Motion made, and Question put—
That this House views with great concern the fact that the proportion of British seamen in the mercantile marine is rapidly de-
creasing, and also that pilotage certificates are being issued in increasing numbers in British waters to foreigners, and trusts the Government will take prompt steps to inquire into the cause, in order to secure a remedy for this state of afiairs."—(Mr. R. G. Webster.)
§ MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
In rising to move the Motion which stands in my name, I venture to tell the House that I had no reason to believe that this matter, which is of great importance to the country, would come forward at this particular moment.
§ [An, unsuccessful attempt was here made to count out the House.]
I am very glad to find that on the question of the Mercantile Marine of this country the Opposition have supported me in keeping a House, although honourable Members on this side do not appear to take much interest in this important question. I am not going to touch on many questions that I might allude to. I might point out to the House that we are really dependent to a great extent for our food supply, and for our independence as a nation, on the Mercantile Marine. I might run through, if I wished to do so, a variety of figures showing what a great proportion of our trade is carried on by the Mercantile Marine. I might mention many ports—London, Liverpool, Bristol, Hull, and Glasgow are a few—which are entirely dependent, or almost entirely dependent, on goods brought to this country by the Mercantile Marine. I look upon this question from a great Imperial point of view, but there are many honourable Members who will speak upon it purely from a mercantile point of view, and they will be able to point out, better than I am able to, the great seriousness of this question. It would appear, from evidence I have before me, that 21.16 of all the seamen in British ships are foreigners. That is a very serious thing, and in war it will be even more serious. At the present time there are a very large proportion of foreigners in our ships. Foreigners will probably serve for a less rate than English sailors. We are told—whether it is false or true I do not say—that they are steadier and leave port in better condition, but, at the same time, it seems to me a very serious condition of affairs. Of course, I do not ask the House to revert to the old Navigation Laws, though if I could move such a resolution I think I should not be unwilling to do it. The country at that time had practically entirely a British Marine manned by British sailors. We 858 all know that we have some difficulty about keeping up a naval reserve for our first line of defence. Well, Sir, without British sailors aboard the Mercantile Marine, how can we have a naval reserve? I think that it is incumbent on us to attend to the matter. I should like to point out that in the event of war there would be very great danger, because we should not have a sufficient Mercantile Marine to support our Navy. Having said so much about the Mercantile Marine, and having pointed out, as other honourable Members will no doubt point out, that all we have to do is to give certain inducements to our shipowners and sailors—that would be a very wise insurance fund for the defence of our country—I hope that the few words I have said on the matter will be gone into at greater length by honourable Members with more technical knowledge of the question. The second point of my Resolution is with regard to pilots. That is also a very serious thing. Why should we be the only country in the world which permits pilot licences to be taken out by foreigners just as we allow our own subjects. We allow very large numbers of foreigners to become pilots on our ships. I am told there is no possibility of obtaining information as to the exact number, but it is certain that, by the same examination and the same qualification, a foreigner can obtain a pilot's certificate in this country as if he were a British subject. What does that mean? Scores of vessels come up the Thames and our other rivers, and they do not require to have a pilot. As a matter of fact, our pilots are being under-worked by foreigners, who understand all our rivers, and who would be able to pilot a foreign hostile vessel up any of them. That is a very serious danger. We have not got a similar permission in any other country. We cannot pilot vessels up the various rivers of a foreign country. Probably 10 or 12 foreign vessels come up the Thames daily. They send up a flag that they have a pilot on board, but that pilot is not a British subject. He knows all our waters, and he has a Board of Trade certificate. Free Trade may be a very good thing, I suppose it is, but I cannot help thinking that the security of the country is a more serious question than even Free Trade. If a foreign country will not allow British pilots to have their certificate, why cannot we do the same. 859 I think, therefore, that a small Amending Act ought to be passed, that no pilot should be permitted to pilot a foreign vessel into British waters, unless he is a British subject. Those are the two questions I wish to bring before the House. I was not prepared to make a speech, as I did not have the slightest idea that this Motion would come on. If I had, I would certainly have imposed on the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade an oration of much greater length. This question is a British question, and, as a British Member of Parliament, I venture to say we ought to feel very strongly on it. We know that British sailors are decreasing in the Mercantile Marine, and that foreign pilots know as much about our waters as British pilots. Therefore, I venture to submit this Resolution to the House.
§ MR. MCARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to second the Motion, more particularly as regards the diminution of the number of our seamen. I attach very great importance to that fact, and I take the liberty of seconding the Motion because I represent a constituency which has a large interest in this matter. My honourable Friend has referred to the alarming character of the decrease of our seamen. It is more alarming when we consider it in connection with the great increase in tonnage of merchant ships in recent years. During the last fifty years we find that the tonnage has nearly trebled, whereas during that period the number of seamen has not only not kept pace with the increase of tonnage, but has actually fallen off to a large extent, the number being 46,521 men, or 25 per cent, of the whole. One very unsatisfactory feature of that decrease is that it occurs more particularly in connection with young sailors and boys, amounting to something like 84 per cent. That is a very alarming fact, because it shows that the sources from which we get our British seamen are dying out, and if the decrease continues, as it will unless something is done, in a comparatively few years our ships will be mainly manned by foreigners. I think the House will admit that this is a very unsatisfactory state of things. It is not unsatisfactory to the shipowners as such. Of course, a British shipowner would pre- 860 fer that his ship should be manned by men of his own nationality, but, as a shipowner, all he is concerned about is that there should be a plentiful supply of cheap and efficient labour in the market, and provided his ships are manned by efficient men it really does not matter to the shipowner whether they are British subjects or foreigners. But this is not a shipowner's question; it is a national question. It is a question which involves large loss of employment and even something more important than that, the loss of the control on the part of this country of one of our most important and characteristic national industries. We are a maritime nation. We derive our wealth and our high position from the sea. Our insular position is not only the source of our security, but the source of our wealth, and any Englishman cannot see without alarm our supremacy passing from our hands into the hands of foreigners. It is also unsatisfactory for another reason. We know we have a very efficient Navy, consisting of large and powerful vessels fitted with the best armaments, but, unfortunately, not as well manned as it might be, and with only a very slender Naval Reserve behind it. In case we are concerned in a great maritime war that Naval Reserve would have to be called out, and then the Mercantile Marine, practically depleted of British subjects, would be left in the hands of foreigners, and if we had to fall back upon the Mercantile Marine we would find ships manned with foreigners. It is a national question, and one of great importance to the State. What are the remedies which we have suggested to the Government? I think the first remedy is to obtain an increased supply of properly trained British seamen. The Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Trade to consider this question reported in 1896 in favour of establishing training ships round the coast. That Committee pointed out as a remarkable fact that while we did so much for technical education as regards young people for employment on shore, nothing was done by the State to provide technical education to those choosing the sea as a profession. The Committee accordingly recommended that training ships should be established. They pointed out that they would be 861 recruitiug grounds not only for the Mercantile Marine, but also for the Royal Navy and the Naval Reserve. I think a more excellent way than this would be to encourage shipowners to employ boys on their vessels. I wish, briefly, to refer to the proposal of the Marine Fund Bill of last year. There is a general feeling among shipowners that this very critical problem should be solved. The proposal was that when a shipowner carried a certain number of boys in accordance with the Hoard of Trade regulations, he should receive, as compensation, one-fifth of the light dues paid by him. Now, I regret to say that that proposal has not found favour with shipowners. They strongly object to light dues on principle, and if the dues were connected with the employment of boys it might be a reason for perpetuating a charge they desire to see swept away. Another objection to the proposal is that the amount would be variable and not consistent, whereas the expense connected with the carrying of boys would be consistent. The light dues depend altogether upon the number of voyages made by a ship. It might very well happen that at the commencement of the year a ship might make a voyage that would not entitle her to a refund of any portion of the light dues. In fact, it might happen that she would not have to pay light dues at all, in which case there would be no refund whatever. It therefore appeared to the shipping community that the proposal was not practicable. I earnestly express the hope, however, that the proposal will not be abandoned. I trust the President of the Board of Trade will not allow this matter to stand where it is, and that he will endeavour to solve it, if possible, by the very simple means of granting a direct payment to shipowners in respect to the employment of boys. It is quite clear that the Government is willing to make certain payments, and if the matter is put on a business-like footing it will be found that the shipowners are not unreasonable. They do not want to make money out of it, but to get compensation against loss for the cost of maintaining the boys. You cannot expect boys to enter the ships unless you do something to make the life attractive to them, and to do that you must give them wages in proportion to their ages. One Liverpool firm of shipowners have 862 offered to take 200 or 300 boys for their vessels, provided the Board of Trade could see its way to find them outfits. I suppose that the Board of Trade has no power to do that. That firm has 80 or or 90 steamers, and its offer is an act of patriotism, but it does not follow that other shipowners would be able to do the same thing. It is also necessary that nothing should be done to interfere with the prospects of seamen already in the Service. I think the matter ought to be approached from that point of view. The British sailor might fairly complain if you opened the door and introduced a large number of additional seamen. It would do him an injury unless you endeavoured to improve his status and position. I am not prepared in any my to advocate the Navigation Laws, but I do think there should be some preference given to trained over untrained men. The present system gives no means of obtaining that preference. We all know that when a captain is in a hurry to obtain his crew he has to pick up men who present themselves, whether they be efficient or untrained, whether they be tramps or loafers. That is an unsatisfactory state of things. I am very glad to learn from a remark made in another place that the Board of Trade is considering the subject of continuous discharges. I do think it is working on right lines. A properly trained British seaman ought to have some distinctive mark to differentiate him from an untrained man, and which would be a guarantee to the shipowners of the efficiency of the men they employed. I trust, therefore, this Motion will receive the consideration of the Government. I believe that the state of the Mercantile Marine is critical, and that if something is not done it will go from bad to worse until it becomes incurable. I trust the Government will take the matter into their earnest and serious consideration, with a view to finding a remedy for the evil which exists in the most deserving industry we have—an evil which is likely to be a national danger.
§ Question put.
