HC Deb 25 January 1897 vol 45 cc458-87

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

moved, as an Amendment to the Address, to add at the end:— And we humbly represent to your Majesty the regret of this House that your Majesty's Gracious Speech contains no promise that any attempt shall he made this Session to pass into law a Bill dealing with the question of manning of British merchant vessels, in accordance with the recommendations of a departmental committee appointed to inquire into the under-maiming of British merchant vessels; and this House further expresses its regret at the continued alarming loss of life at sea. He said that whenever there had been any shipping legislation brought before the House it had been the usual practice of gentlemen interested to stir up a great agitation upon the ground that the shipping interest should be left absolutely alone, and that no legislation should be allowed to interfere with the management by shipowners of their business or property. This House for many years had interfered with factories, mines, and workshops, and legislation affecting those interests had never produced anything like the agitation there had been in connection with shipping. He did not complain very much of shipowners; the people he had fought and intended to fight were the managing shipowners or shipmongers—the men who induced the general public to invest their money in shipping property on false pretences, and who had no real interest at stake themselves. He quoted from a prospectus issued recently in Cardiff where the managing director of a shipping company was advising people to invest their money in one of their vessels, and promising a return of 45 per cent. on the capital invested. Managing owners had been the curse of the shipping trade. They constantly cut down the number of men employed on board, and, by under-manning the ships, were responsible for a good deal of the loss of life at sea. Whatever loss of life there was at sea at present, he asserted that managing owners were more responsible for it than anyone else he knew. They promised big dividends, which they had not been able to realise, and when it came to a question of actual management they continually cut down expenses in every direction. More especially had they cut down the number of men employed on board. He urged that under-manning was responsible for a considerable amount of loss of life at sea. On January 8th 1894 a vessel called the Port Gareth was lost in Brandon Bay with all hands. In that case there would have been no inquiry but for the fact that one of the apprentices on the vessel had kept a log of the voyage, and had dispatched it to his father a few days before the vessel foundered. From that log it appeared that the crew consisted of a master, two mates and a carpenter, one sail-maker, steward, and cook, six able seamen (all foreigners), two ordinary seamen (boys under 17, one of whom had never been to sea before), and six apprentices, five of whom had never been to sea before. This vessel carried 500 yards of canvas, which the crew had to work. It was found, at the Board of Trade inquiry, that the vessel had been lost in consequence of being undermanned and inefficiently manned. It appeared from the log that before the loss of the vessel a large number of the men were disabled by scurvy and sea-sickness; and the six able seamen were possibly not conversant with English. He would not say that shipowners deliberately sent their vessels to sea in an unseaworthy condition, in order to make a profit from the insurance, but it was a remarkable fact that in the case of the majority of ships lost the owners made a profit by the loss. The vessel he had mentioned was insured for £10,000, and the vessel, if sold, would not have fetched more than £6,000. The penalty imposed on the owner for this loss of 21 lives was a fine of £75. He asked the Solicitor General whether further proceedings could not be taken by Government, and he was informed that under the existing law there would be no chance of a conviction. To show what some shipowners were capable of, he would read a series of letters from one firm, whose name he would give if it were desired, to the captain of one of the vessels which had completed the voyage, and was lying at Falmouth for a week or two awaiting orders. The owners were anxious to get rid of the crew to save pay. The first letter ran— In reply to your telegram with regard to crew, we wired you to say that you were only to give the crew salt-beef, no fresh provisions, and keep them hard at work, so that they may get tired of the ship and agree to a forfeit of £3. We cannot hope to pay the crew off without this forfeit.… Use your own boats in going to and from the ship. We are most anxious to keep down expenses. The next letter read— We received your telegram advising us that you had paid off ten men with a reduction of £3 each. As we do not expect orders before four days, we should like you to see that you get rid of as many men as possible. Then a wire followed— If you can get any more of your able seamen or ordinary seamen paid off with forfeit, do so. Then another letter— Make a quick run after you get your orders and have no detention, but get to sea at once. If you are ordered to the Clyde, do not take a pilot, and you will not require much towage. Run up the Clyde as far as possible under sail. As to Liverpool, you will require little or no towage there, and no pilot. We hope you are doing your utmost to keep down expenses at Falmouth, which is a matter of great importance. There were a good many managing owners who were as ready as these gentlemen, at all times and by all means, to cut down expenses, regardless of tin-safety of the lives of the men employed. Of course, all shipowners were not like that. There were some in the House who would scorn to be parties to any conduct of the kind. But as long as there were men who were willing to undertake such risks for the sake of paltry saving, it was the duty of Parliament to step in to protect the seaman. He induced the right hon. Member for the Brightside Division (Mr. Mundella) to appoint a Committee to inquire into the manning of ships; and for the first time in the history of the country a fair and reasonable Committee was appointed, and all interests were represented. It was not a shipowners' Committee, nor was it a sailors' Committee. It was a Committee composed of men representing every interest connected with shipping. It sat for two years; visited the principal ports of the United Kingdom, and examined 176 witnesses. In fact, no Committee had ever done its work in a more thorough manner. Thirteen out of the 17 members of the Committee had signed the Majority Report, which declared that undermanning did largely prevail in a certain class of vessels, and that it vas a danger to the lives of the sailors who went to sea in those ships. The Report did not agree with the statement that undermanning could be dealt with without further legislation by a more strict definition and enforcement of the existing law applicable to unseaworthiness in regard to the undermanning of ships, and by the punishment of persons responsible for sending such ships to sea. At the present moment it was possible for a Board of Trade