§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. John Smith)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is an important Bill which makes far reaching provisions for a vital industry. Our merchant fleet is the fourth largest in the world and provides not only a major contribution to our balance of payments but employment for 80,000 people at sea, without including many more jobs on land. It is a long and complex Bill. It is intended to deal with the most pressing matters requiring legislation which have emerged since the last major Merchant Shipping Act in 1970. They range from the need to ratify a number of important international conventions dealing with the training of crews, improved safety standards for ships and the prevention of pollution to the modernisation of our discipline procedures on merchant ships and fishing vessels; from the widening of powers to hold inquiries into shipping casualties to the reorganisation of our pilotage service. The theme underlying most of the Bill is the safety of our ships and our seafarers.
Turning to the main features of the Bill, I refer initially to those relating to the safety and welfare of seafarers and to pollution prevention. These provisions are contained basically in clauses 20 to 22. The background to these provisions is that we beleive that we owe it to our seafaring community to ensure that their conditions of health and safety are brought up to date.
The Bill gives us very wide powers to make regulations to promote safety and health on United Kingdom registered ships. Our existing powers are inadequate and lack the flexibility needed as marine technology and new techniques in the operation of ships develop more quickly. To meet this need, the Bill follows the flexible approach adopted under the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974 for regulating safety and health in land-based industries, including strengthening the powers of my inspectors in discharging their tasks of enforcing the regulations. 779 This is generally accepted as the appro- priate way in which to draft new safety legislation.
In recognition of the breadth of those powers, the Bill includes a statutory requirement to consult those affected be- fore making regulations or giving approvals—a practice which is already well- established in merchant shipping. I am sure that the House will approve this approach as a sensible way to proceed in making wide-ranging regulations which require detailed discussion with those affected by them.
I pay tribute to the hard work of all those on both sides of the shipping industry, as well as to those within Government, who contributed to the report"Safety of Seamen at Work ". This recommended that accident reporting should be mandatory and that there should be regulations about protective clothing and equipment, and to help en- sure that ships provide a safe working environment. These will be backed by the revised comprehensive code of safe working practices. We shall act on the report, which should ensure that seamen at work are at least as well protected as arc those ashore. A similar study relating to fishermen has just been completed and the report and code of safe working practices will be published early nest year.
Probably the greatest single contribu- tion that can be made to marine safety is through the improvement of standards of competence of crews. The Inter- governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation has given special attention to that need in recent years and the convention on standards of training, certi- fication and watchkeeping agreed last July represents a most important advance. It was largely through initiatives taken by our delegation at the conference that the convention includes mandatory minimum requirements for the crews of tankers carrying oil, chemicals and liquefied gas. The Bill will give us the extra powers that we need to ratify the convention, which we propose to do in 1980—the target date recommended by the EEC.
The Bill also gives us the powers we need to implement the agreements reached at the IMCO conference on tanker safety and pollution prevention held last Febru- 780 ary. This conference agreed a new protocol to the international convention for the safety of life at sea 1974 which contained the following main provisions. First, all new and existing tankers over 10,000 gross registered tons must have two separately operable remote steering gear control systems.
Secondly, all ships over 10,000 gross registered tons must have two independent radar systems. Thirdly, most larger tankers must be fitted with an inert gas system to reduce the risk of explosion which is a particular hazard when washing tanks. Fourthly, more frequent inspections are required of older tankers where experience shows deficiencies in equipment are more prevalent. These and other provisions of the protocol all contribute greatly to maritime safety.
The February conference also concluded a protocol to the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships 1973 which was, to some degree, ahead of its time and has so far been ratified by only three countries with very small merchant fleets. The Bill will permit us to implement the provisions of the convention and protocol dealing with oil pollution by the 1981 target date. The provisions include segregated ballast tanks in new oil tankers above 20,000 tons deadweight which are to be protectively located in order to reduce the risk of outflow in the event of a collision or grounding. The protocol also introduces crude oil washing as a requirement for new and existing tankers. This technique, accepted internationally mainly as a result of British initiative, involves using the crude oil cargo itself to remove the deposits from the cargo tanks. Both this technique and the provision of segregated ballast tanks greatly reduce the risk of operational pollution.
The Bill will thus enable us to be among the first countries to implement these important international conventions and there are compelling arguments for acting in these areas by international agreement. To do otherwise—to act unilaterally—would inevitably lead to different and often conflicting national standards. How could that be in the interests of our merchant fleet, or, indeed, those of any other merchant fleets? How could that make for greater maritime safety when we know that what masters and crews of ships need is a set of internationally 781 agreed and readily understandable rules? That is why we have always given and will continue to give our strong support to international agreements and in particular to IMCO which has made a distinguished contribution to the cause of marine safety and pollution over the past 20 years.
But complaints are made—we make them ourselves—that these conventions take too long to come into force. Of course, there are practical difficulties, but the complaints are not groundless. That is the fault not of IMCO, but of its member States. We must do what we can to add a sense of urgency to this and to set an example to others to ratify conventions promptly.
The target dates agreed at the 1MCO conference in February and the recent EEC initiative in recommending a time table for ratification of conventions are valuable steps which we fully support. But with the greater urgency now felt regarding these matters we feel that we cannot entirely depend upon others to do what we consider right with regard to vessels using our ports. It is for that reason that we intend to introduce an amendment which will give us the power to implement the requirements of international conventions on safety and pollution as soon as we have ratified them. In short, if the international entry into force of present or future agreements proves unacceptably protracted, we shall be able, if we think it appropriate in the particular circumstances, to bring these international agreements into effect in relation both to our own ships and in regard to the control of foreign ships which call at our ports. Clearly we should not do this without full consideration, but we believe it right to have the necessary power. That matter can he discussed more fully in Committee.
Pilotage contributes greatly to safety, but has not been the subject of legislation since 1913. Reform is needed. The provisions in the Bill—clauses 1 to 13—are the culmination of a lengthy period of review involving pilots, shipowners and others involved in pilotage. The Bill modernises pilotage legislation in a number of ways, but I should like to concentrate on two issues—the general organisation of pilotage and the requirements for compulsory pilotage.
782 Under the 1913 Act, pilotage administration is in the hands of about 40 local pilotage authorities, organised in a wide variety of ways. This local organisation of pilotage is a great strength, but we need to ensure that it is adaptable and responds rapidly to change.
The industry as a whole supports the concept of a pilotage commission which will be closely connected, through its members, with the pilotage service, and which will introduce an important element of self-regulation at a national level. The members of the commission will be appointed after consultation with all the interested parties and my intention is to seek a balanced membership drawn from all these interests, with, perhaps, one ortwo independents with expertise which will be useful to the commission.
The commission's primary responsibility will be to advise on the efficient and safe organisation of our pilotage service. Its job is not to run pilotage services or to replace existing authorities, but to deal with problems best considered nationally. The commission will not be a large body. Its strength wilt lie in its expertise. Although a launching loan will be needed, the commission will be self-financing through a levy on pilotage authorities. There is no need for the commission to be an expensive bureaucratic monster. Indeed, the Bill provides a number of controls to prevent that.
I turn to compulsory pilotage. The present position is quite illogical. The Bill tackles the problem in two ways. First, the commission will be under a duty to investigate whether pilotage should be made compulsory in districts where it is at present not compulsory. Secondly, the Bill provides for the eventual removal of all blanket exemptions for certain classes of vessels.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why, after all these years, the Government have still not grasped this nettle and the matter remains unresolved?
§ Mr. Smith
We had extensive consultations and what emerged as the best way of dealing with the problem is the solution that I am recommending to the House.
The question of pilotage certificates has been particularly carefully examined by the Advisory Committee on Pilotage and 783 its proposals, incorporated in the Bill, are aimed at safeguarding navigation and preventing disruption of the pilotage service arising from a too liberal use of certificates. I should add that it is essential that all parties should have confidence in the local pilotage authorities which are responsible for introducing the new system. Much progress has been made recently in improving the local organisation of pilotage and the commission will act as a further catalyst to change where necessary.
Finally, in this connection, may I say something about pilots' pensions? The pilots have been very concerned about the effect that current tax legislation will have on their pensions after April 1980. I am glad to say that Treasury Ministers have agreed that legislation will be included in the 1979 Finance Bill which will enable the present status of the pilots' national pension fund to continue. The Inland Revenue will be holding talks very shortly with the pilots' professional advisers on the form of the legislation which, while protecting pilots' present position, will allow a proper degree of flexibility for the future. This is a very welcome outcome to a problem which has, understandably, overshadowed the pilotage provisions of the Bill.
I should now like to turn to another main area in the Bill, which is equally of fundamental importance to the maintenance of safety on all our ships. That is discipline at sea and the related problem of drinking aboard fishing vessels—which are covered by clauses 23 to 25.
The law relating to disciplinary procedures on our merchant ships remained substantially unchanged from 1894 until 1970. The Merchant Shipping Act 1970 introduced a significantly more liberal regime but the master retained his traditional power to fine a seaman whom he considered to have committed a minor disciplinary offence. There was widespread discontent, particularly on the part of the seafarers' unions, with this system of shipboard fines even while the 1970 Bill was before Parliament. The Merchant Shipping Act 1974 went some way towards meeting those criticisms, but not far enough—as we recognised at the time. We therefore set up two working groups to examine in depth the disciplinary needs for seagoing employment in the Merchant Navy and in the fishing industry respectively.
784 These working groups included representatives of both employers and trade unions in the two industries, and at the end of 1975 they produced unanimous reports. This Bill will enable us to put into effect the changes they recommended and which require statutory backing.
The principal change which was recommended by the Merchant Navy working group was the abolition of the archaic and ineffective system of shipboard fines —to be replaced by a new system of discipline based on recorded warnings, reprimands and, in the worst cases, dismissal from the ship followed by action ashore in a two-tier system of joint disciplinary committees. These committees will have the power in extreme cases to exclude a persistent offender from employment in the industry, by recommending the withdrawal of his discharge book for an appropriate period.
This will represent a major step forward, bringing the conditions of those employed at sea in merchant ships much more in line with those currently enjoyed by workers on land. It will strengthen the effective sanctions against those who persistently ignore the need for discipline at sea, endangering the safety of our ships and seafarers, and it will be supported by a code of conduct which will set standards of behaviour to be observed on board ship by both officers and ratings.
Let me now turn to the recommendations of the fishing industry working group. Inquiry after inquiry has established that drunkenness aboard fishing vessels is a real danger. It has contributed to a number of major accidents—to say nothing of near misses. The working group, made up of those who knew the industry well, faced this problem and we propose to implement its recommendations.
It is to be made a new offence for fishermen and others to bring unauthorised liquor aboard a fishing vessel, or to be in possession of such liquor on board, or to permit another to bring unauthorised liquor aboard. There are to be statutory powers to search a fisherman suspected of bringing unauthorised drink on board a ship. We shall insist on reasonable safeguards against abuse of this provision. I want to make it clear that these searches will have to be carried out in a manner authorised by regulations 785 laid before the House for approval. Naturally there will be further consultations with the fishermen's organisations before the regulations are made, as I understand some of the apprehensions which have been voiced.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I am sure that, as a lawyer, my right hon. Friend understands the difficulty of trying to ban drink from vessels because of the threat to safety, with which I have some sympathy, but there is evidence of many trawler owners putting drunken men on board vessels because they could not get them there by any other means. As that will constitute a threat to seamen, is there a possibility of the owner being prosecuted?
§ Mr. Smith
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. Any owner who behaves in that way is behaving reprehensively and putting at risk the lives of all the other people on the ship. If owners connive at such a practice, I am advised that the Bill covers the matter and that they can be comprehended under the offence which is in the Bill. No doubt that can be investigated more closely in Committee, but it is my understanding that for them to act in that way would be to connive at the offence struck at by the Bill.
When we are dealing with powers of search, the Committee will want to look at them very closely, as this matter involves the rights of the individual. I know—as did the working group—that it is not practical to try to stop fishermen from drinking at sea. The provisions take account of the practicalities of the problem. They do not in themselves make it a crime for fishermen to drink —that would be unreasonable as well as futile—but those in a position of responsibility, including the skipper and the owner, will now have the right in law to control the amount of liquor taken on board a fishing vessel, and it is up to them to exercise that control.
Many of the other recommendations of the fishing industry working group mirror those of the Merchant Navy working group, though with some minor differences. Disciplinary offences, for instance, will be handled by statutorily approved port disciplinary committees, 786 similar to the shore-based committees for the Merchant Navy. But the operations of the new system will be based on local industrial agreements rather than on a code of conduct approved by the Secretary of State.
These measures are not the last word in achieving acceptable conditions tor those who work at sea. The casual nature of employment, particularly in the fishing industry, creates a climate of uncertainty for those who earn their living at sea. Decasualisation is fundamental to bringing about conditions for our fishermen which are comparable to those enjoyed by the rest of us. My colleagues are investigating this difficult issue with both sides of the industry. But the provisions in the Bill represent an extremely important step in implementing an enlightened disciplinary regime much more in line with the developments elsewhere and firmly focused on the primary object of ensuring the safety of our ships and those on board.
At this point. I should like to relei briefly to our inquiries into casualties. We have in this country a long-established tradition of thoroughly investigating casualties by means of reports and inquiries and, where necessary, by an independent judicial formal investigation held in public. This system works well. and is respected throughout the world for its thoroughness and impartiality. But under present powers we cannot activate these inquiry procedures where serious personal injury occurs without loss of life. Nor can we investigate"near miss"incidents. Clause 33 will remedy these deficiencies.
The Bill also contains important measures to enhance the commercial position of our fleet, which represents an enormous national investment. Our industry, along with its competitors, is suffering from the effects of a worldwide shipping recession which started in 1973 and which currently shows little sign of improvement. So far the industry has weathered the storm pretty well compared with the experience of other maritime nations, but the undesirable foreign takeover is more than just a possibility: it is prudent, particularly at a time of recovery, to have the powers in clause 31 in reserve to protect this investment in Britain's future.
787 There is a further and most important reason for having these powers. Successive Governments have encouraged the development of a comprehensive United Kingdom offshore capability, not only to meet the demands of operators in the North Sea—a market now worth well over £1 billion per annum—but to compete for a share of the world-wide market in offshore supplies. The development of such a capability, particularly in the shipborne operations within the offshore service sector, is still at an early stage, and with competition as fierce as it is these sectors remain vulnerable to takeover.
It would be nothing less than a tragedy if the potential benefits stemming from British technological inventiveness to meet the demands of the hostile North Sea environment were eroded by selective takeovers by foreign companies. Such things have happened in the past and we should ensure that they do not happen in this potential growth area of the economy. The powers we seek extend to such undertakings. I emphasise that this does not represent any change in our policy of encouraging inward investment which is in the national interest.
The Bill also amends the provisions in part III of the Merchant Shipping Act 1974 so as to clarify and improve the Government's defensive powers against certain types of foreign shipping activity.
I should also like to draw the attention of the House to another commercial matter with which the Bill deals—the liability of shipowners. This, too, is largely regulated by international agreements. Clauses 14 to 19 will enable us to ratify two important international conventions in this field—the Athens convention, which deals with liability of carriers in respect of passengers and their luggage, and the London convention, which establishes overall limits to a shipowner's liability in respect of claims arising from maritime incidents.
The Bill also contains—in clause 36—measures to remove the right of shipowners to limit their liability for the death or injury of crew members, a long overdue reform which, I know, will be welcome to seafarers.
Nor have we forgotten the deserted wives, the ex-wives or the children. The Bill also contains provisions, in clause 40, 788 to make the earnings of merchant seamen attachable in respect of maintenance orders. This will equate the position of seamen and those who work on shore. We are putting forward measures to end the present exemption of the wages of Scottish fishermen, bringing them into line with fishermen in England and Wales.
But what about the culprits who transgress safety legislation? Our courts already have power to impose a fine of up to £50,000 on summary conviction for illegal discharges of oil around our coasts or an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment. But many of the penalties for offences against safety measures are out of date and derisory. It has become increasingly evident in recent months that we must take the strongest possible action to redress this situation, where many serious offences endangering the lives of seafarers and threatening our seas and coasts with devastating pollution can go virtually unpunished.
Accordingly, we propose to introduce by amendment a comprehensive revision of virtually all the penalties for contraventions of our laws dealing with safety at sea. For the most serious safety offences applying to both British and foreign ships, we intend to introduce a maximum fine of £50,000 on summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment. This ability to impose high fines on summary conviction is particularly important when dealing with foreign ships, when it is often impractical to proceed by way of indictment.
We also propose to inflation-proof the new levels of penalty. But for wider reasons I hope that we shall not have to use those powers too often.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be saying anything about the laws that the French have introduced? I understand that the French have introduced a minimum fine rather than a maximum. Is not that a good idea?
§ Mr. Smith
I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred to that matter, perhaps at the hon. Gentleman's insistence, during the debate on oil spillage earlier this week. It is very difficult to transplant techniques from one judicial system to another. I have a limited knowledge of the French legal and 789 judicial system, but I believe that its whole approach to prosecution of crime is quite different from ours. We must be very careful in borrowing from the French. So far as I know, the concept of a minimum fine is not often found within our jurisprudence, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue the matter we can deal with it in Committee.
I am certain that in principle the House will welcome our measures, which will give us real sanctions against those who disregard safety at sea.
In conclusion, I would like to underline the principal objectives behind these proposed measures. First and foremost, they are designed to improve the safety of our ships and seafearers. They will allow us to bring ourselves up to date with international developments, to ratify a substantial number of important international agreements on safety and pollution and to continue in future to respond quickly to further international progress without the need for fresh primary legislation. I have spoken of the leading role that we play in international organisations. It is imperative that we maintain this position. I believe that the Bill will greatly strengthen our ability to do so.
We also aim to make the conditions of employment of those who work at sea comparable—as far as is practical and compatible with safety to the conditions of employment of those who work on land.
The revision of our pilotage arrangements, in conjunction with the other safety measures in the Bill, will, I believe make an important contribution to improving the safety of navigation in the congested waters around our coasts.
The Bill deals with a wide variety of topics, but there are other areas still in need of reform. For example, our legislation on registration and on wreck and salvage is in need of revision. But we cannot do everything at once. The Bill is long enough as it stands. Indeed, this speech has been long enough as it stands, so I bring it to a conclusion by commending the Bill to the House.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
Although our debate has been delayed by the discussion on the emergency motion, and I shall therefore curtail many of the remarks I 790 had intended to make in a desire to keep the debate reasonably short, it is a privilege for me to open on behalf of the official Opposition on a Bill that concerns itself with one of our greatest and most successful industries.
We are an island nation. We are a maritime people, and in spite of our attachment to—some hon. Members might say"our entanglement with "—the EEC, I am sure that we shall remain a maritime nation for generations to come.
We have today a merchant fleet of great variety. It is comparatively young, expertly managed and well manned. I believe that it stands ready to take advantage of the upturn in world activity when the current over-capacity of world tonnage begins to recede.
Although employers and unions often differ strongly in their views on major issues, I think that it is also true to say that there is a well-established tradition of co-operation between unions and employers in the industry. Indeed, there has been only one official strike since the war. On the whole, union-management relations are good.
The British merchant fleet is still the fourth largest in the world. In certain respects—for instance, in refrigerated cargo vessels—we have the largest fleet in the world. I believe that we have a safety record three times better than the world average. Our merchant ships carry double the amount of trade that the country generates for itself.
