§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I beg to move,That this House, having regard to the increasing use of the sea as a means of communication, transportation, and recreation, calls on Her Majesty's Government to review the present-day international and national navigation regulations, aids and safety requirements in the marine world, with a view to reducing accidents and the consequent loss of life and damage to craft, with the risk of pollution of our beaches.When he is fortunate in the draw, it is the duty of an hon. Member to draft his Private Members' Motion as widely as possible so that as many hon. Members as possible who are interested in his subject can join in the debate. I only regret that I won the draw for a Friday and not for a Monday, because a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have expressed to me their sorrow that because of longstanding constituency engagements they would not be able to be present today. I am the more grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade who, I know, has given up engagements in order to attend this morning.
I have drafted the Motion to cover, on the commercial side, vessels from giant tankers, some twice the size of the "Queen Mary", down to fishing vessels and, on the recreation side, luxury yachts, humble rowing boats, dinghies carried on the roofs of private cars, water ski-ing and bathing from our beaches. On the commercial side I shall deal first with navigation—particularly the rules affecting the English Channel and the Dover Straits for shipping and hovercraft—navigation aids and safety appliances on ships. I hope that it will also be in order to discuss the risk of danger to our beaches.
Perhaps every hon. Member will have an interest to declare in the present subject. 766 I reflect on my own interests and ask: just what I should declare? Should I declare that I own a rowing boat; that I have a share in a motor boat, and the fact that I am what is known as an underwriting member of Lloyd's, and as such have a commercial interest in safety at sea? I hope that no hon. Member will be ungenerous enough to say that I have initiated this debate because I want to make money from my Lloyd's underwriting. It has been rightly said that if there were no accidents there would be no Lloyd's.
I have tabled the Motion mainly because in my constituency we have the advantage of overlooking one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. We have some of the most attractive and sandy beaches on the South Coast. We have the added attraction of being able to watch the ships go by, and a number of retired people, particularly retired marine people and boat skippers, come to Folkestone just for that purpose.
There is a special problem in the navigation of super tankers through the narrow straits. The Cinque Ports Pilots' Association has recently moved its headquarters to Folkestone, and it is there that pilots embark and disembark for tanker traffic bound to and from the Port of London. The House may recall that on 12th May I sought under the Ten Minute Rule to bring in a Bill to ensure the proper securing of pilots' ladders. This followed a fatal accident in my area. The proximity of the General Election which was soon to follow prevented my processing the Bill through the House, but I am glad to say that as a result of that debate some action was taken. I hope that this debate will have a similar effect.
I am sure that no one can deny that a pilot is employed to assist in the navigation of a ship because of his expert knowledge of the waters the ship is traversing. The Dover Straits are one of the busiest shipping lanes of Europe, and because these narrow seas are made more hazardous by a series of sandbanks it was decided that international regulations should apply to them. The rules are that ships proceeding to the North Sea should use the channels adjacent the French coast, and ships proceeding from the North Sea shall use the channel adjoining the English coast. Within these two recognised routes local traffic can 767 traverse in either direction. Across these lanes, of necessity, there are the ordinary channel ferries, providing a service of more than one hundred a day. Added to this, there is the new traffic of hovercraft going directly across the busy ship-way.
My information is that these international regulations appear to have been accepted without proper consultation with the pilots. From the evidence which they have produced to me the regulations seem to be rather dangerous. Those hon. Members who are interested in navigation know the elementary rules of the sea. If a tanker proceeding along the French coast comes across another vessel, it has to turn to starboard, on the basis of the port-to-port rule. The captain immediately puts his vessel in danger of grounding, because it is on that side that one gets the shallow sandbanks. This rule is of little consequence when we are dealing with shallow draught vessels, but now we have vessels of up to 60 ft. draught when loaded traversing the shallow side, and 30 ft to 35 ft. draught when they are coming down empty.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan), the President of the United Kingdom Pilots' Association, was kind enough to send me a copy of his speech on Wednesday of this week. I was astounded to discover that he was forecasting—I am sure that he would not have done this if he had not good reason to be sure about it—the construction of vessels of up to 100 ft. draught. If that is so, it makes the danger even greater. I should have thought that the fact that the pilots themselves had expressed doubts about the present ruling was argument enough, but I am informed that the Honourable Company of Master Mariners is against this move, as are 70 per cent. of the ship masters who have been consulted.
The matter is so important that I should like to read a letter which I have received from a Trinity House pilot, Captain Knowles, who puts it more clearly than I can:Dear Mr. Costain,I have been asked to inform you as to the present position over routing in the Dover Strait and Southern North Sea and confirm our support for proposals submitted by the Trinity House and Honourable Company of 768 Master Mariners to remedy the present unsatisfactory position. …The routing agreed in 1964 (but not implemented until 1967) is not satisfactory for the vessels now in service and projected.The number of collisions in the area has increased since the introduction of routing in 1967. Not unnaturally the average collision is becoming more expensive as ships become larger.Trinity House and the Mercantile Marine Service Association (representing British shipmasters) have independently circulated questionnaires to a cross section of shipmasters. The result in both cases shows substantial majorities in favour of Trinity House/Honourable Company proposals for change.The largest vessels now in service or projected can use the area in safety but not under the present system. They must be kept at a maximum distance from land and given some measure of priority over other vessels. These requirements are met to a large degree under the Trinity House proposals.The Pilots of this Station have probably the major expertise in the Dover Strait and across the North Sea inwards to the Thames and Medway from Near Continental ports. In the last 13 years we have handled through the area 350 million tons. We unreservedly support the Trinity House/Honourable Company proposals.A substantial majority of Masters of Cross Channel Ferries of the nations involved support the proposals.The Trinity House proposals provide separation of not less than seven miles for the two opposing streams of traffic from Beachy Head to the latitude of Rotterdam—a distance of some 160 miles.The question of routing was last considered by I.M.C.O. in May, 1970, but the question of change was deferred pending the results of surveys of the area to be carried out by the British and Netherlands Navies. This survey is now being carried out and is nearly completed.Not unnaturally there is reluctance at I.M.C.O. and our own Board of Trade to concede that the present system is a failure.Seagoing opinion seems without little doubt to require immediate change and the Trinity House and M.M.S.A. are to be commended for their efforts to find out what the 'man on the bridge' wants.The usual problem arises at I.M.C.O. as far as this country is concerned, i.e., we are represented by principal officers of the Board of Trade … held in high regard in their sphere but neither with practical experience in the area for at least a quarter of a century.Contrary to the advice of the Rochdale Report every effort is made to prevent the presence of the people best able to advise on routing (i.e., the practising mariner) being present at I.M.C.O. deliberations.There may well be a shift of attitude at the Board of Trade with our new Government and following the 'Pacific Glory' incident. The pilots of this station certainly hope so as the whole question of routing in the area requires urgent consideration before we are faced with a tragedy of perhaps monumental proportions.769 That is the letter of which the House needs to take cognisance.
Not unnaturally when an hon. Member initiates a debate of this kind he receives a large amount of correspondence, some of which supports him. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) who introduced me to him, I had the opportunity of meeting one of the leading authorities in the Chamber of Shipping. He thinks that the present situation is correct. He says that only this week he went on a ferry from my constituency and spoke to the skipper on the bridge. He thinks that the present routeing is right. I do not pretend to be an expert on this, but I have an enormous amount of confidence in my constituents who are pilots, who are paid to be pilots, and who have expert knowledge, and I should have thought that it would have been within the Government's policy for them to be properly consulted, for I found on a previous occasion that it was only after a debate in this House that they felt satisfied that their opinions were being considered.
I have received some startling reports about the condition of navigation aids and life saving equipment, but I am not able to check these personally. I have to rely on the people who have given me this information, but they have no fish to fry, and have no interest other than that of general safety for doing what they have done. I am told that some of the navigation equipment, particularly on tankers and ships which undertake long voyages, is lacking in maintenance. One pilot told me that when he asked why a radar set was not working he was told that he had not kicked it, and that if he did it would work satisfactorily.
Another one told me that after a long voyage, skippers were having to rely on automatic navigation because of the shortage of crews. Many hon. Members, I am sure, will have seen a letter by Captain Vine in The Times on 14th November, in which he reported that a cargo vessel which he boarded at Brixham had no charts of the English Channel at all. Fortunately, the ship had the services of a pilot.
My second point is that there is no legal necessity to have the services of a pilot. The new hovercraft service in the Channel creates a new problem, particularly 770 bearing in mind that these giant hovercraft carry 250 passengers and 35 motor cars. The pilots are expressing some doubt about what is required for these hovercraft.
Again I call in aid a letter from the Cinque Ports Pilots' Committee which has been forwarded to me. It was sent to the President of the Board of Trade on 2nd October this year. It is of such importance that I crave the indulgence of the House while I read it. Leaving out the first page, the writer goes on to say:The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea state that the Regulations shall be observed by all vessels and seaplanes on the high seas and in all waters connected therewith. The Hovercraft Act, 1968 Section 4(3) specifically states that a hovercraft is not a ship or an aircraft or a motorcar, and while the Act generally came into force one month after it was passed, Section 4(3) will only come into force on such date as the Board of Trade may appoint by order made by Statutory Instrument. Thus, at any time the Board of Trade may make an order which will effectively remove the hovercraft from the necessity of complying with the International Collision Regulations by declaring the hovercraft to be no longer either a ship, or a seaplane on the surface of the water. On 3rd March, 1965, the Board of Trade issued a Notice H/2925/62 No. 444, which stated that hovercraft type vehicles would obey the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision, but the order referred to in the previous paragraph, unless suitably qualified, would overrule the Board's Notice of March, 1965.The hovercraft route from Pegwell Bay to Calais crosses the Gulf Stream and the Goodwin Sands before passing into the comparatively deeper water of the Straits of Dover.Shipping passing to the south and west via the Gulf Stream includes almost the entire coastal traffic from the east coast ports of Great Britain as well as large ocean-going vessels of up to 10,000 G.R.T. from the Rivers Thames and Medway. Outside the Goodwin Sands the south and west bound traffic includes not only the larger types of vessels from the Thames and Medway and the east coast ports but also vessels of all sizes from coasters to 200,000 ton tankers following the currently recommended Channel route for the separation of traffic. All this listed traffic is in the position of having to give way to a hovercraft crossing from Ramsgate to Calais, but for all but the very smallest vessels this is not possible as to give way to starboard would mean going ashore on the Kent coast. …This is the same point that I made previously.
The letter goes on:Similarly vessels proceeding northwards inside the Goodwin Sands are in the position of having to give way to hovercraft bound from Calais to Ramsgate with the danger of 771 grounding on the Goodwin Sands. Due to the well known fact that Parliament has decreed that a hovercraft may, ultimately, be declared to be neither a ship nor an aeroplain and the less well known fact that a Board of Trade Notice stated that all hovercraft would obey the International Collision Regulations, considerable doubt exists in the minds of shipmasters and pilots as to what action they should take, (if in a position to take any), when encountering hovercraft.Doubt often leads to actions which in the first instance are not clear or sufficiently decisive or which are violent when taken in haste at a late juncture.Conditions of poor visibility which are prevalent in these waters at all times of the year may easily aggravate a situation, and sound signals given by a vessel must be completely inaudible to the navigators of hovercraft due to the noise of their own craft's engines.The Cinque Ports Pilots' Committee considers that, sooner or later, for lack of a clear directive there may well be an accident. Should the accident be between a passenger carrying hovercraft the result can only be catastrophic.I will not bore the House by reading the whole of the letter, but three paragraphs further down, the letter says:To forestall such a disaster by removing doubt from the minds of seafarers my Committee suggests that the Board of Trade are empowered by the Hovercraft Act, 1968 to invoke Section 4(3) and at the same time orders that it shall be obligatory for hovercraft in British waters to keep the way clear for ships.That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable request. In the Southampton Water everybody accepts that such rules must apply there in special situations.
I have received other reports which I have no means of checking but I rely on the confidence that I have in the people who make these reports. I have heard it said that, although we are a maritime nation, we are prepared to accept the safety certificates of other nationals. I am told that when a ship comes into our docks, the Board of Trade Inspector or whoever is responsible looks at the certificate of safety equipment. He counts the equipment on board, after which his responsibility ends. I am told that on the other hand, in other maritime nations, particularly Australia—and I have checked this—inspectors go to considerable trouble and consider it their duty to make certain that all the equipment is in proper seaworthy condition. We should not exaggerate the situation—it is too easy for the sensational Press to 772 produce rather staggering statements—but I think it is necessary that the Board of Trade and the Minister responsible should take note of these matters.
In the course of my researches I was considering the ages of vessels and I found some very interesting information. When comparing the ages of ships at sea in the British fleet with the ages of ships sailing under flags of convenience, we get some extraordinary results. For instance, I think that 15 years is a pretty good age to take as the age at which a ship begins to become obsolescent. Taking British-registered ships over 15 years old, the figure is 29 per cent., but if we consider ships flying the Panamanian flag of convenience we get the remarkable figure of 81 per cent. When we consider ships 25 years old we get the not unexpected figure for United Kingdom ships of 5 per cent. whereas in the case of ships flying under the Panamanian flag the figure is 53 per cent.
The House should take note of the fact that with the closing of the Suez Canal and the new routing of ships, they are now making much longer voyages—a fact which makes conditions less attractive for the crews. I know from my own experience that some of the tanker captains go to incredible lengths to see that their crews have the best facilities. One tanker which I boarded when I was connected with the oil business more closely than I am now, officers had their families on board—their wives and children. There was even a tutor to teach the children. However, this arrangement is not universal. The older ships, of course, have not got the necessary accommodation.
What can we as a Parliament do about this? We do not control all of the ships in the world. I am sure every hon. Member will agree that the best seamen are British seamen. Do our taxation laws take proper cognisance of our seamen so as to make the occupation attractive to them? If a civil engineer goes abroad for more than 12 months and is not resident in this country he does not have to pay British income tax and surtax, but this does not apply to seamen—
§ Mr. Costain
I beg your pardon. My point is that safety at sea is more likely to be achieved with contented crews.
