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Merchant Shipping Bill Lords

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Ordered,

That the Merchant Shipping Bill [Lords], as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses, new Schedules, Amendments to Clauses 1 to 9, Schedule 1, Clauses 10 to 12, Schedule 2, Clauses 13 to 20, Schedule 3, Clauses 21 to 33, Schedule 4, Clauses 34 to 44, Schedule 5, Clauses 45 to 52, Schedules 6 and 7, Clause 53, Schedule 8. — [Mr. Channon.]

New Clause 1

Power To Prohibit Provision Of Coastal Shipping Services Which Are Not British-Based

`(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the provision of shipping services to which this section applies to be prohibited except where such services are provided from one or more permanent places of business maintained in the British Islands.
(2) This section applies to the following shipping services—
  • (a) the carriage of goods or passengers by sea—
  • (i) between ports in the United Kingdom, or
  • (ii) between a port in the United Kingdom and an offshore installation in United Kingdom waters, or
  • (iii) between offshore installations in United Kingdom waters;
  • (b) the carriage of passengers by sea on voyages or excursions beginning and ending at the same port in the United Kingdom, other than voyages or excursions which involve calling at any port or ports outside the British Islands (whether passengers disembark there or not); and
  • (c) shipping services (other than the carriage of goods or passengers by sea) which are—
  • (i) provided by means of ships operating out of ports in the United Kingdom (whether so provided within United Kingdom waters or not), or
  • (ii) provided within United Kingdom waters by means of ships operating out of ports outside the United Kingdom.
  • (3) An order under this section may make provision—
  • (a) with respect to the circumstances in which shipping services are to be regarded for the purposes of the order as being provided from one or more permanent places of business maintained in the British Islands;
  • (b) authorising the Secretary of State to issue licences sanctioning the provision of shipping services to which this section applies, notwithstanding that they are not provided as mentioned in paragraph (a) above, in cases where he is satisfied that there is no-one willing and able to provide the services in question as mentioned in that paragraph;
  • (c) requiring the payment, in connection with applications for such licences, of fees determined with the approval of the Treasury;
  • (d) exempting any prescribed class or description of shipping services from any prohibition imposed by virtue of subsection (1);
  • (e) authorising the Secretary of State, or a person appointed by him for the purpose, to serve notices requiring the production or furnishing of documents or information appearing to the Secretary of State or any such person to be necessary to enable him to determine such matters as may be prescribed;
  • (f) with respect to the manner of service of notices in pursuance of paragraph (e).
  • (4) An order under this section may—
  • (a) make different provision for different circumstances;
  • (b) make such transitional, incidental or supplementary provision as appears to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient.
  • (5) The provisions of an order under this section shall not discriminate between shipping services provided by different persons on the basis of the place of registration of the ships by means of which the services are provided.
    (6) Section 728 of the 1894 Act (appointment of inspectors) shall have effect in relation to—
  • (a) any order under this section, or
  • (b) any licence is sued by virtue of subsection (3)(b) above,
  • as it has effect in relation to any such regulations or licence as is mentioned in paragraph (b) of that section; but section 27 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979 (powers of inspectors) shall have effect in relation to any inspector appointed by virtue of this subsection with the omission of paragraphs (f) to (h) of subsection (1) of that section.
    (7) The power to make an order under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, but no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
    (8) In this section—
    "offshore installation" has the same meaning as in the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Act 1971;
    "prescribed" means prescribed by an order under this section;
    "shipping services" means—
  • (a) the carriage of goods or passengers by sea,
  • (b) services provided by offshore support vessels, and
  • (c) such other services provided by means of ships as the Secretary of State may specify in an order under this section;
  • "United Kingdom waters" means waters within the seaward limits of the territorial sea of the United Kingdom and waters in any area designated under section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964.'.—[Mr. Channon.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    8.28 pm

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

    With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2—Enforcement of section (Powers to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based)

    '(1) Where—

  • (a) any ship is used in the course of the provision of any shipping services to which section (Powers to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based) applies, or
  • (b) anything is done on board a ship with a view to its being used to provide any such services,
  • and the provision of those services is prohibited by virtue of subsection (1) of that section and is not sanctioned by any licence issued by virtue of subsection (3)(b) of that section, then (subject to subsections (6) and (7)), the master and the owner of the ship shall each be guilty of an offence.

    (2) Where the ship—
  • (a) is chartered by demise, or
  • (b) is managed, either wholly or in part, by a person other than the owner under the terms of a management agreement,
  • the reference in subsection (1) to the owner of the ship shall be construed as including a reference—
  • (i) to the charterer under the charter by demise, or
  • (ii) to any such manager as is referred to in paragraph (b) above, or
  • (iii) (if the ship is both chartered and managed as mentioned above) to both the charterer and any such manager.
  • (3) Any person who—
  • (a) in connection with an application for such a licence as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b) of section (Power to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based) or
  • (b) in purported compliance with the requirements of any notice served on him by virtue of subsection (3)(e) of that section,
  • knowingly or recklessly furnishes information which is false in a material particular shall be guilty of an offence.
    (4) Any person who—
  • (a) without reasonable excuse (the proof of which lies on him) fails to comply with the requirements of arty such notice, or
  • (b) intentionally alters, suppresses, conceals or destroys a document which he has been required to produce in pursuance of subsection (3)(e) of that section,
  • shall be guilty of an offence.
    (5) Any person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
  • (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeeding £50,000;
  • (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine, or both.
  • (6) It shall be a defence in proceedings brought under subsection (1) against the master of a ship to prove—
  • (a) that the master did not know and had no reason to suspect that, in the circumstances of the case, the provision of the shipping services referred to in paragraph (1) or (as the case may be) paragraph (b) of that subsection was prohibited by virtue of subsection (1) of section (Power to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based), or
  • (b) that the master had reasonable grounds for believing that the provision of those services was sanctioned by a licence issued by virtue of subsection (3)(b) of that section.
  • (7) It shall be a defence in proceedings brought under subsection (1) against a person other than the master of a ship to prove that, under the terms of one or more charter-parties or management agreements entered into by the defendant, the right to determine the purpose for which the ship in question was being used at the time of the alleged offence was wholly vested in some other person or persons party thereto (whether or not any such other person or persons had entered into a further charter-party or management agreement providing for that right to be vested in some other person).
    (8) Subsections (1), (3) and (4) apply to offences falling within those subsections wherever committed.
    (9) Proceedings for an offence under this section may be taken, and the offence may for all incidental purposes be treated as having been committed, in any place in the United Kingdom.
    (10) Proceedings for an offence under this section shall not be instituted—
  • (a) in England and Wales except by or with the consent of the Attorney General or the Secretary of State; or
  • (b) in Northern Ireland, except by or with the consent of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland or the Secretary of State.
  • (11) Any document required or authorised, by virtue of any statutory provision, to be served for the purpose of the institution of, or otherwise in connection with, proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) shall, where it is to be served on a person who was, at the time of the alleged offence—
  • (a) the owner of the ship in question, or
  • (b) such a charterer by demise or manager of that ship as is mentioned in subsection (2),
  • be treated as duly served on that person if—
  • (i) sent to him by post at his last-known address (whether of his residence or of a place where he carries on business), or
  • (ii) left for him at that address,
  • if the document is served on the master of the ship in question.
    (12) In this section "management agreement" has the same meaning as in section 29.'.

    The introduction of new clause 1 fulfils an obligation made in Committee. In the course of the consideration of this Bill, many hon. Members have referred to the great unfairness of the present situation on cabotage. The Government's primary objective on cabotage remains liberalisation throughout the European Community and we are vigorously pursuing this aim with member states. I am well aware, however, that we face an uphill task against entrenched opposition. I have decided that it would be prudent to have powers to take alternative action in case the Community negotiations do not lead to early success.

    The new clause introduces an anabling power for me to introduce a test of establishment for operators who wish to carry out cabotage in United Kingdom coastal waters. The test would apply equally to British and foreign-flagged vessels and would mean that, while non-British companies would still be allowed to compete in our cabotage trades, they would all have to be established in the British islands.

    If the power is invoked, operators wishing to do United Kingdom cabotage will have to ensure that they are providing shipping services from a permanent place of business in the British islands, not merely from an agency or trading as a "brass plate company". However, the clause enables me to issue waivers where I am satisfied that there are no established companies willing and able to provide a specified service.

    An order to implement the power would be subject to affirmative resolution. Before making such an order, I would consult interested parties. If the negotiations in the Community succeed, the power would then be revoked.

    As I announced to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) today, in answer to a parliamentary question, in 1986, the last year for which information is available, British-flagged shipping had over 70 per cent. of the total United Kingdom cabotage market by estimated value. The total value of the United Kingdom cabotage market was estimated at approximately £440 million, so it is a substantial business and the largest in the Community. I repeat that we would far rather open up other coastal traffic to British ships than introduce restrictions of any kind on our own coasts, but, if the Community negotiations are protracted with no early prospects of success, we need to be able and ready to level the present unevenness of the playing field.

    New clause 2 provides for the enforcement of new clause 1. Under this clause, the owner, master and charterer or other manager will be guilty of an offence where cabotage is provided in contravention of an order. Offenders will be liable to a fine of up to £50,000 on summary conviction and, on indictment, to imprisonment for up to two years and/or an unlimited fine. These are, of course, maximum penalties and it will be for the courts to decide the precise penalties in any particular case in the normal way.

    However, I recognise that the master of the ship may have believed in good faith that the shipping company he was working for was established or had been given a waiver for the cargo in question. I have therefore provided that, if the master can prove either of these circumstances, it will be considered a defence for the purpose of proceedings. We have also introduced a defence for charterers who can prove that at the time of the offence the ship was in fact chartered wholly by another person.

    These new clauses are long overdue and I invite the House to accept them.

    Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that these new clauses are long overdue, and that reflects no great credit on the Department of Transport. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) who put pressure on the Government to bring forward these new clauses. It is significant that debate took place both in the House of Lords and in Committee, yet it has taken until now to see what the Government had in mind. Although we would not intend to oppose the new clauses, we believe that they do not go far enough.

    In a written answer to the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) today, the Secretary of State said that, according to the latest available figures, the total United Kingdom cabotage market amounts to some £440 million and that of that, some 28 per cent., or almost £100 million, is now dominated by non-British vessels, with all the consequences of loss of trade and loss of jobs for British merchant seamen.

    I have raised in the House previously the question of the Swansea-Cork ferry, the so-called Celtic Pride, which, far from being a matter of pride for the Celts, either in this country or in Ireland, should be more correctly named the Pride of Poland because it is a Polish vessel manned by Polish seamen. Inevitably, when Polish seamen are being paid wage rates massively below those paid to British seamen, the Poles become economically dominant on the line. Under the new clause, there will be nothing to stop the Polish operators simply registering a company in the United Kingdom and continuing to operate in our coastal waters.

    I hope that the Secretary of State will clarify the position on that matter, not because of its local significance, but because it is typical of the way in which we have allowed our coastal trade to be eroded and have allowed British jobs to be given up at the expense of those many British seamen who are no longer able to serve at sea as the opportunities no longer exist. The Secretary of State must take on board the fact that the Government have promised much on the issue of cabotage and have delivered little.

    I wish to refer to the Department of Transport press release No. 472. I doubt whether the Secretary of State possesses a copy, given that he did not hold that office on 29 October 1985, when his predecessor said, in a reply to the ever-assiduous hon. Member for Eastleigh, that he was pleased to announce that his Department had reached a satisfactory agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany.

    In the notes for editors which explain this wonderful agreement, the Secretary of State went on to explain:
    "Discussions have taken place between the shipping authorities of the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany about access by their shipping companies to each others' coastal cabotage and offshore trades."
    The German shipping industry has already had access to British waters since 1849, so we are involved in a rather one-sided negotiation. Nevertheless, if progress had been made, we would have welcomed it.

    The then Secretary of State went on to say:
    "Both sides recognise that the present position, in which German vessels enjoy full access to UK trades while UK vessels do not have reciprocal rights in the Federal Republic, was inequitable and should be rectified immediately."
    The press release went on to state that, as both Governments anticipate that
    "the proposal will receive relatively early approval by the Council of Ministers, it seems inappropriate for the German Government to take legislative action to deal with those particular problems".
    There are still barriers to British shipping in German waters. The press release issued by the then Secretary of State built up the hopes of the British industry, but it was bogus. Once again, the then Secretary of State promised much and delivered almost nothing.

    Opposition Members are worried about this issue because we have seen the mass destruction of the British merchant fleet. It is interesting to note that the General Council of British Shipping has now come out in favour of some restrictions on the right of access of non-United Kingdom shippers into British waters. The council concludes that at least part of the decline of the United Kingdom merchant marine has been due to the Government's inability to take action on this issue over many years. However, it believes that the present access of foreign vessels to British waters has done serious damage to the British merchant fleet.

    We are entitled to ask what the implications of the new clauses will be. We know, for example, that they will not give British vessels access to Greek, Italian, Spanish, French or Portuguese waters, from which British vessels are presently excluded. They will not stop fleets from those countries entering British waters. They will simply mean that they have to register under some kind of trading arrangement whereby a company is established in the United Kingdom. That is a minimal requirement on those operators.

    As a result, some non-United Kingdom shippers will he dissuaded from entering British waters because they believe that it is not particularly convenient to establish a brass plate company. The Secretary of State said that brass plate companies will not be allowed, but I am not sure what mechanism will prevent the establishment of such companies. Individual shippers may be dissuaded by the new regime, and if that is the case, then, insofar as it refers to trade for United Kingdom shippers, we will welcome it. Nevertheless, it does not prevent access by non-British shippers into United Kingdom waters.

    Over the past 12 months we have seen a further decline in the size of the British merchant fleet—an issue that has been raised many times by Labour Members. According to the Government's latest figures, in 1986 we lost 148 vessels off the British Isles part of the United Kingdom register, and in the first nine months of last year, we lost a further 30. The Government paraded that as some kind of triumph because the rate of the decline had diminished, but it is a disaster for those who work in the industry, and a disaster that could have been prevented.

    We are prepared to go along with these new clauses, not because we believe that they go anything like far enough but because anything is better than nothing. If it gives the Secretary of State some ammunition when he goes in to arm-wrestle with his opposite numbers in the Mediterranean countries or the Federal German Republic, all well and good, but it is a minimal amount of power for him.

    We have heard many times that agreement within the European Commission is imminent and that the British Government will leave no stone unturned until we have access to the costal waters of other nations, at least starting with the northern waters, and then in due course, they will solve the more intractable problem of the Mediterranean. However, there has been little movement. Unless we get an international framework within the European community and that transnational level of agreement, the British merchant fleet will continue to decline and the new clauses, partially welcome as they are will not stop that continuing decline.

    The Secretary of State may be congratulating himself on finally mustering enough courage to take some action, but it is now incumbent on him to take real action to protect British coastal traffic for the British fleet.

    As I have for many years been boring the House with the problems of cabotage, it would be extremely ungracious of me not to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for tabling these two new clauses. As those who serve on the Committee will know, I had a different form of new clause, possibly a little more vigorous or a little more threatening to our opponents.

    We would all agree with my right hon. Friend that the ideal is the traditional shipping policy of this country, which is open trade across the seven seas of the world, and that means open trade on our own coastline. This is where I must quarrel briefly with the Opposition, because they rather implied that there was a time when all our coastal trade was closed. It never was. It was always open. We want the same rights on other people's coastlines as we accord to them. I have rather more confidence than some Opposition Members that if we had that open access, we would get a far greater benefit for our seafarers than by closing access and picking up that 28 per cent. of our coastal trade which is in foreign bottoms. I sincerely believe that, and I think that Labour Members believe that too.

    To allay the hon. Member's worries, I make it clear that we share his view that proper access to the Mediterranean waters and to the waters of northern Europe would be in the interests of the British merchant fleet. However, we do not have that access and we shall not get it as a result of these new clauses.

    I do not despair of that. I am sure that any hon. Member who has read the treaty of Rome knows that it is clearly contrary both to the spirit and letter of that treaty for these other Community countries to deny British shipping the right to trade along their coastlines. That was recognised by Brussels when it introduced, in a sort of White Paper form although with a lot of green edges, its common shipping policy. The common rights of cabotage are clearly laid down in that policy. I ask that the other member countries adhere to the spirit and letter of that treaty. They are always asking us to do it, but let it be done on their side.

    8.45 pm

    In 1992 we are supposed to be having completely open trade between all member states, and we would be right to hold back on that until we are given the proper rights that are being denied to us by the other member states, with a few honourable exceptions. I hope that on every occasion our Ministers, not only my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is sturdy in defence of British industry, will be active in bringing this to the attention not only of the Commission but of the Council of Ministers. Our aim must be that all European coastlines must be open to all European ships. I will not be satisfied, and nor will the House, with some coasts being more open than others.

    I too would like to welcome these new clauses and to put on record the House's congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on grasping so many nettles in this Bill. He has established in these two new clauses an important principle of licensing. Recent events have shown a need for tighter controls, and not just stiffer penalties. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be giving an enthusiastic welcome to new clause 12 when we reach it.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) for his first remarks, and I will come to his second remarks when new clause 12 is debated, which I hope will be soon. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price). He is right to say that this situation existed for many years. It is a little hard of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) to criticise us and say that these measures are long overdue — I have used that phrase myself—because the situation has existed since at least the reign of George I. There have been one or two Labour Governments since then, so it is not entirely the fault of Conservative Governments that this has not been changed before now.

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the opportunities before us, apart from the general principle that the coast should be open to all if there is to be a common market after 1992. The total cabotage market in the Community is worth about £1,450 million, so the sheer mathematical opportunities open to us would be greater than those offered by closing our coasts to Community vessels.

    I am grateful for the persuasive arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh in Committee and over many years. They have contributed greatly in persuading the Government to take this new stand.

    I am grateful for the hon. Member for Stretford's welcome for the new clauses. He raised a couple of points. The Swansea-Cork ferry is not cabotaged, as he will know. That is an international service between Ireland and Wales, so it would not be covered by any cabotage arrangements that might be made now or in the future. If he wants to give me details of the problems on that line I will examine them. Manning is another matter. The ship is under a United Kingdom flag and must abide by the requirements of the officer manning certification. If it became established, I can assure the House that brass plate presence will not be sufficient.

    I will not give details about the regulations that I would be minded to put forward. If we have to introduce them, they will be subject to affirmative resolution, and the House will have an opportunity to debate them in detail. However, I shall not show my hand tonight as to what they might be, because I hope that I shall not have to introduce them, although I may.

    We will not insist that the Secretary of State shows his hand, because it might be inappropriate, but perhaps he might answer a far more important question. When will he be minded to begin to show his hand?

    I intend to see what progress we can make during the period of the German presidency, then I shall review the matter again; we shall see. The hon. Gentleman is a little unfair to the German Government because in practice there are few restrictions, if any, on British ships doing cabotage in Germany. There is no longer a problem, or if there is, it is very small. In most respects the German market is now free, in practice, to British ships.

    I am grateful to the House for its reception of the new clauses. If we have to implement the provisions, we shall come forward with more details and the House will have an opportunity to examine them.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 2

    Enforcement Of Section (Power To Prohibit Provision Of Coastal Shipping Services Which Are Not British-Based)

    `(1) Where—
  • (a) any ship is used in the course of the provision of any shipping services to which section (Power to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based) applies, or
  • (b) anything done on board a ship with a view to its being used to provide any such services,
  • and the provision of those services is prohibited by virtue of subsection (1) of that section and is not sanctioned by any licence issued by virtue of subsection (3)(b) of that section, then (subject to subsections (6) and (7), the master and the owner of the ship shall be guilty of an offence.
    (2) Where the ship—
  • (a) is chartered by demise, or
  • (b) is managed, either wholly or in part, by a person other than the owner under the terms of a management agreement.
  • the reference in subsection (1) to the owner of the ship shall be construed as including a reference—
  • (i) to the charterer under the charter by demise, or
  • (ii) to any such manager as is referred to in paragraph (b) above, or
  • (iii) (if the ship is both chartered and managed as mentioned above) to both the charterer and any such manager.
  • (3) Any person who—
  • (a) in connection with an application for such a licence as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b) of section (Power to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based) or
  • (b) in purported compliance with the requirements of any notice served on him by virtue of subsection (3)(e) of that section,
  • knowingly or recklessly furnishes information which is false in a material particular shall be guilty of an offence.
    (4) Any person who—
  • (a) without reasonable excuse he proof of which lies on him) fails to comply with the requirements of any such notice, or
  • (b) intentionally alters, suppresses, conceals or destroys a document which he has been required to produce in pursuance of subsection (3)(e) of that section,
  • shall be guilty of an offence.
    (5) Any person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
  • (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £50,000;
  • (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine, or both.
  • (6) It shall be a defence in proceedings brought under subsection (1) against the master of a ship to prove—
  • (a) that the master did not know and had no reason to suspect that, in the circumstances of the case, the provision of the shipping services referred to in paragraph (a) or (as the case may be) paragraph (b) of that subsection was prohibited by virtue of subsection (1) of section (Power to prohibit provision of coastal shipping services which are not British-based), or
  • (b) that the master had reasonable grounds for believing that the provision of those services was sanctioned by a licence issued by virtue of subsection (3)(b) of that section.
  • (7) It shall be a defence in proceedings brought under subsection (1) against a person other than the master of a ship to prove that, under the terms of one or more charter-parties or management agreements entered into by the defendant, the right to determine the purpose for which the ship in question was being used at the time of the alleged offence was wholly vested in some other person or persons party thereto (whether or not any such other person or persons had entered into a further charter-party or management agreement providing for that right to be vested in some other person).
    (8) Subsections (1), (3) and (4) apply to offences falling within those subsections wherever committed.
    (9) Proceedings for an offence under this section may be taken, and the offence may for all incidental purposes be treated as having been committed, in any place in the United Kingdom.
    (10) Proceedings for an offence under this section shall not be instituted—
  • (a) in England and Wales except by or with the consent of the Attorney General or the Secretary of State; or
  • (b) in Northern Ireland, except by or with the consent of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland or the Secretary of State.
  • (11) Any document required or authorised, by virtue of any statutory provision, to be served for the purpose of the institution of, or otherwise in connection with, proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) shall, where it is to be served on a person who was, at the time of the alleged offence—
  • (a) the owner of the ship in question, or
  • (b) such a charterer by demise or manager of that ship as is mentioned in subsection (2),
  • be treated as duly served on that person if—
  • (i) sent to him by post at his last-known address (whether of his residence or of a place where he carries on business), or
  • (ii) left for him at that address,
  • if the document is served on the master of the ship in question.
    (12) In this section "management agreement" has the same meaning as in section 29.'.—[Mr. Channon.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 7

    Application Of Merchant Shipping Acts To Ships Chartered By Demise To The Crown

    To move the following Clause: —

    `(1) This section applies to a ship if for the time being—
  • (a) the ship is—
  • (i) registered in the United Kingdom, and
  • (ii) in the service of a government department ("the relevant department") by reason of a charter by demise to the Crown; and
  • (b) there is in force under section 80 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 (Government ships) an Order in Council providing for the registration of Government ships in the service of the relevant department.
  • (2) Where this section applies to any ship, the following statutory provisions, namely—
  • (a) the provisions of the Order in Council referred to in subsection (1)(b) (excluding those relating to registration under the Order), and
  • (b) the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts (as they apply by virtue of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 and that Order in Council),
  • shall (subject to subsections (3) and (4)) have the same effect in relation to that ship as they have in relation to a Government ship in the service of the relevant department (whether referred to as such or as such a ship registered in pursuance of that Order in Council).
    (3) Subject to subsection (4), the registration enactments shall have effect in relation to a ship to which this section applies in like manner as if it were not, for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Acts, a ship belonging to Her Majesty.
    (4) Her Majesty may by Order in Council provide that any statutory provision falling within subsection (2) or (3) and specified in the Order—
  • (a) shall not have effect in accordance with that subsection in relation to a ship to which this section applies, or
  • (b) shall so have effect in relation to such a ship, but subject to such modifications as are specified in the Order.
  • (5) In the application of any provision of the Merchant Shipping Act, (other than a provision of the registration enactments) in relation to a ship to which this section applies, any reference to the owner of the ship shall be construed as a reference to the relevant department.
    (6) An Order in Council under this section—
  • (a) may make such transitional, incidental or supplementary provision as appears to Her Majesty to be necessary or expedient: and
  • (b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  • (7) In this section—
    "government department" includes a Northern Ireland department;
    "Government ship" means a Government ship within the meaning of section 80 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906;
    "the registration enactment" means—
  • (a) the provisions of Part I of the 1984 Act down to and including section 67 of that Act;
  • (b) section 5 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1983; and
  • (c) Parts I and II of this Act.'. — [Mr. David Mitchell.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

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

    The purpose of the new clause is to clarify the position of British-registered ships chartered by demise to the Crown and in the service of Government Departments.

