§ (1) A United Kingdom fishing vessel of 12 metres or more in length shall carry an immersion suit of an appropriate size for each person on board.
§ (2) The immersion suit shall comply with regulation 33 of the Consolidated Text of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, published on 1986.'[Dr. Godman.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 1, in page 2, line 16, leave out 'those sections' and insert'sections 1 to 3 and section (Immersion suits)
- No. 5, in page 2, line 23, leave out 'and 4' and insert '4 and section (Immersion suits)'.
- No. 7, in page 2, line 28, leave out 'and 4' and insert '4 and section (Immersion suits)'.
- No. 9, in page 2, line 37, after '4', insert 'and section (Immersion suits)'.
- No. 11, in page 2, line 41, after '4', insert 'and section (Immersion suits)'.
- No. 13, in page 3, line 11, after '4', insert 'and section (Immersion suits)'
§ Dr. Godman
Many fishermen will not welcome the new clause, as their attitudes and beliefs are overwhelmingly conservative. I can say that with some conviction as my father, an honourable and decent man except for the fact that he was a life-long Tory, had that curious mixture of optimism and fatalism which seems to characterise the thinking of many fishermen. Despite the likely reservations of many fishermen, however, I shall press on.
I sincerely hope that the House will support new clause 1. I am privileged to be a sponsor of the Bill. I have heard it said, somewhat unkindly, that the Government have gutted and filleted the Bill. I applaud the efforts of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) as a member of a fishing family and as a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, which still has some members in the fishing industry.
I shall deal first with the size specification of vessel, which is defined in the new clause as 12 m in length or more. That length is specified in the Bill and it is one that is used generally in regulations. For example, the Fishing Vessels Safety Provisions Rules 1975, which were laid before Parliament on 3 April 1975, state, inter alia, thatfor fishing vessels of over 12 metres in length to which these rules apply for every person on board a life jacket will be carried.In my view, the rules and the new clause are not appropriate for open-decked boats of less than 12 m in length. For example, I am talking of the type of boat that is used by lobster fishermen and other fishermen who use static gear mainly for the catching of lobsters and crabs. It would be absurd to impose these regulations on men and crew who are working in very small boats.
361 Subsection (2) of the new clause states:The immersion suit shall comply with regulation 33 of the Consolidated Text of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, published in 1986.The foreword to the text states:The International Conventon for the safety of Life at Sea 1974."——known as the 1974 SOLAS, and the acronym SOLAS is used throughout the text——was adopted by the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea on 1 November 1974.The fourth paragraph states:The Maritime Safety Committee, on 17 June 1983, adopted further amendments to the 1974 SOLAS (1983 SOLAS amendments) in accordance wth the procedures specified in Article VIII and determined that these amendments shall enter into force"——and this is important even though it relates to maritime vessels—on 1 July 1986 unless prior to 1 January 1986 more than one third of Contracting States to the Convention or Contracting States, the combined merchant fleets of which constitute not less than 50 per cent. of the gross tonnage of the world's merchant fleet, have notified their objections.The articles and regulations in the text refer to merchant vessels and not fishing vessels and my aim is to bring these commendable articles and regulations into the discussion of the provision of life-saving equipment in fishing vessels. Article 1 deals with general obligations under the convention and states thatthe Contracting Governments undertake to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and the Annex thereto, which shall constitute an integral part of the present Convention. Every reference to the present Convention constitutes at the same time a reference to the Annex.I make no apology for quoting at length, because I am dealing with a first-class guideline for the safety of fishermen as they go about their hazardous work. Article 1(b) states:the Contracting Governments undertake to promulgate all laws, decrees, orders and regulations and to take all other steps which may be necessary to give the present Convention full and complete effect, so as to ensure that, from the point of view of safety of life, a ship is fit for the service for which it is intended.Surely that should apply to fishing vessels as well. I know that there will be no dispute about that. Article 2, which deals with application, states:The present Convention shall apply to ships entitled to fly the flag of States the Governments of which are Contracting Governments.9.45 am
I shall refer to regulation 33 because it is mentioned specifically in the new clause. The regulation is concerned with immersion suits—their nature, their make up and the functions that they must be capable of performing in what inevitably will be extreme and harsh conditions. The regulation provides:the immersion suit shall be constructed with waterproof materials such that: 1 it can be unpacked and donned without assistance within 2 min, taking into account any associated clothing, and a lifejacket if the immersion suit is to be worn in conjuction with a lifejacket;2 it will not sustain burning or continue melting after being totally enveloped in a fire for a period of 2s;3 it will cover the whole body with the exception of the face. Hands shall also be covered unless permanently attached gloves are provided … An immersion suit shall permit the person wearing it, and also wearing a lifejacket if the immersion suit is to be worn in conjunction with a lifejacket;362 that is, the abandonment of the vessel—
- 1 climb up and down a vertical ladder at least 5 m in length;
- 2 perform normal duties during abandonment"—3 Jump from a height of not less than 4.5 m into the water without damaging or dislodging the immersion suit, or being injured; and 4 swim a short distance through the water and board a survival craft.An important part of the regulation is the thermal performance requirements, which are set out in paragraph 2.2 on page 261 of the text. The requirements are as follows:An immersion suit made of material with inherent insulation, when worn either on its own or with a lifejacket, if the immersion suit is to be worn in conjunction with a lifejacket, shall provide the wearer with sufficient thermal insulation, following one jump into the water from a height of 4.5 m, to ensure that the wearer's body core temperature does not fall more than 2° C after a period of 6h immersion in calm circulating water at a temperature of between 0° C and 2° C.Water is rarely calm when a vessel is abandoned, but the temperature that is specified in the requirements of the suit is important. The requirement is that a suit should protect a man in the water when the temperature is about 0 deg C.
Having explained what is meant by an immersion suit, I shall turn to a discussion of the evidence which I believe substantiates the need for such life-saving gear to be provided for each member of a fishing vessel's crew.
I said on Second Reading that safety at sea has long concerned me, and that concern prompted the new clause. It was a matter of regret for me that I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. I shall never lose my stark memory of the loss, in 1968, of three Hull trawlers—the Ross Cleveland, the Kingston Peridot and the St. Romanus. Fifty-nine men were involved, of whom 58 perished. Many of them were personal friends of mine whom I had been at school with. Indeed, some years later my brother Leslie, a fisherman, married the widow of the skipper of the Kingston Peridot, who was drowned along with his comrades when his ship foundered.
