HL Deb 19 May 1970 vol 310 cc965-73

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Fishing Vessels (Safety Provisions) Bill is quite simple. It seeks to provide the Board of Trade with powers to make rules for the construction of fishing vessels, and also to make rules for the survey and regular inspection of fishing vessels in order to ensure that they comply with the rules made under this Bill and other enactments. The Bill has a background of tragedy. Early in 1968, news came of the loss, one after the other, of three trawlers from Hull. Those three disasters cost 59 lives, and many families in Hull were bereaved. As a result, the then President established a Committee of Inquiry under Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin to examine the major factors affecting the safety of deep-sea trawlers and their crews and to make recommendations. This Bill seeks to take powers to implement some of the recommendations of that Committee. Since those disasters, the nation as a whole has been more acutely aware of the dangers trawlermen face. We now understand better that it is a continuing danger and a continuing anxiety on the part of their families. The Bill before us is one of the measures which are necessary if both the dangers the men face and the anxiety of their families are to be lessened.

The Holland-Martin Committee's recommendations, of which there are 83, are wide ranging. In the introduction to their Report the Committee pointed out that safety cannot be considered in isolation from the other major factors which determined the success and efficiency of an industry or a firm. They point out that there are limits to what can be done in terms of design of ships and equipment to make the working environment on a trawler intrinsically safer. They say that the problem is fundamentally one of changing human attitudes at every level in the industry, and of instilling greater awareness of the importance of safety in crews, skippers and senior management alike. With that in mind, the Committee considered not only the vessels and their equipment, but also the conditions on board the trawlers, the crews' health and fitness, their conditions of employment, training of crews, management and industrial relations. At the end of their Report, the Committee say that partial acceptance of their recommendations would not be desirable since they consider that the recommendations, taken as a whole, represent the minimum of effort required if the industry is to attain an acceptable standard of safety.

The Bill before us deals with only one aspect of safety: that is, the safety of the vessel itself and the equipment it carries. Some other aspects are covered in the Merchant Shipping Bill still before Parliament, such as those relating to hours of work at sea, certification of trawler officers, accident reporting, and safe working practices on board ship. There are also many other matters which do not require new statutory powers, and those are actively under consideration by the Government and both sides of the industry. Both sides of the industry have shown a positive attitude to the Report and there has already been progress in implementing some of the recommendations.

The powers in the present Bill enable rules to be made for the construction of all fishing vessels. Some powers already exist for prescribing the radio and safety equipment which fishing vessels should carry, but powers under this Bill will enable fishing vessels to be surveyed and inspected regularly to ensure that they comply with the rules. Thus the general purpose of the Bill is to bring the powers for regulating the safety of fishing vesels roughly into line with the powers that we already have for regulating the safety of cargo and passenger vessels.

It will be noted that the Bill covers all types of fishing vessels, even though the recommendations of the Holland-Martin Committee of Inquiry related primarily to deep-sea vessels. We recognised that dangers also faced inshore fishing vessels as well as deep-sea vessels and we therefore took the opportunity to take powers to regulate their safety at the same time. For purely practical reasons it will be necessary to concentrate in the first place on the deep-sea vessels; that is generally those over 80 feet in length fishing in near, middle and distant waters. It would obviously not be appropriate to extend all the rules for deep-sea vessels to the whole of the inshore fleet as well; a good deal of consultation will be needed before we can decide exactly what rules should apply to them. But there is no doubt that this extension will be required and we intend no avoidable delay. Meanwhile I can assure the House that the Board of Trade is giving priority to the drafting of rules for deep-sea vessels, and we aim to apply them as soon as possible even though the process of drafting and consultation is necessarily rather complex.

Clause 1 empowers the Board of Trade to make fishing vessels construction rules prescribing requirements for the hull, equipment and machinery of fishing vessels registered in the United Kingdom. These rules can differentiate between fishing vessels of various descriptions, including different dates of registry or construction and different operational areas. The construction rules which are being drafted will cover such matters as structural strength, stability, weathertight integrity, means of protection for the crew, electrical equipment and precautions, and structural fire protection.

