§ 1. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £488,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901, for the salaries and expenses of the Customs Department."1383
§ MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to a sot of men known as the customs watchers. Those men have susperseded in the Customs a body of men at one time known as the Custom House officers. The Custom House officers received a salary of £100 a year, permanent employment, uniform, sick leave on full pay, and a pension of two-thirds of their salary. The customs watchers do exactly the same duty as the Custom House officers performed, and their wages at the present time are only 21s. a week. They have to watch all dutiable goods in barges, ships, docks, and warehouses. When first appointed their wages were 19s. a week, and their hours were nine to four in winter, and eight to four in summer, so their pay amounted to something like 5d. an hour. This was previous to July 1896. After that date they were made permanent labourers at a wage of 21s. a week, but their hours were altered to fifty-four hours a week instead of forty-eight hours a week, and their wages work out at something like 4½d. an hour; so that when they wore only casual laborers at a wage of 19s. a week their wages worked out at more per hour than they do now when they are in the permanent service. They have to do nine hours in the day between six in the morning and six in the evening; they have to pay their own railway fares, and sometimes their duty extends from the Custom House down as far as Tilbury Dock, a distance of nine miles, taking them very often two hours to get to and from their duty. Overtime does not count in their wages until after six in the over ling or before six in the morning, and when they are paid overtime the Government only pay 6d. an hour, whereas the merchants are quite willing to pay 8d., which for some reason or other they are not allowed to pay. These men have no emoluments whatever as compared with the Custom House officers whoso place they have taken. It is quite true, I believe, that after ten years service they are entitled to a bonus of £1 a year; but many of them have been in the service, I am given to understand, over fifteen years, and there is no possibility of promotion. As a matter of fact the 21s. is a maximum wage and a minimum wage. And those men are unable to live near the docks and near their calling in consequence of their wages being so small and rents 1384 being so very high. Last night we were discussing the housing question and the way in which it affects the workers, and I think it will be argued on all sides that out of 21s. a week, it is impossible to pay 8s. or 9s. a week for two or three rooms. There are some 250 of those men employed in the port of London. I would remind the House here that the Royal Commission dealing with the matter of sweating laid it down that no man should receive a minimum wage of loss than 24s. a week; and these men are asking for a very moderate increase on their present wages, an increase from 21s. to 24s. a week. I do not propose to deal with this subject by a comparison with local authorities and municipalities and the wages they pay, but I consider that those men are entitled to a better wage than they are now receiving. I was reading a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, the Secretary to the Treasury, in which he advocated a principle by means of which in the Army promotion from the ranks should be made easier. He also said that the officers were entitled to better pay from the Government than they are receiving. The right hon. Gentleman has now an opportunity of putting his theory into operation in another direction, in regard to those customs watchers, if he is consistent in his views. I do not know whether he has one view for his constituency and another view for the House; but if he believes that the officer in the British Army is entitled to more consideration, surely that principle must apply to the customs watchers who have to work from six in the morning to six in the evening at the paltry wage of 21s. a week, with no prospect of their wages ever being increased. I know that some of these men are in receipt of a pension, but supposing they are; that fact only goes to show that they have been employed in some other Department of the Government.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HANBURY, Preston)
Is the hon. Gentleman alluding to boatmen or——
§ MR. STEADMAN
Customs watchers. It has been argued over and over again that there are emoluments such as sick pay and pensions, but these men get no pension, and where the Government does 1385 give a pension it is generally taken out of the worker, because the pension given is deducted out of the wages week by week. It is no argument to say that because a man has a pension he should work for less than what has been recognised as the minimum wage, sixpence an hour. Unfortunately the majority of these men have no pension, and are never likely to get one; nevertheless their wages are only 21s. a week. I hope and trust that on this question the right hon. Gentleman will make some moderate concession. It is recognised—all over London at any rate—that sixpence an hour is the wage for unskilled labour, but these men are above unskilled work because of the responsible position they hold under the Government, and therefore I think they are entitled to a higher wage than 21s. a week. I beg to move the reduction of the vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B (Post Establishments) be reduced by £100."—Mr. Steadman.
§ * VISCOUNT SANDON (Gravesend)
I have some hesitation in speaking on this Vote to-night, when I consider that only yesterday my hon. friends the Members for Hull and Grimsby received a deputation of Custom House officers, when we recommended the men to go direct to the Chairman of Customs and lay their grievances before him. But having been asked to take up the case of these officers, I may be permitted to address the Committee. I believe that hon. Gentlemen representing the Tower Hamlets are going to speak on behalf of the boatmen, and therefore I will restrict myself to the case of the preventive officers. Last session I ventured to bring their principal grievances before this Committee, and I do not now propose to weary the Committee with the arguments I used on that occasion. I will content myself by saying they embrace promotion, salaries, and Sunday pay. With regard to salary it is not a question of whether it is a fair wage or not, but when they consider the duties they have to perform and compare those with the duties which the lower grade examining officers have to perform, they think it is unjust. As regards Sunday pay, I should like to mention a point which I think requires investigation; and that is, that where one man in the same grade 1386 may work six months on end one Sunday after another, another man may work one Sunday only in four or one Sunday in three. Then as to the question of promotion, I think it is admitted on all sides, including the Board of Customs, that the promotion among the preventive officers is practically nil, though it is said that, as compensation they get a high rate of pay. One of the grievances put forward by the preventive officers last year was the expense of having to provide a uniform. That has been got rid of by adding £5 a year to the man's initial salary, but this £5 only went after last July to those boatmen who were promoted to become preventive officers and not to the existing preventive officers who had got up this agitation. And now I come to the crux of the whole question, that there has been a breach of faith. At first I could hardly believe that there had been a breach of faith on the part of the Treasury, but I am afraid upon looking into the matter that there is no doubt about it. These preventative officers were originally boatmen who joined, say, in 1884. Nothing happened until 1891, when it was discovered that a certain number of additional men would be required as examining officers. These men entered the service on the understanding that if any vacancy occurred in the ranks of the examining officers they should be promoted. In March, 1891, that understanding was departed from, and I contend that that was a breach of faith on the part of the Treasury. A sop was given to the boatmen by creating a new class now called preventive officers, and these men are neglected, and have no chance of promotion. I do hope that the Financial Secretary will see the justice of, their complaints, and will see his way to give them the £5 a year in respect of the uniform. Secondly, I would ask him to meet the preventive officers himself, and see if he cannot remove the cause of friction which at present exists.
