here. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said. He said that if we were to take Amendment No. 10 and Amendment No. 11 together he would agree to them. That is what he said.

Mr. Roberts

Did I?

Mr. Jenkin

That is what I heard.

Mr. Roberts

We agree to Amendment No. 10 but we certainly disagree to Amendment No. 11.

Mr. Speaker

That is why the Chair suggested that we should take Amendment No. 10 by itself. We are now dealing with No. 10.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 11: In page 16, line 29, at end insert: Provided that—

  1. (i) the liability of those persons shall be conditional upon the person so employed or his legal personal representatives affording to those persons every facility to prosecute in his name any claim in respect of such expenses and allowing them reasonable discretion in the conduct of any proceedings 1748 or the settlement of any claim in respect of such expenses and to the extent of such conditional liability, surrendering to them all rights in respect of such claim;
  2. (ii) nothing contained in this section shall prejudice any right of recovery of such expenses from a person other than a person so employed."

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This Clause provides that the liability for meeting the expenses of the medical treatment of masters and seamen outside the United Kingdom should be borne by their employer.

The purpose of the Amendment is to make this liability conditional upon a seaman or master, as the case may be, giving the employer facilities to pursue any claim in respect of such expenses as the seaman may have against third parties. Also, it seeks to ensure that nothing in the Clause shall prejudice any right of recovery from the third party.

This was an Opposition Amendment carried against the Government on Report in the other place. It made minor amendments to an earlier Opposition Amendment in Committee in the Lords which had been withdrawn. The earlier Amendment had previously been introduced by the Opposition in Committee in the Commons, and again on Report, in both cases being withdrawn after considerable discussion. The subject matter, therefore, has been fully discussed in both Houses.

The Lords Amendment now before us would introduce a proviso to Clause 26 to the effect that an employer's liability to bear the reasonable expenses of a seaman's medical treatment outside the United Kingdom should be conditional upon the seaman's co-operation. Our objection, in part, is that there should not be this insistence upon a condition as to liability. Moreover, the Amendment would provide that nothing in the Clause shall prejudice any right of recovery from third parties. The Amendment still leaves the employer's liability where it is, but, by making it conditional upon the employee's co-operation, it says, apparently, in effect, that no liability shall arise unless and until all conditions are satisfied by the seaman, and this, in the Government's view, would be wrong in principle and quite unacceptable. Moreover, in the light of Lords Amendment No. 10, which we have agreed to, this liability is in any event limited only to those expenses which are reasonable.

In view of the way in which the Government have met the Opposition in regard to the definition of reasonable expenses, I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will, in turn, now agree that it is not a good principle or practice that liability should turn on the kind of condition embodied in the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that we take at the same time the Amendment to the Lords Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and his hon. Friends, to leave out from the second " expenses " to the end of paragraph (i).

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

The Minister of State has given no reason for rejecting the Lords Amendment beyond saying, as a matter of proclamation rather than argument, that there should be no condition as to the liability for such expenses provided that they are reasonable. Why not? Why should it not be necessary for the seaman to co-operate with those employing him in trying to recover the costs from the people who ought to bear them?

The Clause deals with the costs of medical treatment abroad. Everyone knows that in many such cases the persons who treat British seaman abroad may " try it on ", may charge unreasonably in respect of quantity—I do not say of quality—and may try to load the bill with items which should not be there. On the other hand, it may be the result of an accident for which neither the employer nor the seaman is responsible, but someone else as been negligent or has wilfully damaged the seaman. He is the person who should be made to pay. The seaman himself, the man who has been damaged or injured, may be a necessary witness in such proceedings.

I imagine that in 90 per cent. of cases the seaman would be willing to co-operate in giving evidence in such proceedings, but there ought to be an obligation upon him to do so. There ought to be an obligation upon him to cooperate in every way with those employing him, who will otherwise have to bear the ultimate responsibility if he does not co-operate. Why should he not cooperate? Why should there not be an obligation upon him to do so?

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

As the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) knows, I have great respect for his views. I did not go into detail. He understands the background thinking of the principle that there should not be a relation between liability and certain conditions, and I do not think that I need go into that now.