§ After the usual interval, the Debate was resumed.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
Sir, I rise to support the 863 Motion which has been moved by the honourable Member for St. Pancras, and I venture to say that a more important Motion could not be brought before the House of Commons than the question of supplying seamen for the merchant service. I regret very much to see that there are not a larger number of Members present. I know pretty well the state of affairs which prevails in almost every port throughout the United Kingdom. It has been my duty as the President of the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union daring the Recess to devote the whole of my time to the service of sailors and firemen in the different ports of the United Kingdom, and I can positively state that there are, at the present time, almost a sufficient number of British sailors and firemen in our ports to man the whole of our Mercantile Marine. But, unfortunately, those men are not employed. It is all a question with the shipowners of pounds, shillings, and pence. I know that the shipowner generally states, in reply to this statement, and statements of that kind—That we pay exactly the same rate of wages to the foreigner as is paid to the British seaman.They say that, when a crew is engaged, it does not matter whether they are foreigners or Britishers if they are paid the same rate of wages. Well, that is perfectly true; but I desire to point out that it is in consequence of the large number of foreigners who are employed in different ports throughout the country that creates a tendency to lower the standard of wages. Now, Sir, with many of the statements made by the two honourable Members who moved and seconded this Motion I quite agree, but with some of their statements I entirely disagree. It has been suggested as a remedy for the scarcity of men in the British merchant service that we should pay shipowners to carry apprentices or boys on board British ships. Well, Sir, I do not know any industry in this country where we should have such a proposition as that to say that an employer, in order to create a larger number of men to carry on his work, should come to the House of Commons and ask this House to vote sums of money in order to encourage them to employ boys. 864 I think that is a very preposterous proposition, and one which I hope the House of Commons will never entertain. Surely it must be to the interest of the shipowner himself to carry a sufficient number of boys on board his vessel in order to train those lads and to ensure a regular and constant supply of men. If he does not do that it is entirely his own neglect, and the day will come when the shipowner will find that he has made a great mistake in that direction. If at the present time it was possible to thoroughly organise the whole of the seamen employed on board merchant ships they could soon regulate the wages, and their demand would probably be not a moderate one, but an excessive one, and the shipowner would then find that he had been studying false economy in neglecting to train up men for the Mercantile Marine. Now, Sir, what inducements are there held out, at the present time, for boys to become sailors? What inducements are there at all? In the first place, it is with the greatest difficulty that a lad can get on board ship at all now, but it was not so 25 years ago. If a boy wants to go on a sailing ship the manager, or the man who manages the sailing ship, will ask a premium of sometimes £100 for a boy to serve a four years' apprenticeship, and he asks the parents of this boy to give him £100 for the privilege of allowing him to serve his apprenticeship. I do not think anyone who knows anything about sea service will be foolish enough to give that. Then, again, if you want a boy to go on board a steamer as an apprentice, many of them are asking a premium of £36 or £40 simply to serve on board a steamer practically as a common labourer. It is not at all likely that, considering the circumstances and surroundings on board a ship, that shipowners will be able to get people to do that. After those lads have served their apprenticeship, what have they to look forward to? They cannot all be mates, and they cannot all be captains, and they cannot all be engineers. Therefore, the majority of these lads, after they have served their apprenticeship, have only to look forward to the time when they will have to serve on board a ship before the mast as ordinary sailors; and what is his pay? Why, on the very best line it does not amount to 865 more than 3½d. per hour. Now, I venture to say to the honourable Gentleman who moved this Resolution that the scavengers working for the St. Pancras Vestry would refuse to work for less than 6d. per hour, and yet sailors are asked to work on the best paid line for 3½d. per hour. I do not think parents will be at all inclined to send their sons to sea to serve their apprenticeship to a trade where, after serving their apprenticeship, they are going to get worse wages than what they would receive if they were working as scavengers or ordinary labourers working in the streets. But that is not the only evil in connection with this business. After a youth has served his apprenticeship, and arrives at the ago of manhood, the important question becomes one as to whether the employment is likely to be permanent. I venture to say that the Mercantile Marine industry has never been better and more prosperous than it is at the present time. We have a large increase in the amount of tonnage of the Mercantile Marine every year, and yet, at the present moment, in the port of North and South Shields, there are 500 sailors and firemen unemployed who cannot get employment at any price. In Liverpool it is the same, and in Cardiff there are always a large number of men who want work and cannot get it. I should say that for every one man who is taken on for employment there are at least 10 or 12 men looking for that one man's situation, and that is the position of affairs in nearly all the ports throughout the United Kingdom at the present moment. Therefore, in addition to the difficulties I have previously mentioned, there is the difficulty of finding employment. Then, again, on the ordinary steamer, after a man has secured a berth, he will make a voyage of about seven weeks, say from Cardiff or some other South Wales port to the Black Sea, and back again to the Continent, and when he arrives at the Continental port he is discharged from the ship the moment the vessel arrives in dock. Of course, if ho has sense enough, he will demand from the captain money to pay his passage back to England, but I am very much afraid that, in the majority of cases, the man has to pay his own passage, and then when he arrives back at his own port he has another three or four weeks to walk about looking for em- 866 ployment. The majority of seafaring men do not make, in the course of twelve months, more than seven or eight months' constant employment. If you take that into consideration, it brings the income of these men down to less, I venture to say, than 12s. per week on an average all the year round. Well, it is not at all likely that you are going to induce men to go to sea for 12s. a week when they can get employment on shore, in shipping yards and other places, for 25s. and 30s. a week as labourers. But, Sir, independent of that, there is the question of competition that comes in from incompetent men, and I am very pleased that the President of the Board of Trade is now beginning to take notice of this very serious question. The number of men employed on British ships as members of the crew during recent years has been cut down to the very lowest point. In many cases, I venture to say that ships are very seriously undermanned. The honourable Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool quoted figures to show that, whilst the tonnage of the Mercantile Marine had been increasing enormously every year, yet the number of sailors employed had been rapidly decreasing.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
Well, if the honourable Gentleman is not prepared to stand by his figures, I am prepared to give them up.
§ MR. McARTHUR
But I do stand>by my figures. I said that the number of sailors had decreased, while the tonnage had increased.
§ *MR. HATELOCK WILSON
I am not going to dispute with the honourable Gentleman about his figures, but I will quote some of my own. I remember that in 1890 we had over 240,000 men employed in the Mercantile Marine. Since then we have increased our tonnage by more than 1,000,000 tons. I put a question to the right honourable Gentleman last year as to the total number of men employed in the Mercantile Marine, and his reply was 186,000. So that, taking off 30,000 lascars who are engaged on passenger lines and other vessels, it shows a decrease of over 20,000 men in the Mer- 867 cantile Marine service since the year 1890 up to the present, although our tonnage has increased over 1,000,000 tons. When I speak of the number of men carried on board ships, I am speaking of "tramp" steamers of 3,000 or 4,000 tons, and I am not taking into consideration such well-known lines as the Cunard, the White Star, and the Union line of Southampton. I am not taking those into consideration, because those lines, being passenger vessels, are bound to be manned under the Board of Trade Regulations with regard to the carrying of passengers, therefore their manning is entirely on a different basis from the ordinary "tramp" steamers sailing out of ports like Cardiff and on the Tyne, whose total number of men on deck does not exceed four able seamen and two boys. When you divide this number into two watches you have two men and a boy in each watch. I put a question with regard to this subject the other day, where a railway servant was signed on by a deputy-superintendent of the Board of Trade as an able seaman on board a certain ship, although the only sea experience that this railway servant had ever had was a trip to the Isle of Man on a pleasure boat. Well, Sir, this man had one of those discharges given to him, for they always get one at the end of the voyage. It does not matter if it is only a week or three days, they get an able seaman's certificate marked that he was signed on as an able seaman. Now, this railway servant who had had this trip to the Isle of Man, and was no doubt seasick during the trip, signs on as an able seaman, and what is more, he was signed on by a Board of Trade officer, representing a Department that costs the country nearly £40,000 every year, and which is specially appointed by Parliament to see that the law is carried out, and to see that everything is done correctly. Well, this man, this railway servant, was signed on as an able seaman on board this ship. Well, Sir, if you have got two men and a boy in a watch, and you get two railway servants as able seamen, I do not know what is to become of the ship when difficulties arise.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The Deputy-Superintendent, the gentleman whose business it is to read out the regulations and the agreements, and to enter the names of the men; and whose duty it is under the 186th section of the Merchant Shipping Act, to see that every man who signs on as an able seaman shall produce a certificate that he has had at least four years' service. Now, if that Board of Trade officer had done his duty in demanding four years' sea service, it would not have been possible for this railway servant to have been signed on at all. But, Sir, I find another case at Liverpool, where a Polish Jew was signed on a ship as an able seaman. When he was being engaged he was asked what work he could do, and he said, "I can peel onions." The boarding-house keeper replied, "Oh, as long as you can peel onions you are all right," and he was signed on. I remember not one case only, but scores of cases, in Cardiff, where they have shipped among the crew carters, tinkers, and tailors, and when the vessel got outside the port one of these men was at the wheel, and he was steering the ship all over the ocean. The captain shouted out to him, "Where are you going?" He replied, "I do not know." The captain said, looking at the compass, "Don't you see you are off the course?" The man replied, "Well, I am only three inches off with the compass." Of course, to this man three inches was a matter of very small importance. Another of these "able seamen" had large nails in the soles of his boots, evidently a country labourer, with the result that he went slipping all over the deck, and it took one of the officers two days to file down those nails in his boots. These are not uncommon occurrences, and, of course, we are told that you do not require able seamen now. You do not want sailors now, for anybody will do for a sailor; as long as he can wash decks down and peel onions he is good enough for an able seaman. That is what some people think, but I disagree with it, and I venture to 869 say that if the "Pavonia" and "Bulgaria" had been manned with such men, those ships would never have reached port. It is as necessary to-day to have competent able seamen as ever it was, and I venture to say, as a practical man, that it is more necessary to-day than ever it was. I remember a case of a ship on which the steering gear gave way in a very heavy sea, and one of the sailors went over the stern of the vessel to remedy the defect in the rudder, and every time the vessel heaved, this man was taken right under the water for a time. Will any man say that you will get a landsman to do work of that kind? As a result of that man's nerve and skill, which you can only get by being a practical sailor, he saved the whole of the lives on that ship. Inexperienced men may be all right in fine weather, but if you could get a guarantee of fine weather during the whole of the trip, then you might get maiden ladies for sailors; but we do not go to sea as if we were going to church, we have to be prepared for all kinds of weather; and, therefore, it is necessary to have competent men for the work. It may be asked what remedy we have to suggest. Now, Sir, I do not suggest that we ought to adopt the old navigation law, which says that no man shall be carried on board British ships but Britishers, or a certain proportion of Britishers. I know that it would be most difficult at the present time to carry a law like that into operation; and, furthermore, any proposal to entirely dispense with the services of foreign seamen in British ships at the present moment would not be practicable. But, Sir, I can tell you what could be done. We want, if possible, to encourage as many boys as we can to go to sea to learn the trade of seamen, and to get boys to learn the profession of a sailor we must show them that, after a certain apprenticeship, they will at least expect to get a wage which will keep them in decency and comfort, and that there will be some chance of them getting constant employment. And more than that, Sir, we expect that a man who has served a legitimate apprenticeship to the sea service will get a preference of employment before a man who has never been at sea before, and who may be shipped on board a vessel as an apprentice. Now, 870 the shipowners, I have no doubt, would give a preference to English seamen, provided they would sail at the shipowner's price. Of course I cannot say what price would please the shipowner, because I remember the time when the shipowner would say that no man ought to go to sea for less than £4 per month. But gradually, step by step, that £4 has disappeared, and I have seen men recently signed on in Cardiff for £2 15s. per month for able seamen, and £3 per month for firemen, and this has happened on voyages that only last about 14 or 15 days. Of course, that means that those men are always in debt. I do not think this state of things is any encouragement for men to go to sea. What. I want—and what I hope the President of the Board of Trade will do this Session, for he has a great opportunity—is that something should be done for the Mercantile Marine. I find that quite a number of shipowners are very anxious to have the best men, regardless of price, and I am not going to say that all shipowners object to pay fair and reasonable wages. I know many shipowners who are fair-minded men, and who are anxious to pay the best wages possible. Of course, they have to take into consideration their competitors—the other shipowners. Now, what we want to do is to knock out of the Mercantile Marine the loafer element, for I am sorry to say that, during the last eight years, a very undesirable class of men have been drawn into the merchant service, and the lowest kind of men have found their way on board British ships, with the result that a great blow has been struck at the seafaring community, and discipline has disappeared on board ship to a large extent. One of the great causes of this is that the men engaged to go on ships, when the vessel was ready to sail, have not turned up to time. The result is that the officers have been compelled to pick up any kind of men on the dockhead to fill the places of those who have failed to join the ship at the proper time. Well, Sir, that has brought a large number of undesirable men into the merchant service. But there is another evil in connection with this.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member seems to be addressing himself to the manning of the Mercantile Marine 871 generally, but I wish to remind him that the only question before the House is as to the undue proportion of foreigners.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