§ MR. H. S. SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
I feel I must apologise for again addressing the Committee upon this Vote, but having looked again into the case of those men I am more impressed than ever by the fact that their grievance is a real one. These men who are employed in the Customs suffer from a want of that liberality which one would expect to see 1387 in the Government, which should be a model employer. Last year when I brought this subject forward I thought I did obtain some small promise from the right hon. Gentleman that he would endeavour to visit the port of London and see for himself the condition of these men. So far he has not apparently found time to do do so, and that has caused very great disappointment to the men. What I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is that when it does take place this should be a surprise visit; if he would make a surprise visit he would, I venture to think, give very different replies to the stereotyped answers which he gave us last year. The question of salary is a very serious grievance. A man starts at a salary of £55 a year, and rises by yearly increments to £85 a year. There is an extra £5, which I will deal with presently. When boatmen first entered the service they had, in addition to their salary, "seizure money," and when smuggling was rife in the old days that seizure money amounted very often to very large sums, sometimes reaching as much as £70. In those days they had to stop cargoes being smuggled, and a certain percentage was given to them on the value of the cargo. Now, in order to reach the maximum salary they have to serve fifteen years, and I submit that after five or six years service these men are quite as capable as after fifteen. Although they are called Customs boatmen their duties are those of the examining officers. I know very well that I may be told, as I have been told before, that this question was gone into at the time of the Goschen inquiry. But the boatmen who came to give evidence before that inquiry were not the selection of the men themselves, but of the higher officials, and did not in any way bring out the grievances of the men. Now, in 1893, there was an increment of 10s., and in 1895 £1, and the maximum salary was increased by £5. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to say that that is an equivalent to what was earned previous to the Goschen inquiry, I fail to see it. Prior to that time, as I have said, these men received seizure money from time to time, and in that way earned as much as £70 per year. Previous to 1891 boatmen also acted as landing officers, and in this way a largo amount of extras were received. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the demand for these posi- 1388 tions is very great. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for 380 vacancies on the London and North Western Rail-way there were 3,300 applications, and that the wages given on that railway are in every capacity larger than those which are given by the Customs? If the right hon. Gentleman is going to say, as he said before, that if a man takes a job knowing what the wages are, he has no right to ask for more, then I would reply that in every industry in the country wages have risen, and that being so, the Government should take this case into consideration. I recollect a resolution being passed that the Government should be model employers. I take a model employer to be one who would not have to be dragged on by other employers or who would try to squeeze something more from the men, but rather one who would lead other employers in giving the men that which was absolutely due to them. The work of the Government would be done far better if there was harmony between the men who are employed and those who employ them, and if the men did not feel they had a grievance. Passing from the salaries, I wish to say a word with regard to Sunday pay. Some years ago the Customs officials petitioned for a day's pay for Sunday work, and they were met in this very curious manner: The Is. a day which they had before was taken off, and £5 a year was added to their income. I know perfectly well that these men are expected, if called upon, to do seven days work, but I think it has been recognised in practically all branches of the Government service that Sunday work should be well paid for, and we in the House of Commons have set our faces against it wherever it can be avoided. All people want their day's rest if they can possibly get it, and if the men are employed on Sunday it is only proper that they should be paid, if anything, something extra for giving up their Sunday rest. Then comes the question of the boatmen. The Customs boatmen have only had to change their stations since 1895, and in this case, when they went into the Customs service, they did not expect to change, nor were they changed from station to station. Customs boatmen are now required to be at one station for six months, and are then moved to another. I do not think it can for one moment be considered that the annual sum paid to these men is such 1389 that they can be expected to move their home, furniture, and belongings, and take other rooms, without any assistance being given by the Government. If the men do not adopt that course, they have to pay a considerably increased amount of travelling expenses. I understand that Fenchurch Street is taken as a starting point, and that the travelling expenses beyond that are credited to the boatmen, but that does not meet the necessities of the case. I submit that under these circumstances it would be a very great kindness on the part of the Customs to give these men something to help them in the extreme difficulty of their position, so as to make their lives somewhat easier for them to bear. I have fully inquired into these grievances, and I appeal with confidence to the right hon. Gentleman to do something for their removal.
