§ £536,607, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service,—
§ MR. W. ALLEN
said he wished to ask how it was that the one line of steamship companies which employed almost exclusively Lascar seamen got the whole patronage of the Post Office in the matter of over-sea mail contracts. There were other lines with equally good ships and equally capable of carrying the mails satisfactorily and who did not employ Lascar seamen, who were not so efficient as British seamen. He contended that the important mails to India and Australia should be carried on boats which were manned by the best sailors that could be got, and the 681 Government could easily put in a clause in their contracts requiring that the mails should be carried only in vessels manned by English seamen. The "Fair Wages" Resolution required that a fair rate of wages should be paid by those who secured Government contracts, but these Lascar seamen were employed at a rate of wages which English seamen would not for a moment accept. He hoped the Government would give the Committee some satisfactory assurance on the point and that the P. and O. would not always have a monopoly of the mails. He was told that the P. and O. were almost entirely dependent for their dividends on the subsidies they got from the Post Office for carrying the mails. The Government were in a specially advantageous position for dealing with this matter, because they had a director of the P. and O. among themselves.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said that as far as he could gather, it was not the case to any extent that the P. and O. employed foreigners in the sense in which he understood the term. He would not call Lascars, who were fellow subjects and natives of Her Majesty's dominions, foreigners. To lay down any such doctrine would be to develop the Little England theory to an enormous extent. The point he wished to impress on the Committee was that the Government were asked to prevent the employment of British subjects. ["No, no!"]
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
It would save time if I point out that the difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is not so large as his speech would indicate. I did not ask for the total exclusion of Lascars and coolies who were subjects of the British Empire. What I protested against was the proportionately large number of Lascars and coolies employed on British steamers which received subsidies from the Post Office.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said, that if the hon. Member confined his suggestion to the limited extent of the non-employment of persons who were not subjects of the Queen, he was with him. But he should not be prepared to draw a distinction between one British subject and another in a matter of this kind. He thought that a much healthier public opinion prevailed now than was the case 682 some time ago with regard to those subjects. He did not think that they would be met by the old argument that the interests of the consumer and the taxpayer should be solely considered. He hoped it would be acknowledged that the duty of the Government was first of all to protect the interests of British subjects, and not the supposed interest of the taxpayer, at the expense of the larger interests of the Empire as a whole. He trusted that the Government would give an assurance that the spirit of the Fair Wages Resolution would be enforced in respect of shipping contracts and the employment of persons who were not British subjects. Was it the case that payments were made to shipping companies other than those which sailed under the British flag? If the contracts were knocked down to the lowest bidder, and foreign steamship companies were to obtain the money of the British taxpayer, he should look upon the policy as most mischievous. The Government should, therefore, take care that in the disposal of Government contracts the interests of British labour and truly British interests were jealously safe- guarded.
§ MR. A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
said, that the hon. Member for Battersea had raised a very important question, and he thought it was a matter on which Conservatives ought to support him. He had travelled on steamship lines on which English labour alone was employed, and by those, like the P. and O., which employed a great deal of Lascar labour. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: "British subjects?"] No, not all of them. At all events a great deal too many Lascars were employed, and it was little short of a scandal, when they were deploring the disappearance of British sailors all over the world, that as much encouragement as possible should not be given to their employment, at least in those steamship lines which received heavy Government subsidies. It had always appeared to him to be wrong that the P. and O. Company should have a large preponderance of contracts, and at the same time should be allowed, notwithstanding the protests of the colonies and other parts of the Empire, to employ a vast amount of foreign coloured labour on their ships. They ought not to exclude the labour of 683 their fellow subjects, even if it be coloured labour. The P. and O. Company had contracts between this country and India and Australia. He could not see that it was a hardship to employ Lascar labour provided it was the labour of our own subjects carrying the mails to India; but it was a hardship if such labour was employed on ships going to Australia. The Orient line employed English labour only. Their ships were excellently managed and gave satisfaction to the colonials and others. The colonials held a strong opinion that the P. and O. ships should be manned by British labour only, exactly as the Orient ships were. He hoped that the next time the contracts were made the Government would insist, as far as the Australian contracts were concerned, that the views of the colonials were attended to. There should be a clause inserted that only British and Australian labour should be employed on all the mail steamships in future.
