In the application of this Act to vessels other than fishing vessels and non-seagoing vessels and persons serving in them, the provisions contained in Schedule (Offences in Vessels other than Fishing Vessels and Non-seagoing Vessels) to this Act apply in addition to the other provisions of this Act.—[Mr. McNamara.]
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendments which stand in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer): No. 58, in Clause 29, page 17, line 13 at beginning insert:
'The Board of Trade may make regulations that'
I apologise for the lateness of the new Clause being tabled. Hon. Members who took part in the Second Reading and Committee debate will know my attitude on this matter and the attitude that I have adopted throughout these discussions. I am seeking by the new Clause, and the Amendments which we are discussing with it, to find a method to reconcile two apparent irreconcileables. I appreciate that frequently the Minister has gone out of his way to meet the various difficulties which hon. Members have raised. I hope that on this occasion I can solve a difficulty.
We are here concerned not with the question of safety at sea or the difficulties which face seamen and seafarers in their everyday lives at sea. Clause 28 deals with that aspect and I will not at this stage cover that ground. We are here dealing with industrial discipline and, in attempting to find the best method of achieving it, difficulty arises.
I wish to reconcile certain points which were made in Committee with my attitude towards the question of bringing criminal sanctions into the sphere of industrial discipline in circumstances other than where problems of safety arise. I have, therefore, for the purpose of the new Clause, accepted the arguments which the Minister put in Committee when we discussed a similar new Clause of mine.
This industry needs sanctions of this kind, but we must consider how they can be removed as time goes by. That is the aim of the Amendments. I suggest that instead of having penal sanctions enshrined in the Bill, where they would be likely to remain for a long time—with such permanency they would create discontent and unrest and be regarded as a bogey man—they should be embodied in a provision which could be easily removed in part or in whole, as the industry finds that it can do without them.
Thus, instead of enshrining them in a mandatory form, I propose that the Board of Trade should have power to impose sanctions by regulations. In the new Schedule, which is modelled on the Schedule in the Bill dealing with fishing vessels, that Department would have power to make regulations applying to different types of vessel or to different vessels of the same class in different circumstances. This would overcome one of the major difficulties expressed in Committee; that of trying to define home, middle and foreign trade, bearing in mind the need to achieve exceptions for certain vessels.
If my proposal is accepted, the Board of Trade will issue regulations embodying the sanctions contained in the new Clause, and then it will be for the industry to demonstrate that some or all of them might be withdrawn because they are no longer necessary. In other words, I am endeavouring to create a flexible situation. One by one the various sanctions could be removed so that irritating pinpricks on industrial relations would not last for ever in the shipping industry.
I believe that the new Clause meets the majority of objections which were raised when a similar proposal was discussed in Committee. On that occasion the Minister of State said that we were in dangerous waters. We were discussing, in particular, the question of home trade, and we needed evidence to show that either the existing legislation had preventd accidents from happening or that defiance of existing regulations had caused accidents to occur. If neither of these propositions could be proved, then the argument would be a negative one. One cannot prove that things would or would not have happened because of the existence of legislation. One can only make a subjective judgment. My judgment is that such accidents would not have happened. One would also have to demonstrate that other nations whose ships use our waters have suffered casualties because they have lacked this legislation.
The second main objection put forward by my right hon. Friend was that at present there existed no industrial machinery to deal with this problem. I disputed that. I thought that the difficulty could be overcome. One of the welcome features of the Bill is the provision of shipboard disciplinary tribunals. Within the Federation scheme there already exist in the major ports the rudiments of an effective scheme for ports discipline, for ships and for seamen.
It may be argued that I am trying at a late stage to introduce a major change in the Bill. I do not concede that argument since I have persistently argued against these provisions. Even if one were to accept it as a major change, it would be a major change only on paper. All the regulations under the Amendments would be made by the President of the Board of Trade and would come into operation at whatever date was decided. It would then be up to the industry to decide whether to get rid of these onerous provisions. I believe that they could do so.
In the past few years there has been sufficient good will on both sides in the development of shipboard liaison officers and shipboard committees, although we may disagree about the extent of their influence. But these Committees have been in existence, and there is an opportunity within the industry to create the sort of situation which I should like to see.
The argument for a major change does not hold good since the bare bones of a system already exist. More is promised in the Bill. Furthermore, nobody's position would be prejudiced as a result of the Amendments without proper industrial negotiating and agreement. The burden would lie upon the people who oppose penal sanctions to show that the industry could flourish without them and gradually they could be removed.
The other argument advanced in favour of retaining these penal Clauses is that they have a cumulative value. The argument is that one links up with another and the total effect of the penal Clauses which have existed ever since the 1894 Act is of general value in ensuring safety and discipline. This again is a subjective judgment about which one can argue. The argument involves a consideration as to whether it is better to have these Clauses, knowing the irritation which they cause and the trouble and bitterness which can arise from them, or whether it is better to get rid of them and have a complete system of industrial safety.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary dealing with the Clause in Committee said that he thought it was a middle way. On the one hand was the Federation scheme involving shipboard discipline and on the other hand were all the rigours of Clause 28. We want to see something in between those two extremes. I feel that retaining the penal Clauses is not the way to take a middle course, remembering all the trouble and bitterness which it could arouse. The best way to go about the matter is to strengthen voluntary agreements and to encourage voluntary organisations within the industry so that it disciplines itself.
I do not wish to go over all the points on the various Clauses which were made both on Second Reading and in Committee about the meaning of this or that phrase. There was sufficient weight in the discussions on those Clauses to show that even these medium-term Clauses contain elements which are open to abuse and doubt and which basically are penalty Clauses. I was born in a port and now represent one. I have witnessed both official and unofficial disputes and I know that one of the major causes of grievance has been the existence of the penal provisions of the 1894 Act.
The object of my Amendment and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is to seek to get rid of this aspect. The Amendments are not concerned with safety provisions. It is of course necessary to have strong provisions to preserve safety at sea, as it is in the mines. This matter concerns simply the question of industrial discipline. The Bill has gone a very great way to meet the present difficulties and great credit is due to the Government for what they have done. Many of the abuses suffered in the past by seamen have now been wiped away, procedures have been simplified, and conditions have been improved. But I should like my Front Bench colleagues to think again about the matters touched upon by these Amendments.
I wish to support my hon. Friend on his new Clause and in what he has said about Amendments Nos. 57 to 60. These Amendments raised matters of fundamental importance.
Our Amendments seek to do three things. First, that the Board of Trade may, by regulation, specify any misconduct under Clauses 29, 30 and 31. Secondly, that such regulations may make different provisions for different kinds of vessels other than fishing vessels. Thirdly, that no regulation shall be made under this Clause unless a draft has been laid before Parliament and approved by both Houses.
I would have preferred this matter not to have been discussed in the House. It would have been much better if these offending provisions had been struck from the Bill in Committee. Unfortunately, they were not. These are statutory provisions in the sense that they are being written into the Bill. We are trying to make them permissive in the sense that they may be introduced or revoked according to the decision of the House. There are three main arguments why this should be done.
As did my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I stress that the Bill is a very good Bill. It is a tremendous advance and it has been much improved in Committee. Some of the difficulties mentioned on Second Reading were ironed out in Committee, and all credit for that should go to the Minister and to my hon. Friends on the Committee. But it would be a tragedy if this exceptionally good Bill were clouded by the residue, the dregs, of the old Act. This is the essence of the argument this afternoon.
My hon. Friend has got it somewhat wrong. New Clause 9 is followed by a Schedule and Amendments to other Clauses. The argument does not apply to fishing vessels; quite the reverse. What we are saying is that what is now applied to fishing vessels should be applied to non-fishing vessels. I hope that I have cleared up that point to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend who has had much personal experience, with me, of the problems of seamen over the years.
The second argument is that these provisions are not wanted by the biggest union in the industry. The National Union of Seamen regards these provisions as unnecessary and likely to cause much industrial unrest. I can give an example to support the union's view. Some time ago, during the early stages of the Bill, I received a letter from the crew of the M.V. "Media" from Liverpool. They signed a document which I forwarded to my hon. Friends on the
Committee. Referring to Clauses 27 to 31, the letter said:
These fines if imposed, and these are the main clauses that we object to, could bring about a situation aboard ship, especially if it was out of the U.K. for a long period, when things could get completely out of control. It would also make things very difficult for the Master.
