HC Deb 09 May 1986 vol 97 cc381-97

—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations for securing that the skipper of and every seaman employed or engaged in a United Kingdom fishing vessel is trained in safety matters.

(2) The regulations may provide that if a person goes to sea on a fishing vessel in contravention of a requirement of the regulations—

  1. (a) he commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2, or if he is the skipper or an owner of the vessel level 5, on the standard scale; and
  2. (b) the skipper and each owner of the vessel is (except in respect of a contravention by himself) liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.—[Mr. David Mitchell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. David Mitchell

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it may be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 12, in page 3, line 10, leave out 'sections 1 to 4' and insert `this Part or section (Training in safety matters)'. No. 14, in page 3, line 15, leave out `Act' and insert 'Part or section (Training in safety matters)'. No. 15, in page 3, line 19, leave out 'Act' and insert 'Part or section (Training in safety matters)'. No. 16, in page 3, line 22, leave out 'Act' and insert 'Part or section (Training in safety matters)'. No. 17, in page 3, line 28, leave out 'foregoing provisions of this Act' and insert `provisions of this Part or section (Training in safety matters)' No. 18, in page 3, line 31, leave out 'Act or any enactment amended by this Act' and insert 'Part or section (Training in safety matters) or any enactment amended by this Part or section (Training in safety matters)' No. 19, in page 5, line 33, after 'Part I', insert 'or section (Training in safety matters)'.

Mr. Mitchell

In Committee, I said that it was the Government's intention to introduce on Report a new clause dealing with safety training. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) said at the time, he has made headway in persuading the Government that it is right to take a power enabling regulations to be made which require fishermen to undergo safety training. This decision was not easily reached. By temperament, my preference in general is that such matters should be organised voluntarily, but the industry has said that it is prepared to see such a power on the statute book. This, coupled with the knowledge that fishing as an occupation is still four times more dangerous than coal mining, are powerful arguments in favour of compulsion.

In Committee, I also said that it was right for the fishing industry, not the taxpayer, to meet the cost of such training. It was most encouraging, therefore, to learn that at the meeting the following day of the fishing industry safety group the body representative of the views of fishermen's organisations on safety matters, no objections were expressed to the proposal to introduce a new clause dealing with training on this basis.

Subsection (1) provides a simple and flexible power to make regulations on safety matters. These would, by virtue of clause 8(3), be the subject of prior consultation with the fishing indsutry. In the first instance, such regulations would be concerned to apply a requirement for survival at sea training on all new entrants to the industry before they take up employment on a fishing vessel. It seems that this must be the group of fishermen, or would-be fishermen, at greatest risk, and therefore where the industry's additional investment in safety training will yield the greatest benefit in lives saved that might otherwise be lost. This modest start also recognises that the industry has limited financial resources.

Whether fire-fighting and some form of basic first aid training might also be covered by the regulations, at the same time or later, will also have to be discussed with the industry.

Subsection (2) makes it an offence for a person not to comply with the regulations if he goes to sea on a fishing vessel. Similarly, it provides that the skipper and owner of that vessel commit an offence if they allow that person to go to sea in contravention of the regulations. I should for completeness add that the amendments in this group are purely technical and consequential upon this new clause.

Mr. McQuarrie

I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister has said about new clause 2. It reinforces the fact that training in survival at sea, fire-fighting courses and training in first aid are essential requirements for the fishing industry.

In 1985–86, to 31 March, 4,472 fishermen had undergone survival courses, 2,329 had taken a firefighting course, and 712 had taken a first aid course. Moreover, 1,129 young boys received training to the same standard under a youth training scheme, which shows that the Government's initiatives in that direction are working.

I must commend the Sea Fish Industry Authority in Scotland on its diligence. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that it endorses the proposal that the three training sectors should be legal requirements. In a letter to me dated 23 April, the deputy chief executive said: A one-day fire-fighting course is also offered but this is not DOT approved and the content may need to be reviewed by them if the Bill becomes law. First aid should be added and all new entrants, not just school leavers under YTS, should go through the course before going to sea. We also see no reason why the provision of six months should be implemented or for excluding those over 50 who have joined the industry. Altogether, a substantial number of people employed by the catching centre have been exposed to the training that you envisage and the SFIA endorse the proposal that this should become a legal requirement. I am therefore most grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for proposing the new clause. I support it and commend it to the House.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House pressed my hon. Friend the Minister to introduce a new clause on training. We insisted that one was essential to ensure that training was compulsory. It is no less ambitious than the clause in the original Bill, but it has the additional merit that the industry and the Government can proceed together in stages to extend safety training on certain subjects to particular groups of fishermen when experience shows that the risks there are greatest. I agree entirely that new entrants to the industry are probably at the greatest risk irrespective of their age.