surveyor to go on board a vessel, and if he found that the bell on which the time of day was struck was a quarter of an inch short of the measurement provided by the Board of Trade, he could detain that vessel in port as being in an unseaworthy condition. But when it came to the question of the manning of the ship, the surveyor had no power. Yet the manning of the ship was the most important matter of all. The finest ship ever built, if not properly manned, was as unseaworthy as the worst old tub afloat on the ocean; and yet in regard to manning the only authority possessed by the official of the Board of Trade was to see that the officers of the ship had got their certificates. In fact, if the officers had got their certificates, the owners might send the ship to sea without a single sailor, and the officers and the official of the Board of Trade would be powerless in the matter. That being the condition of affairs, he could not understand how the Government could delay any longer in dealing with this question of undermanning. It was a question of life and death to men who went down to the sea in ships. If there were only a few lives at stake he would probably not say so much on the matter. But he knew that every day and every week and every month of the year thousands of men were sent to their doom in consequence of ships in an unseaworthy condition being allowed to leave the ports. He therefore most strongly entered his protest against any further delay in dealing with this most important question. In regard to the Minority Report of the Committee, he should say that a more misleading document had never been submitted to the House. In the first paragraph of that report it was stated that the evidence had not been presented in that unbiassed spirit that was desirable. Had those gentlemen supposed that the seamen who were to be examined before the Committee would give evidence in favour of the shipowners and not against them? Was it not only reasonable to suppose that the seamen would give their evidence in a free and open manner, and speak the truth as to their actual everyday experiences at sea? The Minority Report also declared that the details of the construction of vessels intended to carry passengers were subjected to rules fixed by the Board of Trade. But the complaint was never made that passenger vessels were undermanned. These ships were always well manned, for, were it otherwise, the travelling public would very soon enter a protest. The complaint was that the tramp steamers were undermanned; and this allusion to passenger steamers was really an attempt to mislead the public. There again he had to complain of this one-sided minority report. The Gentlemen who signed this Report knew perfectly well that there was no restriction for the carrying of deck cargo from April to October to the ports of the United Kingdom. The only restriction which existed was that in the winter months vessels should only be allowed to carry three feet of timber to ports in the United Kingdom, but they might carry 12 or 14 feet to any Continental port. As to the qualification of the officers, was he to understand that the shipowners objected to officers passing a Board of Trade examination to prove that they were qualified to do their work? Was that any hardship to the shipowning community? As to the inspection of the accommodation it was a mere farce. The minority on this Committee reported that if the restrictions and regulations under which shipowners now conducted their business were unduly extended, there would be considerable risk, they would feel that their personal responsibility was lessened. But there was no class of employers in the country who had escaped more from legislative interference than had the shipowners. ["Hear, hear!"] He would ask those gentlemen to read the Factories Act, the Railways Regulation Act, or the Coal Mines Regulation Act. He would remind them also that they were able in 1880 to induce that House to deny to seamen the right and protection of the Employers' Liability Act, and some of them came clown and voted that mineowners and railway and factory employers should be saddled with the responsibility of that Act, while they voted against its extension to seamen. The shipowners had for the last 25 years been complaining that, in consequence of legislative interference, the shipping trade was being driven from the country, and yet in that time we had increased our tonnage from about five millions to about 13 millions. The shipowners complained that a wider interpretation had been given to the reference to this Committee than they believed was intended, and called attention to the fact that not only had their inquiry extended to the efficiency of the manning of ships, but it had attempted to measure the degree and extent of labour imposed on the individual members of a crew, and to fix by law a limit thereto. That referred to the question of the manning of the stokehold. It was found, on taking evidence from experts, that the only safe method of dealing with the question of the number of men that should be employed in the stokehold, was not to go by the horse-power of the engines or the tonnage of the vessel, but by the amount of coal that was consumed in the stokehold. He thought himself that two and a-half tons of coal for 24 hours was sufficient for any one man to work. It should be remembered also that, owing to the way in which the coal was worked and handled, the actual amount was sometimes not two and a half tons but five tons. And yet these Gentlemen who signed the Minority Report said there was no necessity to interfere, as, if the shipowner did not employ a sufficient number of men to do the stoking, he would be himself the loser. Published statistics showed that there were more suicides among the firemen in the stokehold of a ship than among any other class of the community; and the reason was that these men were called upon to do more work than they were able to do. When their vessel was in the Red Sea they sometimes came right up from the stokehold and jumped overboard. There was every justification for the State to interfere to give these men protection. These gentlemen claimed that rebutting evidence had been given in regard to the statements made by witnesses about certain ships, and said that where rebutting evidence had not been given no close inquiry into the circumstances was possible. The only rebutting evidence consisted of a number of letters from the owners of various ships, who said that their ships were not undermanned. But they did not come before the Committee to subject themselves to cross-examination, and he contended that their letters were not evidence at all, and that they were not worth the paper they were written upon and should not be quoted as a reason the Government should not interfere. They stated that there had been 33 formal Board of Trade Inquiries held during the last 16 years into casualties to foreign bound and cross Channel steamers of over 200 tons each, in which the Court expressed the opinion that the vessel carried too few hands. But in no case was it held that the vessel was actually lost through such cause. He held in his hand Reports of a number of Board of Trade Inquiries, and he believed that in all there were 33 