The report of the court of inquiry into the loss of the Ross Cleveland is very relevant to my new clause. As the Minister well knows, the court was convened under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. The hearings were held in Hull in October 1968, and I attended some of them. Judge Naisby's report was published on 4 November 1968. I shall quote from what he said with specific reference to protective clothing when a fishing vessel is abandoned. In paragraph 27 of the report of the court of inquiry, he said:The evidence in this Inquiry demonstrated the advisability of some form of protective clothing being available for the crews of trawlers in the event of a casualty when they had to leave the vessel. This matter is under consideration by the Hull Mutual Insurance Society"—now, I believe, defunct—and perhaps other organisations connected with trawlers, and it seems that a small, comparatively cheap form of such clothing can be obtained of such a size that a sufficient number can be packed in a liferaft.I certainly do not want us to take up that last recommendation. I believe that immersion suits should be carried on the vessel and not stowed in liferafts. But what the judge had to say is germane to this debate. He made those remarks because of the circumstances surrounding the survival of the mate, Harry Eddom, whose family I know well, and the death of two of his comrades who climbed into the raft with him. The report of the court of inquiry says:The mate, who stated that he was in the starboard side of the wheelhouse, said that the vessel heeled over to port"—it was under considerable icing at the time— 363and that he was able to get out of the starboard door and climbed aft along the casing where he saw two members of the crew in the process of launching one of the inflatable liferafts. The raft was launched, and the mate gave evidence that he was struck by a sea and washed overboard and came to in the liferaft having been pulled into it by the other two men who were in it. One of the flaps of the liferaft had been torn, but they were able to close the other. However, a heavy sea"—the Ross Cleveland sank off the north coast of Iceland in February 1968, after a force 12 had been blowing with a heavy snowfall—washed into the raft taking out a considerable portion of its equipment, including the bailer, but the occupants were able to reduce the water in the raft by improvised means.The next passage demonstrates the need for my new clause:The three men in the liferaft were very differently dressed. One of them had very little clothing on"—he was dressed in his vest and underpants or, as we would say in Scotland, in his semmit and drawers—which was, of course, wet through, and he soon became unconscious and, despite efforts by his companions, died in about one and a half hours. The second occupant of the raft, who was more warmly clad but who was wearing no waterproof clothing, also succumbed to the cold and died a little later. The mate, who was warmly clad and was wearing protective clothing, managed to survive, and about daylight the raft grounded. The mate was able to get out, drag the raft clear of the water, stagger along the shore to an empty house under the lee of which he stayed the night, and next morning was found by a shepherd boy who assisted the mate to reach his home farm where the mate was given hot drinks, dry clothing and put to bed.I well remember the news of Harry Eddom's survival being announced. He was the sole survivor of that tragedy. I am not for a moment saying that such immersion suits would have saved all of the men, but I genuinely believe that the two laddies in the raft with Harry Eddom would have survived. Only this morning I spoke to my cousin, skipper Len Whur, who, at the time of the founding of the Ross Cleveland, was in command of the Hull trawler, the Kingston Andalusite. That trawler was just two cable lengths away when the Ross Cleveland heeled over and sank but my cousin and his crew were unable to help their comrades.
At 8.45 am today, my cousin said that he would give every encouragement to the new clause because of the survival of Harry Eddom and because, since leaving the fishing industry, he has commanded a survey vessel working in the North sea oil and gas industries, often in appalling weather. That vessel is registered in London. It is a British registered vessel, and every crew member is given the best sort of survival suit. If survival suits can be given to the crews of offshore oil supply vessels, large merchant vessels or other vessels whose keels are laidf on 1 July 1986, why can they not be given to the crews of fishing vessels 12 m in length or more? Under the most trying circumstances, that fisherman watched his mates drown, and he argues for such survival equipment.
The dreadful losses in 1968 all came, if I remember correctly, within about four weeks. They led to the Government of the then Mr. Harold Wilson setting up a committee of inquiry into trawler safety under the admirable charmanship of Sir Derek Holland-Martin. The report, Cmnd. 4114, was published in July 1969, and I know that at least one hon. Member here today was a Member of the House then. The report contained many recommendations including one on survival clothing. Paragraph 105 of what is known to every fisherman in the United Kingdom as the Holland-Martin report says: 364In the first place, the statutory rules on lifesaving appliances do not require trawlers to carry any special clothing for survivors to wear in liferafts. It became clear after the loss of the Ross Cleveland north of Iceland in February 1968 that crew members might well reach a liferaft with insufficient clothing to survive in Arctic seas (especially after casualties like capsizing, which can happen suddenly) even though the inflatable liferafts carried on trawlers have canopies which enable the raft to be completely closed.That is one of the recommendations in a report pubished in 1969.
The report continues:We recommend that, in the light of these studies, the Board of Trade should take steps to ensure that all trawlers which operate in Arctic Seas carry survival clothing for use in liferafts.I remind the House that this was an inquiry into deep sea trawling which has largely disappeared. The British fishing industry today is dominated by share fishermen interests. The report continues:We also recommend that, in addition, the trawler-owners ensure that cooks, engine-room personnel and other crew members who normally work below decks provide themselves with warm outer clothing suitable for wear in an emergency; these men may never go on the open deck in the course of their normal duties and do not always possess adequate protective clothing at present.Debates on the Bill and other debates have demonstrated that survival at sea is not, and never will be, a subject for partisan politics. However, it is a subject that must engage the attention of the House from time to time because safety for fishing vessels is too important to be left to fishermen themselves. Successive Administrations have been disturbingly slow in translating such recommendations into safety regulations.
