HL Deb 22 June 1950 vol 167 cc1001-4

4.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL or DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

LORD TEYNHAM moved, after Clause 3 to insert the following new Clause:

Amendment of s. 376 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894

". In paragraph (d) of subsection 1(1) of section three hundred and seventy-six of the principal Art, for the words 'four weeks' there shall be substituted the words 'one month, or to a fine not exceeding five pounds'."

The noble Lord said: I ventured to draw your Lordships' attention during the Second Reading debate on this Bill to the fact that the penalties which may be imposed by courts of summary jurisdiction for offences against discipline appear to be somewhat harsh. This Amendment has been set down in order to mitigate that position and allow the action of the courts to be, as I would say, more flexible. As the law stands at present, the offence of wilful disobedience in fishing vessels is punishable either by imprisonment up to four weeks, or a fine of 203. I think it is true to say that the courts have been in a little difficulty in dealing with this matter, because of the very small fine which may be imposed. They are: certainly most unwilling to send these men to prison as an alternative, and a fine of 20s. is obviously inadequate in the case of a second or perhaps a third offence. The effect of this Amendment will be to make it possible to use the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, which permits a fine not exeeding £5 as an alternative to imprisonment, instead of a fine of only 20s. as at present. I have little doubt that this Amendment will ensure reasonable treatment for fishermen in the courts.

In 1949 there were 132 convictions which included, I believe, twenty sentences of imprisonment. I suggest that this percentage of imprisonment is too high and might well have been reduced if the courts could have inflicted a higher fine instead of imprisonment. It is interesting to note that one of our great nationalised industries, the transport industry, is now seeking powers to increase the maximum fine of 20s. for travelling on the railway without a ticket to £50. Perhaps this is due to the fall in the value of money, which I know is a somewhat delicate subject for His Majesty's Government at the present time. None the less, it applies in the case of this Amendment. I understand that a certain amount of opposition has now shown itself in the trade unions concerned with this Amendment, in spite of the fact that it has the effect of making the stigma of imprisonment, even if it be only for a day or two, more unlikely to be inflicted than at present, and that it gives a more flexible ruling for the courts. I am also well aware that there is a feeling in certain quarters that no disciplinary measures should be enforceable against men in the fishing trade, but I have little doubt that these are the views of only a small minority in this fine service, the majority of whom, I am sure, realise the necessity of disciplinary measures. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 3 insert the said new clause. —(Lord Teynham.)


I am not quite clear on this point. Is it not the fact that we are dealing with two separate areas of jurisdiction? If the master has a complaint to make against a seaman, as I understand it he may inflict a financial penalty of 20s. It is only when the case comes before the court of summary jurisdiction that the penalty may be three months' imprisonment. I speak with diffidence on the subject, but I understand that it is not a question of alternative penalties of 20s. and/or three months' imprisonment, but a penalty which may be inflicted by the master and a penalty which may be inflicted by the courts.


In spite of the very persuasive manner in which the noble Lord opposite has moved this Amendment, and in spite of the fact that I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord is trying to achieve, I am hoping, for one or two reasons which I think are conclusive and which I think he will accept, that he will not press his Amendment. First of all, the purpose of this Bill was a very limited one; it had the simple purpose of doing three things. The first was to make it possible for the Minister to issue regulations regarding crew accommodation in fishing boats. The second was to make permanent the provisions of Defence Regulation 45AA. The third was to make permanent the provisions of Defence Regulation 48B. I need not trouble your Lordships with those Regulations, because they were dealt with on Second Reading. Those were the simple purposes of the Bill, and nothing more.

The noble Lord's Amendment seeks to provide different penalties for indiscipline for fishermen than for merchant seamen. I think that would be an intolerable position. We could not have—and I think the noble Lord will agree with this—different penalties for indiscipline for a man who goes to sea in a fishing vessel and for a man who goes to sea in a merchant ship. To alter the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act as regards penalties applicable to both would be so controversial that we felt that this Bill was not the place in which to enact that; this is not the time and it is an ill-chosen opportunity. As soon as this Amendment was mooted in another place, my right honourable friend was subjected to strong pressure against it from the Transport and General Workers Union, who are the union responsible for fishermen. If I may say so with respect, I do not think the noble Lord was quite right when he said that the penalties which a court of summary jurisdiction has to enforce are somewhat harsh. I suggest that his Amendment seeks to make them more so, because I think he realises—and he will not mind my explaining this—that they are the maximum penalties. A court does not have to send a man to prison for 28 days, the only option being a 20s. fine.


I thought I had made that point clear. He might go to prison for two days, but then there is the stigma of that imprisonment.


Everybody who breaks the law has to face the stigma of imprisonment. I do not think we can take into consideration whether it is a greater stigma to be sent to prison or to be fined 20s.—that is for the jurisdiction of the court. The court has the right, and the duty. to fit the penalty to the crime. Therefore, all the noble Lord's Amendment does is to alter the 20s. to £5. If we accepted the noble Lord's Amendment it would mean that instead of a court of summary jurisdiction having the discretion to vary the penalty from one day to twenty-eight days or from nothing to 20s., it would then be from one day to one month, or from nothing to £5. They could still say that a man would go to prison for seven days with the option of a fine of 20s., but they could then also say that the man must go to prison for ten days with the option of a fine of £5. That is what the men, through their trade union object to.

I think I have answered the noble Lord completely, and I hope he will not press this Amendment. It is not an opportune time and the Bill is not the right instrument. If we sought to use the Bill—a Bill which is before Parliament for the simple purpose of issuing regulations for crew accommodation—for doing these other things, I think we should get into a great deal of trouble, and the matter would become highly controversial. I feel sure that neither the noble Lord nor any other noble Lord in this House would wish to do anything that would raise a controversial issue with the men in the fishing fleets of this country. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


I am not entirely convinced by what the noble Lord has said. It is true that this Amendment would mean that there would be a difference in treatment between the fisherman and the merchant seaman. On the other hand, it may well be that the conditions of punishment for the merchant seamen themselves may one day require amendment. However, I do not propose to press this Amendment in the circumstances, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

House resumed.