Then I will endeavour to come to that point, and I will try to show that the foreign element is brought into our service in consequence of men signing on board ships, and failing to turn up at the proper time. But I believe that a remedy can be found for that. I think that if sailors and firemen were compelled to have certificates—the same kind of certificate that is provided for the officers of the ships—and when they are engaged on board vessels they should be obliged to hand that certificate over to the captain, that would remedy this evil, for if the man failed to join the ship his certificate would be given over to the Board of Trade official, and then it would be a question for the local Marine Board to punish that man by suspending his certificate for a certain length of time. Now, Sir, I would give those certificates to foreigners as well as to the Britishers, but I would compel the foreigner to comply with the regulations in the same manner as the Britisher. That is to say, that the foreigner would have to prove that he had had three or four years' service on board of his own country's ships, and he would have to prove that by his papers; and foreigners should also prove that they are able to speak English sufficiently well to understand the ordinary orders given on board ship. That would, I think, put a stop to the desertion of foreigners in British ports. I read a report of a case yesterday, where one of the crimps went on board a Norwegian ship and persuaded the firemen, who were getting about 30s. a month, to desert their vessel, because they were promised berths on board an English vessel at £4 10s. a month. They deserted their ship, and were hanging around the outskirts of the town nearly starving for some time, because they did not get what had been promised them by this crimp, who, he was pleased to say, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. If the Board of Trade would pass a Bill compelling every man to produce a certificate showing a certain amount of sea service before he could get an able seaman's certificate, I venture to say that it would be useless 872 for these crimps to attempt to persuade foreigners to desert their ships, because they would not be able to get their certificates, and consequently would not be able to come into British vessels. That system would gradually work the foreign element out of the ships; but all foreigners who sailed in British ships, and were able to speak English, I would give them certificates, but I would say to the new comers—You must prove your service, and also that you can speak English, and if you can do that you will get a certificate.This stealing of foreigners out of foreign ships is going on continually all round the country. On the 10th of September a Russian was on board a Russian steamer, when one of the crimps employed by the Shipping Federation, Limited, went on board this Russian vessel, and persuaded this young man, who was only receiving 30s. a month, to desert his ship. The crimp said to him—If you will come along with me I will get you £5 a month.The young fellow deserted the ship, went to the Federation offices, was taken on, and sent by train to Glasgow, and he was put on board a steamer in Glasgow, where he was shipped not as a sailor but as a fireman, although he had never been in the stoke-hole, and knew nothing whatever about the work. I brought this under the notice of the Board of Trade, but they have done nothing in the matter. I don't know why they have been unable to put the law in force, because this man got an advance of £2 2s. 6d., which the agent of the Shipping Federation had put into his pocket. That money was supposed to be to buy the man clothes, but he had no clothes when he got to Glasgow, and he was sent away across the Western ocean without any sea clothes whatever. That is unfortunate, and I venture to say that if the Board of Trade were to bring forward those certificates, or to insist upon some guarantee that the men could do the work and understand our language, it would not be possible for a thing like that to occur. This man could not speak one word of our language, and I brought the matter under the notice of the Board of Trade, for I 873 thought that they would have done their duty. But somehow or other, as soon as the Shipping Federation is mentioned that is enough to terrify them, and prevent them from doing anything. It has been suggested that there should be continuous discharges given to seamen, and it is said that this would prevent a large number of foreigners coming into our ships. Well, Sir, I do not object to continuous discharges as long as there is no entry in it as to conduct or ability, because I do know that in many cases men have disagreements with captains over small matters. The captain may be bad tempered, and so may the sailor; but if an entry is made on a man's discharge on this account by the captain it means that that man may be punished for many years, because another captain will refuse to employ him as long as he can get a man with a clear record. If the continuous discharge book was simply a record that a man had been employed on board a certain ship for a certain period, and to say that a man was discharged without any reference to character, I would be perfectly satisfied to have a continuous discharge book in preference to the certificate. I think this is simple, and it has acted very well in regard to officers on board ship. There is one other point which I wish to mention with regard to the large number of foreigners brought into our ships, and here again the President of the Board of Trade could do a great deal for the seafaring community if he would put his foot down to alter this state of affairs. A large number of vessels when they arrive at Hamburg, Rotterdam, or Antwerp, although their crews have only been at sea- a few weeks during their passage from the United Kingdom, discharge those crews at the ports mentioned, and ship on board foreign crews of sailors and firemen because they are cheaper, although they are coming to an English port to unload. What necessity is there to discharge those crews when those ships, as soon as they have discharged their cargoes, are coming to an English port to load again? The reason is that these English crews are paid £4 15s. a month, but the captain is able to ship a crew at Hamburg or Rotterdam at £3 10s. a month; therefore he 874 discharges his men. Sometimes, of course, they pay their own passage to England, and sometimes the owner pays it, and they come back to England, and these foreign crews, composed of Belgians, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Germans, or anything they can pick up, are taken on in their place. That is the reason why we get such a large number of useless men, because the shipping master on the Continent compels every man to pay from 6s. to 10s. for the privilege of being employed. These crimps go on board and make bargains to supply these men. The men apply to the captains, and they are told to go to the shipping master. They are taken to the boarding houses, where they are not particular what kind of men they get if they will only pay these shipping fees, and, of course, the foreigner, who cannot speak English, is preferred, because it is more easy to impose on him, because he cannot speak English, than upon one who has been a number of years in our ships. Consequently a large number of these foreigners are drawn into our vessels, to the detriment of the British seaman. It is just the same in New York. I have been also endeavouring to get this state of things remedied in New York. But, Sir, there is no change in New York, because the crimps there are making 60,000 dollars every year out of the transaction of supplying seamen for British ships. I was an eye-witness to this, for I saw foreigners stolen out of foreign ships. There they steal those men and practically carry them out. The crimps take them into their houses, and keep them there a few days, and then, when an English sailing ship is signing on a crew, these men are brought out, and the crimp would take from 40 to 50 dollars in advance of the sailor's pay and this is generally divided between the crimp and the shipping master. Now this matter is under the control of the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, and if either the Board of Trade or the Foreign Office wanted to stop this state of affairs they could easily do it. I know if I were the President of the Board of Trade I would stop it within 24 hours. If I were sitting on the Front Bench there, I venture to say that I would soon put an end to it. The President of the Board of Trade has simply got to say, "Do not allow anyone to 875 come in our office in New York unless they are on business, such as the captain and sailors," and the whole thing would be stopped. There are plenty of British sailors in New York, and there were plenty during the time I was there last year. I should say there might be some 30 or 40 men required, and that there were at least some 400 or 500 men out of work who wanted employment. It will be seen, therefore, that there was no scarcity of British seamen, but the fact is that they could not get a look in. The British seaman says to the crimp, "What am I going to pay you 40 dollars for?" Why, he would not live in the crimp's house, and he would not stop in his den of infamy. He would rather go and pay his own lodgings. But the crimp has an undertaking with the captain, and so he says to the British seaman, "If you will not lodge in my house and pay my shipping fees you are not going." In consequence of this state of things I started a number of shipping agencies myself, where the men can get employment without any fee whatever. I have found out that, in many cases, the captain is only too ready to assist the crimp. I found out one or two cases where the crimp had enlisted the sympathy of the captain, and in the majority of cases the captain was sharing the spoil. There was one case where a crimp had a contract with a shipowner in England, and was getting half of the fees which the crimp was charging. [Mr. GIBSON BOWLES dissented.] The honourable Gentleman shakes his head, but if he will go over on a trip to New York with me and pay all the expenses I shall be able to enlighten him.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The honourable Member has made a very serious charge against someone unnamed. He ought either to give the name or withdraw the charge.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I shall certainly not withdraw the charge, and I am quite willing to give the name, for it is a matter of common knowledge in 876 New York. I feel perfectly sure that all the Members of this House will not disbelieve that statement, for it is a matter of common knowledge to everyone in New York who has endeavoured to put this state of things down, and it would be put down in no time only for the fact that some of the shipowners on this side of the water have made contracts with the crimps to supply all their men. I remember that one of those particular crimps has been over for 12 months in the United Kingdom visiting the shipowners and making contracts with them, so that when those captains get into those ports, it is not a question of who he is going to employ, but he has to get his men through these crimps. If the captain disputes the crimp's word, he produces his contract to show that he has the authority of the shipowner himself, I believe that the honourable Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn knows a good deal about yachts, but not much about the Mercantile Marine. I could give him more information, but I do not see why I should take the trouble, and I shall just give him what I please. The President of the Board of Trade can do a lot in this direction if he chooses to do it this Session, to provide a better class of men for the Mercantile Marine, and to reduce the proportion of the foreigners by a gradual process. I quite recognise that the shipowner would be opposed to any law to reduce the number of foreigners, to such an extent that the men would be able to force up the rate of wages, which the shipowner would be forced to pay. I think this can be done gradually by providing that none but competent men should be engaged on board a ship. Why should a foreigner, who is not a practical seaman, go on our ships and take the place of a British seaman? I do not say that all foreigners are not competent seamen, and I venture to say that there are as fine sailors among the Norwegians, the Germans, the Swedes, and the Danes, as you will find anywhere. But I am not going to say, however, that a foreigner is a better sailor than a Britisher; and I am not going to say that a foreigner who is not a sailor is better than a Britisher who is a sailor. The President of the Board of Trade has a splendid opportunity this 877 Session of bringing in shipping legislation. I am sure the shipowner will not Le opposed to it, because he wants something done to prevent men leaving his ship, and to stop desertion. Within a very short period no less than 12,000 men have deserted their ships in foreign ports, and foreigners have been shipped in their places, and very often they are inferior men. The President of the Board of Trade can do something, for he has had the matter put before him by the recommendation contained in the Report of the Commission which was issued over two years ago, in which they recommend that the Government should immediately deal with this question, and I say that now is the opportunity to do so. We have not a great deal of work before the House, and this is a matter which will not meet with much opposition. Therefore I hope that the reply of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will be in the direction of assuring us that something will be done to remedy the state of things of which I have complained.
§ *MR. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
I fully expected that the honourable Member who has just, spoken, after making such a serious charge against the Mercantile Marine, would Lave made some attempt to substantiate it. He has made a very serious charge against a certain captain whom he does not name, and of whom we know nothing about. I have a very strong current of sympathy for the cause which he pleads for so earnestly—that is for the sailor. I have travelled a great deal myself over the different seas of the world, and have noticed the conditions under which our sailors carry on their employment. On some ships they are treated very well, and on some I admit that they have been treated very badly indeed.
§ *MR. BURNS
And will you give also the names of the captains, and state whether their hair was red or grey?
§ *MR. MACDONA
The charge was made here in the absence of the Member for Greenock, who is chairman of the line of steamers to which the ss. "Australia" belongs. I have travelled by that ship myself, and I know how those men are treated. Hut, as everyone knows on both sides of the House, those who travel on some of these ships prefer very often in the hot weather to sleep on the poop than clown below, no matter how many cubic feet of space be allotted to them. I have preferred to sleep on the deck myself. I think it is the privilege of this House to have Members who have the interest, of the sailors at heart, because there is one association connected with sailors that, to my mind, ought to command the most earnest and sincere sympathy of the Members of this House, and that is that they, of all men, have less political privileges and less opportunity of voting for the men whom they would like to represent them in Parliament. Sailors are very often away on their duty, and I venture to say that they are the only class who are handicapped in a great degree while looking after the interests of this country abroad. Therefore, I think their interests should be all the more keenly felt by those legislating in this House. Therefore, everything that the honourable Member for Middlesbrough has said in their favour is justified, because they have many wrongs, and I am certain that our Government—the Government we have in office—will do everything they can, and as far as I know, they have done a good deal, to remedy the grievances which honourable Members on both sides of the House have complained of. One thing they have done for the Mercantile Marine during the last few years is that of giving officers in the Marine service rank in the Royal Navy, and this has been appreciated very largely by the Mercantile Marine all over the world. But I believe these foreign lascars, and these Swedes, and others, who join our Navy, when they join seem to think that they have some new right conferred upon them that they do not have in their own country. They seem to be very willing to join other British ships when they get discharged from British ships. In the 879 ports of China, in the Mediterranean ports and many of the ports of Europe and America, which I know something about, I have always found that these foreigners invariably give the preference to a British ship, no matter what harbour they may be discharged in. I think we should look very carefully indeed into this question of the treatment of British sailors in the Mercantile Marine. I am certain that the Government will do everything they can to remedy the grievances which have been pointed out by Members on both sides of the House.
