Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:13 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Hacking Lord Hacking Labour 4:13 pm, 20th July 2022

My Lords, if I may, I should like to speak in anticipation of the valedictory speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, before I move to the terms of the Bill. Like all Members of the House here present, I very much look forward to hearing his valedictory address, but, like them, I do so with sadness that this is the last time we will hear the noble and learned Lord speaking from our Benches.

I am in rather a special position—although I think I see at least two noble Lords who were here 43 years ago in 1979. They are both nodding, so I am correct in that assumption. However, I am the only person who has put his name down to speak in this debate who was here when the noble and learned Lord arrived 43 years ago in 1979 as the new Lord Advocate, coming, as I recall, from being Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh.

Moreover, very shortly after his arrival in this House, I had the honour of working very closely with him on the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980—I think the noble and learned Lord will remember it. It was quite tough on him to take on that Act, which was a complicated one, so soon after his arrival in the House. I believe that the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, funked taking on that task, although the noble and learned Lord has never used those words to me. The nature of that Act was to protect a major UK company from the ravages of US anti-trust law. The entry into the area of US anti-trust laws did not deter the noble and learned Lord, with his swift intellect. I had just come back to this House after four and a half years practising law in New York; I knew something about anti-trust law and I hope I was helpful. Later, I remember working with the noble and learned Lord, when he was Lord Chancellor, on another very complicated Act, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Once again, such an Act needed his great intellect.

My clear memory of the noble and learned Lord throughout his time in this House was of his great intellect and great stamina. At no time was this exhibited more clearly than during the passage of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. It started with a Green Paper for debate on a Friday—I suppose it must have been in early 1990. I will explain the circumstances of that in a moment. The Thatcher Government, after sorting out the trade unions, somewhat bravely decided to sort out the legal profession. It was agreed that the beginning of this sorting out should take the form of a Green Paper—a discussion paper—which was put before the House. Therefore, on this Friday sometime in early 1990, we convened at 10 am and must have gone on past 10 pm or 11 pm, or perhaps just after midnight. The beginning was quite eventful because the Bishop was not here, and the noble and learned Lord had to say Prayers before we could start our business that day. Thereafter, he sat on the Woolsack down there for almost the whole day, never leaving it, always listening to the argument, not even taking any notes but patiently listening to all that was said. He was there for 12, 13 or 14 hours and ended up giving a brilliant extempore summing up very late at night—using, as I mentioned, hardly a note.

It was not altogether an easy debate for the noble and learned Lord. The legal profession on the Bar side was furious with the provisions proposed by the Government of the day, and so were many members of the judiciary. As it happened, exactly on the Bench where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is sitting, I was sitting next to Lord Geoffrey Lane, the then Lord Chief Justice. He rose as I sat beside him and turned on the Lord Chancellor, saying that he had not even had the courtesy to write to him about these measures before introducing the Green Paper. However, Lord Lane had not taken into account the enormously good memory of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. He remembered that sometime earlier, when the Green Paper was being produced, he had received a handwritten letter from Lord Lane to say that he did not think it was appropriate for the Lord Chief Justice to be involved the discussion of these proposals. That placed Lord Lane in rather an awkward position. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, with his characteristic kindness, raised that issue very tactfully only in his final summing up, just referring to having received that letter.

Not only was the noble and learned Lord under attack from Lord Lane, he was under greater attack from Lord Donaldson, who actually used the words, “Take your tanks off my lawn”. Again, the noble and learned Lord received that with great good temper and wisdom.

I remember having the privilege of seeing the noble and learned Lord when he was finishing as Lord Chancellor. It was sometime in 1997, as the general election result had been announced. He very kindly agreed that I could have a brief word with him before he departed from office. Thereafter, he moved to where he is now sitting, the Bench immediately behind the Ministers. It is a Bench that he has used over many years—for 22 years of which I was not here, but I saw him there from 1997 until I left in 1999 and saw him there again when I returned to your Lordships’ House.

Every so often, the noble and learned Lord stands up and give some words of wisdom. I am a bit worried now for the Government and Ministers, who will no longer have those words of wisdom to guide them through their business. I fear they must just live with that, because the noble and learned Lord is leaving us.

I should like to bring everything up to date, because on Monday the noble and learned Lord was sitting in exactly the same place throughout the rather long debates on the Schools Bill. He did not intervene, but he was still sitting there.

It is about time I turned to the Bill itself. I was in the Royal Navy and I remember that the noble Lord sitting opposite was also a national serviceman in the Royal Navy with me. He may have been guilty of a sin, the information thereon I should like to pass on to the House. I remember that in the Royal Navy we saw a lot of commercial ships, and we saw the seaman coming off at various ports all around the world. We all wondered how well they were being treated, what their wages were and whether they were being kept in difficult or squalid circumstances.

I look towards the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, because he was out in the Far East, and I was not, so I was not guilty of this sin, but it was said that in the Far East the Navy was considered not very good with its washing, and Chinese personnel were taken on board our ships while we were out in the Far East. They may have been taken on board the ships on which the noble Lord was an officer; I give him an opportunity to reply. They were kept there, not in very good quarters—I do not know anything about their pay—and then they were dumped when the ship returned from the Far East.

Although my Navy days are long over, the Bill’s terms seem sound and it should be supported.