Therefore, in our consideration of the industry it is most important that all the time we pay attention to the future of the cross trades. We must do our best to safeguard their interests. In 1977, United Kingdom-owned ships made a net contribution of more than £1,000 million to the balance of payments current account. That is an important achievement.
The Conservative Party welcomes the Bill. We shall use our best endeavours to ensure that it reaches the statute book without undue delay. Should a General Election intervene during the Bill's passage through the House—for the sake of the Bill we do not hope that it will, but in every other particular we very much hope for it—I repeat the assurance that I gave to the National Union of Seamen in August that we would wish to find an 791 early place for it in our legislative programme.
We have waited four years for the Government to bring the Bill forward to Second Reading. I hope that our commitment will be sufficient to remove the misrepresentation of our intentions that occurred earlier this year.
§ Mr. Nott
No; it was a casual remark which was misunderstood by a reporter. There was nothing in my speech on this subject.
As we are in broad agreement with most aspects of the Bill—although we shall want to move amendments in Committee, and I think that we are likely to oppose clause 31—it would be appropriate to spend a little more time now talking about merchant shipping generally. The Secretary of State dealt with the particular clauses in some detail. I think that this is an appropriate occasion to enlarge slightly on the industry's future.
The Opposition want to play a vigorous role in securing a better balance between demand and supply in world shipping. Until supply and demand come into better balance, there will not be prosperity for the industry or the kind of employment prospects that we should all like to see.
It is not enough merely to make that statement. This desire imposes a responsibility on Governments to give political and moral support to the rationalisation of our own shipbuilding capacity. That is now proposed by the board of British Shipbuilders. I welcome its recent announcement in that regard. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost for our shipping industry if this country becomes a world leader in a reckless credit race that simply adds more excess tonnage to an already heavily overburdened world market.
With 100,000 people employed in the shipping industry, we do not want to see unemployment transferred from our shipyards to our seamen. A slimmer and more viable shipbuilding industry will emerge. Whatever our political views, we must all play our part in easing the transitional and social problems that will arise in the shipyards in the next few years.
792 I prefer the course of substantial redundancy payments in the yards, retraining and other industrial programmes to building ships on flagrantly uneconomic terms for our competitors.
This is not a controversial debate and I have no intention of covering again the ground that we went over on the Polish ships issue. That contract exists and the shipyards must now do their best to satisfy our customers. But I wish to sound a warning about including new ships in the aid programme. Free or heavily subsidised gifts of tonnage to Pakistan, India and other developing countries will undermine our ability to withstand intense foreign competition. There are other forms of foreign aid which can generate employment in our factories. In the end it will not do much more than provide a short-term palliative to the existing distressing situation in the shipyards.
World shipbuilding capacity is probably double what is required in the long term. It is hard to see how more than a fraction of the world's yards will be employed in the next few years. We must tackle the severe position in the yards in a constructive, humane and far-sighted manner.
We shall continue to press for firmer action by the European Economic Community against the Soviet Union's maritime threat. This subject was raised at Question Time two or three days ago. The Soviet merchant fleet now amounts to more than 10 million deadweight tons compared with our 7 million deadweight tons. It is three to four times the tonnage necessary to carry the Soviet Union's direct cargo trade. It substantially undercuts freight rates. We must pursue a positive line, and I believe that the Government are attempting to do that.
If Mr. Brezhnev feels free to offer us gratuitous advice about the sale of Harriers to China, we can remind him of the privileged position of the Soviet Union under the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement. Two can play the game of commercial retaliation if it has to be that way. I hope that it does not.
In the meantime, the decision of the EEC States a few days ago is an inadequate but at least a first step towards more concerted European action in this sphere. It is an important area for the future of our shipping industry.
793 During the debate on oil pollution earlier in the week, I outlined our positive and constructive attitude towards the work of IMCO. I do not wish to go into that again because I covered much of the ground on Monday. But if we can achieve positive progress in the ratification of international conventions on training, substandard ships, navigation equipment and so forth—and I am delighted that many of those matters are included in the Bill—that must be the best means of proceeding. The unilateral approach of the French to oil pollution, whatever merits it may have, cannot be said to be in our shipping interests because of our huge investment in the cross trades and the world oil tanker business.
I welcome the amendments which the Government propose to move to increase the penalties for the breach of safety regulations at sea. We shall examine them, but in principle we welcome them. They are in the right direction.
We shall give every possible support to IMCO, but there are grounds for increasing activity on a regional basis, particularly within the EEC. The principles of the Hague memorandum under which a group of port States agree to implement conventions and apply them in their own ports to ships of all flags, whether or not they are party to the convention, is a good way of speeding progress. In this area we shall examine the Government's amendments. We shall probably seek to move the penalties up, not down. In the meantime, we shall wait to see what the Government propose.
In the past justified criticism has been made of the protectionist shipping policies of the United States. I was pleased to see a report of the meeting between the United States and our consultative shipping group in London earlier this month. The current United States policy review seems to be constructive and helpful. There is a perceptible change of mood in our shipping relations with that country. We must see what comes out of that review.
The more important problem comes from the world-wide growth of protectionism, not only in trade—and I hope that that trend will be checked by a successful end to the Tokyo round—but in the form of subsidised merchant fleets. 794 These have been growing all over the world. There is a legitimate aspiration on the part of developing countries to have their own shipping lines. But that does not require us to support the type of principles that are embodied in the United Nations liner code against the interests of our own industry.
The skills which our masters, officers and crew possess are exercisable when they are working for the flag carriers of any nation. Our skilled merchant seamen possess international skills. In the last resort they will be able to demand international rewards. They can move from one flag to another. The depression in world shipping has, for a time, limited job opportunities with British shipping companies. But this is an example of an industry which illustrates why British tax rates must not be allowed to get hopelessly out of line with our competitors. Concessions in the Finance Act 1977 helped our seamen who are serving overseas. But the overriding need is to bring British taxation rates more in line with those of our competitors so that the Merchant Navy offers not only an attractive career but one which is rewarding.
I intended to discuss in detail, as the Secretary of State did, some of the main provisions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman described the provisions clearly and due to the lateness of the hour I shall now refer to them only briefly. Many hon. Members wish to speak.
We welcome the new disciplinary provisions. We wish to examine them in detail in Committee, but the broad principles and the establishment of a new code of conduct for merchant shipping vessels and the fishing industry is sensible and overdue. It is right to replace the quasi-military system of discipline which dates back to the nineteenth century with a clear system of conduct in seafarers' contracts. But it is also important that effective sanctions to control offenders should be maintained.
In the debate on Monday I dealt with the question of certification of deck and engineer officers. I shall not repeat what I said on that subject.
We shall require the Committee to examine critically the limitations on liability contained in the Bill. It is not 795 our wish to see a proliferation of one-ship companies as a means of avoiding major claims. That would be undesirable. But, with an ever-increasing volume of hazardous cargoes moving into our ports and around our coasts, it is necessary to inquire into the real capacity of world insurance markets. We want to know what the insurance markets can absorb. It is not the function of Parliament to place an artificially low figure on compensation for insurable risks. I emphasise the words"insurable risks ". I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) will wish to examine that matter in Committee.
I should like to raise a personal matter. A colleague of mine has drawn attention to the sad death of his father in a fatal accident on a British flag vessel when it was in port in the United States. Many organisations could have conducted an inquiry but none did. I understand that the Bill provides for a new standard inquiry procedure for accidents of this kind. I am pleased about that. However, I am not clear whether that procedure will apply to accidents which fall short of death on board—I am talking of passengers rather than crew.
Does the Unfair Contract Terms Act cover ticket conditions restricting negligence claims by passengers against British ship owners? Are the ticket conditions disallowed under the Unfair Contract Terms Act? Under the small print, can a shipowner exclude himself from negligence when claims are made by passengers?
There is another aspect concerning accidents. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, as the Secretary of State said, provides substantial protection for employees. There is no longer to be a limit on the amount that they can claim. That is in sharp contrast to the position for passengers, and in Committee we should like to look into that.
The British Fishing Federation has made one point that I should like to mention. On a small fishing vessel it is most important that the skipper or a senior member of the crew should be appointed to look after matters covered by the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. It would be intolerable if a junior crew member, purely because of his trade union affiliation, were to dictate the 796 manner, for instance, in which fishing gear should be used. We therefore want to be sure that the provisions of the Act, with which, in broad principle, we agree, will not lead to friction between the skipper of a small fishing vessel and whoever is authorised to oversee the provisions of the Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral will have more to say about pilot-age, but we are glad that the recommendations of the advisory committee now seem to meet with general approval. We are also glad that the pensions matter is settled. I have seen representatives of the pilotage authorities and of the unions—does my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) wish to intervene?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I feel that my hon. Friend's enthusiasm about the pilotage provisions is beginning to run away with him. I am simply urging him to be more cautious for reasons which later will become clear.
§ Mr. Nott
I have studied with some care a whole host of submissions on pilotage—deep sea pilotage, mandatory pilotage in our ports, which I believe concerns my hon. Friend, and whether pilotage should be permissive, and so on. Contrary to what the Secretary of State said, there is still a permissive element about pilotage in the Bill. I have followed all these matters, but I do not intend to go into them now because I want to leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral to deal with them in greater detail and with greater skill than I could.
I have seen the unions, the association representing the pilots and others. We shall be tabling amendments on pilotage in Committee, but on the whole I think that they will be changes of detail rather than major changes of principle.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am pleased that the hon. Member supports the pilotage commission. I shall have criticisms to make of it, but in its establishment it is presumably a quango. Are the Opposition supporting the use of a quango on this occasion?
§ Mr. Nott
We shall wish to table probing amendments in Committee about the powers of the pilotage commission. On the whole, however, if the commission is a quango it is the best kind of quango. 797 With most of the quangos that the Government establish, Ministers put their friends upon the boards, and the taxpayer has to pay the fees. The proposals for the pilotage commission, however, provide that the industry will finance it. That is different from the kind of Socialist quango that we normally criticise.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
My hon. Friend said that the industry will finance the commission. Ultimately, however, it will pass the cost on to the consumer. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Nott
I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall.
I have followed the argument about the pilotage commission. Last week I met Trinity House, which is concerned about this matter. After the report of the first consultative group, Trinity House was particularly concerned about certain aspects. We shall want to table amendments in Committee. The problem is that there are 40 pilotage authorities in the country, and, whereas I would prefer not to set up new bodies, in this case we face a particular problem.
I want now to move on to the most contentious part of the Bill, clause 31. I regret that the Government have sought to include it. The Bill generally is uncontroversial, but this is a controversial item. I remember the views of the industry in the case of Furness Withy, and the approaches that it made to the Government. This clause, however, gives the widest of powers to the Secretary of State. They would allow him, without reference to the industry, to stop the sale, not just of shipping companies, but of individual ships to foreign purchasers. Under the clause as drafted he could prevent the transfer of one share from one foreign resident to another. The Bill is very widely drawn, and I am not sure that that is right.
The Secretary of State gave the example of what has happened in the North Sea, but how far would we have got in the North Sea without the massive investment that has come in from overseas? Inward investment into the shipping business is nothing new. Esso, Mobil and Shipping Industrial Holdings are all significant owners in our industry, and they play a vital part in it. Foreign investment may 798 often be the only means of preventing the liquidation of a British company, with a consequent loss of jobs.
I do not like clause 31 as it stands. We shall probe it is Committee, but as I see it we are likely to oppose it.
In broad terms we welcome the Bill, with the qualifications that I have outlined. Our shipping industry faces difficult times, but I have faith in its resilience and flexibility to enable it to win through the present over-capacity in world markets, and prosper in the future, as it has always done in the past.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull. East)
I warmly welcome the Bill for a number of personal reasons which I shall explain. I wish to congratulate and welcome my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State to what is presumably his first Bill.
§ Mr. Prescott
Then I welcome him to his first major Bill.
The Bill is a major measure of reform for seafarers, and I am pleased that the Government are honouring a commitment made many years ago. This is the third Merchant Shipping Bill which seeks to correct the many injustices complained of by seafarers in the 1966 strike. I was one of the active components of that strike, but, fortunately, did not get the accolade of being one of the politically motivated men. Perhaps that was because I had just fought as a Labour candidate in the election at Southport.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Bill. I am sure that we shall receive his attention on the matters we raise. This legislation is part of a continuing process. The industry is in a constant state of change, and we therefore constantly adjust our attitudes and our demands in respect of it.
I welcome, too, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade who represents in this House the well-known sea port of Hackney. I worked with him as a Parliamentary Private Secretary and I was deeply impressed by the wa, in which he listened to the problems of the seafaring industry. It is a highly complex industry, and is considerably different from shore-based industry. It takes a 799 great deal of experience and patience to understand the problems involved.
We owe the Government a great deal, not only for preparing the Bill but for the current political circumstances. Seafarers thought that the Bill would be precluded by a General Election. In that respect, I welcome the response by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who stated that if there was an election and his party won they would attach to it the degree of importance that he mentioned.
The grievances that we backed in the 1966 strike—and I shall not rehearse them all—were recognised in the Pearson inquiry and related to the quasi-military aspect of the industrialisation of merchant shipping. That attitude was very much resented. It was governed by legislation introduced in 1894. What we felt to be particularly offensive—and in my 10 years at sea I had personal experience of these matters—was the use of discipline of a kind that would not be acceptable in any other industry. We believe that one should appeal to a man's sense of self-discipline rather than rely on the imposition of fines, heavy sentences and the use of the captain's penal powers on board a vessel.
The Labour Government set out to reform the position in order to give seafarers the opportunity to carry out their work against a background of sensible legislation. This is the third instalment of legislation that began in 1970. The second instalment came in 1974, and this Bill is the third instalment. These provisions provide a number of major reforms called for by the Pearson inquiry and other independent bodies.
The recommendations embodied in these provisions include a number which I myself made when a member of a Department of Trade disciplinary committee in 1970. However, it has taken almost 10 years to convince the Department that these matters should be embodied in legislation. We felt that there should be statutory provisions governing safety matters rather than to have a system involving voluntary codes and maritime notices. This Bill takes us a major way along the path to guaranteeing statutory controls in the matter of safety. This will give a great deal of help to workers under legislation relating to health and safety.
800 I have a number of criticisms to make of the Bill but, in the main, the Bill reflects a package deal. Part of the trouble with our industry is that these matters always appear to reflect a package deal. We have to trade off these provisions in ways that other industries do not have to adopt. Indeed, this Bill encompasses a number of package deals. The provisions in regard to pilotage are very much a package deal. It is interesting to note that the provisions depart to a considerable extent from the proposals issued by the ACOPS committee—the pilots committee—that was set up to consider this subject. We are trying to correct the mess that was created for seafarers in 1970. I refer particularly to the penal clauses. Therefore, in that respect alone I welcome the Bill.
I wish to say a few words about the subject of pilotage. I shall not go into great detail on that subject because no doubt others will have an opportunity to deal with that subject in Committee. I wish to warn the Labour Whips that I shall not be available personally because no doubt I shall be in Europe attending to other duties, many of them dealing with shipping.
One of the early reports on this topic went a long way towards establishing a pilotage commission with some authority. I wish to emphasise that there are far too many organisations dealing with pilotage; and I believe that Trinity House has far too much power. It is rare that the Department ever questions the universal recommendations of its committees in package deals. Certainly that is the position in regard to fishing disciplinary committee's report, which is the reason for the penal clauses, even though the unions are against those provisions. However a different situation applies in respect of pilotage in that it departed from that package deal. How does Trinity House possess such powers?
I am told that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) is a member of Trinity House. That may be a good indication of the kind of influence that such a body can exert. If one can depart in principle in respect of one package deal, why cannot a similar principle be departed from in another package deal? Perhaps in one case it involves officers and gentlemen and in the other case mere fishermen. If that is the case, 801 one must excuse those fishermen for drawing conclusions. That is one of the difficulties in this type of exercise if one seeks to keep to a package deal but departs from it to suit a particular purpose. We hope that in the coming years we shall be able to correct some of the earlier mistakes caused by the penalties imposed for unauthorised drinking on board vessels.
I believe that these matters of pilotage should have been dealt with by radical changes in the whole organisation of shipping and seafaring by the establishment of a maritime authority. I made that case when I was a PPS, but I believe that it was defeated by the Civil Service, which still opposes such a suggestion. However, it can be said that in a piecemeal way the Civil Service is gradually moving towards some form of maritime authority.
The European Community is moving towards a similar kind of organisation on the lines of a maritime authority. There is a regional argument to be considered relating to questions of pollution, safety matters and many other areas of activity. Much of the organisational matters in this area could benefit from the work of a maritime authority.
I hope that the Minister will consider the use of a provision to make mandatory the compulsory use of pilots. I have in mind the"Amoco Cadiz"incident as well as the more recent example involving the"Christos Bitas ". The difficulty is that not all countries observe international standards and that many do not ratify them. It often takes five to 10 years to ratify or implement these provisions. This also will be true of the work carried out by SOLAS and IMCO. There is an argument, as has been recognised in the EEC, for extending the port State power to deal with vessels which continually flout minimum international standards.
Therefore, the idea of compulsory pilotage on vessels, particularly loaded tankers, is a possibility. I hope that this suggestion will be considered. If the problem of intervention on the high seas arises, we shall have to ensure that such vessels will not be allowed into ports if they are unaccompanied by pilots. That will be a powerful sanction, and I hope that that suggestion will be seriously 802 considered as a possible amendment to the Bill.
I said earlier that this Bill was a charter for seamen. This attitude is summed up in Command Paper 7217, which states:Seafarers have an arduous and exacting life at sea and should benefit from conditions of employment, safety and health comparable, as far as possible, with those which apply on land.The Bill and the other provisions introduced by the Government comprise a major step forward in achieving standards for seafarers. I very much welcome this charter.
Let me take some examples of the effects of the provisions. It has been argued that we should move away from the voluntary system of maritime notice in safety matters to statutory control. That will be a major step forward which I very much welcome. I also welcome the extra powers given to inspectors in relation to enforcement. This is a great step forward in terms of safety on board vessels.
Mention has been made of an increase in the scope of various inquiries. This is aimed at giving more opportunities to the Department to be able to investigate matters, not only in cases in which there have been fatalities, but other cases involving the safety of those on board. I remember one case involving a fishing skipper from my own area who defied an Icelandic gunboat by telling his crew to go aft while the gunboat fired on the vessel. That was clearly a threat to the seafarers on board. Whatever one may feel about the pirate action of the skipper at that time, I must tell the House that we took no action under Merchant Shiping Acts against that skipper. I hope that the new provisions will give us a chance to move to deal with the delays involved in inquiries which may prevent the taking of prosecutions. Bearing in mind what happened with"Globtic Venus ", we might also take certain action.
We welcome the extension of safety controls to the offshore area. I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind the circumstances of the recent diving accident in the North Sea. A new principle was involved in this incident. It was believed that a vessel could operate safely with dynamic positioning, without using anchors. A computer controlled the engines, allowing the divers to go to 803 work in 26 ft. seas and force 8 gales. That was stupidity of the first order. This accident was avoidable. The vessel ought not to have been operating in such conditions. There is an undoubted threat to seafarers if they are led to believe that they may safely work in close proximity to oil rigs and production vessels in such weather. I hope that the Department will look carefully at all the new developments, which may be increasingly dangerous.