The sea is being increasingly used for recreational purposes. The interest shown by the public in the Boat Show almost equals that shown in the Motor Show. Port and river authorities are today as keen to build marinas as they were in the last century to build piers. You, Sir, with your expert knowledge of Southampton, will know that nine marinas are being built in the vicinity of Southampton and the Solent waters. The House will recall that last Session the Brighton Marina Bill was introduced. Those who travel to the coast every weekend, as I do, are likely to see boats being towed behind cars in the same way as caravans are towed. I welcome this advance; the sea should be used for recreational purposes. But we must remember that the sea has a special nature. The number of lives lost at sea is not startling, but those that are lost are lost by ignorance.
Dinghies with outboard motors are on sale at several garages between London and the coast. People buy dinghies for prestige reasons, because they want to enjoy them and because grandfather, father and the children can enjoy them all together. But it is not always appreciated that the dinghies have not necessarily been built for use in the sea ways.
The Royal Yachting Association has taken a vivid interest in safety, and I congratulate the association on persuading certain manufacturers to label boats so that people know what they are suitable for. The Royal Yachting Association is continuing to do a great deal for safety at sea. The RoSPA organisation and the Water Safety Committee have paid tribute to this. Sailing is an adventurous sport like mountaineering. Those who do not climb mountains cannot understand why other people do, but those who enjoy the sea understand why people take risks. We must see that people do not take foolhardy risks. I have noticed that the smaller the boat the more people get on it.
The Royal Yachting Association has training establishments throughout the country and there are now 160 in operation. Proficiency certificates are issued and three courses are run—elementary, intermediate and advanced. At the end 774 of the course a certificate signed by the Duke of Edinburgh is issued. We should encourage this. When I was a boy scout I took proficiency tests because I wanted to wear a badge on my arm. People would be encouraged to take proficiency tests if, in addition to a certificate to hang up in the hall for visitors to see, a certificate were issued for display on the vessel, or, better still, on a life jacket, so as to encourage people to wear life jackets.
With my duties in the House I have not much time to spend on sailing, but every year I try to take my holidays at sea. On occasions I have come across people in distress because of ignorance. In Southampton Water, a busy shipping channel, I came across a person whose dinghy had sunk and who had been in the water for 3½ hours. He had not been seen because he was wearing clothes of the same colour as the sea. I saw him only because my children were looking for cormorants. One of them said, "Daddy, there's a funny cormorant". On another occasion, when I was four miles out at sea, someone hailed me from a small boat going up the channel. He said, "Hey governor, do I turn left or right for Southampton?" I hope I do not sound pompous—I have myself been rescued by lifeboat.
I pay tribute to the Royal National Life-Boat Institution, which does an incredible amount of work. Last year there were 2,500 launches and 1,174 rescues. The comparative figures for 24 years ago were 600 launches and 380 rescues. This year the figures show a further increase. There is a lifeboat in my constituency at Dungeness. We have a splendid lady who has launched the Dungeness lifeboat for the last 50 years. The success of the organisation depends on it being a voluntary service. Those who are in the lifeboat service rejoice that, from headquarters down, they are all practical seamen and that there is no red tape. The cost of this service is rising, and the problem is how to give assistance without interfering with the voluntary nature of service. Parliament recently passed an Act which gave fishermen a grant to build their own fishing boats. Would it be possible for this to be done for lifeboats? Could not the Royal National Life-Boat Institution build its own boats and receive a similar subsidy?
775 This debate would be incomplete without a reference to helicopters. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and I have on several occasions drawn attention to the lack of facilities for rescue by helicopter. The excellent service at Manston has been withdrawn. Only R.A.F. helicopters are capable of carrying out rescues. Civilian helicopters cannot be used because they have no winches. B.E.A. has offered to fit winches to its helicopters if the Government supply the winches, and this request should not be ignored. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel able to make some statement on that, because the Ferryfield Airport in my constituency is willing to give free facilities to helicopters.
Some of the greatest dangers from the sea can be averted with the aid of accurate weather forecasting. A sudden increase in wind strength produces difficulties for yachtsmen and small dingy sailors. However, for some unknown reason the B.B.C. seems to think that it should produce weather forecasts at very odd hours. No doubt the feeling is that programmes will be interrupted if they are broadcast at popular hours. At present, the Sunday weather forecasts are broadcast at different times from those of other days of the week. It is difficult to understand why weather forecasting cannot be done at the same hours each day. In addition, television programmes which show excellent weather maps sometimes include wind strengths and sometimes do not.
To illustrate the benefits of weather forecast broadcasts, I was in Dartmouth at the end of August and I was delighted that the B.B.C. that week announced on the Wednesday that there would be strong winds and tides in the channel on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, all the small yachts in the neighbourhood proceeded to Dartmouth and shelter. In that kind of way we can readily give service and save lives without extra expense.
I hope that I have not bored hon. Members with the length of my speech. There are a number of other points that I would like to make, but I realise that hon. Members have other duties on a Friday. However, I hope that this Motion will receive support when it is put at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. A number of hon. Members wish to speak. I shall be able to call all of them if speeches are reasonably brief.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for raising this matter since it gives me an opportunity to speak on behalf of 60,000 seamen about the problems which have concerned them for a considerable time.
Within the short time available to me, I will try to deal with two specific parts of the Motion. The first concerns the high accident ratio existing among British seafarers. We have long been concerned about this, and the previous Government recognised our concern when they set up an inquiry into the nature of safety at sea. Today, we see the results in reports coming from the Board of Trade on safety which contain recommendations for improvements.
However, Pearson pointed out in paragraph 39 of his report on the shipping industry that,By any standards it is now recognised … that the incidence of both fatal and other accidents is much too high and must be reduced.Unfortunately, since that report there has been little change. Compared on a national basis, the figures show that the death ratio amongst seamen is twice as high as that in what are normally considered dangerous occupations like dock work and mining, four times as high as that for building workers, and 16 times as high as that in manufacturing industry.
Compared on an international basis, the death ratio amongst British seafarers is higher than that of most other maritime nations. It is extremely difficult to compare accidents among seafarers on an international basis since, unlike most countries, we do not collate the information necessary to make such a comparison. Our law requires only deaths at sea to be reported. At present, the only accident information that we get is what companies collect, and that is probably motivated by insurance reasons. It is possible to get some information about accident figures from that, but the figures 777 are not made public, and to some extent we feel that they are questionable.
We believe that there should be legislation for accidents to seamen to be reported. One anomaly which exists is that if a docker going on board a vessel suffers an accident on the gangway, the accident has to be reported under the Dock Regulations. If a seaman suffers an accident on the same gangway, there is no legal requirement to report it.
When this House was debating the Merchant Shipping Bill last year, an hon. Member asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), the Minister responsible at the time, what information was available about accidents. My right hon. Friend referred the hon. Gentleman to a table which he proposed to publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT; but that table refers only to deaths. Clearly, that is completely inadequate if one is attempting to make any analysis of the cause of accidents.
The situation has been the same for a long time. The problem has been hidden because no figures have been available to highlight it. In my view, the responsibility lies between two separate parties. The shipowners have the information but do not make it available publicly. The Government Department concerned has avoided its rightful responsibility, contrary to the practice of its counterparts in other countries which have set up separate marine agencies to deal with these matters.
There is no excuse for this avoidance of responsibility. In 1926 the International Labour Organisation adopted Recommendation 28 entitled "General Principles for Inspection of Conditions of Work of Seamen" in which it was suggested that an inspectorate should be set up and that its duties and responsibilities should include the production of an annual report giving the number, nature and causes of accidents occurring to seamen during their work. Many Governments acted upon that recommendation and incorporated it into their maritime departments. We did not, and successive Governments have continued to ignore the recommendation to the present day.
There are many reasons for the high record of accidents. One of the most pertinent facts is that over 60 per cent. 778 of accidents are due to human failure. It is apparent, too, that 68 per cent. occur at ports and harbours and 80 per cent. on board ship. Most of them are slips and falls resulting in injuries to fingers, hands, toes and feet. It must be pointed out that the types of injury are common to the seamen of all maritime nations. They are a peculiarity of the maritime trades.
Other countries have legislated against specific danger areas. However, in this country there is still no legal requirement for seamen to have safe access to a vessel such as that guaranteed to a docker. I pointed out earlier the different requirements applying to a seaman and a docker in the event of an accident occurring on a gangway.
Then we might consider protective clothing. Again there is no guarantee to British seamen. A number of other countries control the provision of protective clothing by regulations and legislation. Belgium, Finland, Norway, Australia, Sweden, to name but a few, provide protective clothing to prevent the kinds of injury to which seamen are more susceptible. The Board of Trade, following the Pearson Committee's Report, appointed a new Safety Committee to deal with these problems, and I had the honour to be a member for my union. We discussed a number of these problems and have made certain recommendations.
However, there is still strong opposition to the proposal that there should be legislation, particularly about gangways, protective clothing and emergency equipment. We shall continue to press strongly for these things to be the subject of legislation. We also tend to feel that there is strong influence by the shipowners on the Government in dealing with many of these matters. For example, there is the recommendation for the removal of radio operators from ships under 3,000 tons. Yet my union, which is strongly affected by these proposals, has not been consulted at all, and that is a scandalous state of affairs.
The I.L.O. Conference in Geneva last October passed a convention which is relevant to the Motion. It relates to international action for dealing with accidents and is headed:Prevention of Occupational Accidents to Seafarers".779 The convention recommends to Governments that a competent authority should be appointed to deal with issues regarding safety of seamen—the point I was making about the need for a maritime department. A recommendation made in the Safety Committee is along these lines. The convention also recommends that all accidents should be reported and noted, and not merely left to the companies, as is done now.
Another recommendation relates to the prevention of accidents, and powers which should be taken for the regulation of gangways under the "M" notice proposal which the Board of Trade appears to have in mind. It also recommends the establishment of accident prevention committees on board ship. That, indeed, is the cardinal point in accident prevention—the need to make seamen safety conscious on board. It is in line with one of my own proposals in evidence to the Safety Committee. I am glad that we have agreed to set up such committees, and I hope that we shall put them in all ships, because we must get all the men safety conscious.
When will the Government ratify the convention? If we accept it, it will mean that the Government must accept their full responsibilities, like other Governments, and take over the control of reporting and analysing accidents and not leave it to the shipping companies. In this way, we can hope to reduce the high and extraordinary accident rate for British seafarers compared with other countries.
The second part of the Motion refers to… reducing accidents and the consequent loss of life and damage to craft, with the risk of pollution of our beaches.It calls for a review of the national navigation regulations. We as a union have constantly been trying to do something about these problems because we are an international union. We are very much affected by international standards of labour. This is a constant problem to the union in trying to raise standards, because so many other countries are prepared to lower them. This is where the real threat of flags of convenience comes in, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. But I suggest to him that 780 there is another aspect in that flags of convenience vessels are a threat to the standards of navigation which the Motion mentions.
We hear a great deal about tanker crashes and pollution. We hear a lot about oil pollution, but we hear little about the blood which came from the 13 seamen who died in the recent collision. I appreciate that we have major pollution problems, brought to light by these accidents, such as those to the "Torrey Canyon", the "Pacific Eagle", the "Pacific Glory", the "Allegro" and also the "Marleena", which has gone aground off Sicily, spilling oil. Even more pertinent is the case of the "Irene", when eight Scotsmen lost their lives answering a distress call.
All these accidents involved Liberian flag of convenience ships, and it is no coincidence. We all know about the flag of convenience nations where shipowners can buy a licence for a few dollars and obtain flag accommodation. They are entitled thereby to the sovereignty of that nation, with low taxes and little concern for safety. These nations give licences without responsibility for a few pieces of bloodied silver.
The consequence of this is that Liberia has the largest tonnage of shipping in the world, including oil tankers. Yet Liberia does not have old ships, unlike some nations which offer flags of convenience. She has new and modern ships with all the modern navigational equipment in them. Many of the ships I have mentioned were brand new with the best navigation equipment. Altogether, 23 per cent. of world tanker tonnage is under the Liberian flag, and many of the vessels are huge. If we include Panama, Ecuador and Honduras, we find that over 36 per cent. of world tanker tonnage operates under flags of convenience.
The hon. Gentleman is, I understand, associated with Lloyd's, and I draw his attention to the fact that Lloyd's might do considerably more than it is doing. Despite the fact that Liberia has new ships and Lloyd's gives them the top rateage in classification, in terms of the percentage of tonnage Liberia loses more than any other maritime nation—1 per cent., compared, for example, with 0.08 per cent. for the United Kingdom and 0.05 per cent. for Norway.
781 One wonders why new ships should crash. The Select Comittee on Science and Technology in paragraph 18 of its Report on Oil Pollution said:We believe that navigational aids, however sophisticated, can never be a good substitute for seamanship by the Master, Officers and Crew".It is the qualifications for certificates of competency in seamanship which are the crucial factor. Examinations, certificates, experience, oral examinations—all the traditional maritime countries have these, and this policy is reflected in their accident figures.
Guaranteed leave periods and conditions are also of vital importance. The captain of the "Torrey Canyon" had been working for a year and a day without having a day off. One cannot, surely, deny that that was a factor in his handling of the situation. But this sort of thing involves one of the difficulties for a union. We negotiate an agreement and the oil companies come to us and say, "You can have our ships if you will accept the manning given you in China or Hong Kong, and if you will not man these ships with 33 men"—the minimum manning—" we will take them abroad." That is the dilemma for the union. It is, in fact, in the good international capitalist sense, exploitation of the market for its own advantage.
The flag of convenience nations do not have high standards of training. From Panama one can get a ticket, without any qualifications, entitling one to go aboard a vessel and command it. There is evidence for alleging incompetence in their seamanship. Inquiries into Liberian shipping accidents do not automatically occur even when there is loss of life. When, for example, 38 men die, when there are explosions, and so on, it may lead to inquiries, but very often the inquiries are connected with accidents involving oil pollution of beaches. The Liberian shipping authorities do not necessarily have inquiries when Liberian or foreign national seamen are lost. But when those Scottish seamen died there was a public demand for an inquiry. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Liberian inquiries are far from impartial, that they reflect bad judgment and in many instances are not thorough, as has long been suspected in maritime circles.