In support of my new clause I refer to a recent maritime tragedy—that of the French trawler Snekkar Arctic which sank 350 miles west of Lewis on Saturday 22 February with the loss of 18 lives. The importance of survival suits was starkly and chillingly demonstrated by those deaths. The Stornoway Gazette and West Coast Advertiser of 1 March said that the survivors—that is, the men wearing survival suits—were in the water for three and a half hours before rescue. The weather conditions were appalling. The men who went over the side in just trousers and shirts died very quickly. All French trawlers have to carry a complement of survival suits. The newspaper states:Every man on the Snekkar Arctic who had time to don an immersion suit survived. All the others perished. That was one of the facts which emerged when the survivors of the tragedy told their story in Stornoway on Sunday.The editorial in that excellent paper discussed the tragedy and the attitudes of fishermen to safety equipment and referred to the relatively large sums involved in purchasing such equipment. The editorial stated:When the Snekkar Arctic went down nine men managed to get into immersion suits. Those nine survived, even though some of them had not put the things on properly. The 11 others got off the boat, but were drowned or dead of hypothermia long before the 'Dogger Bank' arrived. Those nine lives have surely amply repaid the cost of fitting the French fleet with the suits … If there is a criticism to be made of the Safety at Sea Bill, it is not that it goes too far, it is that it does not go far enough. French vessels, and those of some other countries, have to carry immersion suits. British vessels do not"—the leader writer is slightly adrift there—although they are provided on all Royal Navy ships. A Navy spokesman tells us that while men are on deck in foul weather they carry the suits at all times, in the same way that gas masks are carried. When below deck the suits are stored at specified points. Their use considerably extends the life expectancy of the 365 user, and it takes under 30 seconds to put them on. The suits cost about £300 each, but even so Britain should join France, Norway, West Germany and Denmark in insisting that they are carried. Grants for their purchase are, apparently, already available.The article concludes:We expect that many fishermen, particularly those old enough to be set in their ways, would object strongly to being made subject to such laws—after all, 'it can't happen to me'. But since 1975 a total of 434 United Kingdom registered fishing boats have been lost. There are nine men in Normandy who will be grateful as long as they live for the strict French safety regulations.I make no apology for spending so much time on presenting new clause 1. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I spoke yesterday to a senior official from the Transport and General Workers Union in Scotland. He is well known to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. I refer to Mr. Mel Keenan, who is responsible for the fishermen who still sail out of Aberdeen in the ever-diminishing fleet of company-owned trawlers. He is also responsible for the men who work on the standby and rescue vessels which sail round oil and gas rigs in the North sea. The vessels are usually former side trawlers. Mr. Keenan said that he would like survival suits to be carried in all our fishing vessels.
The survival of Harry Eddom in such terrible conditions off north-west Iceland in 1968, the survival of the nine French fishermen two months ago and, more tellingly, the deaths of Harry Eddom's colleagues and of the French fishermen, clearly demonstrate the need for survival suits to be carried on fishing vessels.
I have no doubt that I shall be told that the new clause is technically deficient, but I hope that the principle is acceptable to the Minister and his officials.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for his comments. He has taken a great interest in fishing matters since he came to the House and I am pleased that he decided to be a sponsor of my Bill. I agree that, far from gutting the Bill, the Government have supported its principles, as is evidenced by the clauses which they have accepted.
I listened with care to what the hon. Member said about the compulsory wearing of immersion suits. On Second Reading he argued that that should be obligatory, and he has reinforced his case today. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the sinking of the French trawler in February this year, when 15 fishermen were drowned or missing. Only three bodies were recovered. The nine fishermen who were saved were wearing insulated immersion suits which had built-in life jackets. They cost £300. An immersion suit can be worn in conjunction with a life jacket or designed with an inbuilt life jacket, which can be classed as a life jacket.
A suit without inherent insulation should permit a wearer's body core not to fall more than 2 deg C during a submersion of one hour in water at a temperature of 5 deg C. An insulated immersion suit of the type worn by nine men who were rescued from the French trawler permits the wearer to write with a pencil after he has been immersed in water for one hour at a temperature of 5 deg C. That certainly reinforces the strong conviction of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow in presenting the new clause.
366 The Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances)(Amendment) Regulations 1986, which will apply to all but a few British vessels, including some fishing vessels, come into force for new vessels on 1 July 1986. I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow welcomes that. The regulations will introduce, for the first time a requirement for immersion suits to be carried on British vessels. They incorporate amendments to the 1983 safety of life at sea convention requirements which include the provision of immersion suits.
The main thrust of the requirements is that vessels that do not provide dry-shore evacuation and rely on persons going down the side of the ship into the inflatable life rafts—that will be the case with a number of trawlers—should provide immersion suits. In addition, the regulations provide for a rescue boat to be carried on all vessels. The rescue boats for smaller vessels are invariably the inflatable boat type, with a low freeboard and a high spray. The crews of such vessels will be required to have immersion suits.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow will accept that, although the Government intend to apply these requirements to existing vessels at a later date, it was found to be impossible, in legal terms, to impose that requirement in these regulations. However, the Government are preparing regulations which would give effect to that. The hon. Gentleman gave valuable information to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport. He said that immersion suits should be carried compulsorily on fishing vessels. The detailed specifications for immersion suits can be found in schedule 2 of the Government's proposed regulations, which are due to come into effect on 1 July 1986. To date, no manufacturer has won the Department of Transport approval for a suit under the requirements of schedule 2. That is one of the reasons that the Government—I am sure that the Minister will make it clear—cannot bring the regulations into effect.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow shares the concern that I have felt since the conception of the Bill about what the measure will cost fishermen. We have both said consistently that when it comes to saving a fisherman's life we should not ask how much the safety equipment costs.
Sadly, fishermen have resisted the use of modern equipment because of the cost. An uninsulated suit costs £200, an insulated suit costs £250, and an insulated suit with a built-in lifejacket costs £300. The latter type was used by the nine French fishermen who were saved.
The hon. Member made a cogent speech. He presented a strong case for the Bill to provide for the compulsory carriage of immersion suits. Reluctantly I cannot accept his clause. Before explaining why, I should make it clear, that in many circumstances men will wear immersion suits and survive, but in others, they will not wear them. I use the Scottish expression that if a man goes into the sea in his semmit and drawers, he has no chance of survival. A man in an insulated immersion suit must have a chance. The loss of the Snekkar Arctic demonstrated that. I am sure that all hon. Members who support the need for greater safety at sea will join with the hon. Gentleman in recognising that an immersion suit is a valuable piece of life-saving equipment.
367 The Bill provides for an emergency position indicating radio beacon, automatic release valves for life rafts and the new use of life jackets. Those provisions will enable the safety of fishermen to be substantially improved. All the measures have been well publicised and explained to the fishing industry and have been generally accepted by it.
When the Bill becomes law—I hope that it will pass through its remaining stages today—and when the regulations are made, fishermen will comply with the law, and, because they have been closely associated with its drafting they will do so willingly.