I come now to the increase in the compensation limits. This is in a large measure due to the efforts of my right hon. Friend, who discovered the limit on the liability of compensation payable to seafarers. This alteration proposed in the Bill is very much due to his intervention. The move did not come from the union, which was not aware of the position. I, too, was unaware of this condition. I congratulate the Minister on giving us the opportunity to make amends, so that when injury occurs the seafarer can receive compensation comparable with that paid to industrial shore workers.
There is one feature in the Bill relating to the seaman who deserts his wife and children and who can duck his responsibilities to pay maintenance. This arises because of the inability to make an attachment of earnings order. I am glad that this is being dealt with, although I am not sure that some members of my union would feel the same way. Seamen must face up to this responsibility in the same way as shore workers. If it is argued that the seafarer should have comparable conditions, he must accept comparable responsibilities.
The major area of the Bill concerns discipline. I have always been against disciplinary procedures at sea. Having had personal experience of them, I have long been bitterly opposed to the concept of imposing respect by discipline. It is not possible. This idea has led to some major industrial incidents, most of them unofficial and as much against the union as against the owners, certainly in the 1960s.
I have always supported one principle: if any action constituted a threat to the vessel or to another person's life, that action should merit a penalty of the highest order. There are special circumstances on board vessels. We do not 804 oppose the idea of increasing the penalties for any action constituting a threat to the safety of the vessel or other men. The idea that discipline is the best form of safety was extended in the industry to all sorts of incidents. The result was that even the nightwatchman on a passenger ship, who was supposed to be listening to the bell but who fell asleep, was fined as much as £10 with the loss of a day's pay. He had nothing to do with the safety of the ship. Such a penalty is not justifiable.
To recall a saltier tale, I can remember that on a number of occasions, on passenger ships, if a steward or any seaman was caught with a female passenger he was charged with"broaching the ship's cargo ". It is a rather unfortunate phrase. but the charge led to a fine of £10 or £15 and expulsion from the industry or the ship involved. I believe that that was an excessive judgment made by those who had been given draconian powers.
Once we have enacted this measure and got rid of the system whereby the captain imposes fines, the seafarer will have the right to go before a tribunal or have his case dealt with by the industry. I shall be sending the Minister details of a case in which an anomaly has become apparent. Because the phrase"Great Britain"does not include Northern Ireland while the phrase"United Kingdom"does, Northern Irish seamen sailing on British vessels do not have the right to go before an unfair dismissals tribunal. That anomaly must be corrected.
I welcome the commitment given by the Government to repeal certain disciplinary matters. The advances which have taken place in the industry in the past have been very much due to the actions of a Labour Government. This is very much to their credit. The results of their actions have made me feel that perhaps I should return to sea. I do not know whether the owners would lift the blacking sanction against me—although it is quite different from the opposition to the sanctions imposed upon Ford.
I have emphasised the seafarer and the shipping industry. However, coming from a fishing port, I believe that what has been done for seafarers must be done for those earning a living in the fishing industry. All too often the union 805 is against changes in the law. Certainly the fishermen of Grimsby are. The Secretary of State has made clear that decasualisation is an important cause of the problems in this industry. The effect of drink and the conditions in which the men have to work are important considerations, too. I welcome the action that will be taken against those who encourage drunken fishermen to board vessels or to fly to Scotland to join a vessel. Such people should be open to prosecution.
I am pleased that the Department has acknowledged that fires on board trawlers are greater in number than they ought to be. The figures given by the Minister show that the incidence of fires on trawlers is twice as high as it was a decade ago, far higher than it is on other types of vessels. That is unsatisfactory. I am sure that this contributes to the fact that the average number of deaths of fishermen between 1961 and 1963 and 1964 and 1976 showed such a remarkable increase. The figure rose from being four times higher than in the coal mining industry to being 10 times higher. From being 10 times higher than the figures for manufacturing industry it rose to being 50 times higher. That position cannot be tolerated, and I am glad that the Minister is giving his early attention to it.
I am pleased that the Opposition welcome the Bill. They have said that they oppose clause 31. I hope that they will reflect upon that. The industry has asked for the power contained in clause 31. I can well understand why the Opposition want to back out of the deal. Perhaps some sort of a package deal was involved. We shall have to see what happens in Committee.
There is a certain amount of hypocrisy on the part of the owners, but that is not new. They argue that the Russians are a threat, because of their unfair competition. Yet the owners controlled matters through the liner conferences for many years. Why should the argument of unfair shipbuilding competition be so different when the owners seek to build their ships in Japanese yards? Why should taxpayers have to top up the difference between the cost of building in a European yard and a Japanese yard? Presumably the cost would be even higher in the Korean yards. This is a 806 crazy way of operating. If we are expected to give the shipping industry some protection, should we not say that the industry ought to place its orders nearer home?
There was an article today in The Times about flags of convenience, pointing out that a lot of tonnage was leaving European flags to sail under flags of convenience. I believe that all the powers sought to be operated against the Russians should be used against the flags of convenience, even if this affects British owners who are seeking to obtain tax advantages and avoid regulations.
I was alarmed this morning when read in The Guardian that the Isle of Man is to have the opportunity to become a flag of convenience. It is said that the intention is not to reduce standards but to give tax advantages. Presumably, if seamen sail under the Isle of Man flag they may look forward to being birched for some offences. As I understand it, that is the law in the Isle of Man. That goes very much against the type of legislation that we are now discussing.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, who have so far resisted the blandishments of Bermuda, Hong Kong and other countries to give special tax advantages, will be mindful of the actions. of the Isle of Man. If there is any loophole, that will be to the advantage of the shipowner.
In the main, I cannot envisage shipowners looking to the Isle of Man for tax advantages. Most of them have not paid income tax for goodness knows how many years. If the Isle of Man offers. tax advantages, that will make little difference to the majority of owners. That probably explains why they have not gone to many of the areas of tax advantage.
I welcome the Bill. It is a major advance. There has been a long uphill struggle to change the present laws. There have been many struggles. I am glad that at last Parliament has turned its car to the need to reform and to give to seafarers the rights that are enjoyed by workers ashore. It is a major social advance for British seafarers. I am glad' that it should come in legislation sponsored by the Labour Government in, accord with a commitment given many years ago.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The House will wish to known that there are 14 hon. Members who wish to catch my eye, probably within the next three hours.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his Bill and on his lucid exposition of it. I cannot speak with the expertise and personal knowledge of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who served in the Merchant Navy. I served for some years in the Royal Navy. I think the hon. Gentleman would claim that to be rather different.
I represent fishing communities. I represent a constituency that has always made a considerable contribution to the number of men serving in the Merchant Navy. Even now there are men from my constituency in almost every shipping line in the United Kingdom as well as in some foreign lines. They are serving at all ranks. In the heyday of transatlantic liner travel we produced a commodore for the Cunard Line. There was pride in my constituency that one of my constituents, who is now dead, was the sculptor's model for the Merchant Navy memorial. For many years he was the bosun with the New Zealand Shipping Company. I speak with a great constituency interest in welcoming the Bill.
It is unfortunate that pilotage has not been covered by a separate Bill. A separate Bill would have been justified. The Government should take some cognisance of the representations from the Scottish Guild of Pilots that there should be a Scottish pilotage committee. That is more than a nationalist argument. The view has been expressed that, in time, appointees to the commission, whatever the original composition, will come from Trinity House because they will be near the Department and convenient. There is strength in that argument.
Clause 1(2) provides that licensed pilots will be appointed to the commission. A specific number should be laid down in the Bill. It has been submitted that five pilots would be reasonable in a committee of 12. I agree with that. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he hoped the committee would have a balanced membership. A number should be written into the Bill.
808 As for the levies to be imposed by the commission, there is a good case for a certain proportion of the money to come from Government funds. That would give the Department a responsibility and an interest at all stages.
I agree with the submission of the Scottish Guild of Pilots that pilotage certificates should be confined to bona fide masters. There must be no question of doing otherwise. It would be intolerable for a ship's captain to hand over control of navigation of his vessel to someone less well qualified than himself.
It would be a retrograde step to remove under clause 8(5) the exemption from compulsory pilotage of harbour vessels such as tugs, dredgers and barges. The skippers of such vessels know their harbours as well as the palms of their hands. Their record of safety and avoidance of collisions is pretty high. It would be unfortunate if they were obliged to become involved in pilotage.
I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear—this issue does not arise in the Bill but I think it appeared in a White Paper—whether EEC nationals may qualify for certificates, and possibly without reciprocation. What about ships sailing under flags of convenience? I shall be glad to receive some assurance from the Government Front Bench.
Discipline is dealt with in clause 23 (1)(d). It is a sound provision and I do not object to it. However, the master should he obliged to inform seamen of the appeals procedure. There have been one or two instances where time has elapsed before the seamen concerned have been aware of their rights. It would be a useful measure for the captain to be obliged in a case of dispute or removal of the pay book, to inform the crew member of his rights. Records and documentation should be kept as simple as possible. Most ships captains already have enough paper work.
Clauses 21 and 22 deal with safety. In common with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, I can say that one of my constituents lost his life as a result of an accident aboard ship. I do not need to detail the case now, because it has been settled. However, my constituent lost his life through faulty stays on the crosstrees of a mast. His brother, a master mariner, informed me that the 809 defect was of such a nature that it would never have been allowed in similar circumstances ashore by the factory inspectorate. Therefore, I welcome the Bill's protection of our seamen.
Clause 25 deals with unauthorised liquor. The provisions are essential. Anyone who knows about these matters could not argue with the clause. The unfortunate reduction in the number of long distance vessels means that liquor may not be such a problem as it was some time ago. Most fishermen are now fishing within a day or two of port and that has altered their drinking patterns.
I query the fine of £1,000 or imprisonment of two years Those penalties seem unduly harsh and I hope that we shall hear some justification for them.
Clause 27 relates to the powers of Department of Trade inspectors. Vessels are bringing oil to our shores but at Sullom Voe, for example, ships are now coming in to take oil away from that part of the Shetlands. They are travelling around the coast. There should be inspection of those tankers to ensure that they are fit for the sea and that their masters have the necessary qualifications. Although they could be vessels of their own nationality dealing with their own oil, the most stringent inspection should take place there as well.
This is a very useful and essential measure. I hope that some of my points will be dealt with or aired and amendments made in Committee. I welcome the Bill on behalf of my party.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) referred to his service in the Royal Navy. Mine was with the merchant service, firstly, with Glen Line, the MV"Glenorchy"out of Glasgow. She was lost on the August 1942 Malta convoy. Even after all those years my mother still says"Eric, you have never been the same since you went to sea with those Scotsmen ". It is probably true.
This is the first occasion on which I have followed the right hon. Gentleman in a debate on the Merchant Navy. I was glad that his remarks were entirely within the context of the British shipping 810 industry, and entirely within the context of the United Kingdom. I hope that I do not embarrass him by saying how grateful I was to hear him talking about the British merchant service and not necessarily the Scottish merchant service, although I began with a Scottish ship and a Scottish crew.
I turn briefly—because this is a friendly occasion—to the two Front Benches, which earlier were both composed of the old and the new. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State represents the old and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State represents the new. I say publicly to my right hon. Friend what I said to him privately when he was translated to his new duties —that at least some good has come out of devolution.
On the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) was in good form again tonight. Yet I kept hearing him say"This is a point which will be taken up in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral." I have the impression that whatever duties are to be done in Committee they were being passed on to the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt). I recall the hon. Member for Wirral spoke for more than two and a half hours on a Bill dealing with the Mersey ferries, let alone the shipping industry, and my fear is that speeches of that length may be repeated in Committee. Nevertheless, he is a very competent Member, from Merseyside. I welcome him and wish him well, across the water and across the Floor of the House.
This is a Bill which deserves an unopposed Second Reading today. But it is one which, as other hon. Members have already said, requires, and ought to have, detailed consideration in Committee and on Report. Merchant shipping Bills come but rarely before us. It is eight years since the last major one, the Merchant Shipping Act 1970. The Merchant Shipping Act 1970 was a merchant shipping Bill to which a few miscellaneous provisions had been added. A few miscellaneous provisions have since been added to it. The Bill now before the House appears to me to be a pilotage Bill to which some miscellaneous provisions about the merchant service and other matters have been added. The long title of the Bill makes this quite clear.
811 While most of the changes proposed by the Bill are amendments to earlier Merchant Shipping Acts or Pilotage Acts, there are other amendments to other previous pieces of legislation, including the Nuclear Installations Act 1965, the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919, the Hovercraft Act 1968, and others.
Within the terms of the long title, therefore, Ministers ought not to be too surprised if, either in Committee or on Report, other amendments come forward, not necessarily from the Opposition Benches but also from the Labour Benches, to certain parts of this generally agreed Bill.
The Bill has been long in preparation and most of the clauses, if not all, are in the form that they are tonight after a very great deal of comment, discussion, argument and consultation between interested parties outside the House. Almost inevitably, Parliament as Parliament is almost the last body to be involved.
The provisions of clauses 1 to 13, the pilotage clauses, have been discussed and eventually agreed in this form by Trinity House and the other 39 or 40 pilotage authorities to which reference has already been made in the debate. Trinity House certainly kept hon. Members reasonably well informed of those discussions, as did the other pilotage authorities. From time to time hon. Members have referred matters to the Minister, passing questions and comments to him, concerning those discussions.
I have three comments to make concerning the pilotage clauses. The pilotage authorities ought certainly to appreciate the courtesy and consideration which Ministers and their colleagues have given to them during the whole of these considerations and preparations.
My next point is a little critical. Were we at the start of our maritime history, no one in his right mind would create a system of pilotage authorities which was so complicated—not to say chaotic at times—as we have round the shores of the United Kingdom. It is completely illogical. Yet. like so many British institutions, it seems to work very well on nearly all occasions. Our duty is to look at the whole pilotage system, regardless of what has or has not been agreed outside, and to ensure that we get the best pilotage system possible.
812 I ask the Minister and the pilotage authorities to recognise that, whilst they have agreed these proposals, it is Parliament's job to look at the legislation critically all the way through and to ensure that we get the best pilotage system for our sailors and ships.
I turn now to the disciplinary clauses, particularly clause 25. That clause proposes to make it an offence to take or to be in possession of unauthorised liquor on board a fishing vessel. I appreciate the arguments for and against the clause. I do not understand how an intoxicated person being taken on board a fishing vessel can be charged with being in possession of intoxicating liquor. I thought that being in possession meant that it had to be carried separately from the body. If I were to swallow something and was found to be in possession of it, I should leave it to the lawyers to sort out.
I am concerned about clause 23(5)(a) which providesfor a person to cease to be entitled to a discharge book ".I have only little knowledge of the fishing industry. However, in the Merchant Navy as a whole the loss of the discharge book is the ultimate deterrent to any sailor. Fines and other penalties may be acceptable, but the loss of the discharge book should not be considered lightly. I hope that matter will be seriously considered in Committee.
I now ask the Minister a difficult question of which I gave him notice by telephone this afternoon. This concerns the lives of some of our sailors on board ship in port or at sea, though it is not directly concerned with the disciplinary clauses.
Members of the crew of a United Kingdom merchant ship, wherever that ship may be, either at sea or in port, were excluded from the general provisions of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 by virtue of section 2 of that Act. I ask the Minister to confirm that, within the long title, it will be possible for a new clause to be added to the Bill to repeal section 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. As that question may, fortunately or unfortunately, arouse more than passing interest, I should explain why I have asked the question.
I recognise that it is never the right time to ask about either our salaries or the sexual conduct of ourselves or anyone 813 else. Social legislation is essentially a matter for Back Benchers, not for Front Benchers. Governments do not bring in legislation on capital punishment, divorce or certain other matters, and the Whips have no part in such measures.
I am aware that homosexuality is of intense and prurient interest both inside and outside Parliament at this time. But the time to raise this aspect of this matter is on Second Reading of a Bill which concerns members of the merchant services. I did not choose the timing of the debate on Second Reading. This question concerns the lives and livelihoods of some members of the merchant services who are homosexual, not heterosexual. As I understand the law at present, conduct which is lawful between some male adult citizens of the United Kingdom is unlawful between two adult male United Kingdom citizens if they are both members of the crew of a British ship or of the crew of two different British ships—
§ Mr. Ogden
—and that conduct takes place on board a British ship at sea or in port. But, as my hon. Friend rightly says, that conduct would not be unlawful if conducted by the same two people away from the ship, or between one member of a crew and a passenger.
That anomaly was brought to my attention some weeks ago by a person whom I had never met before, from an organisation outside this House, who pointed out the anomalies and asked whether I would raise them. That I have done openly for the House to consider.
I am advised that no other merchant service in the world is subject to similar provisions by the national law of its country. I am unaware of any prosecution made under section 2 of the 1967 Act. I simply put forward the proposition that if we have had an Act of Parliament on our statute book for more than 10 years which has never been enforced and has never produced a prosecution, let alone a conviction, it seems reasonably sensible to say that it is an unnecessary law and ought to be repealed.
I know that there are many commissions considering the reform of the law. When they report is their business, but it 814 is unlikely that they will be reporting before this Bill gets through, with or without a General Election. I simply say that it is a point that ought to be considered either in Committee or on Report, and I hope that the Minister will note my comments and give a reply later.
Some time ago, during debate on the Finance Bill, the House discussed the question of Ocean Container Lines, taxation policy, the Finance Bill and consortia. Again I put a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Entirely within the provisions of this Bill and its long title, if we can amend other Acts of Parliament within the long title of the Bill, it would surely be in order to introduce an amendment—I am not arguing the merits—to amend a Finance Act. I am not saying whether I would like it or support it, but that it would be in order within the long title. I ask for a reply on that. I await some response from either Ocean Container Lines—my own company, though I have no financial interest in it—or the General Council of British Shipping. It is a point that ought to be dealt with.
§ Mr. Ogden
Well, let us see how it goes along. I am asking the simple question: can it be within the purposes of the Bill—very wide on shipping matters—to bring forward such amendment if anyone wanted to bring it forward for discussion?
The officers and members of the General Council of British Shipping have almost invariably been admirable in the way they have tried to inform us of their needs, achievements, hopes, aspirations and problems. They do not do this only at a time of crisis, as so many other industries do. Certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) must be absolutely sick and tired of people approaching him and us when a crisis blows up in Liverpool, people who have not been in touch vfith him during the past 10, 15 or 20 years.
The shipping industry, represented by the GCBS usually tries to keep Members informed. One example of the ways that it does that is by the brief which presumably it sends not only to me but to every Member of Parliament. The 815 GCBS says, as other Members have already reported, that the Bill, in the main, is an agreed measure and that it supports 50 of the 51 clauses. It has sent us four pages, two to say why it supports 50 of the clauses and two to say why it opposes one particular clause. The council gives cogent reasons which ought to be considered as to why we should support or oppose. I would agree that we can argue most of those as the Bill goes along. The council's final submission—at paragraph 7 of the brief—gives one reason why it suggests that we should oppose clause 31. This is the council's verdict:A subsidiary reason for opposing this proposal is that it introduces a controversial element into an otherwise uncontroversial Bill and could therefore delay the passing into law of the many useful provisions which the Bill contains.If the GCBS is really saying"Everything has been agreed, let it go through on the nod, because we have fixed it and got a package deal—do not rock the boat, let it go through.", then my reply must be"Drop dead, that is not the way Parliament ought to be working ". Legislation is not necessarily good because it is non-controversial. Some of the most horrible legislation has got through this House because it was non-controversial. I once got a Bill through on the nod under Standing Order No. 7. It was non-controversial, but that did not make it a good Bill or a bad Bill. Therefore, the simple fact that a measure is non-controversial ought not to be a good reason why Parliament should not consider it. In fact, as I am sure many hon. Members will agree, if there is even agreement between the two Front Benches, it is time for Back Benchers to take a very special interest indeed.