This was the view of rank and file seamen. Some of us have been fairly close to rank and file seamen over the years, mediating on one occasion on their behalf and trying to get settlements to disputes on other occasions.
I want to refer to industrial unrest. This brings me to my third argument. The seamen were looking forward to the Bill and if, rightly or wrongly, they feel that they have been let down, there will clearly be developed an attitude which in certain circumstances could lead to an increase in the problem with industrial unrest breaking out in time.
I know exactly how the seaman felt about the penal provisions of the old Act. Every seamen's strike on Merseyside and elsewhere in the country since the Second World War, although perhaps beginning about wages or conditions, within hours has concerned the penal provisions of the old Act, and a demand for the repeal of the old Act has always been in the forefront of the demands of the seamen. The 1947 strike was an example; the 1955 was another and so was the strike of 1960. Even in the 1966 official dispute the issue of the repeal of the 1894 Act was raised. There is no doubt that seamen feel exceedingly strongly about the penal provisions, and have always done so. It would be a great tragedy if the good parts of the Bill and its great advances were overshadowed by this disciplinary section.
The National Union of Seamen, whose brief I have received, has made it perfectly clear that it is prepared to accept the provisions of Clause 28 on safety measures. Incidentally, some of its disciplinary provisions are somewhat harsher than those of the old Act. It does so as a sign of good faith. However, it does not want the middle line provisions to be included. I think that the union is absolutely justified in that view.
I ask hon. Members to consider the fishing industry and the Holland-Martin Report on Trawler Safety. On the subject of discipline, paragraph 252 says:
There is, however, one relevant point we wish to make."—
The Committee is commenting on the general situation in general under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894—
It has been widely agreed by the witnesses we have seen that the industry should seek as far as possible to administer its own system of discipline and should not rely more than can be helped on criminal sanctions imposed by the Courts. An effective system of 'industrial' discipline operated by both sides of the industry, can provide more flexible—and often more effective—controls over disorderly elements at sea than any statutory code.
All that the National Union of Seamen is saying is that if that can be accepted in the fishing industry a similar situation can be accepted in merchant shipping as a whole, and it has a very reasonable case.
In our Second Reading debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) drew attention to the difficulties that could arise over the disciplinary Clauses, and made a great point of the matter, and I quoted the article written by the General Secretary of the N.U.S. in the September issue of the union's journal. He said:
Unfortunately, the Bill reflects the belief that fines are still a necessary deterrent to indiscipline. Therefore, it proposes that the authority of the master to impose them shall be retained. This is enough to cause dismay, quite apart from the proclaimed intention to dramatically increase the sums of money which can be extracted in this way. We have always been opposed to both fines and the method of their imposition.
Is it not fair to Mr. Hogarth, the General Secretary, to point out that in that paragraph he was talking about fines imposed by the master, whereas, as I understand the purpose of the new Clause and the Amendments, we are talking about the fines which would be imposed by a court, for the criminal offences?
Mr. Hogarth went on to deal with the whole question of monetary punishment. I quoted what he had written on Second Reading, and then said:
That is a very clear statement of the position of the union and I hope that, in Committee, the point will be noted. This is why some of us take the view that Clauses 28, 29 and 30 could be dropped as being totally
unnecessary. If they are not dropped, at least they should be drastically altered."—[OFFKIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1969; Vol. 792, c. 1400.]
It is for the convenience of the House if hon. Members talk about Clauses as they are currently numbered, rather than giving their previous numbers, because the Bill has been through many vicissitudes.
The offending Clauses could be suggested to be similar in essence to the type of proposals in the White Paper "In Place of Strife". The T.U.C. has made an agreement with the Government, which I applaud. The N.U.S. is quite right to point out that despite that agreement similar Clauses are still being included in the Bill. There is a strong feeling on the matter on this side of the House.
We are not condemning the Bill. I hope that no one will suggest that we do not welcome every aspect of it with the exception of these parts. It is a great advance. But is it not possible, even now, for some changes to be made before the Bill goes to the other place? If that is not possible, will my right hon. Friend tell us that at least efforts could be made at the earliest possible moment to meet the needs and desires of the trade union movement on both the general question of the T.U.C. agreement and the specific question the N.U.S., and that he could consider amending legislation? If that could be done, I assure him that we have no desire to cause a great rumpus about the question. But I could not look my seafaring constituents in the face if I returned to Liverpool and said that I voted wholeheartedly for the penal Clauses. I know what they would say to me and what they would think of me, on the basis of my actions in the past. If my right hon. Friend could give us some indication of what the Government has in mind, even at this late stage, perhaps he could satisfy the real desires and feelings on this side of the House. Something should be done to overcome the problem.
I felt when I came here today that it would be unnecessary for me or anyone else to speak very much about the principle of penal Clauses. It will be very unusual if my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and I look at matters in a different light, particularly matters concerning seamen, in even the smallest degree. But I can assure him that if I returned to Liverpool, as I hope to, I would with all the justification in the world say that the Measure was a most progressive merchant shipping Bill. It has got rid of things which penalised seamen in many ways for almost 100 years, and it introduces a belated completely new deal for British sailors. Many generations of past seamen would applaud the Bill if they could see it today.
Hardly anyone could disagree with what I have said up to now. I am coming to the point, with great respect to my two adversaries, who have been friends of mine for many years. It is with regret that I disagree with them, and I will not disagree too much.
No one could have done more to satisfy the needs of the industry than my right hon. Friend the Minister of State during the protracted negotiations leading up to the Committee stage, and during it. He has done everything that he could be expected to do. It is with regret that I see this Amendment brought forward. It is not the responsibility of all hon. Members.
Negotiations have taken place over many years between the Maritime Board and the National Union of Seamen. Every time that we pressed for the Bill we were told that it was not ready, that it was a massive document, and that the penal Clauses were causing a good deal of concern to the union, the shipowners and the Maritime Board. I should be remiss and lacking in courage, and certainly lacking in charity and justice, if I did not say that my regard for the Board of Trade has increased in view of the part played by the Minister of State during the passage of the Bill. I do not usually compliment anyone in Government, as is well known. It is regrettable that this Amendment should be put forward at this late stage. Is there any merit in its coming forward at this late stage?
I am the Member of Parliament for the biggest part of the best port in England. I notice that the N.U.S. document which has been sent to us was not signed by the union's general secretary. As a man of honour, I should tell the House that I telephoned the general secretary, whom I have known for many years, and said that this was an historic Bill and that the proposals in the N.U.S.'s document would make great changes in it. I said to him, "Why did you not sign the document? You are the general secretary". He gave me a very reasonable explanation. It seems that the acting assistant general secretary, Mr. Spruhan, has full responsibility for this document. I am assured that there is no cleavage in the union. I am glad about that. It is a perfectly normal statement to be made, but it goes a very long way.
The union says in the summary of its document:
We appreciate that it is unusual at this point in time of a Bill's formulation to canvass for support in the altering of this new Merchant Shipping Bill.
We have had numerous consultations with the Ministers involved and various committees where we have pressed the view that the penal sanctions are totally unnecessary. Unfortunately we have been unsuccessful in convincing the Government of our arguments.
But the union also said that it knows that there are strong conflicting elements, as there always are, and that it is evident that it will not be able to get all that it requires. When has it ever been possible for working class people to get all that they require all at once?
I will not try to put words into the Minister's mouth, but if he can make concessions at this stage they will be welcome. I stand foursquare with him and those who served on the Standing Committee who I know did all that they could in view of the difficult position that they were in. While this is not a perfect Bill, and while we would wish the penal Clauses to be ameliorated, safety at sea is very important indeed.
It was said in the Sunday Times of 8th March that
Parliament thinks statutory discipline is necessary because the seamen are a bunch of drunken layabouts.
That was a most unfortunate statement. If I said that, I should be saying it about my own flesh and blood, and I make the strongest objection to it. We want the penal Clauses to be done away with or at least softened.
It is said that the Merchant Navy should not be classed with the Royal Navy from the point of view of discipline. I have the highest regard for any man who sails aboard any ship. The disciplines of the Royal Navy may not be required in the Merchant Navy, but the sea on which men sail, whether they be in the Merchant Navy or the Royal Navy, is the same cruel sea. It imposes its own disciplines. I do not want those disciplines to be harsher or harder than they need be.