cases, and in every one the ships were undermanned. While the Courts of Inquiry might not have been able to say that the vessel was actually lost in consequence of being undermanned, if a vessel was undermanned and that led to the vessel stranding or to a collision through being undermanned he contended that the direct cause of loss was undermanning. The Committee talked about the number of vessels in which undermanning was complained of, and endeavoured to compare the number of vessels lost where undermanning was alleged, with the manning scale adopted by the Committee. One word about the conduct of the minority with reference to the manning scale when discussed by the Committee: They threw every obstacle in the way of the majority Report. One Gentleman in fact absolutely declined to discuss the majority Report. But when it came to a question of the manning scale everyone of these Gentlemen endeavoured to reduce the number of men that the majority Report proposed. He himself endeavoured to give a scale more liberal than that proposed by the majority, but the Gentlemen who signed the Minority Report voted against him every time, and then in the Minority Report they complained that the proposed scale of manning by the Committee would actually leave the ships in a worse position than they were at the present moment, Courts of Inquiry having held that they were undermanned. They said the aggregate tonnage of 14 ships was 14,654, and the crew carried was 291. A similar number of vessels of larger tonnage would, under the scheme, have to carry a total crew of 235 "effective hands." There was a difference between 291 hands and 235 effective hands. Effective hands meant men well able to do their work. It was quite possible these ships might have 400 hands, but if not effective they should not be taken into consideration. Then the Report said: We have been unable to pursue a similar investigation as regarded the number of hands earned in the stoke hole, in the absence of necessary information with regard to the consumption of coal from voyage to voyage, which is the proposed basis of the manning scale for firemen and trimmers. We submit, however, that the evidence of the witnesses called to prove the prevalence of undermanning amply demonstrates when this is tested by the scale for manning adopted by those members of the Committee, who consider vessels are sent to sea short handed that the assertions are unfounded, and we confidently submit that those who demand legislative interference have signally failed to substantiate their case. He contended that the evidence had proved over and over again a strong case in favour of legislative interference. It was said it was not competent for the Committee to define a scale for the manning of sailing ships. Why not? If the tonnage of vessels were compared they would be found to be nearly all upon the same scale, and there was no reason why the Government should not by law fix what the actual number carried should be. "As regarded steamers, from the point of view of safety there was no necessity whatever to determine the number of firemen, coal trimmers, and greasers to be employed in connection with the machinery of steamers. Their speed alone would be affected by the number which might be so occupied in the stoke-hole." If this had been written by longshoremen who knew nothing about ships or seamen he would not have said so much about it, but coming from Gentlemen supposed to be familiar with shipping business it was astonishing. They must forget that often on board steamers the bilges got choked through not being cleared when the vessel was in port. If there were only the ordinary number of men to do the necessary stoking on the vessel, where were the engineers going to get the extra hands from to assist in cleaning the bilges and keeping the pumps clear? It was complained that it was not possible to fix the number of men according to the amount of coal consumed. At the present time when shipowners signed a crew on they did not take into account the amount of coal consumed. They signed five, six, or ten men according to the size of the vessel, and it was immaterial to them whether they had to work 40 tons or 60 tons; they had to do all the work, just the same. The question was an important one, because it affected not only sailors and firemen but the welfare of the nation, bearing as it did directly not only on the manning of the Mercantile Marine but of the Navy. The shipowners endeavoured to prove that the chief Board of Trade Surveyor for the north-east coast stated in his evidence that cargo steamers were quite as well manned as passenger steamers. He said there was no such evidence to prove that. They also stated that the superintendent of the Mercantile Marine Office at Cardiff had never heard of a case of undermanning; but if any hon. Gentleman would peruse the evidence he would find that statement also fell, because that official stated over and over again in his evidence that there were a large number of complaints that ships were very much undermanned. The Minority Report also stated that were attempts made to fix the minimum number of men to be employed, the effect would be similar to that which had followed the adoption of the load-line, namely, that it would afford to shipowners a shelter from their proper responsibility, and under cover of the minimum manning scale, there would be an inducement to owners to accept the minimum as removing responsibility from their shoulders, and in many cases a reduction in the number of those now carried would be the result. He asked the gentlemen who signed that paragraph if they maintained that the shipowner who was now carrying 24 hands, believing 24 hands to be absolutely necessary for the manning of his vessel, was going to reduce his crew to 20 hands because the scale of the Manning Committee said that the minimum number for such a ship should be 20. It would be a great reflection on shipowners if they adopted such a course. Then the Report went on to say that the loss of life at sea, especially in recent years, showed that the necessity for further legislation had disappeared. In this connection he would ask the House to consider a few figures. When they were considering the number of men lost at sea they ought to compare it with the number of men who lost their lives in following industries on shore, because he had heard it stated by shipowners that the calling of a sailor or a fireman was as safe as any other calling. During the ten years, from 1886–95 inclusive, the number killed in three of the most hazardous shore industries was as follows:—factory and workshop operatives, 4,168; miners, 10,991; and railway servants, 5,074; or a total of 20,000. During the same period 22,000 seamen were killed or drowned. The total number of people employed in the shore industries he had referred to was 5,370,200, while the total number employed at sea, including fishermen, was 241,000; so that in those shore industries the yearly aver-ago was 2,013, the weekly average 38, and the daily average 5½, while at sea the yearly average of killed and drowned was 2,200, the weekly average 42, and the daily average 6. Out of five and a half million of shore workers the average number of fatal accidents during the ton years