I ask the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow whether the industry has been consulted about his proposed new clause. If a fishing vessel owner has to spend a minimum of £800 on immersion suits, we shall be faced with the problem of trying to persuade fishermen that there is a real need to save their lives. If a fishing vessel owner is asked to spend £800, he will look askance and say, "No." Four of the cheaper immersion suits will cost the owner of an ordinary, small vessel £800. Would fishermen prefer to invest that £800 in that way, or would they like to think that, to improve safety, the money may be better spent elsewhere?
My information is that the industry has not considered the terms of new clause 1. I intend no discredit to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow because, as we are all aware, it is difficult to pilot through the House a private Member's Bill. Consultation time is limited, because no finance is provided to an hon. Member to help present his Bill. He must do the majority of the work himself and must depend on the good will of interested organisations. I make no apology for the fact that neither he nor I was able to consult industry as fully as we would have wished. I understand that the industry has been unable to give me the answers I wanted about new clause 1.
A decision must be made whether to carry these bulky suits. I say that not in any derogatory sense. They are a little bulky, but they are safety at sea measure and that it the vital aim of the Bill. However, it is best left to the discretion of the owner and the skipper of a fishing vessel to decide whether to provide such suits, until the Government legislate on the matter in the light of discussions with the industry.
I thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow for putting the new clause before the House and highlighting admirably the need for securing greater safety at sea through using the most modern equipment. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman hears my hon. Friend the Minister of State he will feel able to withdraw the new clause knowing that his views have been carefuly noted by the Government and that he has not wasted his time in presenting them.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)
I come late to the consideration of the Bill. I assure the House, especially the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), that it is not because I am not interested in the subject, but because in recent weeks I have been heavily involved in the consideration of a number of other private Members' Bills. I am extremely interested in the subject, because I have always been concerned with the safety of workers at work. Until now, I have been concerned with workers on land, especially in factories and on construction sites. I 368 know from bitter experience that the worker is not always the best judge of what is good for him in regard to occupational health and safety.
I must begin my belated intervention by joining those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have justifiably complimented the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan on his initiative in introducing the Bill and on all the effort, thought and work he has put into it. Every contribution to the lessening of danger and, above all, the reduction of loss of workers' lives during their work—whatever that work—is of great value.
I read closely, and more than once, the debates on Second Reading and in Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will allow me one small word of regret. I read with interest and some amusement of the various demonstrations that he gave, not only upstairs but in the Chamber, of the lifejackets whose use he was advocating. I am sorry that he has not come to the Chamber in an immersion suit. [Interruption.] As the Minister is indicating, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) might have done that, too, to show us in practice whether the suit is cumbersome or heavy.
I cannot bring to bear on fishing any of the expertise shown by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and by my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Port Glasgow and for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), but I know that workers are often contemptuous of safety equipment even when, unlike in this case, they are not responsible for paying for it and are not, therefore, influenced by cost.
I remember when this Chamber was rebuilt after 1945 to replace the one that had been destroyed during the war. This building is constructed of Leicester stone, which is pretty soft, which, during working and especially during smoothing, gives off much dust, which is capable of causing chest ailments similar to those suffered by miners, such as pneumoconiosis and byssinosis. It is interesting that a number of the stonemasons who worked on the building were the grandsons and the great-grandsons of the stonemasons who worked on the building erected after the 1834 fire. The post-war stonemasons were supplied with masks to keep the dust out of their lungs, but I only ever saw one wearing a mask. I often asked why they did not wear masks. One stonemason—and the others said much the same—said, "It's a bit cissy, isn't it?" That attitude is not uncommon among people working in factories who sometimes take a fiendish delight in operating moving machinery without the guards in place. I hope that the Prime Minister will not accuse me of wanting to intensify the nanny state if I say that sometimes we need to legislate for workers in their own interests to secure what they will not secure themselves.
Many of the vessels to which we are referring operate in cold waters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has said, the difference between life and death is often a matter of how long one can survive in cold water without being frozen to death. Immersion suits and similar insulating clothing make an enormous difference, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has said. Indeed, he cited graphic figures to illustrate the problem.
All people in the services whose functions may lead them into contact with water are provided with protective clothing of this sort, and so they should be. Nothing is too good for those who devote themselves to protecting their 369 fellow contrymen. If we take it for granted that they should not be susceptible to the dangers of cold water without the provision of protective clothing, we cannot justify any ship going to sea without that protective clothing being provided.
I am not very happy with the comments of the hon Member for Banff and Buchan about the July regulations and possible consultation with the chaps who, no doubt, will say, "Leave us to look after our business. We know better than you fellows in Parliament." I do not see any certainty arising from that. The hon. Gentleman said that there was a legal inhibition preventing acceptance of the new clause, but he did not say what it was. I am a little puzzled about what it could be. I could have understood the hon. Gentleman saying that there was a technical fault in the drafting—he must have discovered, as I have many times, that it is not easy for private Members to become experts in drafting—and that we might have to undertake some rewording in a public place. I regret his unwillingness to accept the new clause, even if it needs a little adjustment.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I should like to set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest about the word "legal". Perhaps I should not have used that word specifically and implied its normal meaning in this place. I meant that, as usual, the drafting did not provide what we needed to ensure perfect legislation. The Government are introducing new regulations to ensure that the legislation is correct.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He reinforces the point that I am making. Happily, the Bill will leave us this morning with the blessing of Third Reading and will go to a place where there are many lawyers—even more than in this place—some of whom are very distinguished. I have no doubt that they will bend their minds to tidying up any defects that there might be. It would be a blow for common sense if the House indicated its acceptance in principle, but, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said, did little more than give information to the Minister and leant on him a little. If the new clause were incorporated into the Bill, it would lean a lot harder and ensure that practical action is taken with regard to immersion suits.
On Second Reading, in Committee and in his speech this morning, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said—and we keep saying—that we cannot measure the value of a life in money. Therefore, we should not try to create a balance between the expenditure of a few hundred pounds per man, which is all it is, and life. I understand that the best immersion equipment would cost about £300 per man. One cannot set a few hundred pounds against the grief, sorrow, tragedy and bereavement of a widow and children, apart from the cost to the community. If one puts it at its lowest, the cost to the community is many times greater than the few hundred pounds that the immersion suit would cost.