§ *MR. BURNS
I listened, as I believe the rest of the House did, to what was, on the whole, a very moderate speech made by the honourable Member for Middlesbrough. It seems to me that the honourable Member, who has a practical knowledge and is technically acquainted with the outlines of a sailor's life, put before the House, with only one or two slips, what are known as the everyday incidents of a sailor's life. I am sorry to find that in the House of Commons, not for the first time, honourable Members have been so anxious to disagree with ninety-nine hundredths of what the honourable Member for Middlesbrough said in defence of poor Jack that they will quarrel with the hundredth part just because he does not happen to have an affidavit from the crimping master and the captain, against whom he made no more specific charge than the honourable Member who has just sat down. What was the burden of the honourable Member for Middlesbrough's complaint? It was this—that, generally speaking, the sailor is not treated so well as he ought to be: that, admittedly, his food is bad, and his sleeping accommodation is defective. He is often bullied on board, and ho is still crimped ashore, and that, generally speaking, in consequence of these things happening, the foreign sailor, who is more subservient, I am sorry to say, and who has less blood and bone in him than the British sailor, is willing to submit to degrading conditions which I hope the British sailor will never submit to. Well, in consequence of the sailors' environment, we find that Members get up in this House, and, whenever they can, they put in a word for the British sailor, not as against the foreign sailor, but as against the preferential 880 treatment which is given to the foreign sailor to gratify greedy shipowners and shareholders; and when a Member specially takes up the sailors' cause, some infinitesimal point of his speech is raised and objected to. I have had some experience of the sea, and I know that the sailors are treated very well on lines like the Cunard, the White Star and many other big lines, where, I am glad to say, the stokers and the sailors are treated relatively well; and if Members of Parliament when they visit foreign countries, especially China, would only patronise the vessels which had on them British sailors, and which paid decent wages, then I think the foreigner would not be so cheaply prevalent or popular as he is. The honourable Member said some were treated very badly, implying that that treatment was rare. Well, Mr. Speaker, I have been to sea, although it is some years back, and this I do say, that if British sailors are treated as they were when I was on the West Coast of Africa. I should rejoice to hear of a mutiny on board every one of those ships, as it would be an evidence that the spirit of resistance to oppression had not yet died out. I have known men working under a burning sun down in a stokehole at£3 10s. a month treated as no convict is treated in Her Majesty's gaol, because I have had the pleasure of trying that. The way these poor fellows were treated when liable to yellow fever or ague was such that it made their lives a perfect hell upon earth—hard work, unsuitable food when well, indifferent treatment when ill. This was what was going on down below while the passengers and the officers above were luxuriously treated. Some of the first-class passengers, to their credit, were stealing grapes and bananas to take down to the stokers who were gasping like rats from ague and yellow fever. That is the state of things on some ships, with other complaints, about which Mr. Rudyard Kipling—who we all hope will recover—so eloquently writes. I know this is a very exceptional case, but I sincerely trust that when the honourable Member for Middlesbrough brings forward a substantial grievance we shall not have fault found with some trifling argument, while no attempt is made to grapple with the solid timber of this case. I trust that after the cases which have been put before the House, there will be 881 no attempt made to discount the substantial case that my honourable Friend has brought forward. Now, Sir, I come to the resolution, which is—That this House views with deep concern the fact that the proportion of British seamen in the mercantile marine is rapidly decreasing, and also that pilotage certificates are being issued in increasing numbers in British waters to foreigners, and trusts the Government will take prompt steps to inquire into the cause, in order to secure a remedy for this state of affairs.Well, Sir, I am not going to deal with the pilotage, but I am going to deal with the British sailor. What have we heard to-night from the honourable Member who represents Liverpool? We have heard this, and I rejoice at it, that the shipping trade is prosperous, and that 6O per cent. of it is British. The honourable Member for Liverpool said—and we know it is true—that the shipping industry is fairly prosperous. But coming from these facts, which imply that we can afford to improve the position of poor Jack, we now come to the way in which he is treated. Passengers are being treated with increased luxuriousness by every one of the lines. Even the cattle ships are being overhauled and tremendous expense incurred to prevent cruelty to animals. Every element, every interest, in the ship is being considered—in my opinion disproportionately—except one, and that is the sailor who drives the ship on deck and the stoker who fills her furnaces down below. We find that passengers are well treated, cattle are being looked after, and the officers generally can hold their own. The sailor and the stoker, in point of view of wages, are the worst off. Although food is generally cheaper, they do not get that advance in the standard of comfort that other workmen have recently secured. Beyond that, Mr. Speaker, the sailor lives a dangerous life. Two thousand of our fellow-countrymen go down to the sea in ships literally every year, either killed, drowned, or permanently disabled. Consequently, Jack's lot is not a happy one, and I am inclined to agree with Dr. Johnson, who said he could not understand how it was that any idiot could think of going to sea when there was a gaol open to receive him. Now, he must have had some experience of a tramp 882 steamer owned by a Briton, and provided with foreign sailors from crimp establishments and receiving a Government subsidy. I now come to Jack's behaviour on board, and all this talk about the English sailor being drunken. Well, I have never had liquor in my life, and I don't think I shall ever have it. I am not inclined to condone with drunkenness, but to talk about the British sailor, as some shipping journals do, that he is drunken, incompetent, and insubordinate, is not altogether true. Poor Jack, like the officers, has the defects of his qualities, but he is often criticised unfairly less because he is drunken than because he is independent. We are told that his condition is entirely due to himself. It is not so. I believe that unpatriotic shipowners who carry the mails and the Government transport ought to give preference to British sailors, and not always show the preference they do to the lascar or the coolie, who is employed, first, because he is cheap, and, secondly, because he can be bullied and dominated to an extent that the English sailor will not submit to. I believe selfish shareholders drive captains and officers and their men to worse conditions than many captains and officers are anxious to take. I believe the sailor's food is bad, and his accommodation on board ship is worse, but—and this is more important than all—his wages are disproportionately low. I believe that the bulk of all the complaints that the honourable Member for Middlesbrough has made centre and rest upon the low wages of seamanship. The point is: How can we alter that? Well, Sir, I believe that there are several remedies. I believe that the four-years-at-sea certificate, whether in British ships or foreign ships, should be insisted on by the Board of Trade. I believe it ought to be a condition of seamanship on board a British vessel that the men should speak the British language somehow. We do not want men to be up to the standard of Lindley Murray, or to run the gauntlet of the Reporters' Gallery in the House of Commons—a very high and a very critical one. But, Sir, we ought to render it impossible for the kind of thing to happen at sea, through the English language not being wholly spoken by the crew, as happens in the Surrey and the London docks. It is not 883 at all infrequent, Mr. Speaker, when a ship comes into one of the London docks for the British sailors to be paid off, and for the foreign sailors to be retained to whip the cargo out cither by hand or by crane, and, in consequence of their not knowing the colloquialisms of the steamer or the dock, they very frequently let the "skip" up when they ought to let the "skip" down, and vice versâ, with the result that accidents take place on shore in consequence of their ignorance of the British language. But if this is dangerous on shone, how much more so at sea, when you have men almost incapable of interpreting any order that may be given! I therefore submit that the four-years-at-sea certificate, whether British or foreign, should insist upon the holder speaking the language, and, above all, that we should apply to all Government transports and mails the principle of the Fair Wages Resolution of this House, namely, that there should lie a minimum rate of wages for seamen, that the proportion of British sailors shall be determined by the House of Commons, and that we shall not have from £150,000 to £200,000 paid to a line of steamers where Britishers are at a discount, and where lascars and coolies are almost exclusively employed. Another remedy I would suggest is that the boys should, if possible, be encouraged to take to sea life by the Government. I do not know that I should hesitate, Mr. Speaker, to vote for a provision in many cases of a free kit for many of the lads who come from the poorest schools; but this without good food and better treatment by officers and owners will not suffice. I do think that if the President of the Board of Trade would revise the food scale of 1854, and promise for the sailor of the future better food than he now gets, he would cause many men to go to sea, who now stay away. He should also insist upon the lascars having the same sleeping accommodation as the British officer; and, above all, he would be well advised to tell their officers to remember that the young man who would like to go to sea to-day is not the uneducated mechanised automaton of 80 or 90 years ago. But the President of the Board of Trade can do something more practical. I would like to see the President of the Board of Trade, with the consent of the Government, call an inter- 884 national conference, and the maritime nations thereat represented to fix the food, the water, the medical, and the cubic space standards, not only of this country, but for every country; to establish a minimum rate of wages that would be applicable to all; and to draft regulations against crimping and similar abominations. If he would adopt suggestions to this effect, I have not the least doubt that some good can be done. But, whether these things are done or not, there is the question straight in front of us. Every year the percentage of foreign seamen in British vessels increases, and whether you regard it from the point of view of national defence, maritime supremacy, or commercial success, it is not creditable to Englishmen to know that while our vessels are increasing our countrymen who sail them are rapidly diminishing. That must be due to special causes, several of which have been enumerated to-night. I come forward with no golden specifics. I do not come forward to say that the honourable Member for Middlesbrough is right and the President of the Board of Trade wrong. I believe there are grievances, and I believe those grievances await remedies. What those remedies are it is not for private Members to dogmatise upon. It is enough for us to recognise the fact that, while the tonnage of our vessels is jumping up by leaps and bounds, the number of our countrymen who sail them is rapidly diminishing. I appeal, I hope not in vain, to the President of the Board of Trade, whose duty it is to provide remedies, to brush on one side the pettifogging criticisms that have been directed against the main contentions of my honourable Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, and to admit—as he must admit—that there are substantial grievances, and to apply his mind to remedies for the present condition of things.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Norfolk, Lynn Regis)
It is always a pleasure to hear my honourable Friend the Member for Battcrsea, because he talks with so much earnestness, and, I may add, with so much knowledge of the subject. I must, however, express my astonishment at the statement of the honourable Member for Middlesbrough, that ho knows of contracts between captain and crimp, and, again, between owner and crimp, to 885 press seamen. The honourable Member ought not to make statements of this kind without giving proof in the shape of names.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
Mr. Speaker, last July I supplied the President of the Board of Trade with nine or ten affidavits sworn to by seamen in New York before an attorney, giving the names of the ship, the captain, and the crimp.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
