Orders of the Day — Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 23rd February 1984.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight 5:23 pm, 23rd February 1984

The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and I share constituencies which border on to the Solent. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the measure, I hope that it will lead to greater safety in our waters, because we have had more than our fair share of problems in both the Solent and the English Channel in recent years. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the parlous state of our Merchant Navy. I accept that it is imperative not to do anything to make life more difficult for the merchant fleet and those who own our ships who are greatly in need of any help that can be given. As a member of the Maritime League, I hope to play some small part in trying to revive the fortunes of our Merchant Navy to which the country owes so much and to which it will owe so much in future. If it is not there to step in and help the country, as it did during the Falklands crisis, God help the country.

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) on his great speech in defence of the Goole and Gilberdyke railway. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will win his battle. If I remember rightly, the bridge was closed completely at one time, and British Rail spent a considerable amount of money getting it back into operation. The Bill clearly makes inadequate provision for such compensation. I hope that, even at this late hour, saner counsels will prevail, and that that line will remain open.

I want to ask the Minister one question about the arbitrator. If this matter was dealt with in Committee, I aplogise for raising it again. Is there any way in which the arbitrator can invite assessors to help him in dealing with complicated and specialised subjects? I am aware of the preference of the National Union of Seamen for an industrial tribunal. The other union concerned has suggested the possibility of bringing in assessors. That suggestion appears sensible, although I accept that the arbitrator will be chosen to meet the requirements of the qualifications set out in page 5 of the Bill.

The General Council of British Shipping is satisfied with the contents of the Bill, but warns that compensation could be considerable in the event of a ship being delayed by a prohibition notice that was decided by an arbitrator to be unreasonable. It is hoped that such incidents will not occur, for the reasons I gave at the beginning of my speech. I recognise the current problems of those involved in the merchant fleet. I hope that the Bill, which is sensible and well-intentioned, will not exacerbate those problems.