had been a fraction less than 3¾ in every thousand, while out of less than a quarter of a million of seamen the average number of killed and drowned had been a fraction over 93 in every thousand, a fraction over 9 in every hundred, and a fraction less than one in every ten in each year. He did not say that all those lives were lost through causes for which the shipowners themselves were responsible, but the same thing applied to the industries on shore, and he said that when it was found that 20,000 men only were killed out of five and a half millions, against 22,000 out of a quarter of a million, he and those he represented had a right to come to the House and ask that some legislation should be passed in order to endeavour to reduce that loss of life. He maintained it was idle for the shipowners to talk about loss of life at sea during the last 10 or 15 years. What about our Lifeboat Institution; what about the improvement of the lights on shore; what about the appliances all round the coast for saving life, and what about the thousands of lives saved annually by steamers on the ocean? If they could get at the actual number of casualties that occurred on board merchant ships, and place against them the various methods that had been adopted for the prevention of loss of life at sea, he thought that it would be found that the shipowners themselves had done but little towards reducing that loss. He wished to know whether that House and the Government would permit this state of things to go on much longer, simply because the all-powerful shipowners asserted that the shipping industry would be ruined if legislative restrictions were to be imposed upon it. He might remind the House that similar arguments as to the ruining of trade by legislation were advanced against the Employers' Liability Acts when they were introduced into that House. In spite of those arguments, however, the Acts were passed, with the result that great benefit-had been conferred upon the workpeople by those Acts, without trade being in any way injuriously affected by them. He asked the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government to hold out some hope to the sailors and firemen of our Mercantile Marine that some Measure would be introduced, having for its object the preservation of their lives. There was this curious fact about the minority Report—namely, that it asserted that the manning scale would not work; nevertheless they recommended that every ship of 150 feet long should be compelled to have at least one certificated officer and three men on a watch. But watches of that strength were never employed on board our merchant ships of that size, and therefore it was evident from the Minority Report itself that our Mercantile Marine was undermanned. In the case of the vessel that ran into the Elbe and sunk her, whereby 375 lives were lost, it was shown that she had only a crew of 12 instead of 16 men—the minimum number required by the Minority Report. In these circumstances he failed to see how the minority were justified in stating that a manning scale was not necessary. In regard to the rating qualification, the shipowners were afraid to adopt the principle that certificates of rating should be obtained either by length of service or by examination, because they thought that, in the event of an industrial dispute, such certificates might be of some advantage to the men. Personally he was not in favour of examination, because he thought that the better practice would be to give certificates only to men who had had a certain amount of experience at sea. He suggested that, in order to prevent the certificates from being misused, the Board of Trade should require a sufficient description of the holder to be placed on the back of the certificate. As to the manning question generally, he had no doubt that the most serious question was that of having an effective reserve for the Royal Navy. That important question would undoubtedly be raised in that House during the Session. There could be no doubt but that we were rapidly losing British sailors and firemen in our Mercantile Marine, and that they were being replaced by Lascars and foreigners. At the present time we had 30,000 Lascars employed in the British Mercantile Marine, whereas 20 years ago there were only 6,000 of them in it. At one time Lascars were employed only on liners, whereas now they were to be found in large numbers on our ordinary cargo ships, on which they were replacing white men on a rapidly increasing scale. Again, there were 30,000 foreigners on board our mercantile vessels, and they consisted not only of natives of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, but of Turks, Greeks, and Italians. Every year British sailors were becoming fewer in number, and he asked whether it was wise or prudent that Great Britain, which possessed the largest mercantile fleet in the world, should be dependent to so great an extent upon the seamen of foreign nations? Many people might ask, "Why don't boys take more readily to the sea service?" Parents objected to pay large premiums to bind their sons as apprentices to the service. When he said that often premiums of £200 were required, hon. Members would well understand the reluctance on the part of parents to send their boys to sea. Furthermore, what had the ordinary able seaman to look forward to after he had served his apprenticeship? Many shipowners did not pay their men more than £3 or £3 3s. per month. Men had to run the risk of being at times out of work, and frequently had to pay their fare from one part of the country to the other, which practically reduced their wages to as low as £2 10s. per month. Could it be expected that lads of spirit and intelligence would flock to our sea service when such conditions obtained? Certainly he should do all he could to dissuade lads from going to sea in the present circumstances. One important question was, how were we to provide a good and efficient reserve unless something was done. Various suggestions had been made. It had been suggested that there should be training ships for the merchant service. It had also been suggested that the Government should subsidise certain shipowners by paying them certain premiums upon every apprentice carried. He hoped the Government would never entertain such a proposal as the latter, but that they would this Session deal with the question of the manning of ships, first of all from the point of view of overwork, and secondly from the standpoint of the loss of life at sea. Seamen and firemen could not, unfortunately, indulge in the luxury of voting at Parliamentary Elections, but if they could not vote themselves they knew those who could, and unless the Government would deal with the question of the manning of ships, in accordance with the Report of the Departmental Committee, he should take every opportunity at every bye-election of writing upon the wall that 22,000 men had been lost in ten years. If this or any Government remained indifferent to the lives of our men at sea, they would soon find that their majority in the House of Commons would reduce, if not quite dwindle away. He thanked the House for listening to him so patiently, and concluded by moving the Amendment to the Address which stood in his name.