    The point of difficulty arises in connection with demise-chartered ships. For those not familiar with the phrase, it refers to the lease of the whole ship. The problem arises because there is some uncertainty concerning the application of the Merchant Shipping Acts. It is arguable that they are in the position of fully registered British ships or that, for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Acts, they are in the position of unregistered
    "ships belonging to Her Majesty"
    and therefore may be outside the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts. It is clearly of benefit to remove any such doubts, and the new clause will clarify the legal position of all demise-chartered ships in the service of any Government Department.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 8

    Duty Of Owner Of Registered Ship To Secure Termination Of Any Overseas Registration

  • `(1) Where a ship becomes registered at a time when it is already registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom, the owner of the ship shall take all reasonable steps to secure the termination of the ship's registration under the law of that country.
  • (2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall he guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the third level on the standard scale.
  • (3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a ship which becomes registered in pursuance of section 53B of the 1894 Act (transfer of registration under that Act from overseas territory).'.—[Mr. David Mitchell.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this, we may take Government amendments Nos. 2, 43, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 58.

    The new clause and amendments are principally concerned with making it clearer in United Kingdom law that a ship or fishing vessel should not be registered both in the United Kingdom and in a foreign country.

    Question put and agreed to.

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

    New Clause 9

    Application To Unregistered Ships

    '(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations specifying any description of unregistered ships and directing that such of the provisions of sections 29, 30 and 32 as may be specified in the regulations—
  • (a) shall extend to unregistered ships of that description, or
  • (b) shall so extend in such circumstances as may be so specified.
  • with such modifications (if any) as may be so specified.
    (2) Subsection (1) shall not be construed as prejudicing the application to unregistered ships of section 29(1)(a) or section 32(2)(a)(iii).
    (3) In this section "unregistered ship" means a ship which is not registered in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.'.—[Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.

    The purpose of the amendments is to tidy up the application of clauses 29 to 32 to unregistered ships, particularly the application to ships that might be termed "unregistered United Kingdom ships" when outside United Kingdom ports and territorial waters.

    I should make it clear that the vast majority of unregistered ships are in fact pleasure craft. Although many pleasure craft are registered, because it is a common requirement imposed by banks in order to mortgage a ship, the smaller ones are often not. A more famous—or infamous—category of unregistered ships are pirate radio ships and there are occasional irregularities involving ships that have been removed from one register and not placed on another.

    The House will note that the amendments make no change to the existing application of clauses 29 to 32 to any ship, whether registered or not, when in United Kingdom ports or territorial waters. Their primary aim is to enable all four clauses to be applied to unregistered ships with a United Kingdom connection when outside United Kingdom waters, in the same way as United Kingdom registered ships are so covered. In fact, there are provisions in clause 30(2)(b) and clause 32(2)(a)(ii) which attempt to do that, but they are unsatisfactory because, for example, clause 30(2)(b) would catch ships owned entirely by citizens of a dependent territory that had no United Kingdom connection at all. Those two provisions are therefore deleted and an order-making power substituted by the new clause. We anticipate laying orders in that respect later in the year.

    New Clause 3

    Application Of Civil Jurisdiction And Judgements Act 1982

    'The provisions of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 shall not apply to vessels registered pursuant to section 12 of this Act where such application would mean that a vessel would pass from the jurisdiction of a Scottish Court to that of a Welsh court.'.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

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

    The new clause arises from concern about the impact of the Bill on jurisdiction of the Scottish courts over Scottish fishing vessels. We are worried about the establishment of the centralised register in Cardiff as it relates to the provisions of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982, schedule 8, paragraph 4 of which provides that for proceedings
    "which have as their object the validity of entries in public registers"
    the appropriate court in which to pursue the action is that for the place where the register is kept. Obviously that raises grave doubts about the jurisdiction of Scottish courts over Scottish fishing vessels, given the establishment of the centralised register in Cardiff.

    I hope that the Minister will allay the fears that have been expressed over three specific matters. First, can there be a challenge to the validity of entries in the register and would that take place in the Scottish or in the Welsh courts? Secondly, will a challenge to the refusal of an entry on the register — which could take place by judicial review—still be able to take place in Scottish courts? The third question is whether Scottish courts will retain jurisdiction over the affairs of Scottish fishing vessels.

    9 pm

    These are not minor matters of legal nicety but concern about an individual's right of redress. I recently came across somebody—a constituent of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)—who was pursuing a considerable case against British Telecom because his Cellnet machine was not working properly. He was at a fairly advanced stage of preparing his case when BT told him imperiously that it would not answer to his case in any Scottish court because it is registered in London.

    There is a great danger that, if there is a dispute involving Scottish fishing vessels, the relevant parties might, unbelievably, have to travel to Wales to fight the case. Clause 20 of BT's contract provides that any dispute must be taken in an English court. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is utterly unacceptable to the people of Scotland.

    That is a helpful intervention and it emphasises the general support for the proposition that the Bill should not inadvertently remove legal affairs involving Scottish fishing vessels from the jurisdiction of Scottish courts.

    I am sure that that was not the Government's intention and that if there is any threat to the jurisdiction of Scottish courts, it is an accident. The Government are, however, responsible for persuading the House that they intend to tackle the matter. They can either accept new clause 3, which would remove from the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 the registration of Scottish fishing vessels and prevent jurisdiction from being moved to Welsh courts, or the matter could be tackled by regulation. The Government could thus provide that the port of registration is where the register is kept, rather than there being a central register in Cardiff. Whichever route the Government choose, they have a responsibility to allay the anxieties which arise out of the transfer of jurisdiction affecting Scottish fishing vessels from Scottish to Welsh courts.

    I also am worried about the possible effect of the Bill on Scottish fishing vessels. I wrote to the Minister, who reassured me that disputes involving registration would be decided in a Scottish court and that matters such as those which would arise out of a collision could also be dealt with in a Scottish court. He said, however, that disputes about the validity of registration, which I took to mean the particulars of a vessel, would still he decided in a Welsh court.

    I should like the Minister to confirm that my impression is correct. He said that disputes about the validity of a register entry are rare. Will he take on board the worries that have been expressed by Opposition Members and fishermen? Fishermen are worried that in, for example, a dispute about the particulars of an entry, they would have to go down to Wales. If such disputes became fairly common, perhaps the Minister would he willing to reconsider what the Bill proposes.

    As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has explained, under the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, it is a requirement, in proceedings about the validity of entries in a public register, for the courts where the register is held to have exclusive jurisdiction. That means that when the central register of fishing vessels is established in Cardiff, it will be for the courts in England and Wales to exercise jurisdiction in any such proceedings related to that register.

    I do not believe that it would be sensible to depart from established practice in these matters, but I can reassure the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald), who made inquiries a few weeks ago, that actions that challenge the validity of entries in the register are extremely rare, and that jurisdiction of the Scottish courts over other matters concerning fishing vessels will not be affected by the establishment of the register for fishing in Cardiff.

    The more important and more likely challenge concerning registration would be a challenge to a decision by the Secretary of State to refuse registration, or to deregister a vessel. Such a challenge would be by way of a request for judicial review and could be brought in courts anywhere in the United Kingdom. In such cases, it would therefore be open to a fishing vessel owner to sue in Scotland if he so wished. In a whole host of other cases involving fishing boats, such as collision actions and wage disputes, the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is not affected.

    What would be the position if mortgages were registered against a ship in the Welsh courts and there was a dispute about that? Would that have to be done in the Welsh courts?

    If a dispute arises over the question of mortgages, that is for the Scottish courts, because that is where the issue arises. If it is a dispute about the register, then it would be a matter for the English or Welsh courts.

    Is it possible for the Minister of State to qualify how rare is rare? How rare are challenges of the validity of entries? It would help if the House were to know how minor is the matter we are discussing.

    How rare is rare is a question that often exercises one's mind, but not in the precise circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Such challenges are so rare that I am not aware of a case.

    I thank the Minister for going into such detail and for attempting to quantify how rare is rare. The House is broadly assured by what the Minister has said. I hope that he will keep the matter under review to make sure that no inconvenience to Scottish fishermen arises out of the legislation.

    I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    New Clause 4

    Trade Disputes Involving Seamen

    `1.—That section 42 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 be amended to include the following at the end :—
    "3. — That notwithstanding anything in any agreement, seamen in any ship registered in the United Kingdom and securely moored in a safe berth, shall have the right to combine with other seamen in contemplation of furtherance of a trade dispute and lo refuse to go to sea until such time as a ballot has been held for the furtherance of that dispute. Furthermore that any action taken under this section shall not render a seaman liable for breach of contract, and that:—
  • (a) a seamen shall be entitled to disobey any order that would require him to go to sea.
  • (b) it shall be an offence for any person to issue an order to go to sea after the giving of such a notice, and prior to either, the holding of a ballot, or the withdrawal of the notice.".'. —[Mr. Robert Hughes.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this, it will be convenient to take new clause 6—Trade disputes involving seamen

    '1. That the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 be amended in accordance with the following provisions of this section.
    2. In section 42 shall be inserted a new subsection as follows:—
    "(3) Notwithstanding anything in any agreement, a seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom may terminate his employment in that ship by leaving the ship in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute after giving the master not less than forty-eight hours notice of his intention to do so, and shall not be compelled (unless the notice is withdrawn) to go to sea in the forty-eight hours following the giving of such a notice; but such a notice shall have no effect unless at the time it is given the ship is securely moored in a safe berth."
    3. In section 30 for the words from the beginning of paragraph (c) to the end there shall be substituted—
    "(c) combines with other seamen employed in that ship—
  • (i) to disobey lawful commands which are required to be obeyed at a time when the ship is at sea;
  • (ii) to neglect any duty which is required to be discharged at such a time; or
  • (iii) to impede, at such a time, the progress of a voyage or the navigation of the ship,
  • But not when the ship is securely moored, under which circumstances any such actions that may be taken in furtherance of a trade dispute, will not render a seaman liable to action for breach of contract,
    He shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100.
    For the purposes of this section a ship shall be treated as being at sea at any time when it is not securely moored in a safe berth."
    4. That section 19(4) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1974, be deleted and replaced by subsection (3) above.'.

    New clause 4 deals with trade disputes involving seamen. It might be helpful to the House if I set out some of the background as to why we believe new clause 4 is necessary.

    Those with long memories will recall that in 1966 there was a series of industrial disputes involving seamen. As a result, the Pearson committee was set up. Arising out of the report of the Pearson committee, the Merchant Shipping Act 1970 included section 42(2) which conceded for the first time a legal right for seafarers to strike. Admittedly, that concession was in a convoluted form. Section 42(2) effectively allows seafarers to terminate their contracts of employment on a ship by giving the master 48 hours notice. During those 48 hours, provided that the notice was given in furtherance of an industrial dispute, seamen could not be compelled to go to sea.

    It is interesting that the General Council of British Shipping argued that it was perfectly possible for seamen to be compelled to take ferries to sea within those 48 hours if the journey could be completed within 48 hours. Some limitation was placed on the 48 hours' notice. First, the ship had to be securely moored in a safe berth, and no one would object to that. Secondly, the vessel had to be securely moored in a safe berth in the United Kingdom. The provision applied only to the United Kingdom.

    Ther Merchant Shipping Act 1974, in section 19, extended the right to strike in an even more convoluted way. Section 19 exempts a seaman from disciplinary action for disregarding a master's lawful command if he is combining with other seamen for an industrial dispute. Again, that right is limited to the secure berth of the ship. Section 19 extends the right to strike to any place in the world, unlike section 42(2) of the 1970 Act which is limited to the United Kingdom.

    That is how matters stood until, regrettably, in another place, Lord Brabazon of Tara accepted a Back-Bench amendment to delete section 42(2) of the 1970 Act. Section 19 of the 1974 Act remains in being.

    There were a number of debates in the other place. We also had a debate in Committee. I emphasise that no firm evidence was produced either in the other place or in Committee to justify the removal of section 42(2) from the 1970 Act. There was anecdotal evidence from Lord Mottistone and the Earl of Inchcape. They said that the system was being abused. I am afraid that the gullible Lord Brabazon of Tara accepted his colleagues' tales and was persuaded by his noble Friends to accept the amendment.

    We objected to that on Second Reading. We believe that the amendment was smuggled in at the last moment. We warned the Government that we would raise the matter in Committee and we pressed them very strongly on it. I expected that in Committee the Government would be extremely well briefed and that they would provide many examples of the Act having been used. Even if the civil servants were unable to produce evidence, we expected that the Minister's friends in the shipping industry would be able to provide reasons for this change in the law.

    We pressed the Minister extremely hard, because he resisted the restoration of the original text. Finally, we were told why the change had been made. He said:
    "The hon. Gentleman asks me for examples and I shall give him some. There were such abuses by the National Union of Seamen at Dover during the 1981 pay dispute and by crews of P & O ships at Portsmouth in 1984 when they were taken over by Townsend Thoresen. I trust that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to defend such actions."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 1 March 1988; c. 204–5.]
    That was all the evidence that he could produce after having had all the time in the world to examine the matter. His explanation was pretty limp, even by his standards.

    It would be foolish of me to say that section 42(2) has not been used recently. I know that it has been used. It was used in Aberdeen, for example, to prevent a P and O vessel, the St. Sunniva, from going to sea. It has never been part of the Opposition's case that section 42 has not been used. It does not matter how much the Government claim that people have the right to strike and take industrial action if, when they exercise that right, they describe it as an abuse.

    The Government are guilty of equating the words "use" and "abuse" with industrial relations. They do not really believe in the rights of free trade unions—at least, not in the United Kingdom. Perhaps they believe in free trade unions if they are established in Poland. Perhaps the Prime Minister supports Solidarity in Poland. If she does, it is only rhetorical support from a very safe distance. If it is close to home, we know how matters stand.

    Industrial relations have moved on a great deal since 1970, but they have not moved on in any good sense for seamen. Matters have come to a pretty pass. A trade union that wishes to hold a ballot on industrial action is taken to court to decide whether it is legal to hold that ballot. Furthermore, if a trade union holds a ballot, it can be taken to court and prevented from counting the votes. I do not know where we are going; it is hammering the trade unions very hard. Shipowners are allowed to make provocative statements that I would class as secondary action, but the National Union of Seamen is not allowed to take industrial action if it is regarded as secondary action.

    I recognise that people's minds are concentrated on the fact that there is a dispute at Dover and that their travel plans will be disrupted. Inevitably, given the nature of society, the National Union of Seamen is under severe attack for its part in the dispute.

    9.15 pm

    I regret very much the disruption of the Easter holiday traffic. [HON. MEMBERS: "Crocodile tears."] There are no crocodile tears. I genuinely believe that it is a great pity that the dispute is taking place. The seamen also regret it. They would far rather be at sea at a time of year when they are expecting good returns for their work.

    I do not believe—this is reflected in the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) — that the seamen's case has been given a fair hearing. It is all too easy to portray them as strikers trying to hold back the tide — trying to hold up the progress of the ferry service, and to neglect the seriousness of the position. That is clearly not the case. It must be made clear that the National Union of Seamen accepts that the Channel tunnel will lead to a rationalisation of cross-Channel ferry services.

    The National Union of Seamen has agreed that P and O's proposals on manning—which are what the dispute is about — can be implemented over three years. It is prepared to do that, first, to minimise the effects on crews—that, after all, is why it is in business—and, secondly, to allow the effects on safety of the new manning systems to be monitored. That is an extremely responsible attitude for a trade union to take.

    The union accepts that the company must show a healthy profit and face the challenges ahead. In those circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable to ask, "Why the current impasse in the industrial dispute?" Again, it is necessary to set the scene.

    In October 1987, Jeffrey Sterling met the Dover P and 0 port committee — the shop stewards — and, after discussion, gave them an undertaking that any redundancies and changes in terms and conditions of employment would be phased in with the opening of the Channel tunnel, which is forecast for 1992–93.

    Suddenly, on 4 December 1987, P and O reneged on that promise. It notified the National Union of Seamen that the existing agreement would end on 4 March. That would mean 400 redundancies, 10 days' loss of annual leave with no compensatory payments, the loss of various payments for additional hours worked—which would cost the seamen between £8·25 and £40 a week—and an increase in shipboard working from 12 to 16 hours a day. Currently, the shift pattern is 24 hours on and 24 hours off. It is now being asked that that should change to 72 hours on and 72 hours off, over a longer period.

    In debates such as this, we should be fair. Let me put the case for P and O. P and O argues that the changes are necessary to meet the challenge of the Channel tunnel—which is still a long way off, but we will leave that aside. P and O says that it is also necessary to prepare for loss of earnings to the company because of the loss of the duty-free concessions due to come in in 1992. We are still four years away from that.

    What interests me particularly is that the company says that it needs the changes because it must prepare for the effects of the introduction of value added tax on passenger transport. Apparently, the company knows something that the Government will not admit. We have been pressing the Minister of State for nearly a year to give an absolute guarantee that he will veto the imposition of VAT on passenger fares, whether on bus services, railways, ferries or aircraft, but he sits quiet and will not concede the point. He pushes the matter over to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or to the Chancellor. Any excuse will do. He says that it is nothing to do with him.

    The hon. Gentleman nods. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has given in."] But P and O knows, and it is using the imposition of VAT as part of its case.

    P and O also states that it wishes to increase its return on investment from 10 to 12 per cent. at present to 25 to 27 per cent. It wants to double its profit margin. So far, it has done extremely well. It has declared an additional £100 million profit this year. We cannot bargain on these issues across the Floor of the House and I do not seek to usurp the negotiating rights of the National Union of Seamen, but the information that we have published shows clearly that the seamen have a very fair and reasonable case. They are right to be angry that their only weapon of self-defence—industrial action—has been whittled away and eroded.

    I hope that the Government will accept the principle of the new clauses. The Minister or State is a reasonable man and will have studied the arguments carefully since the Committee stage. If he has done that, I am sure that he will see the merit of our case.

    May we take it that the new clauses embrace fishermen employed by trawler companies? As a Member from Aberdeen, my hon. Friend will know as well as I that there are rarely trade disputes involving what are colloquially known as share fishermen, but that is not the case in relation to those employed by trawler companies. As my hon. Friend knows, those companies have made something of a comeback in the British fishing industry. It is important, therefore, to be sure that the term "seamen" includes fishermen employed by trawler companies.

    So far as I am aware, people employed by trawler companies in Aberdeen are covered in all aspects by the Merchant Shipping Act, so there is no doubt at all that the new clause would apply to them. Over the years, we have seen the necessity of protecting the rights of fishermen and seamen of all kinds. We intend to enhance their right to strike and to take industrial action in their defence.

    If there are technical drafting deficiencies — that is always the first port of call of a Minister who wishes to resist an amendment or a new clause — all the new clauses and amendments, of which volumes have been tabled by the Government, will have to be ratified in another place, so any drafting deficiencies could be put right at that stage.

    I wish to make the principles in the new clauses clear. We seek to restore to the Bill section 42 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970. We also seek to go further than that. In our view, that section is so important that it should apply to ports outside the United Kingdom. We do not see why that right to take industrial action should be confined to United Kingdom ports. We want to see that right extended, although I emphasise that we retain the safeguard that the ship must be securely moored in a safe berth.

    I should also make it clear that when action is taken in furtherance of an industrial dispute, neither the seamen nor the union should be made liable for damages in terms of breach of contract so long as a ballot is under way or has been taken. The right of employers to free and easy access to the courts to take action against unions for damages has seriously damaged the trade union movement and it does not help industrial relations. If new clauses 4 and 6 were accepted, that would go a long way towards redressing the balance between employers and employees, which has been tilted far too much to the employers' advantage.

    Seamen, especially those working on ferries, are under intense pressure. I accept that to some extent the Channel tunnel will pose problems for the ferries, although I do not believe that the damage will be as great as many people fear. I object to the way in which the employers are maximising the fears of the effects of the tunnel to seek terms advantageous for themselves and disadvantageous for their employees.

    The current problem with industrial relations on ferries is not helped by the astonishingly intemperate remarks by Mr. Sherwood of Sealink, who said that if P and O succeeded in imposing conditions on its employees, Sealink intended to do the same.

    Yes, it is secondary action. If Sealink seamen take action to prevent their employer forcing conditions on them, the employer's response will be, "I can ride on the back of P and O's success." They are not allowed to help the P and O seamen and, as a consequence, help themselves.

    I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's comments about Mr. Sherwood, but we should not necessarily believe that he is typical. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be hard to find a worse employer in the whole of British industry?

    That is a very fair comment. On transport, if not on other matters, the hon. Gentleman can generally be relied upon to bring some sense to our discussions. He has a keen interest in the subject. Whether or not Mr. Sherwood is typical, he is nevertheless issuing threats to his employees. Surely they have the right to defend themselves. They cannot wait until P and O has succeeded in imposing conditions on its employees, because by then the P and O dispute will have ended and its workers will be unable to strike to help the Sealink workers.

    It is quite wrong to believe that there are separate disputes in the ferry business, with primary and secondary action. It is all one series of actions. It is intolerable that seamen, especially those on the ferries, should be put under such intense pressure. We must give them the best possible defence. They should have the best possible law to assist them to protect their reasonable and valid interests in their employment, their prospects, their wages and their conditions. New clauses 4 and 6 would achieve that, and I ask the House to accept them.

    I should like to respond briefly to the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). I think that he will agree that it was not clear from the way in which he moved the new clause whether he was arguing in general terms about improving industrial relations and about the machinery for consultation in the industry, or whether he is arguing the case of the National Union of Seamen in the P and O dispute. I found his arguments fairly mixed up.

    I am grateful to have the opportunity to make the record clear. First, I believe that, in general terms, our new clauses are right. Secondly, it is perfectly legitimate in this debate to put the case of the seamen which, regrettably, has not been properly presented by the public press.

    On that latter point, I do not think that hon. Members do well in trying to settle industrial disputes across the Floor of the House on the Report stage of a Bill. It has been my own industrial experience that we are not the best forum for doing that. Therefore, I shall say no more about that dispute, other than very much to regret it.

    In the present state of the British merchant shipping industry, we should be talking about how we meet competition from other countries and about the ways in which we could work closely together, rather than about the way in which we enhance disputes. I should like us to spend our time examining how we can get rid of disputes and achieve instead agreement and co-operation.

    9.30 pm

    Of course the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North is perfectly right about the problem about holding ballots when ships are at sea. That is remarkably difficult. To that extent it is perfectly proper to discuss the way in which ballots for seamen are to be arranged, if we are to have them. I do not believe that either of the new clauses makes that proposition any easier. Indeed, it seems that, if put into the Bill in the form in which they appear on the Order Paper, both new clauses would give seafarers rights which no other trade unionists have in any other industry in the country. We should be trying to put seafarers in the same position as the remainder of British industry. That goes for both sides—the employers and the employees.

    I do not want to go through a critique of the new clauses, because I know that the House wants to proceed with the Bill. However, I do not want it to go unrecorded that one could make quite a long critique of them. I hope that the spirit with which we have been handling the Bill—one of seeking co-operation between all parties—will continue. I accept entirely that not every shipowner and not everyone in management is what I would regard as the ideal spokesman that I would invite if I were running a conference on good co-operation in industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has raised that point. It is important that this House tells all parties in the British shipping industry that some of us have been shouting the odds for the British Merchant Navy for a long time in the House.

    I hope that the sufficient response will be that everyone in the industry gets together and works together; otherwise, the competition will continue to take trade away from us. Much of that competition comes not from Europe, but from the far east. Perhaps I will be accused of racialism, but personally I do not want to see all this country's trade being run from the far east. I am sure that that is the general mood of the House. I hope that we can achieve a spirit of co-operation, not of conflict.

    I have listened to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), whom I have heard before on matters relating to industry and have always found interesting. However, I think that he would agree that we are talking about a different industry from the day-to-day work experience of most people. I worked in the engineering industry and if I had to put up with bad conditions there, it was for only eight hours of the day. However, seamen are sometimes at sea for six to seven months, and the ship is home to them for 24 hours a day, so fair's fair. Yes, in the new clauses we are asking for something different from the provisions relating to other industries, but we are dealing with a different industry.

    Captains can be tyrants and hopeless individuals who would not last 10 minutes in other industries. Seamen often have to put up with indignities and with the captain having many powers over them.

    I am the son of a seaman. My father was a member of the National Union of Seamen all his working life. He had to go to sea because of the great depression; it was the only work that he could find. So bad were the conditions that he was given a voucher in the port of Glasgow to buy his bedding to take to sea. As a stoker, he had a filthy job and at the end of his watch he received one bucket of hot water with which to wash himself. Men worked in those conditions, and the National Union of Seamen had to fight against them.

    When my father was taken ill abroad, he was put ashore in places such as Canada, Egypt and countries in the far east, and the company did not even have the decency to let my mother know that her seaman's allotment would not be paid into the post office for a while. The union looked after the family and it looked after my father, who was regarded as a distressed British seaman.