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I do not intend to touch in detail on any of the grievances which have already been mentioned, because, although it is well that those grievances should be discussed and ventilated in the House of Commons, they are so largely matters of detail, they vary so much as between class and class, and they are of such a numerous character, involving so many men, that I do not think the Committee are in a position to exercise a matured judgment in regard to the justice or injustice of those particular claims. It is easy to advocate increases of wages, but it seems to me there is only one person who can be really held responsible in the matter, and that is the member of the Government for the time being who represents the Treasury. What I and several others have always advocated, both privately to the right hon. Gentleman and in this House, is that the time has come when these claims, grievances, and alleged injustices should be personally inquired into by the Secretary to the Treasury. There are good reasons why that should be done. It is impossible for us sitting hero to decide the rights and wrongs of these detailed grievances, and it is impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to decide in his mind through the permanent officials in regard to these matters by correspondence with the representatives of the men. We have had masses of correspondence between the men on the one hand and the Department on the 1390 other, the men making allegations, the Department denying them; the men making re-allegations and the Department re-denying them. That method of settling the question is perfectly futile, and will never lead to a satisfactory conclusion. When I was at the Colonial Office on one occasion there had been considerable mismanagement in one of the Crown colonies, and we sent someone out to inquire into the matter. When he returned this official said—I can tell you why there has been all this mismanagement. There is no single official on the island who is on speaking terms with another, and, therefore, everything is carried on by correspondence.In the case before the Committee there has been too much correspondence, and not enough personal inquiry. I should be very sorry if the right hon. Gentleman dealt with one particular class of these men—for instance, the boatmen— and not the watchers and so on. If he deals with one he must deal with all; and unless he can personally go into these cases it is impossible for him to deal fairly with the matter, as he may grant a privilege to one class which would give them an unjust advantage over another class. Then I believe if the men were able to see the right hon. Gentleman face to face they would be able to convince him—I will not say of the justice of all their claims, but at any rate of the substantial justice of many of them, and I believe if the men had the satisfaction of meeting the right hon. Gentleman they would be quite willing to abide by his decision, and the dissatisfaction which at present exists would very largely, if not entirely, disappear. There is one particular class who appear to me to have a special claim to consideration and inquiry by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I have no desire to charge the right hon. Gentleman with any breach of faith, and I hope he will not for one moment think I am endeavouring to do so. Last session the right hon. Gentleman was approached by my hon. friend the Member for Stepney, and myself, with a view to inducing him to do what I have been pressing this afternoon, namely, personally to see the representatives of these watchers, to go himself into their grievances, and to see how far they were justified. The right hon. Gentleman certainly agreed to see these men, and the matter got so far that I actually 1391 wrote asking the men the particular day and time that would suit them. That I could not have done unless I had at all events felt justified in thinking the right hon. Gentleman would receive them. However, for reasons sufficient for himself, and without, I am certain, intending to commit any breach of faith, the right hon. Gentleman thought on the whole he would decline to see these men. Therefore, rightly or wrongly, misunderstanding or no misunderstanding, I think these men have a special claim to the right hon. Gentleman's personal consideration in this matter, and I trust he will see his way to receive those men with the other classes concerned. As regards the particular motion before the House, my vote will largely depend on the attitude the right hon. Gentleman takes as to the suggestion I have ventured to make. If he is ready to see the men I have no more to say, for I feel confident he will do justice to the different classes of men and also justice as between the men and the Treasury. I admit I am asking him to undertake a very heavy job, and that is one of the reasons that many of us regret that the right hon. Gentleman's time is not altogether free for his work as Secretary to the Treasury. Unfortunately, he has to a large extent the work of the Post Office on his shoulders, and this will be an additional burden upon him. It is, however, a matter of such importance that I think we may fairly ask the right hon. Gentlemen to undertake the work. Last year, in regard to the Customs boatmen, the right hon. Gentleman used two arguments against their claim; in the first place, that there were hundreds of men whose names were down for places as boatmen, whereas the number of vacancies was not large; and, secondly, that their claims were inquired into a few years ago and the inquiry could not be re-opened. I must say I regretted very much to hear the right hon. Gentleman at this time of day use that first argument. I remember very well that that was the argument used at the time of the dock strike, that there were thousands of men who would hang about the dock gates to get threepence or fourpence per hour, and therefore it was not necessary to pay higher wages. I do not think that is an argument which ought to be used by anyone representing the Government. The Ridley Commission, on which the right hon. Gentle- 1392 man himself sat, repudiated this argument. In regard to the other matter, it is argued by him that, as it has been inquired into, there is no necessity to reopen the question now. But this inquiry was held nearly ten years ago, and it was carried out by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds. But that inquiry was held on the evidence of witnesses selected not by the men themselves but by the permanent officials. Then, again, during that inquiry the question of hours was gone into, but the question of wages was largely ignored. I agree with my hon. friend the Member for Lime-house that you ought not to decline to reopen the question because it was inquired into in 1891. I do not want to detain the Committee by going into the details raised by my hon. friend behind me. There is just one point, however, I should like to mention. It seems to me that the argument is so very clear that I should like to say a word upon the question of the travelling expenses of the Customs' boatmen. These men when they go from district to district have certain travelling allowances which assist them very considerably. Now that London is divided into twelve districts, these men are practically debarred from receiving the full travelling allowances which they had before London was so divided into districts. The expenses from Fenchurch Street to any particular place are still allowed, but they are not allowed expenses to and from Fenchurch Street. That arrangement might be all right when these men lived close to their work, and were able to start from Fenchurch Street without the expense of travelling there. Now the bulk of these men live further east or south, and they are some distance away, and this burden of travelling expenses not only involves a certain amount of time which they have to devote to travelling, but it is a very heavy item, and a burden upon the comparatively small wages which they earn. What I ask is that these expenses should be put on some proper and sensible footing, and if they do have travelling expenses they should include the whole journey which the men have actually to travel, In regard to the watchers, my hon. friend behind me touched on one point which I think requires a little elucidation. He stated the hours and wages of the watchers, and he said that many of these 1393 men received pensions as well, and he said that because they are in receipt of these pensions their wages were fixed at a low figure. I do not think that ought to be the case. These pensions are received for past services, and ought not to be taken into account in estimating present wages. I am obliged to the Committee for allowing me to make these general observations, and I will conclude by reminding the right hon. Gentleman that the whole question of the wages of Government employees has been, in principle, decided by the House. This House has decided on more than one occasion that Government employees ought to receive similar wages to those current for that particular class of work. We have laid it down in the first place that where Government work is put out to contract the men shall receive the same wages as are paid by the rest of the Government employers in the same trade, and it has been laid down by successive Ministries that the Government themselves should be generous employers of labour. In regard to the class of labour which we are now discussing, it does seem to me that we fall short of that standard and ideal. It is because I feel certain that if the right hon. Gentleman would only meet these men and discuss the matter with them, we should get justice in regard to this question, that I shall be bound to vote for the Amendment of my hon. friend, unless the right hon. Gentleman gives us some pledge that he will see these men.
§ MR. DOUGHTY (Great Grimsby)
said he was perfectly certain that in the seaports around the coasts the preventive officers and boatmen were very much underpaid in comparison with the wages paid for similar work in other ports. The right hon. Gentleman said, when this matter was brought forward before, that there was an abundance of men applying for these various situations. Surely, that was no reason why they should be paid a very unfair and unreasonable salary. A boatman received £55 a year, rising in the course of fifteen years to a maximum of £85. That salary might have been all right many years ago, when living and rent were much cheaper than they were today. That was a miserable wage for the Government to pay for that class of labour, and the same criticisms which applied to the boatmen also applied 1394 to the preventive officers. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to receive the men himself, and hear what they had to say for themselves. If they had no case, then they did not deserve to have a remedy found them. If the right hon. Gentleman found that they were underpaid, as there were only about 1,100 boatmen and 300 or 400 preventive officers, it was a very small matter for the Treasury to give satisfaction to these men, who were now doing their work in a highly satisfactory manner.