The hon. and learned Gentleman made a point about ensuring that co-operation of the seaman—which, I entirely agree, would be right and natural—in any proceedings which the employer might find it necessary to take. If the proceedings were in this country, as would often happen, if the seaman did not reasonably co-operate—I am sure that the unions concerned would wish him to co-operate, and this happens all the time—he could be subpoenaed; but much to be preferred, of course, is that there should be voluntary and, as it were, agreed readiness to co-operate when a case is heard in this country.

As to the position under foreign law, I do not want to be too dogmatic, but how much would the proposed proviso help in other countries? There would be ways by which a seaman could be, so to speak, subpoenaed to give evidence in this country, that evidence being of use in another country, but it is difficult to accept that there should be a provision statutorily enforcing a man to go abroad and contribute evidence in person in another country. I imagine that in some cases this would be agreeable, but in many cases the seaman would be very ready to testify by affidavit or otherwise in this country so that the information was available and acceptable in a foreign court. I do not say that that is the full answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but it is a substantial one.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

There seems to be a great inconsistency in the Minister's argument. In one breath, he says that a provision can be properly put into an agreement and neither party to the agreement is likely to object to it, and, in the next breath, he says that, even if it is, it is not likely to be of any use. We are here dealing with claims in foreign countries. If a statutory obligation to pay expenses is included in the Bill, then, for whatever vlaue it may have—I recognise that there may be limitations—the right of subrogation, which the Lords Amendment would give, should equally be in the Bill. That is our view on this side.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 42

TRADE DISPUTES INVOLVING SEAMEN

Lords Amendment No. 12:In page 21, line 20, leave out from " master " to first " the " in line 21 and insert: not less than forty-eight hours' notice of his intention to do so, and shall not be compelled (unless the notice is withdrawn) to go to sea in the forty-eight hours following the giving of such a notice; but such a notice shall be of no effect unless at the time it is given

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that we take at the same time Lords Amendment No. 13, in page 21, line 22, leave out from " berth " to end of line 25.

Mr. Roberts

Yes, Mr. Speaker. That also is agreed.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

There is one point which I should briefly make. In another place, my noble Friend Lord Sandford said that it was astonishing that this Clause—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is out of order to quote a noble Lord speaking in the other place unless he is a Minister explaining official policy.

Mr. Jenkin

There was a statement to the effect that it was astonishing that the Clause had gone through all stages in the House of Commons without this lacuna being spotted. It think it right to point out that my hon. Friends in Committee were well aware of it, were aware that negotiations were going on, and very properly declined to intervene in what could have become very muddy waters. They wished to allow the right answer to be found. It has been found and was put into the Bill in the other place. We are happy to see it, and none more so than my hon. Friends in Corn mittee—I was in Japan at the time—who fully realised that something should be done.

Mr. Roberts

I fully agree that hon. Members opposite spotted this, but so did hon. Members on this side of the House, and substantial and very early representations were made by various hon. Members.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.

Clause 62

RELIEF AND RETURN OF SEAMEN LEFT BEHIND, ETC.

Lords Amendment No. 14: In page 30, line 33, leave out from " Kingdom " to end of line 34 and insert: other than by reason that he has—

  1. (i) been arrested or imprisoned for misconduct; or
  2. (ii) absented himself from the ship without leave at the time appointed for sailing; or
() a person so employed is taken to such a country on being shipwrecked; or

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I suggest that we also discuss the Amendment to the Bill in lieu thereof standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), in page 30, line 42, at end insert: Provided that nothing contained in this section, or in regulations made under this section, shall prevent the recovery of expenses incurred by the persons who last employed a seaman in respect of any such provision for his return, relief, maintenance or other provision, from a seaman who has—

  1. (i) been arrested or imprisoned for misconduct, or
  2. (ii) absented himself from his ship, without leave, at the time appointed for sailing.

Mr. Roberts

The Lords Amendment is concerned with who should provide and pay for the relief and repatriation of seamen left behind. The Clause places the liability upon the seaman's last employer. The Lords Amendment relieves the employer of the liability where the seaman is left behind because he has, first been arrested or imprisoned for misconduct; second, absented himself without leave at the time appointed for sailing. This is to some extent a return to the present system, in which there is a division of liability between the shipowner, the seaman and the State.

The present system is complicated and administratively wasteful, and we have therefore sought to provide a simpler and more efficient arrangement. Moreover, we think that it is wrong in principle that the State, and thus the taxpayer, should be involved in these matters. It is a matter for the industry and the taxpayer should not be expected to contribute.