If it can be done in France, Norway and the other countries that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow mentioned, why can it not be done here? I do not mind where the money comes from. There was a demand in Committee that the Government should find the money. I do not know enough about the industry to 370 know whether such a demand would be justified or whether the Government would be justified in saying that it is a cost they could reasonably expect the industry to bear, even though it is now run almost entirely on a share basis. I do not know enough about the industry to form a judgment. However, it seems loathsome nit-picking to argue about who should pay when it is absolutely clear that somebody should pay and that immersion suits should be provided.
I shall not be very happy if, as a matter of principle, the House does not incorporate the new clause into the Bill. Some time in the future—perhaps at the onset of next winter, when, heaven forbid, some men are lost because they have been pitched into icy seas without protection—we shall look back on this day and say that the House missed the opportunity to give those chaps a chance to fight through. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, as so many have, for introducing the Bill, but in all friendship I appeal to him and to the Minister not to obstruct the incorporation of this new clause into the Bill.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I was impressed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). It was based upon sound experience of having been at sea and of having lived in a fishing community.
As the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, which has the fish docks and the fishing industry in it, I had the opportunity to meet the family of my hon. Friend and they are absolutely delightful people. Speaking to people like that and finding out the history of the fishing industry, the losses to families and the way in which the members of the missions have helped people in their bereavement is deeply moving. The new clause may seem to be a small measure, but it could have an immense impact upon the safety and livelihood of fishermen.
A few days before we started the Committee stage of the Bill I had the job of visiting a Mr. and Mrs. Atkins of Holderness road in Hull who had just lost their son at sea. It was a moving experience. It seems wasteful when one hears that the lost man was working on an essentially Spanish vessel operated by one of the British agencies in Plymouth. Mrs. Atkins told me that when one visits the vessel in dock it is always done up and the decks are cleared and so on, but when the vessel goes to sea all concern for safety and the way in which equipment is left on deck seems to be discarded. Although the son of Mr. and Mrs. Atkins was never found, they believe that part of the reason for his loss at sea was the way in which successive Governments have failed to get to grips with the question of the safety of fishermen at sea.
The new clause refers to the carrying of immersion suits. We had a lengthy discussion in Committee about the carrying of lifejackets, and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) demonstrated those life jackets in the Tea Rooms and Committee Rooms of the House. I admire him for doing so because of the technological changes that have taken place. As somebody who from time to time wears a lifejacket, I was impressed by the equipment that is now available. In Committee we made our decision on lifejackets and the clause refers to the provision of immersion suits which are carried either on the vessel itself or in the liferaft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow referred to the attitudes of fishermen to safety 371 equipment. They tend to be dismissive and do not want to be bothered about such matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, they tend to be contemptuous of them. However, the House is obliged to proceed with changes in legislation that we believe to be in the interests of the people concerned.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I must dissent from my hon. Friend's reference to fishermen being contemptuous of safety. Fishing is a high-risk occupation, and I suppose that that risk is part of the excitement of the job. However, the job is the call of the sea and of fishing, and in succumbing to that call it is possible that people take a relaxed attitude to safety. It is certainly not a contemptuous attitude; they are conscious of the need for safety and are dependent upon each other and on the navigational abilities and skills of the skipper.
§ Mr. Randall
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Perhaps "contemptuous" is too strong a word; "dismissive" might be more appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, who has been to sea, would agree with that.
Whether the attitude be contemptuous or dismissive, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—who represents a fishing port and has had discussions with fishermen—will appreciate that more initiatives could have been taken by those who go to sea, both the owners and the share fishermen. That has not happened and people still go to sea without the appropriate safety equipment.
We appear to be lagging behind other countries, especially European countries, and also other sections of the shipping industry.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that face masks have been provided for workers involved in dirty processes in the woollen industry in Scotland, but they scarcely use them. Therefore, I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo).
Fishermen have a practical objection to equipment because much of the processing work in the fishing industry now takes place at sea—for example, gutting, which is done on the deck—and any obstruction adds to the difficulties.
§ Mr. Randall
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but we need to distinguish between the carrying and the wearing. There was considerable debate in Committee about whether the lifejackets proposed by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan would enable fishermen to fish and do other work. Concern was expressed about wear and tear on a lifejacket which, in the event of its being needed, might then malfunction.
The clause provides for either the placing of immersion suits in the vessel or packed in liferafts. That is an important distinction. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow dealt with the performance of immersion suits and referred to regulation 33. I do not want to spend time talking about the attributes and the technical specifications of immersion suits, save only to say that the requirement for immersion suits to be unpacked and donned within two minutes is rather important. If it cannot happen within that time scale, they would be useless in certain accidents such as a collision in Arctic waters.
372 10.45 am
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow said that when such equipment is worn there is considerable scope for saving lives. I found his arguments impressive and I am sure that his personal experience has been immensely valuable to the House. We must remember that the proposal for immersion suits refers only to the fishing industry because they are already mandatory on offshore oil supply and merchant vessels. It is staggering that in this day and age we do not provide such equipment on our fishing vessels. Certainly the French trawlermen are obliged to carry this equipment. Perhaps the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan can explain why it is mandatory in other countries but not in Britain.
§ Mr. Mikardo
That is a key question. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) said that no one in Britain had yet devised a suit that measured up to the required standard. How have the French managed to achieve that?
§ Mr. Randall
I was about to ask that question myself. British fishermen are being deprived of proper safety equipment. I was not impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that the Government propose to introduce a new set of regulations in July. This Bill is about the safety of fishermen at sea. I am also not impressed by the hon. Gentleman's argument that Britain has not produced equipment of the right specification. If the French can do it, why cannot we?
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I can give the hon. Gentleman two answers. I said that the compulsory wearing of immersion suits from July 1986 would be obligatory on certain fishing vessels, and that that would be incorporated into the regulations. I also said that I was in full agreement with the Minister that discussions must be held with the industry about fishermen being compelled to wear these suits. We know to our cost that there was not sufficient discussion about lifejackets, and the industry threw out the proposal. Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that there must be proper discussion with the industry so that we can gain acceptance of our proposals.
Secondly, some French equipment, material, food and other things would not be acceptable under any regulations that the House would want to approve.
§ Mr. Randall
Today we are talking about provisions for improving safety at sea. The hon. Gentleman has told us that the regulations will be coming in, and will apply to some vessels. However, we do not know to which vessels they will apply. Therefore, we do not know whether we should wait till July or deal with the matter here. I think that we should deal with it today without waiting.
