HC Deb 20 July 1898 vol 62 cc519-24

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made— That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of an allowance to the owner of a ship equal to one-fifth of the light dues paid by him during the year in respect of that ship, in cases where boys enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve have been carried in such ship, under the provisions of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with regard to the payment of certain expenses under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and the levying of light dues."—(Mr. Ritchie.)


So far as this proposal is concerned, it appears to me to be a most important one. I do not think, however, that it would be in order for us to speak at any length upon it, although we referred to it at the other stage, and I should like to have some explanation.


The object of this resolution, of which the Committee are asked to approve, is to enable the Committee on the proposed Bill to insert a clause the effect of which will be to authorise the payment out of the Exchequer to every ship which carried boys between 15 and 19 years of age, in accordance with the scale prepared by the Board of Trade, of one-fifth of the light dues. These boys will be required to enrol themselves in the Royal Naval Reserve, and will thus increase the number of seamen available if required for service in the Royal Navy. If all the vessels now paying light dues avail themselves of this provision under the operation of the Bill they will carry about 15,000 more boys than British ships are now carrying. That is a very important step, which is desired by many people, and will very materially increase the number of seamen in British ships.


The right honourable Gentleman has made a most important and very excellent proposal, as far as it goes. But it is calculated to have a far-reaching result, and yet we are confronted with it at a moment's notice. The right honourable Gentleman's proposal amounts to this, that in future one-fifth of the contribution of a ship in light dues shall be limited to that ship which carries apprentices. Well, Sir, I think that is a very important proposal, and no doubt it will tend to have the effect of bringing about the reform which we have long looked forward to— that is to say, of securing a larger number of apprentices. I am not one of those who think there is an enormous want of British sailors in the Mercantile Marine. I will go further, and say that there is a full half-million of British sailors in the British Marine at the present time. No doubt this proposal will tend to increase the number of these sailors. Therefore, Sir, it is in no spirit of hostility to this proposal, but rather in a spirit of friendship that I welcome this proposal of the right honourable Gentleman, and also because I think it is a policy which ought to have been adopted long ago. There are one or two points which have occurred to me in regard to this off-hand proposal, as I must call it, which ought to be considered now. I am only sorry that the right honourable Gentleman should think fit to pursue his Resolution tonight; but perhaps he will agree to its being taken tomorrow.


My honourable Friend must know that there will be full opportunity of discussing the matter when the clause appears in the Paper. I should add that, as this is something in the nature of an experiment, this particular clause will be limited in its operation to five years, in order to see how it works. I hope, however, that it will work so well that it will be renewed at the end of that time.


I cannot accept the answer of the right honourable Gentleman, which is one which a Minister always makes in similar circumstances—that the matter should be discussed at another stage. Of course we shall see better when we have the Bill before us. But the object of the Resolution is to secure full and complete discussion. The suggestion of the right honourable Gentleman is an extremely valuable one, and I trust he will be able to carry it out, as it will add considerably to the numbers of the Naval Reserve. At present that number is limited; but I calculate that if this proposal is adopted it will increase the Naval Reserve by at least 15,000. I do not think, however that the right honourable Gentleman's proposal is the best method by its principle of subsidising apprentices. I think the better method would be to subsiding the ship which carries the apprentices, and so effect a diminution of their light dues. I do not wish to raise a long discussion, but I do say that this matter does open up a large number of considerations, so many of which are new that if the right honourable Gentleman could see his way to make the same concession which the First Lord of the Treasury made just now I should be glad Since the repeal of the Navigation Act and the repeal of the Statute which required a certain proportion of the apprentices we have never been brought face to face with a contingency like this. At any rate, it is a new proposal and ought to be fully discussed; and I cannot agree that it should be discussed at his stage. If it be not possible for the Government to give adequate notice of a matter of this kind being brought on, could not Her Majesty's Government give notice to the Press, so that we might be better prepared to deal with it? Certainly more than one or two Members I know came down quite unprepared to discuss so new and so important a policy as this.

SIR F. EVANS (Southampton)

As far as I understand the Resolution I think t will work most unfairly in regard to the owners of very large steamers. If I understand the meaning of the Resolution, it is that there should be a scale for redeeming a certain amount of the light dues payable by the ship and as to the number of boys which they carry. Take a steamer of 10,000 tons. How many boys must she carry to get the one-fifth reduction of her light dues? There is no indication of that by the right honourable Gentleman. But it cannot be possible to carry ten boys, apprentices, in a ship of 10,000 tons. Why, they would be falling over each other at every turn. And again, if we are going to accept this mode of contribution for boys, you would be at once interfering with the direct carrying provision for the boys. I am sure it would be to the much greater advantage of the Government, and in the interests of the boys, if the Board of Trade would give us a little more information before they pass a Resolution of this kind. I am anxious that some arrangement should be made for the reserve of boys to be carried on our ships. As far as we who represent the shipowning interest are concerned, we are perfectly blind at present. We do not know what the right honourable Gentleman is going to do. Therefore I shall be very glad if the right honourable Gentleman will not press his Resolution upon us tonight.


Sir, I hope the right honourable Gentleman will press his Resolution forward now, as time is of the utmost importance. If he does not press it on now, opportunity of dealing with it this Session will have gone. Now, my honourable Friend who has just spoken says there ought to be time given for discussing this question; but, as I understand it, a discussion cannot take place until the Resolution is passed and the President of the Board of Trade has laid it on the table. Sir, I regard this as the first practical step towards restoring the British Marine to the position it ought to occupy, and it will be of great benefit to the national Navy and the defences of this country.


If the honourable Gentlemen insist on discussing this Resolution, I will give them full opportunity of doing so; but may I point this out? They cannot see the clause in print until the Resolution and the Report on that Resolution is dealt with. It has never been the practice of this House, and ought not to be the practice, that a Resolution can appear on the Paper in print until it is reported to the House. Every First Reading is, in a sense, a blind discussion. I do pray, therefore, that we may be allowed to take it now.

DR. CLARK (Caithness-shire)

Sailing owners would no doubt like to see this Resolution passed. My Friend who represents the steamship owners would like to see it extended. I would like to have the opportunity of saying that it should be extended now, so that they may fly the blue ensign. I say also that these ships should be subsidised, and that we should not have our hands tied by this Resolution. If we pass the Resolution in its present form we shall not be able to discuss it. Sailors are not wanted nowadays so much as engineers and firemen. What I want to know is—will this Resolution as it stands at present permit us, after the Bill has been read a first and second time, to consider the question of extending the number of men and officers a ship may carry, and give them a right to fly the blue ensign. And will we be able to discuss these points in Committee?



The House resumed.

MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton-on-Tees)

May I ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Lunacy Bill will be taken tomorrow?


It will not be taken tomorrow.