782 When the "Torrey Canyon" came to grief it was on automatic pilot in the busiest waters in the world. There was one man on the bridge when the captain was doing his rounds of the wheel. That is how limited the manning is in such ships in cases of that sort. A British ship would have four or five men on the bridge in such waters.
The inquiry said of the captainA master charged with the responsibility of navigating a vessel must exercise the care and caution which such a responsibility demands and in this case the master totally failed to adhere to these standards.There is a strong belief that the master was allowed to "carry the can" and the matter was left there, instead of there being an examination into the whole problem of the master having been put in such a situation.
In the case of the "Irene", into which there was another inquiry—one of the few—the ship put to sea without sufficient fuel. When it ran out of fuel a lifeboat went out to its aid, and, unfortunately, a tragedy occurred. The informal inquiry said of that captain that his condition was unsatisfactory and suspended his licence for only six months, but the investigation did not think that the matter warranted a formal inquiry. That was the conclusion of the informal inquiry which merely suspended the licence for that short period. The British Minister at the Board of Trade then responsible for shipping said of that inquiry:Following this casualty the Board of Trade had immediately ordered a preliminary inquiry of their own. However, disciplinary action can be taken only by the authorities of the flag state, and for this reason we offered the Liberian authorities all the help we could …. Had the "Irene" been a British vessel, I should have sought to deal with the Master's certificate and would have ordered a formal investigation for that purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1970; Vol. 794, c. 390.]That clearly shows the difference in handling these matters as between two sorts of inquiry.
The Harwich pilots were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Who better than the pilots to know about the low standards of the ships? In a statement on 18th November their association says that in its opinion the present situation will lead to more collisions, minimum crews and flags of convenience ships not being properly manned. However, we continue to allow these vessels which are under 783 this sort of control into our own busy waterways through which almost 800 ships pass daily. Some 80 per cent. of accidents occur in and around port and harbour areas, and one in ten of shipping accidents throughout the world occur in the Channel.
It was said by an eminent expert on the shipping industry, Lord Geddes—I have known him to be wrong before, and he certainly was wrong on this occasion—to the Committee on Science and Technology that the "Torrey Canyon" was a maverick accident and could not happen again. The Committee did not agree with him, and said that possibly it would happen again within 10 years. We had to wait only three years four months.
What must be do about this problem? The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe could solve it if he would urge insurance companies to put a clause into their policies saying that they will not insure vessels if they do not have the minimum standards. The problem could be solved almost overnight since most insurance business is done in this country. If abuses of this sort are not to continue, Governments must choose to legislate. Much can be done by international action. We have already agreements with various countries bordering the Channel in regard to the avoidance of pollution. I suggest that the next stage, rather than merely getting together to mop up pollution, should be that we should join together in preventing these abuses.
Article 10 of the convention recently passed in Geneva says:Members with the assistance of appropriate inter-governmental and other organisations shall endeavour in co-operation with each other to achieve the greatest possible measure of uniformity of other action for the prevention of occupational accidents.This and other legislation will lead the way to break into this aura of sovereignty in international waters. Already we are saying that ships will be liable outside territorial waters for claims for damages. We are attempting to go some way in getting concerted action over the busy waterways that surround this nation.
If we leave the matter only to a convention, action will depend on who signs the document. Liberia signed the 1954 Convention eight years after it was produced, 784 and also with reservations. We must do something about the situation. We cannot again wait eight years. The nations should get together and agree to recognise the problem that exists and say "A direct threat is presented to all of us by pollution and to our standards, and ships will not be allowed into our waterways if they are operating at below minimum manning standards." We desperately need to lay down international standards of competency. For example, a group of countries could ensure that ships not up to particular standards would not be allowed to enter the North Sea Channel area.
I appreciate that there would be difficulties in implementing such a proposal in these waters. We have had experience of similar difficulties in another international waterway, the Suez Canal. But we shall have to face the consequences. If we cannot act internationally, we can at least say that such ships will not be allowed to enter our ports. If they are prevented from entering our oil refinery ports, which, of course, are sited mostly in Western Europe, something may then be done.
If I may sum un the situation, I am asking that the Board of Trade department which deals with shipping should assume its responsibilities and take into its own hands the reporting and analysis of accidents. Let that department not leave the matter to shipowners. It is like saying under the Factory Act provisions: "Let us leave it to the factory owners." Let the responsibility stay where it belongs—in the Board of Trade, as happens in other nations. My second point was that there should be international action, and that if minimum standards for the ships are not demanded, we shall face real difficulties and our approach in dealing with these problems will be limited.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) in his wise remarks about the welfare of seafarers. I fully agree with paragraph 1466 of the Rochdale Report and Recommendation 1500:There should be a statutory code of safety aboard ships, with severe penalties for those failing to comply with it.785 I would ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Trade to give the Government's view on that recommendation.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on raising this subject today. He mentioned the taking of foolhardy risks. I remember acting as his crew in a borrowed boat when we were facing an almost force 8 gale. We got out of harbour, but he then noticed that the hon. Member for Harwich did not move quickly enough to his orders, and he therefore took the wise course of returning to port. I am grateful that he did not take foolhardy risks that may have led to disaster. I also congratulate my hon. Friend and agree with him in many things he said about pilots' ladders, helicopters and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution.
I intervene in the debate because I am particularly concerned about the safety of sea traffic not only in the Straits of Dover and the Channel but in the southern North Sea. I am glad that a system of international agreement has been in operation in the Straits of Dover for two years, by which homeward-bound traffic in the Straits keeps to the French side and outward-bound traffic to the English side. Such an agreement is extremely important in ensuring safety at sea. I am sure that it would be right to extend these routes into the southern part of the North Sea, and I am glad that in addition to the recommended through routes thought is also being given to a crossing route in the southern North Sea, and a roundabout system of traffic flow at the intersection of the through route and the crossing route.
That is a timely and necessary precaution. It means travelling extra distances, but that is of small account when the increasing unwieldiness of large tankers and bulk carriers, with a consequent lowering of safety standards and margins, is making traffic separation an absolute priority. Surely this system of routing should be extended westward down the Channel. If such a system had been operating I am sure that the "Pacific Glory" disaster would have been averted.
I want to see us taking precautions to avoid future trouble in the Straits of Dover and the North Sea, where tides and sandbanks would make clearing up the mess of a major oil tanker disaster a 786 far more difficult operation. It would foul the beaches of many important coastal resorts. I know these waters fairly well myself and I realise that it would be a very costly operation.
Whenever one asks any 12 sailors what should be done in these matters it is pretty certain that one will get a quite independent view from each man. Much publicity has recently been given to the proposal that the recommended system of traffic flow in the Straits of Dover should be reversed, and that ships should proceed on the left. The impression is gaining ground that pilots and other sources of expert maritime opinion are in agreement with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe produced some letters, as though there was full agreement on the question. I must underline the fact that this is far from the case. Routing is an international problem. Only 22 per cent. of the shipping using the Straits is going to or coming from British ports. Continental countries have said, through the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, that they prefer the present system. I believe that that preference is shared by the British Institute of Navigation, the Chamber of Shipping, and other bodies. I am certain that a "drive on the left", scheme solely in the Straits of Dover, could lead to a "Torrey Canyon" or "Pacific Glory" disaster, but one of much greater magnitude because it would be in so much more difficult waters.
I know that this is an over-simplification of the problem, but hon. Members should imagine the trouble that would be caused by a road authority that ordered that traffic should drive on a certain side of the road except when approaching the middle of a town, when it should then drive on the opposite side. That is why I am sure that it is right to draw attention to one of the most important conclusions of the Rochdale Committee on Shipping, concerning safety at sea. I refer again to paragraph 1500(vi) which provides thatResponsibility for formulating and enforcing marine safety regulations should be delegated to a statutory marine authority which should be governed by a council, appointed by the responsible Minister, with a membership reflecting appropriate interests and with at least two independent members.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
I am perplexed by one point, and should like my hon. Friend's observations on it. 787 Like him, I was satisfied with the idea that vessels in the English Channel should keep to starboard as being the ordinary rule of the road at sea, but I was impressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) that a by-product of the scheme would be that any vessel in danger of collision would have to stand inshore. Would my hon. Friend like to deal with that point whilst it is uppermost in our minds?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Without taking technical advice it would be unwise for me to answer that point. I have drawn the attention of the House to the importance of establishing a statutory maritime authority because divergent opinions are held not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and myself, but among my hon. Friend's advisers.
§ Mr. Costain
My hon. Friend will recall that the purpose of my request is that the expert pilots should be consulted, and be seen to be consulted—because they are the experts in this matter.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am sure that that underlines the importance of the point that I am making that there should be a statutory maritime authority. It is clear that much needs to be done in the international sphere, especially when there is a prospect of our joining the European Economic Community.
Internationally, the lowering of standards in ships flying flags of convenience, and the manning of these ships by officers who are not required to hold certificates of proficiency of the same high standard as that demanded by the Governments of the traditional maritime countries, means that safety margins are being eroded. Cut-throat international competition also contributes to this development.
Furthermore, should not masters in home waters be required to have the same certificates as the masters of ocean-going ships? Is not there a case for ensuring that in difficult waters radar is manned by full-qualified pilots, as is the case in the River Elbe? I was speaking to a representative of the Elbe pilots only this week, and he told me that because radar was manned on shore by qualified pilots 788 in the Elbe he was able to proceed upriver, in fog, at 17 knots. That gives some idea of the confidence to be derived from the proper manning of radar.
In all the changes that need to be made care must be taken not to interfere with the present relationship between masters and pilots. That is why I should like to see a statutory maritime authority set up. Recently, in the Ports Bill, a promise was made that we would hear something about the reorganisation of pilotage. I know that this is a small matter compared with the wider subject of safety at sea, although it is pertinent. The centralisation of pilotage is a matter which should be considered.
I make these points to underline the necessity of carrying out the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee on shipping, that a statutory marine authority should be established to consider not only the vexed question of left-hand or right-hand rule of the road at sea, on which many people have differing opinions, but to look at the technical points which have been rightly made by my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for raising these important matters.
When the Minister intervenes in the debate, I hope that he will say exactly what the Government's position is with regard to the Rochdale recommendations, because this is the nub of the technical question apart from the many wide questions about the welfare of seafarers.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
I intend to make only a brief intervention. I should like to join my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) in congratulating the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on having raised the subject of safety at sea on one of our first Private Members' Day Motions. It is a topic rarely debated in the House, and it is shame upon us that it is so. With many miles of coastline, being an island race, and with dangerous seas around our coasts, it is right that we should spend much more parliamentary time on the subject of safety at sea than we have hitherto done.
The pace of change of vessels, which is one of the topics coming through during the debate, their sizes and speeds, and 789 the developing uses and new exploitations of the sea are constantly outstripping our national and international legislation and regulations.
Meanwhile, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East reminded us, the sea continues to take its toll. In the last six years 713 merchant seamen have lost their lives in accidents at sea and 168 trawlermen have died at sea. There is much courage and gallantry, but also much sorrow, among those who man our ships.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe was wondering whether he should declare an interest. When I look at our benches I note that there are at least two merchant seamen there, but when I look at the Opposition benches, and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I notice many weekend sailors. There is a difference; nevertheless, both are more aware of the dangers of the sea than I am. But I have felt the wrath and anger of a turbulent sea. When I was the Minister responsible for shipping, I decided to go out in a trawler to experience fishing operations. I was caught in a Force 8 gale, and we fought for hours to get back to the quiet reaches of the Humber. That was an experience I shall never forget, and one of the most frightening of my life. I took an interest in shipping and visited many of the lightships in the North Sea. I served on one occasion as a member of the crew of a tanker and went on an overseas voyage.
§ Mr. Mason
No, but I was allowed by the National Union of Seamen to gain experience on its behalf.
I intervene to deal with two aspects of the Motion: first, the future of the Royal National Life-Boat Institution and associated air-sea rescue services; and, secondly, the menace of the oil supertankers.
Before I embark upon the problems of our air-sea rescue services, I should like to join the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe in paying a tribute to the R.N.L.I. Many thousands of our people over the past 146 years have had reason to feel grateful to the R.N.L.I. It is a remarkably fine service, made up for most of that time of volunteers backed 790 by voluntary subscriptions. The lifeboat-men are great seamen and courageous, regularly pitting their skills against the anger of the sea, and always we expect them to be at their best when the conditions are at their worst. They are all brave men, and it is incumbent upon us, the House, to ensure that when they are called upon to launch their boats to put to sea, they have the best up-to-date, scientifically designed and safe equipment. What is more, it should be allied to a modern co-ordinating authority to oversee the whole of the rescue services.
The problem to which I refer has been highlighted during the Board of Trade inquiry into the loss of the Fraserburgh lifeboat. That boat, the "Duchess of Kent", capsized on 21st January. It was a Watson class boat. There was the sad loss of five of her crew. During the inquiry some eminent experienced men gave evidence. Two things emerged. The first was that there was a lack of co-ordination when a vessel is in distress and a lifeboat is going to its aid; secondly, there was an instability of some lifeboats and lack of technical appreciation of alterations to them. To back up that, I should like to quote from the comments made by those witnesses.
Commander Michael Woolcombe, coastguard inspector for the Eastern Division of Scotland, was asked by Mr. Charles Jauncey, Q.C., counsel for the Board of Trade, whether he felt that the present system, where the local lifeboat secretary was in charge of launching and directing the lifeboat and the coastguard gave advice after hearing from the radio station, was an ideal arrangement. He replied that he did not, and said:I believe there should be one authority controlling all rescue services, including lifeboats, aircraft, helicopters and shipping in the area and that it should receive all information available.The Board of Trade's principal witness, Mr. George Thomson, a senior ship surveyor, also said that he favoured one co-ordinating authority to receive all the information on a rescue operation and to assess the information. He also said that a person in this position would then be able to know how to apply a limit to the activities of boats of the Watson class.
Evidence was also given by Lieutenant-Commander John Douglas, Chief Inspector of the Coastguard. He gave further 791 support for a proposal made earlier in the inquiry for a co-ordinating authority to handle sea rescues. He said that it was highly important that communications should be centralised and professional expertise made available. He said that this could be done only by setting up centres—possibly 20 or more—with qualified staff continuously available.