But the penal Clauses are not the only Clauses in the Bill. There are 98 of them dealing with pay, crew agreements, the discharge of seamen, and so on. The whole gamut of sea life is covered in this excellent Bill. It is regrettable that we are picking out in a pin-pricking way the difficulties—[Interruption.] I am making my own speech, and I mean in a pinpricking way. I could point to other deficiencies in the Bill, but a great deal is accomplished in it. As I said on Second Reading, I sent a telegram saying:
I request your urgent intervention on behalf of Mr. Patrick Neary who has now been imprisoned for activities in British ports …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1969; Vol. 792, c. 1351.]
I was the only man in the House and in the country who objected when Patrick Neary went to prison. I made representations in the House on his behalf. To my knowledge, he was the last man on unofficial strike who went to prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton knows all about this matter.
The Minister has done a reasonably good job—if I wanted to go into my Gaelic rhetoric, I could say that he has done a monumental job—for British seamen. Let not the N.U.S. be too unctuous about what is being done. We want peace in industry. We must have peace right across the board. There must be understanding in the union and understanding between the members of the union—the union first and then its members. That has not always been so. I could give chapter and verse of what happened in the union and of how I helped to keep it in existence.
The Government have introduced the Bill with the idea of bringing justice and peace to the industry. It is a tremendous step forward. If the Minister can make the concessions which have been requested, I will not oppose them. If my right hon. Friend cannot make those concessions he will have my support for doing what he has done on behalf of British seamen.
Some of the things which have been said in the paper about five lashes instead of ten cut me to the quick, because we have made a great deal of progress in the way that men go to sea and in the way they live aboard ship. It will always be a hard life, but some of us have spent our life in making things better.
It has not only been the National Union of Seamen which has made the improvements. Indeed, we were streets ahead of the National Union of Seamen. We were doing the propaganda for making things better at sea when the union was recalcitrant and even on the side of the bosses right, left and centre. I only remind those people not to start swatting us down simply because they cannot accomplish everything at once. They must not belittle the efforts which have been made by the Government and they must not be churlish about the good will which has been extended. After all the difficult times that the Prime Minister and everybody else have had to live through they would be churlish if they did not try to maintain a balance and recognise exactly how much has been accomplished. It may be that they will. Perhaps through my speech and through the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Walton and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) they will be able to get the position into balance.
I believe that an excellent job has been done. I will listen with interest to what my right hon. Friend the Minister says and I congratulate him on all he has done during the course of the Bill.
I begin by declaring my interest. As an honorary life member of the National Union of Seamen for many years—I pay no subscriptions, which is an advantage—I support the view of the National Union of Seamen. I want, however, to make it clear beyond any possibility of doubt that I am concerned equally about the future of the Merchant Navy. All the enthusiasm which has been generated by the presentation of the Bill will, in my view, be evaporated unless something is done about the penal Clauses of the Bill.
Whether or not we accept the, perhaps, belated submissions of the National Union of Seamen, it might have been to our advantage had there been previous discussion on those submissions which have now been made to us. I disregard what happened in the past, and I equally disregard what appeared in the Sunday Times last Sunday. I rely, for what it may be worth, on my own experience.
When we speak about penal Clauses, what exactly do we mean? We must, of course, accept the view that the master of a vessel is in control. There can be no reservation about that. The question arises, however, whether we are to allow the master, whoever he may be—whether he is the master of a tramp vessel, an intermediate liner, a great liner or even a coaster—to impose penalties on members of his crew irrespective of the circumstances, which may be fortuitous and which occur occasionally and accidentally. That is the question that I venture to ask my colleagues on this side of the House.
I understand the position of hon. Members opposite. They have been briefed by the Shipping Federation, by ships' officers and, naturally, by the Chamber of Shipping. Those are all excellent people. I make no imputation whatever about their integrity and sincerity. Are we, however, to accept their point of view concerning what penalties should be imposed upon seamen aboard ship?
After all, those people are in their offices and in their chambers. The present-day shipowners hardly visit vessels nowadays. There was a time when shipowners visited vessels and engaged in conversation and discussions with members of crews and who concerned themselves with accommodation, wages, amenities and all the matters which are of concern to ships' crews. Nowadays, for the most part, shipowners are financiers. They care very little or nothing, except in an indirect fashion, about what happens on board ship.
There is no disagreement that Clause 28 is a very desirable Clause. If anybody aboard ship, whether an ordinary seaman, an able seaman, anybody in the engine room or an officer, commits an act which may lead to the destruction of the vessel or which may impede navigation, or if a member of the crew conducts himself in an irresponsible fashion which is inimical to the welfare of his comrades aboard ship, obviously the provisions embodied in Clause 28 should be implemented.
My only reservation, which I expressed on Second Reading—I challenge contradiction about this; there has been some controversy about it, I know—is that the provisions contained in Clause 28 are more severe than the equivalent provisions of the 1894 Act. Under the Bill, a seaman could be sentenced to two years' imprisonment on conviction. He could be fined a very large sum of money. Under the 1894 Act, however, for similar offences, for the same kind of misdemeanour, according to my reading of the Act, the most excessive penalty was 12 weeks without hard labour. I cannot understand the reason for this but we will let it pass. Let us assume that I am correct in my interpretation of the provisions of the 1894 Act.
To impose a fine of any kind, high or low, on a seaman who happens to be not sober aboard ship, although there can be no charge against him for impeding navigation, causing the destruction of the vessel or interfering with his comrades is, in my judgment, absurd and ridiculous. Such a penalty should not be accepted by hon. Members of this House, certainly not by hon. Members who are sympathetic to the seamen.
On Second Reading I mentioned that the famous commodore of a famous Atlantic liner said that he could not understand why seamen went to sea sober. Doctor Samuel Johnson made some observations about this a long time ago. He said that a man was better off in gaol than at sea. If he is in gaol, there is no chance of shipwreck. Hon. Members may say that these are irrelevant and out-of-date observations, but no master of any vessel is sufficiently influential, knowledgeable or responsible to impose a fine on a seaman because he happens not to be sober.
Is it a misdemeanour for a seaman when joining a ship in any port of the country to take liquor on board? The Bill does not mention this. No penalty is likely to be imposed for taking alcoholic liquor aboard ship. A seaman may take a couple of bottles of strong spirits on board and while waiting for the ship to sail may have a swig at a bottle and be seen by the second officer who is in charge. Before a ship leaves port very often the master is not available, and it may be the first officer or the second officer who is in charge. The seaman may be told to undertake a particular duty. He may object to doing this or be unable to do it, and we are told that that is disobeying a lawful command. For that offence a penalty may be imposed on him, and a penalty may equally be imposed on him if he happens not to be as sober as the second officer, or someone else on board the ship, requires. This is absurd, and there is no need for it.
I come now to the crux of the problem. Some time ago many of my hon. Friends objected to the provisions which were contained in the document "In Place of Strife". My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Employment and Productivity was associated with what happened then. As a result of representations made to the Government, demonstrations and threats, and because of the attitude of the trade union movement, the Government withdrew the legislation which was proposed in "In Place of Strife". Instead of introducing legislation imposing penalties, the Government decided to leave the matter to the trade union movement. I do not pretend that what the T.U.C. and the trade unions have done since in relation to industrial strikes, and so on, has been entirely successful. Of course it has not been entirely successful. But the Government did this, and they now introduce similar legislation to that which they withdrew as the result of representations made by the trade union movement. I cannot understand it.
I suggest that the Government should stand by Clause 28. I do not ask that that should be withdrawn. It is not regarded as objectionable by the National Union of Seamen. As for the rest, the Government should rely on regulations. This would be consistent with new Clause 9. Instead of having Clauses which are rigid in character and which imply the imposition of penalties, the Government should draft regulations in consultation with representatives of the men and officers. If that is done, will there be more insubordination aboard ship, more drunkenness? Will there be on board merchant navy vessels men who deliberately and wilfully—and these terms are contained in the Bill—seek to cause the disruption of the vessel on which they sail? Of course not.