    I recall my mother telling me that on his first trip my father was put ashore in Canada because he had a poisoned hand. He was put ashore because the captain received a bonus for having a healthy crew. To its credit, the union made sure that he was looked after in Canada for six months, and I put it on record that the Canadian people looked after a young seaman much better than the British Government or the shipping company did.

    My father's ships were torpedoed three times, and many of the boys with whom he was brought up were lost during the war. I know that he would like me to say that, as a civilian community and a work force, the merchant marine lost more members during the war than any other. When I went out for a walk today, outside the Tower of London I saw a monument to British merchant seamen and fishermen.

    I am not a member of the National Union of Seamen, but I am proud of its record. It fought against a system whereby captains were allowed to keep one third of seamen's basic pay so that they could discipline them if they got up to any mischief. The union fought against the voucher system. It fought for better pay and conditions. It is a sad day when we start to consider that industry in the same light as other industries. The Government must always consider new ways of helping seamen.

    The new clause would not create bad industrial relations—anything but. Evening considering some of the conditions in which seamen must work, I believe that industrial relations between the NUS and employers are good. I remember what seamen had to put up with in the past. I support the new clauses, and I hope that we can all remember that British seamen deserve a better deal.

    As I understand it, the new clause is about whether it is safe to have an industrial dispute on board ship. The seamen to whom I have spoken believe that it is safe and I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will say whether the Government believe that that is the case. It is noteworthy that this new clause is amending an Act that has been in existence under both Conservative and Labour Governments.

    I believe that the Floor of the House is the wrong place to raise an industrial dispute between a company and—

    Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he said at the beginning of his speech about it being safe to have an industrial dispute on board ship? As the law stood and as our new clause has made clear, an industrial dispute can take place only when the vessel is safely moored at a berth.

    I accept that, but the key issue is not whether it is safe for the men and for the officers, but for any passengers who may or may not be on board or anyone in the port area involved with that ship. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment upon that. I believe that that is the important question and I have no doubt that the public share my concern.

    I do not believe that the Floor of the House is the right place to raise an industrial dispute that has severely affected my constituency in the past three months. I believe that such a course of action could inflame the dispute and make matters worse rather than improve the situation. When the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) spoke about the industrial dispute, I trust that he was not seeking to make matters worse because that would be the greatest tragedy of the dispute.

    The seamen have put a strong case to me with regard to safety. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North did not say much about safety. I believe that there are important issues concerning the safety of the crew, passengers and all those involved in putting ships to sea.

    I did not seek to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I should like to continue.

    I fervently hope that an agreement is reached in the dispute. I have no vested interest in an agreement not being reached, unlike some other hon. Members. My interest in representing my constituency is that such an agreement should be reached as soon as possible and that it will not only be of benefit to the seamen and to officers, but of benefit to the public, the passengers and the company. Surely that must be good for everyone.

    Such an agreement must be safe for the seamen and for the passengers. It must also be fair. A number of seamen have said that an agreement with the officers may be unfair in relation to their agreement. Any agreement reached must be fair to the seamen and to the officers—both agreements should stand side by side.

    During the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North I was extremely upset. He said that he wanted to be fair to the company, but I do not believe that anything he said was fair to the company. I hold no brief for the company, but I hold a brief for the consituency of Dover.

    9.45 pm

    I have only a constituency interest.

    I have a brief that requires everyone to be given a fair hearing, so that it is in the interests of the seamen to go to sea and of the company to run the ships. If either side is given an unfair advantage over the other, the other will withdraw from the negotiations, which is not satisfactory.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North gave profit figures of more than £100 million. He should look at the company results of Townsend Thoresen and Sealink. The turnover of each of those companies is only slightly more than £100 million, but their profits are considerably less. In the meetings that I have had with seamen they have not suggested that profits were so high.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North talked about the problems of the Channel tunnel being deferred until 1993. The Channel tunnel company has just raised £5 billion. The company and the seamen must be able to compete in 1993 against a project for which I hold no brief, which I do not like and which I have been against since 1973. Many Opposition Members voted for the Channel tunnel, which was appalling enough. Not only will it come into being in 1993 but there is a real risk that duty-free sales will be lost. We in Dover must face these facts.

    It is no good saying that we can wait until 1 January 1990, or until 1 July. In Dover, the local authority, the shipping companies and the seamen have to plan today for the future. We cannot delay.

    Without balanced argument and discussion on both sides, the company will be forced into a political debate, rather than a discussion based on common sense. People should have the opportunity to get together; all parties in Dover need to get together. The company needs to be able to survive and trade successfully and the seamen and officers should be able to work in reasonable conditions and reasonable safety. Speeches that bash any side in the dispute will get us nowhere.

    The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is the first basher that we have heard during the debate.

    The new clause deals with the rights of seamen under the conditions that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) outlined. It deals with whether seamen should have the right, which other workers have, to withdraw their labour in certain circumstances—for example, when a vessel is berthed. If the hon. Member for Dover considered the matter, he might realise that one of those circumstances could arise if a vessel was not safe, in the opinion of its crew. If they felt that it should not be taken to sea because it was in an unsafe condition, they would then have the right not to sail it. At present, there is no right to object to sailing a vessel in that way, or to take such action.

    We ought to examine the Government's attitude to trade unions in general and seamen in particular. I spent the whole war at sea. I went to sea before and after the war, so I know what happened at sea in the pre-war period, when we sailed in rust buckets and old tubs that were often not safe to be at sea at all.

    The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) was lucky to have a bucket of hot water—such a thing was unavailable on many of the vessels on which I sailed in the pre-war period. We had to bring our own bunks aboard — straw mattresses covered with a piece of hessian that cost half-a-crown on the dock in Liverpool before we joined the vessel. Those were the conditions that prevailed for seamen. A tin of condensed milk had to last a month, and a seaman had to whittle two pieces of wood and peg them through two holes to keep out the jaspers for the rest of the voyage.

    Seamen worked in such conditions before and during the war. There may have been reasons for that during the war because everyone was affected by the war. The ships and tramps that I served on were taken over for cargo, which was stowed in the very cabins in which we were living. We accepted such conditions during the war because seamen and people on shore just had to put up with them.

    There is a press-gang mentality which says that seamen are a different breed and can be treated in a second, third or fourth-class way by their employers and by the Government who allegedly legislate on their behalf. It is about time that the Government started to take an interest in seamen. Seamen were the first to be affected by the war. On 3 September 1939, seamen were killed. They were the only group of people in Britain who were immediately affected by the war, and that continued right through the war. One would have thought that after the war the Government would have altered their mental attitude and that seamen would have been treated as other workers and given the same rights. Many of the constraints and restrictions that are part of the seaman's life should have been removed.

    A seagoing vessel must be safe, because seamen carry burdens that would not be borne by people on shore. People working in power stations and firemen have to respond to emergencies. Those workers have seen changes that give them rights, but seamen are still excluded from almost every piece of progressive industrial legislation affecting health and safety. For some reason unknown to me, to seamen and to the National Union of Seamen, seafarers are excluded from the rights and privileges that almost every other worker enjoys. My hon. Friends were right to press that point.

    The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) talked about industrial relations. How can industrial relations improve when the balance has shifted so heavily in favour of the employer? How are workers to respond when they have hanging over them the penalty of sequestration of union funds? How will seamen respond to the fact that, before a ballot is taken, an employer can go to the court? It is a denial of democracy when employers can go to court and demand that seamen should be constrained in their attempts to fight for better conditions.

    People do not get round a table today to negotiate; they go to the courts. Discussions round a table have been eroded not by seamen but by legislation. The Government have taken the trade union away from the negotiating table and into the courts. The fact that that is welcomed by Conservative Members means that the future is dim for trade unions.

    Seamen should have the same rights as other workers to take action when they know that the working conditions that obtain on a vessel are unacceptable. When the ship is in a safe berth, the seamen on board should have the right to withdraw their labour. Seamen should not be denied that right, and there is no justification for denying it.

    Hon. Members should seriously consider the matter of discrimination against seamen who do a dangerous job in normal times and a far more dangerous one in time of war. Their only reward has been to be discriminated against by legislation and by employers. I hope that the House recognises that it is about time that that discrimination was ended and that seamen were given the rights that they deserve.

    I shall be extremely brief. We have enjoyed the nostalgic reminiscences of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden).

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to suggest that I try to take a reasonably impartial view of these matters. However, if the hon. Member for Garston recalls the words of a former leader of his party, Lord Wilson, in 1966, about the National Union of Seamen being a tightly knit group of politically motivated men, he will appreciate that the balance is probably about right as the Bill stands.

    In response to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), I wish to say that I was one of those politically motivated men in the 1960s. The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that, if I were one of them, there might have been an element of justice on their side during those years.

    I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw). The premier ferry port in the United Kingdom is in his constituency and some of his constituents are members of the National Union of Seamen. I accept some of his comments. I have a little sympathy with the hon. Gentleman when he says that we should not progress this industrial dispute in the House of Commons because it is not the right place to do so, but, in one line of the Bill, the Government are withdrawing seamen's rights to take industrial action. The forum for this issue is therefore this Chamber this evening. It is here and now.

    In one line of a schedule, the Government are removing the democratic rights of seamen to progress an industrial dispute. If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of the Government's proposals, I suggest that he goes back to Dover tomorrow and tells the members of the NUS in his constituency that the Government are revoking their democratic rights.

    I do not want to detain the House very long. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Garston, for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), I was a member of the NUS in my formative years. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston that, in my time, we got two tins of Coni Onie a week, not just one a month.

    The Navy was benevolent in those days.

    The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and I have had this conversation many times in the Chamber over the years. In any port in the world, one could see the red duster. The British merchant fleet was the world's premier merchant fleet. The hon. Gentleman and I and Sir Edward du Cann and Lord Callaghan have lamented the fact that the British merchant fleet has sunk so low and is but a pale shadow of its former self. The hon. Gentleman and I both know that, for an island trading nation such as ours, with our maritime history, that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

    The hon. Gentleman and I have told the Government that something should be done to stop the rot and the way in which our Merchant Navy has been reduced over the years. The other people in the vanguard of the defence of the merchant marine have been the NUS. In document after document, the NUS has defended its service and told the Government that there should be a different way in which to stop the fleet being diminished.

    I pay tribute to the NUS, because it has at heart the best interests of this country, this trading nation. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston talking about the war, when many merchant seamen lost their lives. We can recount an occasion that is a little nearer to home. Only a few years ago, during the Falklands dispute—

    It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

    Ordered,

    That, at this day's sitting, the Merchant Shipping Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Durant.]

    Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

    That was a minor Exocet.

    During the Falklands dispute, which lives in our memory, the British merchant marine and members of the National Union of Seamen, were the first to come to the colours. These men, constituents of the hon. Member for Dover and other hon. Members, are the people from whom the House, by the passage of the Bill, is seeking to withdraw rights.

    Never mind the Minister shaking his head. I have told the hon. Gentleman for the past eight years that the truth is not what he thinks it is but what is in writing. What is in writing is the fact that seamen will not be able to take the industrial action that they might want to.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is a reasonable man, and he has drafted the new clauses before the House. They are in line with what the Government have been doing in terms of trade union legislation. My hon. Friend wants a ballot. He does not want a dispute at sea. Disputes have to occur when the ship is moored. What could be more reasonable?

    My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) has shown how seamen are different from other industrial workers. The records of the Merchant Navy and the NUS over 50 years show that industrial disputes were not needed. There were few of them. We do not have a great militant group of people, but reasonable people who are prepared to come to the defence of their country in time of war. Their reward is that this Conservative Government will, by this one Bill, deny them the basic democratic rights that are afforded to almost everyone else in the civilised world. That is why I shall vote for this new clause.

    One or two other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall try to be brief. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends who have spoken already about the right to strike. That is one of the few freedoms — the most important freedom — for working men and women. If the Government continue down this road much further, that right will be removed from more groups of workers than the seamen. In the cause of trying to abolish Socialism—the Prime Minister's words—they would like to remove completely the right to strike from every section of the working class. Therefore, this is an extremely important debate.

    The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) comes in here and talks about how we should not discuss industrial relations on the Floor of the House. I have sat in here over the past fortnight, Mr. Speaker, and you and I have had to bear it all, day in, day out, listening to the Tory yobboes talking about Dundee. Industrial relations are coming out of their earholes and we have had industrial disputes by the bucketful.

    Now Conservative Members have the hypocrisy to say, "Don't talk about industrial relations on the Floor of the House." My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) put it in context when he said that later on, in a schedule, the Government will be wiping out the right to strike. What is wrong with ordinary men and women having the right to strike? We have it in the House of Commons. Some have already exercised it this week—before we have even started our Easter holiday. In the last Division, 420 people clocked on, which means that more than 200 had gone on strike. The Government's majority dropped to 31.

    A lot of the Tories have already packed up for Easter, yet they condemn the men and women at Dover for stopping people going on holiday. Where are Conservative Members going? Are they going to Klosters in the Swiss Alps? Conservative Members attack working men and women and say that they should not have the right to withdraw their labour. We have go-slows in here; they call it filibuster. Just imagine if they did that at the seaports. They would be making Standing Order 20 applications every day. So let us have less of this hypocrisy.

    The dispute is also about overmanning. I read a report about a fellow called Peter Ford of P and O who had the gall to attack the workers at Dover. He said that there was overmanning. The report refers to a 94-day year. The only thing is that when one reads the small print it is 94 multiplied by 24 hours, which is three shifts, which is more than they work here. We are told about overmanning, but what about judges? They stand need telling working people that they cannot have a ballot when they do only 40 weeks in the year and have to be dragged from the Caribbean to turn up for work.

    We have unelected judges telling working men and women that they cannot even have a ballot. They stand need talking in the Houses of Parliament about overmanning, attacking people who provide the wealth of this country. The other place has 1,100 people eligible to attend it. I have checked out the figures and discovered that the House of Lords has never got more than 500 people to clock on for work in my 18 years here. The other place has been overmanned by 50 per cent., even on major votes, yet the Tories have the cheek to talk about overmanning in industry.

    I am pleased that my hon. Friends have stayed to vote for the new clause. It is very important to show that we are determined not to allow the Government to go any further towards removing working people's rights and liberties. The more we do that, the more we shall register accord outside.

    I have come here tonight perhaps for another reason. I want to thank the seamen for all that they did to support the miners in their struggle in 1984–85. I want to give them the same right to take on their management, which is making a small fortune, supported by Conservative Members, many of whom are directors of the company lining its pockets out of the disputes. There ought to be a law in this place to stope those making money out of the dispute marching into the Lobby to carry the Government's decisions which will lead to lower wages and to slave labour in the industry. That is what the Tory Government are after.

    Yesterday we heard the appalling statement that the same Government who are trying to cut the wages of the seamen are to give £650 million to British Aerospace on the advice of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who is the adviser to the chairman of that company. That is the sort of society that we have. We are on the side of those who are battling for better safety conditions at sea and for the right to withdraw their labour. I say to my hon. Friends that we need to be on the Government Benches after the next election to reverse this obnoxious clause.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is a very difficult act to follow, but I should like to make a plea on behalf of our fishermen.

    The two new clauses use the definition
    "seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom".
    I hope that that definition includes fishermen. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is an old friend and represents many fishermen admirably, but I have some reservations about new clause 6. It seems that my hon. Friend agrees with some Conservative Members when he talks in terms of an industrial dispute that takes place when a ship is "securely moored" to the quay. I shall ignore what the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) said, as he evidently knows nothing about industrial relations in trawler companies on the H umber and elsewhere. Fishermen may be forced into an industrial dispute while the vessel is fishing.

    Historically, share fishermen have rarely, if ever, been involved in industrial disputes. Disputes are foreign to them and have been for six or seven decades. Labour relations in the British trawler companies, however, are dramatically different. That sector is characterised by poor industrial relations and lousy management. Some trawler company managing directors could not manage an ice cream co-op or, as we say in Scotland, run a manadge.

    I welcome the revival of trawler companies on Humberside and elsewhere, but my plea to the Government is that the trawler fishermen who are being employed should not be subjected to the disgraceful management that they, their brothers and fathers suffered even until recently.

    I shall give one example of what I mean. It involves declaring loyal servants redundant. Several fishing companies received substantial decommissioning grants when they sold off their vessels. One company received more than £500,000 in decommissioning grants for a trawler which it sold for £900,000-odd. The trawler was built with a grant from the then White Fish Authority.

    The crew were treated objectionably and squalidly. One of them — my brother Leslie — was employed by the company for 19 years and received £515 in redundancy. He got much more than many of his comrades who served on that trawler in their dangerous occupation. Fishermen may wish to refuse an order when a trawler is fishing and the skipper orders the deck hands to shoot the trawl in worsening weather.

    No hon. Member can dispute that that has often happened in the Arctic. Sometimes, fishermen have died because they have obeyed an order and gone on to the dangerous deck of a side trawler and been swept overboard. They should have been below deck in that worsening weather. I would not want a single recurrence of such an incident in the south Atlantic or anywhere because of the revival of the trawler companies. The Minister of State and his ministerial colleagues must protect those fishermen, because they deserve no less.

    10.15 pm

    I rise in support of my hon. Friends in both new clauses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said, I am a former member of the National Union of Seamen. In addition to that, for six years I worked in the port of Dover with the NUS and the Port of Dover harbour board.

    At that time, major developments were taking place in the port, paid for by the then Labour Government, which allowed the port of Dover to expand to provide job opportunities in that part of east Kent. I was involved with the former Member of Parliament for Dorking, the late Keith Wickenden, for four years as a member of the organisation that campaigned for the protection of the port, proposals for the Channel tunnel and other aspects of the port's development.

    I was more than surprised that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) did not make one comment indicating that he would support the 2,000 seafarers at Dover who were sacked by that company. He made no reproach whatsoever about the company's tactics and the threat of disinvestment by Sealink and by the company, yet at the end of his speech he said that he did not want to debate industrial relations. He really means that he wants industrial relations and seafarers' rights decided behind closed doors at Downing street and through the special relationship that has been built up between P and O and the Government.

    That is what is behind this pernicious piece of legislation. The removal of section 42 did not simply wander into the other place late at night, proposed by a noble Lord. It was a deliberate strike against the National Union of Seamen.

    The current dispute is only one of a series of incidents that have taken place within the shipping industry over a number of years. The shipping industry is fighting a battle about the right of seamen to negotiate working conditions, and the right to some say in the deregulation of the industry and the effects of deregulation on wages and conditions, health and safety at sea and among passengers and the role of the NUS.

    I should like to examine the connections between the legislation and Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Dover said that he had no interest in P and O. However, he was one of the Conservative Members who spent 25 hours backing P and O, as he was involved scurrilously in attempting to force through the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. He was involved in wining and dining that took place in relation to that Bill.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has told a complete and utter lie. I have not taken any wine or food in relation to the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. I insist on you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, insisting on him withdrawing that statement.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must first withdraw his reference to a lie. Then the hon. Gentleman who had the Floor might respond. The hon. Member must withdraw that expression.

    I will only withdraw if the hon. Member for Makerfield is prepared to withdraw.

    Based on the advice which I have received, it would seem appropriate, in the circumstances, despite the fact that an unfair and untrue allegation has been made, for me to withdraw the word "lie".

    Perhaps the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) will withdraw.

    I said that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) was one of the Members who had offered wining and dining until the fact that this was going on was exposed. If it had not been exposed, it would have continued. During the debate, hon. Members raised points of order. What I have said is legitimate, and I do not intend to withdraw what I said.

    I request you, please, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask the hon. Member to be honourable and to comply with your request.

    I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman say that wining and dining had been offered. I do not think that that necessarily reflects on the character of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw). What was offered and what was accepted are two quite different matters.

    I am sorry that there has been so much objection to what I said. I have here a copy of the invitation.

    The company has recently given donations to the Conservative party. They amount to a considerable sum of money. Board members have relationships with Lord Young in terms of political advice, and Jeffrey Sterling is being canvassed for chairmanship of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Many Conservative Members are known to have relationships with the company. Therefore, this aspect has been introduced at the behest of the company and of others who wish the negotiating rights of the National Union of Seamen to be diminished and in many respects destroyed and neutered. The company wants to introduce certain types of practice at Dover and throughout the British merchant fleet.

    It is essential that the Government should come clean. Either they believe that seafarers should have the right to strike or they should admit that they have a cosy relationship with this company. The Government intend to allow it to purchase another piece of legislation that will deny to seamen the right to take industrial action to defend the health and safety of their members and of passengers who travel daily by sea from the port of Dover. The Government have not protected health and safety if one considers the iniquitous activities of the company. Seafarers have campaigned for the health and safety of passengers. The union wants to retain the right to take industrial action to defend themselves and the health and safety of the passengers whom they take daily to sea.

    As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, there was a lengthy debate in Committee on the Bill's repeal of section 42(2) of the 1970 Act. Having been defeated there, the hon. Gentleman has returned with two variants of the section, each of which gives seamen quite unjustified immunity from the provisions of employment legislation as it applies to employees in other industries, and to each of which the Government are opposed.

    It might help the House if I say a word or two about section 42(2) and why the Government accepted that it should be repealed. I should explain that, before 1970, seamen had no lawful method of taking industrial action. In the aftermath of the 1966 seamen's strike, the Pearson committee commented that a provision enabling industrial action to be taken by seamen within the law was desirable. In due course, section 42(2) was included in the Merchant Shipping Act 1970. It permits seamen to give not fewer than 48 hours' notice of termination of their employment in furtherance of an industrial dispute, provided that the ship is safely moored in a United Kingdom port. It also provides that a shipowner is not able to circumvent matters by ordering the ship to sea while that notice is being worked out.

    Unfortunately, those who drafted section 42(2) did not foresee that it would be abused. Crews of short sea ferries have in the past given notice in sequence by departments, each group of seamen then withdrawing their notice before it expired. In that way, they have been able to immobilise the ship while, because they are still available for work, they are still being paid. This device, which I am sure the House will agree is indefensible, was adopted, for example, in Portsmouth in January 1985 following European Ferries' takeover of P and O's Portsmouth operation. However, even if section 42(2) were not open to abuse in that way, there would be a good case for its repeal, in that it has been largely overtaken.

    The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) suggested that the seamen's right to strike was being removed. That is just not true. The hon. Gentleman then saw me shaking my head, and said, "Never mind shaking your head." What he meant was, "Never mind confusing me with facts." That is what he is worried about.

    Let me tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) —who made up in volume what he lacked in accuracy—that the facts are very simple. The Merchant Shipping Act 1974 legitimised industrial action by seafarers while their ship was not at sea. Without section 42(2), seafarers will still be able to give notice of their intention to take industrial action in accordance with their terms of employment, in the same way as employees in other industries.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said that there had not been many examples of abuse of the system. We do not have to experience a break-in before we lock our doors. The provision closes a massive loophole that is open to abuse on a major scale.

    The hon. Gentleman went on to suggest—as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden)—that the courts had forbidden the National Union of Seamen to ballot its members on a strike, and implied that that right to ballot had been removed. The High Court has ruled that, in balloting its members about a national strike, the union was in breach of injunctions made a month ago, covering the last illegal action, and was thus in contempt of court. The judge described the ballot as an "ingenious but ingenuous" attempt to get round the law. The hon. Gentleman should not try to pull the wool over the eyes of the House.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is right: the House is not the place in which to seek to negotiate any trade disputes. The talks were adjourned by ACAS last Friday, until such time as it would be profitable for them to be resumed. I feel that we should leave the matter there.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) spoke with passion of the conditions of seamen between the wars. No one wants to return to those conditions. His remarks might be relevant if the new clauses introduced the right to strike, but they do not. That right is established in law, and there is no intention to remove it.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Dover sought clarification of the position of seamen in dispute, on ships and ferries and at sea. The safety of passengers is assured, because for the right to strike is limited to when a ship is securely moored in a safe berth. There is no question of seamen going on strike in mid-Channel.

    Each of the two new clauses, far from recognising that section 42(2) has been overtaken and is open to abuse, go considerably beyond it. New clause 4 would enable seafarers to immobilise a ship—for example, whenever the local trade union leadership considered that it had a trade dispute with one or more employers—during the holding of a ballot on the matter. No time limit is imposed on the conduct of the ballot, and, if the crews of foreign-going vessels are to be consulted, it would be well over two weeks. Even then, if the ballot failed to produce the desired result, there would be nothing to prevent another ballot from being called immediately, thereby maintaining the embargo on ships sailing.

    Meanwhile, the crew would be available for work. It would have only given notice to strike; it would not have gone on strike. The crew would remain on full pay while immobilising the ship. Anyone who votes in favour of the new clause will vote for a charter for abuse. That would be an outrage, and I urge the House to reject the clause.

    10.30 pm

    The outrage is that the Government, in introducing the Bill, made no reference to the removal of legitimate trade union rights from seamen. It was only because of Back-Bench pressure in another place that the Government caved in and accepted the argument of the General Council of British Shipping and others.