Dr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman has commended the efforts of the Sea Fish Industry Authority. I am sure that he will join me in offering commendation to the members of the now defunct sea fisheries training council, which paved the way for the training of fishermen, especially in the share sector.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the work of the council. I agree that it should be commended for the great work that it undertook. At the same time, we should not forget existing training organisations. At Peterhead, which is in my constituency, fishermen are put through various courses. The local organisation that is responsible for training undertakes a tremendous amount of work and the success of training organisations generally has led all hon. Members to be supportive of the argument that there is a need to have mandatory training courses.

New entrants to the industry, irrespective of their age, should be obliged to undergo safety courses. They will be at greater risk than experienced fishermen and survival at sea training should be a first priority. However, training will not stop there. As training resources allow and as finance can be found from within the industry, or from whatever source, training must be provided in fire fighting and basic first aid. It would be as well for my hon. Friend the Minister to take note of the need for specific requirements when dealing with safety matters.

I spoke to my hon. Friend about the wording of the clause, especially the passage fishing vessel is trained in safety matters. That phrase has been adopted instead of setting out the three specific areas of training that we are discussing. I am happy to say that my hon. Friend assured me that he wants to ensure that other aspects of safety and training in them that are brought to the attention of the Government by fishing organisations or hon. Members are taken up apart from training in fire fighting, first aid and survival at sea.

It will be necessary to consider which other groups of fishermen could benefit from compulsory training as soon as satisfactory arrangments have been made for new entrants to the industry. The clause is commendable, and I ask the House to accept it.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I welcome the clause, which I think is essential and overdue. I remember taking great objection, along with other hon. Members, to the winding up of training under the sea fisheries training council. Fortunately, some other arrangements have been made. I am pleased to say that more than 90 per cent. of fishermen in the fleets in my constituency have been trained in sea survival techniques. I hope that the training will be extended to cover 100 per cent. of those who go to sea in our fishing fleets.

I agree with the need for training in the techniques which have been mentioned, especially in sea survival. In the Navy it was interesting to receive instruction in elementary techniques that would never have occurred to those who were not normally at sea, such as staying by the vessel in the event of an accident unless it was obviously sinking. The advantages of doing that were explained to us. It would probably be unnecessary to give such elementary advice to fishermen. However, there are other pieces of advice that would lead to the saving of life at sea.

11.45 am

Fire-fighting training will be necessary. There have been two or three examples in recent years of fishing vessels being lost because of fire. The need for first aid training needs no explanation, for we know that accidents are frequent. Most hospitals near to fishing grounds regularly receive fishermen who have been injured at sea. It is obvious that first aid is extremely important.

The Minister should take into account the need for training in radio communication when he comes to draft the regulations. It may not be necessary for every member of the crew of a vessel to be trained in that skill, but boats should carry crew members who have some knowledge of making radio communication. That ability would be extremely useful.

The clause will be one of the most important parts of the Bill, and I hope that the House will give it an easy passage.

Mr. Mikardo

I am not as readily satisfied as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie). It seems that we have been given a superficial and invalid reason by the Minister for not specifying the major areas in which training should take place. The Minister said that if it were stated that there should be training in A, B and C, that would include and exclude, and that people might say that there need not be training in other matters.

That explanation will not do. There are so many examples in statutes where certain matters have been specified, followed by a phrase such as "any other matters which may be necessary". One example relates to an entirely different area of the law where a form of words is used which could be employed in this instance. I have in mind the obligation that is placed upon public corporations to set up machinery for consultation with their workers about health, welfare, safety, wages, working conditions and other specific matters. That is followed by a phrase such as "and any other matters of mutual interest".

Instead of using the extremely vague term "safety matters"—it is extremely imprecise and woolly—we could use a phrase such as "training in survival techniques, fire fighting, first aid and any other safety matters". That should have been done.

As the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, it is essential that the Bill should include a clause covering training. We all agree about that. Unfortunately the clause is a poor, pathetic little fish. The first sentence begins with these words: The Secretary of State may make regulations That is a form of phraseology that I do not like very much, wherever it occurs. If the Secretary of State may make regulations, he may also not make regulations. It means that there is no obligation on him to do so. If we put the clause in the Bill, we shall not have a provision that ensures that training will take place.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has told us about all the training that has gone on or is going on, and that is great—I dare say that if the clause had not been tabled some of that training would have continued. However, the hon. Gentleman has told us that the industry wants training to be statutory. What does it mean by that? It wants to ensure that there is a statutory provision that will guarantee that training will take place. Unfortunately, the clause will not provide that guarantee. The decision whether to ensure that training takes place will lie within the Secretary of State's discretion.