MR. ANDREW PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

seconded the Amendment, and complimented the hon. Member for Middlesbrough upon the admirable, cool, and fair statement of his case. Parliament had often recognised that the sailor was unable to take care of himself in many worldly matters, and in matters affecting his own welfare the sailor was a child, totally incapable of taking his own part. There was no class of the community more entitled to protective legislation than that of our seamen, for the all sufficient reason that they carried on their business on board a ship upon which from the very nature of things there was despotic government. For refusing to do the simplest thing the sailor was liable to be put in irons. As to the necessity of legislation for the protection of the seaman, no one who had read the evidence given before the Committee could doubt it for a moment. Thirteen out of seventeen of the Committee had stated several points on which legislation was desirable, and it was too late in the day now to say that sailors were not entitled to all the protection the House could give. Parliament had passed protective legislation for those who worked in shops, in factories, in mines, and on railways; indeed, there was hardly a section of the community that had not benefited in this way. Then surely the sailor had a right to legislative protection from the unfair conditions which his occupation might impose on him. ["Hear, hear!"] The Committee were appointed to deal specifically with the question of undermanning, and whatever might be said to the contrary the, existence of the evil to a considerable extent had been proved up to the hilt. It had not only been proved before the Committee, but also in Court. The Committee mentioned the case of the Deeside, which was run down and several lives lost, when at the time of the accident only two men were on watch, and one of them had to leave that duty to trim a lamp. That case was heard in the Admiralty Court, and the Judge pronounced a judgment which led to the appointment of the Committee. Instances of the dangers of undermanning were given in relation to two other vessels, and although no doubt could be entertained that undermanning existed, the Board of Trade were advised in each case that a prosecution for that offence would not, under the circumstances, be successful. In presence of those facts there could be no doubt as to the necessity of legislation for the protection of the seaman. Still, he thought the case for the seaman was not as strongly presented as it might have been. The Committee had intimated that they had not received the information and assistance from the masters and officers of vessels which they might have expected. The fact was that the men were anxious as to the consequences which might follow in regard to their employment if they attended and gave evidence. ["Hear, hear!"] One of the most important subjects which the Committee considered was that of the manning of vessels, and they recommended that a scheme should be framed for the manning of both sailing and steam vessels. It was said that there were difficulties in the way of framing such a scheme; but other countries—New Zealand and. Canada, for instance—had framed schemes of the kind, and surely England ought to be able to do so, especially as the matter was one which closely affected the interests of the country generally, no less than those of the Mercantile Marine. The question was simply one of arrangement and organisation. It was curious that while every one admitted the existence of undermanning, such difficulty should be raised about framing a scheme to prevent it. Another specific recommendation was that the undermanning of a vessel should by law be made evidence of the unseaworthiness of that vessel. At present there was no authority to detain a vessel that was undermanned, but the effect of the recommendation, if comprehended in the law, would be that if a vessel which intended to sail for anywhere was undermanned, it should be considered as an unseaworthy vessel and detained. In the case of all the recommendations of the Committee he did not think they could look for anything but the ready acquiescence of the President of the Board of Trade to move in that House for the necessary power to remove those disabilities to which the Committee drew such forcible attention. There was another point to which he would refer briefly—the results following from under-manning. There was no doubt very great difficulty in ascertaining particulars of undermanning. To begin with, a vessel might never be heard of again. Some sixty or seventy vessels disappeared every year. There never could be any information as to whether those vessels were undermanned or not, except sometimes that in the inquiry which took place evidence was furnished as to the number of the crew that the vessel tained. Then again there were many carried when she left the port. Beyond that nothing further could be ascer-total wrecks. They never knew whether the direct cause of the wreck was the want of sufficient hands to navigate the vessel. His hon. Friend drew attention to the proportionate number of seamen who lost their lives as compared with those employed on shore. The magnitude of the figures might have been made much clearer to the House. A few years ago he had occasion to take out these figures for an article he was writing in connection with employers' liability, and he found that in the year 1892 the number of men who lost their lives in their ships as compared with the number of men who were killed in mines or on the railways—the two most dangerous occupations on shore—were very nearly as six to one in proportion to the number employed. This was a part of the question that might very well be made the subject of appealing to the feelings of the House, but he did not think it was at all necessary to do that. He thought they could appeal with confidence to the. President of the Board of Trade to take into his sympathetic consideration the circumstances in which seamen carried on their calling; to consider the specific recommendations of the Committee; and, as soon as possible, to legislate for these circumstances with a view to remove those disabilities under which sailors laboured at the present time.

SIR ARTHUR FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)

said this was not the first occasion on which the shipowning industry—which has clone more than any other industry to raise the prestige and to increase and extend the trade and enterprise and commerce of this country—had been held up to opprobrium by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. The hon. Member had stated that, from his own knowledge, shipowners were accustomed to take on board their vessels such people as carters, farmers, and others of that character, and call them sailors. [Mr. HAVELOCK WILSON: "Hear, hear!"] He remembered that about the time of the appointment of this Commission the hon. Member told the House that on one of the Allan Line steamers the men refused to accept the owners' terms, that hands were collected out of the casual wards of the workhouses—["hear, hear"]—from tramping dens, and from men discharged from gaol. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

It is done in the East-end of London to-day.


And that out of 20 who signed as seamen, 16 were unable to prove one day's service at sea, and that, out of 30 firemen, not more than five had ever been to sea. That statement came before the Commission, and as it had been made on the authority of the hon. Member's own experience, a Committee of the Board of Trade was appointed to examine into it. He asked the House to measure the value of most of the statements made by the hon. Member that night by the Report of this Departmental Committee upon this particular statement. That Committee stated that there was considerable intimidation of the old hands who wished to continue in the ship at the reduced rates; that the crew were duly signed on in the presence of the Board of Trade, the bulk of them producing proof of service; that the emigration and medical officers were satisfied both as to the physical fitness of the crew and of their capacity as seamen; that the Committee were satisfied as to the sufficiency of the crews; that, while the circumstances of the crew's engagement were irregular— that was owing to the intimidation of the strike created by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough— these were forced on the owners; that the Committee considered much of the men's evidence as untrustworthy, and viewed with suspicion the connection of the Seamen's Union with it. He had ventured to bring to the bar of public opinion a statement made in the House by the hon. Member for Middles-bro', affecting the conduct of shipowners as regarded the treatment of their men, and the class of men shipped. That statement was made at a time when it was impossible for anyone to rise and answer it, and for the time the statement of the hon. Member stood. Fortunately the Board of Trade made an inquiry through their own officers, and the Report from which he had read disproved from beginning to end the statement made with regard to that ship which led in great measure to the appointment of this Commission. The hon. Member for Middlesbro' had stated that his remarks were not so far as manning was concerned to be applied to passenger vessels. But the vessel he had mentioned was a passenger ship. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke) in a speech he made not very long ago to the Shipmasters' Society of London alluded to losses from undermanning and gave five vessels, in one of which he said 112 lives were lost. He asked the attention of the House to the opinion of the Court on this case of the vessel in which 112 lives were lost. This was the case of the Roumania. The Court said the vessel was manned "in accordance with the practice of many large passenger vessels"—and it might be said that her crew would have been approved by the Board of Trade. The Report went on to say that the "Court thought there should have been more than four quartermasters." That was the extent of the opinion of the Court as to under-manning, and no one could suggest for a moment upon this illustration of the right hon. Baronet that the loss of the vessel was due to undermanning.