    The Minister might have the advantage over my hon. Friends and me in not understanding the Bill. He talks about a massive loophole, but it has not been used over the past 15 or 18 years. He referred to ferries sailing from Portsmouth in advancing his argument, but it is the opinion of the General Council of British Shipping that under existing law it is possible for a master to order his crew to take his ship to sea within the 48-hour period of notice, provided that it will be engaged in a voyage and back in port before expiry of the notice. The Minister does not understand that his example does not come within current legislation.

    We cannot accept that the position of seamen is analogous to that of workers in other industries, and my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will press the new clause to a Division.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 225.

    Division No. 245]

    [10.30 pm

    AYES

    Abbott, Ms DianeGould, Bryan
    Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Graham, Thomas
    Allen, GrahamGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Armstrong, HilaryGrocott, Bruce
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackHardy, Peter
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Harman, Ms Harriet
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
    Barron, KevinHaynes, Frank
    Battle, JohnHealey, Rt Hon Denis
    Beckett, MargaretHeffer, Eric S.
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyHenderson, Doug
    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Hinchliffe, David
    Bermingham, GeraldHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Bidwell, SydneyHome Robertson, John
    Blair, TonyHood, Jimmy
    Boyes, RolandHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
    Bradley, KeithHoyle, Doug
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Buchan, NormanHughes, Roy (Newport E)
    Buckley. George J.Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Callaghan, JimIllsley, Eric
    Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Ingram, Adam
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.Janner, Greville
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)John, Brynmor
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
    Clay, BobKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
    Clelland, DavidLamond, James
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnLeadbitter, Ted
    Cohen, HarryLewis, Terry
    Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Litherland, Robert
    Cook, Robin (Livingston)Livingstone, Ken
    Corbett, RobinLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
    Corbyn, JeremyLoyden, Eddie
    Cousins, JimMcAllion, John
    Cox, TomMcAvoy, Thomas
    Crowther, StanMcCartney, Ian
    Cryer, BobMacdonald, Calum A.
    Cummings, JohnMcFall, John
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMcKelvey, William
    Dalyell, TamMcNamara, Kevin
    Darling, AlistairMcTaggart, Bob
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)McWilliam, John
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Madden, Max
    Davis, Terry (B'harn Hodge H'l)Marek, Dr John
    Dewar, DonaldMarshall, David (Shettleston)
    Dixon, DonMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
    Dobson, FrankMaxton, John
    Doran, FrankMeale, Alan
    Douglas, DickMichael, Alun
    Dunnachie, JimmyMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
    Eadie, AlexanderMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
    Eastham, KenMoonie, Dr Lewis
    Evans, John (St Helens N)Morgan, Rhodri
    Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Mullin, Chris
    Fatchett, DerekMurphy, Paul
    Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Nellist, Dave
    Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Flannery, MartinO'Neill, Martin
    Flynn, PaulOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelParry, Robert
    Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Patchett, Terry
    Foster, DerekPendry, Tom
    Foulkes, GeorgePike, Peter L.
    Fraser, JohnPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Galbraith, SamPrescott, John
    Galloway, GeorgePrimarolo, Dawn
    Garrett, John (Norwich South)Quin, Ms Joyce
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Randall, Stuart
    George, BruceRichardson, Jo
    Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnRobertson, George
    Godman, Dr Norman A.Robinson, Geoffrey
    Gordon, MildredRogers, Allan

    Rooker, JeffTurner, Dennis
    Ruddock, JoanVaz, Keith
    Salmond, AlexWall, Pat
    Sheerman, BarryWalley, Joan
    Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWardell, Gareth (Gower)
    Shore, Rt Hon PeterWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    Skinner, DennisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
    Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    Smith, C. (lsl'ton & F'bury)Winnick, David
    Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)Wise, Mrs Audrey
    Snape, PeterWorthington, Tony
    Soley, CliveWray, Jimmy
    Spearing, NigelYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Steinberg, Gerry
    Stott, RogerTellers for the Ayes:
    Strang, GavinMr. Allen McKay and
    Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Mrs. Llin Golding
    Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)

    NOES

    Adley, RobertCran, James
    Aitken, JonathanCurrie, Mrs Edwina
    Alexander, RichardCurry, David
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Allason, RupertDavis, David (Boothferry)
    Alton, DavidDay, Stephen
    Amess, DavidDevlin, Tim
    Amos, AlanDorrell, Stephen
    Arbuthnot, JamesDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Dover, Den
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Dunn, Bob
    Ashby, DavidDurant, Tony
    Atkinson, DavidEggar, Tim
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Fallon, Michael
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Farr, Sir John
    Baldry, TonyFavell, Tony
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
    Batiste, SpencerFookes, Miss Janet
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyForman, Nigel
    Bendall, VivianForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Forth, Eric
    Benyon, W.Fox, Sir Marcus
    Bevan, David GilroyFranks, Cecil
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFreeman, Roger
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFrench, Douglas
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasFry, Peter
    Boscawen, Hon RobertGale, Roger
    Bottomley, PeterGarel-Jones, Tristan
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGill, Christopher
    Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Glyn, Dr Alan
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Goodlad, Alastair
    Bowis, JohnGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGorman, Mrs Teresa
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinGrant, Sir Anthony (CarnbsSW)
    Brazier, JulianGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
    Bright, GrahamHargreaves, Ken (Hynadburn)
    Brittan, Rt Hon LeonHarris, David
    Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHaselhurst, Alan
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Hayward, Robert
    Browne, John (Winchester)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
    Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
    Burns, SimonHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
    Burt, AlistairHowells, Geraint
    Butcher, JohnHughes, Robert G. (Harrow. W)
    Butler, ChrisHughes, Simon (Southwark)
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hunt, David (Wirral W)
    Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hunter, Andrew
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
    Carrington, MatthewKing, Rt Hon Tom (Briagwater)
    Carttiss, MichaelKnapman, Roger
    Cash, WilliamKnight, Greg (Derby North)
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
    Chapman, SydneyKnox, David
    Chope, ChristopherLang, Ian
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Latham, Michael
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Lawrence, Ivan
    Colvin, MichaelLee, John (Pendle)
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
    Cope, JohnLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Cormack, PatrickLilley, Peter

    Livsey, RichardMoss, Malcolm
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Neale, Gerrard
    Luce, Rt Hon RichardNelson, Anthony
    Lyell, Sir NicholasNeubert, Michael
    Macfarlane, Sir NeilNewton, Rt Hon Tony
    MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Nicholls, Patrick
    Maclean, DavidNicholson, David (Taunton)
    McLoughlin, PatrickNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Madel, DavidOppenheim, Phillip
    Malins, HumfreyPage, Richard
    Mans, KeithPatten, Chris (Bath)
    Maples, JohnPawsey, James
    Marland, PaulPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
    Marshall, John (Hendon S)Porter, David (Waveney)
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Portillo, Michael
    Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Powell, William (Corby)
    Maude, Hon FrancisPrice, Sir David
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianRaffan, Keith
    Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyRathbone, Tim
    Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Redwood, John
    Miller, HalRiddick, Graham
    Miscampbell, NormanRidsdale, Sir Julian
    Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
    Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Roe, Mrs Marion
    Montgomery, Sir FergusRossi, Sir Hugh
    Morrison, Hon Sir CharlesRyder, Richard
    Morrison, Hon P (Chester)Sackville, Hon Tom

    Sainsbury, Hon TimThornton, Malcolm
    Shaw, David (Dover)Tracey, Richard
    Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Tredinnick, David
    Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Twinn, Dr Ian
    Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Waddington, Rt Hon David
    Shersby, MichaelWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Sims, RogerWalker, Bill (T'side North)
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wallace, James
    Soames, Hon NicholasWaller, Gary
    Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
    Squire, RobinWarren, Kenneth
    Stanbrook, IvorWatts, John
    Steen, AnthonyWells, Bowen
    Stern, MichaelWhitney, Ray
    Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)Widdecombe, Ann
    Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)Wilkinson, John
    Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWilshire, David
    Sumberg, DavidWolfson, Mark
    Summerson, HugoWood, Timothy
    Taylor, Ian (Esher)Woodcock, Mike
    Taylor, John M (Solihull)
    Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanTellers for the Noes:
    Temple-Morris, PeterMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
    Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)Mr. David Lightbown.
    Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

    Question accordingly negatived.

    New Clause 5

    Safety At Sea

    '1. That the Secretary of State shall annually report to Parliament on matters affecting safety at sea and that in particular such a report must include:
  • (a) all actions taken by the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents.
  • (b) all discussions with representatives of other nations concerning safety at sea.
  • (c) all changes in primary and secondary legislation intended to improve safety at sea.
  • (d) all voluntary agreements concerning safety at sea reached by, or with, private companies.
  • (e) an assessment of the need for change in the design of ships, in the furtherance of safety at sea.
  • (f) an assessment of the effect of the working practices or seamen, masters and companies, on safety at sea.
  • 2. That the duty on the Secretary of State in sub-section (1) above, shall not be deemed to be fulfilled, until the report has been accepted by affirmation of both Houses of Parliament.'.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this it will be convenient to consider the following: Amendment (a) to the new clause, after subsection 1(f), insert—

    '(g) an assessment of the impact of Safety at Sea legislation covering registered British fishing vessels;
    (h) an account of the financial assistance provided from public funds to defray expenses incurred in meeting statutory training requirements on skippers and crew members of registered British fishing vessels'
    New clause 13 — Safety at Sea of British fishing vessels
  • '(1) The Secretary of State shall report annually to Parliament on matters affecting the safety at sea of registered British fishing vessels and that such a report will include an account of the financial assistance provided from public funds to support the training costs of skippers and crew members of registered British fishing vessels incurred in meeting statutory training requirements.
  • (2) The duty on the Secretary of State imposed by subsection (1) above, shall not be deemed to be fulfilled until the report has been accepted by affirmation of both Houses of Parliament.'.
  • The new clause relates to safety at sea. It is, tragically, just over a year since the Zeebrugge disaster —a night that none of us will ever forget. We heard first that the vessel had gone down and the grave danger that all the passengers had been lost, along with the crew. There was then a partial sense of relief when the news came through that the vessel had capsized and was on a sandbank. Then came the awful news about the number of people who had lost their lives.

    Part of the reason for the new clause is to make absolutely sure that the issue of safety at sea is kept in the front of our minds on every possible occasion. Those of us who have seaport connections or who have a family history of seafaring, know that all too often people make the right noises about death at sea. In some cases, collections are taken and funds set up. People give generously, but then they forget all about safety at sea until the next major incident. Sadly, "out of sight, out of mind" is a phrase that applies all too often to merchant shipping.

    It is essential that we keep the issue to the fore, and that is the intention of the new clause. We should consider two aspects of safety at sea. The first is the design of ships, their seaworthiness and maintenance. The second is manning and how proper management and crew practices can assist safety. Despite what the Government have done since the Herald of Free Enterprise sank—I concede that things have been done to improve safety — the bulk of the Government's actions have been in relation to the human element of safety.

    10.45 pm

    There is a major disagreement between the Secretary of State and myself, and between the General Council of British Shipping and the organisers of the Herald of Free Enterprise Families Association, on the safety of the basic design of ro-ro ferries. In a letter to me on 13 January, the Secretary of State said that the Government do not regard existing ro-ro ferries as unsafe.

    None of us wishes to be alarmist, and to some extent I accept the statistics that are given. They are always comparative statistics. The number of deaths at sea was comparatively small before the Herald of Free Enterprise sank. It was a benchmark in disaster for ro-ro ferries. It is true to say that more people have been killed because of Boeing 747s crashing than because of ro-ro ferries sinking, but that does not alter the fact that there are serious grounds for doubting the inherent safety and stability of ro-ro ferries.

    It is commonplace to say—the Minister said it on Second Reading and it has been said since—that ro-ro ferries are perfectly safe as long as they do not sail with their bow doors open and water does not get in. That goes without saying. But one could say with equal truth and emphasis that the Titanic was a perfectly safe ship as long as it did not hit an iceberg. To say that a ship is safe as long as water does not get in proves nothing at all. The problem with ro-ro ferries is that once water gets in they become unstable and can capsize quickly.

    The statistics on ro-ro ferries are alarming. There are about 2,500 ro-ro ferries in the world, 400 of which have been involved in serious incidents. In 1981, a Norwegian organisation reported on 243 ro-ro ferries that had been involved in incidents at sea over a 20-year period, and it found that 60 per cent. of them had sunk in less than 10 minutes. That is a very short time. In 1981, when the German ship the Ems sank, it was the 19th incident involving ro-ro ferries in two and a half years. The insurers were so worried that they began to add premiums to the insurance. Since then there have been many incidents. In 1980, the Tollan and the Zenobia capsized. Nearer to home, in 1981, the Anion beached. European Gateway keeled over in 1982, and on 5 March this year the Vinca Gorthon capsized in the North sea.

    For many years people have warned about the dangers of capsizing. Indeed, the International Maritime Organisation has been discussing the problems of large, open-deck ships since the 1960s. Several reports on the danger of capsizing have been published. One could go through all the reports that have been published, but it is late, so I shall consider reports that are immediately to hand in Britain. In February, the Nautical Institute warned of the "inherent vulnerability" of ro-ro ferries. It recommended that bulkheads should be fitted, that there should be moveable shutters and protection for the rear bow in terms of water ingress.

    I am not one of those people who often refer to what they have said before, but on the day that we had the statement from the Secretary of State about the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise many of my hon. Friends, and I argued that we needed some method to provide stability for much longer than is currently the case.

    A few days ago, the Royal Institute of Naval Architects said:
    "ro-ro passenger ships … despite their full adherence to the law and regulations, are unacceptably vulnerable in that there is a likelihood of rapid capsize"
    and that could lead to "catastrophic loss of life." The International Maritime Organisation is the only organisation that appears to support the Government's view that there is no real need to do anything. As long ago as 1977, that organisation said that it did not think that ro-ro ferries required special consideration.

    I accept that there has been consultation about closed-circuit television, draught gauges, escape windows, deck doors, and so on. That is welcome, but it has been rather slow in coming. I do not believe that the Government have addressed the central issue of design with sufficient urgency.

    I accept that if the modifications that we regard as necessary are put in place they will be expensive. It has been argued that such modifications could cost between £250,000 and £500,000. That price must be paid. If the Secretary of State thought it necessary to provide Government assistance to carry out the necessary safety requirements, I would not argue against that. I still believe that it might be the responsibility of the ferry companies to make the ships safe, but I would support the Secretary of State were he to say that, in the interests of safety, such things had to be done and that, to protect the competitive edge of British shipping, he wanted to inject some money into the industry.

    This is an important matter. The Secretary of State, however—I want to be as fair to him as I can—gives the impression that he is laid back and does not want to get too excited about it. In a letter to the General Council of British Shipping, he said:
    "The Government is not interested in making rules that fail in their basic objective."
    That is one of the major quarrels between us. I believe that it is absolutely necessary to make the modifications to make the ships safe. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take a stronger line when he replies.

    The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) made a characteristically vigorous speech, and I do not object to that. However, I object to him giving the impression in a previous debate that I am not concerned about the safety of ferries or their passengers. In case there is any doubt in his mind or in anyone else's, I want to emphasise that I believe that the safety of ships, passengers and crew is paramount. That is why we want improvements to be made.

    So far, I have concentrated on ferries because, naturally, they are in the forefront of discussion at the moment, but deep sea vessels should also be considered. I know that the Secretary of State is bound to be concerned about that. Indeed, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)—he is not in the Chamber at the moment—who was a Front-Bench spokesman on transport for many years, tried to persuade the Government to set up an inquiry into the loss of the motor vessel Derbyshire. I am glad that the Government set up that inquiry, but it took I forget how many years for it to happen. The Secretary of State should have a duty in law to report to the House on ferry safety.

    Other issues might be discussed tonight, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will be able to deal with some of them later. Crew hours and fatigue are important issues. If a crew are overworked and tired because they do not have proper off-duty hours they cannot be expected to be up to the mark on ferry safety. I hope the Secretary of State will accept that the new clause is intended to be helpful. No sensible person in the shipping industry would object to his reporting annually to the House on safety at sea.

    I subscribe to the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). I also want to extend the debate to considering the crucial issue of safety at sea in the fishing industry.

    The amendment and the new clauses would require the Secretary of State to account to Parliament annually for safety at sea in the fishing industry, particularly as it is affected by public funds for training for safety. Such accountability is needed to expose the scandal of the lack of support for such training to meet mandatory training requirements that are shortly to be imposed on the industry—requirements to do with fire fighting, survival and first aid.

    The House has been made aware many times that sea fishing is an extremely dangerous industry—four times as dangerous as mining. When my predecessor, Sir Albert McQuarrie, introduced his Safety At Sea Bill in 1986, he enjoyed general support from all sides of the House. Hon. Members considered it an important measure, but talk is cheap. That support was not backed by a guarantee or offer of public provision. The Safety At Sea Act 1986 was passed with no Government undertaking to provide public funds to support the mandatory training that was required by the legislation.

    Support for training in the fishing industry is under pressure in the Sea Fish Industry Authority — first, because it is extending training to the onshore sector, which hon. Members will agree is a valuable exercise. Secondly, the authority is under pressure because support under the authority's development programme is not guaranteed by MAFF beyond next year. The third cause of pressure is the additional training that will be required by the mandatory requirements of the Safety At Sea Act.

    The Government say that, because the Act was a private Member's Bill, it involved no Government commitment to funding. That might be true, were it not for two important facts. In 1986, the mandatory provisions on training in clause 2 of the Bill were drafted by the Government. It was, in effect, a Government clause within a private Member's measure, and the Government brought it forward on Report.

    Serious questions must be asked about how the clause on mandatory training was introduced. The Minister of State said of the requirements:
    "In Committee, I also said that it was right for the fishing industry, not the taxpayer, to meet the cost of 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." —[Official Report, 9 May 1986; Vol. 97, c. 382.]
    I looked back at the minutes of that meeting of the Fishing Industry Safety Group held on 24 April 1986. Far from no objections being raised, I found that in the last part of the minutes both Mr. William Hay, president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, and Mr. Gregg of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, made it clear that they had reservations about the lack of public financial support for the mandatory training requirements in the Safety at Sea Act 1986. I do not know whether the Minister of State was being economical with the truth, but he was most certainly being economical with those minutes.

    11 pm

    We have an impasse that is reflected in the response to the industry by Lord Brabazon of Tara in a telex of 25 March. In that telex he justified the injustice in the Bill. The Bill provides for £3·5 million to meet the annual training costs of the merchant shipping industry. No one would deny that that is a good measure, but in no measure are the Government willing to introduce public support for mandatory training and safety in the fishing industry, which would cost less than a tenth of what is proposed for the merchant shipping industry.

    In his telex to the fishing industry representatives on 25 March, Lord Brabazon of Tara would not even concede a meeting to those representatives to discuss the future public provision for training in the industry. That is a measure of the Government's contemptuous attitude to this important matter. We need an annual report to Parliament so that we can have an account of the intransigent and contemptuous attitude that the Government are taking towards safety at sea as it affects the fishing industry.

    I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the anger and frustration caused in the fishing industry by the Government's intransigence in this matter. To provide fully public funded support for mandatory training would cost about £250,000 a year. In the wholeness of Government funds, that is not a large sum. Can the Minister not find it within himself to say that the Government will look again at this matter and offer some public support for safety training in the fishing industry? That would show that they regard the lives of fishermen as being as important as the lives of people in other industries.

    I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to the new clauses. The fishermen of Mudeford in my constituency would doubtless benefit from the annual report suggested in the amendment to the new clause. Oil exploration has given rise to hitherto unforseen hazards for many fishermen, certainly in the comparatively crowded waters of Christchurch bay. The mere fact that a report would be presented to Parliament could concentrate the minds of those undertaking oil exploration on the potential hazards that that could create for fishermen.

    I should like to speak to the opening sentence of new clause 5, which says that the Secretary of State
    "shall annually report to Parliament on matters affecting safety at sea".
    Her Majesty's Coastguard training school is in Highcliffe in my constituency. I recently visited that excellent establishment and I am afraid that I found some rather unhappy and uneasy men, who feel that the Department of Transport, which is their lord and master, has no long-term plan for that establishment. There is no more dedicated body of men in the ranks of the Civil Service than those in the coastguard. It was therefore disquieting to receive a letter from a constituent who works at the coastguard training school. He was constrained to write:
    "We do feel pawns in some large scale game about which no-one bothers to inform us."
    He went on to refer to a telex, and this might interest the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). That telex, received a few days ago from the Department of Transport, refers to the closure of the sub-centres for maritime rescue at Hartland Point, Moray and at Ramsey on the Isle of Man. My constituents say that the district controller of one of those sections knew nothing about the closure until he received the telex. That is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

    Perhaps the reason why I cannot reveal the name of my constituent's name to the House might appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). The letter goes on to say:
    "After all, the Government expects us to show loyalty and accountability to our Minister and not to discuss policy with the media or even MPs under threat of the Official Secrets Act, and yet the Minister is allowed to treat his own staff in this cavalier way. All we are asking for is better communication and a little consideration."
    I make my few remarks in an attempt to put those points on the record. Let me give the Secretary of State another example. My constituents were asked to prepare a report on the breeches buoy and spent many months preparing that report. On the very day that they sent it off to the Department, a message arrived saying that the Department would no longer use the breeches buoys. I can think of no better illustration of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

    The excellent establishment at Highcliffe has substantial facilities.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell the House whether he knows what conclusions that report drew on the question of maintaining the breeches buoy?

    I should be happy to discuss that matter with the hon. Gentleman, but, at this late hour, it would be unfair to hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate to enter into a technical discussion for the reasons for the Department's decision. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am discourteous. I am more than happy to pass on to him any information in my possession on that subject.

    Facilities for training overseas staff at Highcliffe coastguard training centre are undoubtedly the most up-to-date in Europe and revenue could undoubtedly be earned by doing so. My constituents are simply asking that the Department gives them some indication of its thinking on the matter.

    Much of the equipment is at best antediluvian and only experienced, determined and courageous men could make proper and effective use of it. Coupled with that, there are technical changes in communications equipment. Decisions are now taken by people in the Department who are far away from the coastline and often have no practical experience. One is left with the uneasy feeling that money is the main priority, rather than safety. Decisions taken on communications equipment get the priorities the wrong way round for those who might find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to use that equipment.

    Local authorities are being canvassed for their views on taking over the cliff rescue service, an important part of coastguard work. Again, my constituents running that excellent establishment simply wish to know what is the Government's thinking on this matter.

    If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is unable to accept new clause 5, I hope that he will at least reply in detail to my recent letter as soon as possible and do everything possible to allay my constituents' fears and to produce a five-year plan so that this fine body of men may know that they have a firm and secure future.

    The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) referred to a constituent who said that he had the impression that money is a more important consideration then safety. That sums up the attitude of shipowners and the Government to this matter.

    I am particularly concerned about the roll-on/roll-off ferry system, which sums up the choice facing the Government and shipowners—that between money and safety. If they were not putting money before safety, the Government would already have legislated. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) quoted from the report of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. It does not have an axe to grind against this Government, and is not great friend of the Opposition and the trade unions, but that report makes interesting reading.

    Apart from what my hon. Friend has already quoted, it says:
    "In the light of circumstances which now pertain it is considered that current designs of Ro-Ro passenger ships now in service, despite their full adherence to the law and regulations, are unacceptably vulnerable in that there is a likelihood of rapid capsize under certain conditions, particularly collision."
    That should be the end of the matter, unless the Government can produce overwhelming evidence that the National Institute of Naval Architects does not know what it is talking about. If there is a risk, why take it?.

    Let us spell out the scale of the risk. I understand from talking to professionals, some of whom were associated with the production of this report, horrific as it is to say this, that the Zeebrugge disaster could have been worse. The loss of life on the ironically named Herald of Free Enterprise would have been a small incident compared with the potential catastrophe that could happen with roll-on/roll-off ferries. The Herald of Free Enterprise was on its own. It was not in collision with another vessel. It was in shallow water, and it was not one of the largest of the modern generation of the roll-on/roll-off ferries. I am not an alarmist, but if two ferries larger than that one collided in mid-Channel, in deep water, there would be a loss of 4,000 to 5,000, so quickly would everybody go down. That is the size of the potential disaster.

    The Government's attitude is extraordinarily complacent. What needs to be done? According to the Royal Institute of Naval Architects:
    "Longer term research will refine solutions, but the means of reducing the likelihood of rapid capsize should he adopted now. These include the fitting of door or shutter-type transverse bulkheads on vehicle decks; the judicious use of longitudinal bulkheads; the addition of sponsons or bulges; the reduction of permeability by filling spaces with buoyant material and various similar improvements."
    If the shipowners will not carry out such measures immediately, and argue that they will lose the competitive edge and cannot afford to have ferries out of service, the Government should oblige them to do it, and they could start that process by accepting this new clause.

    Furthermore, if the Government were to provide grants to compensate ferry owners for the loss of service while the ferries were being adapted, and for the cost of the adaptation, it would be reasonable for the Government to do so in exchange for an obligation on the part of the ferry owners to have the work done in British ship repair yards. All of them are screaming out for work and are placed in areas of high unemployment, like my constituency. We could place contracts for all the work that needs to be done to all these ferries without the need for competition between one yard and another. If the work is placed in all the different shipyards, it would be done more quickly.