I hope that before we leave the new clause the Minister will seek the leave of the House to speak again, which I am sure will be freely given to him, so that he can tell us with some precision what action he proposes to take, and how quickly, under the clause. It would be much better if the Secretary of State said that he would make regulations or if he could specify the training involved. But we cannot achieve that at this stage of the Bill, although it could be done in the other place.

We need a curriculum. We are laying down educational provisions without stating the curriculum. If there is not to be a firm statement in the Bill that the Secretary of State will make regulations, and if there is not to be any curriculum, we must at least have some assurance on the record from the Minister that we can quote back at him in a few months' time if those deeply concerned about the industry, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) find that training, or adequate training is not being provided.

Mr. McQuarrie

Perhaps I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. The letter that I received from the Sea Fish Industry Authority indicated that it was in a position to support the courses until 1989, when the financial position would be reviewed with the Minister. That is why I was satisfied that the wording that I discussed at length with my hon. Friend the Minister and the noble Lord was acceptable.

Mr. Mikardo

That is all right as far as it goes. I applaud the hon. Gentleman for having secured that letter and for having got that much on the record. But it does not go far enough. First, it does not go beyond 1989, which is not very far away. Moreover, it makes no mention of the quality or length of the courses, of the subjects covered, or of how effective they will be. We need to know that. What sort of courses will there be, and how long will they last? How seriously will the training be taken? Will chaps get time off, and will they be able to attend full time? What are the teachers' qualifications? What certification, if any, or other evidence that the chap taking the course has absorbed what he has heard will be provided? What proof will there be that he has been listening, and is capable of implementing what he has heard?

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Gentleman has taken an extremely wide interest in the Bill, and I am grateful to him for that. But he may not be as aware of the issues involved as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and I are, as we are deeply immersed in the fishing industry. I have the largest fishing constituency in Europe. The courses are carried out via a national network which is controlled by the SFIA. They run for a specific number of days. The instructors have the highest qualifications. The courses cover fire fighting, safety at sea, survival at sea and first aid, and subsistence and travelling expenses are paid to those who have to travel to the various centres.

Mr. Mikardo

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. I had gathered something like that from reading the reports of the Bill's earlier stages. But we are now moving from non-statutory to statutory provision. The Secretary of State may be going to make regulations. He is under no compulsion to do so, although I dare say that he intends to. But I want to know what those regulations will say about the quantity and quality of the courses. They will have to say something. They may merely repeat the provision that the hon. Gentleman has just described. But I should like to know whether that is so, or whether they will go further than that.

Dr. Godman

Perhaps I may add to what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) said about the funding of training. He said that the SFIA would fund it until 1989, but what will happen to that funding after that? Will the state seek to impose a levy on fishermen to pay for it? Moreover, is not training in agriculture state funded? If it is, training in the fishing industry should surely continue to receive state funding.

Mr. Mikardo

As I said, the provision is all right as far as it goes. But funding will continue only until 1989. After that, we are left with a vacuum. If the industry undertakes to provide training, and can provide adequate resources for doing it properly, all well and good. No one would object to that. But my hon. Friend is right; the state must take a fallback position. If the funds dry up in 1989, or even before then, we must ensure that training does not cease just because the Government have not accepted any obligation to carry that burden.

I do not want to make a great bureaucratic thing out of this issue, and I realise that we are talking about small groups of workers. But I do not attach much value to a form of training in any walk of life that does not lead to some form of certification at the end of it. So far, we know only that a fisherman or skipper will attend a course. There is no mention of him having to work or read papers. or that he will be required to give evidence of the fact that he has taken in what he has heard or is capable of implementing it. Although the groups of workers will be small, should we not examine—as I am little versed in the industry, I put it no stronger than that—whether at sea there should not be the equivalent of what is known on land as a safety officer?

There could be one such officer in each working group. Even in big establishments there are small groups of half a dozen people or fewer in, for example, a department, and one of them has special responsibilities. We all know that when something is everybody's responsibility, it is nobody's responsibility. There is great value in having one person in a working group who is seen as the safety officer by his colleagues. That chap would need to take his training very seriously. He would certainly need some form of certification.

12 noon

Dr. Godman

There is merit in what my hon. Friend suggests because even on the smallest vessel someone should be responsible for good housekeeping and hygiene. Someone should be responsible for safety. Gear should not be left to block passageways, and decks should be kept clear. We must remember that the shared system is dominant in the industry.