§ MR. HANBURY
The Treasury has very great hesitation in interfering with the discretion of the heads of Departments except very good reasons are shown. Undoubtedly, there is at the head of the Customs a gentleman who has gone into this question most thoroughly, and who is by no means disposed to cut down the wages of the men, and who has the greatest anxiety to treat them fairly. I, therefore, think that, until some final decision is arrived at by the Board of Customs it is not right that the senior Department should interpose in the matter. It seems to me quite clear that there is still a general feeling of discontent in regard to these particular men, and I am perfectly willing not only to inquire personally into the matter, but I am also willing to admit that in order to settle the grievance it might be wise if I were now to receive these men. But what is of more importance is that I should actually see these men at their work. It is one thing to see them in a room and another to see them at work where you can see what that work actually is. I had intended to go and see these men at work at the port of London, but as the House knows, I have had a good deal to do, and I was not able to carry out my intention. With regard to the particular cases mentioned, I think two things ought to be remembered with regard to the present demand for a rise in wages. The first is that, so recently as 1896, when the present watchers were first appointed, every one of them signed a document agreeing to the present rate of wages. I am told that the complaints do not come from the class of men who have since come in as Navy, Army, and Police pensioners, but they come from an older class of men, who were getting before 1395 1896 wages a great deal lower than they are receiving now, and who were then getting much less regular employment. It is rather remarkable that the complaints should come only from the men who are distinctly benefited by the new arrangements made in 1896. I quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman opposite said as regards men with pensions. I have always said, and I am perfectly prepared to abide by it, that the fact that a man is receiving a pension earned in a totally different service ought not to be taken into account in calculating his wages. It is said that 21s. a week is a too low rate of wages. No doubt these men are not entitled to pensions like boatmen and officers; but when we speak of 21s. I do not think it can be fairly said that a man receiving that wage is in the same position as a man not in the Government service, because, as I said last year, the various advantages which these men get really bring up their wages to a great deal over 24s. They are employed practically all the year round, and besides that they have other advantages. For instance, they have sick leave, a gratuity on leaving the service, and fourteen weekday holidays every year. I think if these advantages are added up, it will be found that they represent a great deal more than the 3s. difference between 21s. and 24s. As a matter of fact the new men who have come in have not petitioned. It is the older class who up to 1896 wore not so well treated as they are now who are complaining. There is one thing I should like to say with regard to these men. What strikes me is that the worst feature —the really bad feature—in their case, is the absence of promotion. They may go on year after year without practically getting any increase in their wages, and I will sec whether it may not be possible to reward the more deserving of these men by increasing their wages after a certain number of years service. That would be a reasonable way of dealing with this difficulty, and I venture to think that possibly the Treasury and the Board of Customs may agree among themselves to better the conditions of the men in that respect. Now I come to the case of the boatmen. I was rather surprised to hear my hon. friend talk of the grand old smuggling days, and to suggest that these men should be paid on a scale of compensation for the good things they were in the habit of getting in those 1396 days. After all, those days are more or less remote, and I think very few of the men engaged at present have the dimmest recollection of them, or had any association whatever with them. My hon. friend then raised another point. He said that I stated last year that the number of applications was enormous, and he supposed, because I said that, that I therefore assumed that the fact of this large number of applications ought to govern the rate of wages. What I said was that the mere fact that there was competition ought not to govern the wages of these men, and that they ought to receive a fair wage, regardless of the competition. I say precisely the same now. Looking at the pensions these men are entitled to, their chances of promotion, which are greater now than before, and to the other advantages given to persons on the establishment, I say that their pay is, after all, quite commensurate with the work they have to do. When you endeavour to compare them with examining officers, you are attempting an impossible task, because of the difference in their work, and anyone who knows the details would not think of comparing the work of one class with that of the other. Then my hon. friend said that I stated that the present First Lord of the Admiralty went into these cases in 1892, and fixed the salaries, and that the salaries having been fixed so recently we ought to abide by them. That argument cannot be used any longer, because in certain cases we have altered the Goschen scheme. Where it has been shown to us that the Goschen scheme was working unfairly we have modified it and we are willing to do so in the future. With regard to the question of Sunday pay, I think it is a little unwise of the men to raise this question, because it was distinctly understood when the scale of wages was fixed that the Sunday pay was to be pooled, as it were, in the weekday pay, and the Treasury having entered into that arrangement cannot fairly be expected to go back upon it now. With regard to travelling expenses I was astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman opposite say that we ought to pay the travelling expenses of all these men to the Custom House. That argument would apply to every Civil servant in the State.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
What I intended to convey was that a sum should be paid to those men in lieu of travelling expenses, and that it was rather an anomaly that they should have travelling expenses in some cases and not in others.