    The only argument against this logical and sane proposal, apart from its cost, is that it will give foreign ferry owners a competitive edge. That seems to me to be an illogical argument. The Government should come down from cloud-cuckoo-land and accept that the work needs to be done to make the ferries safe. They would find that British ferries that had the work done would have a very considerable competitive edge over their foreign counterparts. If not only the ferry owners but the British Government could point out that we now had the only safe roll-on, roll-off ferries in the world, that would be a popular unilateral move with passengers not only in Britain but universally.

    11.15 pm

    There is every reason for doing the work; it is crying out to be done. Thousands of lives may be at stake, because a greater tragedy than that involving the Herald of Free Enterprise could still happen. The amount of money required is not enormous, yet the Government will not do the work. In the recent Budget, the Government gave away £2·1 billion in tax cuts to those paying over the 40 per cent.mark. They are making a £650 million handout to British Aerospace for taking over Rover. The cost of this proposal is chickenfeed in comparison; the mere millions of pounds needed could be made available tomorrow, and we could start making the ferries safe, which is our main concern. As a useful side product, socially useful work would be provided in shipyards and ship repair yards in areas of desperately high unemployment.

    New clause 5 is a well-intentioned new clause, and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was absolutely right to remind us all that the memories of the Zeebrugge disaster still cast a long shadow over our proceedings. They cast a longer shadow still over the east Kent coastal communities, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and I have the honour to represent. They have suffered sad losses, and the scars may not heal in people's lifetimes.

    Against that background, there is one aspect of safety that the House should ask the Government to comment upon, because it has an effect on the current dispute which has troubled the House this evening and which is causing so much anxiety in the communities of east Kent and to travellers this Easter. There is a fierce—even bitter— feeling that safety is being jeopardised by some of the proposals that are being put forward. That may be a very unfair suggestion, but I have no doubt that the many officers and seamen who have advanced that argument to me at constituency surgeries have done so with complete sincerity and not because they are trying to protect their jobs or defend their livelihoods, even though that may be part of their obvious posture in such a dispute. There is a genuine and sincere feeling that some of the proposals advanced by P and O Ferries will have an impact on the safety not only of crews but of passengers. I hope that the Secretary of State can be persuaded to comment on that and perhaps reassure us on it.

    There are two sides to the question. On the one hand, P and O says, "In order to save money and make ourselves competitive with the Channel tunnel, and so on, we need new manning levels." On a purely commercial basis, few people can disagree with that suggestion. It is the company's right to make such changes, unless, of course, they affect safety. But P and O says, "Don't be ridiculous. We are doing no more than bringing in manning levels that exist on many other ferries plying several other routes—foreign ferries in particular. We have two and half crews per ship, which is in line with other companies. It is ridiculous to suggest that we are jeopardising safety merely by introducing the same manning levels as other companies."

    The ferry men, on the other hand, say, "We are suddenly being asked to work 72-hour shifts — three days on the trot— and we are being allowed rest periods of only six hours per 24-hour shift. We will be very tired officers if such shift patterns are allowed to prevail." The one thing that the Zeebrugge disaster and the findings that flowed from it have told us is that a tired seaman can be a dangerous one. Thereafter, one listens to representations about fatigue. Moreover, a short sea route seaman is likely, when trying to get his six hours sleep, to be disturbed by a cacophony of noise — klaxons, lorries moving and anchor chains being drawn up. It is therefore not easy to obtain proper rest periods on such routes.

    The Secretary of State's officials must have given some consideration to this matter. The Government have a clear duty to ensure that safety at sea prevails. What I want to hear is that the Government have considered representations such as I have described. Are they satisfied that the proposed shift arrangements will not adversely affect safety at sea? I think that that is a reasonable question and the right one to ask tonight.

    The fundamental concern is not whether the ferry company has a right to manage in its best commercial interests—of course it does—nor whether the seamen have a right to put forward their own arguments about manning levels — of course they do. Only the Government can say whether a certain pattern of sleep and rest periods is adequate. I was pleased to see that the new clause requires the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the voluntary agreements reached at sea and on the pattern of work and their effect on safety and fatigue.

    Is the Secretary of State happy with the new rostering proposals? I do not mean that he should interfere in the company's right to manage, but he should ensure that safety is not affected. That is what I hope to hear from him in his winding-up speech.

    Before I came to this debate, I was given a note from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who asked me to say that he could not be here because he is involved with some other business in the House. I do not usually carry on as a fag for the Tories or anyone else, but at least the hon. Gentleman had the decency to see the families of people who died in the Herald of Free Enterprise and arranged a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss some of their problems. I therefore do not mind passing on a message from the hon. Member, which is more than I can say for the few Conservative Members present who were members of the Committee but made no valuable contributions to our debates, in spite of the widely known fact that the vessels we are discussing are unsafe. They just sat there like dummies and, at the appropriate time, voted with the Government.

    When my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) was talking about the unions, I heard the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who is no longer present, say, from a sedentary position, something about crocodile tears. In Committee, he had a lot to say about training fishermen. He explained that he had only recently been down at his local seaport and that the men who had gone to sea had not come back. There had been an accident. I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for any group of workers who suffer injury or death in the course of duty. When he was making that contribution, the local television fellow and the press were there. Immediately after making his speech, he went out and gave a press report.

    At the next sitting, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) moved an amendment asking for finance for training the crews of the various fishing boats. The hon. Member for St. Ives stood up in Committee and said that he was attracted to what the hon. Gentleman had proposed and he would support the amendment. However, when it came to the vote, the Minister spoke against the amendment and the hon. Member for St. Ives turned tail and voted with the Government, having made a wonderful speech about his committment to his constituents. Conservative Members give support only in words.

    In the Lobbies, hon. Members said that new clause 4 was the most important one under discussion. From the point of view of trade unions it was important. But if there is no safety at sea, it does not matter if one has a union card in one's back pocket. The new clause is important for the seafarers and their families.

    We hesitate to express an opinion as to why, in Committee, the Government, through the Minister, refused time and again to acknowledge the instability of the ro-ro ferries, despite the evidence that was presented to them.

    On 12 March, the New Scientist reported:
    "When Margaret Thatcher visited the rescue effort at Zeebrugge last weekend she spoke about design failures. She told reporters: 'It is the fundamental design of the ferry that I understand is the problem. That is a factor that will have to be looked at very quickly because public confidence has been very severely jolted.'
    A spokesman from the Department of Transport reiterated the point, adding that it was 'well known' that ro-ro ferries had design problems. By Monday afternoon the Government had changed its view to coincide with that of Townsend Thoresen's management, which claimed that the issue was one of operating procedures, not design.
    John Moore, the Transport Secretary, told the House of Commons: 'I have no evidence to support that this [the accident] was due to any fault in the design of the ship.' However, he suggested that, in future, ferries should have alarm lights on their bridges to warn of open sea doors."
    The current Secretary of State was asked whether improvements will take into account the fact that such vessels sink so quickly. He replied that the sinking of such vessels is, fortunately, exceedingly rare. Yet we have a catalogue of such ferries sinking over a period of five or 10 years. That is a fact, whether we are talking about the Herald of Free Enterprise or the European Gateway. Lord Justice Sheen was critical of the tardiness of the Department of Transport. When told that the recommendations of the European Gateway inquiry, which reported in 1984, had not been implemented, he said:
    "I cannot understand the reluctance to lead in the field of safety."
    In Committee, I made certain statements about the cosy relationship between the Government, P and O and other parties. P and 0 is trying to screw the workers, take away their trade union rights through the courts, drive down their living standards, reduce their numbers and extend their working hours. Why are the Government doing nothing to stop the carnage for which Townsend Thoresen and P and O are responsible? I would have liked to include in the Bill the liability of the Government, because they know about the ineffectuality of the reporting and the unsafety of the ro-ro ferries, but they have done nothing about it.

    A little investigation shows that the chairman of P and O, Sir Jeffrey Sterling, in the 1988 edition of "Who's Who", lists as his clubs the Garrick club, which has on its books the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Carlton club, which has on its books the Thatchers, Lord Whitelaw and Tony Brooks, who used to work for MI5 and was involved in the scandal with the Wilson Government. I did not know that the Secretary of State for Transport is also a member of the Carlton club. Sir Jeffrey Sterling was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's adviser. The Prime Minister appointed Lord Justice Sheen to head the inquiry into the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Sir Jeffrey Sterling is a member of the Hurlingham club; so is Lord Justice Sheen.

    In 1985, 1986 and 1987, P and O made large financial donations to the Tory party. If I went to the Liverpool, Broadgreen masonic lodge I should find that although these people wring their hands and beat their breasts they do not give a damn for those who lost their lives on the Herald of Free Enterprise. If Conservative Members were interested in safety at sea, they would join us in the Lobby.

    11.30 pm

    I could give the names of 20 or 30 experts in maritime affairs who have said that the ro-ro ferries are unsafe, but Conservative Members refuse to accept what they say. They stand condemned by their inactivity. It is no use them telling the families of the 200 people who died in the Zeebrugge disaster that they are interested in safety. A personal friend of mine and a good comrade, Geoff Haney, a cook from Manchester, went down with that ship.

    If the Government are sincere when they say that they want to provide better safety for the travelling public, they should join us in the Lobby when we divide on the new clause. Millions will be condemned to death if the Government take no action. If they do not introduce legislation to provide better safety at sea, they will be exposed as having failed to deal with the needs of ordinary people.

    Captain Spencer, a member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners and managing director of Baltic Control UK Ltd., wrote to Lloyd's List International and said:
    "Needless to say, the class societies are still servant of the owner and subject also to the will of government giving them the usual conflict of interest."
    There is a conflict of interest. The Government had better come clean. If Conservative Members want to do something positive tonight, they should vote for new clause 5.

    I support the new clause because safety at sea is so important. I regret that no provision has been made for financial assistance to fishermen who take survival courses. I referred to this point on Second Reading. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Transport has been unable to incorporate that provision in the Bill. I am even more sorry that between Second Reading and today there was no meeting to discuss the matter with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The peremptory manner in which the Under-Secretary of State for Transport dismissed the idea of holding a meeting with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation was disturbing.

    I wish to refer briefly to the withdrawal of the breeches buoy rescue equipment. I have received a number of letters from the islands off my constituency. Not all of them are from coastguards: many of them are from community councils, whose members are deeply disturbed about the matter. Many hon. Members visit the islands, and will know what I am talking about. On the island of Tiree, for example, the water around the shore is very shallow. There are many inshore fishermen, whose number is vastly increased in summer, and wind-surfing is a popular sport. There are, however, no other rescue facilities to operate in the event of an inshore accident. On the island of Coll, helicopter and lifeboat services are at least an hour away.

    Deep concern has been voiced by the people on those islands, particularly about the short notice given of the withdrawal. I believe that a statement was made about five weeks ago, and the equipment is to be withdrawn on 31 March. I hope that the Minister can give me some reassurance about how rescues will be carried out when helicopters and lifeboats are not easily available.

    I spoke earlier about the state of vessels that went to sea in the pre-war period, and indeed during the war, and the degree of safety and maintenance then prevalent on merchant ships. I do not wish to dwell on that topic. Let me say, however, that we are now in an entirely different position. We are now talking about modern technology in both the building and the design of ships, and we are bound to take into account not only design but manning when considering the question of safety.

    Before I came to the House, when I earned a decent, honest living, I remember being involved in negotiations with an employer about manning of vessels in the bay and river of the Mersey. The company's view was that, because it owned the vessels, it had the right to determine the necessary insurance for their safety. It considered the manning scale to be part of the premium, and so had to determine manning levels in accordance with safety requirements.

    There was a certain logic in the argument that the owners of the vessels should determine the premiums, whether in literal, insurance terms or in manning terms. The two are, in fact, inextricably bound up. I said, "Yes, you own the vessels, and you have a right to determine how much risk you are prepared to take in relation to those vessels. But you do not own the lives of the people who work on them." If a passenger vessel had been involved, I would have added "and the lives of the passengers." The company, I said, had no right to determine manning levels in a way that put lives in jeopardy.

    Our demands are minimal, but I recognise the problems that face my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench in securing a response from the Government that will enhance safety. My demands would have gone much further, but I accept that we are facing one of the most reactionary Governments of my lifetime. Indeed, they are probably the most reactionary Government to have been in office for many years before that.

    We have every right to be concerned about the design and manning of vessels. These are issues that the Government can no longer ignore. They cannot be left to those who own and run shipping companies.

    Over the years, naval architecture has been an honourable profession. The members of the profession have been concerned with safety and they have applied themselves to enhancing it with diligence and sincerity. Vessels that go to sea must be considered safe, but I am not suggesting that an unsinkable vessel can be designed. The Titanic was considered to be unsinkable until it hit an iceberg. The Bismark was unsinkable until it was caught in a Norwegian fjord. In the foreseeable future, we shall not see an unsinkable ship.

    Instead, we must consider what is avoidable and what is not. There is little that we can do about unavoidable accidents. However, when avoidable marine disasters occur, we must examine the Government's legislative response. It is unfortunate that the Government have failed to intervene so far. Instead, they have allowed more and more deregulation to take place. This means that everything is left to market forces, including the safety of crews and passengers.

    There is no doubt in my mind that roll-on, roll-off vessels are unsafe in every sense of the word. Those who design them come under pressure from the companies that build them. The vessels are built under the constraints of profit margins, commercial judgments and quick turn-rounds. Those are the main requirements that a designer has to fulfil.

    Naval architects and their honourable profession are under pressure to design ships that will meet the standards of their owners, who do not regard as paramount the safety of the crew and the passengers. Their interests lie in profitability and commercial considerations generally.

    Safety is a Government responsibility and the Government should intervene. They must understand that roll-on, roll-off vessels have to be modified and that future building must take into account their vulnerability and the possibility of further marine tragedies that will result in loss of life and injury to passengers and crews. If they fail to reach this understanding, none of us has any right, especially Conservative Members, to mouth condolences and shed tears for the families of the bereaved when marine tragedies take place. We must eliminate the cause of these disasters. If we fail to do that, we have no right to carry out a ritual in this place.

    The Secretary of State has a clear responsibility to consider the arguments put forward in Committee and on Report. He should recognise that some matters are above commercial or profitable arguments. There is a point where so-called competition has to be viewed against the backdrop of what effect such a policy has on the safety of crews and passengers on United Kingdom vessels.

    11.45 pm

    The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) mentioned the withdrawal of the breeches buoy equipment. Had she taken the trouble to consult the coastguard service, she would have realised that it agrees with its withdrawal. I am reliably informed that it has not saved lives in recent years and has been used in anger only once since 1981. The replacement cost of the equipment is about £250,000. Given the frequency with which the equipment is used, it is hardly an effective way to spend taxpayers' money. Indeed, the search and rescue service, especially that based in the north of Scotland, is now operated by the coastguard service.

    When my right hon. Friend deals with the point raised by the hon. Lady, will he consider the retention of the 41 mm pistol and rocket with the floating head? It serves a useful purpose as it is a small arms weapon that fires a light line into the surf. It has been used on a number of occasions to rescue people inshore and to put a light line aboad inshore vessels and yachting craft.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not quite hear what I said, which was that I had heard from the coastguard service, and not just from community councils. It voiced its concern about the withdrawal of that life-saving equipment.

    The professional coastguards in my constituency take the opposite view and welcome the withdrawal of that equipment because it has not been used frequently and does not represent good value for the taxpayers. The search and rescue helicopter service now provide the service that that outdated equipment used to provide.

    In that case, I must inform my hon. Friend that the coastguard training centre is in my constituency, which is not too far from his. My constituents have clearly expressed the view that there was inadequate consultation about the withdrawal of the breeches buoy. There is by no means unanimity among the coastguards around the coast that it should be withdrawn. Its replacement by helicopter would consume such a large percentage of the budget of the coastguard service that it would be virtually incapable of providing a proper service. Perhaps my hon. Friend will join me in asking the Government to provide it with additional funds for the helicopter rescue service.

    I have actually witnessed the firing of the Lager rocket on the breeches buoy. The manufacturers, Schemuli, will only guarantee that rocket to fire into the wind at force 6 and below. Above that, they cannot guarantee that it will reach its destination. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that the equipment is usually required in above a force 8 wind. The last time that it was used on the Isle of Wight in anger was in Sandown bay, when the wind was above force 8 and the rocket kept returning over the heads of the coastguards firing it. Eventually the crew were rescued by wading ashore the following morning.

    I do not believe that the equipment, which has a capability of slightly over half a mile, is relevant to the size of today's ships. In fact, if the large ships were to come ashore in a situation in which a breeches buoy would be required, I do not believe that that equipment would reach them today.

    I rise in support of the new clauses and amendment (a). I refer first to the questions that have been asked of the Secretary of State about the stability of large vessels, especially ferries. Is his Department satisfied with the stability dynamics of small fishing vessels which have had shelter decks added to them after their construction? It seems to me that that raises some issues to which he should attend.

    With regard to new clause 5(b), referring to discussions with representatives of other nations concerning safety at sea, I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether any account is paid to the deliberations of the European Community's joint committee into conditions in the sea fishing industry. Is it not the case that from time to time that committee debates issues relating to the occupational safety of fishermen?

    I have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I was privileged to be a sponsor of the Safety at Sea Act 1986 which was proposed by his predecessor, the then Mr. Albert McQuarrie, now Sir Albert.

    If I can catch the attention of the Secretary of State, I should like to ask him a question concerning line 12 of that amendment. My question relates to the carriage of immersion suits on United Kingdom-registered fishing vessels. What progress has his Department made in that important respect? I remind him that the carriage of immersion suits, especially the latest, such as those used by French fishermen, can lead to the saving of lives.

    I remind him also of the terrible tragedy that overtook a French trawler that foundered west of St. Kilda in February. He will recall that 27 men went over the side in something of a desperate hurry. My figures may be slightly inaccurate but I believe that about 13 of those men had the time in which to don their immersion suits. Their 13 or 14 colleagues did not have the time to put on their immersion suits and went over the side in shirts and trousers. The 13 men wearing immersion suits all survived immersion in the freezing water. Their comrades all died quite quickly, which was not surprising given the appalling weather conditions. I repeat that the men wearing the immersion suits survived.

    The Secretary of State may contradict me, but I believe that French maritime law stipulates that no registered fishing vessel of a certain overall length and above may leave a French port without sufficient immersion suits for all the crew. Is that the case, or is it not? If that is the case for French fishermen, why should it not be the case for fishermen on United Kingdom-registered fishing vessels?

    I remind the Secretary of State of the appalling tragedy that overtook the three Hull trawlers in 1968, when 59 men died and one survived—the mate of the Ross Cleveland, Harry Eddom. He was the only man wearing an immersion suit, which he had purchased himself. I do not say that all the other men would have survived the appalling conditions off north-west Iceland in February 1968, but Harry Eddom went over the side in an inflatable dinghy with two comrades from the crew of his vessel. They, dressed only in vests and trousers, died quickly. Harry Eddom survived that appalling experience for several hours.

    What is the likelihood of a similar instruction, which the French industry now accepts without question, being given to the United Kingdom fishing industry? I am not referring to the small vessels—the creel vessels—that one finds in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). But even boats with two or three crew members should carry immersion suits. That view does not make me popular with fishermen, whether at Scarborough, Whitby or Barrow, but despite the anger that I have aroused by calling for the carriage of immersion suits, I stand by that demand. I moved an amendment to Mr. McQuarrie's Bill, but I withdrew it rather than damage the interests of the Bill. I genuinely believe that some fishermen would be alive today had their vessels carried immersion suits.

    Despite the opposition of some fishermen, the Secretary of State must introduce such an instruction. I think I am right to say that it does not require legislation. Such an instruction could be issued to the industry by way of the fishing vessel safety rules. The Secretary of State and his officials must stop pussyfooting round. The instruction must be given to the industry. I know the father of a Scottish fisherman who was drowned, who is now a keen advocate of immersion suits. It is a disgrace that Ministers duck that unpopular decision.

    Finally, may I refer to the financial assistance which the catching sector of the industry demands, rightly, that the Government give to meet statutory training requirements? We have heard of the peremptory way, as the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) described it, in which Lord Brabazon treated Bob Allan, the chief executive, and Willie Hay, the president, of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. Similar treatment was meted out to senior members of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

    The United Kingdom leads other maritime nations in the training of fishermen. It has a good record. The implementation of the training was not welcomed by many fishermen, especially in the inshore sector among share fishermen, but now they are stout defenders of training—

    I shall ignore the malicious comment of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). This is an important issue for fishermen, and we should be debating it in prime time. He offers his sedentary intervention with his characteristic mixture of dimwittedness and exhuberant malice.

    We are discussing extremely important issues. Financial assistance should be given for the training of fisherman, and fishing vessels should carry immersion suits for their crews.

    12 midnight

    I should like to lend my support to the new clauses and amendment (a).

    New clause 13 relates to safety at sea for fishing vessels and fishermen. I share the dismay of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) at the attitude of the Under-Secretary of State to the reasonable request from the Scottish Fishing Federation to meet and discuss safety at sea and the implementation of the McQuarrie Act. It is disturbing that the Government would not agree to discuss the matter.

    I understand that the Government's attitude is that the McQuarrie Act started as a private Member's Bill and that therefore they do not take any responsibility for it. But it is part of the law of the land. The Government cannot simply wash their hands of the Act's financial implications for the fishing industry, especially the small-scale fishermen in my constituency who are already hard hit by other Government impositions, such as lighthouse dues. It is asking too much to expect fishermen to bear the entire cost of the safety at sea legislation.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the impasse that has been reached regarding the implementation of the safety at sea training provisions is a direct result of the Government's refusal to offer any public assistance to the industry?

    That is true.

    The fishing industry cannot be expected to bear the costs entirely on its shoulders; the Government must step in. The McQuarrie Act is the law of the land and the Government have a duty to implement that law.

    When the Secretary of State replies, I hope that he does not repeat the arguments made in Committee—that the ro-ro ferries are entirely safe so long as they do not collide with another ship or sail with the bow doors open. One must distinguish between the immediate cause of accidents that have befallen ro-ro ferries and the factors that have contributed to the gravity of such accidents once they have occurred.

    A parallel is presented by inflammable foam furniture. I do not seek to make such a parallel in a light-hearted sense. The Government neglected to solve that problem before it was too late, with similar tragic consequences They have maintained that such furniture is perfectly safe so long as no one drops a match on it. That is exactly the attitude that the Government have adopted to ro-ro ferries: they are safe so long as they are not involved in an accident. When such accidents occur, the very nature of ro-ro ferries makes those accidents much worse than they would be otherwise.

    This month, the Royal Institute of Naval Architects said that ro-ro ferries are
    "unacceptably vulnerable in that there is a likelihood of rapid capsize"
    once an accident occurs.

    In 1983, the Norwegian classification organisation reported that of 243 ro-ro vessels involved in accidents at sea over a 20-year period, 60 per cent. had sunk in less than 10 minutes. That supports our point that the very design of such vessels is unacceptably unsafe. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say that if they are not involved in accidents they are safe. They are involved in accidents, particularly in areas such as the English Channel, which is full of shipping.

    Ro-ro ferries must be judged not only by how well they sail when nothing happens to them, but by how well they respond in accidents, which are inevitable in waterways such as the Channel.

    This has been an extremely important debate. I recognise that the issue of safety — of ro-ro vessels and in other areas—is of deep concern to all hon. Members. So much has been clear from the wide-ranging debate.

    I could speak for about an hour on this issue, but I have a feeling that that not might not be appropriate now. I shall try to deal with the essential points that have been raised; if I omit any, I guarantee that I shall carefully study hon. Members' speeches in Hansard and write to them.

    Before I come to the main issue in the debate—the safety of ro-ro vessels—I want to speak about two other important matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and others raised the subject of the coastguard. I shall examine everything he said about that. I share his admiration for the coastguards, and anyone who knows anything of their work will know that they are a wonderful body of men who do the country a great service. I assure my hon. Friend that if I thought there was any question of endangering safety with any of our new measures, I would not have authorised them.

    I have already been in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) about this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch can be assured that I shall examine the points he raised about his constituency.

    The figures given me about breeches buoys bear out what my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) said: they have been used only twice in the past five years. I shall write to other hon. Members and to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) about this. The hon. Lady spoke about the difficulties created by the remoteness of her constituency. I hope I shall be able to convince her, as we are convinced, that all our proposed measures for the coastguard represent an improvement, not a deterioration. If I had not thought that, I should not have agreed to the proposals.

    A quick word about the training of fishermen, about which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and other hon. Members spoke. The proposal that the Government should take powers to provide financial assistance towards the training of fishermen was discussed in Committee. The proposals for assistance in the Bill are born of the Government's concern at the sharp decline in the number of merchant seamen being trained and the implications which that has for the number of seafarers likely to be available for service in future in an emergency.