All I am saying is that we seem to have the makings of a very good Bill. No matter how much agreement there may be outside, it is Parliament's job to look at it as a new piece of legislation and to decide the matter on its merits. At the end, without wasting any time, we should have a Bill of which we can be proud and which will help, strengthen and support the merchant service and shipping industry which we all want to support.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
The Bill deals with one of the most important 816 industries in Britain, and one which is both modern and efficient, in considerable contrast with other industries which take up more time in this House. We have the largest merchant fleet in the Western world, and approximately 50 per cent. of the ships of the Common Market. It is no mean feat that our ships earn £3,500 millions worth of foreign currency every year, and it is against that background that we must consider the Bill.
The bible"on merchant shipping seems to be the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 which runs to no fewer than 748 sections. In contrast, the Bill is minute. But when one looks at the 1894 Act, it is interesting to discover that the style has a clarity which is sadly lacking in modern legislation. Whether that has something to do with a different style of drafting, or whether it is the complexity of modem life, I do not know, but if one reads the 1894 Act one can actually understand what all the sections say, which is more than can be said in respect of many Bills which come before us nowadays.
Of course, that was a different era. It was the era of"The Onedin Line"of television fame. It was an era when the Act laid down that every member of the crew must have 72 cubic feet—presumably, 2 ft. wide, 6 ft. long and 6 ft. high. That was the total amount of accommodation provided for a member of a crew in those days. It is a very different story from the modern ships in service today.
If passengers were in steerage they were not allowed any spirits on board, and their berths were 18 ins. wide. By law, only one person was allowed to occupy each berth, unless it was husband and wife. The master was fined £50 if he landed passengers at the wrong port. Apparently, they had no other redress. It was interesting that the passenger list required a distinction to be drawn between English, Scottish, Irish and foreign. I note that Mr. Speaker himself is not in the Chair, otherwise he might have commented on the fact that the Welsh were not included in that definition. Presumably they counted as"foreign"in those days.
I turn to more modern times. Ships have changed greatly since those days. In 1894 the largest ships in service were the two Cunarders,"Campania"and"Lucania ", each of 12,900 tons. That is very different 817 from the 500,000-ton tankers of today. The 1894 legislation was presented to the House in the days of coal. Nowadays we talk about oil and the problems which come with it.
The Bill will modernise provisions for those working at sea and bring welcome amendments in discipline and safety. Today, the shipping industry faces major problems which are the worst for over 40 years. Despite its efficiency and the modern nature of the fleet, there is intense competition from the fleets of other countries. That is partly due to the present downturn in world trade, which is cyclical and which will no doubt recover. It is due partly to the emergence of Third world fleets, and naturally Governments of those countries wish to carry their share of trade to their own countries. With the increase in future world trade over the years, that is something that our Merchant Navy can and will learn to live with.
There is a good future for our fleet, but a problem on the horizon is the enormous growth of the Russian merchant navy in recent years. Not satisfied with rules of State trading in their own country, which require that most imports and exports to and from their country are carried in their own ships, the Russians are making a sustained, determined and very successful attack on the trade among the other countries of the world. They are under-cutting the prices of Western fleets by 30 per cent. Apart from the serious harm that this is doing to the British Merchant Navy, there are obvious serious strategic consequences in terms of world influence and the dependence on Soviet vessels for world trade. Therefore, I welcome clause 41 which gives the Government some power to deal with this situation, if necessary.
The matter of greatest public concern in maritime matters at present is the disastrous strandings of tankers on our cosasts. There have always been shipwrecks, but the consequences now are far worse in a world that lives on oil. With 1 million tons of oil a day passing through the Channel, a wreck can do enormous harm to the environment. The cost of clearing up the pollution is also considerable. In the case of the"Amoco Cadiz"it cost £54 million to clear the pollution from that one disaster.
818 Surely prevention is better than cure. It is reasonable to ask ourselves to what extent we can prevent strandings by means of legislation.
The first obvious matter to consider must be pilotage. The Bill has many clauses dealing with pilotage but they are confined to district pilots—those taking ships into the approaches of the various harbours around our coasts. It does not deal with deep sea pilotage in the North Sea and the Channel.
The main proposal in this part of the Bill is to set up a pilotage commission and there has been general approval of this by marine interests. However, there is concern in two directions. The first is that there should be a proper balance maintained in the membership of the commission, and, although the Minister has given an assurance, there are those outside the House who would like to see the composition of the commission written into the Bill in the same way that it was written into the 1894 Act for another body that was set up under that legislation.
The second concern is over the powers that could be taken by the new commission. The advisory committee on pilotage has stressed that the powers must be clearly defined to prevent future growth beyond the essential purposes. I am sure that the Minister is sincere in saying that he wishes those powers to be confined but we all know what happens in practice. These bodies tend to grow once they are formed. The advisory committee recommended that the permanent staff should be no more than 10. I should be happy to see written into the Bill a requirement that the number of staff should not exceed 10. That would be an excellent example to set to other bodies.
I instance the National Ports Council. That body costs, in real terms, twice as much as it did when it was set up 10 years ago. We must consider this carefully in Committee.
Should deep sea pilotage be compulsory? There are arguments for and against. However, it is clear that in the international waters involved there must me international agreement if this is to be effective. In 1972 an international working group was set up to consider Channel pilotage. It was chaired by a 819 representative of Trinity House. It produced rules for a voluntary deep sea pilotage service in the Channel and the North Sea. Those rules were ratified at a conference of North European pilotage authorities in Antwerp in May 1976. To be effective this argument must be approved by IMCO. The Department of Trade undertook to present these proposals to IMCO. Today, two and a half years later, the Department has not done so, unless it did it today or earlier this week. That does not show sufficient speed in dealing with an important issue.
When we consider in Committee, as no doubt we shall, whether there should be compulsory powers, we must turn our minds to two matters. The first is the extent to which there could be exemptions for well-found and well-run ships. The second, on the other side, is whether a requirement for compulsory pilotage should be confined to tankers, LNG carriers and other vessels of that nature. I do not favour the latter proposal because a small tramp steamer can easily hole and sink a very large crude carrier. I think that all ships should be considered if there is to be such a scheme. However, as I have said, there are pros and cons in compulsory pilotage which we must consider in Committee.
The main need is to ensure that ships are operated properly, and there is alarming evidence available that many foreign vessels are not. This is very much an international problem because international agreement is needed to enforce any rules that are made.
Three States have rights over a ship. The first is the flag State in whose port the ship is registered. The flag State often finds it very difficult to enforce legislation because the ship in question may hardly ever visit its country of registration. There are probably British ships which seldom enter a British port, and when it comes to places such as Liberia, Panama and other tax havens most of their ships never go anywhere near the country in which they are registered. That makes it difficult in practice for such a flag State to enforce regulations against its ships. It is easier for a port State because if a vessel calls there, regulations can be enforced if the law internationally allows it to be.
The coastal State is in difficulty. It often suffers from the malpractices of pass- 820 ing ships and it has great difficulty in enforcing the law against them if they do not call at its ports. It is hardly clear, for instance, how far out to sea the jurisdiction of a coastal State extends. That is a matter about which lawyers will argue at great length. What is clear is that territorial waters still have some significance and meaning. It is also clear that the United Kingdom, for some extraordinary reason, retains territorial waters of only three miles. I hope that the Minister will address himself to this because there is a clear move in the world to 12 miles. France is moving in that direction, and I understand that the EEC is suggesting that all members should move to 12 miles. Perhaps this Bill is a suitable means to bring in an extension of territorial waters to 12 miles.
The 1960 and 1972 international regulations for the prevention of collisions are enforceable not only by flag States but also by coastal States in their own territorial waters. So for that set of provisions territorial waters have considerable significance.
But even in territorial waters ships in general have the right of innocent passage. As I understand it, we cannot prosecute ships even for the discharge of oil in the three-mile limit unless the vessel comes into one of our ports. This filthy habit is usually indulged in by ships which are passing and have no intention of coming to Britain.
The United Nations conference on the law of the sea is suggesting that the right to innocent passage should be lost if vessels deliberately or negligently pollute the waters as they pass. However, I need hardly remind the House that that conference has been talking for some 10 years without coming to a final conclusion. I am afraid that we cannot rely upon any solution from it for some years to come.
It is easy for any Government to legislate to take powers out to sea. But there is a warning here which we should consider. That example could be followed elsewhere in the world. Although any regulations that we passed would no doubt be sensible and fair, there are rulers around the world who could not be relied upon to do the same. President Idi Amin does not have a coastline, but there are other gentlemen with peculiar ways of administering their affairs who do. 821 There could be a danger to our Merchant Navy if we set an example by pressing too far in legislating on a national basis for international waters.
There are appalling delays in bringing into force the international agreements needed to deal with these international problems. IMCO is the only United Nations body based in London. It is very active and energetic, but inevitably it takes a considerable time to agree among its member States the various conventions which it ultimately passes.
The sad factor about IMCO is that, although it is energetic, it is powerless to get its reports ratified by its member Governments. It takes five years on average, and in some cases 10 years, for these conventions once agreed by IMCO to be ratified by the member Governments. This will not do.
The safety of life at sea convention of 1974 which among other provisions required ships to have radar—I might say that British ships have that requirement already under United Kingdom law—has still not been ratified, although the convention has been out for four years. Eight countries are still required to ratify it before it becomes law internationally, and the target date is 1980. In other words, it will have taken six years to obtain ratification of a convention as important as that. Seven sets of amendments to the safety of life at sea convention of 1960 have been agreed by IMCO, but none has been ratified and brought into force and they will be overtaken by a later convention. The marine pollution convention of 1973 has so far been ratified by only three States: Jordan, which has no tankers, Kenya. which has three tankers with a total tonnage of 4,600 tons, and Tunisia which also has three tankers but with a slightly more respectable total tonnage of 51,000 tons. Those are the only three countries—one with no tankers whatever—which have so far ratified the 1973 convention.
It is a great pity that the United Kingdom has not set an example by ratifying this important convention earlier. It is a great pity that even one year has been lost and that this legislation was not passed last year. I must declare an interest. I put down a private Member's Bill to enable this to be done last year 822 but, unfortunately, time could not be found to debate it.
The target now is 1981, eight years after the convention was agreed by IMCO. This is an important convention because it deals with the filthy habits of tankers at sea. Many times more oil is deposited in the sea from these filthy habits than from wrecks. Only 10 per cent. of oil in the sea comes from the wrecks which draw so much public attention. The rest comes from dirty habits and operating practices that will be outlawed once the convention becomes law.
I entirely agree with the Minister that major efforts are needed to eliminate substandard ships and substandard crews from the seas. Accidents are usually due to human error, bad training and bad seamanship. Substandard tends to be a question of ownership rather than the flag of the ship.
I recently visited Liberia which has the largest fleet in the world. I found that country very conscious of the need to administer the international rules in relation to its ships. It was pointed out to me that many of the leading tanker companies in the world had registered their ships in Liberia. I was assured that Liberia was well aware of the need to ensure adequate standards. But there is the problem that Liberian ships hardly ever go to Liberia and that makes it difficult for the rules to be enforced.
In July, there was a conference on standards for training and watch-keeping for seafarers, which set the first international standards in these matters and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade announced it at the time as a major step forward in marine safety. He showed himself to be a man of sound judgment.
As a result of this convention, there will be, for the first time, a requirement for constant proficiency and up-to-date knowledge in deck, engine and radio at sea techniques. Why have we not taken powers in the Bill to ratify that convention? I appreciate that there may be technical problems, but I fear that we may again see unfortunate delays. The House may be too busy with other matters.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)
I want to correct 823 the hon. Gentleman. Powers are conferred in the Bill to enable us to ratify that convention.
§ Mr. Trotter
I am delighted to hear that. Obviously I had not detected that fact because the Bill is not written in the style of the 1894 Bill. I am delighted to hear what the Minister says and 8will be glad to support the proposal in Committee.
In general, this is an important Bill and I welcome it. The details of a number of major matters will have to be examined closely in Committee. One or two important amendments will have to be put down at that stage. On Second Reading, I am glad to give my support to the Bill.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
I should like to join in the prevailing welcome to the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, it is effectively a seaman's charter. He said that having had hard personal experience in the industry. I can only say, on a more abstract basis, that it is right in itself. We must carry on our efforts for health and safety at work—efforts of which the Government can be proud—and extend similar safeguards and provisions to those at sea. The seaman has a hard, tough job. disruptive to his domestic life and he has the right to the best possible terms and conditions. Any procedures or codes of practice which can provide them should be welcomed.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) say that a Conservative Government would carry through the same legislation. We shall not be taking him up on the offer, but we are grateful for it. I must warn him that if they intend to oppose the provisions to stop undesirable overseas takeovers, the Tories will find that logically difficult to justify. It would be wrong for the party that criticises or opposes takeovers and interventions by the National Enterprise Board to support takeovers by foreigners and undesirable ones at that. But that is a passing observation in a non-partisan spirit.
I represent an area which feels vulnerable to oil spillage and accidents involving tankers so I welcome the provisions on pilotage and the oil pollution conven- 824 tion. But my real concern with the Bill is more limited. Fishermen play all too little part in these proposals. The Bill is a vessel with many cargoes, but there is all too little for the fisherman.
I extend a personal welcome to the provisions relating to drink on board fishing vessels. This is a serious problem which has caused a number of accidents, injuries, even disasters. One example is that of the"Wyre Victory"at Fleetwood, which foundered on the rocks in January 1976. I can give an instance from Fleetwood because that involves me in no recriminations about Grimsby's vessels. The inquiry was told that there was considerable drinking, that there were demands for more drink, that there was drink in the wheelhouse and that a bosun was smoking pot at the time of the accident.
§ Mr. Mitchell
A happy ship indeed. One cannot follow the Methodistical inclination, which might come naturally to some hon. Members, to ban drink entirely from vessels. There is a need for a social life on board ship. We have to strike a balance, and the balance in the Bill between outlawing what might be called"private enterprise"drink and allowing authorised drink is the right one.
My soundings in Grimsby show that there is a real and serious concern about this problem. That is why there is a general welcome there, with some strong reservations, for this provision. Yet a number of questions will need to be raised about drink. One is exemplified by that happy ship the"Wyre Victory "—that is, whether the provisions should be extended to drugs. There is also that question whether the provisions about searching should apply to the docks as well as to the vessel itself. I should be reluctant to see that because the fisherman is treated with too little respect and given too little dignity and too few rights as it is, but the argument has been put.
There are problems also with authorised supplies. Many accidents have been caused by the consumption of authorised liquor. There is obvious scope for Committee discussion there.
So my welcome is a general one, with obvious reservations. My main concern is that fishermen have once again been 825 left out from too much of the Bill. That is sad for the fishing industry, whose fishermen are treated as second-class citizens. It is an important problem because many fishermen come from or go to jobs in the Merchant Navy. There is a continuous interchange of people between fishing and the Merchant Navy. An anomalous situation will be created if because of this kind of beneficial legislation conditions are drastically improved in the Merchant Navy, as I hope they will be, and there is no parallel progress in the fishing industry.
The accident record in the fishing industry can only be deplored. In August three of my constituents were killed in the fire on the"Roman ". There have been nine deaths through fires since January 1973 on Grimsby fishing vessels alone. I am told by the Department that only one-tenth of deaths on fishing vessels are the result of fire. That throws a horrifying light on what the overall statistics must be.
Fishing is a dangerous job. Each year at the harvest of the sea service at Grimsby parish church there is a roll call of the fishermen who have been killed in the course of their work over the previous year, and the roll call is normally 10 to a dozen strong each year. Between January 1977 and August of this year 10 Grimsby fishermen were killed in the course of their work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said, the industry is 10 times more dangerous than mining. It is the most dangerous industry.
My own limited experience on a fishing vessel was gained this summer, owing to the non-election. That experience showed just how dangerous the work is, with slippery decks, with machinery which must often be exposed if it is to operate efficiently, and with fishermen being buffeted, unable to walk securely. It is a dangerous and exposed job.
I am glad that the Bill is bringing us to a position in which we can have a self-regulating industry for merchant seamen and a code of practice for their industry. But I want the same for the fishing industry. The Bill goes a little way towards it, but by no means as far as is necessary. Considerable urgency is needed.
826 The fishing industry needs a code of practice that will cover all aspects of work and conditions. Let us consider training to deal with fires. We were told some years ago that owners would send people away on courses for fire training. That undertaking does not seem to have been fulfilled by most owners, and there is all too little fire training. Many vessels do not carry out fire drill.
There is a need for a motorman's certificate to allow people to deal with simple repairs and keep vessels going without risk. There is a need, too, for safety officers on board vessels and for proper drills. We also need provisions for the regulation of hours, of manning levels and of rest periods. All those matters are vital to the industry, but we do not have the code of practice that the fishermen deserve.
Most important, we do not have the essential basis, which is a decasualised industry. We cannot move quickly enough towards decasualisation in the fishing industry, because so much else depends on that. With the contraction of the distant water effort, fishermen are constantly being laid off. They naturally complain that they have no redundancy provisions. They are angry when they see the redundancy benefits in other industries, particularly in the steel industry, and again feel only too strongly that they are in a neglected industry and are the forgotten men of that neglected industry. They have risked their lives for a pathetic dismissal.
We have a need for the framework of the kind of code of practice that I hope to see evolving for the Merchant Navy. As the Bill does not go far enough in that direction, I call on my right hon. Friend to bring the three Departments concerned together. The problems of the fishermen are dealt with by three Departments—the Department of Employment, the Department of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Fishing tends to fall into a kind of limbo. Therefore, there is a need to bring the Departments together.
There is also a need for a full inquiry that will initiate the necessary steps to give the fishing industry the kind of code of practice that I have talked about, the kind that the Merchant Navy will have as a result of this legislation. My welcome 827 for the Bill is modified by a central preoccupation which I, as a representative of a fishing constituency, must have and must voice. We must move quickly.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Other hon. Members have declared their interests. My first qualification for speaking in the debate is that I spent four and a half years on the lower deck of a Royal Navy ship which sailed under the rather glorious name of HMS"Wave ". That sounds as if it performed in the front row of the chorus. It finished up on the rocks of St. Ives. The vessel was a fleet sweeper of about 1,000 tons.
My second reason for taking part in the debate is that many of my constituents work in the piloting service. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. The pilots operate under Trinity House and work off Spithead and the Solent. I know a number of them well. I have great respect for the job that they do.
After the Secretary of State's announcement, there might be a change in the form of their employment. At present they are self-employed. They are independently minded and have strong views. One therefore has some sympathy with the Government in trying to produce a measure that will meet with their general approval. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull. East (Mr. Prescott) say that it is a complex subject. I have found it complex and almost as bad as trying to understand the rate support grant. We are in agreement on that matter.