§ MR. A. D. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
asked for information as to the position of the proposed Transatlantic service. A subsidy had been offered by the Canadian Government, and a supplementary subsidy by the British Government. Had the negotiations been concluded, and, if any terms had been come to, would the right hon. Gentleman say what they were? The present discussion showed that what was wanted was the appointment of a Committee to consider the whole question. For years he had put a Motion on the Paper asking that a Committee should be appointed. More than once he brought the question under the notice of the House, but the last Conservative Government would not appoint a Committee, and the last Liberal Government had no contracts of any importance during their administration. But, inasmuch as the whole of the contracts expired in 1898, an opportunity would occur to revise them, though it was impossible for the House to express an adequate opinion on a complicated question like this without a Committee first investigating it. The last Committee sat in 1849; but the business of carrying mail contracts had been revolutionised since that date. All the House knew of them was that they were settled generally at midnight, though they might involve 684 millions of money in their settlement. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to appoint a Committee without delay to take into consideration the whole question of these mail contracts. The Committee of 1849 said in their Report that when tenders for carrying mails were asked for, ample notice and full particulars of the terms and conditions of the service required should be given to the public, as that was the most likely way to secure real tenders by responsible bodies. In 1877, the then Postmaster General gave a pledge that ample time would be given to competitors to send in offers to carry out the service then required, but in flagrant violation of that pledge, when the tenders were asked for only a month's notice was given. No new firm could possibly prepare to tender in so short a time as that. It appeared as if the Post Office intended to pursue the same tactics now. In 1885 and 1886 the same thing was done but in another way. The Post Office first of all asked for a tender for seven years, and when tenders were sent in they altered the proposed seven years' contract to a ten years' contract. But they gave no notice of the alteration to the various tenderers, and merely notified it to one—the P. and O. Company. They asked that Company to tender again for the ten years' service, and of course, in the circumstances, no competition was possible. In the present case there was only an interval of two years before the new service must commence. There were, no doubt, some difficulties in connection with the tenders for the Australian service, because the colonial governments joined with us in paying the subsidy; but there were no difficulties of the kind in connection with the Eastern service to India and China, because that was paid for exclusively by ourselves. The new contract, if it was to be for ten years, would involve a very heavy outlay. At present the P. and O. Company received £1,000 of public money daily for carrying the mails. The subject was one which ought to be referred at once to a Parliamentary Committee composed of business men. A Departmental Committee would be useless; in fact, nobody would dream of paying any attention to the decision of a Departmental Committee, considering the way in which the Department itself 685 had behaved on former occasions. Allusion had been made to the black men employed in P. and O. steamers. These came from Abyssinia and various parts on the Red Sea, and were not British subjects. At the Post Office simple business matters were transacted in a way that made one think that the officials had no business knowledge at all, and their methods were very bad for the taxpayers. The action of the Post Office in the past had resulted in the, establishment of a monopoly for the benefit of the P. and O. Company, and unless the Department invited tenders now under reasonable conditions, that monopoly would be maintained. If tenders were asked for and submitted to a Committee, they would then feel satisfied that they had done all that they could do to secure the best service in the interests of the taxpayers. It was clear, from the expressions of opinion which had been heard that evening, that there was a good deal of sympathy, even on the opposite side of the House, with the grievances to which the hon. Member for Battersesa had drawn attention. There was good reason to believe that a large number of the, supporters of the Government took the view that the Fair Wages Resolution ought to apply to the seamen employed. The only way in which the Government could satisfy the Committee was by the appointment of a Committee. He therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman to advertise for tenders at once, and to refer them to a Committee.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that Her Majesty's Government last year undertook to give £100,000 per annum for 20 years, or £2,000,000, to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company for carrying the mails between Holyhead and Kingstown. The House had practically no opportunity of considering the transaction, for the Post Office brought forward the Resolution sanctioning the contract just before the Dissolution, when most Members were away in their constituencies. The Department made a private bargain with the Company, saying, "We will give you £100,000 for 20 years for a particular service." He held that it would have been better to put a notice in the London Gazette, saying, "We are prepared to give £2,000,000 686 for this service, and we wait for offers from syndicates and steam ship companies. £100,000 a year—what offers?" That would have been the right thing to say. He recognised that the present service was adequate, and that the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company's work under the contract was not open to criticism. A proper bargain, however, ought to have been made, and the transaction ought to have been conducted more in accordance with ordinary business methods. With regard to the employment of Lascars, he would remind the Committee that in a sailor pluck and courage were desirable. Something more was wanted than mere readiness to serve for eighteenpence a day. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury when they would have the accelerated service across the Channel, and also whether there was any reason why, in the meantime, the London and North Western Railway Company could not be induced to put on an accelerated service over the land portion of the journey? He did not see why the acceleration should be made to depend on the building of new ships. He trusted that the Government would press on the North Western Company the desirability of putting the acceleration into effect.
§ MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said, that as regarded the Fair Wages Resolution, he was entirely at ore with his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea; but questions of fair wages had nothing whatever to do with questions of nationality. He noticed with some concern that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet seized hold of the Fair Wages Resolution to bring in the question of the employment of foreign labour. His own opinion emphatically was that this question of fair wages had nothing in the world to do with the employment of foreign seamen, though, of course, administrative considerations might arise in connection with the subsidising of a great line of Mercantile Marine ships. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not say that those on his side of the House, at any rate, desired that the Government should embark on a policy of excluding in all its contracts the employment of any sort of foreign labour. At the same time he hoped it would be made perfectly clear 687 that there was no disposition in the House of Commons to go back on the principle of the Fair Wages Resolution.
§ SIR THOMAS SUTHERLAND (Greenock)
said, that in the first place he wished to disabuse the minds of hon. Members who had listened to the hon. Member for Battersea, with regard to one question—namely, that mixed crews were made use of from a motive of economy. He could assure the House that that was not the case. As a matter of fact, mixed crews were in reality considerably more costly than entirely European crews. The type of vessel which carried the mails to India or Australia, would carry upwards of 200 hands, about 220. Of that number upwards of 80 would be Europeans or Englishmen, and the balance would be composed entirely of Lascars or Africans.