All that I did was to read from the Report of the Committee of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, a list of ships and the heading which was put to it by the Committee. I used no words of my own, I quoted literally the words from the summary used by the Committee.


said he did not know as to the summary, he was simply commenting on the Report of the speech as he had received it, and he asked the House to observe what would have been the complement of the crew according to the scale set out in the majority Report of the Manning Committee, as compared with the actual number. In either case there was a master and three subordinate officers. The Committee recommended a boatswain and six "A.B.'s." As a matter of fact the vessel had the boatswain and four quartermasters, with 21 Lascars, and as 21 Lascars were equal to 14 "A.B." seamen, the crew was beyond the scale of the Committee. Other evidence was given and other vessels were quoted, but not in one instance could the loss be attributed to undermanning. Then he carried the matter a step further. Taking the Report of the Manning Committee there were 33 inquiries into the cases of vessels alleged to have been undermanned, but not in one of these cases could it be stated that the vessel had been lost by reason of her having too few hands. Fifteen of these vessels had a number of hands equal to the scale of the Committee, 13 were short by one, and five were short by two, and as a matter of fact, taking the whole 33 vessels in the aggregate, it would be found that whereas by the scale 299 men would be required, they really carried 308, and these were vessels brought before the Court to be dealt with on the ground of undermanning. If Members would look at the evidence laid before the Committee they would find that if they compared several ships of equal tonnage they would find that the decisions of the Court varied. In fact, it was impossible by any scale to determine what should be the proper number of hands to put on any given vessel. The particular circumstances of build, of the trade in which she was engaged, the position of the steering gear, the provision of labour-saving appliances, were important considerations in a matter of this kind. There were before the Committee 102 vessels named by witnesses as having been undermanned, but upon examination into the facts it was found that if manned according to scale their crews would have numbered 1,111, whereas their crews actually numbered 1,197. After all, the shipowners and those interested in the shipping industry were as keenly alive to the safety of life and the protection of those who intrusted themselves to their ships as any men in this country connected with any industry, and were there that continued loss of life at sea alluded to in the Amendment, he for one would be the last to stand up and ask the House not to take into consideration some legislation to effectively stop such a state of things. But what were the facts? The number of lives lost by wrecks and casualties in 1893 on steam vessels was 576; in 1894 it had fallen to 444; and in 1895 to 370; whilst in five years the tonnage of vessels had increased from 6,000,000 to 10,000,000. For 1896 they had only returns as regarded the loss of life for ten months, the number for that period being 364. This total, however, included the sad loss of 103 lives in the Drummond Castle, and no one would suggest that that accident resulted in any way from the number of men carried by the vessel. In 1893, among the 60,000 men employed in the Royal Navy, the loss of life was 362, whilst in the mercantile marine it was far less in proportion to the number of sailors employed. The sixth paragraph of the Report of the majority of the Commission said:— We desire, after hearing the evidence, to express the opinion that the large majority of British ships are managed with ability and judgment worthy of the best traditions of British shipowners, and they are, as a rule, manned with careful regard to the safety of life and welfare of the crew. ["Hear, hear!"] Another test which showed that shipowners were acting fairly with regard to the manning of their vessels, was afforded by the fact that 41 sailing vessels which had been transferred from the British to foreign flags only carried 667 sailors, as against 883 when owned by British shipowners—a reduction of 20 per cent. Not only did this mean a reduction in wages, but the foreigners were allowed to carry much larger cargoes of dead weight than was permissible in the case of British ships. With regard to the question of rating and certificates, he considered the men who were to command the ships and those who had to pay the wages would naturally wish to have the best men and the best work, and they were the most proper persons to choose competent crews for their ships. Complaint was made by the hon. Member for Middlesbro' that foreigners and Lascars were being taken on board British vessels in larger numbers. He was not surprised at that. If there was one person in the country more responsible than another for that action it was the hon. Member for Middlesbro', who had been at the head of great trade agitations. One of the latest efforts of the hon. Member was to inculcate into those who followed him the course that if the wages were in their opinion not adequate they should make up their minds to regulate the amount of work by their wages. That was teaching men to act, he would almost say, fraudulently and dishonestly. It was teaching, them that they might engage openly to do their best in an employer's service, with a mental reservation that they would do less work than the employer had a right to expect. These men were required to wear a button, which had become known as the "skulker's button," and it was not to be wondered at that shipowners would not have men who would wear a badge of slavery, and resorted to the employment of foreigners, many of whom were found to be more satisfactory, more amenable to discipline, and of greater sobriety than many British seamen found about our docksides. If the President of the Board of Trade could find time to bring in a Measure to place undermanning in the category of unseaworthiness, he would find no one more willing or anxious to aid him in his effort than he would be—[cheers]— or the shipowners of the country generally. [Cheers.] If the right hon. Gentleman thought proper to include in such a Measure a provision that no vessel should be deemed to be seaworthy unless a certificated officer were on watch, shipowners and those who signed the minority Report, said that that was a proper and wise precaution, and a security not only for the vessel itself, but for other vessels traversing the sea. They further said that while a manning scale was impossible, and could not be fairly carried into effect with the ever changing character of ships, yet there ought always to be on every foreign-going vessel, whatever its size, a proper and adequate watch, and the extent of that watch was set out in the Report of the Manning Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to give to the Board of Trade power of detention, he for one would not have the slightest objection to it. But he did say that there was no industry in the country where it was attempted to lay down how many men should be employed and who those men should be, and so long as they provided on board a vessel a sufficient watch to secure it against danger, Parliament would have done all that was necessary as regarded the safety of life at sea in that ship. The whole of the Manning Committee recognised that the national bearing of the question as regarded a Reserve for the Royal Navy was a serious matter, and they came to the conclusion that the mercantile navy at present was not the same nursery for the Reserve of the Navy as it was in time gone by. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not see any system by which seamen for the Navy could be raised in the mercantile service to any extent, or men be found sufficient for the purpose other than that recommended by the Committee, viz., the establishment of training ships for the education of boys, who might, when they were not wanted in the Royal Navy, be drafted for service on board merchant vessels. After all, the mercantile marine, like all other industries, was carried on for commercial purposes. They were proud of their ships and of their enterprise, but yet they could not get away from the fact that the merchant shipping was a commercial undertaking. It was no more right to throw the burden of finding a reserve for the Navy on the mercantile marine than to throw the burden of finding a reserve for the army upon any shore employment. On this great question of manning the Navy he thought the country had very nearly reached the maximum number of men that could be drafted from the Mercantile Marine and relied upon or used in the Royal Navy. It was possible that stokers and other men of the same class might be found in larger numbers; but as to seamen with any education as such, he thought they had very nearly reached the extreme limit at which the Admiralty could find men in the merchant service as being proper men for the Royal Naval Reserve. Shipowners had for years been under the control of the Board of Trade more completely than any land industry, and if the House laid down hard and fast lines as to load-line or manning scale of crew, that personal responsibility and interest in the conduct of a business would be taken away which it was desirable should be preserved if that business was to succeed. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that no more important question could be brought before the House than that of the Mercantile Marine, whether it was looked at from the point of view of the enormous importance of the trade, the great amount of capital invested in it, or the enormous influence it had on the general trade of the country; or whether it was looked at from the point of view of the safety and welfare of the vast number of seamen engaged, and with whom the public had the greatest sympathy in the dangers they had to encounter. But the House must be careful, while endeavouring to safeguard the interests and welfare of the sailor, it did not go to such extremes as would cripple a great industry. He could imagine that in the zeal of Parliament to protect the sailor a great injury might be inflicted on the trade in which the sailor was employed. The hon. Member for Middlesbro' spoke of the great loss of life at sea. No doubt the loss of life was very great, but it was not an increasing loss. He thought the loss might be described as of a stationary character, although the number of men employed in ships increased every year. The hon. Member said that in ten years the number of men lost at sea was 22,000. That number did not agree with the information which he received at the Board of Trade. 'Taking the years between 1884 and 1896 he found that the number of lives lost on board merchant vessels registered in the United Kingdom by wrecks or casualties amounted to 10,738.