Clause 2 empowers the Board to make survey rules for the surveying and periodical inspection of fishing vessels in order to ensure their compliance with the rules. Clause 3 deals with the issue of certificates. The survey rules will cover the type of survey to be conducted, its frequency and who should conduct it. They should also cover the requirements for periodical inspection of certain matters during the currency of the certificate, and questions like the form of the certificate and its period of validity. Clause 4 makes it an offence for a fishing vessel required to be surveyed to go to sea unless certificates issued under Clause 3 are in force. These enforcement provisions follow the general lines adopted in relation to passenger vessels and other ships in recent Merchant Shipping Acts.

Clause 5 makes provision for the notification in writing of alterations made to a fishing vessel or its equipment where a certificate issued under Clause 3 is in force in respect of the vessel. Clause 6 provides for the prescribing of fees and for the payment of such fees into the Consolidated Fund, except in the cases specified in which it is appropriate that bodies other than the Board of Trade which have carried out the work should be allowed to retain the fee. Clause 7(1) provides that any regulations or rules made under the Bill shall be made by Statutory Instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution of either House of Parliament. This is the procedure used for rules of a similar type relating to other classes of vessel under the Merchant Shipping Acts. Clause 7(2), which has been included in the Bill during its passage, puts on the Board of Trade a statutory obligation to consult organisations in the United Kingdom appearing to them to be representative of persons who will be affected by the rules. Clause 8 provides for extension to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and any territory outside Her Majesty's dominions in which Her Majesty has jurisdiction. Clause 9 contains a number of definitions.

My Lords, I hope that this Bill will commend itself. Whilst it is a comparatively simple Bill, the rules to be made under it will be of a complex nature which will require careful consideration and consultation with all those directly concerned. By opening up a new field for marine safety regulations, it is an extremely important Bill. This country can be proud of its safety record in passenger and cargo ships, which are protected by rules and regulations based on international agreement; we shall now be able to give similar protection to our fishermen. However, this Bill, and even the rules to be made under it, cannot be regarded as a panacea which will make the fishermen's calling a safe one. I have referred to the Holland-Martin Committee's reference to the need to change the whole attitude of mind in the industry. The Government intend to play their part in this process, and this Bill is only one piece in the jigsaw. I hope that I have described how it fits into the picture as a whole; that your Lordships will agree that this is an important piece of safety legislation in a field where the need for such legislation has been demonstrated by cruel experience, and that your Lordships will gladly give the Bill its Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Brown.)

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, for reminding us of the origins of this Bill and explaining its purpose and the way in which it is going to work. I am glad that the Royal Navy can be of some help to fishermen, both in the shape of Admiral Holland-Martin, on whose Report we so much rely, and in the shape of this former naval person who is glad to welcome it as a spokesman from this side and to give it a fair wind on to the Statute Book. Having myself spent a good part of the early days of the war in the Arctic on convoy duty where these trawlers work, and having rescued survivors from these waters, I certainly support a Bill which will allow further regulations to be devised for the safety of those who pursue their business all the time in these remorseless and widow-making waters.

However, in present Parliamentary circumstances it would be unreasonable to give this Bill the scrutiny that its importance for the industry would at other times have deserved. I hope the House will feel that just a few comments from me on the Second Reading alone will suffice. The first I have to make is on the question of balance. The regulations made possible under this Bill (and I must say that I sympathise with the Board of Trade on the number of regulations it now has to set about making under this Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill) bear upon the causes of no more than 43 per cent. of the casualties which occur in this industry in the deep-sea trawlers. I draw that figure from Fig. B on page 15 of the Report. None the less, of course, they are well worth having. But a far greater impact on casualties, at much less cost, can be made by dealing with the other cause of casualties—not the particular casualties to which the noble Lord referred, but casualties in general over a period of time—accounting for more than all the other causes put together; namely, negligent navigation.

The Board of Trade, as I understand it, already has powers in this field through the control it exercises over training, examinations and certification. I would think that the House is owed a rather fuller account than we have had so far, not of the considerations that are going into this but of the actual progress so far made, since this point was revealed by Admiral Holland-Martin in this parallel field of casualties due to negligent navigation. As the Report indicated, and the noble Lord recognised in what he has just said, this is a fundamental area.

Next may I turn for a moment to the cost of implementing the proposals in the Report to which this Bill relates? There is no question, of course, that where the safety of life is concerned the cost of safeguarding it must be borne. But it must, I submit, be fairly shared. What we should like to know is this: what will be the formula for getting fairness as between the new ships and the old ships; as between the industry and the Government, and particularly (I will come on to this point more fully in a moment) as between this country and other countries which are international competitors in the fishing world?