Of course, consultation should always take place. and it has taken place. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has consulted, and his experience shows that such a proposal could be carried in arguments with the industry.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that the specification of the French equipment might not be acceptable here. I do not accept that argument. because, time and again, in many areas we have attempted to formulate a perfect standard for equipment. If that standard cannot be met, the equipment cannot be 373 modified. In the meantime, people are being lost at sea. Such arguments are not valid. We should ensure that the amendments are inserted in the Bill.
§ Dr. Godman
I would look for an initiative being taken by the European Community on that issue. I can well understand why fishermen are unhappy with consultation because the history of consultation between the Government and fishermen's federations is not of the happiest. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) knows that as well as I do. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland was criticised only recently for its failure to consult vis-à-vis the imposition of a ban on monofilament nets in Scottish waters. The hon. Gentleman knows what I am talking about.
§ Mr. Randall
I shall not add to what my hon. Friend has just said about Scotland. We could wait for an EEC initiative, but we are in 1986, and it has taken us long time even to agree that we should have distress beacons to help Nimrods or civil aircraft when they are searching for men on a liferaft. Therefore, for us to delay longer on the use of the immersion suit is absurd and verging on complacency. Therefore, I want action to be taken.
Talking about absurdities, it seems more than absurd that vessels, particularly distant water vessels, go into Arctic seas in winter when we know that, unprotected, the human body can suffer from exposure in minutes. I find it utterly baffling that in 1986 we allow British fishermen to go into Arctic waters without being fully protected against the possibility of an accident when someone goes overboard or there is a collision. Many other accident can happen. Therefore, we must proceed with the new clause to ensure that that vital equipment is provided.
The other argument that is used is the argument of cost. I cannot accept for one moment that we should be talking about whether we proceed with the provision of those facilities, which can determine whether a person survives at sea, in relation to the cost of that equipment. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan gave some figures. He said that at the most the cost would be £350. I presume that that includes VAT. We could introduce legislation to get rid of VAT. But we are talking about families which may become bereaved—children and widows. We are reconciling that deep loss with a few hundred pounds for the provision of immersion suits. Again, I cannot be impressed by such an argument. We are talking about the saving of human lives. I am not concerned about where the money comes from—whether from the share fishermen, owners or even the Government. It is a small sum that is involved, the sort of sum that a person might spend on a holiday in Spain each year. We are reconciling that with human life. I am sorry; I cannot accept that argument.
I am deeply concerned that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has taken the line that he has on the new clause. He believes that it should not be inserted in his Bill. The reason that he gave is that in July a new set of regulations will be introduced for that purpose by the Government.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
The hon. Gentleman should not labour his point about 1 July. The most important factor is the consultation with the industry. As the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, it is a matter 374 of whether the fishermen will accept that they will be able to work on deck if they are obliged to wear the suit. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I should be delighted if the clause were inserted in my Bill today, but there would be a problem if it were inserted before the necessary consultation with the industry. I have had to suffer the disasterous consequences of the rejection of the lifejacket issue. I wanted that provision to be made mandatory by the House.
§ Mr. Randall
Our dilemma is that either we pass the new clause and insert it in the Bill or we lose the opportunity. I feel that many people, particularly those in the trade union movement and many fishermen at sea, might despise us for not being a little more bold in taking the initiative.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow said, it is difficult to get agreement in the fishing industry. Anyone who has talked to people in the various federations and the producer organisations, and those who represent fishing ports, will know how difficult it is to get agreement on these matters. I believe that the best thing for us to do for the sake of fishermen is not to delay, but to insert the provision in the Bill. The Bill will go to another place for further consideration, and there will be other opportunities for consultation before it receives Royal Assent.
As I said in Committee, the initiative taken by the hon. Member for Bumf and Buchan—[Interruption.] The problem is that there is sometimes too much bumf around. However, the Bill does not constitute bumf. I admire the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan for taking the initiative. Other parts of the Bill will promote safety in the industry. As the hon. Gentleman knows from the Committee stage, the Opposition were highly supportive of the measures.
The Bill has been changed considerably and I know that the Minister has had his finger in the pie. We all know what happens with amendments to private Members' Bills. I suspect that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has had his arm twisted behind his back on this matter. As a result, we shall waste a great opportunity to bring the safety of British fishing vessels into the 1980s, to make us comparable with other countries, and to ensure that we prevent bereavement and families having to live without a breadwinner.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for not being present to hear his speech. I had a detailed account of it from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), and it must have been impressive. I was absent because I was engaged in urgent discussions in Grimsby last night about whether Conservative and alliance candidates in the local elections should have worn immersion suits before the dunking they were given yesterday. In the end, that proposal was negatived. I was stuck, fuming, in a traffic jam at the end of the A1 this morning.
I commend this important new clause because it gives us the chance to strengthen the requirements for safety and to show the way to an industry that has often neglected its safety, especially on smaller vessels and among smaller firms, to its detriment. More importantly, it has led to the tragic loss of men working in the industry.
375 My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, as a sponsor of the Bill, is passionately concerned about safety at sea, which the new clause would further. However, the new clause represents the central dilemma of the Bill, which we discussed on Second Reading and again in Committee.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) has struck the right balance with his Bill. It is a great achievement, very much to his credit, and it will associate his name with safety at sea. It will be a tremendous achievement for the hon. Gentleman to get his Bill on the statute book, as I am sure he will, because this is an area in which we must legislate. The House has been curiously neglectful about safety at sea. By bringing the matter before the House, the hon. Gentleman has done a great service to the industry and to Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that there is a dilemma in striking the right balance between what is practical and affordable—what the industry can afford if it is pushed, but what is not too grievous an imposition-—and what is necessary and desirable. The hon. Gentleman has got the balance right.
The new clause reveals the dilemma in its most acute form because of the expense of the immersion suits that we are discussing. We must be clear that the new clause proposes a compulsion to carry, but not to wear, the suits. The new clause is not intended to interfere with the work on vessels.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
It is all very well to say that the new clause contains a compulsion only to carry the suits. At some stage, they must be worn. How can we justify the expense of purchasing the suits if they are put into lockers and left there for ever?