There is no doubt that the majority of the pilots welcome the establishment of a pilotage commission. The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) also hopes to take part in the debate, so I shall not take up too much time but it is sad that we must have a pilotage commission. I believe that Trinity House could do that job. I realise that that view is not universally held by the pilots. But Trinity House has done a great deal in the last few years to put its house in order. If things were wrong Trinity House has bent over backwards to put them right. When I have visited its establishments I have been impressed by what it has done and what it is doing. It is a pity that a type of quango 828 is to be set up. It will be more costly. The instrument for doing that job exists already.
The pilots are anxious about the composition of the Commission. They do not wish any watering down of the shipowners' representation. Clause 4(4) states:The Commission shall have power to do anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the performance of any of its functions.That seems to be a wide provision. We must examine that carefully in Committee.
The Secretary of State and the official Opposition are aware that the pilots have submitted many amendments. They made many comments on the White Paper. However, few if any of their suggestions have been included in the Bill. I cannot be sure that none of them has been included but the suggestions that I have checked do not seem to have been taken up. I hope that they will be pursued by the official Opposition in Committee.
I saw the Minister at the United Kingdom Pilots Association reception a few days ago. It has been meeting in the last few days. It has reiterated its belief in compulsory pilotage as a general principle for all ports. It passed a resolution that all vessels of 300 gross tonnage and over carrying hazardous cargoes be compelled to take a pilot on board when navigating in all pilotage districts. I should think that there is considerable support for that view in the House.
Clause 6 deals with that aspect. I understand that the pilotage commission will be able to recommend compulsory pilotage. After the disasters which are still in our minds such as that involving the"Amoco Cadiz ", I hope that the commission will act quickly on that matter. The pilots believe that it is not a question whether pilotage should be made compulsory but when it is made compulsory. That is right. Some of the stories I have heard from pilots about near accidents in the Solent make my hair stand on end. Before long, unless we move quickly, there will be a major disaster in the area, given the large numbers of huge tankers that sail up to Fawley through the Solent.
Clause 20 deals with pollution, and I welcome the Secretary of State's statement that he will increase the penalties. He 829 made two announcements. I welcome the other one about pilots' pensions. The right hon. Gentleman has made an auspicious start there, because that is certainly a matter of which the pilots will be delighted to learn.
One is bound to ask, however, whether clause 20 goes far enough. I do not want to repeat Monday's debate, and I know that the Minister must have had to discuss the subject ad nauseam, but if, like the French, we are to widen our legislation to protect our coastline and our wild life, as I hope we shall, can we not use this measure to do so more quickly? The French are not only about to enlarge their territorial control to 12 miles, but they have established a coastguard patrol service.
The Canadians, too, seem to be far more vigilant than we are. They insist on all private oil operators providing a wide range of equipment which must be air transportable. They seem to possess a wider selection of items than we do, with booms, skimmers, and the rest. It is subject to regular Government testing and control, and it is all paid for by the companies.
In this respect, who will meet the costs in this country, and will there be sufficient qualified surveyors to oversee this sort of task? I assume that the four studies to which the Minister of State referred on Monday will throw some light on some of these matters.
For me the most sickening aspect of any major oil spillage is the sight of dead and dying seabirds. This country is rapidly becoming the last haven for many of these species in Europe. We therefore cannot be tough enough in our attitude to the whole problem. I do not think that we shall have to worry about knocking seal pups on the head in the Orkneys if we go on pushing oil into the sea. We shall kill them anyway with the oil they swallow.
Why, under clause 24, is Trinity House to lose control of the Northern Lights? I was taken round them by a skipper based in the Orkneys. He was proud of them and as far as I know they do an excellent job.
It will be no surprise to the Minister to know that we cannot support clause 31, as my hon. Friend the Member for 830 Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) indicated to him in the summer. I think that my hon. Friend said that the clause was objectionable protectionism and an indefensible extension of State control. I am not sure whether that might not be a little too tough, but at the moment we are not convinced in favour of clause 31 and we intend to oppose it. I welcome the Bill.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I join in offering a welcome to the Bill, and I, like others, only wish that it had been possible for the Bill to have been introduced in the last Session—something for which many of us hoped and pressed. It is only fair for me to declare a strong constituency concern. In South Shields, at the mouth of the Tyne, we have one of the biggest seafaring communities in the country. There is there a remarkably high proportion of seagoing officers and men and a considerable number of pilots, too. Their home and background are South Shields.
That is not surprising because we also have in the area the famous marine college which has made it possible for many people from all over the world to obtain their qualifications in South Shields. Therefore, the Bill is a matter of supreme concern to the area. It is hard to find a family in South Shields without a member who at some time or other has been at sea. The area is wholly committed to the sea in building and repairing ships as well as in serving on such vessels.
I share the delight of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that it has fallen to a Labour Government to carry through this great change in a series of major Bills. That is a major change of attitude towards seafarers and those who work on board ship. However impossible it may be to equalise the conditions completely, gradually, by the three stages mentioned by my hon. Friend, we have moved much nearer to attaining equality of treatment of those who go to sea and those who remain on shore.
I wish to say a few words about pilotage. We all know that pilots are independent people. They treasure the fact that they still regard themselves as self-employed. Until fairly recently many of them accepted the responsibility of 831 maintaining their own ships. Inevitably, this position has changed to some extent over the years, but the pilots have retained that strong feeling of independence and the desire for self-regulation.
The pilots welcome the broad provisions of the Bill, but there are anxieties about many matters which will need to be discussed and, if possible, improved. The pilots require further assurance about their position on the new commission. The minimum provision that now applies is inadequate, as I am sure the Minister will agree. The pilots want some assurance that they will be given a proper share of responsibility on that body. If we are considering reducing the numbers on the commission, we must also consider putting on it working pilots who have experience of different geographical areas. I know how strongly the pilots feel about these matters because only this morning I met some of their representatives. They feel very strongly about the requirement for compulsory pilotage, with a limited number of exemptions. I am not clear why the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Pilotage was not accepted. That began with the assumption of compulsory pilotage and moved on to make such other special exemptions as might be required.
A number of factors have emerged during recent years that make this a much more important issue than in the past. There is the size of some vessels and the small complement of crew to operate them. Almost inevitably the master of a vessel of this size, who may have brought his vessel through bad weather and difficult conditions, may arrive in harbour completely worn out. So may his crew. These are the conditions that demand a qualified pilot service.
Such a service is made necessary, too, by the rapidly changing conditions of modern river traffic. The fact that a master may have been on the river before does not mean that he can know its conditions at a particular time. When we consider such factors in relation to the dangerous cargoes which are moving in our waters, the question of compulsory qualified pilotage must be given very serious consideration. The pilots are right to press their claim. We must discuss this very carefully.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I have sympathy with the case that the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he realise that there are two factors here? There is knowledge of local waters, and there is knowledge of these large vessels. One needs to be qualified in both. The fact that someone is a good pilot on ordinary vessels does not mean that he is necessarily competent to handle a 250,000-ton tanker, which nowadays often docks under computer control.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That point is fully understood. The pilot today is trained to very high requirements. I am in touch with many of the pilots and I appreciate the fears which they have expressed.
We are delighted that such a big step forward has been taken in the treatment of seamen, including the issue of disciplinary powers. It is a real advance, and I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East mentioned that we started the process in 1970. It ran up against some vigorous concern then, which stimulated a much more vocal expression of the modern demands of the seamen. I am delighted we have been able to move much further along the line.
We express concern about fisheries because I do not see how one can avoid taking effective action on the drink question, although I appreciate the problem of making it an effective provision in the Bill. The Government were courageous and right to ensure that such a provision was in the Bill, rather than baulking at the problems that arise from it.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) who opened the debate for the Opposition raised the question of the advisability or otherwise of the Government's becoming involved in the use of overseas aid and support funds to secure orders for ships from such countries as Poland, India and elsewhere. The crucial point, to which I have never heard a clear answer from the Opposition, is that if orders are to be placed—if not with us, with another country which will be equally competitive—why we should impose upon ourselves the double disadvantage of preventing our yards from building the ships and increasing competition.
Other hon. Members will no doubt raise a range of important issues which 833 they would like to see included in the Bill. I hope that they will not lose sight of the importance of getting its provisions on the statute book. So often, the best is the enemy of the good. We must make certain that the Bill, if possible in an improved form, reaches the statute book so that it can help my constituents and many others to lead a safer life at sea.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I help the House? There are six hon. Members, that I know of, who want to speak in the debate. We have roughly one hour and 25 minutes left. That allows each hon. Member 14 minutes. If hon. Members bear that in mind we shall be able to allow everyone who wants to do so to take part in the debate. I should point out that two of the hon. Members concerned are having a little refreshment after listening to their colleagues.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I shall do my best not only to speak for fewer than 14 minutes, but to speak for fewer than 10 minutes. I am among those hon. Members who have signed a motion on the subject of 10-minute speeches, and I try to practise what I preach.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) about the importance of trying to get the Bill on to the statute book. Like the hon. Member, I have a strong constituency interest in the measure. I know he will agree that it is not only the seafarers among our constituents who are involved. There are all those working in the many industries supporting the seafarer. The shipping industry is one of our great industries and it is also the centre of major economic activity. It engenders further economic activity around it. The health of that industry is essential not only to seafarers, but to many others in the peripheral industries.
I have a personal interest in that there are shipping companies among the companies with which I am involved. I declare that personal, commercial interest. On both counts, constituency and personal, I add my welcome to this Bill.
834 We have already in this decade had two measures dealing with shipping—in 1970 and 1974. It may be said that we legislators have not been doing our job very well if there has to be a third measure in the space of 10 years. That is not a fair criticism, because the shipping scene has been changing rapidly, especially as a result of major developments in the size of ships and increasing international action to deal with consequential problems. It is right to keep our maritime legislation up to date. That is why in many ways we have before us a miscellaneous provisions Bill.
It has been said that we should have had a separate pilotage Bill. It makes sense that from time to time we bring our legislation up to date. The basic statute guiding our merchant shipping affairs remains the 1894 Act. Credit should go to our predecessors who placed that measure on the statute book. We are still using it as a basic framework for our legislation. Credit must go to our predecessors who, many years ago, before any of us in this place was born, introduced that measure.
The objective of the Bill is to strengthen British shipping in the broadest sense. I am sure that that proposition appeals to everybody. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) said from the Opposition Front Bench, British shipping remains one of our great industries. That is not fully appreciated. We remain a great maritime nation and we should rejoice in that fact.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives gave some figures in support of his proposition. One figure that he did not give is of especial importance. British shipping made a net direct contribution to our current balance of payments last year of over £1,000 million. If I may correct my hon. Friend in one respect, industrial relations in the industry, apart from the 1966 strike of which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) had some experience, have been good and there has been a strike-free record in broad terms. Apart from a little unofficial action in the 1960s, that has been the position since 1920.
§ Mr. Price
In spite of all the problems, British shipping has had a remarkable industrial record compared with, for example, the motor car industry.
This is a tough and testing time for not only British shipping but world shipping. We are still in a slump. It is recognised that the regulation of shipping must be on a world-wide basis. However, we need to have our own supporting legislation. In many instances the Bill is implementing measures that have been agreed internationally. Tribute must be paid to IMCO. Our basic national interest must be to maintain the freedom to sail the seas of the world. That is essential. That is straight commercial good sense for us.
There are three clearly developing problems that are concerning our industry. One problem has been the growing threat from the Eastern bloc, especially from Soviet ships. I welcome the robust attitude that the Under-Secretary of State has taken at the EEC Council of Ministers and I believe that the Bill will strengthen his hand.
It is clear that that sort of problem is much better handled internationally. It may he too much to try to handle it on a world-wide basis, but let us do it on a regional basis.
That applies to the second problem that is worrying the industry, namely, the policies of the United States of America.
Thirdly, there is the increasing problem of what, to use shorthand, I call national protectionism in many parts of the world. That is personified in the crude formula of the United Nations liner code of 40–40–20.
I need not remind hon. Members that British shipping still has a large stake in the cross trades. Those who care about the future of British shipping and British seafarers would be concerned if we were to lose out on the cross trades.
There is a danger of the world relapsing into a form of latter-day mercantilism. I should hate to see us being asked to re-enact the navigation Acts as a defensive measure. We must continue to stand for an open seas policy based on free and fair competition. But that does not mean that we should not insist upon the highest standards being practised in seamanship and ship management. That 836 is why I welcome the improvements in pilotage proposed in the Bill.
The same arguments apply to safety and health on our ships. The protection from pollution by ships is vital. Clearly, it has to be done on an international basis. Clause 20 gives effect to such an international convention, but one's lingering doubts arise over the problems of how these international conventions are to be enforced. This is the vital matter.
It is no good passing conventions of the highest purpose and technically competent if they cannot be enforced. This is where I have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, who represents us in the European Assembly. We must think at least in European terms of these enforcements. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley)—who I know has very strong views on what the French should be doing on measures against pollution from the sea—will agree that we ought to get together on this within Europe. It seems to me that one of the proper purposes of the EEC is to be able to do this collectively.
Sensible international conventions and sound domestic legislation such as this Bill and the Acts of 1970 and 1974 all have an important part to play in maintaining safety at sea, in reducing the risks of accidents and in reducing the incidence of pollution. Nevertheless, at the end of the day it is the human factor which is decisive.
I was particularly interested in the evidence from the Department of Trade to our colleagues on the Expenditure Committee. In its written evidence of 10th May 1978 the Department said:As was clear from an international symposium held in Washington in January, human error is the major cause of marine casualties.One can say that again. I hope that the whole House will agree with me that although we wish to give the Bill its Second Reading it is no substitute for well-trained and well-motivated crews. Indeed, I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in many of the things that he said about crew conditions. We must, therefore, jealously guard our own crew standards. Equally, we must 837 insist upon similar standards being practised by the entire international community.
But the continuing problem that remains—this is the real issue—is how he international community enforces agreed standards. Until it does, the risk of further incidents such as those involving the"Amoco Cadiz ","Eleni V"and"Christos Bitas"will remain with us for ever and haunt us.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Gars-ton)
I shall take your advice, Mr. Speaker, and make my speech as brief as possible. On this Bill I speak from experience as a seaman from 1937 to 1946. I was 141- years of age when started my sea career. From listening to at least one speaker from the Opposition Benches, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), who referred to the conditions prevailing at the, time of"The Onedin Line ", it is obvious that he knows very little of the conditions which prevailed in the years that I was at sea and, indeed, long after that.
The conditions at sea to which I shall refer are not something belonging to the nineteenth century. They obtained during the years to which I have referred and, indeed, for long after the post-war period. That is why I am mainly concerned with, or keenly interested in, the health and safety aspects of the Bill.
Everyone recognises that the hazards of a seafaring career, as has been said, are far more dangerous than those in mining and in many other industries that we recognise, quite rightly, as being dangerous and hazardous to those employed in them. Little regard was given in the past to the life of the seaman at sea and to the conditions under which he worked. For example, during the first year or so of my sea career I worked a system of four hours at work and four hours sleeping, during the whole of the 24 hours, on long voyages. Those conditions did not prevail ashore in any industry. The effects of that system on the health of seamen and on their efficiency at work were, to say the least, tremendous.
There are hazards in seamen's work. Seamen work in conditions which in no circumstances prevail in shore industries. 838 A ship at sea, in many instances in bad weather, still has to be manned. The work has to be done on a seven-day week basis. Many major accidents could have been avoided had there been sufficient regulations governing health and safety at sea.
No one paid regard to seamen, because it was felt that, for some unknown reason, they were a different breed of animal from other workers. Because they were part of the tough world of seafarers, it was felt that they would put up with conditions which would not be tolerated in shore-based industries.
Parallels can be drawn between industries ashore and seafaring. For example, the generating industry requires continuous working, as does a ship at sea, but conditions in the generating industry are vastly different. Normal safety conditions and health provisions apply in that industry even though it has to run for 24 hours a day seven days a week. Simply because seamen have to work seven days a week does not mean that conditions and health and safety regulations cannot be dramatically improved.
In earlier years, any seaman who sailed the west coast of Africa invariably finished up with malaria and at some time during a voyage had dysentry. No hospital treatment would be available aboard the vessel, except that administered by the chief steward. Usually that was a No. 9—the cure-all and panacea for all the ills which seamen ever suffered.
§ Mr. Loyden
And salt tablets as well. I am glad that we have now moved away from the conditions which then prevailed. But I want to impress on the House that those conditions prevailed not only in the nineteenth century, but in the very recent past in terms of our history as a seafaring nation.
I should like to cite a personal experience on a cargo vessel. I had an accident due mainly to lack of regulations prevailing at that time and the parsimonious nature of those who managed ships. I sustained an injury when coming down from the table of a foremast. We were using rotten gear—a rotten gantline—which should have been renewed. A new rope would have had to be broken out to provide a new gantline. That cost was 839 taken into account in deciding to continue with the old gantline, which got carried away, and I had a 20 ft. or 30 ft. fall. I could not get immediate treatment on board because there was no doctor on the vessel. Again, it was the responsibility of the chief steward, who was not qualified to do anything but to hand out tablets.
Fortunately, my ship was in harbour at Rio de Janeiro, so I was able to go ashore to get treatment. In other circumstances I might have had a very long wait for treatment. It could be days or weeks before a seaman got proper medical treatment for an accident at sea. Such accidents were many and varied.
I am glad that the Bill is before the House because, as the Minister said, it is very important. My right hon. Friend sees it only as part of an ongoing revision of the Merchant Shipping Act until we remove all the iniquitous parts of that Act. Seamen represent a vital part of our industrial set-up. Therefore, we must provide them with the justifiable rewards which they should be receiving for their part in the running of this important industry.
During the passage of the Bill I shall take a keen interest in the part dealing with pilotage. As a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, I am responsible, together with others, for the pilotage section of the union. Therefore, I shall take a keen interest in all references to pilotage.
I have no personal experience of the fishing industry but I certainly have a knowledge of it in the general sense. I shall be taking a keen interest on behalf of my union and of the fishing fraternity in general when the Bill goes through its various stages.
This Bill ought to be welcomed. think that the House ought to think very carefully about clause 31. We have statements that the British shipping industry and the seafaring industry are still a vital part of Britain's economic welfare and well-being. If that is so, it ought to be made patently clear that we intend to maintain our fleet under the British flag and under British registration, and that any question of allowing the take-over of ships in the way to which the clause relates will be completely unacceptable so far as the future of the industry is concerned.
840 Everyone must accept that seamen, probably above all others, have accepted great technological changes in their industry. I have seen dramatic changes taking place in manning scales over a decade and a half. I accept that that was partly due to technological changes that required different types of vessels, such as container vessels, roll-on/roll-off vessels, tankers and so on. I also believe that there is a need to sustain the industry as a major part of general industry in the United Kingdom, and in that sense clause 31 is in the interests of the future of seamen and the industry generally.
Obviously, many of the matters raised here tonight will be dealt with in greater detail in Committee. I hope that consideration will be given to them. I hope that we shall be able to improve the Bill.
As I said in my opening remarks, we ought to see this not as the be-all and end-all of the revision and improvement life for merchant seamen but as part of the continuing progress by the Government towards provision for people who enter this very important career.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Like other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, obviously with a great deal of direct knowledge and experience, of seafaring—and the House has followed their observations with the greatest of respect and interest—I welcome the Bill, but I have some reservations.