§ MR. HANBURY
The men are supposed to pay their own expenses to the Custom House, but with regard to certain outlying stations, such as Mount Pleasant and the Victoria Docks, it has been arranged that they shall receive the difference between the fare to the Customs House and the fare to these stations. There are very considerable practical objections to making these allowances in all cases. As a matter of fact even when the men get these allowances they walk the greater part of the distance, and the allowance goes into their own pockets. A few hard cases are likely to arise, especially with regard to men working in distant clocks between midnight and five a.m. That case has not been mentioned. Really the worst cases are not always mentioned, though grievances are brought forward which are not so substantial as others that might be mentioned. With regard to the case I have referred to, I will consult with the Board of Customs as to whether something cannot be done in the case of these men. It appears to be a real grievance, which, so far as I understand it at present, I am quite willing to deal with. The only other point raised was in reference to the case of preventive officers. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord say that there had been a breach of faith in connection with them. If he can show me that there has been a breach of faith, I will take care that it is put an end to, because our first duty is to keep faith in matters of this kind, and I was not quite able to follow the noble Lord in what the breach of faith exactly consists. Perhaps he will be kind enough to state it to me personally, and I will promise him it will be looked into. With regard to uniforms, I think the noble Lord has forgotten that this very year the salaries of these men have been raised in order to meet the difficulty as regards uniforms, because we found that the difference between the maximum of the boatman's salary and the minimum of the preventive officer's salary was so small that it gave the preventive officer a very little increase, and we have endeavoured 1398 to meet the difficulty by increasing the minimum. In regard to Sunday pay, it was a little unwise of the men to raise this question, because, as in the case of the boatmen, it was agreed from the beginning that it should be included in the weekly wage. The system of paying separately for Sunday work was abandoned under the Goschen scheme four or five years ago; and in calculating the new salaries full consideration has been given to that fact.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
Why should one class of officer work every Sunday for six months, and another only one in three months?
§ MR. HANBURY
That is one of the details which I cannot have at my command at a moment's notice, but if my noble friend will consult with me I shall endeavour to do justice in the case.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I do not rise for the purpose of following the right hon. Gentleman through the detailed answer which he has just given, but only in order to express the satisfaction which, I believe, is generally felt on this side of the House and probably on the other also, with the initial promise which the right hon. Gentleman has made. I understand that he undertook to meet the representatives of the men affected by the questions raised in this debate—representatives selected by themselves to be seen by him, to whom the delegates will state and argue the case of their grievances. That is a most satisfactory result of this debate— so satisfactory that I, for one, believe that the House generally would gladly have relieved the right hon. Gentleman from any obligation to offer the detailed observations he has been good enough to make. I hope that the arguments he has advanced in the course of his detailed answer do not imply that his mind is so made up that he will not be able to give an unprejudiced consideration to the men's case. I understood him to say that he will see the men at work and then receive them in his own council chamber and talk matters over with them across the table. I congratulate him upon the policy he has announced. I am perfectly sure that it is a wise policy, and I venture to say so from my own experience in another Department, where the grievances were 1399 much larger than those with which he has to deal. I do so also from the conviction that the men in this Department, as well as in other Departments, will not be satisfied with merely seeing the permanent heads. It may be only a prejudice against them, but at any rate they have a prejudice in favour of the right hon. Gentleman, and would like rather to see the Parliamentary representative of the Department than the permanent officers of the Department, however distinguished they may be. I do not think they are wrong in that, and I think that their preference for the right hon. Gentleman is justified. That being so, there is no occasion for me to follow the right hon. Gentleman through his detailed argument; and I venture to appeal to my hon. friend the Member for Stepney, who initiated this debate—and I congratulate him on the skill and moderation with which he did so—to be satisfied with the important promises given by the right hon. the Secretary to the Treasury, and to withdraw his motion.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I am not quite so sure that the result of the right hon. Gentleman's promises is so satisfactory. The natural order in which these matters should be conducted should be by the men making representations to their immediate superiors. I understand that that is what has occurred, so far as I can gather from the reply of the right hon. Gentleman, and that no result followed. He himself consulted the Customs authorities and nothing was done. Now it is proposed that the right hon. Gentleman himself should enter into relations with the men. There are a great many practical objections to that course. The experience of this world is that a Department is not usually disinclined to raise the wages of its employees. The difficulty is not with the Department, but with the Treasury. I suspect that in this, as in many other cases, the Customs Department would have been ready to give a small additional sum to these hard-worked men had they not been prevented by the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman says he will see the men at work. Does he know what their work really is? Is he prepared to go out in the middle of the night in a small boat, in a gale of wind, to inspect the work of the boatmen and the preventive officers? I suspect that by the time that he gets to the 1400 vessel he will be no judge of their work. Of course it is easy enough to go to a dock and look on there; but the real hard work is when the boatmen and preventive officers go out in heavy weather, even in such sheltered anchorages as Plymouth Sound. Let me add a word or two as to the preventive officers. They are undoubtedly very ill paid. The Secretary to the Treasury dwelt lovingly on their sick leave. I do not believe they get any more sick leave than a private employer would give. Then he spoke of the amount of gratuity they got on retiring from the service, but he did not state what that amount was. He admits that they do not get adequate promotion. I have had a great deal of experience of these preventive officers. They have recently had all sorts of new duties placed upon them; they have even to go through the ship's papers to see if there are any dogs on board, to satisfy the Board of Agriculture. I imagine they must have a certain knowledge of foreign languages —having to go over ships' papers and converse with the captains of vessels of all sorts of nationalities. I have always been struck with the cultivation of those men and the ability with which they conduct their work. They seem to know where to find everything on board ship. I think both the boatmen and the preventive officers, but especially the latter, are very much entitled to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury; although I still think that the right method is for him not to go and see them, because he cannot understand their work, but rather to listen to the representations which the Commissioner of Customs will make to him and upon these representations to make up his mind. I really suspect that representations have been made in that sense to the Treasury, and that the difficulty has been not with the Customs officials but rather with the Department which the right hon. Gentleman represents. Therefore I would suggest that he should reconsider this intention of seeing the men at work, but should find out what increase of pay and other privileges these men are entitled to in the estimation of the Customs officials themselves, and frankly adopt the recommendations of the Department.
§ MR. MONK (Gloucester)
I am perfectly certain that the boatmen and Customs officers will be very much 1401 gratified when they hear of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to personally investigate their grievances. I believe that he will be able to do so without accompanying the boatmen on a stormy night, at a late hour, to witness them in the actual performance of their duty. I hope the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment and that he will accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, which, I feel sure, will be carried out, that he will see how far the grievances of these men exist, and that he will do his best to remedy them.
§ MR. STEADMAN
The right hon. Gentleman laid great stress upon the fact that these men on coming into the service signed a paper that they were satisfied with the conditions that they received on entering the service. It is no argument that because a man enters the service on the condition of receiving 19s. or 20s. a week, he is to rest content with that wage, for the remainder of his natural life.