There is no doubt that hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends, if they followed the inquiry, would remember that Sheriff Principal Frederick O'Brien, who was in charge of the inquiry, commented on this aspect of it. He said:As in this case, there may be many sources of information which have to be relayed through various links using different forms of communication. All this introduces both delay and risk of error and points to the need for some type of central co-ordinating authority to collect and assess the available information and determine the appropriate rescue service in the particular case. Such a central station should be fully equipped with all the latest means of communications.A co-ordinating effort is sadly lacking. This needs remedying as quickly as possible. We cannot and should not expect volunteers manning the R.N.L.I. lifeboats to be going to sea in the most arduous and hazardous conditions. But evidence of that kind keeps coming to the fore, that lack of co-ordination is placing their lives at risk.
The other worrying feature was the condition of the Fraserburgh boat. Let me make it clear at this stage that the disaster was not due to this. But it leads to more questioning of the technical competence of the R.N.L.I. The boat was given a new engine in 1965. On examination by Board of Trade surveyors after the accident, it was found to have lessened its stability—or increased its instability—a great deal, and Press estimates were by 20 per cent. The Times reported after the Board of Trade had examined it:Original hydrostatic and stability calculations by the R.N.L.I. were found by the Board of Trade to be in error.The R.N.L.I. did not have the technical competence to do the job, and the Sheriff Principal Freddie O'Brien said:Craft of greater size and displacement are desirable if lifeboats are to survive the frequent severe North Sea storms.I do not have to remind the House that 10 lifeboats have capsized since the war, 792 killing 51 lifeboatmen. One can clearly see that there is a lack of co-ordination of air-sea rescue services. There is doubt about the R.N.L.I.'s technical appreciation of overhauls and the reconditioning of boats, and there is a need for larger and safer lifeboats.
The problem, of course, is that of cost, and the R.N.L.I. cannot face the cost. It just does not have the cash. According to its annual report, over the last five years it has accumulated a net deficit of £300,955. So the lifeboat service is in debt and battling to get out of the red at a time when greater calls than ever before are being made upon its services. There is an urgent need, as we all know, for the introduction of more self-righting Oakley lifeboats, but they cost £72,000 each. Their cost is increasing every year, and the R.N.L.I. says that soon they will be costing £100,000.
Even keeping abreast with re-equipping its 190 stations is proving too much for the R.N.L.I. Above all, it has no research facilities of its own and depends entirely in this respect on aid from the Government or the universities. It just cannot do all this, and particularly it cannot do it on legacies and flag days. So there is an urgent need to overhaul the R.N.L.I. The air-sea rescue operations position may get worse if, as planned, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force military units are gradually withdrawn, when it is likely that the helicopter services, on which many of the air-sea rescue operations depend, will also be withdrawn.
This leads me to the main point. Apart from the need to overhaul the R.N.L.I., it is time that we incorporated it into a national air-sea rescue organisation with a properly constituted national co-ordinating unit. At the moment we have the R.N.L.I., which in 1969 spent £1,670,000 on carrying out its services. Under the Board of Trade there is the lighthouse service, which costs £1,355,000. Also under the Board of Trade is the Coastguard, with an annual cost of £265,000. Under the Ministry of Defence the Royal Air Force helicopters are operated, and I have gleaned that it costs £1 million a year for helicopters for air-sea rescue, while Royal Navy helicopters cost the Royal Navy another £250,000 on air-sea rescue. There is a total cost of £4,540,000, out of which the R.N.L.I. finds £1.6 793 million. This does not include the cost of the Shackletons when there is a major air-sea rescue operation, and it does not include the cost of the G.P.O. ship-to-shore radio service and other communications.
The State pays for most of our coastline air-sea rescue operations already, and I suggest that it is time it did the whole job. We should zone the coastline, have command posts in every zone operating the lifeboats, the inshore rescue boats, the helicopters and the coastguards, with a proper radio communication network within the zones and interlinked around the coastline, so that we modernise the whole system.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I do not dissent from what my right hon. Friend is saying, but I wonder whether in order to help the House he would comment on the Board of Trade inquiry about the co-ordination of services because the findings of that inquiry were somewhat different from the line which my right hon. Friend has been taking. It may be that we are too complacent, but it requires comment.
§ Mr. Mason
I have the report before me and I was coming to it. This is a report of the marine search and rescue organisation which was prepared by the Board of Trade. It took nearly three years to examine the subject by a mainly inter-departmental committee, but I find the report disappointing.
It was my intention, had we returned to office, to examine the best way of incorporating the R.N.L.I. into a national co-ordinated unit. Indeed, I can divulge to the House that the last conversation which I had with the Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade prior to the election concerned two things which I would like to do on our return. One is to examine the best ways and means of incorporating the R.N.L.I. service into a national air-sea rescue service.
The cost to the taxpayer, even if we took it on at the moment, would be £1.6 million. However, there is an urgent need not just to reorganise the system but to bring it many more modern Oakley self-righting lifeboats, and they are costly and urgently needed, so the cost would be more than £1.6 million. It would probably be between £2 million and £3 million a year, which runs out at 7s. per 794 head per week over the population. But we already get our safety at sea on the cheap, and even if it were nationally controlled it would still be a cheap service when equated with its necessity and its national importance.
Secondly, I ask what aid the Government will give in research and technical assistance to help the R.N.L.I. in boat development and changes in present lifeboat structures, particularly in introducing much more quickly the self-righting Oakley boats. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider an integrated national organisation incorporating the R.N.L.I. and covering all our air-sea rescue operations?
I now come to the subject of the supertankers. These are the problem ships of our age. We are importing about 500 million tons of oil per year to the Western European coastline and our own, and this amount is likely to increase annually while the ships grow in size with it. This is clearly a major problem which is not going to stop. Hon. Members will know that we have in Committee the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, which deals with pollution. With the unity in that Committee, we managed to increase from £5,000 to £50,000 the fine for those who deliberately pollute the seas by oil.
This is to deter the mavericks, the fly-by-night oil slickers who wash out tanks at night undetected and then vanish by morning, leaving behind an oil slick which, when discovered, bears because of the action of the winds and tides no relation to the guilty vessel. The Committee is examining the subject, and we are getting unity in our views about pollution.
This country is a major sufferer from oil pollution in the sea and on the beaches, with all the inevitable cost to the Government and the local authorities. Because we are the biggest sufferer, why should we always wait for the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation to establish an international agreement? Apart from the time it takes to get agreement between the 42 maritime nations involved, it takes just as long—four or five years—after an agreement to get it ratified by the countries concerned.
Our straits and coastal waters are the busiest in the world, particularly so with 795 oil tankers. I know that the separation regulations and anti-collision rules have to be internationally agreed, and a fresh set is being worked out in I.M.C.O., which hopes to have them put before the maritime nations by 1972. It may, however, be four or five years afterwards before the requisite two-thirds of the countries agree to the convention.
Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East reminded the House, 10 or 11 oil tankers a year are likely to discharge oil in our coastal waters because of either a stranding or an accident, and they could be anything between 20,000 and 100,000-tonners. Our coastlines and beaches are, therefore, likely to be menaced for years to come. We cannot every time wait for an I.M.C.O. international convention.
It seems to me that at least three courses are open to us. One is to try quickly to operate anti-collision measures around our coasts. Perhaps the Minister will let us know what consideration has been given to one-way traffic around the British Isles. This has never appealed to me, but eminent seafarers appear to be writing about it a great deal and pushing the idea more to the forefront. I would like to hear the Minister's views about this.
There is then the question of establishing proper longitudinal and lateral separation measures in all our waters. I know that it is going on. I am worried, however, about the pace and about whether we can establish these separation measures on a higher priority basis, again rather than waiting for other countries. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe reminded us that the pilots are registering concern about junior certificated officers manning the bridges on foreign vessels, and they suggest also that there is a legal loophole here. We would like to know what the Minister has in mind about plugging that gap.
Secondly, is it possible to consider the introduction of a special rule around our coast that oil tankers—these super-vessels—should be given the right of way and that all other vessels should give way to them? When one realises the possibility of explosions, involving what could be massive fire torches on the high seas plus oil pollution, one feels that special measures are necessary and that these 796 vessels should be given special recognition.
The other possibility, in view of the fact that Western European countries use our coastal waters a great deal, and especially for the importation of this 500 million tons or so of oil a year, is whether we cannot have a Western European convention established purposely to control the movements of oil tankers, to establish anti-collision rules and jointly deal with oil pollution and the menace of moving oil slicks. I gather that under I.M.C.O. such a convention would be regarded as a regional agreement. It can be done. We can work it out between ourselves and then submit it to I.M.C.O., which would then inform the rest of the countries concerned.
Without waiting for I.M.C.O., the Western European countries could convene a regional conference and establish the necessary anti-collision rules and right of way for these large and slow-manoeuvring tankers. This could be agreed within a few weeks if Her Majesty's Government would take the initiative. I.M.C.O. could then be responsible for informing all other maritime nations of this special regional agreement and the rules to be observed in our coastal waters and the congested sea lanes between the United Kingdom and the Western European coastline.
I put forward that final suggestion concerning a Western European convention as a serious one. I hope that the Minister will take it on board and, even if he cannot give an off-the-cuff reply today, consider with his Department how best we could quickly take the initiative with the rest of the Western European countries and convene a conference for this purpose. If the Minister can today indicate his willingness to promote that regional agreement, this debate will have served its purpose.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ The Minister for Trade (Mr. Michael Noble)
I should like, as other hon. Members have done, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on, first, his luck in being top of the draw and, secondly, his choice of subject. If for the Minister who intervenes there is a certain element of worry when a debate is as wide as this one and can cover so many topics—and when he speaks in this 797 case, at least the House will appreciate the difficulties—it is certainly of great help to hon. Members, on both sides, to have an opportunity, which, as the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has said, is only too rare, to debate these important subjects.
I have one thing slightly in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe. I have a rowing boat. I do not have anything bigger in which to test the joys of either yachting or seafaring, but in my constituency in Argyll the coastline is longer than the whole coastline of France. I have, therefore, a certain amount of interest in what happens around the shores.
I entirely welcome the purpose of this debate, because it is to try to provide greater safety at sea in all its different forms. This is something which the Department of Trade and Industry has inherited as one of its responsibilities and it is of very great importance. While, however, in the one case, we naturally tend to be stirred up to debate in the House a subject of this nature, perhaps after particular accidents at sea—whether the "Torrey Canyon", the "Pacific Glory" or the Fraserburgh lifeboat disaster—it is a good thing that we should put on record the truth that the British record in accidents at sea is one of the best in the whole world.
Based upon the percentage of ships lost, there is probably no other country that has done so well. This is at a period when the world tonnage is increasing rapidly and in the rest of the world the percentage casualty rate is increasing, too. Britain, however, is holding steady and, if anything, is decreasing its percentage of casualties. We should realise that that is a considerable achievement, not of the Government only, not of the shipping companies only, but of all the people concerned who work closely together to improve the standards of construction of ships, the manning of ships and the competency of their crews.
Next, it is right to say that one of the very real problems in dealing with many of the matters which have been discussed in the debate so far—and I am sure that there will be others, too—is that shipping by its very nature is an international service. It is perfectly possible for people to complain that we are not going far enough or fast enough to 798 improve world conditions in shipping. We have based here in London, however, the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, known generally as I.M.C.O. This organisation, which was set up by the United Nations, is based in London and is the proper source through which to try to get international agreements in every sphere of shipping.
It can be said that it takes two to make an accident. If that is true, it also takes thousands to avoid one. As, however, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, there are some aspects, particularly perhaps in some of the flags of convenience countries, in which it is clear that to save money in one form or another and to get an unfair competitive advantage over other countries in this respect, there are serious dangers to the future safety of ships at sea.
I do not want to speak for too long because Mr. Speaker asked us to speak shortly to allow as many people as possible an opportunity to take part in the debate, but may I for a moment talk about the particular problems of the Straits of Dover?
We have here a density of probably 700 ships a day passing through this very narrow bit of sea. The bulk of it is still international water, and, therefore, we do not have complete control over what is done or can be done within it. There are problems, and I think that the best that we can do is to study with I.M.C.O. and other colleagues how best we can solve them—although I am not ruling out the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley made just now. There are a number of problems, and I should like to deal with them shortly in turn.
The first is traffic separation schemes, a problem to which my hon. Friend referred, whereby arrangements are made, in certain, essentially rather short, sections of sea for controlling the movements of ships and trying to see that they are separated reasonably apart so that accidents are less likely to happen. It is not, unfortunately, altogether the same problem, though a similar type of difficulty, as we get in the air, because in the air we have not only horizontal separation but vertical separation—and I do not think we are talking in terms 799 of moving into a channel tunnel or having a great many different submarines for the bulk of the freight. Therefore, the problems are of horizontal separation in a very narrow sea.
I accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) has pointed out, that there are very considerable differences of view between the different bodies and authorities as to how the best separation schemes can work in this area, but I also certainly accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said at the beginning, that what he is basically asking for is that the pilots with whom he has been closely in touch should be properly consulted and should feel that if their ideas are wrong they are given reasonable explanation why what they may wish to be done cannot be done, and this I will certainly try to see is carried out.
The problem, as the House probably knows, with the most recent accident in this area, with the "Pacific Glory" and "Allegro", which took place south of the Isle of Wight, is that there is no traffic separation at present in this area. We shall be studying the reports of this accident, and, perhaps, if it justifies it, we may be able to put forward to I.M.C.O. a suggestion for some traffic separation there, too.
Then I should like to just say a quick word or two about the existing collision Regulations. The ones which are in force at the moment were introduced and approved in 1960, very largely at British instigation. I.M.C.O. at the moment is studying all of these Regulations again in depth, and the aim is to have a conference in 1972 to reach final agreement on whatever is thought then to be best, and I very much hope that this will be done, because it is of very great importance, and several of the matters which have been raised in the debate so far today relate pretty closely to this, whether it is a problem of hovercraft or of many other things, and how best they can be dealt with.