That is what I should like. The honourable Member should move for that information as a return, because I do not think it is fair to bring charges of this very serious nature against captains and owners without giving definite proofs of the charges made.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The honourable Member for Middlesbrough has told us some rather amusing yarns which at sea would be called "galley yarns" One story was that a man on board ship had nails in his boots so long that it took the engineer two clays to file them down. That may be told by a marine, or perhaps by a sea cook, but not by anyone else. Then there is the other yarn about the man who said he was only three inches off his course. Why, Sir, that story is as old as the hills. It was originally told of a celebrated vessel which ran ashore on a falling tide on Mount Ararat. Really, the honourable Member ought to produce something fresher in the way of a yarn than that. Well, Sir, I yield to nobody in admiration of the qualities of the British sailor. I believe him to be one of the best, bravest, and most able men in the world, and in all respects far better equipped for his work on board ship than most Bishops or Members of Parliament, or than nine out of ten Cabinet Ministers on the Front Bench. He is committed, for a good many months, to a very dull life. It is true that he sometimes goes on the "bust," as it is called, with the result that after he has disappeared for two or three 886 days he is brought back in a shore-boat without any money, and also without an clothes. But when he recovers from his spree he does his work all right again. He is a sort of big baby, but he is also a big hero, and I am sure no one can fail to admire the self-sacrifice, the courage, and, at the same time, the skill with which he works for the safety of his shipmates and his ship. I cannot express the admiration I feel for the British sailor, and honourable Members may judge, therefore, that I would not like to be second to anybody in my desire that the British sailor should flourish and increase, and, above all, should man British ships. The honourable Member for Middlesbrough told us that he does not propose that foreigners should be entirely excluded from these ships.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Quite so. He says that any proposal that entirely excluded the foreigner must prove a failure. Then the honourable Member for Battersea and the honourable Member for Middlesbrough have told us between them why it is that a large proportion of foreigners is to be found in British ships. I must say that they have made a case which does not do any service to the British sailor. The honourable Member for Middlesbrough tells us that the reason for the introduction of the foreign element is that men fail to join until the last moment. Again and again he gave that as the principal reason. What does it come to? It means that the foreigners are taken because the British sailor will not join his ship after he has signed articles. I gathered from him that the reason why the foreign element is present in British ships is that when a captain has engaged British seamen, they at the last moment do not join, and that consequently the captain in despair is forced to take foreigners. So that it comes to this—It is not the fault of the captain, nor of the owner, nor of the crew, that a foreigner goes in a ship under the circumstances described by the honourable Member for Middlesbrough. It is the fault of the British sailor, and nobody else.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I do not like to interrupt the honourable Gentleman, but he is misquoting what I said. I said that the reason why a large number of undesirable persons are aboard our ships was in consequence of certain men who were engaged not turning up. I do not say foreigners, but loafers and all other kinds of undesirable, incompetent persons.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I do not think the honourable Gentleman has altered the statement I made. He said that the reason why the foreign element was present in our ships was that men failed to join their ships at the last moment. He did not at the moment appreciate the full meaning of what he said, but he showed that the fault for the introduction of foreigners was not that of the owner or captain, but was the fault of the British sailor himself. The honourable Member for Battersea gave another reason. He said that the foreigner is willing to submit to conditions that an English sailor would not submit to, and that he was cheaper. That is a reason which I certainly believe to be true, but that is not the whole story. The honourable Member knows perfectly well that under certain circumstances—I am chiefly thinking of Dutchmen, Danes and Swedes—foreigners are good seamen, second only to our own. They know the English language sufficiently to work about the ship. Every sailor of every nationality knows the essential English words at sea, such as "port," "starboard," and the rest of them. They are almost universal throughout the world so far as the elementary work of the ship is concerned. Those foreigners may not come up to the English sailor; they are not only cheaper, they are very good and orderly. They will never be able to equal our men, and I am perfectly convinced no one else will ever be able. But they are very good; and when we know that the foreigner will join, whereas the British seamen may not, it may be natural on the captain's part to prefer him. I understand from the honourable Gentleman opposite that foreigners are taken into a British ship because the English seamen will not join. I am sure he will not contradict me.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I do not agree with that. The honourable Gen- 888 tleman misrepresents what I said. The complaint of shipowners was that after they had signed on a crew, foreigners as well as Britishers, and when the ship was ready to leave the dock, they found they were often men short, and were compelled to take undesirable persons, British or foreign, who were incompetent.
MR GIBSON BOWLES
One of the honourable Gentleman's difficulties is, apparently, to follow me, and I sympathise with him. This resolution consists of two parts, one which I believe to be entirely incorrect, the other to be very serious and of great importance. What I believe to be incorrect is the part which declares, or proposes this House shall declare, that it views with deep regret the fact that the proportion of British, seamen is rapidly decreasing. That was the old story trotted out by the Navy Leagues and persons who study Board of Trade statistics without thoroughly understanding them. I admit the difficulty of studying these statistics, because the statisticians of the Board of Trade will not enable us to accept a total without all sorts of reservations, additions, and subtractions. It is very difficult indeed. The result of the-Navy League, and of the books on naval defence, mostly written by eminent landsmen, is that people come to-believe, and this House comes to believe, that there are no British seamen: left in the country, and, like the honourable Member for Middlesbrough and the honourable and gallant Member for St. Pancras, I believe that to be a delusion which is entirely unfounded. I am prepared to show by statistics that the world contains half a million of British seamen. They do not all belong to the mercantile marine, or to the Navy. Some of them are fishermen. Those gentlemen who study statistics and work out elaborate percentages from them do not deal with the whole number; they take only a limited number. Take two foreigners in a dingy, and if you fix your attention on those two men alone, you will come to the conclusion that there are no British seamen left. But you must take the whole number, and I do not believe there is more than five or six per cent, of foreigners among British seamen to-day. But I do admit that in certain trades there is a very large proportion of foreigners engaged. We are told by the 889 right honourable Gentleman behind me that although the tonnage has trebled the aggregate number of sailors has diminished. That is a matter for congratulation, for it means that machinery is being used instead of men. If the topsail is to be set, it can now be done by a donkey-engine on the deck. It means a diminished necessity for human labour, but not by any means a decrease in the efficiency of the ship or the crew. You require fewer sailors than in years gone by, and as steamships tend to replace sailing ships, you will require still fewer men than before. Therefore, I think no importance need be attached to the decrease in the number of seamen; neither do I think that decrease has taken place to any serious extent, nor that the proportion of foreigners to British seamen is increasing. I have admitted that in certain trades there are a great many foreigners, but in other trades there are none—among fishermen, for instance, in certain lines, such as the P. and O., you will find a large proportion of lasears. With reference to lasears we cannot forget they are British subjects. I claim them as such myself. They are not Britons, neither are Irishmen, but, nevertheless, we call them British. In my opinion, however, you cannot surpass the Englishman. If ever you get into a tight place you will wish you had got an Englishman instead of a lascar. The honourable Member must remember that the competition in shipping is very great, and that people are bound to work down, consistent with safety and the proper treatment of the crew, which I, for one, would be the first to claim, and that, after all, these lasears do the work set them very well. I, therefore, do not agree that there is any case for concern regarding the alleged decrease of British seamen. The oilier part of the Motion refers to piloting, and there I am in agreement with the honourable and gallant Member for St. Pancras. It is a matter of very great concern. Pilot's tickets are being issued to foreigners in England in increasing numbers. I cannot understand on what principle these certificates are issued at all, because the matter rests largely in the discretion of the Board of Trade in all ports where pilots are examined. If it were proposed to examine foreigners before granting pilot certificates, they would probably avoid the examination altogether. 890 I know perfectly well that in King's Lynn foreigners have proposed themselves to be examined by the local pilotage board in order that they might receive pilots' certificates, but the board refused to examine them. And what happened was this: the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade suggested to them that something terrible would happen if they, did not examine these foreigners; they would be brought up to London, and I do not know all that would be done to them. The Pilotage Board still refused, mid my impression is that these foreigners have not been examined down to this day. I believe that is the spirit in which almost ail pilotage boards desire to act, and when they do examine foreigners for pilots' certificates, it is done through the coercion of the Board of Trade. I wish to make that charge against the Board of Trade. I have no doubt they do it from motives of public policy, but I should like the right honourable Gentleman seriously to consider this matter; first of all, whether he is right in forcing, as I believe he did force, on the King's Lynn Board, and as I believe he did force on other boards, the examination of foreigners for pilots' certificates. It must be remembered that a pilot must, in order to continue to be a good pilot, be always in pilotage waters. For unless it is a rocky coast with a rocky bottom, the channels are constantly changing, and you cannot remain a good pilot unless you are going constantly up and down the pilotage waters. That is the first objection I have to the foreign pilot, who frequently goes away and does not come back for six months or more. There is the danger of incompetent pilots carrying British pilotage certificates. My second objection is that it is not advisable for foreigners to gain a knowledge of our pilotage waters, so that if they belong to the nation of an enemy, or are employed by an enemy in time of war, the enemy's ship would be able to bring her own pilot and navigate her into our harbours or up our rivers. That is a serious case. We never know when war is going to break out, and if you have a number of English certificated pilots—if you have a few in each port—of foreign nationality and foreign proclivities, that will be a very awkward thing. It would 891 affect one's feeling of security to know that there were men capable, in time of war, of bringing the enemy's vessels into our ports and up our rivers. I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will say that he is practically compelled by force of law to grant these certificates—
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I understand the right honourable Gentleman to say that he is. Well, I hope that the right honourable Gentleman will quote to us the Act of Parliament which forces him to grant these pilots' certificates to foreigners, and that he will particularly specify the penalties to which he is subject if he does not enforce the law. One of the greatest functions of a Minister, and one of the greatest services he can render to his country, is not to enforce an Act if it is a bad Act in itself. That is where his discretion Comes in; he is not a subordinate official who must do what his superior tells him. But if he believes that he is compelled to' enforce the law, then I do humbly submit to him that the time has come to seek some alleviation of the section of the Act which forces him to do this, or the repeal of the section altogether. But in the meantime I trust that the right honourable Gentleman will be sparing in the exercise of the power of granting certificates to foreigners, and I hope he will be able to tell me and other honourable Members that he does not propose in the future to coerce pilotage examination boards to give certificates to foreigners. It is a bad thing to realise that a foreigner knows all about our ports and harbours Now, while I entirely disagree with the first part of the Resolution, I entirely agree with the latter part. I trust the honourable Member for St. Pancras, having provoked an eminently delightful and in some respects a wonderful discussion, will not consider it necessary to go to a division.