§ SIR T. SUTHERLAND
Yes; stewards and engineers. The cost of such a crew would be actually greater than the cost of an entirely European crew, which, however, would of course be smaller in point of numbers. This matter had to be dealt with from the point of view of practicability, and those who had to deal with it were confronted with the fact that in navigating the Eastern seas European labour was by no means so efficient as that which was made use of. To show that what he said was not spoken without experience, he might mention that when the Company with which he was connected began to run their vessels through the Suez Canal, they manned their ships with European crews; and the reason why they abandoned that practice and took to employing mixed crews was that they found the European crew in the Indian and China seas were not nearly so efficient as they were in European waters. He did not say it would not be possible to secure efficient European crews in the case of ships navigating the Australian seas; but the reason why ships so engaged were run with mixed crews was that they could not be retained for service with one particular line, and must take their share in all the work the Company had to do. The experience of his Company with British seamen was very unfortunate, for it was by no means 688 a rare thing, when first they began to run through the Suez Canal, for a ship to arrive at her destination, Calcutta for instance, with half her crew in gaol. If the House of Commons chose to pass a law to prevent the employment of Lascars, it would not be of the smallest consequence so far as his interests were concerned; but so far as the navigation of ships in the Eastern seas at a high rate of speed was concerned, it would be a matter of the greatest possible importance. He could not conceive how the House could possibly attempt to interfere with the employment of British subjects as sailors any more than as soldiers. He contended that the training of the Lascars was as good, if not better, than the great majority of men now employed in steam vessels. It was a well known fact in maritime history that when the Charter of the East India Company came to a close, the vast trade then existing, and which had increased so much now, fell into the hands of a class of vessel which was manned exclusively by Lascars; and the Company with which he was connected, when it first started on its very considerable enterprise in the Far East, obtained its whole staff from these ships. He trusted he would do no harm by thus stating what were the actual facts of the case—namely, that motives of economy had nothing whatever to do with the employment of Lascars, and that the system of entirely European crews had been tried and found unsuccessful.
§ MR. BURNS
said, that the House had the considerable advantage of hearing the expert opinion of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and 0. Company on the employment of Lascars on board of the vessels of that Company, and he himself had had some practical experience on the subject. What he had said last night was that while the lines of steamers which ran through the Red Sea and which received State subsidies for the conveyance of our mails, should not be compelled to exclude Lascars or coolies from their crews, they should be required to give the British sailor a fair share of employment in consideration of their receiving such subsidies. He further said that the P. and O. Company, above all other companies, had no right to receive £1,000 a day, or £365,000 a year, from this country as a 689 subsidy for the conveyance of the mails, which enabled them unfairly to compete with other companies in the same line of traffic who did not employ Lascars to the same extent that that company did. He could not understand why the P. and O. Company were, chartered libertines in that respect, unless it was that one Postmaster General in that House was a large shareholder in the Company, and that a noble Lord in the other House, a member of the Government, was another. Of course, it could scarcely be said, in the circumstances of the case, that those I we gentlemen were altogether disinterested in the question of the employment of Lascars on board of the Company's vessels. The hon. Member for Glasgow had very properly remarked that it was not right to allow contracts for the conveyance of the mails involving subsidies of front half to three-quarters of a million of money annually to be rushed through that House at half-past one o'clock in the morning without explanation and without notice. They should insist that all contracts for the mail service should be deposited upon the Table of the House for a certain time before they became binding, in order that hon. Members might have an opportunity of examining into their terms and conditions. He was convinced that if such a course had been followed in the case of this contract with the P. and O. Company, it would have not been entered into, and that Company would not have had the advantage, which they now possessed, over other companies who were more patriotic and who paid the British sailor higher wages than the. P. and O. Company did. He would deal with one of the points that had been put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and C). Company. That hon. Gentleman had said that Lascar seamen and mixed crews were not employed on the ground of economy. Then why were they employed at all? It could not be that they were employed on the ground of patriotism. He understood that it was the desire of the hon. Gentleman, other things being equal, to free the British sailor from the competition of the yellow man, and yet the hon. Gentleman said that Lascars were not employed on the ground of economy. The British sailors and stokers were certainly under the 690 impression that the Lascars were employed because it was cheaper to employ them, but they had heard from the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company that night that that was not the case, and the hon. Gentleman had even gone further, and had said that the cost was greater in the case of mixed crews. On that point, however, the hon. Gentleman differed from the, opinion of every sailor and fireman in the kingdom, who believed that it was in consequence of the Company employing Lascars on board their vessels that they were enabled to tender at a lower price for the conveyance of the mails than other lines which did not employ Lascars to the same extent that the P. and O. Company did. But it was said that the Lascars were more efficient in the stoke holes than British stokers were. He had had the advantage of working in the engine room on board steamers in the Bed Sea with English, Scotch, and Irish stokers, and with Lascars and coolies, and the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company might talk until he was black in the face before he could make him believe that Lascars and coolies were more efficient in the stoke hole than white stokers were. The truth was that Lascars and coolies were not employed in the stoke hole—those who were employed there being known as "seedy boys," who came from the coast of Africa, and who were not British subjects. It was said that the crews of the P. and O. Company were mixed, being composed partly of Lascars and partly of Europeans. But what was the fact? They got their stokers from the, coast of Africa, and they got their stewards and waiters from Portuguese Goa, while they employed Lascars upon deck, and these men were employed because they worked at a cheaper rate than white men. He knew the three hottest places in the world from practical experience. One of them was the Straits of Malacca, another was Goree, which was separated from the nether kingdom only by a sheet of brown paper, and the third was the Red Sea in hot weather. Was it not an extraordinary thing, if the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company were correct, that British stokers and not Lascars were employed on board ships in the Straits of Malacca. It was found 691 that white stokers stood the heat better than Lascars or coolies or "seedy boys" in the Red Sea, the coloured stokers being frequently drawn up from the stoke holes in buckets in a fainting state. British South African steamers running into Liverpool and round the Cape employed British stokers exclusively. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company had given his case away when he said that British sailors were now only exclusively employed on board ships conveying troops—why even that would not have been the case had it not been for the conditions of the Board of Trade certificate, because that Board required that English sailors should be employed when large numbers of troops were to be embarked. He, however, was willing that the British sailor should be on good terms with the British capitalist, and therefore he was willing to make a bargain with the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company. The hon. Gentleman had said that in 1874–5 the British sailor was demoralised to a large extent. He himself had always taken this line—namely, that when the British workman was in the wrong he had never attempted to shield him, but had pointed out to him the error of his ways. From 1871 to 1875 very high wages were paid in the Mercantile Marine, with the result that the British sailor, under the influence of the crimps and the boarding-house keepers, became the victim of spirits and syphilis, and in consequence was prevented from efficiently discharging his duty in hot climates. At the present time, however, those high wages had disappeared, and the consequence was that the men were more steady, more sober, and were better educated than they were in the years he had indicated. He, therefore, would ask the hon. Gentleman if there was no reason on the score of economy to employ Lascars on board the P. and O. Company's ships, not to exclude the Lascar altogether, but, in consideration of the subsidy which they received from the State, to give the British sailor a fair share of employment. He was glad that this subject had been discussed, not from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Thanet Division of Kent, who was certainly not going to rope him into the Protectionist 692 doctrine which he advocated, but on the ground of justice to both the British sailor and the Lascar and coolie. He thought he had proved that the spirit of the Fair Wages Resolution of that House had been evaded by the P. and O. Company to the detriment of the interests of the British sailor. He would ask the Secretary to the Treasury not to be led away by the sophisms of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the P. and O. Company, and that he would not admit thatTwo sweaty Lascars, and one PortugeeAre not going to drive the British Sailor off the sea.The French Government had set us a good example in the case of the Messageries Maritimes, on board whose vessels Lascars were not employed, their steamers being looked upon as the training school either for the Navy of the future or for the naval reserve. It could not be denied that Indians were not so adapted to maritime employment as the English sailor was, and, in justice to English sailors and to prevent unfair competition, he asked the Secretary to the Treasury that the whole question of the employment of Lascars should receive the careful consideration of the Government.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. R. W. HANBURY,) Preston
, replying first to the right hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. James Lowther), said no subsidies were paid to foreign lines. Letters carried by those lines were paid for at the rates fixed by the Postal Union Convention. Negotiations were going on to establish a fast Atlantic service between English and Irish ports and ports in Canada, and tenders were about to be invited by the Canadian Government. No definite arrangement had been come to as to subsidies. As to the complaint of the hon. Member for Wexford with regard to the contract with the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company for the conveyance of mails between Holyhead and Dublin, he reminded the hon. Member that the contract was entered into by the late Government. It was a private arrangement between the late Government and the company. He had always maintained that such contracts should be given out as publicly as possible. The hon. Member for Glasgow asked for a Committee 693 to consider the giving out of mail contracts between this country and the East. The hon. Member said the present system took away all control over the contracts from the House of Commons, and that contracts ought to lie on the Table of the House.
§ MR. PROVAND
, interposing, said his point was that the tenders when received should be submitted to a Committee of the House, which should consider them with the Post Office and settle the terms. His complaint was that the House knew nothing of the contracts until they were laid on the Table the night before they were voted on, and the Votes were taken in the middle of the night.
§ *MR. HANBURY
said, one of the hon. Member's complaints was that the contract for mails for the East was so often given to the P. and O. Company. The forms of tender had been the same for some years and must be known to the hon. Member. It should be known that effect could only be given to the mail contracts by a Resolution of the House, and therefore he did not see how the House could have greater control than it already possessed. With regard to the employment of Lascars, he was glad that the hon. Member for Battersea did not raise the question as one of prejudice against coloured races. The Government could not agree to the exclusion of coloured labour. He believed that no coolies were employed on the P. and O. boats, and as to Lascars, it would be unjust by any direct action to exclude from the privileges of the trade of the Empire men who were equally the fellow-subjects of the Crown with ourselves. The hon. Member for Battersea did not directly propose that Lascar labour should be excluded under the mail contracts, but the course he suggested would have the effect of excluding them indirectly. It was said that they worked for lower wages than Englishmen would. But they were kept and fed all the year round instead of being discharged at the end of a voyage as English sailors were. Because they were not paid exactly the same wages as English sailors, were they to be excluded from the benefits of the service? They were of entirely different race, habits, and mode of life, and therefore they could not be treated as Englishmen 694 might be who received less than the current rate of wages paid to Englishmen. The hon. Member based his case on the Fair Wages Resolution of the House. But it was a little doubtful how far Lascar seamen were affected by that Resolution. The railways of the country received heavy subsidies as well as the mail packet service, and if the Fair Wages Resolution was to be applied to every service in any way subsidised or paid by the Government it must be applied to the railways of the kingdom. If they were to deal with this question from the point of view of the Fair Wages Resolution, how would it work out? The vessels started in one direction from England and in the other from India, and the English sailors (if any) were no doubt paid the wages current in their trade. The point was whether the wages current in the trade in England should apply to men starting from India and who were natives of India. If that were done, it must shut out all the latter from employment in this service. Would it be fair in this way indirectly to exclude their British fellow-subjects? ["Hear, hear!"] They must recollect, too, that a large portion of this subsidy—namely, something like £72,000 —and, therefore, a large part of the wages of the sailors, was paid by India. In these circumstances, it would not be fair to lay down a rule which would shut out of the service of these vessels their fellow-subjects in the Indian Empire. ["Hear, hear!"] He had been asked how it was that the P. and O. Company often got these contracts. He believed they were open contracts, and the P. and O. Company got them because they were the most efficient and sent in the cheapest tenders. A sort of hint had been given of malignant influences being brought to bear to enable the contracts to be given to the P. and O. Company. He was not aware of any influence of the kind, and he did not believe any such influence existed. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme suggested that these contracts should be divided among all the companies running to the East. He thought that would be an expensive process. If they had open contracts, they were entitled to give the preference to the lowest tender, provided the service offered was efficient. It 695 would be neither to the interest of the public service nor to that of economy to do as the hon. Member suggested and subsidise all the steamboat lines. ["Hear, hear!"] He had answered all the points that had been raised, and he appealed to the Committee to allow the Vote to be taken.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