The Amendment goes further than the present arrangements. It relieves the shipowner of liability for seamen who have been arrested. The inclusion of the word " arrested " is of some concern as " arrest " is a very wide term and in English law at least, whatever it may mean in foreign countries, it consists of no more than the actual seizure by the touching of a person's body with a view to his detention. To extend the exclusion of the employer's liability to mere arrest, whether or not for misconduct—and there may be cases where the arrest is unjustifiable or unlawful—seems to me to be quite unacceptable.

The State might not be able to rely on any contribution from the wages of the seaman towards the expenses of relief and repatriation. The shipowner, however, might be able to recover expenses to the extent that he could recover them as damages for breach of contract. The State would not hold the wages of a deserter as the shipowner would.

A good deal was made at one stage of our discussions of the reference in paragraph 277 of the Pearson Report to the practice of foreign Governments, and it was said that it is important that the British shipping industry should not have imposed on it a burden that is not borne by foreign competitors. The Amendment was justified in another place by reference to practices in other countries. It is true that the practice they follow generally accords with what we have here today, but the burden involved is relatively small, and it is right in principle to make the change we are suggesting in the Bill.

The Government cannot accept that the State should be involved in meeting the expenses of seamen left behind. In our view it is essentially and rightly a matter for the industry, whether the reason for the seaman's being left behind is absence without leave, arrest or imprisonment. The choice is between placing this on the employer, with a possible recourse against the seaman for breach of contract, or leaving it to the State with a doubtful chance of recovery from the seaman. We should on principle leave it to the industry.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

If the House disagrees with the Lords in the Amendment, would not the Foreign Office, which is occasionally involved in such matters, be relieved under certain circumstances from making the representations it should make on behalf of seamen who could be arrested and held by a foreign Power without just cause?

I very well remember that some years ago one of my constituents was held in prison for nine months in Italy after a riot, or something similar, in a café. There had been a killing and the master of the ship, I think, was involved and held for trial, when he was found to be innocent. My constituent was merely in the café and had nothing to do with the matter. It was a deplorable case, and those of us who were interested in it tried to get the Foreign Office to intervene. It did so, though without result.

I am not an expert in these matters, but I fear that if we too lightly reject the Amendment for the reasons given by the Minister the Foreign Office will be relieved of its responsibility for making representations, if necessary, to prevent such a circumstance as I have outlined occurring again. My constituent was held nine months, and when the case was finally brought up both the master of the ship and he as a witness were found to have had nothing to do with the controversy or scuffle. The Foreign Office did not seem able to make any impression on the Italian Government in its efforts to have the case brought forward.

Therefore, I am not happy that the whole issue has turned simply on the relationship between the shipowners and the taxpayer, because there are circumstances in which much stronger representations should be made on behalf of the Government. I would not like to relieve the Foreign Office of any responsibility that it may have by allowing it to argue that it could not involve the Government or taxpayer in any expense, so that it might not make the effort it should make in the kind of situation I have outlined.

I always felt extremely badly about the case I have mentioned. I did not feel that anyone was justified in holding a constituent of mine for nine months before the trial. It was a frightful situation. I should like the Minister to say that in similar circumstances where a crew member is held in such a way, whatever the position as between the shipping company and the taxpayer, the Foreign Office will not be relieved of its responsibility to stand up for British subjects who are held unlawfully for that length of time.

I should like to take the opportunity of saying, as a Member for the area which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) also represents, how much we shall miss him on the North-East coast. Of course, he and I have not always agreed on many issues, but he has been a wonderful figure, and he has the affection of the North-East coast, which is delighted to have had him as a Member for so long. We are very sorry that he has decided to leave us, and we shall miss his contributions and arguments, and the wonderful way in which he represents those that he has been elected to represent. I should like just to put that on record as one of the Members of Parliament serving in the area in which he has been such a renowned and well-liked figure.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am sure the House appreciates the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) on what seems to have become an Easington benefit afternoon.

I was disturbed by what my hon. Friend had to say about a possible consequence of the refusal of the Government to make this exception to the normal rule about relief and repatriation. With the greatest respect to her, I am not sure that I can go the whole way with her. It may be that there are Foreign Office officials in our embassies and consulates overseas whose attitude to a particular seaman who finds himself in the sort of difficulties her constituent was in might be marginally influenced by the fact that the Government would find themselves liable to pay the costs of relief and repatriation, but I did not understand her to say that this would be a general attitude on the part of the diplomatic service and I should be sorry if it were thought that it was so, because many right hon. and hon. Members have had experiences where the diplomatic service has been assiduous in pursuing their constituents' difficulties in foreign countries.