§ MR. LOWLES (Shorediteh, Haggerston)
Before I speak on the question immediately before the House I wish to refer to some of the statements made by the honourable Member for Middlesbrough. I happened to be in New York at the time the honourable Member for Middlesbrough was there, and 892 I can bear testimony to the conspicuous services which that honourable Member rendered to British sailors in America. I myself examined the cases to which he has referred, and if the President of the Board of Trade looks at them he will, I am sure, recognise the necessity of a searching inquiry being conducted into the statements made. I am sure that the honourable Member for Middlesbrough comes back to this country more thankful than ever that he is a Britisher and lives under the Union Jack. Now, I think we have wandered away from the Resolution which we have been discussing this evening as to the general condition of the British sailor. The particular question which my honourable Friend has brought before the House is one of national importance. I myself have travelled on every ocean and in every variety of vessel—I always go on British vessels—and I have heard and seen something of the over-employment of foreign seamen on board British ships. I believe there is no sailor equal to the British sailor, although the seamen of other countries bordering on the North Sea have many fine qualities. A ship, however, I have always believed and still do believe, is safer when all the crew are British. In one vessel in which I made a voyage to New Zealand there was actually a man who could not answer to his name in English, and the captain told me that he was often driven to employ such men. Does this evil exist to any large extent? Well, I think the last returns issued by the Board of Trade show that there has been a large increase in the alien migration into this country compared with January in last year, and that this increase comprised 200 or 300 alien sailors, who had, of course, come to British ports seeking employment. I think the honourable Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn is altogether wrong in his statistics as to the number of British seamen. He includes fishermen in the term "British seamen," but you cannot regard fishermen as seamen. Of course, you can prove anything when you bring men of that stamp into the ranks of British seamen. When are talk of the crews of British ships we mean those who go across the ocean. I believe that over 21 per cent, of foreigners are actually in employment on British ships at the present moment, and therefore the evil 893 does undoubtedly exist. There is surely an enormous danger in such a large percentage of foreign pilots being employed in our home ports. Take the case of the port of Newhaven alone: we find that out of 40 pilots licensed to navigate vessels into that port, no fewer than 20 are foreigners, or half of the whole number. Surely that is a serious danger, and we ought to recognise it; and surely the Board of Trade has some power in its own hands, without increased legislation, to alter such a condition of things. I do feel that the Government ought to recognise this evil on board British ships, and that it is one that demands their instant attention. I hope the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will accept in a sympathetic spirit the Resolution of the honourable Member for St. Pancras.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
The honourable Member for King's Lynn stated that he entirely agreed with the first part of the Motion, but was strongly opposed t-o the second. Now, for my part, I am strongly in favour of the second portion of the Resolution, and I am strongly against the first. Why should we be in that position? My honourable Friend the Member for Haggerston says that in the port of Newhaven, out of 40 pilots employed there, there are 20 foreigners. I suppose my honourable Friend knows that we have British steamers sailing to Dieppe and Boulogne, and that, as a consequence, we have British pilots who hold French certificates, taking British steamers into these ports. On the other hand, we have a number of railway steamers belonging to the Western Railway in France, the pilots of which have passed an examination in England, and are able to bring their ships into English ports. The honourable Member does not seem to see that if you stop granting pilotage certificates to French officers coming into our ports, the French authorities would cease to grant similar certificates to British officers entering their ports. The Jingoes in France would point out what a serious danger to France it is to grant pilots' certificates to British seamen; and the consequence would be that on both sides of the Channel the steamers would be compelled to lay off until a French or a British pilot came on board and took the steamers into port. This would, of course, 894 cause infinite trouble and delay both to the passengers and the transit of mails. Let us take all the ports in the North. Sea. You have got Norwegian companies having lines of steamers running to out Eastern ports, and you have got such companies as the Wilson Line running across to Norway. Then you have got German lines trading to British ports, and British liners trading to German ports. If the Norwegian and German officers have got British pilotage certificates, the British captains have also obtained German and Norwegian pilotago certificates. If you try to stop the granting of British pilotage certificates to foreign seamen, the result, it is evident, would be much worse for the British than it would be for the foreigner, for we have a much larger tonnage of shipping engaged in this trade than the foreigners. You can, if you like stop granting British certificates to foreign shipmasters, but the result will be, as I have said, that every time a passage is made the ships will have to remain out side the port on either side to wait for the pilot, and there will be more serious risks, greater delay, and greater suffering on the part of the passengers than at present. I think the President of the Board of Trade would be foolish to entertain the object which my honourable Friend the Member for King's Lynn seems to have in view.
AN HONOURABLE MEMBER: Do I under stand the honourable Member for Caithness to say that in France they give certificates to Englishmen as pilots for Dieppe and Boulogne?
§ Dr. CLARK
Yes. I may say that there is a keen competition between the British and the French in respect to the cross-Channel trade. I am sorry to say that the British are going to the wall, and that the French trade is increasing. Possibly that is because the French are working harder than our people, and have more money behind them. But to return to the first part of the Resolution. I think it would be very difficult for this House to do very much by legislation to meet many of the evils brought before us by the honourable Member for Middlesbrough, because some of the worst cases are where rail way servants use certificates which are forgeries, pretending to be someone else than they are, and so they get employ- 895 ment. My honourable Friend points out that the Board of Trade should prosecute them; and there, I think, is a strong case against the Board of Trade. Take again the case of the lascars. There was the ship "Australia," mentioned last year, belonging to a London company, whose vessels are registered in London, and which sail from British ports to other British ports in British Colonies. That ship never touched at India, nor did many of the vessels of that company. They never went near India, and yet the right honourable Gentleman argued last year that the Indian law should apply to these ships and not the British law. As I have said, these ships never go near India, but carry British cargo, British passengers, and even British mails, from a British port to another British port in a British Colony. And the right honourable Gentleman has not the slightest intention of prosecuting that British shipping company for violating a British shipping law. And why? Because it is a very powerful company, and because a Member of the Government is a director of the company, and because an influential supporter of the Government is chairman of the company. I really do not see how we can do much by legislation for the British seaman. As an old-fashioned economist, I do not see why we can interfere in regard to the employment of foreign seamen. Look at the number of Swiss and German waiters employed in London, and we do not propose to interfere with them. We have got to depend upon them, and I do not even think the honourable Member for King's Lynn would propose to interfere with them. The case of the British sailor is, however, a very serious one. The fact is, that the British sailor is, and must be, unless some change is made, a constantly-decreasing factor, because the great bulk of our trade is being transferred from sailing vessels to steamers. In former days, boys were necessary in sailing ships; but there is no need to have- boys on board the modern steamer. In some senses, it was absolutely necessary to have boys on board sailing ships to go aloft, for the men refused to do it. It was too dangerous for them.
§ DR. CLARK
Yes, the boys could go where the men could not. But under the new conditions you have not the necessity for boys in the modern steamer, and hence the younger generation of sailors is not coming into existence in the same fashion as under the old condition of things. Last year the President of the Board of Trade made a suggestion, but, as with most suggestions made by the Board of Trade, it was not very wise. The right honourable Gentleman proposed to give back 10 per cent, of the light dues to steamers that carried boys. I do not know how much money he expended in that fashion. But the way it would work out would be this: that a vessel engaged in the coasting trade, or in making short voyages, and therefore paying very heavy light dues, would get large sums from him; but another vessel, trading perhaps to Australia and going from Australia to India, and from India back to this country, would get practically nothing. So that the offer made by the Board of Trade was one which the owners of long voyage vessels could not accept. And you could not expect the shipowners of such vessels to accept it. If you were to take£50,000 of the light dues and give that money as premiums to those ships which would carry a definite number of boys something practical might be done. Now, the reason why men are not going into British shipping now is that there is not the same inducement for boys to enter as apprenticed seamen as in other trades. And there is the point raised by the honourable Member for Battersea, that you are still standing by the old sustenance limit of the Act of 1854—the old Lime Juice Act —under which the very minimum standard of rations of 45 years ago is still the minimum of to-day. And that minimum is, in very many cases, the maximum of shipowners. You have got the salt pork, and the salt beef, and the old abominations, while, on the other hand, in every other range of life, we have better conditions and improved diet all round. Even in prisons the diet has been immensely improved, and the condition of sailors is worse than prisoners in our gaols. Not much can be done, therefore, I am afraid, in the way of legislation for the British sailor. But it is very important that something should be done, 897 because we have to depend upon the Mercantile Marine for our Naval Reserve in the great naval war of the future. My honourable Friend the Member for St. Pancras was perfectly justified in calling upon honourable Members, on the Board of Trade, and on Parliament as a whole, to increase the efficiency of the Mercantile Marine, because that is the source of cur Naval Reserve. And I am sorry to say they do not do anything in that direction in connection with our subsidised mail steamers. The Peninsular and Oriental Company is the very greatest offender. They violate all the conditions of their contract laid down by the Government, and which, as the honourable Member for Battersea says should be carried out, but which are not enforced by the Admiralty. You have got many splendid steamers to which you pay high subsidies, and which you can turned into armed cruisers, as was done during the Spanish-American War. Well, some of these steamers are manned by lascars and foreigners, instead of being manned by men of the Naval Reserve, according to the conditions of the contract. They ought to have guns on board, and these ought to be brought up on deck for gun drill, as is done in the case of the ships of other nations who give grants of that kind. If these steamers were manned by the proper class of men, we would be able to make our Mercantile Marine a true Naval Reserve. The facts are before the House. You can do a great deal by administration without legislation, and I hope that the Board of Trade and the Admiralty will perform their duty, and no longer allow ships which are subsidised to remain as at present, and that no further mail or other contracts will be given except on the condition that a large proportion of the officers and crew belong to the Naval Reserve. In that way you can use the Mercantile Marine as a great source of strength to the Navy.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
I quite agree with the object which the honourable Member who moved the Resolution has in view. Everybody must admit that there is no finer race of men in the world than the British seamen. Some of the most famous pages in our history have been penned about the deeds done by 898 British seamen, and, therefore, it stands to reason that everybody should desire to see British seamen employed on British ships. But I do not quite agree with the honourable Member who moved this Resolution as to the remedies which he suggested. I understood him to say that one of the reasons why foreigners were preferred to British seamen was because the foreigners were cheaper. That is a fact which it is very difficult to get over. There is at the present moment great competition amongst shippers, and great competition in the shipping interest, and it is most important that the shipping interest should be retained in the United Kingdom, and that the carrying trade of the world should remain in our hands. We all know that many foreign nations are competing with us for the carrying trade, and the sole reason why we hold that trade as we are able to do is because we are able to conduct it at a reasonable rate. If we are going to enhance the freight of ships, we run a danger of losing that trade. Therefore, I think that though I quite sympathise with the object the honourable Member has in view, it would be very serious to pass legislation which would touch that point. The honourable Member went on to say that he thought something should be done to encourage the employment of boys on board British ships, and I certainly agree with him in that. I hope something will be done to encourage boys to enter the service. If I am not mistaken, I am under the impression that the First Lord of the Admiralty has done something in that direction.
§ MR. BANBURY
Well, I trust that the Government will see their way to carry out the recommendation. I also think, with the honourable Member for Caithness, that where steamers are subsidised some conditions should be attached to the contract a3 to the men to be employed on the subsidised ships. That is reasonable, but I do not know how far it could be enforced. I do not see how any other steps could be taken in that direction. The honourable Member for Middlesbrough says that in many instances British sailors would not join the ships for which they had signed when 899 foreigners did join. I do not know how legislation could prevent that. I do not see how legislation could compel a British sailor to join a ship if he did not choose to do so. But I think, if it is possible, short of legislation, to take some steps to induce British seamen to enter British ships, that should be done, and if that could be accomplished, the Resolution which we have discussed tonight at great length will not be lost.
§ MR. ALLAN (Gateshead)
I have listened to the Debate to-night with great interest. I do not propose to occupy much of the time of the House, but I should like to make one suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade, who has admitted that there has been a great increase in the number of foreigners in the Mercantile Marine. Now, personally, I see no difficulty whatever in providing any number of British subjects for British ships. I would suggest, and it would not involve any large expenditure, that the right honourable Gentleman should divide the whole British coast into sections, and station old gun brigs at given points. These brigs should be so fitted up as to enable training to be provided for boys, and I would offer inducements to lads to serve in them, for, say, a couple of years. After that period we should be able to give a lad a certificate that he is a good seaman, and can steer, haul, and work a steam winch. By this means, in the course of a few years, we should get a large number of British-born lads fit to serve in British ships, and in about 10 years I think there would be no necessity for employing foreigners. This is only amplifying what is being done to find sailors for the Royal Navy, and it would benefit the Navy equally with the Mercantile Marine. I do not think that my suggestion should be lost sight of by the President of the Board of Trade.