    There are already a number of different sources of assistance available for training fishermen—for example, the Sea Fish Industry Authority currently spends about £800,000 a year on training. I would outline some of the other contributions to training to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, but I am sure he knows them well. It was fair enough for him to say that, at the time the Safety At Sea Act 1986 was passed. The Government made it quite clear that the cost of safety training introduced as a result of the Act would have to be met by the industry and not by the taxpayer, and that the Government would not introduce any new regulations unless there was a prior undertaking from the industry that it would meet the cost of the new requirements. That is not, therefore, a great surprise to the industry.

    There is still some disagreement in the industry about the scope and content of new training requirements. It is difficult to deal with this until we know the industry's agreed view, and until the industry is in a position to give the necessary undertakings on finance. I undertake to consult my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who are primarily responsible for fishing matters. I shall make sure that their attention is drawn to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman and of other hon. Members who have spoken about this issue.

    Total funding of the mandatory safety requirements under the Safety at Sea Act 1986 would be only about £250,000 a year. In the context of the importance of this matter, does the Minister not feel that funding at this level would be appropriate?

    I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but as I said a few moments ago, and as he said in his speech, the Government's position was made perfectly clear about the Safety at Sea Act 1986. Nothing has changed about that point of principle. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said about the costs and ensure that the point is carefully studied. I cannot go further than that tonight.

    I should like now to deal with the important question of safety and ro-ro ferries. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said about the importance of the issue and the absolute necessity for it to be taken seriously. I am aware of the views held by all hon. Members about the appalling tragedy of Zeebrugge. I do not think that that is a matter of controversy between us—at least, I hope it is not.

    The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) asked for more Government intervention. With respect, I have been more interventionist during my few months on this front than practically any other Minister in the history of dealing with these matters. I have here a long list of the measures that we have already taken in respect of ferry safety. The list mentions indicator lights, boarding cards, change in the law, draught gauges, loading computers, reinclining and other matters. I shall not read out all of them because hon. Members are aware of them and many answers have been given in the House about this matter. There are also legal requirements on shipowners and managers and others to exercise due diligence and to take responsible steps to ensure safe operation.

    Hon. Members asked about inherent stability and the fundamental design of ro-ro ferries. Two major accidents have befallen British registered passenger ro-ro ships since the mid-1950s. They involved the European Gateway and the Herald of Free Enterprise. I think that it is common ground that both accidents resulted not from the design of the ships but from the way in which they were operated.

    I am surprised that the hon. Member will not accept that point.

    It is clear that the Herald of Free Enterprise sank because the bow doors were left open. However, that is not to say that substantial improvement in the design of ro-ro ferries is not possible. In response to Mr. Justice Sheen's report on the Herald of Free Enterprise, a ro-ro research steering committee was set up in my Department under the Surveyor-General. It consists of six qualified naval architects, including the immediate past president of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, Professor Caldwell. I have made available more money for research over a three-year period.

    Work has so far been done to assess improved standards of residual stability of passenger ships and we shall put that to the International Maritime Organisation next month. We have a project on risk analysis, and some possible design improvements must be considered. For example, longitudinal and transverse bulkheads on the vehicle deck, raising the vehicle deck or adopting unconventional deck arrangements, sponsons and improved water dumping arrangements are being assessed. I shall place a note describing the programme in the Libraries of both Houses.

    I have had meetings with all those involved and I understand the views of the general council of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. My noble Friend had a meeting with the institute earlier this month and there was a great deal of common ground. I think that the only difference between us relates to the perception of the council that technology for preventing capsizes can be put into effect immediately.

    There must be a period of assessment. The institute has identified five possible improvements and all five are part of my Department's programme. We have to assess the feasability of these and of other approaches and take rational decisions about which, if any, of the options should be chosen. It would be quite wrong for me to say that they have to be chosen before proper research has taken place.

    I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I know that the House wants to get on.

    The Secretary of State said that all this takes time. Lord Justice Sheen said in his report that the Department of Transport had not acted since the European Gateway disaster in 1983. Why has the Secretary of State done nothing about that?

    12.15 am

    That is not so. I could weary the House, if hon. Members were sufficiently interested, with all that has been done since that incident in 1983. Mr. Justice Sheen made very few criticisms of the Department. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House when he says that the Department was much criticised in the Sheen report. To save time, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about those important points.

    The Government's research programme into fundamental design improvements is similar to the suggestions of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. I hope that we shall have some results from that research by the end of the year and we shall then have to decide whether it is necessary to use models. The research will go ahead with all urgency and I hope that it will be completed by the end of the year, except possibly for model tests. We shall then review the matter and discuss it with other European Governments.

    From time to time, hon. Members say that, if ro-ro ferries have a hole in them, they are in great danger. Of course they are in some danger, but ro-ro ferries are like other ships in that they have to be able to take the so-called prescribed level of damage. That means that they have to be designed to take a gash in the hull, extending above and below the water line for one tenth of the length of the ship, without capsizing or sinking. Much work has therefore already been done.

    Of course, if more severe damage occurs, the ship may capsize or sink, but, with steady improvements in design, we can achieve better survivability. That has been the aim of the Government's research programme and of work in the International Maritime Organisation and other bodies in recent years.

    We must put the matter in perspective and make it clear to the House that we are already carrying out a fundamental programme of research into all the points raised by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects and by hon. Members tonight. I should like to assure the House that the Department takes the matter with the utmost seriousness. I am sure that the House will take a continuing interest in the matter, and I shall keep it in touch with our progress.

    The Department will set up a marine investigation branch as soon as the Bill is enacted. I shall ensure that it produces an annual report, which will be laid before the House. The House will decide whether it chooses to debate the report.

    I cannot accept the new clause because it goes far further than would be reasonable. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) will accept that there are many technical points wrong with the clause. For example, it would be an extremely unusual concept to require an affirmative resolution for the report, but the House will be able to debate the report if it wishes. I shall initiate a report and place a copy in the Library. I am carrying out the fundamental research that the House wants.

    In the light of that, I hope that the House will not press the amendment to a Division. If it does, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.

    The Secretary of State tells us that the new clause contains extraordinary measures, but we are dealing with extraordinary matters—the safety of people at sea, in the light of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, and, in the long term, the question of operational safety at sea.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) said that, in his opinion, the Opposition were being a little modest in putting forward these minimal demands. Many of the measures that we are seeking do not require primary legislation in the form of a Bill, but they do require the Government's concentration on these issues. That is why it is important to ensure that safety is constantly at the top of the political agenda.

    Secondary legislation can be formulated in Committee on a regular basis. That would include, for example, limitation on hours of work at sea and adequate structural changes to ro-ro ferries. All that can be done by secondary legislation. There is no limitation on the Government doing that. We want to put safety firmly on the political agenda to make sure that no Government, and particularly this Government with their disastrous record on safety, can avoid the political consequences.

    I was not criticising my hon. Friends who are Front-Bench spokesmen, because I know the strain under which they work. I was merely pointing out that the demands that are being made to the Secretary of State are limited by what we can extract from him.

    My hon. Friend raises an important point about what we can extract from the Government. Therefore, it is a matter of great regret that the Secretary of State has not accepted the need for a continuing debate on safety. The right hon. Gentleman is always vociferous with claims that the Department and the Government insist on the primacy of safety, but his deeds are few. The progress that he claimed was made before the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise was in direct contradiction to the actions and activities of the Department in the years before that event.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) drew attention to certain criticisms. Whatever the Secretary of State may say about this, Lord Justice Sheen criticised his Department during the inquiry into the sinking of the European Gateway. As recently as March last year, a couple of weeks after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the then Secretary of State answered a question about the official inquiry into the capsize of the European Gateway in 1982. He said:
    "These recommendations have been implemented for all new ships and virtually implemented or are being discussed internationally for existing ships." —[Official Report, 19 March 1987, Vol. 112, c. 568.]
    Five years after the sinking of the European Gateway, the matter was being discussed only with regard to older ships. For these matters to go through the Secretary of State's research think tank and then to be discussed in the international forum is not good enough. It is also not good enough that the marine survey department was constantly cut by his predecessors so that they could make savings.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, since the terrible sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, all the offshore ferries working from United Kingdom ports under the United Kingdom flag have been required to rework stability characteristics as a result of the directive from the Department of Transport?

    The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear me say that I was fully aware of that, but that does not stop criticism of these ferries by reputable organisations such as the Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, which are firmly of the opinion that even these changes of calculations are not sufficient. These recalculations had to be made because of the way in which these ferries were being maloperated by the operators. Even with those recalculations, reputable bodies and experts said that the extent of the instability of the ferries was unacceptable in terms of protection of human lives and safety at sea.

    The Secretary of State says that there is continuing research, but that is not satisfactory when there have been reports from expert bodies that things can be done now. Jesse Jackson recently said that if one were in barracuda waters, one would not turn round to ask for a research programme to look into the problem—one would act. The Secretary of State and the Department have failed to act on this issue. That is a major condemnation of the way in which the Government tackle problems.

    The Government are irresponsible when it comes to safety, and they have been culpable. Ministers may shake their heads in disagreement, but in recent replies to questions they could not tell me how often roll-on/roll-off ferries were inspected at sea or in port before the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise. They did not have records available; they did not know what inspections had been conducted. Yet the Government claim that they have a great record on safety and that they are concerned about what happens at sea.

    They have given the lie to their claims about safety in answer to parliamentary question after parliamentary question. For example, a written answer from the Minister this week showed that the Herald of Free Enterprise was never inspected while at sea. We know why the ferry sank. The Secretary of State was right, that the primary cause was operational failure. Yet not once during the ship's life did the marine surveyor's department attempt to find out what the ship was like under operational circumstances. It is true that it was inspected in port, but in port there was no way of knowing whether the bow doors would or would not be closed in a routine or non-routine fashion. The Government simply did not make the necessary surveyors available to undertake this important work. That is the record of a Government who claim that they care about safety.

    The Secretary of State is right to say that, since the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, there has been a massive turnround. It would have been fundamentally morally derelict had there not been a rethink. The failure of the Department to rethink matters following the sinking would have shown not only contempt before the tragedy but indifference after it. I will say one thing for the Secretary of State: I do not think that he views human suffering with indifference. Nevertheless, some of the practice that built up in his Department in the past quite simply showed indifference.

    The hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Aitken) made a very reasonable speech. He questioned whether adequate consideration had been given in the present dispute at Dover to ferry manning levels and wondered whether fatigue might be a problem. The hon. Gentleman suggested that seamen might now be operating 72-hour shifts. The reality is a little different. In some cases, they will be operating 168-hour shifts for a period of two weeks with a one-week rest period at the end of it. I submit that that represents a level of employee commitment above and beyond anything that would be accepted in any shore-based job. That will lead to loss of performance, and ultimately a serious risk of tragedy.

    While on the subject of fatigue, let me cite the schedule of one chief officer. We had a debate in Committee about the Government's intentions to regulate hours of work. I have information from the schedule of a chief officer on board a very large crude oil carrier—a carrier weighing 270,000 tonnes. Of a total working period of 228 hours, the chief officer concerned worked 176 hours. He had 52 hours rest, including four periods of seven hours each, which were the longest rest periods that he had.

    To ask people to work such schedules is totally unacceptable, yet when I raised the matter in Committee, the Minister said that it was not the time to legislate. When he was kind enough to respond by letter to the same point, he said:
    "as you know, hours of work for seafarers are not specifically regulated at present. My Department did issue for comment in 1982 draft regulations which would have established detailed duty and rest requirements for watchkeepers. There were objections to these proposals (including some from the unions) and they would not as drafted have applied to ferries (for which alternative arrangements were proposed). We have not abandoned the draft regulations and will continue to keep them under consideration."
    Four years after the draft regulations appeared, we still have chief officers, who do a very important, very responsible job with serious implications for safety, undertaking a 228-hour working period with 176 hours of active service. A Government who will not legislate to prevent that are irresponsible in the extreme.

    The Secretary of State had an exchange of correspondence with Kerry St. Johnston, the president of the General Council of British Shipping, who asked what the Government intended to do about the cost of modifying or phasing out ro-ro ferries if it proved necessary. The Secretary of State replied:
    "Perhaps this question, too, is premature until we know what is involved. But I think I would be misleading you if I were to suggest that there was a chance of the Government paying for this. It is the practice, throughout industry and the transport industry in particular, that industrialists and operators themselves must pay the cost of meeting the Government's safety requirements. I see no prospect of departing from this principle in this particular case."
    The Secretary of State may take some comfort from my saying that when companies such as P and O are making vast profits, they canot come to the Government with a begging bowl and say that the future of their operations will be jeopardised if the Government do not stump up the money. If, however, the Secretary of State is saying that the Government are not prepared to pay anything to ensure safety at sea, their culpability of the past is multiplied.

    We want the new clause because, in the past, progress on safety at sea has been made only after tragedy at sea. We want to establish a vehicle that will enable us to debate safety rationally and without loss of life. It is the Secretary of State and the Government who are not prepared to do that. They are therefore not prepared to guarantee the safety of the travelling public and those who work at sea.

    12.30 am

    I know that the House wants to come to a conclusion on this matter—I shall not keep it for long.

    I came to the Chamber to listen to the debate because, just over one year ago, a most appalling tragedy affected the maritime activity of the nation. It was a source of horror to our European neighbours and no doubt it made world news. It was but chance that the ship did not take less water rather less quickly and go down a mile or two further on in deeper water. Had that happened, there would have been an even greater outcry and it might have been recorded in history as the equivalent—perhaps it is, psychologically—of the Titanic, which still grips the imagination.

    As a consumer, I have been disappointed in the debate. This nation is a maritime nation, or it ought to be. We are debating late at night, with a hurried and inadequate reply from the Secretary of State, a matter of supreme importance to the safety of our citizens and the confidence of those who travel across the sea, who include many of us during the summer. I do not believe that the timing of the debate or the manner in which it has been conducted is commensurate with the importance of the topic and the role that the House should play in discussing serious affairs of the nation. I do not blame my hon. Friends or the Secretary of State, because he does not make the timetable.

    The nation would expect us to have a much better and higher quality debate than we have had on this very important topic.

    No. I shall save the time of the House.

    The basis of the debate is the age-old one of the adequacy of statute in relation to safety and operating or movement costs. That has been the theme of safety at sea from the time of Samuel Plimsoll. It is also the theme of similar problems, such as flights to and from London City airport and those at King's Cross. I know that the Secretary of State has considered all these problems with sympathy and would-be understanding. To some extent, the technical problems have overtaken him. They could have overtaken any other Secretary of State. I thank him for the courtesy and attention that he has paid. In his reply to this matter, however, he has not understood what I understand to be the fundamental problem.

    It is known that the basic design of the vessels is not what it should be and that there is an inherent risk in he way in which they are designed, constructed and operated. If any Conservative Member — including the Ministers on the Front Bench — does not agree with that statement, I should be most grateful if he would rise and contradict what I have said.

    It is no good the Secretary of State saying that he has set up a committee to carry out research into the whole problem. We know what the problem is. If there is to be research, it should be research into how that problem is to be solved in an international way. The Secretary of State's efforts must go into seeing how the known and inherent faults in the design of the vessels can be dealt with on an international basis and in such a way that there is no intervention or disequilibrium in the market. That would relate to the way in which Conservative Members think at the moment. As far as we know, there have been no signs of that. I do not believe that the Secretary of State, try as he might, has really understood the nub of the problem.

    In conclusion, I express dissatisfaction with the way in which the debate has been conducted, its timing and in the degree to which Conservative Members—some of whom made good speeches — did not give safety at sea the importance due to it. I hope that the Government will arrange future debates on such matters at a time which is better for everyone, and that the Secretary of State will not be constrained and rushed in his reply. If we in Parliament do not take these matters as seriously as the nation does, the nation will not take Parliament as seriously as it ought.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 27, Noes 147.

    Division No. 246]

    [12.36 am

    AYES

    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Bermingham, GeraldLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Loyden, Eddie
    Clay, BobMcCartney, Ian
    Cryer, BobMacdonald, Calum A.
    Cummings, JohnMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMichie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Prescott, John
    Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Salmond, Alex
    Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Skinner, Dennis
    Foster, DerekSpearing, Nigel
    Godman, Dr Norman A.Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

    Wallace, JamesTellers for the Ayes:
    Wilson, BrianMr. Allen McKay and
    Wise, Mrs AudreyMr. Tony Banks.

    NOES

    Adley, RobertKnapman, Roger
    Alexander, RichardKnight, Greg (Derby North)
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelLang, Ian
    Allason, RupertLatham, Michael
    Amos, AlanLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Arbuthnot, JamesLightbown, David
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Lilley, Peter
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Ashby, DavidLyell, Sir Nicholas
    Atkinson, DavidMacfarlane, Sir Neil
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Maclean, David
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)McLoughlin, Patrick
    Baldry, TonyMans, Keith
    Batiste, SpencerMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasMeyer, Sir Anthony
    Boscawen, Hon RobertMiller, Hal
    Bottomley, PeterMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaMitchell, David (Hants NW)
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
    Bowis, JohnMoss, Malcolm
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardNelson, Anthony
    Brazier, JulianNeubert, Michael
    Bright, GrahamNewton, Rt Hon Tony
    Brittan, Rt Hon LeonNicholls, Patrick
    Brooke, Rt Hon PeterNicholson, David (Taunton)
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Burns, SimonOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Carrington, MatthewOppenheim, Phillip
    Carttiss, MichaelPage, Richard
    Cash, WilliamPatten, Chris (Bath)
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulPorter, David (Waveney)
    Chope, ChristopherPortillo, Michael
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Powell, William (Corby)
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Raffan, Keith
    Cope, JohnRathbone, Tim
    Cran, JamesRedwood, John
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaRenton, Tim
    Curry, DavidRiddick, Graham
    Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
    Davis, David (Boothferry)Ryder, Richard
    Day, StephenSackville, Hon Tom
    Dorrell, StephenSainsbury, Hon Tim
    Dover, DenShaw, David (Dover)
    Dunn, BobShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Durant, TonyShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Fallon, MichaelShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
    Farr, Sir JohnShersby, Michael
    Favell, TonySmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
    Fookes, Miss JanetStanbrook, Ivor
    Forman, NigelStern, Michael
    Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Forth, EricStradling Thomas, Sir John
    Freeman, RogerSummerson, Hugo
    French, DouglasTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Gale, RogerTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    Garel-Jones, TristanThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Gill, ChristopherThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Glyn, Dr AlanTwinn, Dr Ian
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Waddington, Rt Hon David
    Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
    Haselhurst, AlanWaller, Gary
    Hayward, RobertWatts, John
    Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Wells, Bowen
    Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Whitney, Ray
    Hunt, David (Wirral W)Widdecombe, Ann
    Hunter, AndrewWilkinson, John
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Wilshire, David
    King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Wolfson, Mark

    Wood, TimothyMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
    Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
    Tellers for the Noes:

    Question accordingly negatived.

    New Clause 12

    Licensing Of Ferry Services

    'The Secretary of State shall have power to introduce regulations to require ferry operators plying to and from the United Kingdom ports to be licensed in accordance with such terms and conditions as he may from time to time lay down.'.—[Mr. Adley.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

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

    I am very conscious that, at this late hour, my hon. Friends, at least, will expect me to be brief, and to try not to repeat any of the arguments already advanced on other clauses.

    I tabled the new clause because I feel that the threat of prosecution as outlined in the Bill provides insufficient inducement for the involvement of senior management in ferry safety. I believe that, with a system of licensing, the threat of loss of licence by a major ferry operator would give a far greater guarantee of safety.

    The new clause would merely give the Secretary of State powers — along with a possibility for involving the Treasury—to charge substantial fees for the granting of such a licence. I hope that new clause 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will be considered by the Government as a precedent for introducing a full licensing system.

    Let me read two sentences from the report of the Sheen inquiry into the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster:
    "The Court has not heard sufficient evidence to express any firm view upon it, but is conscious that the standards in many other industries have been improved by licensing. The court draws attention to this suggestion and expresses the hope that serious consideration will be given to it."
    That is my earnest hope too, and I cannot understand—perhaps my right hon. Friend will enlighten me—why it is considered necessary to license hovercraft and aircraft, but not ferries.

    I understand that heretofore the Department's view has been that, as licensing is an international matter, it would be difficult to introduce a licensing system. I cannot accept that argument. International air service agreements show that bilateral licensing is the norm in that mode of transport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I will be boarding an aeroplane at Gatwick in a few hours to take us to Toulouse, and neither he nor I would wish to contemplate the proposition of an inadequate system of licensing of any aircraft on which we shall be travelling.

    The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster was one of the first magnitude. It was an example of gross negligence, but it was an accident. On the other hand, the Horsa affair of Sealink, which attracted perhaps a little less publicity, was in many ways a considerably worse example of unacceptable behaviour by a ferry company, although mercifully there was no loss of life. There was nothing less than a deliberate and wilful decision to disregard safety for profit. The crime was compounded by a farrago of lies about the event which was put out in Sealink's press releases.

    I shall not weary the House with quotations from letters that I received at the time from passengers on the Horsa. I shall merely say that the Horsa affair gave a new meaning to "flexilink". In terms of Sealink, we can think of flexiboats with bulging sides, designed to enable as many passengers as possible to cram on regardless of safety. Mr. Sherwood of Sealink is, in my view, nothing more than a spiv. He, singlehandedly, has dragged down the standard of management of the United Kingdom shipping industry. That is one of the reasons why many of us feel that a licensing system is becoming essential.

    I understand that there are views about the safety of roll-on/roll-off vessels and doubts as to whether they are ships in the conventional sense. Sir Jeffrey Sterling was quoted in Lloyd's List of 19 December 1987. He said:
    "We are not in shipping. Shipping is not a business, it is a method."
    He described P and 0 as being in the
    "transport of freight and human beings."
    That is an unusual view of the industry. If Sir Jeffrey is in the method business, not the shipping business, that lends additional strength to my call for a licensing system.

    I have received a great deal of worrying correspondence. Standards of management in the shipping industry are far too low and the introduction of a licensing system would be a powerful sanction. It would provide the Secretary of State, the Government, the House and the British people with a powerful additional weapon in the armoury of safety enforcement.

    I wish to associate the Opposition with the remarks of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). The hon. Gentleman rightly drew the attention of the House to the Horsa, and I remember him saying at the time of that disaster that there should be a method of licensing and revocation of licences. I remember also that I supported that concept. In any equivalent form of international transport, it is inconceivable that there would be no form of licensing. If some of the practices that have been revealed over the past 12 months in the shipping industry had been found to take place in the aviation industry, for example, licences would have been revoked.

    It has been said, although I do not necessarily agree, that if we institute some form of safety regime specifically for British-based or owned ferries, that could result in an unfair competitive disadvantage to British ferries and an advantage to foreign ferries. If there were a system of licensing, anyone who travelled to United Kingdom ports would be subject to that authority and to the potential revocation of his licence. There is much to recommend such regulation, and I shall listen with considerable interest to the Minister's response. I urge him seriously to consider accepting that helpful suggestion.

    The Government have given very careful consideration to this proposal, but have concluded that there would be no great benefits from, and quite severe problems in, introducing such a system.

    Perhaps the most appealing argument is by analogy with other modes of transport — public service vehicle operation or, especially, aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) mentioned that. The analogy does not really stand up to close examination. Licensing of air operators is used, first, as a means of economic regulation. That does not apply in shipping where, thankfully, there is an open market.

    Secondly, it is used to ensure that the operator has the appropriate technical facilities and personnel to ensure that his aircraft can be maintained and operated safely. That is not really a problem with ships, whose safety does not depend, crucially, on the reliability of masses of technically complex equipment, and there is no evidence that the reliability of such equipment is a major factor in shipping accidents. Safety at sea depends much more, in fact, on the sensible and conscientious handling of the ship by its qualified officers and, up to a point, of its shore management. Thirdly, licensing of air and coach operators allows their financial standing to be checked, but that is not a significant factor in ferry operations.

    The Herald families have suggested that a threat to withhold or suspend a licence might be a more effective deterrent against misbehaviour than a threat to prosecute, and my hon. Friend took a similar view. But that is really rather doubtful. Any Minister who sought to withhold a ship operator's licence would very quickly be taken to court for injunctive relief to be granted and the operator would continue to operate until the case against him was proved. In short, nothing less than criminal failings would allow a suspension to be upheld, and if criminality could be proved, prosecution would be available.

    Clauses 29 and 30 provide for fines of £50,000 on summary convictions, two years in prison and unlimited fines on indictment. Clause 46 provides for the personal liability of the directors if they have consented to or connived at a breach. On the basis of that information, I do not think that the House would wish to accept the new clause.

    I remind the House that shipping is an international business. To impose a licensing requirement, when one does not exist in other countries to which ferries sail, would simply be a further incentive to operators to flag out.

    For those reasons, I cannot recommend the new clause to the House.