Considering the importance of shipping to the economy and, indeed, to the life of our country, it really is astonishing that we have had to wait so long for this Bill and, in particular, for proposals dealing with pilotage. That there is need for reform in the arrangements for pilotage, which are still governed by the provisions of an Act passed in 1913, has been self-evident for many years. There is certainly a need for improved discipline in the approaches to our ports, especially in estuarial waters. I have particularly in mind the narrow waters of the Thames estuary.
As several hon. Members have said, one cannot eliminate human error or mechanical failure altogether where shipping is concerned, but by devising uniform procedures which apply to all vessels, irrespective of their flag, type or size, it should 841 be possible to increase safety and to reduce the possibility of accident and disaster.
Over 20 years have passed since the closing of the Suez canal which, together with the growth in energy demand, led to the development and use of super tankers as the most economic method of transporting oil from the Middle East to Europe round the Cape of Good Hope. That, in turn, encouraged the growth in the size of ships carrying other types of hazardous cargo, such as liquefied gases and toxic and dangerous chemicals. It used to be argued that as these tankers increased in size their numbers would diminish and there would be a reduction of spillages at sea. That has proved to be a false hope. Indeed, as the recent report of the advisory committee on oil pollution of the sea makes plain, the number of pollution incidents around our coasts rose from 500 in 1975 to 597 in 1976 and to 642 last year—
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the Merchant Shipping Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Bates.]
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Sir B. Braine
As a consequence of this increase in size, there are now vessels plying our coastal waters which draw 80 ft. when fully laden. In fact, the number of ships lost around our coasts and in the Channel approaches represents a high proportion of the world's total shipping losses. Paragraph 12 of the report of the committee of scientists on scientific and technological aspects of the"Torrey Canyon"disaster suggested that on average one in 10 of all accidents at sea take place in this area and in the Western approaches.
Inevitably, the presence of many wrecks around our coasts in itself presents a special hazard, since many existing charts do not show wrecks at a depth greater than 40 ft. because when these were drawn this was considered to be a safe depth. Incidentally, I am astonished that the Bill omits any reference to the sensible proposals of Trinity House that 842 it should be given the right to mark channels and sunken wrecks. That is perhaps something to which we can turn our attention in Committee.
Another change in recent years has been the appearance in our waters of an ever-increasing number of flag of convenience vessels, which sometimes fail to maintain good standards of navigational discipline. Equally, some national fleets are operated without regard to the best standards of efficiency and discipline. A recent report by the navigational research centre of the Netherlands Maritime Institute states that there are at least 450 tankers in service which are a danger to their crew's lives, to their cargoes and to the environment.
Of course, our own mercantile marine is not only the fourth largest in the world but is also modern, efficient and has a consistently good safety record. But not all the ships plying our waters are British. Not all of these are modern and efficient. As a consequence, some of us are growing increasingly apprehensive about the safety of navigation around our coasts and in estuarial waters.
It follows from this that the greatest single step we can take to improve safety in the approaches to our ports, and in the narrow waters, would be to strengthen the role and authority of pilots. Traditionally, United Kingdom pilots are self-employed. There has been a reference to their sturdy spirit of independence. That is the best safeguard that we have got: it ensures they will not yield to pressure from masters or shipping owners and will exercise their independent judgment in bringing ships safely into port. But the plain fact is that they do not form a unified profession, and some are excluded from the benefits which nowadays professional men are expected to enjoy. By and large, the profession compares unfavourably with the standards enjoyed by pilots of other leading maritime nations.
Existing controls with regard to the movement of ships around our coast and in the estuaries are in a chaotic state. Take our experience in the Thames Estuary. On occasions there have been conflicts between the instructions of the Port of London Authority and the pilots regarding the handling of vessels. The important point here is that the pilot or master may be liable for his error 843 if there is an accident, but the port authority is not. There have also been instances of small, unpiloted foreign vessels entering the Thames, not observing any of the rules and meandering up the river, sometimes in the wrong channel, without anyone being the wiser. I was told of one incident involving a German ship carrying nuclear waste up the river unbeknown to the port authority, and not being detected until a leak occurred in the container.
I submit that compulsory pilotage should be mandatory for vessels proceeding through the English Channel and it should also be a mandatory requirement that shipping should not merely report position and speed, but should respond immediately to instructions.
The situation close to our shores and particularly in the Thames is different. Here, very large oil tankers and LNG carriers are obliged to accept compulsory pilotage. Yet, surprisingly, small specialised carriers trading within the area from Hamburg in the north to Brest in the south and around our coasts are exempt from carrying pilots, despite the fact that they may be carrying highly toxic and dangerous cargo of the kind listed by the Port of London authority as dangerous goods carried by sea. There is no rhyme or reason for such exemptions.
In addition to this category of exempted vessels, certain masters are granted pilotage certificates which bear no relation to the size of the ship or the nature of its cargo. This is a practice open to the strongest objection. There is evidence to suggest that we are more lax in granting such certificates than other maritime nations. It has been suggested to me that Continental ports grant far fewer pilotage exemptions to British masters than we do to foreign masters.
I am concerned about the risks which continue to be taken in estuarial waters and particularly in the Thames with smaller vessels. Some of these carry hazardous cargoes on deck and it is not unknown for drums containing toxic material to break loose and be lost overboard. Since it is the nature of the cargo rather than the size of the vessel that matters, exempt rules and pilotage certificates should be replaced with compulsory pilotage in every case where there is a hazard.
844 Since there could be conflict between commercial interests and safety, it is imperative that pilots should enjoy an independent status in order to enable them to withstand interference with their professional judgment. What is needed, therefore, is the creation of a proper salaried service with regular terms of employment, under the control of a pilotage board which ensures the highest standards of professional competence and integrity and is independent of shipping and commercial interests.
There is a particular reason, however, why I favour the establishment of compulsory pilotage and severe sanctions against infringement of navigational regulations. The dangers of oil and chemical tankers carrying hazardous cargoes colliding at sea or running aground and breaking up are generally understood. What is far less well understood is the real danger of interaction between accidents involving ships carrying dangerous cargoes in estuarial waters close to land or ships already berthed and high fire risk installations on the shore.
I do not apologise for reminding the House once again that on Canvey Island, where 33,000 people have their homes, there is a massive concentration of gas, oil and chemical storage installations extending along the south-western waterfront. In the 1975 exploratory inquiry ordered by the Secretary of State for the Environment the navigational assessor, Rear-Admiral Evans, in finding for the objectors to oil refinery development, indicated that there was evidence of declining standards of navigational safety in the Thames. We can add to this the fact that every week sees the arrival at the methane terminal on Canvey of purpose-built tankers carrying 12,000 tons of liquefied natural gas from Algeria.
The Health and Safety Executive report, published in June, expressed serious doubts about the large amounts of liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas stored and transhipped at Canvey. Therefore, I want to see the tightening of regulations and the enhancement of the power of port authorities as well as the enforcement of compulsory pilotage. When considering the balance of argument in this kind of situation, and after weighing up the various interests involved—the oil and chemical companies, gas installations, ship owners 845 masters and crews, port authorities, pilots and, not least, the people who live in areas of risk alongside the narrow waters —there should be no question about it—the health and safety of people come first.
The possibility of a fire or an explosion on land affecting ships moored close by with dangerous cargoes or of a collision between such ships triggering off a chain of events involving land-based installations must not be ignored. It follows that effective steps should be taken to improve the handling of all ships without exception in our coastal and estuarial waters.
I repeat that the Bill does not grasp the nettle of compulsory pilotage, which should be the rule for all vessels, whatever their size, carrying noxious and dangerous cargoes in our coastal waters and estuaries. It merely places a duty 846 on the proposed commission to ascertain whether pilotage should be made compulsory. Left open, therefore, is the question of how quickly it can be introduced.
Moreover, the Bill as it stands is ineffective when it comes to the issue of pilotage certificates. I submit that the Bill should be reflecting the need for a pilotage service which maintains the highest possible professional standards and is wholly independent of shipping and commercial interests, and it does not do so. In the narrow waters, the safety of ships, their crews and the communities living close by should be the paramount consideration.
It is clear, therefore, that the Bill will need amendment in Committee. This is a marvellous opportunity for us to do something about a state of affairs which has been crying out for action for many long years.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I am concerned with the Second Reading of this Bill because in my constituency are based one of the largest pilots' organisations and one of the busiest port complexes in the country. My interests, therefore, are divided between the pilots and shipping, and I regret that we have not had separate Bills for pilotage and for shipping, because we shall have to pay careful attention to the detailed aspects of both these important subjects.
The shipping interests in my constituency are mainly cross-Channel. Naturally, I want to see the conditions of employment at sea the same as for employment on land. I welcome what the Secretary of State said in this respect. However, I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who said how important it was that those conditions were backed by ensuring that the tax involved was comparable with the tax paid by other foreigners with whom we were competing. This is one of the problems in shipping. The tax that we pay on our ships and the tax paid by the men who work them in no way compare with foreign rates. This is one of the reasons why we are not nearly as internationally competitive as we should be.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the background to the Bill. I refer particularly to the proposals and counter-proposals for compulsory pilotage and the broadening of pilots' certificates following our entry into the EEC. The fact that the White Paper is entitled"Action on Safety and Pollution at Sea"underlies the importance of these factors in relation to the Bill as a whole.
But the biggest controversy in the background to the Bill has concerned Trinity House. At one stage, it was proposed that it should be abolished altogether. I am glad that that proposal has now been got out of the way. In this regard, at least, common sense has prevailed over some of the more radical proposals put forward originally.
In my view, it is always cheaper and wiser to reform an old and ancient institution than to be radical and create a new one. My fear is that in creating a new one we do not know how much bigger it will become. Following the pres- 848 sure brought to bear upon it, I am sure that Trinity House has reformed itself. I take the view that if we were wiser we would build on Trinity House and not create a new quango with all the additional cost that it may bring with it.
I ask hon. Members to consider what happened in the case of the National Ports Council. It started in a small way, but it now costs £1 million a year. Pilots need the money for the tools that they use. Recently, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) visited Harwich, where I welcomed him, and I listened with considerable interest to his speech tonight. He and I travelled on a pilot's cutter, and we learnt that a modern cutter cost £2 million. The present cutter is an old one. Surely, we have to use all resources carefully. I fear that we are creating a new body that will not fulfil the task that the old body has fulfilled very well. I hope that we shall look carefully at this matter in Committee.
I should like to add a word about compulsory pilotage. Of course, we have to do all that we can to get compulsory pilotage. Without it, we shall not obtain the safety at sea that we need. We have to realise that the European Community is progressing far more quickly than we are. We are pulling back. I do not know why. Possibly, it is because of lack of financial resources. Germany is now making pilotage compulsory. Holland is making laws on dangerous cargoes.
Legislation before the Community on deep sea pilotage is considerable. Minimum requirements are being made for tankers. There are proposals for the safety and carriage of oil and chemicals. We seem to be lagging with more lax methods of pilotage, while the Continent, aware of all the dangers, seems to be moving much more quickly. The question must be not whether compulsory pilotage should be introduced but, as many of my hon. Friends have said, when it is introduced. As the representative of a port constituency, I am concerned about dangerous cargoes in ports. It is vital that there should be a pilot on board when dangerous cargoes, whether chemicals or oil, come into port.
The head of the Harwich conservancy board has written to ask me why we should reform the 1913 part of the Act. 849 It has worked perfectly well in the past and should work perfectly reasonably in the future. I am glad that the Government have retracted some of their views on pensions and intend to do all that they can to help. The pilots, many of them friends of mine, are good, independent people who want their self-employed status maintained. To make them salaried —this is one of the difficulties of changing from Trinity House—instead of self-employed will undermine their independence.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I should be more independent if I were not so salaried.
I want to keep my speech short, but there are many points that I shall want to deal with in Committee—the designation of a second pilot, the number of pilots needed, the refusal of pilotage certificates and their extension, and the exemptions of tugs and crafts in harbours. I should like to deal with the safety of pilots getting on to ships. There have been some tragedies recently. A pilot getting on to a ship at Falmouth lost his life. It was a foreign ship and a ladder was put down. It was obviously an unsafe way of getting on to the ship and the pilot was killed.
We have been lax, or not tough enough, in pressing safety regulations on foreign vessels in our waters. The Norwegians and the Scandinavians have been much tougher. On the Danish vessel"England ", which used to operate into Harwich, our pilots went up a difficult structure very skilfully. But when it got into Norwegian waters, the Norwegians said"You put a door in the side of the ship ", and it was done. We have to see that those things are done much more quickly or we shall lose more lives, because the design of some foreign vessels makes difficulties for pilotage.
In general I welcome the Bill. I hope that we shall think again about this commission to see whether we can build a little more on the Trinity House structure. On the whole, however, anything done to improve the safety of ships at sea and the working conditions of seamen and others is very welcome, although I am sure that we can improve the Bill in Committee.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)
The Bill has been welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. The Committee of Selection will have no difficulty in choosing, from the wide number of experts who have spoken, hon. Members to serve on the Committee. They will then have the opportunity to put their ideas into effect.
The Bill covers perhaps too many good subjects—pilotage, pollution, safety and discipline. I want to deal with one area. I cannot claim the wider knowledge of some hon. Members, but I have been involved over the years in financial shipping matters. One clause is peculiarly out of step with the rest of the Bill. That is clause 31, which appears to relate more to the acquisitive instincts of the State than to the general well-being of the merchant marine.
§ Mr. Dodsworth
I am grateful. I shall be coming to that. I accept that there is a prohibition element in the Bill. That is the power—he called it a reserve power —that the Secretary of State seeks.
At first sight, this sort of intervention is an everyday sort of Government activity. Shipping is an international activity involving national interests and we should have confidence in our own owners and our own industry. We should give them the duty of defending their interests. That is their obligation. They may occasionally need support, but that should be their option. The State should not take action without the discretion of the owner.
The clause gives the Secretary of State a right of judgment in regard to corporate entities as well as individuals. It suggests that it goes beyond companies to assets and liabilities, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) said, would include individual ships and assets. Someone may occasionally feel that that is proper, but this is not a widely understood intention of a Bill of this kind.
851 When we talk of shipping, we are talking not only of these remarkable assets on 24-hour duty, with consequent huge personal responsibilities put on individuals. This is also a highly capital-intensive industry. It is not surprising that it is focused largely on London. Clause 13 puts in jeopardy some of that activity and the consequent strength of our resources.
Compared with the United Kingdom. the United States can be regarded in capital terms as a substantial competitor, but it has a very small commitment to foreign shipping, and that is what we are talking about. In proportion to their other industries, Greece and Norway have a greater commitment to shipping, but virtually no capital. Hong Kong is big in shipping and is developing its capital resources, but in some ways it is isolated by nature. Tokyo is large in shipping and large in capital, but its activity is predominantly Japanese. We in London are international. It is that status which I seek to support and serve.
There is a long list of reasons why shipping is an international activity focused on and based in London. That is a position to protect. Our maritime law is held in the highest possible regard. The structure of our legal system, the method of our insurance operations and the way in which our sale and purchase market works provide massive support to the shipping industry. The chartering activities based in London are also internationally recognised. That is the world centre.
I have said that I have an interest to declare. As a director of a bank. I have been involved over the past 10 years in shipping finance transactions. It has been a great privilege to work in that area. As a team, we have all made a contribution to the United Kingdom's balance of payments. Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the size of that contribution.
When we talk of employment, we should bear in mind that in the City of London the jobs of 300,000 people are at stake. Shipping is a fundamental part of the City's activities. Those activities are inter-related, and anything that threatens our international role and reputation puts them in jeopardy.
852 It was a surprise to all of us to see clause 31. It was not foreshadowed in the White Paper. It is a new thorn among the roses. We all recognise that there are qualities in the Bill, but this is out of step with and alien to the rest of the Bill. It seems almost to have been slipped in as an afterthought. One wonders about the circumstances in which that happened. No doubt we shall later have the opportunity to learn in more detail why the clause is considered to have merit. Recent events suggest that the Secretary of State already has sufficient powers to cope with any problems.
I believe that the clause contravenes article 7 of the Treaty of Rome, which says:discrimination on grounds of nationality shal: be prohibited.I believe that we shall have to address ourselves to this matter. Although it may be that in European terms we can accept the clause, it is a matter of great concern outside the European area.
What constitutes"the interests of the United Kingdom"is a matter of judgment. I very much doubt whether the Bill gives Parliament sufficient control over the Secretary of State. The annulment procedure is to be adopted. We heard only today at Business Question time about the unsatisfactory nature of that procedure. When prayers are tabled we are still unable to have the opportunity for debate. That does not seem to me to be a satisfactory way of dealing with a matter as contentious as this. If the provision is to be in the Bill at all—and I think that it should not be—it should be subject to the affirmative and not the negative procedure.
The clause proffers no identifiable benefit to this country. It represents a chill factor for the industry. The telephones have been ringing today and the telex machines have been going, asking for details of the clause. The requests have come from all over the world. People want to know how it will affect their existing investments in this country and how it will affect their plans. We should neither allow nor encourage that situation. We should encourage our world competitive position.
§ Mr. Dodsworth
That is a surprising question. The hon. Member does not comprehend the need to distribute information across the world about a Bill of this nature. He does not comprehend that the Stationery Office has been on strike or involved in different degrees of industrial non-action since September. Over 250 statutory instruments are still on the Stationery Office shelves because they have not been distributed since September. It should not come as a surprise to discover that shipowners all over the world are finding out about it through the publicity. It takes time for newspapers to arrive in foreign lands. Communications take time. Consultation on such matters is intense. I am sure that it will take place. I am sure that we shall have the benefit of it in Standing Committee.
We are considering a Bill which has no benefit. It is a Bill of disadvantage and contrary to article 7. There is a dubious procedure for the House. For those reasons, whoever serves on the Committee must give it close attention.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
It has been a really interesting evening. One cannot always say that after one has sat in the Chamber and listened to speeches, but I have learned a great deal tonight. The Committee will be equally interesting. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) has a particular experience and he illustrated that almost all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have some interest based on either a working or business experience.
Mine is a constituency interest. My constituency is nowhere more than five miles from the sea. The Solent is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. There are rivers and small fishing ports in my constituency. Many pilots live there. Above all, there is oil, and the threat of more of it.
The Bill is really five Bills in one. One must choose which parts to discuss. I shall devote most of my remarks to clause 20, which deals with pollution. I promise the Under-Secretary of State that I shall 854 not weary him with any of my oft repeated comments about Warren Springs laboratory. There are other more important issues which are dealt with in the Bill.
I hope that I shall not be out of order if I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) to the Front Bench. He has not left his place for one moment. I have known him for many years. Our connections go back to Bristol, another great maritime city. We look forward to working with him in Committee.
My hon. Friends the Members for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) rightly said that pilotage and pollution are inter-related. A number of hon. Members have said that human error causes most of the accidents at sea. But we all know that it is not necessarily the headline-catching accidents which cause all the pollution.
We all agree that one way of reducing accidents at sea is to increase the spread of the pilotage service. Accidents such as that involving the"Christos Bitas"would not have happened if that ship had had an experienced pilot on board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) said that this was the first legislation since the 1913 Pilotage Act which did anything about pilotage. Those were the days of steam, and sail was still much in existence. The word"tanker"had hardly been invented."Tankers"were converted cargo ships. Most of liquid cargo was carried in drums. Obviously, therefore, it is not before time that we are considering such a Bill as this.