Mr. Mikardo

If some chaps were certificated they would be responsible for good housekeeping. They would ensure that gear did not block gangways because that might delay the crew if there were a fire. If ropes are left around the crew might trip over them. It is difficult on a trawler to keep everything spick and span, but someone must ensure that slippery floors are prevented. Above all someone must be responsible for ensuring that fire extinguishers are where they should be and that they are inspected regularly. A safety officer in a land-based industry would ensure all of that.

Safety is important at sea because, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan reminded us, the sea is very dangerous. No one would dream of running a coal mine without certificated trained safety officers. No one would dream of running a coal mine without a safety officer at every seam and for each group of workers, and yet casualities at sea are four times as great as they are in mining.

It is essential to ensure that the standards of safety training certification and the existence of safety officers is no lower than in the mining industry. Nothing in the clause ensures that. Subsection (1) is woolly. It is as woolly as stating that one is in favour of virtue and opposed to sin, without specifying anything on either side of the equation. The clause says that the Secretary of State "may" make regulations for training in safety. The phraseology could not be less decisive.

We shall not change the phraseology today, although the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan might find a noble Friend to steer the Bill through another place and to tighten the new clause.

We must have clear assurances from the Minister that he will make regulations. We must know what they will contain, when he will make them and what they will do.

Dr. Godman

I support the new clause in principle. Fishing is indeed a hazardous occupation with a high accident and death rate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (M. Mikardo), particularly for his comments on the need for safety officers on vessels. "Safety officer" might not be the right title because all people on a vessel must be conscious of the need for good housekeeping. People on purse seiners, with crews of only 10 or 11, are detailed to carry out those important functions.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) expressed his sincere regret that the sea fisheries training council has been dissolved. As a member of that council, I share his regret. The trainee statistics outlined by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) involve people who first came to training by way of the group associations set up at the instigation of the sea fisheries training council under the excellent chairmanship of Mr. Frank Metcalf. The Scottish fishing industry was well represented on the training council.

I am pleased that the Sea Fish Industry Authority is providing systematic training, particularly for new entrants. I agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that there should be no age limit and that all entrants should receive training in safety matters.

Fire-fighting training is crucial to all seafarers, not only fishermen. Is the Minister satisfied with the level of provision, and with the quality and quantity of firefighting training for fishermen? That is an important element in safety training.

Behind the fire station on McDonald road in Edinburgh there used to be a structure that looked something like a ship. In that simulated ship superstructure fishermen and Merchant Navy officers were trained in fire-fighting techniques. I dodged that appalling experience because I am a fair-weather fisherman. Young fishermen being trained for officer status with British trawler companies would enrol for a three-day course. They were trained to come to terms with trying to find their way out of living accommodation in pitch blackness. If there is a fire in the engine room, invariably the lighting goes and holds fill with smoke, often to toxic levels.

Only a small poportion of fishermen received that training. I understand that the fire-fighting training undertaken by fishermen currently lasts only one day. It is conducted and supervised by local fire brigades. What training do the trainers receive in dealing with fires at sea?

I put it to the Minister that a fire on a small fishing vessel may be quite different from a fire in a small factory, shop, or similar premises. I do not think that only one day devoted to fire-fighting training is acceptable to hon. Members or, more importantly, to the people undertaking such training. I believe that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that fire-fighting training as it exists is not approved by the Department. If so there are grounds for considerable concern. We need to look closely at such training. Is it being conducted at the back of a fire station?

Mr. McQuarrie

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. Fire fighting is carried out at national network training centres under the supervision of the fire brigade in the area of the network. For example, in my constituency, officers of the Grampian fire service commendably go down to the training centre and give a full training course to the fishermen. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments. The matter needs to be laid down by the Department in line, chapter and verse. I hope that the Minister will consider these important safety matters.

Dr. Godman

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I readily acknowledge his confidence in such fire brigades. I hope that the fire brigades in Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Aberdeen or points further south and in fishing ports have been trained in fire-fighting techniques in ports and harbours. I do not have the conviction of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan about fighting fires at sea. I repeat, are the trainers trained in the most up-to-date techniques in combating this dreadful menace at sea, not just when a vessel is tied up in a harbour? I put those questions in all seriousness.

Will the Minister give assurances about the quality and quantity of such training? Do fishermen receive refresher training in fire fighting? Are changes in the design of vessels a consideration in retraining in fire-fighting techniques? The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will readily acknowledge that there is much difference between an aging Aberdeen side trawler—in terms of design, layout, crew accommodation, fish room, and so on—and the most modern Norwegian designed purse seiners sailing out of Whalsay, or perhaps towns in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Is the Minister satisfied with the provision of first aid training for fishermen? What is the quality of such training? I am not embarking on a knocking exercise. I am not demolishing, castigating or denigrating the activities of the training specialists with the Sea Fish Industry Authority, the senior member of which is one of the finest training officers in western Europe, Mr. Ken Waind, who worked with the sea fisheries training council for many years. Is the Department satisfied with the quality of the training in first aid techniques which is offered to fishermen or which fishermen undertake compulsorily?