SIR R. PENROSE FITZGERALD (Cambridge)
I think the whole House has listened with great interest to the speech of the honourable Member who is BO perfectly well acquainted with the subject with which it deals. I cannot claim any such practical knowledge, but I would like to point out to the House that not very many years ago it appointed a Committee to inquire into the whole question of pilotage, and the giving of certificates to foreigners as 900 pilots. The Committee was composed of gentlemen on both sides of the House, who were selected because they were more or less acquainted with the subject. I am now dealing with the second part of the Motion. The Committee sat, I think, for three months, and the report of its proceedings fills a great many pages. I remember very well what happened on that Committee. I remember that the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, and Trinity House did not think that the granting of certificates to foreigners was of any great importance with regard to the, safety of navigation in waters belonging to this country. As the honourable Member for Caithness very wisely observed, you must remember that if we decline to give pilotage certificates to the captains and mates of foreign vessels the result will be that foreign Powers will deny the same right of pilotage to our captains and mates, and there will be a heavy increase in cost to the shipping companies. In the opinion of the experts, at any rate, who gave evidence before the Committee, the amount of danger likely to arise in case of war is infinitesimal. It was proved before the Committee that the number of foreigners holding pilotage certificates is extraordinarily small. They are principally Norwegians and Danes, who for years and years have come to this country, and, although they may not have become naturalised, are practically British subjects, and have no intention of going back to their own country to live. I would recommend the report of that Committee to the consideration of the House; it is a very strong one. It recommended certain legislation, and as a result, a Pilotage Bill was introduced, which was eventually thrown out in Committee. That is all I have to say with regard to the question of pilotage. Now I wish to say one or two words with regard to what fell from the honourable-Member for Caithness respecting the difficulty of inducing boys to go into the Navy. I very much agree with the honourable Member, but I do not altogether concur with the suggestion of the Member for Gateshead that brigs should be stationed at various points of the coast for the training of lads. I believe the question for the future is one of stokers and not sailors. Of course, you must have sailors to a certain extent, but future wars will be carried on by stokers.
SIR R. PENROSE FITZGERALD
I am afraid that before long British goods will be solely carried in steamboats, and then you will want stokers and not sailors. The House should look to the encouragement of a class of men who will be engineers and stokers, fit to work the machinery on board the great trans-Atlantic liners, and not encourage merely the engagement of men who can simply hand-reef and steer. I think the House would be wisely guided by the report of a Committee which it appointed not so many years ago, and may I add, with regard to the first part of the Resolution, that I entirely agree with the opinion expressed by the Mover.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I think we must all have listened with great interest to the suggestion of the honourable Member for Gateshead, who has spent most of his life in a seaport, but I was seriously disappointed when I found that the sole suggestion lie had to make was that the Government should put a few gunboats round the coast with the view to inducing boys to become sailors. No doubt, when a boy has thus been trained, he enters into the service of some shipowner, and feels delighted that he sails under the British flag. He Thinks, I suppose, of the glorious traditions of the British Navy, and having spent a year at sea, he finds himself in possession of £48; that is, supposing he has had continuous employment. But in these depressed times continuity of work is not always obtainable. If this Debate has shown anything, I think it has proved conclusively that the British sailor is not what he ought to be, by reason of the fact that he is constantly going on what is described as "big bursts." The fact is, the Mercantile Marine offers really no substantial prospects for a boy. The honourable Member for Gateshead tells us that his remedy is gun-brigs.
§ MR. MADDISON
Yes, but if there is a training there must be some equivalent for it. I think the honourable Member for Middlesbrough has substantially made out his case that the 902 British seaman of to-day is not treated in a manner worth of the great part he plays in the trade and commerce of this great Empire, which we all love so dearly, whatever may be our political opinions. You are not going to tempt a better class of men into the Navy by circulating artificial information about the Navy and Naval Reserve. If you want good seamen you must pay a fair and adequate remuneration. Shipowners have no right to come to this House and complain of drunken British seamen, when they are sweating the men in a most abominable manner. Take for instance the question of food. As to that I will not rely upon the-opinion of the Member for Middlesbrough. I will take that of one who it cannot be suggested is prejudiced in favour of the men, as he is an officer on board a ship, and he tells mo that the food provided on many of the smaller liners and in tramp steamers is so bad that no decent man can put up with it for any length of time. I was pleased to hear the suggestion of the honourable Member for Middlesbrough that certificates should be given of competency and efficiency, for I believe that if that were done shipowners would no longer have to complain of the drunkenness of seamen or of the men deserting. Officers of ships, as I know from their own statements, often find great difficulty in dealing with men, and if certificates of competency were issued, that difficulty would be lessened. While I agree that the honourable Member for Middlesbrough has made out a good case for the better treatment of the men employed in the Mercantile Marine, yet I am rather suspicious of this Motion, because I am aware that honourable Members opposite, who are such great patriots, are threatening action in regard to aliens generally. Personally, I know no difference between races and nationalities, and I am bound to say that I see no reason why there should not be foreigners in the Mercantile Marine just as there are in the tailoring, shoemaking, and cabinet-making trades. As I am not prepared to exclude them from British ships, I cannot support the Motion. I listened with great interest to the remarks of the honourable Baronet on the question of pilotage. I know that our pilots hold very strong views with regard to 903 the regulations now enforced. Why a captain who has come to Hull for a quarter of a century should, simply because he is a foreigner, be denied the right to pilot his own ship in British waters, which he knows just as well as any pilot in the Humber, I cannot see. It is because I am a very strong free trader, and because I have no race prejudices at all, that I feel myself unable to support this Motion, although I sympathise to the full with the honourable Member for Middlesbrough.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I have listened to what has proved to be a very interesting and instructive discussion in respect to matters in which I have the greatest interest. For myself, I do not hesitate to say that I do not agree with the honourable Gentleman who has just sat down. I do not regard with satisfaction the very considerable increase which has undoubtedly taken place in the number of foreign seamen on board British ships.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I am glad the honourable Gentleman agrees with me in that. I certainly do not regard it with satisfaction. I think that every legitimate effort should be made to endeavour to man British ships with British sailors. I agree with my honourable Friend the Member for King's Lynn in the admiration he has expressed for the British sailor; indeed I think he has almost exhausted the catalogue of adjectives which can be applied to them. I know that if ever I am on board a ship and we find ourselves in a tight place, I should prefer the vessel being manned with British sailors.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I do not want at the present moment to embark on a discussion with regard to the P. and O. Company. I shall have something to say as to that presently. I am sorry that to-night, when such an interesting discussion is taking place on matters vitally affecting their interests, the shipowning Members of this House are conspicuous by their absence.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I should have been delighted to have seen some shipowner here to reply to some of the charges which have been levelled at their heads, for, no doubt, it can be done most effectively. It is alleged that British sailors are badly treated, and that they were never worse treated than they are at the present moment. I absolutely deny that assertion; on the contrary, I consider that the condition of the British sailor is very fair indeed.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I am very far from saying that no improvement could take place in the lot of the British sailor, but I contend that that lot is better now with regard to food, wages, and lodging than it has ever been at any previous time.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
Certainly. Shipowners are, I am glad to say, in a prosperous condition, and I think it would be a shame if the men whom they employed did not participate to some extent in the success which now happily attends the trade. Something has been said about the efforts which ought to be made to attract more British sailors to the Mercantile Marine, and my honourable Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool in his speech referred to the proposal made by the Government last year in connection with boy work on board ship. That proposal may be good or it may be bad, but, at any rate, it was an honest proposal, and, as far as I know, it is the only practical one made by any Government for the purpose of finding boys to be trained to become British seamen. My honourable Friend thinks that this scheme of ours will not work. He suggests that the shipowners will not avail themselves of it, and that the cost it will involve will be in excess of the grant they are to 905 receive. But we have reason to hope they will avail themselves of it, as several of the largest ship-owning firms have indicated that they are prepared to do so I know there are other large shipowners who are prepared to do the same. I am not so hopeless as is my honourable Friend that this Act will not be availed of. I do not desire to mention any names, but we had an indication from the gentleman whom my honourable Friend has referred to, in the first place suggesting certain concessions which, it was thought, the Government might make. We informed the firm that we were unable to make these concessions, and subsequently we received a further communication from them to the effect that they were going to take the boys without the concessions which were referred to. And, Sir, I know there are other very large and important shipowning firms who are prepared to do the same. But it is very early yet. The Act has not yet come into force. No doubt it requires some amount of consideration and arrangement on the part of the shipowners in order to avail themselves of it, but I hope, as time goes on, that we shall see that advantage is taken of the Act, and that the number of boys who are tarried by the Mercantile Marine to be trained up as British sailors will very largely increase, and very rapidly increase. Sir, my honourable Friend has said that the shipowners object to make use of the scheme because it perpetuates, in their opinion, an objectionable charge. Well, I do think that is rather a strong statement to make. The Government took it in hand to legislate on the lines of a Report of a Committee upon which shipowners were represented, and they practically legislated on the exact lines of the recommendations of that Committee—the unanimous recommendations of that Committee. And they substituted for a perfectly indefensible system of charge a defensible system of charge, which saved the shipping industry generally a very large sum of money, and, I am told, saved to the port of Liverpool no less than £30,000 a year. Well, Sir, I think it is rather a strong tiling, when the Government has legislated in that way, for my honourable Friend to say that they are not going to take advantage of the scheme—and the effect of it will be that we are paying 906 boys for service on board their ships—because they object to pay light dues at all, even the reformed light dues. But then my honourable Friend said that another reason is because the money that we are to give will not pay the shipowners for carrying these boys. Sir, if the shipowners study their own interests, and know their own interests, they will carry these boys without any charge at all, because it is for the purpose of giving them the raw material, providing for them the raw material with which to work their trade, that we propose the scheme which my honourable Friend has deprecated. But, Sir, I am afraid it is not only my honourable Friend's friends who propose, if they can, to wreck the scheme which the Government has proposed. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough did not disguise, when the question came up last year, his view of the case. The honourable Member has bewailed the number of foreigners in the British Mercantile Marine. He wants more British sailors in the Mercantile Marine, and yet he told the House last year, "Whatever I can do to wreck that scheme and to prevent boys taking advantage of it, I will do."
THE BRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
This is the honourable Gentleman who desires to recruit the Mercantile Marine with British sailors.
THE BRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
The honourable Gentleman says—I will do everything I can to prevent these boys becoming British sailors, serving on British ships: that I will do.
§ *MR. HAYELOCK WILSON
Sir, it was in connection with driving the boys into the Naval Reserve that I spoke. I said it was conscription to compel these boys to be members of the Naval Reserve, and I would oppose it—and I will.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I beg the honourable Gentleman's pardon. That is not my recollection of what the honourable Member said.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
Very well, I will leave 907 the honourable Gentleman in regard to that matter. Now, Sir, one other suggestion which has been made, and I think made by the honourable Gentleman along with others, is that the Board of Trade should encourage certificates and continuous discharges. Well, the honourable Gentleman knows that a reply was given in the House of Lords by my noble Friend, Lord Dudley, a few days ago, to the effect that the Board of Trade had now under consideration the question of providing that seamen should be furnished with continuous discharges, and we are now endeavouring to arrange a plan by which that proposal of ours will be carried out, and I agree with the honourable Gentleman that that will be undoubtedly a means—a very good means—by which capable men, men who have proved themselves by their services to be capable of performing the duties of a sailor, will be able to get ready employment, instead of those whose presence on board ships the honourable Member deprecates—and to a certain extent rightly deprecates. But I am bound to say I cannot concur with the honourable Gentleman when lie says that these continuous discharges should contain no record of the character of the individual. Surely it is of the essence of the thing, surely it is of the essence of the whole scheme, that these certificates should inform the captain or the owner what are the qualifications of the individual who seeks employment; and surely one of the principal recommendations for employment would be that a man had discharged his duties well, and had borne a good character, during his previous service. Well, Sir, we have also, I think, in the course of our action done something to assist the sailors, and to keep them out of the hands of that most obnoxious person, the crimp. There is no greater enemy of the sailor than the crimp, and so far as I am concerned, there is nothing in reason that I would not do to prevent him falling into the hands of the crimp; and the honourable Gentleman and the House know that we have extended the transmission scheme, first to one port and then to another port on the Continent, always with growing success, and that we are getting, I am sorry to say, somewhat into trouble in 908 Antwerp, because of the zealous manner in which our agent there, Mr. Shaw, is performing his very responsible duties. To such an extent is he performing those duties, and so admirably is he doing it, that the crimps of Antwerp are up in arms, and the duties which he has to perform are now being performed under circumstances of considerable peril to himself. Sir, we are now in negotiation with the Belgian Government with a view to securing that Mr. Shaw shall obtain that protection to which he is entitled in the performance of duties which are so beneficial to the sailors for whom he desires to act. Now, Sir, the honourable Gentleman has spoken in connection with this matter about some circumstances, regrettable circumstances, which occurred in New York. I am not surprised that the honourable Gentleman thinks that there has been some delay in this matter. I can assure him that the delay does not lie with the Board of Trade. We feel, and I feel very strongly, that the action which has been taken in New York is action which ought to be stopped, and I can only say that the methods of dealing with affairs which occur in foreign countries are not quite so easily arranged as the honourable Gentleman thinks. I think the honourable Gentleman said that if he was sitting on this Bench, in my place, he would put the whole thing right in a fortnight.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I can assure him that that would be some compensation for my removal, if I thought he could do such good work in so short a space of time. These negotiations have been, of course, conducted from the Foreign Office, and they have been conducted, as I said, with a foreign country, and matters cannot be settled quite in the way that the honourable Gentleman thinks. But I can assure him that the matter is by no means being lost sight of, and we are determined, as far ashes in our power, that the evils of which he justly complains shall be remedied. Sir, I do not think that it is necessary for me to make many remarks upon what has been said by the honourable Gentleman the Member for Caithness 909 and others with regard to the employment of lascars. The matter is not by any means free from difficulty, in consequence of the Indian Merchant Shipping Act and the English Merchant Shipping Act not running on parallel lines.