§ MR. STEADMAN
They may have done so. We have in our lunatic asylums men who have retired from the Army on pensions, and who enter our service. They are asked if they are satisfied with the conditions, and no working man, even if the wages are small, would, when he gets a chance of good constant employment, answer "No." But he has not been very long in the service when he finds that the wages are so low that he cannot live on them with a wife and family, and it is very natural for him to ask for an increase of wages. So it is in the Government service. Mechanics' wages are fixed by trades unions, but it does not follow that that is to be the everlasting wage paid to them. On the contrary, we are continually asking through our trade societies for an increase. It is only natural that all workmen should do the same. Therefore it is no argument that, because those boatmen signed a paper only three years back, they have no right to ask for consideration and for an increase of wages. The right hon. Gentleman tells the Committee that they get pay in sickness for eight weeks, and he put that and allowances for holidays at 3s. a week, and 1402 therefore he made out that their wages are as good as 24s. a week. But there is a difference of opinion on the Treasury Bench on this matter. When we were discussing the case of the men employed at the Victualling Yard at Deptford, it was said by the First Lord of the Admiralty that these allowances were only worth a shilling a week, and it is besides to be remembered that the men in the Victualling Yard get pensions, which the boatmen do not. Now as to the promise the right hon. Gentleman has made to see the men, I am, of course, delighted with it. I feel perfectly certain if these men only have an opportunity of facing the right hon. Gentleman and putting their grievances before him they will be able to convince him as they have been able to convince me. But I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to wait to see all these men at their employment before he sees them at his office.
§ MR. STEADMAN
If the right hon. Gentleman is going to visit every dock, warehouse, ship afloat, and barge, he will never be able to do it and perform his duties in this House. It will take him a few weeks to go round the port of London, let alone the coast, and he will find the same condition of things in the north, south, east, and west. If he is going to visit the port of London before he sees the men at his office, it is impossible for him to do anything in the present session of Parliament, because he will have to wait until the session is over before he will be able to find time to visit them, and then nothing will be done for them this year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will drop the idea of seeing the men at the port of London, and see them by deputation at the Treasury Office, and if he will do that, I am quite certain that they will convince him of the justice of their complaint. I beg leave to withdraw my motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £563,015, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the 1403 charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901, for the expenses of the Post Office Packet Service."
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The Committee will remember when this case was under discussion last week* the hon. Member for Middlesbrough raised an important question as to the action of the Government in relation to the P. and O. Company. The P. and O. Company, as everybody knows, receives from the State an extremely large subsidy — £400,000—for carrying the mails, and it is well known that this large mail subsidy is one of the chief sources from which the company is able to pay its very satisfactory dividend to shareholders. The point raised was that this company had violated the law with regard to the accommodation which is supplied to the lascars employed in its service. The law allows or specifies that a certain amount of space shall be given to sailors on board vessels, and that law was put into force for the purpose of doing away with that disgraceful want of accommodation which was one of the many grievances from which the seafaring population laboured. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has laboured at this subject for years, and having regard to what he has done and the manner in which his action has been taken up by the Board of Trade the seafaring population is under a deep debt of obligation to him. My hon. friend asked whether the lascars got the space on these boats which the law entitled them to demand. The answers were evasive. One question was, whether the lascars came under the Merchant Shipping Act, and as they were Indian subjects, whether they were not under Indian and not under Imperial law. That question took some time to answer. Then another question was raised. That was, admitting the lascars came Tinder our Shipping Law, whether the Government were entitled to get penalties from the P. and O. Company, if that company violated the law. That question also occupied a considerable length of time in determining. I believe I am correct in saying that from 1893 to 1899—for six years—this small question of law was hung up, and that it took all that time for the Law Officers of the Crown to decide a question which, if* See page 851 of this volume.1404 they were competent to their work, as I am certain they are, would not have taken six hours. The attitude of the Government in regard to this matter is absolutely deplorable. It is now admitted that the Merchant Shipping Act does apply to lascars, and that they are entitled to the same amount of space as a sailor born in these islands; and secondly, that the Government, if they like, are entitled to recover from the P. and O. Company penalties for the violation of law in regard to these lascars, as they do in cases of other boats in which sailors born in the British Islands are employed. I desire to make it quite clear to this Committee that it is neither my intention nor that of my hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough to interfere in any way with the employment of lascars. We only desire that when they are employed they shall get the same protection from Imperial law as any other sailor. After six years struggling we have it admitted that the law has been violated by the P. and O. Company. I have in my hand a paper containing the names of twenty-one of their vessels in which this violation occurs, and after six years we have the President of the Board of Trade obliged to confess that in the case of those twenty-one vessels the law has been violated. I may be asked what right we have to raise this question on this particular Vote, and the Secretary of the Treasury may say his position is confined to the fact that there is a contract with the P. and O. Company for the carriage of mails, and if they carry those mails he has no right to interfere; but to such a contention my reply would be that this company would practically be unable to exist without the £400,000 subsidy it gets from the Government, or if it was able to exist it would certainly not be in its present profitable position. Now the House has already decided this question by a solemn vote still standing on the Statute Book and still unrepealed. It is decided that the question is a right one to raise, because of the fair wages resolution. The Government is compelled and does carry out the fair wages resolution in every case except that of the P. and O. Company. What right has the Government to make an exception in this particular case, when it compels the carrying out of the fair wages resolution in regard to every other company? Several defences have been offered on behalf of 1405 the Government, the first one being that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Torquay, who said that the real season for the employment of lascars instead of British born seamen was that lascars did not put themselves into the hands of paid agitators, and, therefore, were more easily dealt with. I quite agree. I hope the hon. Member for Sheffield will not leave the House for a moment as I have something to say to him. I accept the explanation of the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay; he really gives the true reason, which is, that the lascar can be put off with small wages, bad food, and bad accommodation, and the British seaman cannot. The reason I asked the hon. Member for Sheffield to