§ Mr. Mitchell
As with carrying fire extinguishers in cars, one hopes that they will never be used, but there must be provision for emergencies. The sensible motorist makes that provision, and the sensible skipper will provide for an accident. Fishing is a high-risk industry, and statistics show that fishermen are much more at risk than the much-vaunted miners, who constantly tell us about the risk of accident and death in their industry.
It would be sensible to carry immersion suits, and we should impose this provision with justice on the industry. However, the expense involved is considerable. We are discussing not the basic model costing £200, but a suit costing £300. That would be a considerable expense for the owner of a seine netter in Grimsby with a crew of four, five or six, depending on the size of the vessel. Perhaps we should make it a requirement that new vessels should include those suits as part of their basic equipment. There is no problem about space, because the suits, when folded are about the size of a business man's briefcase. They will not take up much space on seine netters, which are cramped vessels. The problem is cost.
We must accept the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow that there is a need for action. French and Norwegian vessels already carry such immersion suits. We cannot say that the lives of British fishermen are inferior to those of French or Norwegian fishermen. British fishermen might not be exposed to more risk since the loss of the Icelandic waters and the big distant-water fleet, but we cannot say that their lives are inferior. French fishermen have many advantages over their British counterparts. They can retire at 55, but the fishermen in Grimsby cannot.
376 I accept that consultation within the industry is difficult. The industry is not organised for consultation. It is organised on the basis of small entrepreneurs and scattered businesses, and often there is great rivalry between different ports and areas. Fishermen often resent Government interference, which is understandable when one considers the Government's record with regard to the industry. The choice is whether to impose the suits on the industry or not. I accept that there would be howls of protest if we went through a long process of consultation. We must consider whether this is a desirable objective for the industry.
That brings me to my view on how it should be attained. It would be wrong to impose the provision on an industry—certainly the English industry—which which is in serious financial difficulties. The many fewer vessels in Grimsby are just managing to pay their way, but they have extreme difficulties. Catches are down. No one has given me a scientific explanation of that. Last year, the fleet was unable to catch the quota for cod, and Grimsby is a cod port. This year, the quota has been substantially reduced, and the price has not been enough to compensate for the loss of catches. Returns are substantially lower. Many vessels are barely making a living. Hardly any vessels are providing a return adequate to finance new investment in the port, with the possible exception of the share fishers, and that return has to finance the safety measures that we would be imposing if the new clause were passed.
I cannot see how the industry can afford such measures. Fishermen are fishing for a longer time of the year than the original short season because they are trying to catch their quota, and they are often coming back in considerable debt to the agents or owners of the vessel. I know of fishermen who are coming back in debt to the tune of £100 or £200 at the end of the season because the catches are going down. Not even the skippers are getting enough money. The industry will not be able to afford the burden of £300 a suit. That is a considerable cost to impose upon it.
As we are agreed on the importance of the measure and the desirability of this safety factor, the responsibility is the Government's—at least for a substantial proportion of the cost. The Government surely want proper provision of safety at sea. They would not be encouraging the Bill if they did not. Therefore, the Government have the responsibility to provide for the same level of safety at sea as that of the French or Norwegian industries. Their industries are more profitable, so they can afford to finance safety in a way that we cannot.
In Committee, a point was made forcibly, but riot answered satisfactorily, about the Government's responsibility for financing safety initiatives at sea, particularly the one proposed in the new clause. After all, the Government provide immersion suits for the crews of fisheries protection vessels, and so concede that they are necessary to people at sea in high risk situations. The Government may reply that the general principle of safety provision is that the employer should provide such aid at his own expense. However, they also concede the principle of making a contribution, through the Sea Fish Industry Authority, to other aspects of safety at sea.
Even more important, the Government breach that principle of the entrepreneur providing for safety with their policy on safety on football grounds. Football clubs are in a difficult financial position. Many clubs might have to close because of the considerable cost of safety provisions necessary to bring the grounds up to modern standards. 377 However, the Government have conceded the principle of a Government contribution towards providing safety on football grounds. If that provision can be made, why can it not be extended to the fishing industry, where the circumstances are acute and unique? The industry is in real financial difficulties and it cannot afford these safety provisions.
The Grimsby vessels fish way out into the North sea. We have lost the vessels with a westerly capacity—the 12 BUT vessels and the Cat class vessels, tragically for the port. However, the fishermen battle considerable distances into Norweigan waters and into unfriendly Scottish waters. I say "unfriendly" because the vessels are not allowed into port if they are carrying monofilament nets, which is a crazy regulation.
Fishermen are exposed to considerable danger and they are in a unique position. The Government have seen fit to provide generously for football safety. Such generosity should be extended to safety at sea. The cost to the Government of paying for all, or at least a large proportion, of the immersion suits would be small. The problem must be tackled at some stage. If the Government are to legislate independently for the compulsory carrying of immersion suits, they will have to face the problem then. Why not face it now?
I accept the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow and I accept the difficulties that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has put in his way. Therefore, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the Minister. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow will listen carefully to what the Minister says. I am sure that he would not want to hold up the Bill. The Minister has it in his power to say that we can incorporate this measure by accepting the principle of a Government contribution to what is generally agreed by both sides of the House to be a necessary safety measure for those in peril on the sea.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, compared with the aid that the Government have been giving to farmers, the assistance given to the fishing industry has been derisory?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. That brings me to the central folly of the Government's handling of the fishing industry. Benefits have been showered by the Government and by an institute about which the right hon. Gentleman and I agree—the Common Market—on agriculture, which, under the treaty of Rome, is to be treated on the same basis as fishing, but those benefits have been denied to the fishing industry. This is true of many other provisions besides safety. For example, research, which is a form of Government investment in industry, has been denied to the fishing industry. The Department that has its responsibilities for agriculture and fisheries incorporated in its title has been niggardly with regard to the fishing industry. I hope that the Minister, who is from a different Department, can remedy that deficiency.
I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow to listen carefully and decide on the basis of the Minister's reply what to do about the new clause. 378 Should he withdraw it to expedite the passage of the Bill, or should he pursue the point? The Minister has it in his power to help us. In the House of Commons we have the responsibility to say what basic provisions for safety should be. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has wisely seized that opportunity. We are in the business of laying down basic requirements for safety and we should therefore extend the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will help us.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
I listened with care and not a little sympathy to the speech by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I was also interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) said about incorporating the new clause into his Bill. I agree that it would not be appropriate.