Everybody defers to the knowledge of seafaring matters possessed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). He warned of the possibility of the pilotage commission being a quango. That has obviously occurred to anybody who has read the Bill. But my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) dealt competently and capably with the hon. Member's intervention. Perhaps both Front Benches could give a categorical guarantee that no failed or defeated parliamentary or local government candidate of any size, shape or description will find his way onto the Commission.
§ Mr. Adley
I would not want to be so rude about civil servants. The commission must be a body of experts drawn to the commission purely and solely for their experience.
I turn now to compulsory pilotage. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich referred briefly to the German legislation. As I understand it, the Germans have passed legislation which requires all tankers of 300 gross registered tons or more with a cargo with a flashpoint of more than 68 to be handled by a licensed pilot within 30 miles of the German coastline. If that is so, it is a radical departure, but it is not much more radical than the recent EEC directive, dated 22nd September this year. Article 1 statesMember States shall take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that oil, gas, chemicals tankers of 1,600 gross registered tons and over—whether fully or partly laden—including empty but not yet de-gassed oil tankers entering or leaving the sea ports of their territory will, as a minimum "—and then it lists a range of actions required, of which one is—make use of pilots.The trend there and in Germany. therefore, is clear. Perhaps we should move to bring ourselves into line with what is being done on the other side of the Channel and the North Sea—I applaud their initiative.
The costs of pilotage will not be a direct cost on the taxpayer, but before we clamour for compulsory pilotage we should recognise that it will be expensive and time consuming. It takes seven years to train a pilot, so even if we were to introduce compulsory pilotage with this Bill, there is no way in which we could find enough experienced, skilled and trained manpower to put it into effect in much under 10 years.
§ Mr. Prescott
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. I am informed that a number of shipping companies envisage a reduction of skilled manpower among officers. The pilotage people tell me that these men would be available for such work. The cost of that would be considerably cheaper than to put right the effects of pollution disasters.
§ Mr. Adley
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. His first point would depend upon the level of 856 retraining, as opposed to new training, that was required. I am advised by pilots in my constituency that a seven-year course is necessary to acquire a pilot's licence.
I am perhaps the only Back Bencher present tonight who participated in Monday's pollution debate. I do not want to repeat now what I said then, but I wish to deal with clause 20 and the general question of oil pollution.
If the quantity of paper that has been provided to hon. Members on oil pollution were a measure of this country's ability to solve the problem, we should have had it solved. We have been showered with paper from all sources. If words could solve the problem of pollution, it would already be solved. Yet it is one thing to pass legislation; it is another thing to get it agreed among our international partners; and another again to make sure that that legislation is effectively carried into effect. Clause 20 makes one realise that this Bill is a piece of enabling legislation. At this stage it is not much more than that.
I wish to ask the Minister a question which I put to him on Monday evening and which he then did not answer. Does he believe that he has adequate powers to deal with those who pollute the sea and shoreline? Does he think that this Bill will give him all the power he will need—not just in the weeks or months ahead, but in 20 or 30 years' time? It will be many years before we have another piece of legislation of this magnitude.
Will the Minister be resolute in using the power which will be open to him? The target date for the implementation of much of these provisions is 1981, and even then many of the requirements will not be applied unless there is international agreement all round. My view is that this is not acceptable. If we are to have to wait interminably until every country has ratified all these conventions and agreements on pollution, what is certain is that there will be a great deal more pollution before there is a great deal more done in the way of effective action.
I believe that the French were justified in their determination to get on their statute book some hard legislation which can be argued about at a later date. After the"Amoco Cadiz"affair, they were 857 unwilling just to sit around to await the deliberations of interminable committees and while scores of countries were cajoled into legislation. Representing as I do a coastal constituency, I believe that it is not satisfactory to pass legislation and thereafter rely on the good will of a large number of other nations before we are able to implement it.
Let me examine what has been going on in terms of the legislation that is already on the statute book. In 1971 we passed the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act, and we could be excused for thinking that that Act would do what it said it would do. But in 1977 there were only 58 prosecutions for the unlawful discharge of oil during the year by harbour authorities for offences committed in ports, and two only by the Department of Trade for offences at sea. A total of 56 of the harbour authority prosecutions as well as the two Department of Trade prosecutions resulted in convictions; 19 convictions related to offences by United Kingdom-registered ships and 32 to offences by ships of foreign flags. The remaining seven convictions concerned discharges in installations on land. The fines imposed totalled—and it is not a monumental figure—£76,076.87p, from which 10 awards totalling £7,879.79p were made towards the cost of removing the pollution. That does not give me confidence in believing that we have anything like sufficient powers or enough surveillance at present under the 1971 Act. The sum of money levied in fines in 1977 was lower than it was in 1975—in a word, peanuts.
The courts will levy fines in accordance with the relevant legislation. This is why I find clause 20(2)(f) wholly unacceptable. I was delighted that the Secretary of State for Trade said that he intended to increase 50-fold the £1,000 figure on summary conviction mentioned in that clause. Personally, I find even this far too small a sum.
I should like to press and probe in Committee the idea that I have put to the Secretary of State earlier—namely, that we consider minimum fines rather than maximum fines. Is not it about time that we were prepared to take into account what is done by other countries and consider whether we can learn from them? A grossly inadequate fine is no 858 way in which to deal with what the Bill describes as"any one contravention"if that one contravention is an"Amoco Cadiz ","Eleni V"or"Christos Bitas" or if it is a deliberate tank washing exercise.
The Under-Secretary of State told us on Monday night that what we have read in the newspapers is true—namely, that when there is a major spillage oil-tankers rush to the scene and deliberately wash their tanks. If that is taking place, that is a serious, deliberate and provocative environmental crime. I do not believe that there is any fine too high for someone who does something like that.
I turn to the principle of"the polluter pays." It is not stated in the Bill but it is accepted by the Government as the principle to relate to oil pollution at sea. Until now the oil companies have made the rules. Now it is Parliament's turn. I do not think that we should jib at the job that the people of Britain expect us to do on their behalf.
Over the years the oil companies have demanded and built larger and larger tankers to provide themselves with cheap transport. That is fair enough. That is good economics. However, a larger tanker is a larger potential pollution threat. I am not satisfied with the Bill because I want to establish the principle under the heading"the polluter pays"that the owner of the oil is the person to be made responsible when things go wrong. If the owner is the person made responsible, he will take care that he charters or owns top quality ships. He will ensure that the qualifications of the master mariners, crews and pilots employed by him are of the highest. He will ensure that the crews have the necessary navigational skills. Until the owner of the oil accepts his responsibility of being liable for the pollution caused by the oil when things go wrong, we shall not get the problem solved.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East referred to flags of convenience. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the topic on a number of other occasions. I quote two sentences from the June edition of Petroleum Economist which put the position into perspective far better than any words of mine. It states:Ships under the management of international oil companies fly flags of convenience 859 for one main reason only—the less onerous tax laws in force in countries like Liberia or Panama. From the companies' standpoint, income or corporation tax is a cost which reduces the profitability of operations; and all companies in this competitive business are engaged in a constant struggle to cut costs.That is fine. Let us cut costs, but not at the expense of our precious coastline and our environment.
The French Government have shown that they have the will. As The Times of 26th October pointed out in a headlineFrench will fine oil tankers up to £600,000.I quote briefly from the article, which states:The French Cabinet decided today that any shipowner, fleet operator or captain convicted of causing pollution in French waters by releasing oil into the sea can be fined up to 5m francs …and imprisoned for up to five years. Courts will decide how long the ship can be impounded.It also agreed that heavy fines and prison sentences can be imposed if navigation rules are broken.Let us all get together and agree that we shall have international co-operation, but until we have that co-operation I am not prepared to abide by the cosy arrangement that means that all that we do is pass enabling legislation.
I end by doing something that may not be possible for some time—namely, quoting from headlines of The Times and The Sunday Times. I leave the message with the Minister that I want what the French appear to have, according to the headlines in The Times of 23rd November, which reads:Gendarmerie of the sea proposed by French to protect coasts.The Sunday Times of 7th May refers toCowboys of the main ".If we do not have the gendarmerie, we shall continue to have the cowboys. I fear that clause 20 will not provide adequate coverage and protection for our coastline. I look forward to making further points in Committee.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
This has been a wide-ranging debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, caused by the varied nature of the proposals in the Bill. We have had a large number of interesting and informed contributions.
860 As many hon. Members have pointed out, the Bill is both highly complex and. in parts, extremely technical. I should like to mention at the outset that I have received a large number of protests about the inadequate time given between introduction and Second Reading. This has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth). The Government just managed to comply with the letter, but certainly not the spirit, of the Renton Committee report. The Bill was just not available outside the House of Commons until last week, and it is no good the Government hiding behind the White Paper, because there have been several important changes from the original proposals. The Bill is a major piece of legislation and should have been dealt with properly.
Merchant shipping is a vital industry for this country. It has a magnificent record in providing a sound basis for the prosperity of our nation. There is the major net contribution made to our balance of payments of over £1,000 million, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), and emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price). British ships provide an economic lifeline for this country by carrying nearly half our imports and over half our exports. We have now the most modern fleet in the world, which has, thanks to private enterprise, the range and the resilence to take advantage of the upturn when it comes. But there is, however, no immediate prospect of a strong and long-lasting upturn in the world shipping industry, certainly next year.
Mr. Ronnie Swayne, the president of the General Council of British Shipping, spoke last week of the possibility of a shipping disaster being added to the shipbuilding tragedy. This possibility exists, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives pointed out, as a direct result of the Government's shipbuilding policies. I make no apology to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) for raising it once again. The subsidies given to encourage the building of vessels for which there is no commercial need are clearly prolonging the shipping slump. Instead of taking an international lead in seeking to rationalised the shipbuilding 861 industry, the Government have become world leaders in the credit race by offering cheap and easy credit to virtually anyone.
The problems faced by our shipping industry have been considerably worsened by the Government's willingness to subsidise our competitors. The Polish shipbuilding deal will destroy jobs in the shipping industry, as will the other deals apparently now being negotiated, where British-built and British-subsidised ships will compete directly with British-owned and British-managed ships. What a paradoxical absurdity.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
I do not think that my colleagues in the Department of Industry are deserving of such treatment. But will the hon. Gentleman indicate to the House whether he believes that it would have been right to reject that order when it was obvious that the order would be placed elsewhere on comparable terms, and that in those circumstances jobs would have been denied purposelessly to our shipyards?
§ Mr. Hunt
I should have thought that the Minister realised that, by placing the order here, the Polish Government clearly acknowledged that they could get better terms here than anywhere else.
The Opposition take much credit for the Minister's new-found belligerent pugnacity against the Russians. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh and others of my hon. Friends have been urging the Minister for the last three years that we should lead the Community into a decisive stand against the Soviet maritime threat.
§ Mr. Hunt
Because British shipping is able to stand up to any competition as long as it is free and fair, which the Soviet threat is not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh also mentioned certain other prob- 862 lems facing British shipping—the Soviet threat, the United States and the United Nations liner code. I do not want to take up time dealing with each of those matters, except to reiterate what he said—namely, that British shipping needs an open seas policy based on full and fair competition.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how the Government could take the action that he suggests against the Russian mercantile marine?
§ Mr. Hunt
The right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) is right to point to what this country should do; but he will reflect that I said we should be leading the Community into action.
It is now nearly three years since the General Council of British Shipping produced a document"The Red Ensign versus the Red Flag ". That document clearly set out what kind of action should be taken against the Soviet maritime threat. We believe that had the Minister then taken the action that he talks about taking now within the Community, instead of prolonging negotiations with the Russian authorities, which we warned would be abortive, action would have been taken by now.
We then moved on to what I thought was an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). Clearly, he understands the problems and has spent some time going through the detailed provisions of the Bill. My hon. Friend mentioned that it lacks the clarity of the 1894 Act. But, as the Minister knows, the drafting has become unclear because the draftsman in the Department of Trade has got a little older since 1894 and he is not as good as he was. When one reads the Bill, one gets bogged down in cross references and technicalities. I hope that in Committee we can get down to the important issues without getting too encumbered in the red tape of the Bill.
The shipping industry faces major problems which were highlighted by my hon. Friend. I thought that he was right to reiterate that prevention was far better than cure.
It will not have escaped the Minister's attention that much of the debate has been devoted to pilotage. Several hon. Members 863 mentioned that the law relating to pilotage, which is founded on a 1913 Act, is both complex and lengthy. I find it surprising that the Government did not consider pilotage sufficiently important to merit a separate Bill to amend and consolidate pilotage law.
§ Mr. Hunt
I want to come to what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I warn him that I have a mind to go and see his constituents, many of whom are fishermen, to point out how he differentiated between gentlemen and fishermen. I shall come to that later.
I agree with the right hon. Member for the Western Isles, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh and others of my hon. Friends that there should be a separate pilotage Bill. Pilots are remarkable men who perform a public service with great expertise, and often at considerable personal risk. Throughout the debate, their independence has been emphasised and welcomed by many of my hon. Friends. I should like to deal with that for a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said that he looked forward to a class of salaried pilots, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) talked of maintaining their independence. This issue needs to be clarified in Committee. When one reads the Bill's confusing provisions, one finds it very difficult to know exactly what the Government intend. Under clause 11 there is power for local pilotage authorities to employ pilots licensed by the authority. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) pointed out that the clause 4(2) would, by the very nature of its drafting, allow the pilotage commission to employ pilots, as well. We need to decide exactly what we want and what the pilots want. I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. It is important to preserve the independence and the independent authority of pilots.
§ Mr. Prescott
I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware of it, but a committee went into this matter. Before 864 it there appeared a number of organisations, two of which particularly represented pilots. One of them argued for salary status, and the other argued for self-employed status. So the pilots themselves are somewhat divided on the issue.
§ Mr. Hunt
I had a most interesting day earlier this week when I was very kindly invited to Transport House to listen to the debate on employment or self-employment that was taking place in the marine pilotage branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I am aware that there is some difference of opinion. But what we must decide in determining what we allow in the Bill is whether we should give the pilotage commission power to employ pilots—we must go into that very carefully—as well as giving local pilotage authorities the power to employ pilots.
We have heard a number of important contributions concerning compulsory pilotage. It is a fact—his was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East—that the Bill has failed to grasp the nettle. I think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was referring to the standing committee on pilotage. One of its recommendations, inter alia, was recommendation no. 8, which says:The existing requirements for compulsory pilotage are anachronistic and need review in the light of present-day risks. We recommend that, as a general principle, pilotage should be compulsory subject to carefully considered local exemptions for areas, small vessels and experienced personnel where these can safely be given and certain general exemptions.Having got that recommendation, there is also support from the pilots themselves. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight referred to a very important resolution passed yesterday by the United Kingdom Pilots' Association. It says:this Conference in supporting the need for new legislation requires the legislation to reflect the original SCOP recommendation of compulsory pilotage as a general principle in our ports.Having looked at those particular arguments, I must admit that one should not get carried away with the idea that compulsory pilotage is the answer, because knowledge of the ship itself is just as important as knowledge of the area.
However, I accept what many of my hon. Friends have said. There is concern about certain of the older foreign 865 ships in the approaches to our ports, and particularly in the Thames estuary. There is also the need to emphasise not so much the size of the vessel but the cargo that it is carrying. Here I would refer to the German example highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. I have with me the German document just issued by the Federal Ministry of Transport, which shows the way that the Community is moving. This directive, dated 4th July 1978, says:The introduction of compulsory pilotage for ships carrying dangerous cargoes is a further step towards greater safety in the heavily used waters round the German coast.The Community is moving in that direction. We have a right to expect the Minister to indicate to us tonight, as so many hon. Members have raised the matter, exactly where he sees the Government's policy on compulsory pilotage. I believe that the Government have ducked the issue, and I hope that he will respond to this in particular when he replies.
There have been a number of other points about pilotage. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich is well informed on pilotage matters and I pay tribute with him and to Trinity House for all that it does in this area, and the leadership and expertise it brings to bear—he referred to the safety of pilots getting on ships. When we come to Committee, I think that we should consider that and, indeed, consider making it an offence for vessels not to have a safe means of access for pilots.
§ Mr. Hunt
It is not at the moment, as I understand it. It is certainly not in this Bill. A safe and proper means of access must be provided for pilots.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich went on to talk about Trinity House. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight also referred to that great institution. There is the question of whether Trinity House could have done the job itself. Why, therefore, do we set up this quango? Although I have some sympathy with that view, it is important to remember that the recommendations on pilotage contained in the Bill are the result of intensive negotiations and consultations and come to this House as an agreed set of recommendations.
866 Having said that, I must say that there are a number of points in relation to this quango—the Minister must expect some scepticism from Opposition Members on the creation of yet another quango—which I should like to raise and reiterate. First, the Secretary of State said that he wished to preserve an important balance among all the various interests. But it was pointed out by several hon. Members that under the Bill as at present drafted clause 1 is very woolly. There is provision for at least one of the pilotage commissioners to be a licensed pilot, but only one. It could be one in 15. There is also—and this has changed from the White Paper—a provision that there should be other persons having a wide experience as shipowners or in the management of ships, pilotage services or management of docks or harbours.
I do not believe that we should accept this clause as it is, because it offends against an important principle, which is that we in this House must not have to depend upon the discretion, indeed the vagaries, of the Secretary of State in maintaining that balance. I agree with those hon. Members who said that the balance must be written into the Bill. I believe that was highlighted by the right hon. Member for Western Isles.
This is not a new concept, because the London Pilotage (Amendment) Order 1978, which comes into operation next week, lays down exactly how that particular pilotage authority should be made up. Article 1 of that order says that there should be three persons from Trinity House, one person from the PLA, two persons appointed by a series of harbour boards, five persons representative of ship owners and five persons elected by pilots, and so on.
I would have thought that a far better way of dealing with the composition of the commission in order to make it quite clear that a balance will be written into the Bill. Although the Secretary of State may promise to maintain such a balance, some of us would prefer to see this House of Commons stating exactly what that balance should be. I also know that there is a strong feeling among some pilots that they should be allowed to elect their representatives. I should like to know from the Minister whether he would like to encourage some of the pilots to nominate their representatives 867 or whether he will be taking his own decision as to which and how many pilots should be on the commission.
There have been references to whether the commission will be advisory or executive. This is very important, and the Secretary of State did not deal with it adequately in opening the debate. He said of the pilotage commission:Its job is not to run the pilotage services.When one looks through the clauses as drafted, it is not clear whether the functions will be wholly advisory.
Clause 4 (2) allows the Secretary of State to confer on the commission such functions as he considers appropriate. These are clearly not confined to being advisory. They could extend to a whole range of functions which he, in his own discretion, might give to the commission. That is not satisfactory. I hope that the Minister will describe exactly the functions that he has in mind for conferring on the commission under Clause 4(2). Clause 4 appears to be a mixture of advisory and executive functions while clause 6 seems to be wholly executive. We must get the mix right, or the commission will never function properly.