Then I should like to say a word about radar. I am not certain that I understood the point which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made, because we have at the moment agreed to 800 implement—in fact, we have implemented, through the Merchant Shipping Act of this year—the Regulation that ships of over 1,600 tons have to have radar. This certainly is some move in the right direction, and I hope very much that other countries will follow our lead and take the same action, but, of course, as many people know, the problem of radar is not only—
§ Mr. Noble
I will give way in a moment to one or other of the hon. Gentlemen—it is not only a problem of making it obligatory for ships to carry it and to fit it, but it is absolutely essential that it should be inspected, to ensure that it is kept in good working order, and, much more important, that people are trained in reading radar and in fact are available with sufficient competence to know what they are doing.
§ Mr. Noble
I do not think so. I have not got that information at the moment. I cannot give it at this moment off the cuff.
The next problem which has been raised in a number of speeches, and is, I believe, at the heart of a great many of our worries and problems today, is this whole problem of the competency of crews and master mariners—of all of them. We in Britain for a very long time have had an extremely high standard of competency in our seamen, a competency which all crews are expected to attain. This, I believe, is probably why our record in the world of shipping is as good as it is, and we aim to maintain it and improve it, and, in 801 so far as my own Department is responsible for it, we shall struggle continuously to see that these very high standards of training are maintained and are applied. But, of course, we have absolutely no control over certificates of competency which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are sometimes—I hope by no means always—handed out by other countries to their crews.
We have seen in the recent accidents from time to time not only the problem of mixed crews but crews mixed to the extent that the seamen do not understand what they are saying to one another, and this inevitably must add very greatly to the risks of things going wrong. At the moment both I.M.C.O. and the International Labour Office are, with our help and encouragement, trying to set up a system for developing much better standards internationally and of having international certificates of competency. But in this, as in so many other aspects and fields, we in Britain really have no power to order—I cannot remember how many countries there are in the world; I think it has gone up to 148; and we cannot give instructions and orders, though we have successfully used our influence to improve, I think, many of these aspects of international shipping practice.
We in the Department of Trade and Industry very much welcome the efforts that are being made by yacht clubs to produce tests of competence for their new members, and the Royal Yachting Association's introduction of proficiency certificate schemes. Such action can only be of help, not only to yachtsmen but to shipping generally, particularly in some of the busier routes.
People talk of 200,000-ton tankers as though they were exceptional, but I suspect that in a few years' time we shall have them double or treble that size and still think of them as being quite normal. A greatly increasing tonnage of the world's crude oil is being carried in these huge ships, and if we get some economic advantage from their increased size—and I imagine that this must be so or they would not be built—they are producing some very major problems for those of us who are looking at the sort of factors involved in this debate.
One of the main worries in connection with these big tankers is pollution. As 802 the House knows, the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill is going through the House and we hope that soon it will be enacted. We believe that the oil pollution convention is right and sensible, and we shall do everything we can to encourage enough countries first to ratify it and then to act on it. There should then be a very considerable improvement in this direction.
In this context I want to refer to what I believe was perhaps, in some ways, a little fortunate, but in many other ways an extremely successful operation carried out by those in the Department of Trade and Industry with colleagues in other Departments in dealing with the problem caused by the "Pacific Glory" and the "Allegro." That incident caused a very major threat. I believe that the right action was taken, and that enough ships were available to deal with it. If we were lucky with the weather, at least we have shown that this type of operation can be done, and we have learned something extremely useful for the future. I congratulate all those concerned in that operation on its success.
Our attention is so often concentrated on the coastguard service and on the Royal National Life-Boat Institution following some disaster, and this was true after the Fraserburgh disaster last year. It is probably right that responsibility for both initiating and co-ordinating civil search and rescue operations should lie with the coastguards who come under my Department. It is their job to call for help from the R.A.F. the Royal Navy, merchant fishing vessels and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. I believe that this at the moment is the way in which these operations can best be co-ordinated.
I should like to voice on behalf of the Government the very great appreciation we all have for the tremendous contribution which the R.N.L.I. has made to seafarers of all kinds in distress over roughly the last 150 years. It has been a very proud record, and I am sure that it will continue. I do not want to go further today than to say that the problems which quite clearly face the R.N.L.I., and about which a number of hon. Members have spoken, need to be looked at very carefully, and we shall look at them with the institution. I do not want to commit either the institution 803 or the Government to any specific action until the whole problem has been looked at carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe has referred to pilot ladders. It is rather interesting to think that his Ten Minute Rule Bill was perhaps almost the only unfortunate casualty of the General Election, but I can tell him that my understanding is that there is now broad agreement on how the pilot ladder rules might be amended, and that very soon a draft will be circulated to all interested parties. I therefore hope that that casualty may soon recover.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that one of the fortunate Measures that went through before the General Election was the Merchant Shipping Act, under which there is power to provide by regulations for proper access to vessels. That deals with the point in the Ten Minute Rule Bill of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain.)
§ Mr. Noble
If I had not given way, which would have been unlikely because I like to be courteous, I was about to make that point, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hill, East. He spoke of the reporting of accidents involving seamen. The whole House will agree with him that in these things we need the most accurate information possible, because it is difficult for any of us to take action to prevent accidents unless we have accurate statistics.
I am told that at the moment the British Shipping Federation is making complete six-monthly reports of accidents, and classifying them, to the Accident Prevention Committee of the National Maritime Board, and as far as we in the Department know this arrangement is working satisfactorily.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East also referred to working hours and holidays. The National Maritime Board, on which both sides of the industry are represented, deals with these matters, and we have no evidence that the arrangement is not working well.
§ Mr. Prescott
I know that under the Merchant Shipping Act there is power 804 to do this, but I want to know whether the Minister is prepared to do it. Further, I know of the federation's arrangements, but they do not cover all shipping in the industry so they will not cover all seamen, although I admit that they cover most of them. Further, there is no compulsion on captains, as there is in other maritime services, to report accidents, and reports are essential for the proper collation and analysis of statistics.
§ Mr. Noble
I note the hon. Gentleman's remarks but I will not comment on them because I do not know how valid they all are. We are getting statistics and the National Maritime Board is at the moment satisfied with them, but if at any moment the board asks us to look at some different operation we shall certainly do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich asked about a statutory marine authority, as suggested by Lord Rochdale. We have this week announced the setting up of a civil aviation authority, and I think that one authority per week is enough, but I should like a little more time to study this one to see what its possible effects may be.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley spoke with knowledge and experience, having been President of the now defunct Board of Trade, about the R.N.L.I. and the air-sea rescue problem. I was a little puzzled when he talked about the publication which he found so disappointing on the reorganisation of air-sea rescue because, as far as I can make out, he published it himself in April, and if it is disappointing now, it must have been disappointing then. I do not want to make too much of this, because I think that at times every Minister publishes reports which he finds a little disappointing. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will take me quietly into a corner, give me a drink, and tell me which bits of the report he found most disappointing when he published it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we had always to wait for I.M.C.O. Clearly not always, but if we are dealing with international waters, international law and international ships, it is impossible simply to say, "This is our interest and we shall do this", because even if we do it we cannot force other people to do the same.
805 I am not sure that I understood the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion about one-way traffic round the British Isles. If it ever comes to that, I hope that it will go the right way, otherwise my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe when he wants to get to his yacht at Southampton will have to visit me in Argyll on the way, and holidays will have to be altered suitably to make this possible.
Clearly I am not sufficiently expert to say whether it is possible to give supertankers the right of way, just like that.
There is a real problem if we say that a hovercraft has to be treated in some way differently from a ship because, although it may be possible sometimes to see and hear a hovercraft, there are occasions when all that can be done is to get it on the radar screen, and there is then no easy method of distinguishing it from another ship. It may be that the same problem exists with supertankers, but clearly this is one which the experts who are looking at the new collision rules, and who we hope will come up with some good suggestions and get agreement, should consider.
The last point which the right hon. Gentleman asked me to consider related to the special Western European regional arrangement. He kindly said that I could not be expected to know the answer to that off the cuff. I do not, but it is one that I shall look at, and if it is a possible solution, or a part solution, to any of these problems I certainly shall not rule it out.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the problem of the redeployment of helicopters by the military, and the special difficulties of using helicopters which stem from the fact that they are under military control, a fact which was highlighted by the "disappointing inquiry of the Board of Trade"?
§ Mr. Noble
I have not said anything specific about that because many different ideas are being actively pursued, and there is no firm conclusion to it. We realise the importance of helicopters in certain types of air-sea rescue, and we shall try to see that new air-sea rescue services by helicopters are not endangered or made unavailable.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I, too, should like to express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for having initiated this important debate. I do not wish to detain the House for long, because most of the salient points have been made, but the problems of danger and safety at sea are of particular relevance to me and my constituents, bounded as we are on three sides by the sea.
It is interesting to note that in the already maligned report of the Board of Trade on marine search and rescue organisation the North of Scotland Division of Her Majesty's Coastguards shows a higher number of accidents occurring in which fishing vessels are involved than any other part of the country, with the exception of the North-East. This is perhaps due to the extremely hazardous nature of the waters around our coast, particularly in the Pentland Firth where the tragedy of the Longhope lifeboat disaster occurred.
I am grateful to the Minister for being as forthcoming as he felt able to be today in view of the continuing inquiries that he is making into some of the specific points that have been made about search and rescue operations.
As I have already indicated, I want to underline the difficulties which it is apprehended may arise from the redeployment of the helicopter services, particularly to and from Lossiemouth, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give the matter urgent consideration.
There are good arguments for believing that helicopters could have a specially important rôle to play, particularly in areas such as the North of Scotland, but if this is to be so advance provision must be made for helicopter landing bases around our coasts. It is important, too, that the control of the helicopter services should be placed in the hands of an organisation of the kind which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) suggested ought to be set up. These are complex problems, but I think that they require urgent examination.
In recent years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of 807 incidents involving loss of life at sea. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about this country's record in diminishing the number of accidents and maintaining a relatively low level, but I believe that there has been an increase from about 1,000 incidents reported in 1964 in areas covered by the coastguard services to well over 2,000 in 1968, and the number seems to be rising.
Like my right hon. Friend, I feel that the resources of the R.N.L.I. are clearly insufficient but, again like my right hon. Friend, I wish to pay a sincere and genuine tribute to the work that this organisation has done. I understand the reasons why the Minister could not be expected to give the conclusions of his deliberations on the problem of adequately servicing the R.N.L.I., but I think that the figures speak for themselves. A deficit of £300,000 cannot be regarded as anything other than extremely serious, and fund raising by voluntary subscription is not a wholly adequate method of putting the R.N.L.I. on a proper basis.
The country, I believe, has a responsibility to step in here. The growing cost of lifeboats is a major problem, and here I pay tribute to what has been done in the North of Scotland where we have not only had the launching of the new lifeboat at Wick, but where we are shortly to see a new lifeboat at Thurso and one at Longhope.
The situation at the moment, as I understand it, is that of the 137 lifeboats operated by the only 38 are self-righting. There is some concern—I do not feel competent to express it myself, but I merely retail the concern felt by others—about the quality of some of the lifeboats in operation around our coasts. This is clearly a matter which no shortage of funds should prevent us from tackling properly.
There is one small point on which I have received local representation, and that is with regard to the abolition in 1961 of the shore-based direction finding equipment. It has been put to me that this equipment served a useful purpose, and, although I note that the Board of Trade has taken the view—indeed, I have been in correspondence about this 808 for some time with the Board of Trade—that the equipment was not really adequate, I wonder whether it would not be worthy of further examination along with some of the other technical points which the Minister is considering.
A recommendation of the Board of Trade's interdepartmental inquiry with regard to emergency radio equipment on vessels is one that ought really to be taken up. The problem of the regular equipment being put out of action when a boat is swamped seems to me to be one that has been encountered in a number of incidents at sea, and the use of emergency floating equipment for putting out a beacon to assist the location of vessels in distress seems to me to be a high priority by general agreement. I hope that funds can be made available for this, and suitable regulations introduced to ensure that vessels carry such equipment.
I draw attention to the growing number of small craft and pleasure vessels that are involved in accidents leading to loss of life at sea. We have got to introduce a more careful scrutiny of this type of sailing, and we should consider the inadvisability of putting at risk the lives of our lifeboat men and others by allowing untrained people to embark upon unduly hazardous ventures. I appreciate the great problem there is of interfering with the liberty of the individual who embarks upon pleasure sailing, but the selflessness and devotion of our lifeboat men should not be presumed upon by holidaymakers or those engaged in recreation for the sake of thrills and risk taking.
I appreciate that it is very difficult to regulate this kind of activity, but it is because of the growing number of accidents which are occurring around our coasts in pleasure boats that it may be necessary to consider rather more comprehensive regulation than hitherto.
§ Mr. Costain
To put the matter into perspective, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that more people were drowned by motor cars falling into docks, canals and waterways than in pleasure boats last year?
§ Mr. Maclennan
That seems to me to raise problems beyond the scope of this debate, although I fully accept the seriousness of the point that the hon. Member raises.
809 This has been an enormously useful debate which has brought out the urgency of examining these problems in a co-ordinated way. I hope that we shall have an opportunity again in the near future to hear the conclusions of the Minister following the deliberations which he has described.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
Like other hon. Members who have already spoken, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on raising this matter today.
Before I come to the burden of my speech, I should like to make the comment that I have been in this House long enough to know the form which these debates take and it seems to me, to say the least, a little awkward in that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has already spoken and it will be difficult for him to reply to points which will be raised in the speeches which are to come. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be good enough to write to me at a later date on the points that I shall raise.
§ Mr. Noble
I know that this is sometimes awkward, but it is, I suppose, a half-way house between opening and winding-up, and nobody on a Friday wants to hear the Minister twice. I assure my hon. Friend that if he has any particular points that he would like answered, my staff will take a note of them and I will do my best to see that he receives answers.
§ Mr. Baker
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend.
I wish to relate my remarks entirely to the question of safety at sea for fishermen, and in particular to the inshore fishing industry which has a great number of accidents and, indeed, deaths, to which I shall refer again in a moment.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred to the very high rate of casualties among seafarers. He said, quite rightly, that they are among the highest, if not the highest, in the whole of industry in this country. I would go further and say that the fishing part of the seafaring activities around our coasts has even more heavy casualty rates and, not least, deaths.