I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Front Bench are acquainted with the seamen of this country. There was a time when they were a pretty rough lot. I have had occasion to associate with them, and I know what they were like at the beginning of this century, but they are quite different now. This is because shipowners are more enlightened, the men have better accommodation, better mess room, more privacy, higher wages and are better treated. I will go so far as to say that the great majority of the masters of vessels and ships' officers treat the men with whom they sail with the greatest respect. We are not dealing with hooligans or criminals. Occasionally there might be on board ship someone with criminal tendencies, but, generally speaking, men who sail on merchant navy ships are amongst the finest characters to be found in this country. We are not dealing with men who require to be treated in this way—
I have a high regard for my hon. Friend and he knows a great deal about seamen, but I do not understand him. Surely, if the men going to sea in merchant navy vessels are men of good character, and the majority are, they do not require protection. They may require protection occasionally from perhaps a minority of masters of vessels who are inclined to treat the men harshly just because they happen to be boss of the ship. That is what we must guard against.
Despite all the submissions made by hon. Members, I am not prepared to agree to the imposition of penalties which, in my judgment, are irrelevant. I go further, and warn my hon. Friends that, if the Bill goes through in its present form, without concessions, either in the form of Amendments which can be submitted to another place and returned to us in a satisfactory form, or in the form of regulations to replace the existing penal provisions of the Bill, we are in for trouble.
I would remind them that a year or two ago we had a seamen's strike. That strike could have been prevented if we had been sensible and had acted with urgency. But we let the matter drag on and eventually we found ourselves in a situation which almost ruined the economic proposals of the Government. Fortunately we have now escaped from that situation and we must see that we do not return to such a state of affairs.
Reference has been made to the position of the National Union of Seamen. When I came to the House this morning I was told that the seamen who met my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench as well as other hon. Members on this side of the House on the back benches had agreed to the penal provisions. I have made enquiries of the National Union of Seamen and have spoken to the national organiser. He has told me that it is nonsense to say that the seamen have agreed. I do not know who is telling the truth, but I am prepared to accept what has been said by the union.
I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood me. The National Union of Seamen sent representatives to meet some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House before the Bill went into Committee. From what I heard this morning there was an impression that the National Union of Seamen representative had agreed to the penal provisions in the Bill and that therefore the union had no right to complain. There was some bewilderment because it appeared that the union had changed its mind in what it said in the document which is in the hands of some of my hon. Friends. I was informed by the union this morning that it is nonsense to say that it had agreed to all the penal processes in the Bill. It had agreed to Clause 28 and no more. The union had reservations about the fact that what was embodied in Clause 28 seemed to be more severe than what was embodied in the 1894 Act.
I want to read what was said by the National Union of Seamen about the implications of these provisions. Before I do so I wish to say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who may have different views from my own, and who perhaps are rather inclined to accept the views of the Chamber of Shipping and the Shipping Federation, not to disregard the views of trade unionists. There is a great deal of talk about the reform of trade unions. There are more than 10 million trade unionists in this country.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I should like to inform the House that I made three separate approaches to the National Union of Seamen to ask them for the benefit of their views and advice on this legislation. For one reason or another the meeting never took place.
It is a pity that they did not provide the hon. Gentleman with the information which they conveyed to us. I have for a long time had associations with those connected with the Chamber of Shipping and the Shipping Federation. I was not provided with a brief from them, so there should be no complaint from that side of the House.
I did not require to ask the Chamber of Shipping and the Federation for their views. I know them well enough. They are people of integrity, but for the most part their views are the opposite to ours.
The document issued by the National Union of Seamen says:
As a trade union we must protest most strongly against the concept of criminal sanctions in relation to the regulation of our employment conditions in the latter half of the twentieth century.
I hope that the House will note that phrase "twentieth century". I thought we were now more civilised.
Having served for so long under such sanctions, we are particularly aggrieved to note that the new Bill's disciplinary section is a restatement—in some cases word for word—of the old 19th century Merchant Shipping Act which we seek to replace. … We perceive little attempt at logical analysis or indeed justification for the recommendation by the Pearson Report on the shipping industry to retain the rigours of criminal law for seafaring employment.
A number of hon. Members have relied on the Pearson Report. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench referred frequently in Committee to statements by the Pearson Committee, as if they were like the laws of the Medes and the Persians and therefore should be accepted without criticism. Many Governments have appointed commissions of inquiry and Royal Commissions, but there is no reason why all their recommendations should be accepted. I do not accept, nor do the seamen, the recommendations of the Pearson Committee. That is why I have read to the House part of the submissions set out in the union document, which I hope the Government will note.
The document then refers to the Donovan Committee.
The Donovan Commission, to whom we gave evidence, in its report expressed the view that the general principle for seamen should be to the extent compatible with their calling the same rights as employees ashore.
That is a fair interpretation of what the seamen want and are entitled to. What is good for people who work ashore is equally good for seamen, except that some measure of discipline must be imposed by the Master who is looked up to and respected by members of his crew. One must remember that there is a danger that action might be taken leading to the destruction of the vessel or the
impeding of navigation. Otherwise all these penal sanctions are irrelevant.
Let us trust the seamen. Let us ask them to be responsible, as we know they can be since they are reasonable men. Let us give them a chance. I ask the Government not to take any risks. We took grave risks when we were about to impose legislation which would have affected the trade unions and our industrial relations. Treat the men honourably and they will respect all that the Government and indeed the country expect of them. This is the way to handle the situation. If the Government can deal with this matter by regulations, all the better. If not, they should amend the offending Clauses.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) confused the House in the course of his speech. He seemed to be complaining about the disciplinary powers which a master would exercise on his ship. Those disciplinary powers are contained in Clause 35, to which no Amendments have been tabled. There has been no suggestion about altering the powers of a master to impose a fine of five days' pay or £10. Then again, the right hon. Gentleman complained that the penal Clauses to which he objected would he exercised in the master's cabin. However, that is not the case. As I understand, any penalty will be imposed on a summary conviction in a court at a later stage.
I turn, then, to Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60, which are designed to put another stepping stone between the implementation of the Bill as it stands and the possibility of imposing fines on seamen under Clauses 29, 30 and 31. It is said that the Bill will stand as it is, but that, if we accept the Amendments, it will be necessary for the Board of Trade to make regulations to bring the Clauses into action. That is the object of the Amendments.
When would the situation arise which required such regulations to be made? Obviously, they would be made only when it was felt by the Board of Trade, possibly under pressure from the merchant shipping owners, that a state of indiscipline existed which required regulations to bring the Clauses into action—
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. Almost immediately after the Bill becomes law, it will be the responsibility and duty of the Board of Trade to prepare regulations. I would expect it to consult the representatives of the various organisations on both sides before the regulations were brought to this House. The regulations would be on the basis of agreement between the Government and the various organisations, and they might contain some of the penal provisions. But that would depend on consultation and agreement.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's further explanation, but surely now is the time, when these deep, lengthy and careful negotiations are taking place. If the regulations are to be implemented immediately after the Bill becomes law, I cannot see the point of not bringing them in now. My feeling is that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite would put pressure upon the Government not to bring in regulations at a later stage. If that is not the case, it seems pointless to have any delay.
Is not the position that, while everyone wants the Bill to be passed without delay, there has been a deadlock between the Government and the National Union of Seamen this week? The idea of regulations is that they would provide another opportunity for the Government to reach agreement with the various associations concerned. That is the purpose of the regulations. There is no intention of creating interminable delay.
There have been many occasions when I have complained that the Government consult and then legislate without getting the agreement of all sides. I cannot see any reason why the Government would be more likely to get agreement for putting regulations into force after the Bill is passed than they would now.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the misdemeanours under Clauses 29, 30 and 31 were of a comparatively trivial nature. He spoke of the case of
a seaman going on board drunk and said that he would be dealt with under one of these Clauses. However, that is not the case. Clause 29 says:
If a seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom is, while on duty, under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent that his capacity to carry out his duties is impaired …
That is a very different matter, and the right hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that it says "while on duty".
Clause 30 refers to a seaman who
… wilfully disobeys a lawful command relating or likely to affect the operation of a ship…
That seems to be a fairly serious offence—
The hon. Gentleman is raising a point with which I did not seek to deal when I introduced the Amendments. If the hon. Gentleman reads the rest of Clause 30, he will see that it refers to a man
… employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom (who) wilfully disobeys a lawful command relating or likely to affect the operation of the ship or its equipment…
If he is employed in the cook's department and refuses to turn the handle on a bacon slicing machine, he is liable to a fine not exceeding £50.
If I may say so, that is a less helpful and less significant interjection than those of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends. Any trivial offence would be dealt with under the master's disciplinary powers contained in Clause 35. I am dealing with a significant and important offence which the master would feel was too serious for him to deal with under his powers.