I said killed and drowned.


understood that the hon. Member quoted the figures as illustration of the loss of life at sea in consequence of undermanning. [Mr. HAVELOCK WILSON: "Exactly."] But the hon. Member could hardly reckon accidents which occurred other than by wrecks or casualties as being the result of undermanning.


I said that there were 22,000 lives lost at sea, killed and drowned. I did not say they were all owing to undermanning.


said the only reason for quoting the figures was to show the consequences of the existing condition of what the hon. Member meant by undermanning. If he took the figures of seamen lost by wrecks or casualties, he thought he might fairly assume that that was the extreme limit of the number lost by undermanning.


No, that is not so.


That is my opinion. On that basis, he found the number, instead of being 22,000 was 10,000. Of course, they would all be delighted if that number could be reduced; but, having regard to the enormous size of the Mercantile Marine, he should imagine the actual figures bore favourable comparison with the number of casualties in any mercantile marine in the world.


That is not true. [Cries of "Order!"]


But, however that might be, it was not the real question at issue. He was as desirous as the hon. Gentleman and his Friends were that everything that could reasonably be done ought to be done with the view of seeing whether the number of casualties could be reduced. The hon. Gentleman proposed that the Government should pass this Session, a Bill to carry out the whole of the recommendations of the Committee. As the House knew, there were 42 separate recommendations by the Committee, dealing with a vast number of subjects, amongst others the training of boys, the rating of seamen, the crews, and the scale of manning. The scale of an manning itself contained no fewer than 38 different rates in the scale—that was to say, the Government were to lay down, on hard and fast lines in an Act of Parliament that vessels of a certain tonnage should have a certain number of hands whatever might be the appliances on the vessel, the nature of the voyage, or the conditions under which the voyage was carried out.