observed that there was one point upon which the Secretary to the Treasury had been silent in his reply, and that was as regarded the military argument. No doubt it was not the right hon. Gentleman's business; but it was the business of the House, and the First Lord of the Admiralty ought to be consulted on the matter in that respect before the tenders were settled. The country had a reserve of really good British seamen, only in the passenger lines, which were very largely mail contract companies. The Cunard and other lines running across the Atlantic, and great lines such as the Orient, were the homes of good British seamen, and the nominal force of British sailors in the world was merely a nominal force except as far as these great companies were concerned. They were told they had great numbers of British seamen, but the numbers included stewards and all classes of people and even loafers. He believed he himself had once figured in these returns, because if a passenger travelled by a steamer which was not a passenger steamer, he was bound before he could so travel to ship as a member of the crew. He knew that on one occasion a distinguished Times correspondent, Miss Shaw, had been borne as a British seaman because she had to ship in a non-passenger steamer in travelling to a distant part of the world. The real reserve of British seamen was to be found in the great passenger lines. As regarded the further East where, undoubtedly, they might need many of these fast cruisers suddenly in the time of war, they would have to face the Messageries steamers, which were manned almost exclusively by French men-of-war men. He was bound to say, with all respect to the very high qualities of Lascar crews, that they could not look to a Lascar crew to man one of their fast steamers in time of war so as to enable her to compete on equal terms with French steamers manned by men-of-war men. The officers of the 696 mail carrying steamers in most cases belonged to the Naval Reserve, but the crews under them were composed of Lascars. The Chairman of the P. and O. talked about mixed crews. They were not mixed in the usual sense of the word. The Europeans on board were the officers and the quartermasters, but there were no European seamen on board the ships at all which were manned by Lascars. He hoped before the contracts were renewed some arrangement would be come to between the Admiralty, the Board of Trade and the Treasury as to what, in future, should be the composition of their crews. He quite agreed with the Secretary to the Treasury, it was impossible to make any rule excluding Lascars, and no doubt this matter would be settled by a compromise of some kind on that head. But when the Secretary to the Treasury suggested that the P. and O. got these contracts, as against the Orient Line, because they were cheaper, then he had to reply that that cheapness was affected by the extent to which the P. and O. relied on exclusively Lascar crews, and the military argument was one which, in this connection, ought not to be excluded.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
observed that the Secretary to the Treasury had not, in his reply, stated, so far as the different companies were concerned, that the P. and O. got the particular contract after competition with opposing companies.
§ MR. DALZIEL
hoped that they would hear, before the Debate closed, whether the right hon. Gentleman adhered to that statement, and that it was not a matter of private influence and private arrangement. Another point was whether it was desirable that Lascars should be so employed. There was a very curious contradiction between the statement of the hon. Member for Greenock and that of the Secretary to the Treasury. The former said it was not on the ground of economy these men were employed, but the right hon. Gentleman on following entirely threw over the hon. Member and said that undoubtedly there was economy in this matter, and that the Lascars were cheaper.
§ SIR T. SUTHERLAND
explained that his statement was that on these ships a far larger number of Lascars were employed than if the ships were manned by European seamen; and that the total amount of wages paid on one of the steamers manned by a mixed crew was larger in twelve months than if it were manned exclusively by Europeans.
§ MR. DALZIEL
observed that after this explanation he could not, he was afraid, alter the view he had expressed. The hon. Member said the employment of these men was not defended on the ground of economy, while the right hon. Gentleman said that undoubtedly the wages paid to them were less in proportion than those given to British seamen. The right hon. Gentleman wisely said that as India contributed a certain amount of the subsidy it would be unfair to prohibit the employment of natives of India. Quite so, but as the right hon. Gentleman was willing to pay some deference to the opinion of India in the matter, why did he not carry out that view with regard to Australia? Whilst Australia contributed her proportion in the same way as India, the Australian people complained that their workmen were practically prevented from being employed on board these steamers. He thought there was a still more important view of this question, which was that the Secretary to the Treasury in a Conservative Government returned as the representatives and champions of British labour, should give a special pleading in favour of the employment of Lascars, because he could not come to any other conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman did not give one hint that this subject would be reconsidered or that anything would be done when the contracts came to be considered. Thus they had the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists, who in every constituency throughout the country issued bills containing the words "British Seamen, British Boilers, British Ships," when a question was raised affecting British seamen remaining silent in this great cause.
§ *MR. HANBURY
I distinctly stated that coolies were not employed, that all these were British subjects, and I am not aware of any Member on this side having said anything against putting our fellow British subjects in India in possession of a share of privileges which we enjoy.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said that he entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Battersea did not claim that an undue exception should be made on behalf of British seamen, but what he asked was that an undue preference should not be given to Lascars simply because they worked for less wages than did British seamen. It was not a question of preference. All they asked was that they should have fair consideration in this matter. They had not only not had fair consideration, but they had not had anything approaching it. He was told that, so far as the P. and O. were concerned, two-thirds of the men employed were actually Lascars; and here they were asked to vote a sum, some £360,000 of which went to this Company, without a word of promise from the representative of the Government that this matter was going to receive attention. He hoped his hon. Friend would go to a Division, and then they would see how some of the hon. Members opposite who, thoughout the country increased their majorities and won seats on a "British platform," would vote on this particular matter.