It is unfortunate that these starred Amendments have been introduced at such a late stage. It seems as if there has been a last-minute crisis of confidence betwen the National Union of Seamen and the Government, between certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Government, or between the National Union of Seamen and certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite.
I get the impression that we have gone back in time to last July and " In Place of Strife". The Under-Secretary, the right hon. Lady's "fall guy", has come to the House yet again to try to pick up the pieces of the right hon. Lady's dynamic, almost detonating period at the Department of Employment and Productivity. The right hon. Lady said that, during the lifetime of the present Government, there would be no industrial relations legislation—including penal clauses.
I thought that I was dealing directly with the Clause, Sir.
It seems to me to be an industrial relations matter in which penal sanctions are being employed. However, that was only a small part of my argument. It is significant that it is the Under-Secretary who is having to answer this debate. We shall listen with great interest to what he says so that we can see the line that the Government are taking. I hope that they will take the long-term view and leave the Bill as it stands.
The proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) are concerned with Clauses 29, 30 and 31 of the Bill as amended in Committee. These Clauses provide penalties for drunkenness, wilful disobedience and neglect of duty. Under them, there can, on summary conviction, be fines of up to £100 for certain offences and up to £50 for others.
These are the middle range of penalties, for there are more serious ones—for example, those coming within Clause 28 dealing with the safety of ships—and less severe penalties for disciplinary offences, which carry a maximum penalty of a £10 fine or one day's pay. It is, therefore, unfair to represent the new Clause as being a proposal designed to sweep away the penal provisions of the Bill.
As a land-based trade unionist, it is repugnant to me that penalties of this kind should apply to people carrying out their trades and professions and trying to earn a living. I do not like the idea of a man being fined or sent to prison for something which happens as a result of his employment. For this reason, many of my hon. Friends would prefer not to have penal provisions in the Bill. However, we appreciate the need to accept the reality of the situation.
In Committee, we considered the necessity of having an effective trade union defence for anybody coming within these penal provisions. While it is not easy to ensure that such an effective trade union defence will be available to a man serving on a ship which might be 1,000 miles from its home port, we had to ensure that a captain cannot decide on the spot that a man should be fined £100, or be sent to prison. The alleged offender must come ashore for trial and I have no doubt that the N.U.S. will see that its members are not wrongly accused. Although these penal provisions are repugnant to many of us, they have that virtue.
Under Clauses 35 and 37—
The offences covered by the Amendments which we are discussing with the new Clause relate to drunkenness, wilful disobedience and neglect of duty. The Minister would be required to make regulations which would have to come before the House for approval. This would allow a considerable amount of flexibility. First, time limits could be imposed on the various penalties, which could be reviewed from time to time by the House. Secondly, the regulations could distinguish between vessels and types of vessel, and this would be desirable. However, the Amendments would not remove those offences, desirable though that might be. They would merely make them subject to regulations.
I think that I am in order at this stage in discussing the rightness or wrongness of the penalties as they could be applied through the regulations referred to in the Amendments which we are discussing with the new Clause.
It is important to consider the views of the N.U.S. on this issue. The union states:
There are some aspects of the Bill which do not fully meet our demands. We are prepared to accept them within the totality of the Bill, which is the result of compromises between conflicting interests. But Clauses 29, 30, 31 and 32 are totally unacceptable both in concept and in the interpretation given to them in the course of the debates in the Standing Committee of the Bill. They are totally unacceptable to us as trade unionists and completely contrary to the agreement reached by the T.U.C. and the Government recently in regard to industrial relations.
The point of view of the N.U.S. is, therefore, completely clear on this matter. The new Clause and the Amendments do not completely represent the views of the N.U.S., although I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North for that, because he has sought to compromise between the N.U.S. and the position adopted in the Bill.
Perhaps I should not have used the word "compromise". My hon. Friends who support the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North seek to achieve the best possible position that is available to them. What is unfortunate is that, so far, my hon. Friends have not shown the House—though this may be put right within the next 10 minutes or so—how they envisage the regulations being so framed as to remove the offensive nature of the penalties. If the intention is that those regulations should lapse very quickly and that the penalties should disappear, we will be left with a situation in which there are more serious and less serious penalties, while the penalties now under discussion would have disappeared. But if they envisage that it is possible within those regulations to set up a new sort of procedure to deal with what was previously covered by these Clauses, it would be very useful.
The debate may have given an unfortunate impression that the Government, as represented by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, were in some way hostile to trade union representations made in Committee. Such an impression would be absolutely contrary to fact. I found my right hon. Friend most willing to listen, and most helpful in his response to any trade union point of view put to him. That fact should be put on record.
I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in his tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade. We have had references to "In Place of Strife", and the suggestion has been made that, somehow or other, these offensive Clauses are a hang-over from those previous considerations. We have also been told that the Pearson Report is not to be considered as being like the law of the Medes and Persians, and that there may appear to have been some confusion about the attitude of the N.U.S. to this matter.
I read the monthly journal of the N.U.S., and in the January number, after the Second Reading debate had taken place, the general secretary wrote:
With the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill out of the way, it can truly be said that we are witnessing the last days of the old régime.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. My intention was to try to show how it could come about that staunch opponents in the Standing Committee of "In Place of Strife" could now seek to defend the position of the Minister of State.
Some hon. Members have referred to an N.U.S. document, with which all of us have been supplied, which makes it clear that the union is absolutely and
without qualification opposed to these penal Clauses. Members of the Standing Committee must make their position clear. The official of the N.U.S. whose signature is appended to the letter accompanying the document, wrote in last month's executive council report of the union:
The Bill is not all we want. It must be remembered, however, that we have accepted the Pearson Report as a whole, including its recommendations about the new Bill now under discussion.
Those words follow references to the offending Clauses.
As one who wants to resolve this issue, and who is desperately anxious that the Bill should be launched with the maximum of good will, I believe that we should be extremely careful to draw on the experience of the past and not to mince our words. We should not just give an idle blessing to the Bill and hope for the best. If there is danger of a major conflict between the N.U.S. and the Government at this last-minute stage, members of Standing Committee A are to a very large degree obliged to say where they stand, and must try to set out clearly how it is that the House is now in this somewhat critical position. I say no more about that aspect. The position has been made plain, and I leave it there.
There are four Clauses to which objection is now taken. They take the place of 18 Sections of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. I do not want to weary the House with details of how the penalty for a misdemeanour may be two years or, on summary conviction, 12 weeks, depending on how the offence is reported and the proceedings instituted, but the fact that should be recorded is that, however objectionable these Clauses may appear to the N.U.S., they are a universe away from the penalties of the 1894 Act.
I have tried to follow the mechanisms of the inter-related new Clause and the Amendments. There is in them much that attracts those of us who are seeking a means of bridging the gulf which appears to have yawned between the N.U.S. and the Government. But I want clarification. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness has pointed out that acceptance of the new Clause and the Amendments would not remove the essential character of facts that are obnoxious to the N.U.S. What is envisaged? Is it envisaged that, following on the enactment of the Bill, the Board of Trade shall forthwith prepare regulations which, at their best, embody the offending Clauses?
That means that if, during subsequent developments in the industry, it is found undesirable or not necessary for such regulations to continue, they can easily be disposed of. Or is it proposed that there shall be no regulations and the experience of the industry over the next few months or a year or two shall determine whether the Board of Trade shall make regulations?
If my hon. Friend will look at Clause 35 he will find that it is all there concerning regulations about matters relating to discipline. All that the Board of Trade has to do is to engage in discussions with organisations such as the National Union of Seamen to obtain the kind of interpretation which, in their opinion, is acceptable. That can be done by discussion. It may be that embodied in regulations after consultation some of the disciplinary provisions will remain.
My hon. Friend asked a question which I think he was entitled to ask. If he reads them carefully he will find that Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60 say:
at the beginning insert 'The Board of Trade may make regulations that'".
Then would follow the three Clauses as they stand. If the Amendments were accepted there would be no regulations at the moment, but regulations could be made and they would have to come before the House for agreement before they were put into operation.
I am very grateful for that further explanation. It seems that what the House is being asked to agree is that from the passing of the Bill there should be only two remedies open to the employer or the master. There may be a third. It has been argued most cogently that that third remedy is now necessary.