That is all provided for.


knew it was, and he only mentioned it as an illustration in order to show the nature of the task on which the hon. Gentleman invited the Government to embark. The Chairman of the Committee himself (Sir E. Reed), in an Amendment to the Report, rather quailed at the Idea of asking Parliament to consider such a large number of recommendations and such a large and complex subject. That was an indication that, in the opinion of Sir E. Reed, if the Government could not afford time to deal with the whole subject, if they could not make up their mind to invite the House to consider such a complex scale as that laid down in the Report of the Committee, yet if they dealt with it in the way which was acceptable to the whole Committee—namely, to make undermanning a reason for detention, that would he to a very large extent a solution of the difficulty. The hon. Gentleman was not prepared to agree to that suggestion, but it might be assumed that in his regard for the safety of British seamen he would rather have some measure of that kind than no measure at all. ["Hear, hear" by Mr. H. WILSON.] With the business, however, which the Government thought it necessary to put before the House of Commons this Session, for them to add to the programme a Bill to carry out all the recommendations of the Select Committee would be to court miserable failure. It would be impossible for them to do anything of the kind. He must say that he was very much impressed with the absurdity of the present system by which, while a ship could be detained for almost a trifling defect in her construction, she could not be detained for going out with what the surveyor thought to be an insufficient crew. That was an absurd anomaly which ought to be remedied speedily. He had already had a Bill drawn to amend that state of things; and although at that moment he would not make pledges with regard to it, he believed that such a Bill could be passed in the present Session if it were acceptable to the great majority on both sides of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] That in itself would be a great advance in the direction desired by the hon. Member. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. AUGUSTUS WARR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)

said that if the entire programme of the hon. Member for Middles-bro' were carried into effect, he should certainly, as a shipowner, make a careful examination of his position, and, if it were possible, retire from ship-owning altogether. He should certainly despair of making a living out of it. He had heard with great pleasure the statement of the Board of Trade, and he gathered that there was good hope for supposing that the Government would attempt to carry into effect those recommendations of the Committee, about which there was agreement on all sides. The establishment of training ships to increase the number of men in the Mercantile Marine would have far-reaching consequences. It would tend to raise the level of the British seaman. If there were any doubt as to the power of the Board of Trade to detain vessels which were undermanned, and as to the liability of the shipowners for neglect in this respect, that doubt should be at once removed. Undermanning was a bad form of unseaworthiness. It was urged, however, that there must be a general manning scale if the Board of Trade were to exercise the proper supervision. But such a scale would work injustice between ship and ship by leaving the Board of Trade no discretion. The scale must be elastic, as Mr. Howard, in his evidence before the Committee, pointed out. He thought the Government would be wise not to enforce any statutory manning scale, but to content themselves with strengthening the powers of the Board of Trade. The undermanning which would justify detention could never be a question of real doubt to experts. The point should be decided by a consideration of the vessel, the cargo, the time of year, and the voyage, according to general rules to be laid down by the Board of Trade. Undermanning did undoubtedly exist in rare instances, and in those instances it should involve serious consequences to the shipowners concerned; but that should not be made the reason for the adoption of regulations which would press hardly upon shipowners who were conducting their business honourably. He trusted the Government would therefore hesitate before committing themselves to the adoption of a serious addition to the 748 sections which now constituted the code of merchant shipping. If that were done, shipowners would begin to regard the Board of Trade as existing, not in the true interest of shipping commerce, but as an elaborate contrivance for interfering with their business and disturbing their peace of mind. ["Hear, hear!"]

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said the only reason why he could not advise his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbro' to accept the proposals of the President of the Board of Trade was that he did not see how it was possible to declare under-manning unseaworthiness without defining what undermanning was. If they determined that undermanning should be regarded as unseaworthiness, they should lay down some regulations as to what was undermanning. There were only two points of difference between the majority and the minority of the Committee. Those points were whether they should have a fixed scale, and whether this scale would affect all the cases that had been cited. The proposals made by the majority, if carried out, would be effectual so far as the cases cited before the Committee were concerned. Take the case of the Deeside. The Deeside was run down, and lives were lost in consequence of the look-out man having been called away to trim lamps. There were only two men and an officer on board. One man was at the wheel, the other man was the look-out man, and the latter was called away from his post to trim lamps, with the result that the vessel was run down and lost. The suggestions of the minority, as well as the suggestions of the majority, would cover cases of ineffective watch, like the case of the Deeside. Then there was another class of case which would not be covered by the suggestions of the minority. Take the case of the Inchgarvin. The Inchgarvin twice ran ashore. In the first instance there was no inquiry. In the next instance there was an inquiry, and it was found that while the ship had seven able seamen, they were all foreigners, and unable to understand the orders given to them. It was necessary to see that the able seaman was, in the first place, a competent man, who was qualified as a seaman. But a medical man did not know anything at all about the qualification of the seaman. If in a case which had been referred to the medical man reported he may have been mistaken.


said that what he had said was that the Government had an emigration officer and a medical man, both of whom agreed as to the efficiency. The Government emigration officer was generally an expert man.


said the emigrant was a passenger, and an emigration officer might be no more qualified than was a medical man to state whether these men were to be ordinary or able seamen. It was necessary, first, that the men should know their business, and secondly, that they should know the language in which orders were given. He commented on the fact that our sailing vessels, which were the nursery of our seamen in the past, were disappearing bit by bit, and vet the now steamers which were taking their place were not receiving apprentices in sufficient numbers. At the present time we had about ten million tons of steam vessels and three million tons of sailing vessels, and yet the last report showed that, while there were 3,719 apprentices in sailing vessels, there were only 133 in steam vessels. As to boys, the number in our sailing vessels was 1,100, while in steam vessels there were only about 700. Of ordinary seamen there were 5,100 in our sailing vessels, and 1,100 in our steamers. He did not understand the warmth of the speech of the right hon. Baronet opposite, as the hon. Member for Middlesbro' admitted that the great liners were well manned and fitted, and thoroughly seaworthy ["Hear, hear!"] It was only a few miserable tramps that required to be watched, and the only thing was that the liners, through competition with these undermanned tramps, must be compelled to economise.


said that after the statement of the President of the Board of Trade as to the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to declare undermanning to be unseaworthiness, although he did not go so far as he should have liked, he must, in the interests of the seamen, admit that it was a step in the right direction, and he begged leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."—Amendment by leave withdrawn.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.