810 I had decided to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when my hon. Friend selected this matter for debate, but my decision to do so was reinforced when I read the Glasgow Herald yesterday and learned there of the tragic death by drowning of an 18-year old man from my constituency, Mr. Lewis Sopel. I should like to quote from the Glasgow Herald report of that tragic incident.Lewis Sopel, aged 18, of 31, the Leys, Macduff, a member of the crew of the Banff-registered boat 'Star Divine', was drowned yesterday in the Moray Firth.A member of the crew goes on to explain what happened:Lewis put out a hand to try to clear it"—that is, the jamming of the rope—but his hand caught in a loop and he was dragged overboard. We turned the boat and eventually got him back on board. He would have been in the water for 10 minutes.It goes on to say that artificial respiration was applied without success. I am sure the whole House will join with me in expressing sincere sympathy with the relatives of Mr. Sopel, a young man tragically cut off in the prime of life.
In the past 10 days the death has occurred of yet another man in my constituency who was lost overboard. These incidents regrettably illustrate the danger to which I want to draw attention. The gear referred to in the newspaper report is as much as six miles of warp trailing out behind the boat. Enormous pressure is exerted by the net as it pays out against the forward speed of three to four knots of the boat from which the gear is shot. A great deal more research needs to be done into the shooting of seine net gear in relation to safety. This must be looked into with great urgency. I have no precise figure of the number of men lost overboard, but this happens because the warp goes through a very narrow pulley off the side of the boat and there is no protection.
I recently tabled a series of Questions to my right hon. Friend inquiring about deaths at sea and the loss of fishing vessels. Over the whole range, from inshore to distant water, in the years from 1965 to 1969 no fewer than 73 vessels were totally lost. The most significant fact emerging from these figures is that by far the heaviest loss of vessels was experienced by inshore boats, 99 of which were lost during that period. At the 811 other end of the scale, 17 deep-sea trawlers were lost.
Therefore, the most hazardous jobs in a very dangerous calling are either in inshore fishing vessels, the smallest of all, or in the largest, the deep-sea fishing vessels. In that same period 224 fishermen died. More than one-sixth of the total inshore fishing fleet is based on fishing ports within the County of Banff. Within that same period 29 men were lost from the County of Banff. In round figures that is 2⅔ per cent. of the total number of fishermen operating at sea in those five years. That, to say the least, is far too high a proportion, and is a measure of the terrible and tragic problems that have to be faced.
To their great credit, the previous Government introduced and passed the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act, 1970. That Act was generated by the Holland-Martin Report of the previous year, and is aimed primarily at trawlers and secondarily at smaller fishing vessels. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, in replying to the Second Reading debate on the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Bill when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, had this to say:I should now like to say a word about the inshore fishermen. … They may not face the icing hazards of the Iceland fishing grounds in winter, but the seas around our coasts can be violent, and the inshore fisherman does not have the comparative comfort and protection of a large, modern stern-trawler.This is why the Board of Trade proposes, once regulations for the deep sea fleet have been put into effect, to consider to what extent similar protection should be extended to inshore fishermen. … I have given the assurance that once the Board of Trade has dealt with this it will be extended to inshore fishermen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 323.]I hope that I have said enough to indicate to my right hon. Friend that the position we are facing is extremely serious. It is serious from the point of view of the recruitment of fishermen to the industry, and perhaps even more serious to the wives and families of fishermen who have to sit back and wait for days, perhaps weeks, for the return of their menfolk from the sea. This is a human problem and it is essential that we on this side of the House, particularly the Department of Trade and Industry, should get on as quickly as we can with 812 implementing the provisions of the Act to which I have referred. This is a human problem in essence which means a great deal to a constituency like mine.
There is a Board of Trade Marine Division publication of 1969, the Recommended Code of Safety of Fishermen on Trawlers. It does not bear the force of law but, when the Government implement the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act, I hope that this excellent document will form part of the rules that have to be obeyed. We cannot of course lay down rules which are both impracticable for the practical fisherman and extremely expensive to implement, but I am sure the wit of man can devise methods whereby trawlermen can be adequately protected. I remind my right hon. Friend of the necessity to get on as fast as possible. Until the Act is fully implemented I hope that it will be possible for the Marine Division of his Department to produce similar codes of safety for inshore and other vessels in our fishing fleet. This will at least give skippers and their crews some idea of what the Department has in mind when it comes to implementing the Act.
I again emphasise the need for haste. A constituency like mine cannot go on suffering the tragic loss of life which I have illustrated in my speech. I ask for urgent, thoroughly thought out measures to help to preserve the lives of these extremely brave men.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The House always listens with care and attention to the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker), and I think the House would want me to take this first opportunity of asking him to convey to the families of those of his constituents who have lost their lives the sympathy of this House. He was right to remind us, when we talk so often, and sometimes glibly, about the cost of living, that the cost of living too often includes the cost of dying for someone else.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him into his reasoned arguments about the fishing industry. I leave that to my hon. Friends from Hull, who have more knowledge of inshore and near-shore waters than I have, though I claim some knowledge of waters further afield.
813 I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are the certified master of an officially registered vessel. It is only 50 tons, but it is a start. I have no doubt that, if you wished to join in this debate, against all precedent, the House would not object, though I do not know whose eye you would catch.
I am equally sure that the House appreciates the attendance of the Minister for Trade during the whole debate, when he would have been within his rights to be elsewhere and send a junior Minister instead. I hope that his participation in the debate is an indication of the support that he intends to give to the British merchant service.
I was hoping to ask a number of questions before the right hon. Gentleman made his contribution, and I for one would have no objection if he attempted to answer them later. However, I appreciate his undertaking that the points raised by hon. Members will be studied closely by his Department and that, where necessary, individual hon. Members will be written to on specific topics.
It may be that in the fairly near future the Minister will feel able to issue an informal invitation to those hon. Members who have an interest in shipping matters, or that informal discussions may be held with the party groups.
I join those who have thanked the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for making this debate possible. It provides an opportunity for this House to place on record once again its recognition of the nation's debt to those who go down to the sea in ships and carry out the trade of nations across the oceans of the world.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt understand if I appear to be a little critical of certain of his points. My criticism does not detract from my understanding and appreciation of the fact that he has made today's debate possible. He has proved himself to be an "interventionist" and what I consider a "do-it-yourself" Government, and that is quite remarkable.
Today's debate has been rather more constructive and, I hope, will be more useful than yesterday's. Having listened to the Minister on a number of occasions, I am delighted that at last he has made some remarks with which I can agree. I hope that his speech means that he 814 intends to give those who go to sea the support which came from my own Government in the shape of legislation concerned with merchant shipping, safety at sea and the safety of trawlers.
Perhaps I might deal now with the speech of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe. We had a preview of what he would probably say in an article in the Sunday Mirror on 22nd November, 1970 headed, "M.P. sails into sea madness." It reports:A Member of Parliament is to press the Government for new regulations to prevent loss of life at sea and protect Britain's beaches from oil pollution.There can be no complaint about that.This follows a top sea pilot's startling disclosures of 'madness at sea' in the Sunday Mirror two weeks ago … Next Friday, the Commons will debate a motion calling for 'internatonal and national regulations and safety requirements' which has been put forward by the Tory M.P. for Folkestone … Mr. Costain has asked if all these officials"—the news item reports that a number of officials and seamen support the hon. Gentleman—could write to him at the House of Commons with their safety suggestions …One is prompted to inquire how the hon. Gentleman asked and from whom did he request information. Did he ask the Shipping Federation, the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association and the National Union of Seamen, or was it just the Cinque Ports Pilots?
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Gentleman will recall my comment about the sensational Press highlighting these matters rather dramatically. In fact, I received suggestions from a number of organisations, including the National Union of Seamen. The union wrote to me and then telephoned me, leaving the number of Transport House. When I rang back, I was unable to contact anyone representing the union and concluded that I must have been given the wrong number. Eventually I contacted someone and left a message asking the person who had telephoned originally to ring me back. I have heard nothing since.
§ Mr. Ogden
I heard from the union on 24th November. Its letter says that, at the time of writing, the hon. Gentleman had not contacted the union for help and advice.
Obviously I do not blame the hon. Gentleman or the pilot, Capt. John Sibly, 815 for everything which appeared in the Sunday Mirror. That newspaper drew the situation to the attention of a wide audience. Other papers might have done it differently, but it was done and, for that reason, I add my thanks to Capt. Sibly who, judging from his photograph, is a seaman among all seamen and perhaps more like "Capt. Birdseye". Anyone can get headlines of this sort:Radar that had to be kicked before it worked. The ship that sailed in circles for three hours. Oxy-acetylene cutter used on tanker deck. It's just like the 'Navy Lark' on some ships.The fact remains that the Sunday Mirror brought the situation to the attention of a large number of people.
My complaint is that Capt. Sibly knew of the situation but apparently did little about it. He quoted three items, the radar only working when kicked, the anchor chain jammed, a ship going round in circles for three hours. Did he tell anyone about it? Did he tell his pilots' association, the owners, the insurance companies, or did he merely say, "Oh, my God",—I just held my head and thought 'Oh, my God!'"?Later in the same news item, Capt. Sibly is quoted as saying:When you board a ship a few miles off Britain and go up to the bridge, it is disconcerting to find the skipper wearing civvies and a flat hat.My experience of the merchant service is that the navigational ability of a master is almost invariably in inverse ratio to the amount of gold braid and top brass. I say that with no disrespect to a certain admiral who is sitting not far away from this Chamber. Just because a master wears civilian clothes, that is no deciding factor about his navigation or seamanship.
The Sunday Mirror raised a number of points. I take only two of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred to the important effect that insurance companies could have on safety at sea. It seems to me that, if Britain is the main insuring country in the world and offers insurance cover to vessels which are not all that they should be, a good deal more could be done in this country without legislation. This approach would 816 be in accordance with the philosophy of the party opposite, which seeks to place responsibility for putting matters right on those who should be putting them right. Certainly owners and insurance companies should take a more effective interest.
I want to refer briefly to an article by Mr. Brian Moynahan which appeared in the Sunday Times on 1st November and made a responsible summing-up of the present situation in the Channel. I have had for some time a useful contact with the National Union of Seamen and the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, but I have no financial interest. On the basis of what I thought was going to happen here today, I asked them for their comments. I want to place on record a letter from Mr. Spruhan on behalf of Mr. Hogarth, General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, dated 24th November. He writes:Regarding the issues which have been raised in recent weeks, in particular the question of safety on tankers, I have taken this matter up with the General Secretary of the United Kingdom's Pilots Association, challenging Mr. A. Crombie, the Trinity House Pilot who made the statement in the Sunday Telegraph 1st November, to name the ships involved in his statement and further. I declare that British ships most certainly would not tolerate for one moment the conditions which he inferred.I have received a reply from the United Kingdom's Pilots Association, and they do not in any way wish to take up my offer and they suggest that I write direct to Mr. Crombie, as the Association has no knowledge of the experiences quoted by Mr. Crombie. I think this speaks for itself. Once again I challenged the fact that these were not British ships but in the main, flags of convenience vessels.I was fortunate enough two years ago to initiate a debate about such ships which, as I described them then, are the nearest things to piracy since Captain Morgan. The letter goes on:In the main, British vessels have one of the highest safety standards in the world, both in equipment and crew manning.He adds that… a very minute number of cases involving British ships … could be put down to faulty equipment or errors in navigation.He concludes:I trust that the above will be of some use to you during the course of the debate and in conclusion, it is my personal opinion that the real issues involved are sub-standard vessels under various foreign flags, but most certainly not under the Red Ensign.817 That cannot be said too often and I am glad that it has also been said time and again by hon. Members opposite. To show that there is a wide measure of agreement between the National Union of Seamen and the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, I want to quote a letter I received this morning from Mr. Seaman, of the Association. He writes:As far as training for U.K. officers is concerned you are no doubt aware of the high standards required, also the certificates necessary before the vessel can sail. Three mates of which there must be at least two certificates but more often than not all three have certificates.Over the years this Association has pressed for similar standards on flags of convenience vessels, and although the Governments of these countries lay down certain requirements for issuing certificates—e.g., the holding of some form of national certificate which has been obtained by examination—the biggest problem is the control the flag nation maintains to ensure that the certificates are on board at all times.Another factor affecting safety is the physical state of the Officer on Watch.We have heard of one man on the bridge of a super-tanker—and the ships involved are not only oil tankers but bulk ore and container ships as well. The letter goes on:If he has been engaged for long hours loading/discharging cargo together with a long river standby run—e.g., the River Scheldt to or from Antwerp—his condition is not consistent with safety at sea. The U.K. has an agreement negotiated by this Association that an officer who will be taking the first sea-watch after sailing should have adequate rest before: as you will realise, however, it is no good an officer on one ship being wide awake if the officer on the other ship is half asleep.On all sides, therefore, we get agreement, so I leave it there.
I make one comment on the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the sea as a place of recreation. I wish I could get there more often. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of sea-going yachts, motor boats and coastal vessels, he referred to the number of calls received by the Royal National Life-Boat Institution from small craft. It is a little strange that a fairly expensive yacht has no need for any taxation licence at all—I am talking of Government licences—whereas a cheap motor car has to have its licence. It would be useful both to the Government and to the Institution if, both for certificate 818 worthy purposes and as a means of providing revenue for the standby services of the institution, a £5 annual licence were levied on all pleasure craft of a certain kind and the revenue given to the institution, because the institution's services are used more and more on behalf of such craft.
§ Mr. Costain
Yachtsmen themselves have started a voluntary organisation whereby each yacht makes a contribution and is allowed to fly a flag to show that it has done so. The difference between the hon. Gentleman and us is that we believe in voluntary contributions while he believes in compulsory contributions.
§ Mr. Ogden
That is an excellent idea, and I am delighted to hear about it. The only difficulty is that many people will prefer not to pay their contribution—or so it seems in certain parts of the world—and rely on the generosity of others, in the same way as many non-trade unionists are always ready to accept the wages obtained by trade unions.