§ *MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said he could inform the hon. Gentleman at once how he should vote. If the hon. Member for Battersea went to a Division, he should vote against him. He was sorry that for the first time for a great many years an effort should be made from the opposite side of the House to import Party spirit and Party considerations into purely a question of administration. He was not at all afraid to meet the hon. Gentleman fairly and squarely on the issue he had raised. So far as he knew it had never been one of the planks of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist platform that they should seek to exclude from employment by the State the subjects of any portion of Her Majesty's dominions. It had been, perhaps almost exclusively, the doctrine of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist Party to advocate Imperial interests as distinguished from anything which would tend to disruption and separation. If there was any Vote in respect of which special consideration should be given to Lascars, surely it was the Vote for that particular Company—in which he was not directly or indirectly peculiarity interested—which had done 699 so much, by the improvement of the communication between the Indian Empire and the United Kingdom, to better the lot of the hundreds of millions of Her Majesty's Indian subjects. He understood his right hon. Friend to say spontaneously that, although they could not, should not, and would not consent to the exclusion of Lascar labour, they did recognise that the subjects from the Australian colonies should receive their due share of employment on the lines engaged in those services. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had instituted a comparison between the Orient line and the P. and O., but he did not seem to know that the Orient line carried no mails to India; while the P. and O. not only carried mails to India, but a large portion of the mails for Australia were carried on those vessels which were destined for Calcutta and Bombay. On the general question, he would like to say that he thought it was a little dangerous, quite apart from the question of Lascars or British seamen, for the Government of this country to interfere too much in matters of administration between employers and employed. These subjects should be left to the contracting parties. He believed the duty of the Government was to let their contract on terms most advantageous to the British taxpayer, having regard to all the considerations which surrounded the granting of those contracts.
§ ME. PROVAND
said he thought he was entitled to correct one or two statements which the right hon. Gentleman had attributed to him. He said that he had complained of the contract being given many times to the P. and O. On the contrary, he did not complain of that at all; though he said that, if there had been complete competition, it was very likely that the P. and O. would have secured the contract. What he did complain of was that, in giving out contracts in 1877 and 1885, the Postal authorities had totally disregarded the recommendation of the only Committee of this House, and even considered the question, which was that ample notice and full particulars of the terms and conditions of the service required should be given to the public as being the means most likely to secure real competition by responsible parties. The 700 right hon. Gentleman furnished them with another case, for he stated that a private arrangement was entered into between the Government and the Holy-head and Kingstown steamers just before the House rose last June.
The hon. Member is not entitled to repeat over again statements which he made a short time ago, or the statements which were made by another hon. Member. If the hon. Member has any fresh light to throw on the subject, he is entitled to detain the House.
§ MR. PROVAND
said, he was merely mentioning that as an illustration, given by the right hon. Gentleman himself, in support of the very complaint he made that there had been no proper competition before. The other complaint he made was of the absence of opportunity, and the right hon. Gentleman himself stated, without giving any particulars, that a few days ago advertisements were inserted asking for tenders. Would he tell them what those tenders were for? In reference to the observation of the hon. Gentleman opposite about Party feeling, he would remind him that he had distinctly stated that he had had as much to say about those who sat below him as those who sat on the other side. He was only complaining of no proper competition being possible, because the Government in previous years had not sent out their notices in time to give all the different companies and interests the opportunity of tendering for the mail service.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said, he quite agreed with what fell from his right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, that they should do nothing to prevent the employment of all British subjects in every part of the Empire, whatever their colour might be, but he should have been glad to hear from the Secretary to the Treasury a rather more emphatic declaration that the Government would do all they possibly could to discourage the employment of foreign—that was, non-British—labour upon mail steamers receiving Government subsidies. This was not a question entirely confined to the employment of Lascars, as the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) showed when he brought forward the case of the Naval Reserve. It was of great importance 701 that ships receiving a subsidy as Naval Reserve steamers should be manned by British sailors. He held in his hand a Return which showed that last year 10,000 foreign sailors arrived at eastern ports, and found employment on British ships. This showed that the Government ought to do all they possibly could to discourage the employment of foreign labour upon vessels with which they were connected, and it also showed emphatically the necessity of dealing with this subject on a broader basis, and of the Government introducing their Alien Bill as soon as possible.
§ *MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, that in the Debate on this Vote dealing with mail packet service one part of the British Empire had escaped consideration altogether—Mauritius and its dependencies. The mail service with Mauritius was at present a monopoly of the Messageries Maritimes Company, which was subsidised to the extent of £6,000 a year by the colony, in addition to the large subsidy which it received from the French Government. At present the postal service was by no means of a satisfactory character, and he wished to know whether arrangements could not be made between the British Government and the Legislature of the Mauritius, with a view to improving, in the first place, the postal service, and in the second place to securing the employment of a larger proportion of British vessels in the transmission of the mails in question.
§ MR. J. M. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop's Auckland)
said, he should like to know exactly what the Committee were going to divide upon if a Division was to be challenged. If they were to divide on the question of the entire exclusion of Lascars from the crews of the mail packets, then he could not support the reduction of the Vote. After the representations, however, that had been made to the Government in the course of the Debate that had taken place, he could not see any advantage in dividing the Committee on the Vote.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
understood that the hon. Member for Battersea discouraged the employment upon mail steamers of persons who were not born in the United Kingdom. For his own part, he only desired to discourage the employment of persons who were not 702 British subjects, and further than that he could not go.
§ MR. BURNS
explained that his motive for moving the reduction of the Vote was that in the subsidised mail packets equal service did not receive equal pay, irrespective of nationality, and that the Fair Wages Resolution passed by the House of Commons was not observed in connection with the Government mail contracts.