    In view of what my hon. Friend has said and because of the lateness of the hour, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 2

    British Ships

    I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 15, at end insert—

    `(aa) the ship is registered in the United Kingdom in pursuance of an Order in Council under section 80 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 (Goverment ships); or'.

    I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if we also consider Government amendments Nos. 17, 18, 56, 7, 19 to 29, 44 to 48, 54, 49, 30, 31, 50, 51, 32 to 34, 15, and 35 to 38.

    1 am

    All these amendments are technical and designed to clarify the operation of the Bill. I think that the House will find it perfectly acceptable to take them en bloc.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 17, in page 2, line 15, at end insert—

    `(ab) the ship is a fishing vessel within the meaning of Part II of the Act which is eligible to he registered under that Part of that Act by virtue of section 13 below, but—
  • (i) is excluded from registration under that Part of that Act by regulations made under section 12 below, and
  • (ii) is not registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom; or'. — [Mr. Channon]
  • Clause 4

    Entitlement To Registration Under Part I Of 1894 Act

    Amendments made: No. 56, in page 4, line 2, at end insert—

    '(5A) A ship shall, in accordance with section 12(2)(a) below, not be entitled to be registered if it is a fishing vessel within the meaning of Part II.'.

    No. 57, in page 4, line 17 leave out from `ships)' to end of line 19. — [Mr. Channon]

    Clause 5

    Representative Persons

    Amendments made: No. 19, in page 5, line 9, leave out from 'authorised' to 'under' in line 10 and insert

    ',by virtue of any statutory provision, to be served for the purpose of the institution of, or otherwise in connection with, proceedings for an offence'.

    No. 20, in page 5, line 12, leave out

    `be treated as duly served on the owner'

    and insert

    `,where the person to be served is the owner of a registered ship, be treated as duly served on him'.

    No. 21, in page 5, line 19, leave out subsection (6). — [Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 6

    Refusal Of Registration

    Amendments made: No. 22, in page 5, line 42, leave out from 'notice,' to 'not' in line 45 and insert

    `give to registrars of British ships generally a direction requiring them'.

    No. 23, in page 6, line 3, leave out from 'may' to 'is' in line 5 and insert

    `give to registrars of British ships generally a direction requiring them not to register the ship if he'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 7

    Power Of Secretary Of State To Direct Removal From The Register

    Amendment made: No. 24, in page 6, line 13, leave out

    `require the owner of the ship'

    and insert

    `served on—
  • (a) the owner of the ship, or
  • (b) any representative person for the time being appointed in relation to the ship, require that person'. —[Mr. Channon.]
  • Schedule 1

    Amendments Of Part I Of Merchant Shipping Act 1894

    Amendments made: No. 2, in page 45, line 35, at end insert—

    "' (vi) In the case of a ship which is for the time being registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom, a declaration that, if the ship is still so registered at the time when it becomes registered under this Part of this Act, he will take all reasonable steps to secure the termination of the ship's registration under the law of that country.'.

    No. 43, in page 46, leave out lines 35 to 39 and insert—

  • `(i) for the words from "ceasing" to "every owner" substitute "in the event of such a ship—
  • (a) ceasing to be entitled to be registered (whether because a majority interest in the ship is no longer owned by persons qualified to be owners of British ships or for any other reason), or
  • (b) becoming registered otherwise than under this Part of this Act in the United Kingdom,
  • every registered owner", and
  • (ii) for the words from "book and" onwards substitute "and the registry of the ship shall terminate forthwith.";'.
  • No. 44, in page 47, line 1, leave out

    'in the manner provided by subsection (1) of this section'.

    No. 45, in page 47, line 8, leave out

    `and in any such case'

    and insert—

    '(5) Where the registry of a ship terminates by reason of—
  • (a) any notice given in pursuance of subsection (4) of this section, or
  • (b) any direction given by the Secretary of State under section 7(5) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 (power to direct removal from register in certain cases),'.
  • No. 46, in page 47, line 10, after 'notice' insert 'or direction'.

    No. 47, in page 47, line 11, at end insert—

    '(6) Where the registry of a ship terminates—
  • (a) under subsection (1) or (4) of this section, or
  • (b) as mentioned in subsection (5)(b) of this section, the termination of its registry shall not affect any entry made in the register so far as relating to any undischarged registered mortgage, or any existing certificate of mortgage, of that ship or of any share in it.
  • (7) Subsection (6) of this section shall not apply to an entry in the register in a case where—
  • (a) the mortgage in question becomes registered under Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, or
  • (b) the registrar is satisfied that every person appearing on the register to be interested as a mortgagee under the mortgage in question has consented to the entry ceasing to have effect.".'
  • No. 3, in page 50, line 19, at end insert—

    '(3A) The registrar of the former port of registry shall, on being notified by the registrar of the new port of registry of the grant of the new certificate of registry, terminate the registration of the ship in his register.'.

    No. 4, in page 50, line 46, at end insert—

    `(subject to subsection (4) of this section)'.

    No. 5, in page 50, line 49, leave out

    `(subject to subsection (4))'.

    No. 6, in page 50, line 54, at end insert—

    '(3A) The registrar of the new port of registry shall notify the registrar of the former port of registry of the grant of the new certificate of registry.'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 12

    Separate Registration Of Fishing Vessels

    Amendment made: No. 58, in page 10, line 7, at end insert—

    '(4A) Where a fishing vessel becomes registered under this Part at a time when it is already registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom, the owner of the vessel shall take all reasonable steps to secure the termination of the vessel's registration under the law of that country.
    (4B) Any person who contravenes subsection (4A) shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the third level on the standard scale.'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Schedule 2

    Registration Of Fishing Vessels: Supplementary Provisions

    Amendment made: No. 18, in page 56, line 24, at end insert—

    'Construction of references in other enactments to fishing vessels excluded from registration

    8. References in any statutory provision (apart from section 2(1)(ab)) to fishing vessels excluded from registration by regulations under section 12 shall be construed as references to fishing vessels which, being eligible to be registered under this Part by virtue of section 13, are excluded from registration by such regulations (and are not registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom).'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 13

    Eligibility For Registration As British Fishing Vessel

    Amendments made: No. 30, in page 11, line 35, after `means', insert '(a)'.

    No. 31, in page 11, line 36, after 'Kingdom', insert—', or

    (b) a local authority in the United Kingdom'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Schedule 3

    Mortgages Of Registered Fishing Vessels

    Interpretation

    Amendments made: No. 50, in page 58, line 3, leave out

    `when the mortgage money has become'

    and insert

    'if the mortgage money or any part of it is'.

    No. 51, in page 58, line 29, at end insert—

    'Transfer of mortgages from one system of registration to another

    9. —(1) Regulations may provide—
  • (a) for the transfer to the register of undischarged mortgages that have been registered under Part I of the 1894 Act and affect ships registered under that Part of that Act which become registered vessels otherwise than in pursuance of paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to this Act; and
  • (b) for any provisions of this Part to have effect in relation to any such mortgages, or in relation to any mortgages transferred in pursuance of paragraph 4 of that Schedule, subject to such modifications as may be specified in the regulations.
  • (2) Regulations may also provide—
  • (a) for the transfer to registers kept under Part I of the 1894 Act of undischarged registered mortgages affecting registered vessels which become ships registered under that Part of that Act; and
  • (b) for any provisions of that Part of that Act to have effect in relation to any such mortgages subject to such modifications as may be specified in the regulations.
  • (3) Without prejudice to the generality of sub-paragraphs (1) and (2)—
  • (a) regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) may make provision, in connection with the transfer of mortgages in pursuance of that sub-paragraph, for the transmission of information relating to such mortgages which is recorded in registers kept under Part I of the 1894 Act, and for the recording of such information in the register kept under this Part; and
  • (b) regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (2) may make corresponding provision, in connection with the transfer of mortgages in pursuance of that sub-paragraph, for the transmission and recording of information relating to such mortgages which is recorded in the register kept under this Part.
  • (4) In this paragraph "regulations" means regulations made under section 12.'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 21

    Offences Relating To, And Liabilities Of, Unregistered Fishing Vessels

    Amendments made: No. 32, in page 16, line 15, at end insert—

    '(2A) Subsection (1) also applies to any fishing vessel which (notwithstanding that it is not entitled to be so registered) is for the time being registered in the United Kingdom under Part I of the 1894 Act or section 5 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1983 (registration of small ships).'.

    No. 33, in page 16, line 26, leave out 'registered under this Part' and insert

    'a British ship and is not registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom'.

    No. 34, in page 16, line 27, leave out 'so registered' and insert 'registered under this Part'. — [Mr. Channon.]

    Clause 29

    Owner And Master Liable In Respect Of Dangerously Unsafe Ship

    Amendments made: No. 15, in page 22, line 11, after `ought', insert 'reasonably'.

    No. 35, in page 22, line 35, leave out from 'sea' to end of line 36 and insert

    `shall, in a case where the service for which a ship is intended consists of going on voyages or excursions that do not involve going to sea, be construed as a reference to going on such a voyage or excursion.'. —[Mr. Channon.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 22, line 41, at end insert

    `The provisions of this section and of sections 30 and 31 below shall apply to all cases where, after 1st January 1987, investigators of marine accidents appointed by the Secretary of State have found owners or masters liable as specified in those sections'.
    I am grateful to the tenth of our parliamentary number who have supported this amendment, although they do not all appear on the Order Paper. I want to make it clear from the start that we are dealing with retrospective legislation. This is an important matter, and if I had not wanted to appear serious about it, I would not have tabled the amendment. I do not move the amendment vindictively. I know that I am not Sir Jeffrey Sterling or of his ilk, but I know people who have lost loved ones in the terrible disasters of the past 12 to 18 months, and I know people who are constantly in fear of their loved ones going to sea. Especially now, with the horror stories of the ro-ro ferries, I am conscious of the responsibility that we have.

    I know that people will raise eyebrows and say that restrospective legislation is just not on, but in a brief that I have received from the Library, I note that the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) A.ct 1793 in no way prevents Parliament from making an Act retrospective if the intention to do so is apparent. The intention of this amendment to do so is apparent. It is stated:
    "'It is obviously competent for the legislature, in its wisdom, to make the provisions of an Act of Parliament retrospective,' said Lord Ashbourne in Smith v. Callander4 2 and 'No one denies,' said Dr. Lushington in The Ironsities,4 3 `the competency of the legislature to pass retrospective statutes if they think fit,4 4 and many times they have done so.'"
    On eight occasions since 1980, the Government have introduced retrospective legislation, such as the National Health Service (Invalid Direction) Act 1980, the Employment Act 1982, the London Regional Transport (Amendment) Act 1985, the Housing and Planning Act 1986, the Rate Support Grants Act 1986, the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987, the Local Government Finance Act 1987, and the Local Government Finance Bill 1987–88, clause 113.

    Those are eight instances of the Government using retrospective legislation. I am seeking to use retrospective legislation tonight on behalf of people who lost members of their families in the Zeebrugge disaster. As my amendment states, it goes back to 1 January 1987, which would take in the Zeebrugge disaster, and take those people within the province of other sections of the Bill to which we have already agreed tonight.

    In Committee we tried to differentiate between the master's liability and that of the owners, but our choice has been limited because of the stonewalling of the Government. To prove that this legislation is necessary, the amendment states:
    "the investigators of marine accidents appointed by the Secretary of State have found owners or masters liable as specified in those sections."
    We are talking about criminal negligence, unsafe practices of the vessels and allowing unsafe vessels to go to sea. It is still the contention of Opposition Members —despite what the Minister, the Secretary of State and others have said — that the ro-ro ferries are inherently unstable. In that respect, the Sheen report states:
    "But a full investigation into the circumstances of the disaster leads inexorably to the conclusion that the underlying or cardinal faults lay higher up in the Company"—
    not with the lower ranks of the company, but higher up.
    "The Board of Directors did not appreciate their responsibility for the safe management of their ships. They did not apply their minds to the question: What orders should be given for the safety of our ships? The directors did not have any proper comprehension of what their duties were. There appears to have been a lack of thought about the way in which the HERALD ought to have been organised for the Dover/Zeebrugge run. All concerned in management, from the members of the Board of Directors down to the junior superintendents, were guilty of fault in that all must be regarded as sharing responsibility for the failure of management. From top to bottom the body corporate was infected with the disease of sloppiness.
    The failure on the part of the shore management to give proper and clear directions was a contributory cause of the disaster. This is a serious finding which must be explained in some detail."
    On 18 March 1986, there was a meeting between senior masters and management, at which Mr. Develin took the chair. One topic discussed was the recognition of the chief officer as head of department and the roles of the maintenance master and chief officer. Mr. Develin said that, although he was still considering writing definitions of the different roles, he thought that
    "it was more preferable not to define the roles but to allow them to evolve."
    Mr. Justice Sheen said:
    "It was the failure to give clear orders about the duties of the Officers on the Zeebrugge run which contributed so greatly to the causes of this disaster … The Board of Directors must accept a heavy responsibility for their lamentable lack of directions. Individually and collectively they lacked a sense of responsibility. This left what Mr. Owen so aptly described as, 'a vacuum at the centre' … It is also right to say that the Company has recognised its causative faults. On the eighth day of this Investigation Mr. Clarke"—
    he was a representative of the company—
    "said 'Townsend Car Ferries recognise that long before the 6th March 1987 both their sea and shore staff should have given proper consideration to the adequacy of the whole system relating to the closing of doors on this class of ship with their clam doors.'"
    The Guardian of 28 and 29 April, reporting from the inquiry, said that there were clear signs of the culpability of the company in its running of the ferry service and its inactivity in correcting some of the practices that had come to light during the previous decade.

    I wish to deal with three factors. The first is the overloading with passengers, which is criminal negligence on the part of the company. It became apparent from the documents given in evidence to the inquiry that seven different masters had found that, from time to time, their ships were carrying passengers substantially in excess of the permitted number.

    The documents revealed that the senior master of the Pride of Free Enterprise, Captain Blowers, sent a memorandum dated not 1987 or 1986 but 16 August 1982, to Mr. A. P. Young, the operations director, with a copy to Mr. Develin. The relevant passages of the memorandum state that on 28 July 1982 there were 250 passengers over the prescribed limit; on 6 August 1982, there were 40 passengers over the limit; on 8 August 1982, there were 100 passengers too many; and on 18 August 1982 there were 171 passengers too many.

    That was reported consistently to the company. It consistently broke the law. The overloading of passengers and vehicles on the ferry contributed to the loss of the vessel. Year after year, reports were given to the company, but no action was taken. Through 1982, 1983 and 1984 the inadequacies of the system were reported to the company.

    Matters reached such a stage that in 1986, an officer reporting on passenger numbers said :
    "This total is way over the life-saving capacity of the vessel. The fine on the Master for this offence is £50,000 and probably confiscation of certificate. May I please know what steps the company intend to take to protect my career from the mistakes of this nature."
    Everyone in the company knew about the overloading of passengers. It was part and parcel of the ethics of Townsend Thoresen, like a latter-day railway service in India, pushing the people on and making as much profit as possible no matter how great the risk to the passengers and crew.

    In 1986, in reply to Captain Stoker, Mr. Young, for the company, said:
    "I accept that the present method of obtaining the correct number of passengers boarding vessels is liable to error but I feel that everyone must accept that, whatever system is operated, there will always be the possibility of human error".
    Reports continued to flood in in 1986 and 1987. Everyone was informing the company of what was wrong. At the end of the day, the court reluctantly had to conclude:
    "Mr. Young made no proper or sincere effort to solve the problem. The Court takes a most serious view of the fact that so many of the Company's ferries were carrying an excessive number of passengers on so many occasions."
    Townsend Thoresen and P and O stand condemned of overloading their vessels with passengers. We believe that the Sheen report suggests criminality on their part and Parliament has a responsibility to act on that.

    Indicator lights would have given clear warning that the bow doors on the Herald of Free Enterprise were not closed. Indicator lights were not a new feature, but were part and parcel of an ongoing programme. As far back as 1983 people knew about the defect, but the company did nothing about it.

    On 28 June 1985 Captain Blowers of the Pride sent a sensible memorandum to Mr. Develin of the company. The relevant part of it stated:
    "In the hope that there might be one or two ideas worthy of consideration I am forwarding some points that have been suggested on this ship and with reference to any future new-building programme. Many of the items are mentioned because of the excessive amounts of maintenance, time and money spent on them."
    He spoke about a mimic panel:
    "There is no indication on the bridge as to whether the most important watertight doors are closed or not. That is the bow or stern doors. With the very short distance between the berth and the open sea on both sides of the channel this can be a problem if the operator is delayed or having problems with closing the doors. Indicator lights on the very excellent mimic panel could enable the bridge team to monitor the situation in such circumstances."
    Since the disaster, the Secretary of State has come to the House and said that action has been taken in that regard. We applaud that, but the company knew about it since 1983 and did nothing about it. Therefore, in respect of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the company should be charged with criminal negligence.

    On 9 October 1986, Captain de Ste Croix sent the following memorandum to the senior electrical officer:
    "Another incident has occurred to remind me of my request of some time ago for bridge indication of the position of the bow and stern watertight doors. I still feel that although it is the duty of a crew member to check the position of the doors visually prior to proceeding to sea, it is so important to the safety of the ship that they are closed that we should have bridge indication."
    The reports were sent in and passed round from one member of management to another. At the end of the day those reports came to nothing. Mr. Develin did not appreciate the importance of the reported incidents and dismissed them as exaggeration on the part of those officers and crew members who reported such inadequacies.

    Another important consideration is ascertaining the draughts of the ships and their ballast. On the stability of the vessels, the Sheen report states:
    "Mr. Develin did not appreciate that the stability of the Herald could be significantly affected if the ship was trimmed by the head. Mr. Develin is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and has been a Government Marine Surveyor in Hong Kong. Accordingly he should have appreciated this. Whether the ship had sailed overloaded before the 6th March 1987 is not known, but it seems likely …. In subsequent answers Mr. Develin made it clear that he thought that every complaint was an exaggeration."
    In reply to a further question about masters taking ships out in an unstable condition, Mr. Develin said:
    "If he was that concerned he would not have sailed."
    He washed his hands of responsibility despite requests, and information about the bad practices. He took no action and the company again stands condemned.

    1.15 am

    It is now necessary to go back in time briefly. In 1982 the passenger ferry European Gateway, which was also owned by the company, capsized after a collision off Harwich. Following that casualty, the company instituted an investigation into passenger safety. As a result of that investigation, on 10 February 1983, Captain Martin sent a report to Mr. Develin. That report was seen by Mr. Ayres. It begins with the words:
    "The Company and ships' Masters could be considered negligent on the following points …
  • (a) the ship's draught is not read before sailing, and the draught entered into the Official Log Book is completely erroneous;
  • (b) It is not standard practice to inform the Master of his passenger figure before sailing.
  • (The written comment was 'system informs Master, who often does not agree the truth of the information.')
  • (c) The tonnage of cargo is not declared to the Master before sailing.
  • (d) Full speed is maintained in dense fog."
  • All those features were continually reported to the company but it did nothing about them. Of course, its inactivity over the years was shielded by the Government.

    Mr. Ayres was subjected to 10 questions by the inquiry. The final one was:
    "Would it be unfair of me to suggest that your investigation was pretty superficial?"
    to which he replied:
    "With hindsight it can be said."
    "Mr. Ayres may be a competent Naval Architect,"
    Mr. Justice Sheen said,
    "but the Court formed the view that he did not carry out his managerial duties, whatever they may have been."
    The report said that even the tragic disaster of the Gateway did not result in any immediate improvement. On 7 May 1987, Mr. A. P. Young sent a memorandum to Mr. A. Black, who is a director of P and O, in which he said:
    "Shore loading personnel expect ships' officers to advise if actual ship sinkage is ahead of estimated cargo tonnages. At this stage, the loading personnel will decide the shut-off priorities."
    In other words, the master is aboard his ship, passengers and vehicles are pouring on to it, the figures are being fiddled and the weight coming on is uncontrolled. The log is false, the amount of water on board unknown.

    Later, the masters and those whom they represented applied to have an engine installed to pump out water from the ballast tanks, to make the ship more stable:
    "Mr. Develin was asked whether he thought the suggestion made by Mr. Crone that a powerful pump should be installed was a good idea or a bad idea. He said that he did not think he gave it much thought after having decided that it was not a safety matter. He handed it over as a technical project to Mr. Ridley. In due course an estimate was obtained for the installation of a pump at a cost of £25,000. This cost was regarded by the Company as prohibitive".
    The pump was needed because the ships are given such tight turnround times between ports. It is known that ferries go out to sea cutting into the water because of the excess ballast. With such a pump on board, they could have drained off the water from the ballast tanks quickly, but profits come before people's lives and again the company stands condemned for its inactivity.

    Townsend Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd., at all levels from the board of directors down through managers and the marine department to junior superintendents, stands condemned in the Sheen report as criminally guilty. So I submit that the investigators of marine accidents appointed by the Secretary of State have found the owners of these vessels liable as specified in clauses 29, 30 and 31. If justice is to be done in the case of the 200 people who died on the Herald of Free Enterprise and for their families, who have just celebrated—if that is the word—the first anniversary of the deaths of their loved ones, we have a duty and responsibility to see it carried out.

    As I have said, it is not unusual to introduce retrospective legislation. If the Government are sincere about righting the wrong that has been done in this case, they will support us by accepting the amendment and introducing retrospective legislation in respect of clauses 29, 30 and 31.

    I shall be brief. I have some sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) on the issue that he raises. Like every hon. Member, I was clearly shocked not only by the manner of the sinking of the Herald and the human tragedy that that involved, but by the comments that were made at the Sheen inquiry about which my hon. Friend has spoken. The company had almost no care whatever for the safety of those who were in its charge.

    Prosecutions may be pending, but it is quite likely that those who were ultimately responsible — the senior managers of the company—are likely to escape penalty. That is particularly galling in the light of the letter written by P and O to those involved in the tragedy. The company advised them that they were not obliged to speak to the police who were inquiring into the whole affair and into whether criminal prosecutions were possible. Obviously, such prosecutions might have been against senior management in the company.

    That letter was self-serving, and it is interesting to contrast it with the advice of the National Union of Seamen which has recently been pilloried for its actions. Its advice to its members was that they should co-operate with the police, and, if they wanted legal representation, the union would provide it. It is worth making the comparison between the two approaches.

    It is on record how I have condemned the company for seeking to frustrate proper action by the police who were investigating the events leading up to the Herald disaster. For those reasons, it is difficult to resist the amendment. The traditional argument against it is that the House has an aversion to retrospective legislation, but during the lifetime of this Parliament the Government have passed such legislation, particularly against local government.

    The Government have sought to act retrospectively and have brought in retrospective legislation. Where necessary, they have changed the rules in such a way as to make sure that what they intended is brought into line with reality. They did that by changing the law and the penalties in relation to local government in a way that has damaged the interests of my constituents both as ratepayers and as consumers of local government services. If they are prepared retrospectively to damage the interests of the people that I represent, who are generally quite poor, I can think of no reason why, on balance, retrospective legislation should not be used to deal with those whose contempt for people in their charge was such that ultimately it led to their deaths. For those reasons, the amendment has a great deal to commend it.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government do not take a principled view against retrospective legislation? That is because they are, for example, introducing legislation of a retrospective nature to allow local authorities to charge administration fees against superannuation funds instead of against ratepayers. The instrument that will apply this will be retrospective to 1986, so the Government do not oppose retrospection in principle.

    My hon. Friend makes a valid point which the Minister should take on board. It is almost certain that my hon. Friend has just destroyed the main thrust of the Minister's speech. The interesting point is that in this case my hon. Friend the Member for Broadgreen wants retrospection only to 1987. We are told that the Government are quite happy to refer matters back to 1986.

    I am following the hon. Gentleman's interesting argument. Does he recognise any distinction between retrospection in civil law and retrospection in criminal law?

    I am sure that there is a very valuable point to be made about that. In some senses, retrospection in civil law has less to commend it than retrospection in criminal law. That may not be the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted, but I am not sure whether this is a matter of absolute principle if the process of the court is at least to recognise a moral or an acceptable balance. As I am not a lawyer, I might be persuaded otherwise on another occasion. I do not think that I recognise any major difference. I hope that the Minister can satisfy the House in the context of my hon. Friend's remarks.

    I wish to make one brief point before I deal with the substance of the amendment. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) asserted that this type of ro-ro vessel is inherently unstable. It is not unstable, provided that it is watertight. It is important that the House should recognise that it is a different situation if one of those vessels, which, apart from this tragedy, have had a good safety record, goes to sea without the doors being closed and therefore is not watertight. It is a matter of the management of the vessel, but I shall not go into further detail now.

    The amendment is not acceptable to the Government. It aims to tighten the criminal law retrospectively. That would be abhorrent in a democratic country, where it is a fundamental principle that people should be found guilty only under the criminal law as it applied when the offence was committed.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred to restrospection, but none of the legislation to which he and the hon. Member for Broadgreen referred involves criminal acts. The amendment would seek to make that which was lawful at the time criminal, if applied retrospectively. The hon. Member for Bradford, South will realise that that makes a considerable difference to the case.

