HC Deb 09 May 1986 vol 97 cc398-403

Amendment made: No. 19, in page 5, line 33, after 'Part I', insert 'or section (Training in safety matters)'[Mr. David Mitchell.]

Order for Third Reading read.

1.3 pm

Mr. McQuarrie

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

In its leader article of 24 April 1986, The Press and Journal said: If but one life is saved by these changes now in sight it will be time and money well spent and Mr. McQuarrie is to be congratulated on his persistence in the face of opposition from within sections of the Industry itself, let it be said, in pressing forward his Bill. He can claim if the modified measures eventually become law, to have achieved significant advances in making life less hazardous for the seafarer. I am grateful to the Fishing Journal for its considerable support for the Bill. In its leader of 2 May, the Fishing News said: while his Bill is certainly not in the form which he envisaged, at least he has drawn attention to the tragic safety record in the fishing industry, and the Bill will still make a contribution towards improving safety. I am grateful to Harry Barrett, managing director, and Ian Stewart, the editor of Fishing News,for the massive coverage which has been given to the Bill to highlight its importance in improving safety at sea for fishermen.

Little did I realise when I secured fourth place in the ballot for private Member's Bills in September 1985 how much time and effort I would need to devote to the relatively simple matter, as I then thought, of making life a little safer for fishermen. I am wiser now. The process of setting down precise and effective proposals for radio beacons, automatic release arrangements for liferafts, the carriage of lifejackets on small fishing vessels and training has been difficult and challenging. It has also been immensely worth while. It was a process which I started but I was assisted greatly subsequently by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am grateful for that help.

It is only right that I draw attention especially to the invaluable advice and support that I have received from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibilities for shipping. I thank the shipping industry for its close and sympathetic interest in the Bill.

I cannot let this occasion pass without expressing my grateful thanks to colleagues on both sides of the House for their wholehearted support for the Bill, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), who spoke so eloquently from the Opposition Dispatch Box today. I am deeply grateful to him. I thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for his wonderful contributions. I must include also in these thanks the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). The right hon. Gentleman has been present throughout every stage of the Bill's consideration and I am grateful to him for his support.

The frustrations which have been felt in not obtaining some of the provisions that we all wanted to see in the Bill have been overcome to a great extent by the support that has been given to me throughout the Bill's various stages.

I wish to thank also Mr. Andrew Thomson, Mr. Terry Hayward and the staff and work force of Dunlop-Beaufort for the tremendous assistance which they have given to me in promoting the Bill.

There are many others who have given support and they are too numerous to mention. I hope that they will see the passing of the Bill as yet another step in creating improved safety measures for the industry. That is what the Bill seeks to do for an extremely important industry and for those who go down to the sea and provide us with the fish for our table.

The sea is a dangerous place, and being a fisherman is a dangerous occupation, and it will always be so. Nevertheless, I think that the Bill can make a small but significant contribution to the fisherman's safety. I hope that in another place the Bill will be regarded in that light. If it saves fishermen from drowning, means fewer widows, fewer sorrowing parents and fewer fatherless children, and results in less need for tears and mourning, it will have achieved what many of my constituents asked me to do. I hope that the House will allow it to proceed to another place on its way to the statute book.

1.8 pm

Mr. Donald Stewart

I wish to make a short intervention to congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on his Bill reaching Third Reading. Tragedies at sea are nothing new, and there was a great need for some tightening of safety procedures to ensure safety as far as possible for our fishermen. There have been several tragedies off the north of Scotland even during the time that the Bill has been passing through the House.

I regret that the requirement for the wearing of lifejackets that was set out in the original Bill has not been achieved. As I said at that time, it seemed that there would be little interference with fishermen working on deck if they wore the lifejacket that we saw at an exhibition. I am pleased that the safety clause has been introduced. Some caveats were entered but it is important that it will now he a statutory requirement for a fisherman to receive some training in safety.

The debates which I have attended have been marked by co-operation and helpfulness from the Minister. That can be said of him throughout the Bill's various stages. I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan again. He has done a service to the fishing industry and to the fishermen themselves. That may not be appreciated all the time by everyone, but those of us who can stand back and who know something about the industry realise that he has performed a signal service. I am sure that he will have the thanks of fishermen and their dependants in the years ahead.

1.9 pm

Mr. Mikardo

I, too, will keep the House for only about a minute. May I first warmly thank the Minister for the comprehensive answers that he gave to the questions that I raised during the last debate?

I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on piloting the Bill through the House. He deserves his success not only because the Bill is worthy, but because of his forthcoming attitude towards the interventions made and to the ideas put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am a great eater of fish. I never put a knife into a piece of fish without giving a silent thanks to the fishermen who have gone out to catch it, especially during the bad weather of last winter.

I do not have any fishermen in my constituency, but there is a large fish market there and its prosperity and the employment of some of my constituents depend on the work of those fishermen. They do a great job for us all. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was being a bit modest about the Bill, but it is something that the fishermen well deserve. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on it, and hope that it will have as pleasant a passage in the other place as it has had in this House.

1.11 pm
Dr. Godman

I shall be brief. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie). As someone from a fishing family, I am very grateful to him for the Bill. Any measure that improves the safety of fishermen as they go about their most hazardous occupation must be welcomed by everyone. I never want to read again of men dying despite the fact that they have reached the relative sanctuary of an inflatable liferaft. That is what happened to Harry Eddom's two comrades. I never want to hear again of men going over the side, as those French fishermen did from the Snekkar Arctic, without protective suits, and perishing while their comrades who wore such suits survived.