We have the continuing presence of the Minister for Trade. Incidentally, why cannot we call him the President of the Board of Trade? He says that the Board of Trade is now defunct, but a "rose by any other name …" The building is still there and some of the faces of civil servants we cannot see officially seem to be the same faces that we could not see officially a little while ago. The Department is still functioning.
The right hon. Gentleman was a little coy, and when he begins to be coy about things he knows are happening and which I know are happening, I regard it as a danger sign. I draw his attention to an article in the Daily Telegraph of 26th November. It is very appropriately timed and is either a well-timed leak or another example to show that the Government are as good at kite flying as any Chinese emperor ever was. The article says:Talks to set up a Marine Authority which would be responsible for the safety of ships, marine regulations and standards, have been held between leaders of the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping and the Government's Department of Trade and Industry.It does not say who suggested the meetings, but that the Under-Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary were 819 there. There is nothing wrong in that. I make no criticism of it. But I would like to know by whom the meetings were suggested—whether the Department invited the Shipping Federation or the Chamber of Shipping, or whether the Chamber of Shipping approached the Department. What progress is being made? Has the right hon. Gentleman any comments on the items referred to? Are other interested parties going to be involved in the discussions? What is the time scale? How true is the report? When we come to talk about a new marine authority, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be a little careful. If it were called the "British Marine Authority" it would be another "B.M.A." Again, it must include Northern Ireland, so presumably we are coming to "United Kingdom Maritime Authority".
In relation to the subjects mentioned in the article, has consideration been given to giving the new authority powers based on the Rochdale Report, such as administrative regulations relating to manning, safe working conditions and so on? Would these powers cover such incidents as the tragic situation which resulted from three explosions in Tankers within 17 days in December, 1969, when the Marpessa, the Maetra and the King Haakan VII were involved? Can we be told how research is progressing and the proposals which are being made, for the first time, by Government Departments and tanker companies?
The article reports that the proposed authoritywould also be responsible for the Coastguard Service, regulation of navigation, pilotage and lighthouses.This brings me to the point made by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). If we were to start from scratch, we would never have the present situation in which coastguards, navigation, pilotage, light-houses, and air-sea rescue stations are under Government control of one kind or another but the lifeboats are under voluntary control. I do not expect this Government, of all Governments, to nationalise the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. That would be a turn-up for the book! However, since the Government of the Republic of Ireland make a contribution of £10,000 a year to that Institution for maintaining its R.N.L.I. 820 services, it should not be impossible for the present British Government also to contribute directly to the R.N.L.I. to pay for equipment and organisation and to add to its resources. I do not see that this would interfere in any way with the involvement of the voluntary services in the Institution. I am sure the Institution would have no objection if the Government sponsored a member of the committee of management of the institution. It might be one way of enabling that institution, to which we all pay tribute, to get the ships and resources it needs without having to go round with a begging bowl.
I wish finally to express, on behalf of the merchant services, appreciation for the work done by way of legislation on this whole subject by the Labour Government.
The new Government could do no more; they should not do less.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important matter and for putting his Motion in such wide terms. He has done a great service to the House, both by his presentation of the Motion and its timing.
I wish to make three brief points on the subject of air-sea rescue. I do so in a general context but I do so also in the specific and tragic context of the tragic event that occurred off the coast of Aberdeen just two and a half weeks ago, when two men died. This followed closely another emergency only a few weeks before, when tragedy was avoided only by the intervention of the Royal Danish Air Force after our own air-sea rescue services had, alas, proved inadequate. These events tragically underline the great need for an urgent improvement in our whole air-sea rescue operation.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Trade is fully aware of this urgency, and I wish to thank him and his Parliamentary Secretary for their personal interest in this matter and the energy they have shown. None the less, I urge my right hon. Friend to communicate something of that sense of urgency to the various persons and bodies outside the House.
821 After all, it was way back in 1967 that the report on marine search and rescue was called for. That report was published in April this year. Yet we are still in a position today where a tragedy could occur such as that which took place on 9th November off the coast of Aberdeen, where this country is still unable to provide the air-sea rescue services necessary. I feel, without wishing to be unreasonable, that this delay is excessive. No doubt there are very good official reasons—there always are—but I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to assure the House—if not today, in the very near future—that the time for long-drawn-out consideration of these matters is over and the time for action is now about to begin.
My first specific point is in regard to communication between the various rescue bodies. Swift, sure and uninterrupted communication must be the foundation for any successful rescue operation. This is a truism in theory. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into a truism in practice. What we need, and what we have not got, is a situation where all the relevant air-sea rescue bodies are equipped with v.h.f. radio. I understand that a plan is circulating in the Ministry to achieve this within five years, but I would ask my right hon. Friend to look again at this matter and see whether it is possible to cut down this period. I have been assured on impeccable authority that the period could be cut by more than half.
I understand that the cost of equipping the relevant bodies with v.h.f. would be in the neighbourhood of £40,000. If my calculations are right, that is just under 1 per cent. of our annual expenditure on air-sea rescue. This is not a great sum, even if money were the prime consideration—which it is not. I believe that where human lives are at stake we cannot afford not to spend a sum of this size. Even the figure of 1 per cent. is misleadingly high because it is a one-off capital expenditure which would not recur, so expenditure after the first year would be negligible.
I ask my right hon. Friend to treat the matter of v.h.f. equipment with the utmost urgency and as a matter of the greatest importance. I urge him to prevail on the Government to make the money available.
822 Secondly, I ask my right hon. Friend to take immediate steps to give the coastguard sufficient authority. It is true that the coastguards at the moment have authority to instigate and co-ordinate operations. The coastguard already have the power to request co-ordination, but they do not have the power to order it. They have power to advise but not to command. I believe that recent tragedies have made it very clear that the coastguards must have this authority. It is not one they are likely to abuse it. There is a long history of co-operation and goodwill between the various services, and I am sure that this will continue. Sensible accommodation would be made in regard to the differing natures, requirements and rôles of the Royal National Life-Boat Institution, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and any other body that might be involved. But in an emergency clear and unquestioned authority is vital. We have suffered from its lack in the past, and I hope my right hon. Friend will now act to ensure that we do not suffer from its lack in the future. Obviously, the coastguards must be given the necessary training of staff to enable them to fulfil their expanded duties. They must have the necessary equipment, such as direct telephone lines and telex, to fulfil this greater rôle.
One of the first things I should like to see is the coastguard, thus equipped, set up a co-ordinated training exercise between all the air-sea rescue bodies. One hon. Member has already mentioned how much we learned from the "Pacific Glory" incident. Certainly we learn from our mistakes. But rather than learn from our mistakes, let us learn from a mock exercise in which we could iron out difficulties so as to avoid tragedies in future.
From what has already been said today it seems clear that no hon. Member on either side of the House would dissent from the view that the helicopter situation in air-sea rescue is profoundly unsatisfactory. In the two emergencies to which I have referred—both within recent weeks—British aid was sought, British helicopters were needed, but the aid that was available was not adequate, and what would have been adequate was not available and in the circumstances, Danish, American and Norwegian helicopters had to be called out. In the first case the Danes were successful, but in 823 the other case success was not achieved. The helicopters arrived too late and two men died. As well as being shocked at these tragedies many people must have been embarrassed and ashamed that this country had to call in the Americans, the Danes and the Norwegians to help us in an emergency that took place so close to our own shores. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to see that something is done about this and done quickly.
I should like to make a practical suggestion. My right hon. Friend will know that there are two long-range helicopters owned by B.E.A. Helicopters Limited, at Dyce, near Aberdeen and two more at Lowestoft. B.E.A. has told me on many occasions that it is willing and eager to place these helicopters at the disposal of air-sea rescue operations. This move would have the personal backing of the Chairman of B.E.A., Sir Anthony Milward, and of the B.E.A. crews at Dyce. I should like to pay tribute to the B.E.A. personnel at Dyce, who had the initiative and public spirit to get in touch with me and urge me to put this point to my right hon. Friend. There they were, wanting to do something, able to do nothing, to help in the tragedies that occurred in recent weeks. I urge the Minister to accept their offer.
I know that there is one technical drawback, namely, the fact that B.E.A. helicopters are not equipped with winches, which are likely to be necessary in air-sea rescue operations. But these winches could be fitted into the helicopters at a cost of about £5,000 each, which would involve an expenditure of £20,000 to fit up the four helicopters at Dyce and Lowestoft.
There would need to be a very modest further expenditure to train B.E.A. crews in rescue work. But for just over £20,000 we would then have helicopters whose prime duty it would be to ensure a coverage of the whole of our east coast. It is not the prime duty of the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy; that is where the trouble has arisen in the past. This expenditure would represent only 0.5 per cent. of our annual expenditure on air-sea rescue, and it would be capital expenditure, which would not recur. The offer seems to combine a very great contribution to safety at sea with a very little cost, 824 and I ask my right hon. Friend to prevail upon his hon. and right hon. Friends to make these moneys available.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of the points that I have raised and, if possible, let me know whether he has any comments on them. In any case I hope that at last we can look forward to some real action on these problems and that we will not have to wait for another tragedy at sea before anything is done.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I begin by paying the Minister a compliment for his stamina and courtesy in remaining in his place on the Front Bench for so long today. Like him, I am the soul of courtesy; hence he will not think me churlish if I say that I felt it unfortunate that he deemed it necessary to rise earlier today. I echo the admonition of my hon. Friend—if I may call him that—the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker). We do not belong to the same party but we both have fishing constituencies. I know that it is impossible for the Minister to speak twice, but I would have liked to hear him speak at the end of the debate, at length. I am sure that if he were speaking at the end of the debate some of those who have left might have stayed to listen. I also thank the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for his courtesy in staying to hear all the speeches.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe began by saying that he had no interest to declare in the matter. Neither have I. I am neither a merchant seaman nor a fisherman but, like the hon. Member, I take the word of the fishermen and merchant seamen in my constituency and draw on them for my information about these matters and about the way in which their lives are safeguarded at sea.
I pay tribute to the lifeboat men. Others have done this more eloquently before. As a boy, I lived in the small village of Hauxley, on the coast of Northumberland, and I remember the impact upon that village of a tragedy similar to that which occurred at Aberdeen, when a lifeboat went to sea—this was in the days when they had to use oars—and went down. We all owe thanks to the work done by the lifeboat men.
825 We had a fascinating reference to helicopters by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe. I want to ask the Minister a question about the new mother ship, which I understand was originally to have gone north early in December but whose departure has now been delayed until the New Year. Hon. Members are aware of the disasters that occurred at the beginning of the year 1968. The national conscience was awakened, as it always is by disasters like this. I should like to know how the safety measures have been working since the Holland-Martin Commission sat, and following which we implemented the Merchant Shipping Act and the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act of last year.
I never need any convincing that the anxieties of my constituents are soundly based. The Financial Times of 25th February, 1970, speaking of a study that had been undertaken on behalf of the T.U.C., said:The fatal accident risk of English and Welsh fishermen is 17 times higher than that of other men—a risk which until now has been grossly underestimated, according to the T.U.C. centenary Institute of Occupational Health, making its first annual report. The Institute states that this study of mortality rates, undertaken in 1968–69, revealed that fishermen frequently died of hypertension, lung and stomach cancer, of 'violent death not at work', chronic bronchitis and coronary heart disease.Although deep sea fishermen have an unusual amount of courage and stamina and are of good physique, their occupation exacts its toll, as does the occupation of deep coal mining. The House will not need convincing of the need for care in looking after the men who go to sea. Constituents of mine on both the employers' and the workers' side of the trawling industry are happy about the legislation that was passed earlier this year by the Labour Government. That fact was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden).
I merely pick out two short matters and two questions: first, the safety design of the vessels and their equipment; secondly, as I said, the mother ship or the support ship, which, when it gets out of harbour in the coming weeks, will give our trawlers meteorological, medical and technical support in the Arctic.
In no sense do I intend to go into technical details, for other hon. Members have 826 done so. But the scrap-and-build policy is vital for the future safety and welfare of our men. In each year in service our vessels obsolesce—if there is such a verb—they become more obsolescent. We have said that all dangerous vessels must go. The only new vessel built recently is the "C. S. Forester." It is the first new vessel in the Hull fleet, or any other fleet fishing in deep waters. It is a fine vessel.
However, what worries us—I do not intend to quote the Hull Daily Mail or the Yorkshire Post in the Humber area is that the Tory Government by their financial measures are discouraging the building of new vessels. The Financial Times of 12th November reports perhaps the most competent authority on this subject, Austin Lang, who is the Director-General of the owners' federation, the British Trawlers' Federation. The exact terms are well known to the industry—the 35 per cent. grant has gone down to 25 per cent. That, so I am informed, not only in Hull, by owners and others, will mean that some will not build, and others will be very chary of building.
It stands out a mile that if we do not build new vessels, we shall still keep on the water those vessels which should be going out of service because they are getting obsolescent. I am aware that the vessel is not everything. We have had many comments about the calibre of seamanship and the high standards of British skippers, boatswains, mates, deckhands, and so on.
In spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said about working in ships sailing under flags of convenience—the hon. Member is smiling, but I happen to know a little more about Liberia than he imagines, for I once worked for it. I will say no more about that.
The calibre of seamanship of our men and the quality of our vessels are second to none, but I emphasise the human factor, which is paramount. We have first-class skippers, first-class boatswains and first-class deckhands. I mentioned earlier the incidence of disease, illness and sickness in this arduous occupation. We also want younger and fitter men on the decks to handle the fish if we wish to maintain our fleet at its high standard.
827 But we can have vessels with the finest stability, design, buoyancy, seaworthiness and fire protection—a vessel recently suffered some damage, the "C.S. Forester", as my colleagues in Hull know—and the most up-to-date wireless telegraphy equipment, and so on. The Minister knows that what we need is another ship of the finest standards functioning in distant waters to act as a support to our catching vessels.
I shall be open about this: Labour Members asked the Labour Government for three mother ships last year, we got only one. We had the Hull freezer "Orsino" last winter, and this winter we shall have the new one, the "Miranda", of 1,560 tons. We have been anxious about this in Hull. I could quote Skipper Nielsen on the skipper side, and also quote men on the union side, with names like Mick Neeve of the T. & G.W., and Bill Allen of the General and Municipal; owners, skippers, and deckhands who catch the fish, dockers, "bobbers" as we term them, are all concerned. We all want the men on leaving the port to have the finest possible care and safeguards. In view of the time, I shall not quote any other sources.