The hon. Member is in error. No reduction has been moved at all. I put the Vote and gathered the voices from both sides, and there were no "Noes," upon which I declared that the "Ayes" had it. ["Hear, hear!"]
But the Amendment which the hon. Member moved last night lapsed in the ordinary course. It was not repeated to-day, and I again say that when I called upon the "Noes" there was no voice against the Motion, and therefore I was compelled to say the "Ayes" had it.
§ MR. BURNS
On a point of order, Sir, I apprehend that we continued the discussion to-day on the Amendment. I think it was generally understood that a Division would be taken on the reduction of the Vote, and I submit that that Division should now be taken. [Loud cries of "No, no!"] Well, then, if I am permitted, I will further move that the Vote be reduced by £50.
The hon. Member cannot move that, as the Vote has been passed. The discussion to-day has not been on any Amendment, but upon the whole Vote. The question now before the Committee is that a sum not exceeding £2,009,281 be granted to defray the 703 charges in respect of the salaries and working expenses of the Post Office Telegraph service.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 121; Noes, 39.—(Division List, No. 87.)
Motion made, and Question proposed:—
That a sum, not exceeding £1,701,036, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Inland Revenue Department.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said, he had one or two points to raise on this Vote. The first had reference to the exemptions granted to shepherds in respect of their dogs. He understood that in some Welsh counties the Inland Revenue officers exercised their discretion with considerable leniency, in fact, sometimes they were too lenient. In Cardiganshire, however, the case was exactly the reverse. There were a number of small cottiers there who were able to keep a few sheep and one or two cows, and they were just the men in whose cases a great deal of leniency ought to be exercised. They could not afford to employ a manservant, or even a boy, and their cattle and sheep strayed unless they kept a dog to watch them. As a rule, the men were employed away from home during the day, and the wives had to depend entirely upon dogs to keep the cows and sheep from straying on the neighbouring farms. It was formerly the practice to grant exemptions in such cases, but within the last few months prosecutions had been instituted against the cottiers for not taking out licences. The magistrates, who were thoroughly acquainted with all the circumstances, refused to convict, and the Inland Revenue officers appealed. The view they took was that the magistrates had no discretion, but were bound to convict. The Divisional Court who heard the appeal upheld that view. He did not think legal expenses ought to be incurred, 704 in order to enforce such a very stringent view of the law as was taken by the officers. Those officers, he thought, ought to have accepted the view of the magistrates, who were perfectly competent to judge of the whole circumstances. Upon the next point he feared he would have to move a reduction of the Vote. He found that there were three central Inland Revenue Offices, one in London, another in Edinburgh, and another in Dublin. He thought there ought to be a central office for the Principality of Wales. He did not raise the question for purely sentimental reasons, though they would appeal to him, but he did so on grounds of general convenience. He found that the Welsh counties were not getting their fair share of the excise and probate grants, indeed, his hon. Friend the Member for the Flint Boroughs, had gone carefully through the [figures, and he estimated that the Welsh counties had been deprived annually of as much as £60,000, which really ought to be allocated to them. That was attributable to the fact that there was no central office to attend to the interests of the Principality. At present probate grants and excise revenue which was really derived from Wales was allocated to England. He did not think there was anything of the nature of national prejudice, or that the English officers had wilfully done anything to injure the Welsh counties, but he thought there ought to be an office in Wales to see that fair play was meted out to Wales in this respect. Owing to one reason or another, the Welsh counties were deprived of £60,000 a year of grants in aid, and that had been going on ever since the Act of 1888, and the sum which ought to be paid over amounted to £480,000. That was a substantial grievance, and he could only attribute it to the fact that there was no office to protect the Welsh counties, to see that the proper sums were allocated to those counties. The change would be a simple one, and could be brought about, he 705 believed, at, on the whole, an expenditure of £500 or £1,000 a year. It would he a great convenience, for it would save coming up to London over matters which could be dealt with by correspondence. They had now these offices in Dublin and Edinburgh, and he did not think that it developed any dangerous Separatist tendencies, or proved destructive to the integrity of the Empire. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would meet their request. The hon. Member then moved to reduce the Vote under Sub-head A by £400.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
desired to instance the case of a man who claimed exemption from the dog tax on the ground that the dog was used not for his pleasure but agricultural purposes. The Inland Revenue made inquiry into his case, and in consequence of that inquiry he was required to take out a licence. Of course, all they could discuss was matters of administration, but he could not conceive how, under the existing law, it would be right to compel a man to take out a licence in respect of a dog which was used for farm purposes alone. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not go into this particular question alone. It was one of wide and general application, and he hoped he would go into the question as a whole, for the state of the law in this respect was not satisfactory. He was not making any harsh complaint of the officers, because they felt that they were simply doing their duty, but he hoped that in such matters the law would not be administered in any harsh spirit. With regard to the other question raised by his hon. Friend, the subject was discussed four or five years ago in connection with the appointment of the Committee on the financial relations between England and Wales. It was then shown that it was possible to keep accounts showing how much was received and how much was expended in connection with Wales. He had gone carefully into the 706 figures, and without troubling the Committee at any length, he might say that the conclusion at which he arrived was that Wales, out of £6,000,000 grants in aid to England and Wales, received £209,000, whereas, according to population alone, Wales ought to receive £389,000. Therefore, since 1888 Wales had lost a sum not falling far short of half a million sterling. In the discussion in 1888 this was actually foretold. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take this into his consideration.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, with regard to the first point, the dog licence, the only thing they had to consider was a question of administration. He gathered that there was no complaint with regard to any particular officer. The only complaint was that the law was differently interpreted by different officers in different parts of the country. Of course, if that was proved, it was a charge which ought to be met. But there was no evidence of that produced. The complaint was, he believed, that the law had been interpreted in a different way in different localities. If the hon. Member had any further points in connection with this matter which he would like to bring to his attention he would see that they were brought properly before the Department. In regard to the plea for a central office of Inland Revenue for Wales, it was argued in justification that Wales had not had its fair share of the probate and other grants. He was not able then to go into the details, but, if the hon. Member would bring his facts before him, he would have a careful inquiry made into them. He would point out, however, that there had always been some doubt as to which was the real capital of Wales, and he thought it would have been much better if the hon. Member had given his suggestion some practical form. He was not so sure whether under such an arrangement the separate counties of Wales would be any better off than they were at present, nor was he so sure that 707 if a place were selected in South Wales, such as Cardiff, the population of North Wales might not object to it. They often heard in that House strong distinctions drawn between North and South Wales. The hon. Member had really given no practical shape to his suggestion, and the argument which had been used might be put forward, perhaps, more strongly on behalf of a central office in Cornwall. If the hon. Member for Flintshire would supply him with the facts, he would be willing to ascertain whether Wales had suffered any injustice in the past, and, if so, to remedy that injustice in the future, but he did not think the suggested step would be a practical remedy for such a grievance as had been complained of.