But there is a case, and the Pearson Report made it, for ensuring that the British shipping industry should be in no worse position than its foreign competitors, and the primary purpose of the Lords' Amendment was to ensure that this should be so. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Ms. Fletcher-Cooke) quoted to the House at an earlier stage the practice of foreign countries, and what then stuck out like a sore thumb was the way the proposals in the Bill would differentiate the British Government from the practices of foreign Governments.

Nevertheless, I take the point made by the Minister of State—that the sum in relation to the shipping industry as a whole has not hitherto been large, and perhaps on that ground it is not necessary to press our Amendment in lieu of the Lords' Amendment as far as one would otherwise have wished. However, our Amendment arose out of an exchange in another place in which the question was asked, " In circumstances where the employer has paid for the relief and repatriation of a seaman and where the seaman himself was clearly in the wrong in missing his ship, should there not be some right of recovery from the seaman for that wrong?" During the Report stage in this House an Amendment was tabled in an attempt to deal with this point, but both sides recognised it to be unsatisfactory. Our Amendment in lieu of the Lords' Amendment is intended to cover the position. It would do no more than put it beyond doubt that nothing in the Bill or any regulation made under it shall prevent provision being made for recovering from a seaman expenses which have been incurred by his employer as a result of his arrest or imprisonment or misconduct or of his absenting himself from his ship without leave at the time appointed for sailing.

I envisage that this is a matter which could well be dealt with in the agreements negotiated between the unions and the employers, and the only point we want to make absolutely clear in the Bill—accepting the Bill as the Government would wish to see it—is that there should be an addendum that nothing would prevent a recovery from a seaman in such circumstances. One would have thought that this would be acceptable to the Government, because otherwise it might well be argued, when one is seeking to put the matter into agreements when negotiations are going on, that the Bill makes it clear that the obligation is placed upon the employers and that that is an end to the matter. But it should not be an end to the matter. An employer should not be put to what could be quite substantial expense as a result of the wrongful conduct of a seaman.

It seems right that there could be an agreement between both sides that, in such circumstances, there should be a right of recovery, and all our Amendment seeks is to make it clear that nothing in the Bill or the regulations is intended to preclude that right. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that this is a useful addendum, accepting, as we do, albeit reluctantly, his case for putting the primary expense upon the employers in the circumstances envisaged in the Clause.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I regret that I cannot meet the hon. Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) on this matter, although he has made a persuasive case. A number of difficulties are involved in his proposed Amendment in lieu of Lord's Amendment No. 14. There is in it a lack of precision in defining the circumstances. It simply says: … a seaman who has▀× (i) been arrested or imprisoned for misconduct … I am sure that many of us have experience of constituents who have been arrested and even imprisoned, admittedly within the law and practice of certain foreign countries, and have been released after a considerable time with anything having been proved against them. I suppose that the argument would be that, in such cases, the employer would bear the expense. The same applies to absence from the ship without leave at the time appointed for sailing. I am sorry that I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman on this but he knows the arguments which have prevailed with me so far and I will not retread them.

The point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) is well taken, although I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford for what he said about it. He is quite right. There is nothing in the Clause to detract in any way from the availability of the full services of the Foreign Office in proper aid and relief of British nationals who find themselves culpably or otherwise in difficult circumstances outside this country. The hon. Lady mentioned her constituent who was detained for nine months, and I can well sympathise with her because I myself now have a constituent who has been held for nine months also. The Foreign Office has been admirable. All its persuasive skills have been made available in this case with gratifying results. I assure the hon. Lady that nothing in the Bill will prevent the Foreign Office making all possible representations on behalf of any British subjects in difficulties abroad. I hope that that assurance will gratify the hon. Lady.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to—[One with Special Entry.]

Consequential Amendment to Lords Amendment agreed to:No. 33, in page 44, line 32, after ' 1967 ', insert: ' the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act 1970 '.

Remaining Lords Amendment agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill: Mr. Harold Walker, Mr. Ogden, Mr. Patrick Jenkin, Mr. Fletcher-Cooke and Mr. Goronwy Roberts; Three to be the quorum.—[Mr. Goronwy Roberts.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.