Much has been made about drunken seamen. I do not want to belabour that point. I can envisage a position where the offence of drunkenness comes under the third remedy of the master's powers and might not be regarded as appropriate to be dealt with by that remedy. I can conceive of a situation whereby it could be dealt with by the "steam hammer" Clause of the Bill. A man, or a whole crew, may come aboard on a Saturday night and be drunk. Jolly good luck to them.
I was about to take the House through a glorious Saturday night, but you checked me, Mr. Speaker.
A position could arise in which the offence of drunkenness referred to in the Clause was of such a kind that the master felt obliged to use the power in the Clause and not the power vested in him as master, nor the power in what I call the "steam hammer" Clause. When a ship is in dangerous narrow waters the master might feel obliged to advise members of the crew who have previously offended that if that offence were repeated in the waters into which the ship was about to be navigated he would seek to exercise powers under this objectionable Clause.
I think that there is a great deal of misunderstanding. Clause 37, which still has to be debated, contains a provision for the creation of ships' disciplinary committees which can deal with these offences. Read the Clause; it is all there. We need not give the master power to do it ad lib.
I am seeking to obey your injunction Mr. Speaker. I shall not wander too widely, but I must be allowed to make my point.
A crew has gone ashore and then comes aboard and is the worse for drink. No one is worried, but the master sees that the ship is approaching dangerous navigational straits. The powers of the master are irrelevant. He may have dealt earlier with cases of drunkenness under those powers, but he is now obliged to fall back on the powers provided by Clause 29.
On a point of order. May I plead with you, Mr. Speaker? We have heard of underlying ideas in the Standing Committee. It is crucial to identify how decisions were made against the background of these four Clauses which are objected to by the National Union of Seamen. Surely it ought to be relevant for hon. Members who were on the Standing Committee to inform the House about the underlying ideas of that time.
The new Clause and the related Amendments will produce a hiatus. There will be a position in which only two remedies will exist. That view is shared by the National Union of Seamen and many of my hon. Friends. The supporters of the new Clause, however, do not see that hiatus continuing permanently. They wish to draw on the experience of the industry. I am with them on that. With the long experience of 70 years of the old Merchant Shipping Act behind us, we should design a provision which can be adapted to the experience, the growth and change in industrial relations in this industry. To that extent there is much merit in the pro-position. I hope that serious consideration will be given to it by my right hon. Friend.
I sought to find what was the recent experience of the provisions of the 1894 Act. I asked the President of the Board of Trade how many merchant seamen during the last five years had been caught under the much wider provisions of the present legislation. No one could tell me, not even the National Union of Seamen. Therefore, it may be that those who have warned us about tying ourselves too closely to past experience have uttered words of wisdom.
However, the proposition set out in the new Clause has merit and should receive sympathetic consideration from the Government. Not merely the master and the owners, but the trade union which is raising this objection should not be forced into a worse position than it aft present foresees.
I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Oldsbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) has said. I do not object to these issues being raised. After all, this is the place where matters of such importance should be discussed. It is unfortunate that they have been brought forward at such a late stage, perhaps. However, we must seek to clear them up.
I am all the more concerned because in Committee I sought the views of my right hon. Friend about the possibility of some further withdrawal of certain classes of ship from these disciplinary provisions. We discussed the possibility of withdrawing ships on coastwise trade, middle shipping, and certain types of ferries. The ground for that discussion was the way in which we could bring our procedures at sea as close as possible to our procedures on land. This was a desire common to members of the Committee and to the Government.
There are some occupations on land that have special provisions which are to some extent comparable—for example, the pits and the railways. Some members of the Committee were anxious, lest, in properly seeking to examine the circumstances in which these Clauses could be applied for disciplinary purposes, we encouraged the wider use of the sledgehammer Clause. Therefore, many of us, on that ground, and also on the ground of the extreme difficulty of attempting to define any category of ship that could be excluded from these Clauses, had unwillingly to accept my right hon. Friend's arguments, although the matter was left in the setting that my right hon. Friend was prepared to give further consideration to the question of redefining the categories of coastwise or home-trade ships which might be caught by the disciplinary Clauses.
I see no better hope in the new Clause of achieving such a definition that would separate certain categories of shipping from other categories that have already been examined. We have taken fishing fleets out of the disciplinary Clauses, because they can be separately regarded and come under a completely separate code of conduct. It is difficult to find a way of securing this isolation of separate categories which the Clause would provide powers to achieve if it were practicable. Therefore, I cannot believe that there is any greater hope of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) achieving success than the Standing Committee had, when our attempts were answered in some detail by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.
The Bill will apply to cable ships. This disappoints me. The matters provided for in Clauses 29 to 31 should be dealt with by regulation, because of the opposition that to there being penal Clauses in the Bill. The advantage of dealing with these matters by regulation would be that the exceptions could be more easily dealt with.
I would point out some absurdities which could arise under these Clauses. On Clause 30, Post Office engineers who refuse at present to lay cable between Winchester and Southampton cannot be brought before a court. However, if they refuse to lay cable between Southampton and Cherbourg, they are liable to be brought before a criminal court. This is wrong.
Post Office engineers who refused to maintain the Division bells in the House could not be taken before a criminal court, despite the inconvience that it might cause. If they persistently refused to polish the bell on one of Her Majesty's telegraph ships, under this Clause they could he brought before a criminal court. This shows the absurdity of the blanket provision in Clauses 30 and 31.
On Clause 29, any seaman who is drunk on duty is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50. This might be reasonable in the case of a man working in the engine room, on the deck, or on the bridge. It is not reasonable to bring before a criminal court a man who is drunk whilst acting as cook or steward.
Clauses 29 to 31 can be applied in absurd circumstances because of their blanket nature. It would be far better for these matters to be dealt with in regulations, because the regulations would be subject to negotiation; the Minister would consult both sides of the industry, which would be able to point out to him what was reasonable and what was not reasonable.
A man who cannot do his job in the stokehold because of drunkenness, or a man who cannot steer a ship because of drunkenness, should certainly be disciplined. Cannot my hon. Friend see, though, what would happen if it was sought to discriminate between a man in the engine room and a man on the deck, on the one hand, and a steward, on the other, giving the steward carte blanche, so to speak? Is this what my hon. Friend is advocating?
The men on board would accept this. In industry, men apply common sense to practical situations.
Of course, the men would smile if they saw a steward coming to them in a state of inebriation. They would say, "Joe is drunk again" and would not suggest that there be great penalties applied to that man. But if they say that a man on the bridge or in the engine room, doing a job in which safety was involved, was drunk, they would be prepared through their own disciplinary committees to apply sanctions. The men have sense and logic of their own and they would be prepared, and are prepared, to accept penalties when they are applied to men who are putting other men's life and limb at hazard. What the men cannot accept is the differentiation that there is in the Bill between acts which are done at sea and those which are done in industrial premises on shore.
The debate on this matter in Committee was a long one. I echo the sentiment that the Minister listened patiently and quietly to our arguments, and made many concessions in Committee. But I hope that he will think again, giving the same careful consideration as he gave to other points in Committee to the possibility of removing Clauses 29, 30 and 31 from the Bill.
I have listened carefully to the debate as I did to the earlier debates in Committee on this subject and I hope that the Minister will resist the new Clause and the Amendments. I particularly admired the speech made by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Homer) who, unfortunately, appears to have left the Chamber. But it is clear from the speeches of hon. Members opposite that the reason for this last-minute proposal springs from the dislike which the National Union of Seamen has for any form of disciplinary Clause.
The right hon. Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell) did himself less than justice. I have always looked up him as being a fair-minded and reasonable Member, but when he spoke of hon. Members on this side as representing only the shipowners and the masters, and hon. Members on his side as representing the seamen he was being less than fair to hon. Members on both sides.
I have had representations from both sides, and I have far more seamen among my constituents than I have masters. Were it not for the late notice of the Amendments I should have had time to discuss the question with both sides. I took their views both before and during the Committee stage and I feel that it would be wrong for hon. Members to act as spokesmen for either side. We are not in this House the mouthpiece either of the National Union of Seamen or the Chamber of Shipping. Our duty is to listen to both sides and to attempt to legislate what is best in the national interest.
From the interventions made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) during the debate I can see quite clearly why he would like to go even beyond the precise words of the Amendments. But I am dealing with the Amendments as drafted. I can see that he would like the regulations to be laid before the House so that he could perhaps object to them. The hon. Gentleman nods in assent. Any type of discipline is anathema to him.