§ SIR G. OS BORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said that if the right hon. Gentleman would look into the matter as he had promised he would find that there were serious complaints as to the harshness displayed by the Revenue Departments towards some of the poorer farmers. He was certain that the statement of his hon. Friend was right in every respect, and that Wales had been deprived of a sum of £60,000 a year. How long was this to go on? He thought the time had come when their constituents would insist on something being done to stop it. There was such a thing as national sentiment in Wales, and that had been outraged. He pressed the right hon. Gentleman to accept the suggestion which had been made, instead of pleading a non possumus.
§ ME. LLOYD-GEORGE
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not seen his way to give them a more satisfactory reply on both the points which they had raised. Their case in regard to the first point was that the officer did not interpret his duty according to the spirit of the Act of Parliament, and that he ought to have granted an exemption to these shepherds. Their complaint was not based on their belief as to what had 708 happened, but on the evidence given before the magistrates by the Inland Revenue officers and the cottiers themselves. Repeated instances of this nature had occurred. It appeared that the practice of the Inland Revenue officers had been to allow the shepherds to keep the dogs without making any complaint, until the officer in question suddenly, about a year ago, refused these exemptions. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would grant an exemption to these men. As to the question of a central office, the right hon. Gentleman had said that there was no capital for Wales. That was a question which the Inland Revenue could surely settle for themselves, and they could decide which was the best centre from their point of view. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that a considerable distinction was drawn between North and South Wales; but they never heard of these distinctions except from the other side of the House, and he was not aware that they had ever been drawn by a Conservative Member even who represented a Welsh constituency. If Cardiff were selected as the centre by the Inland Revenue, there would be no objection from the north of Wales. He spoke as representing a northern constituency in the Principality. They knew that the largest revenue was derived from Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire, both of which counties were near to Cardiff, and there would be no grumbling from any part of North Wales if Cardiff were suggested. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his decision. He felt it his duty to carry his protest to a Division. When the question of the financial relations of the different parts of the kingdom was discussed in 1891, one of the objections made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to the extension of the Inquiry to Wales was, that there were no means of ascertaining what amount of revenue was derived from the Principality. For Ireland the revenue and expenditure were ear- 709 marked, and the same observation was applicable to Scotland; but Wales had no separate account, and the amount of Probate and Excise duty received from Wales could not be stated. That surely was an answer to justify the claim put forward now. If it was impossible to earmark the revenue of the Principality because practically there was no separate administrative office for the collection of the revenues of the Principality, then he suggested this should be a preliminary to an Inquiry into the financial relations between England and Wales.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said the Welsh counties were quite able to take care of their own interests, and endeavours had been made to obtain a joint conference of Welsh County Councils, but the Local Government Board had always opposed this proposition. If the eight hon. Gentleman would use his influence to remove this objection of the Local Government Board, no doubt a conference could be arranged, and the Welsh counties would present their case fully and effectively. Meantime, all that Welsh Members could do was to bring forward this question, and protest as strongly as possible against a continuance of the present state of things.
§ Question put, "That Sub-head A (Salaries, etc.) be reduced by £400."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 38: Noes, 113.—(Division List, No. 88.)
§ *DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said he took the opportunity of bringing forward a somewhat small question, which he had already brought to the notice of the Secretary to the Treasury privately, and he had been very courteously met by the right hon. Gentleman. The point was this: A licence to sell game could not, according to the present state of the law, be held by a retailer of drink. He agreed, of course, that it was perfectly right that a keeper of a public house should not sell game, but what constituted a grievance was that 710 when a man held a grocers licence and could sell almost everything else, he was prohibited, from the fact of his retailing drink, from dealing in game. That undoubtedly was the interpretation of the law, but what some of his constituents desired to press was, that the Treasury should take into consideration whether the law should be relaxed or altered to meet what was felt to be a grievance. If it was not considered desirable that a man should sell game and retail drink at the same time, then he ventured to suggest that a man holding a grocer's licence might be allowed to deal in game wholesale, not selling game over the counter, but acting as the agent of those who had game to dispose of, supplying others who wished to sell retail. Or, again, he suggested that a man holding a grocer's license might be permitted to sell game provided that he carried on the business upon separate premises from his drink trade. He did not expect an answer now, but he submitted the suggestions to the favourable consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, with a view to a modification of the law to meet cases of hardship that sometimes arose.
§ Original question put, and agreed to.