I am very pleased with the way in which the Bill has been debated. It deserves every success. I look forward to the day when, in addition to the commendable changes made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, fishing vessels will carry immersion suits for their crews.

1.12 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell

I enthusiastically join in congratulating the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on his Bill. It represents a very real achievement. I hope that it will become known as the McQuarrie Bill, as it is an important measure and the effort that he has put into it and the fact that he introduced it in the first place warrant the attachment of his name to it. I can testify to what an ordeal it is to promote a private Member's Bill. The hon. Member concerned has to be a Government Department holding consultations, a publicist, and a public relations officer, and he has to use his own wit as well. It is an enormous job for the average Back Bencher.

The Bill is important. Most of those hon. Members present have fishing interests or fishing constituencies that have tragic roll calls. At the harvest of the sea service in Grimsby there used to be a roll call of those who had died in the fishing industry during the preceding year. There were always between a half dozen and a dozen names, and sometimes more. The figures now are not quite as horrifying as when we fished in Icelandic waters. Then, the loss of a vessel meant an enormous roll call. Nowadays there is a steady toll of one or two, but that toll is still high.

The shrinking of the industry has not brought down the death toll proportionately, perhaps because the industry is facing difficult financial times and corners are being cut, or perhaps because small vessels are used these days. Safety has not improved as it should have done.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan should be congratulated also because fishing is never given adequate attention. That is partly because hon. Members representing fishing constituencies are few. We do not form a strong caucus, but we try to put across the needs and demands of fishing. It has become the poor relation of agriculture.

A private Member's Bill was probably the only way to succeed in tackling the problem. I am glad that the hon. Member devoted his opportunity to this measure. His Bill provides for a safer existence for fishermen. Fishing will never be absolutely safe. It will never be the same as working on land, but the Bill provides for a safer existence for many hundreds of my constituents who still fish in distant and in not-so-distant waters. There can be no greater achievement in the House than that.

1.16 pm
Mr. Randall

I have one small regret about the Bill, In Committee I asked the Minister about the exploitation of fishermen by Spanish fishing vessels. The Minister mentioned that briefly today and I received a letter from him, but I have not had time to table an amendment or to react in any other way.

In Committee I explained how many redundant fishermen have gone to sea on Spanish vessels which, by exploiting the flag of convenience, are on the United Kingdom register. Some of my constituents have gone to sea in vessels which do not have lavatories, safety equipment, liferafts, food or wet weather equipment. The vessels are infested with cockroaches. Men have gone to sea and come back after 10 days owing the company £2 or £3 because of excessive charges for wet weather gear and other equipment. That is terrible exploitation.

I raised the matter with the Department of Transport two years ago and at the end of the Committee proceedings I asked the Minister to look into that exploitation. In his letter the Minister tells me that his officials are now doing that. They are considering with the industry's representatives whether something can be done or whether an EEC initiative is possible.

Safety at sea is at stake. I hope that the Minister will pursue the matter and ensure that if such vessels do not come in for surveys they will be struck off the list and that if they dodge the regulations by landing catches in Cork, so avoiding the system, he will take action.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on a magnificent job. Steering a Bill through the House of Commons is difficult. It is a task that takes a lot of time and effort. I believe that people in the industry will be grateful for many years to come. The Bill will save lives. It will ensure that families are not deprived of their breadwinner. It will mean that there will not be so many widows, or children without fathers. Although it is not an overwhelming step forward it is a crucial and important step which will improve the safety and wellbeing of those who work in a hazardous industry.

1.20 pm
Mr. David Mitchell

I am happy to join those who have wished the Bill a successful and rapid passage on to the statute book. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) referred to Spanish vessels and the United Kingdom flag. If he reads the Hansardreport of what I said earlier today, he will find a satisfactory explanation on how we intend to proceed.

I wish to clarify a matter which was raised in Committee, and that is the cost of emergency position indicating radio beacons—more usually called EPIRBs—which transmit on 406 MHz. We were asked what they were likely to cost when they came on the market. A figure of £2,000 was mentioned, compared with the £800 or so that I had been informed was the expected price. Accordingly, I arranged for the four companies which may manufacture the equipment to be contacted again to ascertain the latest position on cost. I am told that £850 is the target price for 406 megahertz EPIRBs. So there is no misunderstanding, I should add that the expression "target price" is carefully chosen. The manufacturers have yet to cost fully what the selling price will be. Therefore, I am advised that the words "estimated price" should be avoided in that context at this stage.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the Minister clarify a point? I should have raised it earlier. Arising from those cost estimates, what will be the transitional period during which people who have installed the 121 MHz equipment will be allowed to continue operating it before being asked to instal the 406 MHz equipment? The matter is causing some concern in the industry, particularly on cost grounds.

Mr. David Mitchell

If the hon. Gentleman cares to table a question on that, I shall give him an answer which will be in a public form.

The life and work of a fisherman involve risk and danger. The sea can change swiftly from the joy of seaside bathing weather to a cruel and deadly menace. We enjoy the fish brought by those who take those risks and, as we eat the harvest of the sea, we rarely give a moment's thought to those who were involved in catching it. We must recognise the inevitable risks involved in that occupation. All hon. Members, as representatives of the consumer, owe a debt to fishermen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), through his initiative and determination, has given us an opportunity to help make the role of fishermen slightly less dangerous. The House, the fishing industry and the Government have every reason to be grateful to my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.