When the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries came to Hull he was told of the anxiety of our men. The right hon. Gentleman is the Member for Lowestoft, a fishing port like Hull. I ask the Minister for Trade to convey to his Cabinet colleague our anxiety about what will be happening about the mother ship which, we understand, will not be able to go in early December. What is being put in its place? I understand another vessel will go. Let us hope we can get quickly to the Arctic waters this new vessel which, without asking too many details, is possibly as good as the "Miranda", when equipped and furnished. The "Fridjhof", the famous German mother ship, was moored in the Thames in the summer. I believe our vessel the "Miranda" to be as good as that. But let us have it as quickly as possible. The weather is bad in the Arctic in December and January and we want our vessel to be there as quickly as possible.
I thank the Minister for staying so long. I admire his stamina and again thank him for his courtesy. I hope he will get us an 828 answer to this, because some of our constituents are worried.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman intervened in the middle of the debate, but I appreciate his generosity in undertaking to write to hon. Members to answer points raised in it. I hope that when I have finished speaking he will not fill too many pages of foolscap, but I hope that he will be able to give me some information for my constituents and my trade union that will be of interest and will set their minds at rest.
I take up first the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who, I regret, has had to leave the Chamber for the moment, for obviously good reasons, but he will shortly return. I should hate the criticisms he was making of the air-sea rescue service in that particular instance to be seen as a blanket criticism of the whole of that service. We on the east coast of Yorkshire have had a tremendous service from the R.A.F. base at Leconfield. In all weathers, in the summer and the difficult times of the spring and autumn, and in the nasty, dark and dirty weather of the winter, we have had a first-class service from the R.A.F.
I am sure that the House has sympathy with the relatives of those members of the helicopter squadron based at R.A.F. Leconfield who have had such a serious and damaging accident. It is on their training that the lives of so many of our constituents and others depend when they venture on the sea. In the East Riding we all appreciate the work done by the R.A.F. in this respect.
I join in the general congratulations to and appreciation of the R.N.L.I. lifeboats around our coasts. They constantly face every type of hazard to be found at sea, and they do a tremendous job of work.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has done a considerable service to the House by this Motion. When I first read it, I was not certain what element of activity at sea we should be able to discuss. Had I been the right hon. Gentleman, I should have thought that this was a good occasion on which to send the Under-Secretary so that he 829 could gain a little parliamentary experience; however, he is abroad.
I should like to declare an interest. I am a sponsored Member from the Transport and General Workers' Union, the union which organises the trawlermen and the engine room men of the industry. I am the son of a man who sailed out of Hull and Fleetwood on trawlers, and I therefore have my own interest in the matter.
I hope that the Minister will give me a progress report on the implementation of the Holland-Martin Report on trawler safety in so far as that will depend on the production of regulations and a general discussion between the two sides of industry which will have to be initiated by the Board of Trade.
As a result of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1970, and the Fishing Vessels (Safety) Act, 1970, we have the outline, the framework, the skeleton, of a system for safety at sea, particularly for the fishing industry. I join the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) in congratulating the Board of Trade on the code of safety which it has produced. Many officers and men of my union in Hull are very pleased with it. That does not mean that we agree with everything in it, but what is there is a great step forward. We want not only a code of recommended practice, but something hard and fast, and that we hope to see as time progresses.
There are a number of matters which my union regards as being of immediate importance. The first concerns hours of work. The Holland-Martin Committee in Recommendation No. 46 said:The owners, in consultation with the Union, should consider ways of organising work on distant water side trawlers so that crews receive an average of at least eight hours rest in twenty-four hours, of which six hours should be continuous.In Recommendation No. 47 it said:Research on fatigue among deep sea trawler crews should include an investigation of conditions on freezers including in particular the effects on crews of living in an eighteen-hour cycle of work and rest.The information given to the union is that its members are getting adequate rest on the way to and from fishing grounds, but while "on fish" skippers are frequently ignoring this recommendation, so that crews are working for longer than 18 hours on occasions. The union is 830 of the opinion that urgent discussions must be initiated by the Board of Trade so that there may be proper consultation with both sides of the industry.
Recommendation No. 51 says:The Government should seek powers to lay down statutory requirements on minimum rest periods on deep sea trawlers. The crews of distant water vessels should receive minimum continuous rest periods on the fishing grounds of at least six hours, followed by periods of duty of not more than twice the rest period, and except in emergency of not more than 16 hours. The crews of most near and middle water trawlers should receive at least six hours continuous rest every twenty-four hours.It is the union's opinion that that recommendation is not being observed. It is specifically laid down in the Act that the Government have this power and we hope that urgent action will be taken.
Another urgent and important matter concerns the employment of young persons. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) and I have had occasions when constituents of less than 18 have been killed in recent tragedies out of the port of Hull. These are terrible tragedies not only for families which may depend on these young men, who are sometimes the only wage earner in a family, but also because it is insisted that these young men should work in these difficult conditions. The recommendation of the union to the Holland-Martin Committee, which was not accepted in full by the Committee, would have been far more stringent about the counditions in which young people were allowed to fish.
But part of the recommendations was accepted by the Committee, and in Recommendations No. 57 and No. 58 it said:The hours of work at sea of boys under 17 should be limited statutorially to 12 hours in 24. Deckhand learners should not be permitted to make their first trip on a distant water side trawler in winter.These are the recommendations which we want to be laid down in a Statutory Instrument.
This subject concerns hon. Members who were on the Committee which considered the Merchant Shipping Bill. There were powerful speeches on the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. Young people ought 831 not to be placed in hazardous positions, and the statutory regulations ought to prevent it.
In Hull there has been introduced a scheme for training officers, which I hope will be successful. It could be the start of something which members of the union and others concerned with the industry have been urging—the possibility of proper training of boys in the industry. This is something which is now lacking, and it needs to be carefully considered, as does training throughout the fishing industry.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I should have liked the White Fish Authority to be given control of training within the fishing industry, not only in safety matters, but in standards of officers. However, as yet we do not know what is to be the future of the authority. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has promised to descend upon the House some time before the Christmas Recess and inform us what is to happen. I should like the authority to have more power over training in the industry, to improve safety factors and to give a general introduction to young men going to sea.
Another point with which the union is concerned has been mentioned by my hon. Friend—I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, who deserves to be right hon. It concerns replacements. The Government have made a stupid and silly error by reducing grants for fishing vessels. No names, no pack drill, but I can imagine the reaction of certain trawler owners in Hull if a Labour Government had reduced these grants, which are so important to the safety of vessels. These people which would have screamed and kicked, but they have not done so on this occasion. Perhaps they have been wise and think that they are being let off lightly compared with the rest of the shipping industry. Nevertheless, it is a serious matter, when so many of our vessels are obsolescent, if not obsolete, and need replacement, that we have this further deterrent, which could amount to as much as another £100,000 on the cost of a vessel. The loss of this grant is, therefore, a serious matter.
The union is concerned. We want to see the ships replaced quickly. We want 832 bigger and quicker ships which are better for the crew, better for safety and better for the produce which they are able to get from the sea to give to the housewife, and better for the industry generally.
We would like to see spot checks on vessels by the Department of Trade—or D.O.T.I., as I suppose it is known—whose representatives should visit the dock and make spot checks on the necessary safety equipment aboard vessels—axes, hoses, watertight doors, fire-fighting equipment, for example. It is easy for a lifeboat to get a bit rusty and for chains, water mains and the like to become rusted in and to be forgotten. When the time comes, this can be extremely important.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker
Would not the hon. Member agree that there is a case to be made that any vessel for which grants have been received from the White Fish Authority should have an annual inspection?
§ Mr. McNamara
I would go further. I accept that all vessels should be subject to regular inspection—that is one of the Holland-Martin recommendations—and a lot of work has been done in carrying this through. I do not want to go too much into the technicalities because I have other points to raise and I know that hon. Members wish to speak to later Motions. I agree, however, that there should be more inspection, not only periodic inspections, which are important, but spot inspections, which could be very important, and it could raise the morale of the crews if they knew that the Board of Trade was around and about quite frequently.
I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister the point referred to briefly in passing by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when he talked about the decision that there should no longer be radio operators on vessels of between 1,600 and 3,000 tons plying the North-East Coast collier trade.
The point which my hon. Friend was making, and which I should like to expand, was that two things were involved. First, a decision was taken without reference to the unions involved, either the National Union of Seamen, the officers' union or the radio officers' union, 833 to do away with radio operators on these vessels on the North-East Coast. This had been a subject of discussion when we were in government but nothing had been heard of it for a couple of years. It would appear that the British Shipping Federation went to the Department, got approval for the change, and then the unions involved were informed.
Two points are involved here. The first is the question of safety. The North-East Coast is a very busy area for trade at the best of times, but it can be a very dangerous one in winter. Radio telephones can be subject to all sorts of interference at night, in bad weather and in heavy seas. They are not as effective as radio. We should have radio operators on these vessels.
The other point is that a real fear was expressed—but I think that the right hon. Gentleman's Department has now put an end to it—that because this regulation applied to vessels of between 1,600 and 3,000 tons, there was a possibility that it might be jumped across also to include fishing vessels. The last Lloyd's List showed that we had only four fishing vessels of over 3,000 tons in the United Kingdom. There was, therefore, a real worry.
I think, however, that I am right in saying—and I hope that the Minister will confirm this, perhaps by writing to me—that there is no intention to go back on Recommendation No. 7 of the Holland-Martin Report that all vessels over 140 ft. should carry radio operators. This is of vital importance to us.
I want now to take the Minister a step further. I put down a couple of Questions arising out of our fear concerning 1,600 to 3,000-ton vessels. I asked what interests were concerned on the radio working party for the implementation of the radio recommendations of the Holland-Martin Report. The Reply indicated that the only trade union representation was that of the radio officers' union. Later, the Grimsby and Hull skippers' guilds were to be brought in.
In the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act of the last Parliament, at the insistence of hon. Members on both sides we carried through an Amendment to ensure that all the interests concerned would be considered before rules were made. Under Section 7(2), 834Before making any rules under this Act the Board of Trade shall consult with organisations in the United Kingdom appearing to them representative of persons who will be affected by the rules.The Transport and General Workers' Union has had no approaches made to it by the Board of Trade. Indeed, according to the answer to my Question, no approach will be made to the union, and yet we organise the bulk of the men engaged in that industry.
The importance of the radio officer and proper radio telecommunications for the fishing industry was the keynote of our evidence to the Holland-Martin Committee. I therefore ask the Minister to reconsider the answer which has been given. I hope that when he writes to me, he may be able to say that the Transport and General Workers' Union will be included. It is important that there should be this consultation within the industry and that the men should feel that they are concerned with the new regulations which are introduced.
What I have just said about the shipping industry applies equally to what has happened concerning the North-East Coast collier trade. The National Union of Seamen should have been asked for its observations on the matter before a decision was taken in such arbitrary fashion. Again, the hand of the Shipping Federation was seen behind it. We hope that this will not be a change of practice by the new Government and that the unions will be properly considered and their views sought, particularly in matters concerning the safety of not only their own members but so many other users of the sea.
Next, if I may ride my hobby-horse, when are we to have action from the Department of Trade to bring together representatives from both sides of the industry to look into the question of the training of safety representatives aboard fishing vessels? This is a power which exists under the Merchant Shipping Act. My right hon. Friend the former Minister of State gave me a specific undertaking that we could have these safety representatives on board fishing vessels. I would like to see this carried through.
There has been a considerable change in industrial relations in the fishing industry over the past six or seven years. There 835 is greater mutual respect, greater understanding and a greater realisation on the part of owners and others in management positions in the industry that they must take the men along with them and consult the unions. That is the prime way by which so much of what has been laid down in the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act and in the Merchant Shipping Act could be brought to life by getting the men themselves actively concerned, engaged and talking about safety, by having on the vessels people who know and can point out to new entrants that they must not take a short cut, otherwise they may lose an arm or break a leg. This must be done by the training of existing people who themselves have taken short cuts and can illustrate the foolishness of doing so.
There is one last point which I wish to make. I.M.C.O. is at the moment looking at the whole problem of the use and the future of the International Maritime Distress System and has sent a questionnaire to organisations involved in it and representing both sides of industry. The point which concerns me here is this. There has been increasing evidence of a desire of people, employers in particular, shipowners, to get rid of the human element in their costs—to cut down crews; and they are now thinking in terms, perhaps, of replacing radio operators and other highly skilled crew members by machinery, by automatic alarm devices, and by having in a ship one of the deck crew trained just to use a radio telephone—in other words, to get away from having a radio operator.
I want to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should look most suspiciously upon any type of radio system which is to replace the human operator by a machine. That would create a situation in which the highly-technical, highly-skilled radio operator, who is on the spot, and able to repair machinery, would be 836 replaced by an ordinary deck officer who thinks he can just pick up a telephone and give out some sort of message, hoping the machine will work, and not having the technical expertise to mend if it is necessary.
The problem so often is that when a machine is most needed it is at the very time when deck officers, for instance, are most involved in other duties in preserving the safety of their ship; the machines are most needed in emergencies, when crew members other than radio operators have to spend their time on other duties. Particularly in large vessels do I think that this is so.
I had hoped and intended to develop this last point at some length and to look at its implications in far more detail, because the future use of the International Maritime Distress System is important, but I shall desist because there are many hon. Members who want to talk on other Motions, and I know how they may be feeling, because I, too, have suffered on Friday afternoons through waiting to talk and not having the opportunity. I conclude by again thanking the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe for the opportunity he has given us to discuss this particularly important subject.
§ Mr. Costain
In view of the fact that other hon. Members want to discuss another matter I want simply to thank my right hon. Friend, and again to ask the House to accept this Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, having regard to the increasing use of the sea as a means of communication, transportation, and recreation, calls on Her Majesty's Government to review the present-day international and national navigation regulations, aids and safety requirements in the marine world, with a view to reducing accidents and the consequent loss of life and damage to craft, with the risk of pollution of our beaches.