I agree that in the best of all possible worlds no one likes the criminal law or the idea of punishment. But it is the duty of the House to protect the interests not only of the seamen, but of all others—and here I am thinking not just of the shipowners or the officers, but seamen and others who might be injured as a result of any of the defaults set out.
I was just about to come to the offences set out in Clauses 29, 30 and 31.
I refer, first to Clause 31, which says:
If a seaman employed in a ship registered in the United Kingdom—
That is an act which could affect not only the seamen themselves, but the passengers and other innocent third persons. A fault in the navigation could lead to a collision and damage or injury. These are serious matters. As I say, one would like to think that in the best of all possible worlds there will be no deliberate action or unfortunate lapses of this kind. But we must be realistic. Sometimes, either out of negligence or recklessness or deliberate spite—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking to Clauses 29, 30 and 31. What we are discussing is whether we deal with the items mentioned in those three Clauses by way of the Board of Trade setting down regulations.
Of course, Mr. Speaker. I shall bring myself immediately to the point.
I have been trying to point out that the new Schedule which is a gravamen of the matter is an attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the penalties in respect of a breach of one of those provisions set out in Clauses 29, 30 and 31. What I am attempting to argue is that the Minister should resist these proposals because any such interference or reduction of penalties would be wrong. I do not think that it has been denied that the real aim of those who have introduced these Amendments is to get rid of the disciplinary Clauses.
As there has been—this has come out during the debate—a package deal between the Government, the National Union of Seamen and the Chamber of Shipping, provisions have been included in the Bill which are not popular with the Chamber of Shipping and others which are not popular, perhaps, with the union. But they have all been drafted in the best interests of the shipping industry as a whole.
To go back on that at the last moment would be totally wrong. It would be wrong for the House to accept the argument now that, because one side does not agree with the provisions set out, the package deal should be set aside. All hon. Members have a duty to listen to both sides of the argument, to consider what is best in the interests of all the people concerned and the national interest, and, balancing these considerations, to legislate in a way which is in the public interest as a whole.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) introduced an unworthy note into the debate by alleging that the National Union of Seamen is unconcerned with discipline. That has been no part of the debate up to now, and such allegations have not been made from either side. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) spoke of the integrity of the people who run ships and who own ships—that has been the general tone of the discussion—and I hope that all hon. Members equally accept the integrity of the leaders of the National Union of Seamen. They are very much concerned with safety and with discipline. They have accepted one of the Clauses to which reference has been made in this connection, and they have given evidence time and again of their attitude on these matters.
I have two points only to put to the Front Bench. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington put on record earlier that, when the representatives of the National Union of Seamen came to see hon. Members on this side before the Committee stage started and they saw the Clauses which we now seek to amend, they expressed their opposition to that way of dealing with penalties. That is a cardinal fact to be borne in mind, and a fact of considerable importance in the light, particularly, of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson).
This is a great Measure of reform. My right hon and hon. Friends know how all of us on this side have urged the Government over recent years to bring in the Bill and to go ahead with it. It is a Measure which has been regarded by seafaring people as a great advance and a great reform. Would it not be a tragedy, now that a disagreement has arisen, if we were to pass this important Measure in a way which rankled with those most directly concerned with it?
If my right hon. Friend could accept the method suggested by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), or find some other method by which agreement could be reached with representatives of the union, he would do well for everyone concerned.
We have had a fairly long debate, and I shall try not to detain the House much longer. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) introduced his new Clause and the Amendments with moderation, and he anticipated many of the objections. Some of the subsequent speeches have, perhaps, been a little less moderate. I must at the outset point out that notice of the matter was very short. The Amendments appeared on the Paper for the first time this morning as starred Amendments—the hon. Gentleman recognised that—so that the whole House is in some difficulty in considering them.
The Bill should be considered as a whole—that is how we approached it in Committee—but we are now asked to make drastic changes at a very late stage. As a whole, the Bill has been much commended from many quarters. Even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) called it a tremendous advance. In September, writing in the Seaman, Mr. Hogarth himself described it as a crossroads of history. It would be a pity if anything were done at this late stage to upset the balance of the Bill. Both sides have recognised how important it is to the industry as a whole that all should work together so that real advance can be made.
I come now to the effect of the proposed changes. At first sight, the idea of having different rules for different ships is attractive, but it would be difficult to distinguish between one and another. The idea of having an affirmative Resolution for the regulations has some attraction as well, but, faced with the fact that Clauses 29. 30 and 31 will remain in the Bill, subject only to regulations, we must ask what the effect would be. We cannot really tell. Either the regulations would be much the same as the wording of the Bill or they would be something less, and I imagine that those who advocate the new Clause and the Amendments are really after that. But what will they be, and who is to determine them? It means starting again from scratch in an attempt to find a general balance between all the interests concerned.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) was right to point out that safety at sea is paramount. Even if the Amendments, or something like them, were accepted, there would still be Clause 28, which has been referred to as a sledgehammer, and the captain would be compelled to look to that severe Clause in default of the other provisions. Moreover, we should not forget, in considering the question of these Clauses and lesser penalities, that there is a great turnover of seamen today. Lord Pearson discussed this in his report.
Clause 28 is a severe Clause. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said, the penalties are more severe than some of those which went before, but I notice that under the new Clause the penalties under Clauses 29 and 30 would be raised from £50 to £100. Perhaps hon. Members think that that would be ironed out in some way by the regulations.
We had considerable debate in Committee on Clause 29, which deals with drunkenness, and it was then observed that the July Bill had further provisions, dealing with being asleep and with leaving one's post, which disappeared between the July Bill and our taking this Bill in Committee, so already the penal provisions have been eroded to a considerable extent, which, I think, did not please all sides of the industry.
Rightly or wrongly—I think rightly—the Bill has been regarded as something of a package deal. This was said on several occasions in Committee, and I think that the Minister of State agreed. In paragraph 311 and elsewhere in his report, Lord Pearson dealt at length with all the points which have been discussed, pointing out in regard to possible duplication of powers and the need for penal Clauses as well as ordinary disciplinary powers that the master might wish to deal with most cases himself and that those he would not wish to deal with would be only those hard cases which, as has already been said, would arise but seldom. In fact, these Clauses would be something of a long-stop which one would not expect to see often used.
In this connection, one should bear in mind the complication introduced by the ships' disciplinary committees. In some cases, they would deal with the ordinary functions of the master in disciplinary matters. This is a very late stage at which to destroy the balance of agreement which has marked the passage of the Bill thus far.
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to Clause 37. Everyone agreed that there should be a ship's disciplinary committee, consisting of the master, officers and men, to deal with matters of discipline. In view of that, was it necessary to have a disciplinary Clause dealing with a man who got drunk aboard ship? Could that not be dealt with by the ship's committee?
We discussed the disciplinary committees in some detail in Committee, and I hope that we shall have the opportunity to discuss them again later. I do not think that they cover the entire point. Certainly, in the view of Lord Pearson they did not.
I wonder whether the National Union of Seamen, which I suppose is behind the latest suggestion, feels that it can carry with it the masters, the officers and the federation. I wonder whether there has been any attempt to carry on the kind of consultations that there have been up to now between the various branches of the industry. I do not believe for a moment that there has. I do not think that the case has been made out for these rather radical suggestions at such a late stage in the passage of the Bill, and I therefore hope that the Government will resist the Amendments.
We have had a rather lengthy debate, but it has been splendid. It has reflected the very real understanding of, and genuine concern for, the industry by hon. Members on this side of the House, and their understanding of working-class conditions.
The Amendments relate to the statutory offences in Clause 29, 30 and 31 about seamen being under the influence of drink and drugs while on duty, disobedience and persistent neglect of duty, and so on. The proposals before the House would have the effect that the offences could be brought into effect, separately or as a whole, only by regulations, and might then be applied to different descriptions of vessels or in different circumstances.
It is inevitable that we have heard a great deal about the effect of the Clauses which hon. Members seek to amend. I do not want to add to that discussion, because we dealt with the matter adequately in Committee on the separate Clauses, but I wish to make a general comment about the modifications to the Bill which have been welcomed, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who said how much he appreciated the changes and the readiness with which my right hon. Friend had responded to views put to him. This appreciation was echoed by other hon. Members.