I turn to the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, who sets a great example in fighting for the rights and safety of his constituents. He said that the Bill should move away from the question of size in determining the nature of pilotage and take more account of the cargo the ship was carrying. I have referred already to the way in which the European Commission is moving. This is another important general principle to which I hope the Minister will respond. Also I hope he will answer my hon. Friend's question about the restrictions that should be placed on dangerous cargoes in compelling some older ships, which do not have the necessary expertise on board, to ensure that they navigate these congested waters safely with the advice of a pilot.
I have tried to go through all the points that have been raised in the debate. Perhaps the major one for Members on this side of the House has been the need to look extremely critically at clause 31. This is a very important part of the Bill which was put in at the last minute. I do not know why this happened—perhaps 868 the Minister will enlighten us—but it was not in the White Paper. It is peculiarly out of step with the rest of the Bill as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West, who has considerable expertise in these matters.
Clause 31 gives the Secretary of State the right of veto over the commercial judgment of the company. It is no good the Government talking about the Furness-Withy case because there is an important difference between rape and marriage. The clause gives the Secretary of State the right to veto the marriage freely entered into by a board and its shareholders. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West was right to point out the international context of London, and the fact that 300,000 jobs are at stake in the world context of our shipping industry. Many people throughout the world are worried about this provision. Not only does it offend against the Treaty of Rome, as I am sure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is about to tell me—
§ Mr. Prescott
I am not a defender of the Treaty of Rome. The liner conferences which protect a lot of prices are also against the Treaty of Rome, but I do not hear any protests about them. I do not think anyone will say that they should be broken up.
When the hon. Member draws the distinction between rape and marriage and whether the marriage was freely entered into by the two parties, I wonder whether he considers that this is the clause which is concerned with the interests of the United Kingdom. If the two companies get together, even with the agreement of their shareholders, this does not mean that they have necessarily considered the interests of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am grateful for that speech. Unfortunately, however, the hon. Member has wholly missed my point, which was to define the international nature of British shipping. We cannot afford to take a restricted view. In fact a quarter of our ships are owned by subsidiaries of overseas companies.
The Opposition are very concerned about the inclusion of this clause in the Bill. It is not good enough for the hon. 869 Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) to tell us not to object to controversial measures because they are controversial. We do not. We object to this clause because it is wrong. It will, at best, be ineffective. and clearly it will do considerable damage to our international reputation.
§ Mr. Ogden
I do not wish to delay the hon. Member any more than necessary, because I suspect that at least one hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench wants to depart from this place and catch a train—I mention no names. But may we assume that there is a national interest? May we assume that we can agree what the national interest is? If the national interest conflicts with the commercial interests of any one section of the community, is it right for the Government of the day, of whichever party, to have the power to intervene?
§ Mr. Hunt
It does not merit a"Yes"or a"No"answer. This is a very complex and difficult matter which does not give rise to a simple solution. But most certainly the solution is not to have this great hammer which is contained in clause 31, and we shall seek to remove it in Committee.
The hon. Member for West Derby referred to a small speech which I made for two and a half hours on an earlier occasion when he had tried to sink Liverpool's main claim to having a shipping industry, namely, the ferries. It ill behoves him tonight to try to represent himself as someone speaking on behalf of shipping when it was his idea on that earlier occasion to sink the famous Liverpool ferries.
§ Mr. Hunt
I apologise but we must not get bogged down in constituency issues.
870 I should like to move on to the fishing industry. I felt that the hon. Members for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and Kingston upon Hull, East did not really do justice to the real requirements of the fishing industry. I happen to believe that there are large parts of this Bill which are drawn badly and which do not take fishing interests properly into account. It was wrong for the hon. Member for Grimsby to call it a"fishermen's charter ", because it is not. It does not take sufficient account of fishermen—
§ Mr. Hunt
I was referring to the reference made to drugs on board ship and withdraw any other imputation. The Bill does not take account of the serious problems of drugs on board, whether on a happy or any other sort of ship. The The fishing industry and the British Shipping Federation, in particular, are very worried about the taking of unauthorised drugs on board. We must take account of this in Committee.
Many important matters have been raised in the debate and others have not been raised because hon. Members have not been able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I pay tribute to the constructive way in which the industry has approached the problems raised in the Bill and the way in which hon. Members have sought to highlight important areas of concern.
I trust that the Minister will respond adequately, particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington whose important remarks about pollution were not answered in Monday's 871 debate. He has repeated them and they should be answered tonight.
We regret that clause 31 has been introduced at a very late stage. It is unnecessary, irrelevant to present problems and will do only more harm. With that important reservation, we shall do our best to treat this important Bill with the urgency it deserves.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)
The debate has been marked by speeches from hon. Members who have a special expertise. Some have worked as seafarers and some have other connections with the sea. It has been a remarkable debate for that reason. I fear that I cannot claim the same expertise, although when my children were much smaller I took them in a motor boat on the lake at Regent's Park from time to time. I do not have any direct expertise.
I welcome the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) to the Opposition Front Bench for the first time in a major debate. He made a speech which, when he reflects upon it, he will recognise contained an unusually large number of bad points, but they were delivered in an agreeable way. I do not think that his remarks about the Soviet Union were an expression of his own thoughts. His judgment is better than that. He is a sort of political Muppet—a puppet manipulated by Maggie. That was not his better judgment, and we must acquit him of those thoughts. I shall deal more seriously with the Soviet threat later.
My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) were right, bearing in mind the progress made as a result of the Bill and other work, to regard the Bill as a charter. It is a charter for progress, but that fact was not captured by the remarks of the hon. Member for Wirral.
I pay a deserved tribute to the industry. The Bill is a product of the Government's working closely with the industry to promote legislation that will strengthen our Merchant Navy and help it to compete more effectively in a volatile and highly competitive market.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) pointed out, safer conditions represent an integral 872 part of our whole approach, as do all the major provisions of the Bill. One provision concerns pilotage, which we can debate at another time. Another provides a more up-to-date approach to discipline. There are also wider powers to investigate casualties, so that we can learn more from accidents causing serious injury but not necessarily loss of life, or when events occur which in my right hon. Friend's view could have led to a shipping casualty. In this way we shall enhance the already high reputation of this country in investigating casualties. Then there are the wider measures to safeguard our commercial interests, where admittedly there is some controversy.
The theme of all this has been to maximise co-operation among the Government, the owners and the unions, a process in which rich dividends have been earned. Highly controversial issues, all too often plagued by mythology rather than by informed reason, can be tackled successfully when people get around the table with the resolve to find sensible solutions. I have found in the last five years, almost, that, faced with the most divisive issues in the industry, with evidently little prospect of reconciliation, in the end one can achieve a near-unanimous view by this approach.
Three subjects come to mind. On discipline, who would have thought just a few years ago that we would have got two unanimous reports? As for the employment of non-domiciled seafarers, nothing could have been more divisive than that issue when I first faced it a couple of years ago. The original positions of the owners and the unions seemed absolutely irreconcilable.
On the question of pilotage itself, I acknowledge the role of the last Conservative Government. They also thought that in this connection at least there was value in people getting around the table and trying to work out solutions to difficult problems. It is this theme of co-operation that I have tried to encourage in the industry since 1974, when I was first charged with this responsibility.
I regret to say that it was not always so. One of the first things that I learned —I was saddened by it—is that access to Ministers under the last Conservative Government was somewhat one-sided. 873 The unions hardly got a look-in, except perhaps to be told that a decision had been made. I acquit officials totally of any responsibility in that direction. They have to be given a lead.
§ Mr. David Hunt indicated dissent
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. What conversations has he had with the unions to find out what the atmosphere was like between 1970 and 1974? I can assure him that it was the unanimous view of the trade union movement that they were given scant consideration. So we resolved, when we came into office, that in the best interests of the industry, there had to be greater equality of access to Ministers.
Both sides of the industry can make a powerful contribution, not only to resolving problems but in helping to develop policy, nationally and internationally. Disagreements arise from time to time, naturally, but is it not infinitely better that in vital international talks—when we go to the EEC or when a Minister goes to the Soviet Union to discuss these difficult problems—we speak with a united industry behind us?
Those have been our deliberate plans, and we have acted on them. Is it not far better, also, that owners and unions alike should share a responsibility for the moulding of policy, rather than be isolated and then put in the position of offering carping criticism from the sidelines?
If I have achieved anything in this job —I claim no miracles, and I know my station; I am an Under-Secretary of State only—it has been to put this process of consultation and ministerial accessibility into practical effect. I hope that it will never again be otherwise.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East for thanking me. It is not only for what he said that I thank him, but for his continuing help, particularly during my early days as a Minister, when he served in the Department under the then Secretary of State as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. There is no doubt that although he holds controversial views, benefit resulted from the tension that existed, in the establishment of different points of view from time to time.
874 My hon. Friend for Kingston upon Hull, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby spoke movingly of the problems of the fishing industry, and rightly called for a charter for fishermen. I want to put the matter in perspective. The Bill provides wider powers to make safety regulations which will apply to the fishing industry. I cite clauses 21 and 22. There is to be a new disciplinary regime, and not only in relation to drink. There are to be wider provisions on casualty inquiries that will relate to fishing vessels. That is especially important in that industry, where there are many personal injuries.
The limit on the amount of damages that applies to that industry, just as to the other, is to be removed. But above all there is to be a report on the safety of fishermen at work, similar to the other report that we have already produced, which is another charter for progress. We hope to produce the report early in the new year.
I turn to the question of unauthorised drink. There is an undeniable need for powers on this matter. It was exemplified in the"Wyre Victory"case, in the investigation into that very sad state of affairs.
§ Mr. Prescott
By the definition in the Bill, what was involved in that incident was authorised drink.
§ Mr. Davis
It was alleged that the man in question had been rendered incapable of performing his duties by an excess of alcohol. My hon. Friend is partly right and partly wrong. If I quote from the report he will see why I say that. My hon. Friend spoke about the connivance of owners. The inspector said:It is the view of this court that the owners should give to skippers wholehearted backing if and when men are found with illicit drink on board. Any skipper who refuses to sail because some of his crew are intoxicated or because he knows or suspects that there is illicit drink on board should receive the full support of his employers. The skipper should not be allowed to feel, as some do, that if he refuses to sail he will be replaced by another skipper. His action in reporting any such incident should be applauded and not condemned.That was the force of what my hon. Friend was arguing.
§ Mr. Davis
Time and time again, unauthorised drink on vessels leads to that sort of problem.
I say no more about the question of unauthorised drink, but reiterate what my right hon Friend said—that there must be proper safeguards against abuse by the searchers. That is a matter on which we shall engage in consultation with the trade unions and others concerned.
My hon. Friend also referred to the deplorable diving accident and the question of dynamic positioning. I am sure that that will feature in the inquiry. For that reason, I can say no more about that.
I come to the question of pilotage. The hon. Members for Harwich (Mr. Rids-dale) and Wirral disagreed with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), in that they declared that this meant another quango. The Conservatives go on endlessly about quangos. It is a sort of knee-jerk response by the Tory Party. The Conservatives must be thinking of Lena Horne when they do this, only this time it is"The new-fangled quango ":"There's nothing to it. You just sort of stand there, and you just sort of say it." They just sort of say it as a substitute for policy, and do not reason. Those who look at the facts here must ask"What has this to do with quangos? "
All the interests concerned looked critically at the question of the central body, and all came to an agreement about it. It is financed not out of public funds but by shipowners who pay the dues. If they are satisfied, I agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives—it seems all right to me.
I now turn to the question of the functions of the commission. My right hon. Friend has power to extend the functions of the commission. It has been alleged that my right hon. Friend's functions are too sweeping. I believe—and ACOP was concerned about this—that the Bill should allow for changes that occur. Indeed, a number of hon. Members have been urging that the question of deepsea pilotage should be considered, and other functions have been mooted for the commission.
Pilotage legislation is a little infrequent. The last one was in 1913, and that was probably introduced in 1912. What we 876 have to do is not to engage in this sort of nonsense but to retain some flexibility to change the role of the commission in response to changing circumstances. That is what it is about.
I agree that there must be safeguards against abuse of the power. That is provided for in the Bill and we can go into the matter in detail later. It is subject to affirmative resolution, and I believe that it is inconceivable that the power will be exercised without extensive prior consultation with all the interested parties and with the commission itself.
The Bill envisages that there will be more compulsory pilotage. I urge hon. Members to look at clause 6(1)(c), where they will see the effect of that provision.
Now I come to the matter of deepsea pilotage—an issue that was raised by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. We have not included provisions concerning deepsea pilotage. I shall not rehearse the practical problems that exist, but there are practical problems about it. We must be sure that we do not dilute the bridges of our merchant vessels by taking the masters and senior officers from those vessels and putting them into pilotage because we are anxious to respond to this problem.
There is a feeling in the House that compulsory deepsea pilotage may help to reduce accidents around the coasts. I am proposing to hold discussions with the shipowners, the pilots and the appropriate authorities to examine in more detail the practical and legal problems of introducing deepsea pilotage on a wider scale. At the same time we shall, of course, participate in similar discussions with the European pilotage authorities, because to make the provisions effective one has to seek an international solution. One cannot do this unilaterally.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East called for independence and a salaried service at one and the same time. He will have to sort that out. We may have the benefit of his views in Committee. I shall say no more about that.
Sir Bernard Maine
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can dismiss the point quite like that. It is possible to have a 877 Crown salaried service which is independent of pressure from shipowners or any other interest. The point that I was making was that if one is to have effective pilotage one must have men belonging to a profession—the profession itself is self-regulating—who do not respond to pressures. It is not a point to be swept aside like that.
§ Mr. Davis
I an not intending to sweep it aside but I have a lot of ground to cover and I believe that the hon. Gentleman is not doing sufficient justice to the independence of pilots. I look forward 'to debating the issue with the hon. Gentleman, but he has raised an important point and he will recognise that in trying to make a half-hour speech—I have a little longer, but I intend to take half an hour—I cannot deal with it at length now.
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised a number of points. I think that there is force in what he said about pilotage consolidation, but let us get the pilotage provisions set out here enacted and then we will talk about consolidation.
On the question of EEC nationals, pilotage certificates can be given only to EEC nationals on EEC-registered ships. The question of flags of convenience does not arise in that respect.
The idea of a Scottish pilotage commission was debated at length. The general conclusion was that Scottish interests must be represented, but it was thought not to be helpful in terms of safety to create an additional body. Let us see how the proposed system works and consider refinements later. In the meantime, perhaps, we should have ad hoc arrangements for Scottish pilots to channel their views to the commission if they feel that that is necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) posed an interesting question. He asked about homosexuality on board ships. He made a serious point. It is an issue that involves civil liberties. The present situation is inconsistent with the general law. But the burden of proof resides with those who say that the situation should remain as it is. This Bill was not the place to make the change. We were more concerned with urgent safety and mari- 878 time matters that require urgent legislation. The question of sexual offences is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The most recent indications that we have had from the National Maritime Board, on which both sides of the industry are represented, is that there is strong opposition to a change in law as it affects merchant seamen. We should consider the matter carefully.
§ Mr. Davis
My hon. Friend will have to raise that subject with the Chairman of the Committee. It is not for me to decide whether a subject is in order.
I turn to the international scene and the commercial question. I have been blamed for not making sufficient noise about the Soviet threat. I wish that other Ministers in EEC countries had responded to the lead that I was set before some of those who complained even entered the House. This is not the only threat. We are faced with many others.
I do not dismiss the threat that is posed in the long term by flags of convenience, but the Soviet threat is a more immediate one, in certain trades. Surely I cannot be blamed for the lack of response from other members of the Community. At conference after conference I have tried to persuade them not simply to play with monitoring when the evidence is clear already but to put our defences in order. At the end of the day I want an accommodation with the Soviet Union. I want to agree terms so that we can have an equitable basis for dealing with each other. The Secretary of State does not wish to wage an anti-Soviet campaign; neither do I. We want to protect our industry from the threat of predatory activities. We are determined to do what we can.
The hon. Member for St. Ives totally repudiated the liner code. He is on his own on that. The movement that we have made in the EEC is based upon the proposition that we do not believe that the cargo reservation provisions of the liner code, which were designed to support the justifiable aspirations of developing countries should be applied for the benefit of developing shipping countries which are in competition with us. We are saying that 879 we should not apply certain articles which are fundamentally offensive not only to us but to others who would find ratification under those conditions intolerable—notably the United States, with which we must co-operate. We do not want to promote protectionist strands which too often affect United States policy.
In the international sphere, IMCO must remain the corner stone of our policies. We must take every opportunity to buttress rather than diminish the authority of that organisation.
I come now to clause 31. I find it extraordinary how implacable the Conservative Party can be in its hostility—while in opposition, at least, and not necessarily in government—to a British take-over. If the National Enterprise Board exhibits an interest in a British company the Conservatives wax indignant about that, but they are totally infirm of purpose in terms of an undesirable foreign take-over. Their courage deserts them, and the hon. Member for Wirral even loses his will to be apathetic.
The impetus for this provision came not from the Government but, initially, from the shipowners, in 1975. They were worried about their share values and about the activities of foreign buyers.
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Gentleman cannot say"Nonsense ", because I was there when they came to see us. It is the hon. Gentleman who is talking nonsense. The shipowners asked us to take this action because they were at that time strongly in favour of the Government legislating to prevent undesirable foreign take-overs of United Kingdom shipping companies. I understand that now they have changed their view.
I am disappointed, because this reaction seems to be short-sighted. Governments have to take a wider view and account of the national interest in all cases where a company is in danger of falling under undesirable foreign control, not just when the directors decide to contest a take-over.
In practice cases are likely to be rare, but it surely cannot be argued that any voluntary sale of a shipping company to a foreign buyer would automatically be in the national interest. I stress, however, 880 that this is a reserve power which we expect to be used in only a few cases.
§ Mr. David Hunt
Why was this clause not in the White Paper, and why does the Under-Secretary not take advantage of the residual right of the Bank of England not to grant exchange control permission in individual cases.
§ Mr. Davis
The reason is that exchange control and the Monopoly Commission's powers are highly uncertain, and they were not aimed at this problem. I do not believe that they are adequate. I shall say quite frankly why this provision was not in the White Paper. We wanted to put it in but we had what was known at the time as the Lib-Lab pact. The Liberal Party threatened to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill if this clause were included. We saw the national interest in a different way, but we could not have carried the Bill in those circumstances. We intend to carry it now because I believe that others in the House are prepared to support us.
The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) again raised a number of points about our powers to deal with oil pollution. We already have powers under the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act to give the courts adequate opportunities to impose heavy fines. The problem lies not with the legislation but with the refusal of the courts, hitherto. to take a sufficiently positive line here, but that discretion must reside with the courts, and we can only appeal to them to see the matter in a broader context.
We are widening the powers considerably under the Bill. I cannot prognosticate on the question whether we shall ever have sufficient powers to deal with every contingency, but these are wider powers than we have ever had. I believe that they will strengthen our defences against the problems that cause justifiable concern to the hon. Member and to other hon. Members on both sides of the House. Should they need to be amended at any time, I am sure that the House will view the matter with sympathy if a case is made out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) summed up the main theme of the Bill. He spoke from personal experience of the need for 881 better arrangements regarding the safety conditions of seamen. For almost the last five years this is what I have wanted to achieve most in government. I think that the Bill, if implemented, will enable me at least to realise that personal ambition—but, much more important, I believe that it will reflect well on the industry as a whole and make the industry stronger than ever before.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).