12.15 pm

Survival training is important. I understand that wet survival training consists of a three-day course, usually conducted in the local swinning baths. The trainees have to enter a raft while fully clothed. It might be worth considering that part of survival training, because in future men may have to enter a raft while attired in a survival suit. That matter may need to be considered by the Minister and his officials. Are drills considered to be part of survival training?

Mr. David Mitchell

indicated assent

Dr. Godman

The Minister nods his assent. I am pleased to receive such an assurance, even from a sedentary position. I sometimes wonder how regularly drills are conducted. I have seen entries in log books that do not accord with what has taken place. Does survival training include the need for taking part in drills?

I should like regulations to incorporate the requirement that all entrants should undergo compulsory pre-training. I should like also regular medical checks of established fishermen. However, that may not have much to do with training. I should like to see the establishment of refresher training.

Is the Minister able to answer a question about funding the training function? A few minutes ago, in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that such funding would be provided by the Sea Fish Industry Authority until 1989. What will happen after 1989? The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and I know of the serious reservations of fishermen about a levy on their landings to be used for training. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) have also encountered those reservations—another form of ear bashing. Members of the sea fisheries training council were deeply unhappy at the prospect of a training levy being inflicted upon them following the dissolution of that excellent training body. Is it the case that in agriculture training is not paid for by the farmers? Does the state provide training in that industry? If the answer is yes, surely the same should hold for the fishing industry.

Mr. Randall

I think that we are all pleased with the new clause, and the reason is clear. The fishing industry is extremely hazardous, and anything that saves lives must have our attention. In principle, the Labour party is pleased with the new clause, but we have some reservations about its form.

It is crucial that fishermen should undergo training. There is no question about that. Whether such training is provided voluntarily by the industry or by the state is not of prime importance; it is important that the training takes place. The Minister said that fishing was four times more hazardous than coalmining, which was an interesting measure of the seriousness of the problem. By extrapolating the results of safety and training measures introduced in the coal industry, we can produce the type of arguments which hon. Members have already advanced this morning to strengthen the case for the new clause.

I am glad that the industry is prepared to support the notion that a training measure should be laid down in statute. Presumably, it is prepared to contribute to the fees associated with such training. I hope that the Minister will clarify that point.

If fishermen undergo training, lives will be saved. It is therefore important for it to be comprehensive and effective. A new training regime that is not sufficiently comprehensive will not save lives. We have shown that we all desperately want to save lives by supporting the new clause in principle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Popular—my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) is also popular—mentioned that the new clause was not sufficiently specific about the training aspects that should be embraced. Subsection (1) states: The Secretary of State may make regulations". We all know as legislators that that is a weak part of the sentence. "May" implies that the Secretary of State will either make the regulations, or he will not, according to his views. I question whether it is advisable for the House to give such discretion to the Minister in view of the importance of the matter which has been highlighted by hon. Members. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar, I should like the first part of the new clause to be strengthened to ensure that we know what specific training aspects will be introduced. We want to ensure that they are all sufficiently comprehensive.

Hon. Members need to know what departmental action will ensue. We want to be able to monitor that action so that when we hear from people in the industry of instances in which training has failed we can question the Minister at the Dispatch Box and ask for a statement that training standards will be of the appropriate quality.

The point raised about the trainers is crucial because we all clearly know that to have inferior trainers who do not have appropriate knowledge of the details of safety on board fishing vessels would render training arrangements to an unacceptable form. We must ensure that those who attend training courses are issued with a certificate signed by the appropriate authority and showing that the fisherman has undergone training.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), referred to having a safety officer on board the fishing vessel. It might seem a little absurd to have such an officer on board a small vessel with only three or four fishermen—it is difficult to sustain the argument in that case—but it would be a good idea to have a person responsible for ensuring that safety rules were adhered to on board fishing vessels with a crew of nine, 10 or 11, such as those that operate from Scotland.

People in my constituency have told me that equipment lying around on deck can fall and cause fishermen to lose limbs, their fingers or a hand. These are regular occurrences which often ensue from situations where equipment is left on deck where people can trip over it, fall down hatches and so on. Someone should be made responsible for safety, as with fire officers in buildings and office blocks, whether public or private companies. A fire officer is usually responsible for a certain part of a building so that in the event of a fire, or even during training, he is there to advise and guide and ensure that people know what to do in the event of a hazard or fire.

12.30 pm
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the mining industry, to which reference has been made by comparing accident statistics and hazards, there is usually someone with special responsibility for safety even in groups as small as four or five? The predominant training aspects in the mining industry are safety and health rather than production.