There were not only modifications to the Bill in Committee. There were very substantial changes between the July version and the October version, and I do not think that we have made any secret of the fact that by and large the substantial and fundamental changes were made in response to our consultations with the industry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that he had been misled by talk of there apparently being a consensus of agreement about the contents of the Bill. I was a party to all the consultations we had. Indeed, by and large I led the consultations for the Government between the July Bill and the October Bill. I have before me a copy of the Bill as then drafted which I had on each of those occasions, and it bears some words I wrote down then. My right hon. Friend, who has no doubt led many such consultations, will himself have jotted down a few words to trigger off thoughts in his mind when introducing the consultations.
I have here the words with which I introduced each of the discussions with the representatives from different sections of the industry. I told them that the Bill as drafted, whilst seeking to follow Pearson, represented the highest common denominator of agreement or reconcilability between the interests directly affected. I cannot recall those words ever being challenged.
It is certainly true that the National Union of Seamen expressed its reservations about the Clauses which it is sought to amend. At the same time, I do not think that I misrepresent its position when I say that it accepted that there had to be compromise if we were to make progress in the reform of the Merchant Shipping Acts.
I think that in my own defence I am entitled to refer to the letter of my hon. Friend the then Minister of State at the Board of Trade on 25th August in which the N.U.S. set out step-by-step, in detail, its points of objection. It made no general objection then. I am not saying that it did not have, and does not now have, objections. I could go through it section by section. It might not gratify hon. Members opposite if I told them of point after point where we have met the N.U.S. It is also true that we sought to meet some of the other points expressed by other sections of the industry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington seemed to find some ground at least for criticism that I should so frequently have quoted in the Standing Committee from the Pearson Report. Under the circumstances, it would have been even more astonishing if I had not done so. I would have been rebuked if I had not made frequent reference to Pearson.
My connection with the Bill began after it had been launched. Its origins go back to the national seamen's strike of 1966, one result of which was the appointment of the court of inquiry under Lord Pearson. From the moment of the publication of the report three years ago in February, 1967, a report which was almost universally accepted, the Government were under continuous pressure from my hon. Friends—and I think from my right hon. Friend as well—to implement its recommendations. Over that long period I cannot recall any hon. Member saying that the Government should implement its recommendations "except in so far as".
Here I must intervene, because we had better get the record right. When my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade assumed his present office he spoke to me about the provisions of a merchant shipping Bill. He was very kind to do so. I warned him then to be very careful about the matter of discipline. I have maintained my position ever since.
It means forsaking the cause.
I think that we are all agreed—the debate has reflected our agreement—on the need to maintain discipline at sea. I think that we all accept that it is vital for the safety and efficiency of the merchant fleet. This matter was gone into very fully by the court of inquiry, which made it clear that the provision of these statutory offences is fundamental to the intention and philosophy of the report. The inquiry heard the views of all sides of the industry and made firm recommendations for these provisions. I doubt whether, in those circumstances, provisions of this kind for the merchant navy should be left to regulations. It is my view and that of the Government that they should be set out in the Statute and applied universally to all merchant ships.
There is nothing unique in statutory disciplinary provisions where, for example, safety is concerned. I note that one or two of my hon. Friends with close connections with the coal mining industry are present, and they will know what I am talking about.
A key point made by my hon. Friends was that the Pearson Report recognised that there are other ways of maintaining discipline, and the statutory offences are part of a pattern in which shipboard and shore disciplinary procedures will play their part. Acts of misconduct on board ship will generally be dealt with by the master or a ship's committee, and general misconduct will continue to be reviewed and dealt with by joint committees ashore. We believe that all these developments must be encouraged and that they will be able to deal with most, if not all, cases of indiscipline, but we feel that there is need for all these methods to be available.
In the public interest, safety at sea requires that there shall be statutory offences which can enable the more serious cases to be dealt with. Such cases cannot be dealt with by, for example, a ship's disciplinary committee or a shore-based committee or shore-based procedure or by the ship's master. Not all such cases can be dealt with under Clause 28, which has been rightly described as a sledgehammer which may be used wrongly in certain circumstances if we have no other instrument available. It is these less dangerous but still serious acts of misconduct which, in the last resort, should be capable of being dealt with as statutory offences.
This runs parallel with the situation in most other countries. It is my understanding that, when the Bill has been enacted, our provisions will probably be more liberal than those of almost any other country, and certainly less rigorous.
I want now to turn to the point, raised by a number of hon. Members, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), about the possibility of differentiating between different classes of ships. The difficulty here has been referred to in the debate—for example, in respect of vessels in home waters, which is the class of vessel for which my hon. Friend sought in particular to seek exemption. These involve voyages through the most congested waters in the world where collision dangers are high and where there is need for all possible safety provision. I cannot see where a line could safely be drawn either between ship and ship or between areas of trading or between one offence and another in relation to such ships.
I assure my hon. Friends that I understand very clearly their aims in deploying the new Clause and the Amendments that go with it. In effect, they have made their play and have expressed their opposition about the content of these Clauses, but, for good or ill, they have lost the battle. Nevertheless, while they accept the Government's case for the necessity of these Clauses in present circumstances and the Government's case for the development of ships' disciplinary committees, which they welcome, they suggest that, if these committees prove as effective as we all hope, the need for the statutory provisions will diminish in time.
They therefore ask, "Are we to wait for another three-quarters of a century for another amending Act before we can get rid of these statutory offences which, by their existence, are a daily provocation?" That, by and large, is the argument of my hon. Friends. They say, "Should we not make provision in the Bill for the Government, if these other developments are as successful as we all hope, to vary or revoke the statutory provisions in the Bill?"
I believe that I, and perhaps more particularly some of the other hon. Members who have spoken, have given adequate and compelling reasons why the provisions in relation to statutory offences should be retained, at least in present circumstances. The need for them was spelt out clearly and firmly in the Pearson Report. The Pearson Committee, on which trade union interests were strongly represented, made the recommendations from which these Clauses are derived. Those recommendations have been discussed between the interests within the industry and between those interests and the Government.
The same has applied throughout the Bill as a whole. No powerful dissent from the provisions of these so-called penal Clauses was apparent on those occasions. Surely this is a very late point in the passage of the Bill to be asked to contemplate a radical variation of these provisions.
Nevertheless, in spite of what I have said, I feel reluctant wholly to reject the proposition advanced by my hon. Friends. I cannot ignore the powerful arguments which have been deployed by them. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are anxious that we should as far as possible carry with us in the purposes of the Bill those to whom it will directly apply. While we cannot accept the new Clause and the allied Amendments, we are prepared to ask the industry for its views about the flexibility and efficacy of making such a provision as will proceed along the lines suggested by my hon. Friends.
Furthermore, the industry itself has its own permanent forum, the National Maritime Board, and I see no reason why those within the industry who seek this kind of change should not initiate early discussions within that body towards the end my hon. Friends seek. If, subsequently, some consensus of agreement emerges from that body seeking changes along the lines proposed, the Government will feel bound to give it serious and urgent consideration. I assure my hon. Friends that, if the industry itself gives a clear indication of its wish and willingness to go along such lines, we will be ready and happy to go along with it.
I hope that, in the light of these assurances, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will feel able to withdraw the Motion.
I repeat my apology for the lateness of this new Clause and the Amendments. I think that the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) understands the circumstances. They were framed specifically to allow for consultation with the interests he mentioned and, on reflection, he will remember that this is what I pointed out in my speech earlier. It is important to get this point on the record.
Having heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I have no wish to detain the House long. What he has proposed is generous. I only regret that, in other ways and other circumstances, perhaps things could not have been different, and I make that clear to some hon. Members who have made such comment. My hon. Friend rightly spoke about the negotiations he had had and referred to the Pearson Committee and the Donovan Committee and to the discussions on "In Place of Strife". I remind him that the National Union of Seamen has been on record all the time as being against these penal Clauses.
There has been criticism to some extent of the N.U.S. by some of my hon. Friends about the receipt of information. The delay in the last piece of information they received was due to one factor—that it was felt that it would be improper to issue a statement like that while negotiations or discussions were still going on. I believe this to have been a right and proper attitude and I must admit that it was on my advice that the decision was taken.
Having said that, and having, I hope, cleared away some of the misunderstanding, in view of the generous statement made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and knowing the attention which he and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have paid to many of the points we have made in the debate—a point I made in my earlier speech—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.