My hon. Friend was properly concerned as to whether there has been any consultation with the fishing industry about the compulsory carriage of immersion suits. I can tell him that, as far as the Government are concerned, there has not. However, I can report also that, as part of a review of the safety rules that apply to our fishing vessels, it has been our intention to take up with the fishing industry the question of the carriage of immersion suits—for instance, whether in terms of the vessels' areas of operation, or size, or what other life-saving equipment may be on board, there may be a case for carrying immersion suits on certain fishing vessels. Obviously I would not wish to pre-empt the outcome of such consultation but, if the Government were subsequently to decide that there was a need for a compulsory requirement for the carriage of immersion suits, I can assure the House that the statutory powers to make regulations on this subject already exist in the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act 1970. In sum, the proposed new clause is unnecessary because of the existence of these powers. We are consulting the industry on the revision of the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Rules 1975. The provision of immersion suits is included in the consultation. If the consultations are positive, we already have the powers to secure implementation. In the light of that, I ask the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow to allow the new clause to be negatived.
§ Dr. Godman
May I, with permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, reply briefly to some of the observations that have been made?
This has been an important debate. I listened closely to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) and I was particularly interested in his observation that no manufacturer has produced a suit that meets the Department's exacting requirements. I readily acknowledge that those requirements must be of the highest order. However, I am given to understand that suits are currently being tested in Norway by its maritime research establishments.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
In Birkenhead Dunlop-Beaufort is similarly testing suits in order to present them to the Department at an early date. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) talked about the use of immersion suits by people going out to the rigs and the belief by Dunlop-Beaufort that the time will soon come 379 when fishermen will have to use immersion suits at all times. I was fortunate enough to see suits being tested in Birkenhead during the course of discussions about the Bill.
§ Dr. Godman
That firm deserves our compliments for arranging with the hon. Gentleman the demonstration that took place in one of its dining rooms. I found that useful. It is a long time since I put on any survival gear, even in a drill. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says and the Government's stipulation that such suits must be of the highest standards.
I am a little worried about the emphasis given by the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to the cost of the suits. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan asked whether I had consulted the fishermen's associations before tabling this new clause. I am sure that he will accept my word that the only consultations that I carried out were on an individual basis. I did not approach associations such as the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, with which both of us work closely. I mentioned my intention of putting down this new clause to the secretary of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, of which I have the honour to be one of its honorary presidents, along with, I believe, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). I did not carry out formal consultations.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Formal consultations are not the nature of what goes on in the fishing industry. There is more of constant ear-bashing by skippers and owners about their problems and grievances. On that basis it is fair to say that the skippers and crew members to whom I have talked would not welcome the new clause. That does not obviate our need to deal with the matter if it is proper for safety reasons, but they are hostile to it. That is partly because they are hostile to regulation generally, but mainly because of the considerable expense of installing immersion suits. That is why I am so disappointed that the Minister said nothing about money in his reply.
§ Dr. Godman
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. One does suffer a lot of ear-bashing in consultations, whether formal or informal, with fishermen. I was talking about formal consultations in the sense of arranging meetings with fishermen when they come ashore. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan well knows that there are only two fishermen in my constituency, so I shall not damage my electoral interests.
This debate has been characterised by a high degree of civility and concern for fishermen and their families and I hope that it is brought to the attention of associations north and south of the border. That, in conjunction with the rescue of some of the members of the French trawler, the Snekkar Arctic, will bring to the forefront of the fishermen's minds the need to carry such equipment.
I, too, am disappointed that the Minister said nothing about costs. Can grants or tax relief be obtained for such equipment? What help can be obtained from the EEC or from the Sea Fish Industry Authority? All those avenues should be explored. I was not too happy with what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said about leaving the matter to the discretion of the skippers and owners.
I offer my grateful appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I suspect that he has even fewer fishermen in his constituency than I, but I am deeply grateful for his presence here today and I welcome his contribution. He brought the issue down to 380 essentials when he asked us to compare the cost of such a suit to the cost of the state of a woman being widowed. That is at the heart of any discussion on cost. My hon. Friend also mentioned the terrible grief suffered by our women folk in our fishing communities. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan talked about a suit costing £300. The Government, with their Social Security Bill, are to provide widows with a grant of £1,000. That is a stark comparison.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). He seems to be securely tied to the dockside in St. Andrew's dock or Albert dock in Hull. I am sure that he will be there for many years. I am grateful to him for the grace with which he changed his description of the attitudes of fishermen from one of contempt to one of dismissiveness. That is in my hon. Friend's favour. He is right to use the word dismissive, particularly as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. The safety record of the trawler industry in his constituency is lamentable. I speak with real experience of that. That industry has some poor employers, not overmuch concerned with the safety of their employees. My brother, Lesley, was declared redundant after 18 years' service with such a firm and he received the princely sum of £385.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
That point bears reinforcement. Firms have been utterly dismissive of the need for redundancy payments, and when they were forced on them by the Department's decision in the Hamlings case, the owners chose to contest the case in the higher courts. They have a monstrous record and even now are trying to reject the requirement on them to pay redundancy benefits.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow NA ill not stray from new clause 1. It contains nothing about redundancy payments.
§ 11. 30 am
§ Dr. Godman
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely used that as an illustration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said that the central dilemma in the Bill is the need to draw a fine balance and that the House has been curiously neglectful of safety. I accept the importance of cost. My hon. Friend gave the example of a small Grimsby sailor with a crew of five or six who is not earning a great deal of money at the moment. I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend about the problems associated with imposing such a safety requirement. Some fishermen are in deep financial difficulties. I also sympathise with my hon. Friend's call for state intervention on the cost of acquiring immersion suits.
I am grateful for the Minister's complimentary comments about my presentation of the new clause. He tells me that the Government have not conducted consultations with fishermen's associations recently, but am I right in thinking that that is being remedied and that the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Regulations 1975 empower the introduction of measures which require the carriage of immersion suits, after consultation?
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman is right except that the provision under which we would make the regulation is the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Act 1970.
§ Dr. Godman
I am sorry if I got the title and the year wrong, but I hope that I am not wrong about the assurance. If the consultations go as we hope they will, I understand that the carriage of immersion suits on fishing vessels of 12m or more can be introduced in the near future.
Following the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, and as I have no wish to harm the Bill's interests, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.