    The hon. Member for Broadgreen read out large chunks from the Sheen report. All the matters in the report are now with the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose attention was drawn to the formal inquiry report by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last autumn.

    There is a principle at stake here. I invite the House without any hesitation to reject the suggestion that we should apply the criminal law retrospectively.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 11, Noes 126.

    Division No. 247]

    [1.27 am

    AYES

    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Salmond, Alex
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Skinner, Dennis
    Cryer, BobWise, Mrs Audrey
    Cunliffe, Lawrence
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Tellers for the Ayes:
    Loyden, EddieMr. Bill Michie and
    McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Mr. Terry Fields.
    Prescott, John

    NOES

    Alexander, RichardHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
    Amess, DavidHaselhurst, Alan
    Amos, AlanHayward, Robert
    Arbuthnot, JamesHunt, David (Wirral W)
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Hunter, Andrew
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
    Ashby, DavidKnapman, Roger
    Atkinson, DavidLang, Ian
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Latham, Michael
    Baldry, TonyLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Batiste, SpencerLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyLightbown, David
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Lilley, Peter
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Boscawen, Hon RobertLyell, Sir Nicholas
    Bottomley, PeterMacfarlane, Sir Neil
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaMaclean, David
    Bowis, JohnMcLoughlin, Patrick
    Brazier, JulianMans, Keith
    Bright, GrahamMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
    Britten, Rt Hon LeonMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
    Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMawhinney, Dr Brian
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Burns, SimonMeyer, Sir Anthony
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
    Carrington, MatthewMiller, Hal
    Cash, WilliamMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulMitchell, David (Hants NW)
    Chope, ChristopherMorrison, Hon P (Chester)
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Moss, Malcolm
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Nelson, Anthony
    Cope, JohnNeubert, Michael
    Cran, JamesNewton, Rt Hon Tony
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaNicholls, Patrick
    Curry, DavidNicholson, David (Taunton)
    Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Davis, David (Boothferry)Oppenheim, Phillip
    Day, StephenPage, Richard
    Dorrell, StephenPorter, David (Waveney)
    Dover, DenPowell, William (Corby)
    Dunn, BobRaffan, Keith
    Durant, TonyRathbone, Tim
    Fallon, MichaelRenton, Tim
    Favell, TonyRiddick, Graham
    Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
    Forman, NigelRyder, Richard
    Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Sackville, Hon Tom
    Freeman, RogerSainsbury, Hon Tim
    French, DouglasShaw, David (Dover)
    Gale, RogerShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Garel-Jones, TristanShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Gill, ChristopherShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
    Glyn, Dr AlanSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)

    Stanbrook, IvorWallace, James
    Stern, MichaelWaller, Gary
    Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWatts, John
    Summerson, HugoWells, Bowen
    Taylor, Ian (Esher)Widdecombe, Ann
    Taylor, John M (Solihull)Wolfson, Mark
    Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)Wood, Timothy
    Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Twinn, Dr IanTellers for the Noes:
    Waddington, Rt Hon DavidMr. Kenneth Carlisle and
    Wakeham, Rt Hon JohnMr. Alan Howarth.

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Clause 30

    Owner Liable For Unsafe Operation Of Ship

    Amendment made: No. 8, in page 23, line 1, leave out from beginning to second 'and' in line 7.— [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Clause 32

    Investigation Of Marine Accidents

    Amendment made: No. 9, in page 26, leave out lines 16 to 18.— [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Clause 35

    Amendments Of Coast Protection Act 1949 Relating To Safety Of Navigation

    Amendments made: No. 39, in page 30, line 6, leave out from 'condition' to 'his' in line 7 and insert

    `subject to which the Secretary of State has given'.

    No. 40, in page 30, line 13, after 'any', insert `other'.

    No. 41, in page 30, leave out lines 16 to 22 and insert—

    '(c) may, if the condition relates—
  • (i) to the provision of any lights, signals or other aids to navigation, or
  • (ii) to the stationing of guard ships in the vicinity of the works in question or to the taking of any other measures for the purpose of, or in connection with, controlling the movements of ships in the vicinity of those works,
  • be varied by the Secretary of State in the interests of the safety of navigation (whether or not the operation has been completed) in such manner as he thinks fit for the purpose of enhancing the effectiveness of any such aids or measures as are mentioned in paragraph (i) or (ii) above; and'.

    No. 42, in page 30, line 41, at end insert—

    `(5A) After section 36 insert—

    "Imposition by Secretary of State of safety requirements in cases of emergency.

    36A. — (1) Where at any time after the Secretary of State has given his consent for an operation falling within section 34(1)(a) of this Act ("the relevant consent"), it appears to him—
  • (a) that any danger to navigation has arisen by reason of—
  • (i) any substantial damage to any works to which that consent relates, or
  • (ii) any other substantial and unforeseen change in the state or position of any such works, and
  • (b) that it is urgently necessary to do so in the interests of the safety of navigation,
  • he may, by notice served on the person to whom the consent was given, impose on that person such requirements as he thinks fit with respect to any of the matters referred to in subsection (2) below.
    (2) Those matters are—
  • (a) the provision on, in the vicinity of, the works in question of any lights, signals or other aids to navigation, and
  • (b) the stationing of guard ships in the vicinity of those works.
  • (3) Where the person on whom a notice is served under subsection (1) above fails to comply with any requirements of the notice within the period of 24 hours beginning with the time when it is served on him or as soon after the end of that period as is reasonably practicable, the Secretary of State may make such arrangements as he thinks fit for the purpose of securing that those requirements are implemented.
    (4) Where under subsection (3) above the Secretary of State makes any such arrangements, he shall be entitled to recover the cost, as certified by him, of making those arrangements from such one or more of the following, namely—
  • (a) the person to whom the relevant consent was given, and
  • (b) any other person or persons who is or are, in accordance with section 34(4A)(b) of this Act, bound by any condition subject to which that consent was given,
  • as he thinks fit.
    (5) Once the requirements of a notice under subsection (1) above have been complied with by the person on whom it was served or implemented in accordance with arrangements made by the Secretary of State under subsection (3) above, those requirements shall, subject to subsection (6) below, be treated for the purposes of this Part of this Act as conditions subject to which the relevant consent was given.
    (6) Section 34(4A)(a) and (d) of this Act shall not apply to any such requirements; but if it appears to the Secretary of State (whether on the application of any person or otherwise) that the circumstances giving rise to the urgent necessity for the imposition of the requirements no longer exist, he shall revoke them by notice served on the person to whom the relevant consent was given.
    (7) Where the Secretary of State has served a notice under subsection (1) above in respect of any particular circumstances, subsection (5) above shall not preclude him from serving a further notice under subsection (1) in respect of those circumstances.
    (8) A notice may be served by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) above whether or not—
  • (a) the operation in question has been completed, or
  • (b) any condition was imposed by him, on giving the relevant consent, with respect to any of the matters referred to in subsection (2) above.".'. —[Mr. David Mitchell]
  • Schedule 5

    Miscellaneous Amendments Of Merchant Shipping Acts

    Merchant Shipping Law Amendment Act 1853 (C 131)

    Amendment made: No. 52., in page 69, line 45, at end insert—

    `2A. At the end of section 546 (salvage of cargo or wreck) add—
    "(2) In this section 'tidal water' means—
  • (a) any waters within the ebb and flow of the tide at ordinary spring tides; or
  • (b) the waters of any dock which is directly, or (by means of one or more other docks) indirectly, connected with any such waters.";
  • and the existing provisions of section 546 shall accordingly constitute subsection (1) of that section.'. — [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 69, line 47, at end insert—

    '3A. After section 634A insert—

    Matters to be considered by general lighthouse authority before closure, etc., of facilities operated by them

    634B. — (1) Before bringing into effect any proposal which may result in a reduction in the number of persons to be employed or the hours of attendance to be worked at any lighthouse or lighthouse shore station a general lighthouse authority give written notice of any such proposal to the local authority within whose area the lighthouse shore station is situated and shall consider any representations received from that authority within a period of three months from the date of the notice.
    (2) In formulating any proposal referred to in subsection (1) above the general lighthouse authority shall have regard to the desirability of enabling every employee to be made wholly or partly redundant by the proposal to continue to live and work in the same locality, and the notice to the local authority required by virtue of subsection (1) above shall specify what provision the general lighthouse authority propose to make by way of housing accommodation, financial assistance and retraining or, if the general lighthouse authority consider no such provision is necessary, their reasons for so deciding.
    (3) "Local authority" for the purpose of the application of this section means in relation to—
  • (a) England and Wales, the council of a county;
  • (b) Scotland, the regional or islands council; and
  • (c) Northern Ireland, the district council."'.
  • The amendment would impose duties on the general lighthouse authorities before the closure of, or reduction in staff at, any of their lighthouses or light stations. It arises from the problem of automation of lighthouses and the closure of sound fog signals undertaken by the lighthouse authorities — principally by the one that concerns me, the Northern lighthouse board—in recent years.

    Clearly there are many pressures on the lighthouse authorities to cut costs at present — from the Government and from shipowners who have to pay light dues. There was a considerable outcry when the light dues were increased a year go, and pressures to reduce costs have weighed heavily on the lighthouse authorities. The march of technology means that automation techniques, which have led to some staff being made redundant, have been implemented. My worry is about the consequences of the automation programme on the individuals concerned and the communities in which they live.

    The problem is not unique to the United Kingdom. I understand that a programme in Canada has led to the automation of 85 of the 266 light stations there, and 230 men have been retired, retrained or reassigned. There are difficulties for the individuals involved. For many, it means giving up tied housing. Many may be in late middle age and find it difficult to retrain for new employment. It is also difficult to find employment. Many lighthouses are in remote parts of the country, where employment is not easy to find at the best of times, let alone at a time of high unemployment.

    It is not easy for men to uproot themselves from communities in which they may have lived for a long time and brought up a family. There are also problems for the community. They are often remote and sparsely populated. It is proposed to automate the lighthouse on Bressay, which has a population of only 333. Taking one family from that community would have a significant impact. Fair Isle has a population of only 66. One lighthouse has already been automated, and the House will realise what an impact the removal of a family would have on that community. It would affect social life and mean

    that the local authority would have greater difficulty in providing services, which would become more expensive per head of population.

    Losing a keeper and his family and making local assistants redundant can have a devastating effect on a remote rural area. The process has been quiet. We are talking about the loss of one job here and two jobs there. While closures do not attract the same public attention as a pit or major steelworks closure, they can have a similar impact proportionately.

    The amendment would impose a duty on the lighthouse authorities to give local authorities notice when they are about to implement a closure or reduce staffing. There is no such duty at present, but a lighthouse may be a listed building, which means that the local authority is brought in if it wishes to do anything with that building. That is the mechanism by which the local authority in my constituency has been alerted to a possible closure and the consequences for the local community.

    The amendment asks the authorities to consider the impact of their actions on the community. It would allow a local authority, in conjunction with the board, to see what can be done to find alternative employment for those affected. It would also allow the local authority to draw attention to cases when, on grounds of safety, it believes a light should be saved.

    There has been considerable resistance to demanning of lighthouses in British Columbia. An independent review found that one quarter of stations should be kept staffed. It also suggested that the role of coast watchers should be enhanced because there was a clear need for help for boaters and tourists in some remote areas. Drawing a proposed closure to the attention of a local authority would enable some local input to be made if there was a safety reason for keeping a lighthouse open.

    The amendment would also give boards a statutory duty to have regard to social factors when they make a decision. I have had considerable correspondence and meetings with the northern lighthouse board about automation and closures, and particularly about its proposed closures in my consituency. In my experience, the commissioners are sensitive and aware of the impact of their decisions on communities, yet they come back to me and say, "That is not within our statutory remit. We cannot do anything about it. We are helpless. We have a statutory duty to supply a lighthouse service and our scope for action is circumscribed. We cannot take into account social considerations." The amendment would allow them to do so. It would trigger off consultation with local authorities.

    1.45 am

    The Under-Secretary of State, Lord Brabazon, told me in a letter that in areas such as my constituency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board is always on hand to provide help. I certainly welcome the work of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, but even if the Minister cannot accept the amendment — I certainly hope that he will—it would be very encouraging if he were to give some indication that the lighthouse boards would seek to make contact with local authorities, and that even if it were not a statutory duty they would do that as a matter of practice and that they would also make contact with boards such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board so that it would have good notice of where there was likely to be redundancies and it would have advance warning so that it could take immediate action. Subsection (2) of the amendment contains some things that we should like the lighthouse boards to do if there were proposals to close down a particular lighthouse. It would require them to redeploy any redundant employees in the locality, to provide housing for those who would lose their tied housing, and to make financial provision for redundant employees or to provide retraining.

    As I have said, job opportunities could arise out of the closure of lighthouses. For example, some of the older lighthouses can become tourist attractions and can be converted into museums. That is a possibility for the Sumburgh lighthouse in my constituency. At Cape Spear, in Newfoundland, several jobs have been created in the locality by the Canadian parks taking over the lighthouse and making it into a culture centre and a museum. Such initiatives could be taken, and the local authorities could get in on the act very quickly if they had advance warning.

    In regard to redundancy provision, the northern lighthouse board is considering the position of mobile keepers. Negotiations are in train with regard to seeking a small improvement in the agreed contractual redundancy provisions to take account of keepers losing housing. I understand that that will need the approval of the Secretary of State and I very much hope that when the time comes he will give his approval. However, that applies only to a small number of keepers—the mobile keepers. I would wish further consideration to be given to those who are in non-mobile grades who may also find themselves without work.

    There are a number of automated lighthouse people who have been in the service for many years and who have found that they will not reach promotion to the rank of principal keeper, when three or four years ago they fully expected to retire at the grade of principal keeper and enjoy all the pension rights of that grade. In my constituency it is very unlikely that a certain keeper who otherwise might have expected to be promoted before retirement will be promoted. At a very late stage in his working life, he cannot look forward to the pension that he thought he would receive. The Government should address themselves to this situation, since lighthouse keepers will obviously lose out.

    I should like to ask the Minister one specific question about Irish lights. It has been represented to me by lighthouse keepers that there were enhanced redundancy provisions for some of the keepers who were in the employment of the commissioners of Irish lights. Will the Minister confirm whether that was the case and whether any increment was given for which the Secretary of State gave approval?

    Finally, there is the question, who pays? In his letter Lord Brabazon says that if the costs were to fall as a charge on the general lighthouse fund, it would increase the pressure to raise the light dues. The Government must face up to that problem. During the 1984–85 coal dispute the then Secretary of State for Energy, now Secretary of State for Wales, came to the Dispatch Box week after week and proudly announced enhanced redundancy provisions for those who were to lose their jobs in the mining industry and said that help would be given by means of British Coal Enterprise Ltd.

    The scale of this problem is entirely different, but the impact on the communities involved will be almost the same. We are dealing with communities. The loss of only a small number of jobs will have a great impact on communities where there is little alternative employment. The problem cannot be left just to the lighthouse boards, given their present financial structure. The Government must provide assistance for the many communities in the Highlands and Islands and in parts of Wales, England and Northern Ireland that are faced with a very real problem.

    I have listened very carefully to the arguments of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlancl (Mr. Wallace) and I understand his motives, but the Government cannot support his amendment. I know that he has in mind the particular circumstances of lightkeepers in his constituency. The northern lighthouse board is the responsible authority, and I am sure that within the constraints of its statutory obligations to the mariner it has a proper concern for the interests of its employees.

    The board hopes that a substantial element of necessary staff reductions can be achieved by natural wastage. During the last year, the board's redundancies within the hon. Gentleman's constituency have been limited to three persons, each in a separate location. It has no immediate plans for further compulsory redundancies, though a few more may be unavoidable in the longer term.

    Given the very small numbers concerned, even allowing for the remoteness of some of the affected communities, I do not think that it would be practicable or desirable to impose the kind of duty on the general lighthouse authorities that the clause proposes. However, I shall follow up the hon. Gentleman's point and suggest to my noble friend in another place that he should ask the northern lighthouse board to advise local authorities, the Scottish Development Agency or the Highlands and Islands Development Board, as may be appropriate, and any other local enterprise agencies that may be operating in the area of any proposed redundancies. On the basis of that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

    I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance, and I look forward to its implementation. I asked in particular about provision being made for redundancy, but as the hour is late, I suggest that the Minister should deal with that in correspondence.

    I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendment made: No. 48, page 71, line 30, at end insert—

    'MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT 1906 (c. 48)

    Omit section 52 (provisions with respect to mortgages of ships sold to foreigners).'.

    No. 53, in page 72, leave out lines 10 to 36 and insert—

    Inspection and admissibility in evidence of copies of certain documents.

    75A.—(1) Where under any enactment a document is open to public inspection when in the custody of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen—
  • (a) there may be supplied for public inspection a copy or other reproduction of the document instead of the original; but
  • (b) the original shall nevertheless be made available for public inspection if the copy or other reproduction is illegible.
  • (2) Where the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen destroys any document which has been sent to him under or by virtue of any enactment, and keeps a copy or other reproduction of that document, then—
  • (a) any enactment providing for that document to be admissible in evidence or open to public inspection, and
  • (b) in the case of a document falling within subsection (1), that subsection,
  • shall apply to the copy or other reproduction as if it were the original.
    (3) For the purposes of this section, and of section 695(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 in its application to documents in the custody of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, a copy is to be taken to be the copy of a document nothwithstanding that it is taken from a copy or other reproduction of the original.'.

    No. 10, in page 72, line 37, at end insert—

    'In section 92 (unregistered British ships)—
  • (a) omit "British"; and
  • (b) after "employed in them," insert "or shall so extend in such circumstances as may be so specified, in either case".'.—[Mr. David Mitchell.]
  • Clause 49

    Notices Under Part I Or Ii

    Amendments made: No. 25, in page 42, line 32, after `49', insert—

    '(1A) Any notice required or authorised to be served by the Secretary of State under Part I or II may be served by post.'.

    No. 26, in page 42, line 36, leave out from 'which' to end of line 41 and insert

    `a managing owner is for the time being registered under section 59(1) of the 1894 Act,'.

    No. 27, in page 42, line 44, leave out from 'owners' to end of line 46.

    No. 28, in page 42, line 46, at end insert—

    `( ) For the purposes of section 7 of the Interpretation Act 1978 (service of documents by post) a letter containing—
  • (a) a notice to be served on any person in pursuance of subsection (1) above, or
  • (b) a notice required or authorised to be served under Part I on a representative person within the meaning of that Part,
  • shall be deemed to be properly addressed if it is addressed to that person at the address for the time being recorded in relation to him in the appropriate register; and a letter containing any other notice to which subsection (1A) above applies shall be deemed to be properly addressed if it is addressed to the last-known address of the person to be served (whether of his residence or of a place where he carries on business).'.

    No. 29, in page 43, line 1, at end insert—

    '"the appropriate register"—
  • (a) in relation to a notice in respect of a registered ship, means the register in which the ship is registered under Part I of the 1894 Act, and
  • (b) in relation to a notice in respect of a registered fishing vessel, means the register kept under Part II of this Act;'. —[Mr. David Mitchell.]
  • Clause 51

    Extension Of Act To Overseas Territories

    No. 13, in page 43, line 21, leave out 'exceptions, adaptations and'. — [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Clause 52

    Interpretation, Minor And Consequential Amendments And Repeals

    No. 14, in page 43, line 44, at end insert—

    '"modifications" includes additions, omissions and alterations;'. —[Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Schedule 6

    Minor And Consequential Amendments Sea Fisheries Act 1868 (C 45)

    Amendments made: No. 37, in page 74, line 35, at end insert—

    `and the reference in that subsection to proceeding to sea shall, in a case where the service for which the ship is intended consists of going on voyages or excursions that do not involve going to sea, be construed as a reference to going on such a voyage or excursion.";'.

    No. 38, in page 74, line 42, at end insert—

    `3. In section 692 (enforcing detention of ship), at end add—
    "(5) Any reference in this section to proceeding to sea includes a reference to going on a voyage or excursion that does not involve going to sea, and references to sending or taking to sea shall be construed accordingly."'. —[Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Schedule 7

    Repeals

    Amendments made: No. 54, in page 78, column 3, leave out lines 21 to 24.

    No. 49, in page 80, column 3, leave out lines 13 to 17 and insert—

    `Sections 51 and 52.'.

    No. 55, in page 80, line 30, column 3, leave out 'Section 10.'.

    No. 11, in page 80, line 43, column 3, at end insert—

    'In section 92, the word "British".'.

    No. 12, in page 81, column 3, leave out line 15 and insert—

    `In section 37, subsection (4), and in subsection (6) the word "British".'. —[Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Schedule 8

    Transitional Provisions And Savings

    Amendment made: No. 7, in page 82, line 41, at end insert—

    '3A. Section 4 (5A) of this Act shall not have effect at any time before the commencement of Part II of this Act, and shall not affect the operation of section 12(3) of this Act in relation to fishing vessels which are registered under Part I of the 1894 Act immediately before the commencement of Part II of this Act.'. —[Mr. David Mitchell.]

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time. — [Mr. David Mitchell.]

    1.53 am

    I repeat the welcome that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) gave to the Government's two new clauses on cabotage. It was good to hear the Minister say that they were long overdue. We are grateful for their inclusion in the Bill, and we shall be happy to see them implemented when the Bill reaches the statute book.

    We are disappointed that the Secretary of State was unable to accept our new clauses on industrial relations. However, we are glad that the Bill retains section 19 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1974. As time goes by, the Secretary of State may find that section 19 is used much more frequently than it has been in the past. We are glad that that loophole has been left open and not closed in relation to section 42(2).

    Some of my hon. Friends made a legitimate complaint about the hour at which we are discussing this extremely important legislation. Indeed, had we not been co-operative, we could have run the business through for a very long time, but we did not want to hold back progress on a Bill that we regard as necessary. I hope that the Government Whips and business managers will think very carefully in future about the timing of business on virtually the last day that we are here in Parliament—but I do complain about that. I will say, however, that when we have important business it is quite unnecessary for the Government to make statements that take up an hour of the House's time and delay the progress of a Bill unnecessarily. I hope that the necessary instructions will be relayed to the Home Secretary and the business managers.

    Although we have rightly drawn attention to what we regard as deficiencies in the Bill—we would have liked its safety provisions to be stronger — we nevertheless accept that, in general terms, it was necessary, and we approve of the clauses dealing with registration and safety. I hope that the Minister will use the regulating powers that he has taken very strongly to protect the safety of those who sail in our ships, and of course the passengers who use them.

    Despite our misgivings about some parts of the Bill, and our objections to the schedule, I do not intend to divide the House. We have made some progress. We shall watch the Government intently, and urge them to take action where it is necessary.

    I hope that the Bill will prove an adequate measure to deal with merchant shipping. There is no doubt that, when we return to government, we shall make the necessary changes that we want to see. In the meantime, we accept what has been done, and hope that it will be carried out with expedition once it finally reaches the statute book.

    1.56 am

    Hon. Members who served on the Committee, and those who have taken part in today's debate, can take some satisfaction in having participated in the passage of a Bill that moves ship registration into the 20th century, ensures high standards throughout British dependencies, incorporates many safety lessons learned so sadly at Zeebrugge, sets up the Merchant Navy Reserve, assists training and provides Her Majesty's Government with powers to move against unfair competition, both in cabotage and elsewhere.

    At the same time, the measure will bring to an end unfair competition by Spanish fishing vessels in the United Kingdom quota from the EEC.

    This is not the stuff of a great parliamentary occasion, but it is a worthwhile modernisation of our merchant shipping law, which will further the safety and prosperity of the industry. As such, I commend the Bill to the House.

    Those who go down to the sea in ships, whether at work or as passengers, will in future be able to do so with more safety and security as a result of our activities here tonight.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

    Statutory Instruments, &C

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 10(5) (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

    Financial Services

    That the draft Financial Services Act 1986 (Stabilisation) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.
    That the draft Financial Services Act 1986 (Investment Advertisements) (Exemptions) (No. 2) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.
    That the draft Financial Services Act 1986 (Delegation) (No. 2) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.
    That the Financial Services Act 1986 (Extension of Scope of Act and Meaning of Collective Investment Scheme) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 496), dated 14th March 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th March, be approved.

    Pneumoconiosis

    That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) (Payment of Claims) Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 29th February, be approved.

    Legal Aid And Advice (Scotland)

    That the draft Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations, 1988, which were laid before this House on 17th March, be approved.
    That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 17th March, be approved.

    Legal Aid And Advice

    That the Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1988, dated 8th March 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th March, be approved.
    That the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1988, dated 8th March 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th March, be approved.

    Town And Country Planning

    That the Town and Country Planning (Compensation for Restrictions on Mineral Working) (Amendment) Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 7th March, be approved.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

    Question agreed to.