Mr. Randall

I am grateful for that intervention, because it is an interesting parallel and it shows that the absurdity I mentioned earlier may not be sustained when one can see that there are safety officers in the mining industry for small groups.

That is especially important, where skippers, who should have overall responsibility on a boat, fail to be responsible for safety. I was told of an example about two years ago and I sent information about it to the Department of Transport. It referred to two young trainees who were on a Spanish fishing vessel that had gone on to the United Kingdom register. That technique has been used extensively by the Spanish fishing vessel owners. They have agents in places such as Plymouth and they have so far ducked inspection by the Department of Transport and get away with blue murder. Some of my constituents told me the story of those two young trainees. I could not establish whether they were on statutory or private training schemes. However, they were nearly decapitated. They were very young, only about 16 or 17 years old. The agent was asked what training the skipper had to offer. In that instance we found that the skipper spoke only Spanish and he was responsible for looking after and supervising training. It is ludicrous to have a trainer who does not even speak the same language as the trainees, and it resulted in two young people nearly being decapitated.

Mr. Mikardo

In case there is any confusion about whether small groups need a safety officer, I can say that not only the mining industry provides a safety officer for groups as small as four or five. Surface industries do so, too. For example, in a large factory with many people one can have a specialist store, such as an embodiment store, where only four or five people work. One of them is always a safety officer.

Mr. Randall

As we proceed with the debate it is interesting to see that we are establishing the fact that there are a number of precedents for this kind of safety officer, or whatever we would call him. That is encouraging.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) referred to the Sea Fish Industry Authority and funding. I am glad to hear that he has been in contact with the SFIA and that at least some short-term funding would be available. That is very encouraging and one presumes that it would enable training to proceed. The SFIA is a statutory organisation, and like all such organisations it is currently suffering from cuts in its funding. I wonder how it will find the money for this training programme. I am also concerned that subsection (2) is unspecific. With the tightness of money and an unspecific provision, we might end up with a tatty form of training. Will the Minister comment on that?

Dr. Godman

I understand some of my hon. Friend's reservations about the SFIA, but in fairness I must point out that its involvement in training is carried out by competent, highly trained people. Surely the question at issue is the continuation of funds for training.

Mr. Randall

My hon. Friend is certainly right on his latter point. Continuation of funding is absolutely crucial, but we are in the dark on that point. I have a great deal of time for the SFIA as an organisation and fully accept that it has many skilled people. However, we are talking about a not insubstantial programme of fishing training, and it surprises me to learn that the SFIA has the money to fund it. If it has, I am glad.

I agree with my hon. Friends that training should take place for all people, irrespective of age or whether they are on a youth training scheme for a limited period. It is important that before people go to sea they have the necessary training to ensure that they are protected and can help to protect others on the vessel.

Under subsection (2), if someone goes to sea without training he will have committed an offence and be liable to a level 2 fine. If the skipper or the owner of a vessel commits an offence, he will be liable to a fine not exceeding level 5. I am not sure about the fines for level 2 and level 5, so perhaps the Minister could explain. If the fines are not large, there could be an incentive for the owners and skippers not to adhere to the rules.

I have already referred to the Spanish fishing vessels being operated by such companies as Clearmaine in Plymouth. I do not have much time for the operations of such cowboys. I know about the appalling treatment of men who go to sea on these vessels, and I want to ensure that such organisations do not feel that they can pay the fine and not bother to embark on a training programme.

Dr. Godman

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about subsection (2). I, too, am a little unhappy about it because it appears that the responsibility for determining whether, for example, a young lad of 17 has been trained rests wholly and solely with the skipper. Such a young man could be encouraged to sail on a vessel although he may be in complete ignorance of the rules. Does my hon. Friend agree that the responsibility should rest with the master of the vessel?

Mr. Randall

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Subsection (2) reads: The regulations may provide that if a person goes to sea on a fishing vessel in contravention of a requirement of the regulations— (a) he commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2, or if he is the skipper or an owner of the vessel level 5". Paragraph (b) states: the skipper and each owner of the vessel is…liable on summary conviction to a fine

Mr. Austin Mitchell

As well.

Mr. Randall

That is absolutely right. Fines can be levied on both the person who goes to sea, and the skipper or the owner.

Dr. Godman

This is an important point of principle. In what other industry is there such a regulation whereby the person who has not sought training faces the possibility of court action? Young lads might be ignorant of such a statutory requirement.