remain was this. Here is a case where a premium is put upon the employment of the lascars as against the British born seaman. Now I have heard the hon. Gentleman for many years advocate the manning of British ships by British men, and I daresay he is the author of the placard which appeared during the last general election when the electors were exhorted to vote for people of the same school as the hon. Member upon the ground that British ships should be manned by British men. Yet it would now seem that the company are to be allowed, by breaking the law, to employ as few Englishmen as they can and as many lascars as they can, because they put up with less food, wages, and accommodation. The second defence of the Government was that offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That I have already casually alluded to, namely, that the Government was not entitled to use any pressure on the P. and O. Company because they carried out the contract. The fair wages resolution, which, I think, was carried unanimously during a Conservative Administration, was a pledge by this House, and not only entitles us, but calls upon us, to see that anybody to whom the Government gives assistance and patronage in the way of contracts should be obliged to treat fairly the persons they employ. The third defence was by the President of the Board of Trade. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made that somewhat surprising statement, my hon. friend the Member for Dundee got up and asked him— "Does the right hon. Gentleman lay down the doctrine that, even if a 1406 company break the law, the Government has no right to interfere with the company?" The Chancellor of the Exchequer rather evaded that point, but the President of the Board of Trade got up and his answer was more astonishing than the contention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His answer was that though it was undoubtedly true that the P. and O. Company had violated the law, yet they were not to be prosecuted. I would like to hear what a Conservative Minister or ex-Minister would say if that doctrine were applied by a Liberal Minister with regard to anything taking place in Ireland. The doctrine laid down by the President of the Board of Trade was that the company violated the law, but the Government refused to prosecute. On what ground? He laid down the doctrine of the extent to which discretion should wink at a violation of the law in a broader and wider manner than it has ever been laid down before by any Minister. First, he said that if the P. and O. Company gave less space to a lascar than to a British seaman they were breaking the law, but if they were prosecuted for breaches of the law it was competent for the Board of Trade to take into consideration all the facts of the case. This is a most extraordinary doctrine—that the Minister of a public Department is entitled, before he sees that the law is carried out, to take all the facts into consideration. We heard it said by the President of the Board of Trade that the P. and O. Company was penalised with regard to these steamers by disallowance. With regard to that I should explain to the Committee that when the tonnage of a vessel is considered there is always a certain amount of deduction made for crew space and other parts that are non-earning parts, and that disallowance is rather important to the shipping company, because certain dues are calculated accordingly. I understand that in a vessel like the average P. and O. vessel this may amount to a couple of hundred pounds a year. But it is not penalising the P. and O. Company. By saving space they are legally called upon to give the lascars they earn perhaps £2,000 a year, and it suits the P. and O. Company very well to be fined £200, if by submitting to the fine they make £2,000. This is not a campaign against the employment of lascars. They are British subjects, and they are entitled to the protection of the flag; but I want 1407 them to have all the protection of the flag, and that they shall not, because they happen to be Orientals, and are therefore less able to take care of themselves than Englishmen, be put off with worse food and accommodation. It is really an endeavour to apply to them the principles of British law and British protection which we are making, and not to deprive those unfortunate men of the employment to which they are entitled. I desire to put the case plainly and moderately, but there are important principles underlying this matter. First, there is the relation of the State with regard to contractors; second, the relation of the State with regard to subjects of different colours and races; and, third, there is a very important question, the momentous gravity of which will be appreciated by anyone who has watched recent events on the Continent, and especially in Germany. It is quite clear from recent events that this country will have to face before long another great naval Power, because undoubtedly the settled policy of the Emperor of Germany is—it is not my business to discuss whether it is wise or not, he knows his own affairs best—to establish a great navy. Well, does not that impose great obligations on the rulers of this country with regard to their own Navy? Those vessels which are employed in commerce in times of peace are vessels which in certain eventualities will have to be employed in the work of war in times of war. Where are you going to get your seamen from? From lascars? Lascars do very good work—no doubt about that; but they are not equal to emergencies which British-born sailors are equal to. British-born seamen have proved their bravery and skill in many times of stress and danger also. There are cases which everyone is familiar with in which vessels and many valuable lives have been lost because in the hour of emergency the Oriental was not equal to a strain which would be met calmly and bravely by the Western-born man. If you help this Government to drive English seamen out of these vessels you are striking a severe blow which may leave you in time of emergency without sailors. The question of seamen is one that will one day become a burning one in the country. They are one of the few classes in the community who have not yet succeeded entirely in reaching the sympathy, the knowledge, and the imagi- 1408 nation of the people of this country, so far as their real condition is concerned. My belief is that there is no class of men who are entitled to more protection than those men who "go down to the sea in ships," who are constantly risking their lives, and who are deprived of the ordinary comforts of home and family other men have. I believe it could be proved that those men are, as a rule, badly fed; badly lodged, and badly treated. Almost alone among the working men of this country they stand outside the benefits of the Compensation Act. It is because this is a branch of this great and important subject that I take the liberty of raising the question and moving a reduction of the Vote.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item E (Contracts for Asia and Australia) be reduced by £100."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
§ * MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
