Assistance for Training

Part of Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 17th March 1997.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:35 pm, 17th March 1997

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

The purpose of the new clause is abundantly clear. It underlines the importance that training has always had not only for the safety of lives at sea but for the maintenance and therefore the ensuring of safety of the ships in which people sail. It is of particular importance given the Bill's framework.

I do not think that it would be an exaggeration to say that this nation has set the benchmark not only for the training of seafarers but for the introduction and maintenance of many of the safety measures that, over the years, have reduced loss of life at sea and been instrumental in steps being taken in this country and in the wider international community on the very serious issue of pollution and its potential risk should such strict safety standards and training measures be eroded. It would however be quite wrong to mislead hon. Members into thinking that what has been is what faces us now.

In common with all other merchant fleets, the British merchant fleet is undoubtedly operating in a severely competitive climate. Over the past 18 years, we have seen a serious decline in the number of ships flying the red ensign. The number of ships on the United Kingdom register has declined from more than 1,200 of 500 gross tonnes or more in 1980 to only 240 ships of an equivalent tonnage today. At the same time, there has been an even more staggering decline in the number of registered UK seafarers. In 1980, there were 60,000 seafarers, but there are just about 20,000 today. That figure includes some officers who are employed on foreign-flag vessels.

As this nation has set the benchmark not only for training but for the maintenance of safety standards on our vessels, British-trained crews are undoubtedly much admired and desired by international competitors. In a study commissioned jointly by the Department of Transport, the Chamber of Shipping Ltd. and the Marine Society, which was conducted at the University of Wales in Cardiff and published in March 1996, it was, however, identified that the need for trained seafarers is the exclusive preserve neither of shipping companies nor owners but of many land-based related industries.

It is extremely interesting to see the wide variety of businesses, industries and commercial enterprises that are in a sense dependent on having as part of their personnel people who have obtained sea-going qualifications and are experienced in the area. The obvious ones are surveying and ship inspection companies, cargo surveying firms, classification societies, ports and port services and, of special relevance to the Bill, organisations committed to pollution control. The list is long and runs to many pages, and I do not wish to delay the House. The study by the University of Wales in Cardiff identified approximately 17,000 land-based jobs that employers much prefer to fill with ex-seafarers, but the number of mariners—and the number who present themselves for training, certainly in the cadets—has declined.

The Government have taken steps, via the DOCS—development of certificated seafarers scheme—and the Government assistance for training—or GAFT—scheme to encourage people to train as mariners. From conversations I have had, I do not believe that young people are any less willing to look to the sea for their future careers than they have ever been. Last year, at one of our much-prized, internationally recognised nautical colleges, some 1,000 young people who wished to dedicate their lives to the sea competed for a limited number of places.

It is remarkable—and we should take pride in the fact—that 50 per cent. of all ship broking is conducted through the Baltic exchange in the City of London. The City is the primary area for all maritime business, nationally and internationally. People are concerned that if standards of training, and the numbers entering such training, decline, that primacy could be lost.

The purpose of the new clause, which I hope that the Government will consider favourably, is to ensure the widest possible consultation and discussion in the maritime industry on how we can expand and increase existing training schemes, as well as incorporate individual ideas from a variety of sources. It has been argued that the individual, land-based businesses should take on the exclusive responsibility for training, but such training schemes would be dependent on the size of the company. Many such companies, which make a considerable contribution to the nation's economy, are small, and it would be impossible for them to engage in training schemes. If we had wide-ranging consultation and discussion, companies could present a compilation of their ideas.

I shall end where I began. We are a proud maritime nation. We have set benchmarks for the international community in training, standards of seamanship, maintenance and safety procedures. I hope that the Government will look kindly on the new clause, because we should expand our activities in this area, not decrease them.