Mr. Randall

That is an interesting point. I should like the Minister to answer that question because it is he who drafted the clause. That is a valid point. Is that discriminatory in that industry as opposed to other industries? I do not want to pre-empt the Minister's reply, but I imagine that the reason why the clause has been put in that some boats might have very small crews, but I shall leave that form is that matter for the Minister rather than trying to anticipate what he will say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow also supported the notion of some sort of training officer. I was particularly interested to hear about firefighting. I shall not develop the argument to a great extent, but it seemed that, in making that point, my hon. Friend was referring to the quality of the trainers. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan knows of instances where the local fire brigade comes in and does the training. I presume, although I cannot be sure, that the fire brigade ensures that it up to date on the latest technology of fire fighting in a confined diesel engine quarter on board a vessel. It is a specialised form of fire-fighting. It is important to have an assurance that the quality of the trainers would be up to the necessary standard.

Mr. McQuarrie

As the hon. Gentleman represents a fishing constituency—we both do—I am sure that he will be aware that the fire authorities take care that they know the latest fire fighting techniques for all modern ships. As was said by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), the fire fighting people have to be up to the mark on the latest techniques because of the possible dangers in harbours. For example, Peterhead is a busy harbour. Any one vessel on fire could create a catastrophe unless the fire fighters were familiar with the latest methods.

Mr. Randall

The whole point is whether the matter is dealt with in statute or whether we reply on the local authority which controls the fire brigade.

In principle, we ar happy with the notion of new clause 2. However, it needs considerable tightening up along the lines that I have suggested. It would be better to be more specific in the areas that we cover. In particular, we should include survival, fire fighting and first aid. The clause should be worded in such a way that the Minister could add any other area of training that he deemed desirable. I shall not attempt to phrase that now, but it could be done in an acceptable way. Bearing in mind the points that I have made on enforcement, the Opposition are happy in pinciple with new clause 2.

12.45 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell

This important new clause arises from the assiduous efforts of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), who prised it out of the Government. The original Bill included the provision, which was withdrawn at the Minister's suggestion because he wished it to be clear that the industry should finance training.

The Bill now contains a commitment to and requirement for training, which is an important advance. It is important because the industry's record on training, although it has been self-congratulatory, has been disappointing and poor. It was especially poor in the days of the big owners who fished in Icelandic waters. The port of Grimsby was dominated by a small clique of big owners running large vessels and fishing on an enormous scale. They were making money for the day and paying no attention to the future or to training.

The position has not improved with the change in the industry. The big owners have gone, but at least they formed a coherent organisation, even though it was a mafia. It has given way to a collection of small business men working on a small scale and not paying attention to training. Therefore, training has had to be encouraged from outside. The training of fishermen has a long history of pressure from outside producing change in the industry. I hope that it will be pushed further by the new clause.

Dr. Godman

On the history of training in the industry, is my hon. Friend aware that the record in the traditional inshore sector before the advent of the sea fisheries training council in the late 1970s was abysmal?

Mr. Mitchell

I entirely agree, and that is what makes me emphasise the pressures from outside the industry. Training is not adequate at present, and we must keep up the pressure on the industry.

Fishing is extremely perilous. If people are sent to sea inadequately trained in all safety matters—fire or survival—they are put at an unjustifiable and serious risk. We have a responsibility to provide training through this new clause.

I hope that the Minister will answer the questions at greater length than he did the questions on the previous new clause. When he spoke briefly on the previous new clause, I thought that he was taking to heart my comments on Second Reading when I accused him of spinning out his reply in an attempt to talk out later legislation. That accusation cannot be levelled at the Minister today in the light of the remaining legislation on the Order Paper. I hope that he will give us a more adequate reply to the questions that have been asked about new clause 2.

First, the definition of training in the Bill is deficient. It is not specific enough and will be interpreted in a restricted fashion. The industry must be pushed into change and adequate training. If we retained the simple and complacent definition of training in the Bill, the pressure would be that much harder to apply because people would not exert themselves. The Bill should set out specific areas in which training should be applied rather than contain a general definition. The Minister held out the possibility of training in fire fighting and survival. He can make that prospect a firm reality by specifying it in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, why should the definition be so restrictive?

Secondly, as has been pointed out, the new clause does not insure that training will take place, and we need to be sure of that, It is not so much good making a statement of good intentions—we all do that—as providing the backing and the framework for the training and the courses that will ensure tha the training is carried out.

Thirdly, we come back to the vexed question of cost. The insistence that the industry finances its training is untenable because of the financial state of the industry. There will be a horrendous reaction to a training levy, which will be bitterly resisted. That will set back training because the levy and training will become indentified, which will prejudice the industry against training.