I appreciate that we in this country may well be leading the field among other members of the International Maritime Consultative Organisation. We often have led the field, and I hope we still do. But when welcoming and supporting a Bill such as this, which will lay sizeable financial burdens on an industry with formidable international rivals, we ought to hear from Her Majesty's Government of the action they are taking, and they only can take, to enjoin upon other nations with deep-sea fishing fleets to raise their safety standards in harmony with ours; to the level the Holland-Martin Report shows so clearly to be necessary not only for our vessels but for all fishing vessels. Those are my two main points.

Then I have just two small points of a more technical nature. Recommendation No. 25 of the Report, and Clause 3(2) of the Bill, provide for the Board of Trade to delegate some of its survey work. Is the noble Lord able to say to whom it will decide to delegate, and at what stage? Is it from the outset or from some later stage? The second small point relates to Clause 4(1), which, if I am right, establishes a blanket prohibition on a fishing vessel from going to sea unless it holds all the necessary certificates that have been set out in earlier parts of the Bill. Am I right in thinking that this can be modified by an exemption of some kind? The only exemption I can see does not look as if it applies; it is to be found in Clause 1(2). Can this blanket prohibition be modified in any way so that a fishing vessel can go to sea for purposes other than fishing? It seems that from time to time this would be required; for instance, to go to a repair yard or to go somewhere to be sold.

Finally—and this is a very small point—now that this Bill has, I suppose, unexpectedly overtaken the Merchant Shipping Bill by about ten days, can we turn a blind eye to references on page 5 to the Merchant Shipping Act 1970? Or maybe we can pass this Bill now in the reasonable assurance that both measures will cross the finishing line in a dead heat. My Lords, I beg to support the Second Reading of this Bill.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the points he has raised. I hope that I shall be able to satisfy him on all of them. We quite agree with his comments about the effects of negligent navigation. The Board of Trade issued a Merchant Shipping Notice last August stressing the dangers of leaving the bridge in the charge of unqualified persons. This is similar to the first recommendation by Holland-Martin, that owners should lay down clear guidelines for their skippers so as to ensure that the bridge is manned at all times by an experienced, competent man. With powers provided by the Merchant Shipping Bill it is proposed, subject to consultation, to require the carriage of a third certificated hand on distant-water trawlers, which will make such bridge manning easier to ensure. Attention has also been given the content of training courses and examinations, and we are further considering whether there are any other measures to meet this danger.

The noble Lord asked about a formula for sharing the cost of these extra precautions and measures which arise under this Bill. I am sorry that I cannot give much information on this point. One principle agreed is that there should be some sharing of the extra cost, but consultations are proceeding now. I do not know what the outcome will be. I cannot give him a formula; it will emerge, I hope, in due course.

The noble Lord has also referred to his anxiety concerning the fact that because of these safety rules we may be burdening ourselves with costs in excess of those borne by our foreign competitors. It should be noted that some other nations are ahead of us in terms of regulations, although not necessarily in terms of practice: we do not really know. However proposals are already before IMCO, largely based on our own ideas and the ideas we shall incorporate in the rules we produce, and on Holland-Martin, and I assure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom plays a leading part in IMCO and will press forward for international standards on this matter.

He also raised the question of the delegation of survey work. Our intention is that, wherever practicable, surveys will be delegated. The question as to whom such work should be delegated is still being considered. The White Fish Authority and the Mutual Insurance Company have expertise in this field, although the most likely candidate for the delegation is Lloyd's Register of Shipping, since all the distant-water fleet and about three-quarters of the near- and middle-water fleet are classed. This should substantially ease the load of additional work for the Board of Trade surveyors, so far as construction and propelling machinery is concerned. However, in line with existing comparable arrangements for merchant ships we need to survey unclassed ships, and possibly classed ships in respect of stability, life-saving appliances, and perhaps fire protection. Those are our present views on that issue.

Another point raised by the noble Lord was the question of a trawler sailing to sea, not for fishing but for repairs, and I would inform him that Clause 1(2) empowers the Board of Trade to exempt any vessel from any requirement of the rules with respect to, among other things, a specified voyage, so that we have power to introduce these exemptions.

My Lords, I think I have covered all the points raised by the noble Lord—at least I hope so—and in a moment I shall move that the Bill be not committed.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.