§ DR. CLARK
I did not mean the P. & O. steamers going to India. I mean the Australian steamers, which never go near India. There may be some doubt regarding the P. & O. steamers going to and from India; there can be no doubt regarding those going to Australia, and never touching, nor being near, any Indian port.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
Well, Sir, I only allude to that question, not for the purpose of discussing it to-night, because I think, although it may come within the technical limits of the Resolution, it is not altogether germane to what we are discussing just now. What I wanted to protest against was what the honourable Gentleman said with regard to our action, or inaction, because his reason why the Board of Trade was not acting was that there was a colleague of mine a director of the P. & O. Company. Well, Sir, that was a reason, the honourable Member said. I never knew that I had a colleague, until two days ago, who was a director there; my colleague has never mentioned such a thing to me, nor have I ever heard that he had anything whatever to do with it until it was mentioned in the House the other day. Sir the honourable Gentleman should not make charges of that kind, charges which are absolutely unfounded, without knowing whether there is or is not any foundation for the charges. Now, a great many reasons have been given why it is that foreign sailors are taken on board ship instead of British sailors. The Board of Trade some time ago sent an inquiry round to all the Mercantile Marine offices in the country, asking them to explain, if they could, why it was that these foreigners were taken on—Whether of late there has been any considerable increase in the number of foreign seamen engaged in your district?Whether the employment of foreign seamen is, in your experience, due to the lack of British seamen; and, if not, to what other cause it may be attributed?910 Well, Sir, I will not weary the House by reading the whole of the replies we received, but they are wonderfully alike, from every quarter. I will read soma of them. Here is one from Hull—Foreigners preferred, because they give less trouble and are more amenable to discipline, more attentive to their duties when in foreign ports.Here are some others—NEWCASTLE.—Some few masters prefer foreigners, thinking they are more amenable to discipline. Foreigners taken because of a lack of British seamen. Foreigners are more sober, less independent, and more workable.FALMOUTH.—Scandinavians are good sailors, and are steadier than Britishers.SOUTH SHIELDS.—Good English sailors go in steamers, and there is a lack of good English seamen for sailing ships. Foreigners are more amenable.GRAVESEND.—The employment of foreigners not due to lack of British. Some masters prefer foreigners, as they think they are more sober and amenable to discipline. Foreigners give less trouble.(Laughter.) Well, I think that is a very good point. I will not trouble the House with all these various reports, but there can be no doubt that a great many of these foreign sailors, especially Scandinavians, are extraordinarily good sailors, and they do their work uncommonly well, and I think, in all likelihood, they are perhaps somewhat more sober, and, although it created a laugh, more amenable to discipline. I think that the honourable Gentleman himself will acknowledge that discipline is one of the prime qualities on board ship, and, therefore, I fail to see why the fact of masters preferring foreigners because they are more amenable should raise a jeer such as that which was raised just now. Well, Sir, I myself should strongly object, much as I desire to see more British sailors employed, to anything in the way of legislation to coerce or to compel owners to put on board their ships either English sailors altogether, or even a proportion of English sailors. Honourable Gentlemen have repudiated all desire to go back upon the Navigation Laws; and I think they are right. We have no right to interfere, in my opinion, with the way in which shipowners conduct their business, so for as the choice as to whom they shall employ is concerned. We have a right— the country has a right—to impose obligations upon shipowners to employ 911 masters and officers who are capable of performing the duties which those masters and officers are called upon to perform. But apart from that I do not think we have any more right to interfere with shipowners as to the men they employ than we have to interfere with millowners and the people that they employ. So, Sir, any proposition of that kind, that we should interfere, either by legislation or otherwise, with the freedom of ship-owners to put on board their ships those whom they think will perform the duties they are called upon to perform in the best manner possible—any proposal of that kind would certainly meet with my strenuous opposition. But I do not understand that either the seamen or my honourable Friend suggest any such thing. My honourable Friend in his Motion expresses regret—asks the House to express its concern that the proportion of British seamen in the Mercantile Marine is rapidly decreasing. Well, Sir, I confess that I share that concern of my honourable Friend. Take, for instance, the question of a war—the question of a war where the Naval Reserves were called out. What would be the result under present circumstances? The result would be to deplete British ships of British seamen; and, instead of being partially manned by foreigners, they would, under existing circumstances, be altogether manned by foreigners. That, I think, is matter for very great regret, and if any suggestion can be made to remedy that state of things, or to endeavour to remedy that state of things, which the whole House regrets, then the House would do wrong not to consider any suggestion that might be made. My honourable Friend, however, proceeds further, and he deals not only with the sailors, but he deals in his Motion with the pilots. My honourable Friend the Member for Cambridge referred to a Committee of this House which considered that question in the year 1888, and, as he said, the Committee came to the conclusion that there was no harm, either to the State or otherwise, in granting pilots' certificates to foreigners. Rear-Admiral Sir George Nares, of the Harbour Department, advocated a continuance of the practice; while Captain Wharton, speaking on behalf of the Admiralty, con- 912 tested the supposition that any real danger could exist from the knowledge of the navigation of the Channel, which an alien master could be supposed to possess by having a foreign pilot's certificate.The granting of pilotage certificates to aliens is a subject of great difficulty, and your Committee offer an opinion on the subject with some hesitation. The evidence of the pilots was in strong condemnation of the policy of granting these certificates, partly on the grounds of want of reciprocal advantages to British masters, and of national danger. This view as regards national danger was supported with unanimity by the Trinity Houses of London and Hull, and by other witnesses, who contend moreover that the offer to grant such certificates holds out a premium to the foreigner to acquire a more intimate knowledge of our channels than he would otherwise obtain. On the other hand, Mr. Gray, of the Board of Trade, and Rear-Admiral Sir George Nares, of the Harbour Department of that office, advocated the continuance of this practice, whilst the last-named witness and Captain Wharton, speaking on behalf of the Admiralty, contested the supposition that any real national danger could exist from the knowledge of the navigation and channels which an alien master is supposed to possess as a condition of obtaining a pilotage certificate.Your Committee, whilst fully respecting the opinions of those who are not in favour of granting these certificates, are disposed to take a broad view of the subject. It cannot be denied that in bestowing these certificates on aliens we are giving that for which we obtain in the majority of cases no reciprocal advantages, and it must further be said that under the treaties in existence with regard to pilotage between the United Kingdom and foreign Powers, as your Committee interpret them, the foreign Powers who are parties to such treaties engage to give reciprocal advantages. At the same time, your Committee are aware that there are great difficulties, under the special pilotage laws in force in most of the countries in question, in giving full effect to these engagements.Looking at the whole subject from the standpoint of public policy, and mindful of the fact that the number of certificates held' does not exceed 35, and having regard to the important fact that any friction arising between the United Kingdom and a foreign Power through the withdrawal on our part of these certificates might prove injurious to British trade and shipping, your Committee are of opinion that the granting and renewal from time to time of certificates to aliens should be continued, and they would respectfully suggest that no favourable opportunity should be lost by Her Majesty's Government to obtain for this country full reciprocity from other Powers in regard to advantages which we may from time to time confer upon them.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
No doubt the number is larger now than it was then—that was in 1888—but the conclusion arrived at by that Committee would apply quite as well now, and I agree with several honourable Gentlemen who spoke to-night that there is really no danger at all in granting a certificate. If danger exists, it is in these men making themselves qualified to get certificates. Well, Sir, I think I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised in connection with this very important discussion, and very interesting discussion. The question now arises as to what should be done with the Motion of my honourable Friend, and for my part I still adhere to the views which I have expressed as to the inadvisability of Parliament interfering, by legislation or otherwise, to prevent shipowners from carrying on their business, so long as they carry it on in accordance with the law. I join with my honourable Friend in expressing the concern which all of us feel that so large a proportion of foreigners do man our Mercantile Marine, and if my honourable Friend desires the House to register their concern, and their trust that the Government may take such steps as they think right to deal with the whole matter, I shall not myself resist the Motion.
I listened with great attention to the scheme sketched out by the honourable Member for Gateshead for providing a number of trained boys for the Mercantile Marine. I am bound to say that I think that scheme, so far as sketched out, an admirable one. And I also listened with great attention to the remarks by the honourable Member for Cambridge on the subject. The qualities that a lad acquires from the habit of going aloft are invaluable to him in after life. It teaches him steadiness, to keep his head steady, and no matter how long he may be at sea, he will never forget all the advantages he derived from that training. Now, Sir, what has been 914 the result since sailing ships have gone out of service? Why, seamen suffer from dyspepsia now, a thing formerly unknown. I think that a training on a sailing ship is of the very greatest use to anyone who follows the sea as a livelihood. I am bound to say that I do not agree with one remark that the honourable Member for Caithness made. He stated that in the old days of sailing ships boys were employed because it was dangerous for men to go up to the royal yard. Well, I have served a good many years in ships constantly at sea under sail, and have never heard of that be fore. I never heard of any men who found it dangerous to go on a royal yard when there was need to go there. I suppose the honourable Member's experience has been very different to mine. But it was contended that there is no necessity for boys in tramp steamers. That is quite likely. There is not the same need to serve an apprenticeship to the work of a tramp steamer. Every thing is done by machinery, even steering, and therefore shipowners will naturally be disinclined to employ more boys than they can help. But I think that before long we shall find that some change will be necessary, not only in the men, but also in the construction of our ocean-going steamers. During the last few weeks, what have we seen? Ship after ship breaking down, steering-gear going wrong, ship thrown on her beam ends—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I will not assume that the honourable and gallant Member intends to talk the Motion out.
No, Sir; I will not detain the House any further, but I can only say that I do think the scheme as sketched out by the honourable Member for Gateshead is worthy of every consideration, not only by the Government, but by shipowners as well.
§ Question put.915
That this House views with deep concern the fact that the proportion of British seamen in the Mercantile Marine is rapidly decreasing and also that pilotage certificates are being issued in increasing numbers in British waters to Foreigners, and trusts the Government will take prompt steps to inquire into the cause, in order to secure a remedy for this state of affairs.