What is more, the suggestion comes ill from a Government who have not advanced training and who have given a severe blow to training in the fishing industry. Three or four years ago, they abolished the sea fisheres training council, which was a viable organisation providing good courses and training, was working well and stimulating the industry to train. I think that it was financed by the Manpower Services Commission, but it was financed independently, and did a good job. It was well run and was far-sighted because it involved people from the industry and good courses. I welcomed the efforts that it made. It was a creation of the Labour Government, which might have prejudiced this Government, but it was vandalism to abolish it.

We then had the substitute of the Sea Fish Industry Authority training section, which is financed by Government. Its finance continues to the end of this year. The government have accepted a commitment and should sustain it in view of the financial position of the industry. The Government seem to sustain that commitment in other industries, especially in agriculture, the spoilt darling of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As the Minister has the portfolio, can he tell us what is the position with Merchant Navy training? Is it financed completely by the industry or is there Government input? I do not see a training levy as being acceptable to the industry.

The clause is welcome, but we are worried about the way in which the promise implicit in it will be fulfilled. We hope that with Government support—about which I hope the Minister will tell us—we can persuade the industry to pay more attention to training.

Mr. David Mitchell

The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar raised a series of questions about why there were no details of courses and the curriculum. It would not be appropriate to put the details of that in primary legislation and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) says, those involved in the industry are aware of the training that is available. To help the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar, I point out that the Department will approve the curriculum when it comes, and some idea of it can be gained from the courses that are carried out as survival at sea courses by the SFIA, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

For example, I have here a copy of the courses that are used. The courses are on such matters as action before abandonment, drills and their value, use of liferafts, clothing and the importance of maintaining body heat, panic and its consequence, and abandonment.

The course also contains liferaft drill, description and use of liferaft ancillary equipment. water entry from height and righting a capsized liferaft. There are also various survival measures such as protection which includes such matters as the treatment of injured survivors, and the problems of water and food which includes such matters as survival rations, and medical aspects, including hypothermia and cold injuries. There is also the important matter of helicopter rescue techniques. Now that the coast guard service has much better equipment, accidents can be located more quickly and rescues made.

The Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Regulations 1975 recognise that skippers of vessels over 12m must ensure that crew members are trained in the use of life saving equipment and that training is carried out at monthly intervals.

The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar also called for the provision of safety officers. He may have failed to recognise—I do not blame him because he is not intimately involved with the industry—the duty which is placed on a skipper to be responsible for safety. The hon. Gentleman also called for certificates to be issued to those who completed training courses, as did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I can assure him that we shall ensure that certificates are provided.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked about fire fighting. A two-day course on fire fighting approved by the Department of Transport can be attended by fishermen on a voluntary basis and there is a one-day course which is not approved by us. Where courses are approved the Department is satisfied with the standard of the course. I accept that there are no arrangements at present for refresher courses for fire fighting, and I shall bear that in mind. The hon. Gentleman also asked about first-aid training. That is necessary for skippers and second hands to obtain certificates of competence, so that is adequately dealt with.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West asked who pays. He may recall that there was considerable discussion in Committee on payment. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) made it clear that he thought it appropriate for all training costs to fall on the industry, and I do not dissent from that view. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West also asked whether we intended to use the powers that we are seeking in the new clause. I can reassure him that it is our intention to do so, subject to agreement with the industry about payment.

I was also asked about Spanish flagged-in vessels. I readily recognise the widespread unease about such vessels, especially in the south-west. Surveys in accordance with the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Regulations 1975 have been completed on 43 ex-Spanish vessels that are flagged onto the United Kingdom flag. The standards applied were exactly the same as on other United Kingdom fishing vessels. There are currently a further 14 ex-Spanish fishing vessels. Of those, one is undergoing survey, another has been detained at Plymouth, three are laid up in Spain, and the remaining nine are operating and are overdue for survey. The problem with them is that they rarely come to the United Kingdom. Renewed efforts are being made to get surveys carried out on them or to get them off the United Kingdom register. I am sure that hon. Members welcome that.

1 pm

Language has been mentioned. Section 48 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 enables a superintendent to order a ship not to go to sea if he thinks that the crew do not have a proper knowledge of English. That is an important consideration in regard to the Spanish vessels.

I was asked about the level of fines. I believe that I can give the House the assurance that it seeks. Level 2 is £200 and level 5, which applies to the skipper, is £2,000. Hon. Members will agree that they are pretty effective and powerful deterrents to abuse.

In view of that additional explanation, I hope that the House will feel it right to accept new clause 2.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. Jack Thompson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you give me some help and guidance on a matter that has come to my attention this morning? It is reported in The Times Higher Education Supplement that a Minister in the Department of Education and Science has offered misleading information about his educational qualifications in his "Who's Who" entry. It is important to me and others in education.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I have no responsibility for what appears in The Times or any other newspaper.

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