I rise to support the motion which has been moved by my hon. friend. With regard to this lascar question, as my hon. friend has already stated, it is a good many years now since I endeavoured to enlist the sympathy of this House in the matter, and I was surprised on Friday! night, when the two right hon. Gentlemen, whom I am very pleased to see in their places, endeavoured to make the House believe that the one object I had in view in bringing this question forward was to drive lascars out of British ships. They said it would be a very serious matter if by any proceedings we were to drive British subjects out of British ships. It would be a very wrong thing indeed. I defy the right hon. Gentlemen to prove in any way that I have ever made any statement in this House expressing a desire that we should not employ lascar seamen on British ships. I have never asked for that. What I have asked, and what I intend to ask until I am satisfied on the point, is that wherever lascars are employed on British ships they shall receive the same treatment as any other British subject, and I further contend that it is not a right principle to drive British seamen out of British ships by employing lascars. If lascars have a right to be employed on these vessels, then I contend that British seamen have an equal right, and I say it would not be a just policy to drive British seamen 1409 out of these ships for the benefit of lascars. That is what has been happening for many years. Thirty years ago we had in the British merchant service about 5,000 lascars. At the present time we have close upon 40,000 lascars, and steadily year by year the number of lascars employed on British ships is increasing, whilst the number of Britishers is gradually diminishing. What is the reason of it? It is very apparent to me, in spite of all the statements made by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They say that the lascars cost the employers as much as British labour. I deny that, and I say it cannot be proved that lascar labour costs the same. It is perfectly true that they may employ two lascars for one British seaman, but the wages of two lascars are not equal to the wages of one British seaman. A British sailor will get £4 to £4 10s. per month, while lascars only get 16s. up to 24s., which is generally the highest wage paid. Then with regard to the food there is nothing like the same cost of living for a lascar as there is for a Britisher. The food for a lascar will cost about 5d. or 6d. in twenty-four hours, whereas the food of a Britisher will cost from l0d. to 1s., so that both in food and in wages there is a considerable saving indeed resulting from the employment of lascars as compared with white labour. Then the offence is all the worse when we find that companies are allowed to rob—I say rob and I do not think I am wrong in using that term—these lascars of the accommodation which the law says they shall have. Along with others I have been endeavouring for many years to get increased accommodation on board British ships for British sailors. We have been urging on respective Governments for years the necessity of increasing the accommodation, and the Royal Commission of 1891 in their report recommended that the accommodation on board ships for seamen should be increased to 120 cubic feet. There is one reason only why the Government have not moved in the matter. If they had legislated on that recommendation of the Royal Commission to give the seamen 120 cubic feet by law they would have been faced with the opposition of the P. and O. Company, because the P. and O. Company would have said at once, "We have given our men only anything from 30 cubic feet up to 60 or 65 cubic feet, and if this law is passed it will seriously affect the inte- 1410 rests of the P. and O. Company." And rather than be faced with the opposition of the P. and O. Company the Government have climbed down, and have absolutely refused to make any move whatever in that direction. I know that one of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is that the shipowners are gradually increasing the accommodation for the men on board their ships. They are in some cases increasing the accommodation for the men by reducing the number of hands that they carry. That is the only way in which they increase the accommodation. Where they used to carry ten or twelve men they now carry only six or seven, so that, of course, there is more room in the forecastle for the men who remain. But that is no advantage to the sailors as a whole. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has dealt very fairly with the matter at all. When I first commenced to agitate with regard to this matter I was put off with the amazing reply that the British law did not apply, that these men were engaged in India under the Indian law, and consequently the Imperial law did not apply. I knew better than that, and I am certain that if the right hon. Gentleman had read the Merchant Shipping Act himself he would have seen it also. As President of the Board of Trade he ought to be thoroughly well posted in regard to the Merchant Shipping Act; that is his business; that is what we keep the President of the Board of Trade for. Therefore I say that if the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the different sections of the Merchant Shipping Act he would have discovered for himself that the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act applies to all vessels owned and registered within the United Kingdom; he would have seen it in black and white. And what makes his offence the worse to my mind is that the Board of Trade have solicitors, so that if the right hon. Gentleman was not absolutely certain himself as to the law, he could fall back on the solicitors of the Board of Trade, because we pay those solicitors to advise the President on all doubtful points. Then, further, if he was not satisfied with the advice of the solicitors of the Board of Trade, he had the Law Officers of the Crown to whom he could go. But it has taken him several years 1411 to arrive at that point, about which any lawyer would have been able to satisfy him in a day if he had not been able to satisfy himself. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make out on more than one occasion that I did not understand the law. I do not profess to be a lawyer, I am a layman, but when having read the Merchant Shipping Act with common sense, I saw it there in black and white that the Imperial Act was the Act which applied to lascars. I have been surprised for years now that the President of the Board of Trade could not make up his mind to do his duty. But at last we arrived at the point; that the law was clear, and then I thought we would at last got justice for lascars and for everyone else. But to my astonishment the right hon. Gentleman said—Taking all matters into consideration we are very much afraid we can do nothing. The lascars are engaged in India, where the Indian Act, under which only thirty-six cubic feet are required, applies, and we are afraid that under the circumstances it would not be just and right to enforce this penalty which is provided by the 210th Section of the Merchant Shipping Act.I want to point out to the Committee that in India, since 1891, there have been a number of agitations started by different reformers in that country to get the Indian Council to bring the India Merchant Shipping Act into conformity with the Imperial Act. This was due to the fact that in 1891 one of the officials of the Board of Trade in London made a report to the Board of Trade on the insanitary conditions of the forecastles of the P. and O. Company's steamers. I have read most of that report, which was sent to the Indian Government also, and the description given by this Board of Trade official of the filthy condition in which he found the forecastles of the P. and O. beats, and as a result of the report of the Board of Trade's own official to the Board of Trade, the Board of Trade sent representations to the Indian Government in 1893, asking the Indian Government to alter their law so that it should conform to the Imperial Act, because if they did not do so the Board of Trade would be bound to enforce the Imperial law. The opposition to the alteration of this law in India has been entirely duo to the influence of the P. and O. Company in India. They have used their great influence in India, as they have evidently used their great influence in this 1412 country, to oppose any alteration of the law, and I say it must be surprising to Members of this House to know that one of the wealthiest companies, the one of the companies that receives the largest subsidy from the Government, should be so niggardly in the matter of providing these poor unfortunate lascars with the accommodation to which they are entitled. I know that some hon. Gentlemen have brought forward arguments to this effect —that the lascars have never asked for better accommodation, that the lascars are perfectly satisfied, that the lascars like to huddle together in "their beloved Indian fashion." Those are the words used in a petition sup posed to have been sent by the lascars to the Secretary of State for India. I say "supposed" to have been sent, because I have read that petition and I do not believe that any lascar ever composed a single word that is contained in that petition. The petition begs that they will be left alone, and states that at sea they are not all down in the forecastle together, and consequently they have plenty of room, but that in ports they like to huddle together in "their beloved Indian fashion." I say that there are more people besides the lascars to be considered in the matter. Frequently we have cases of cholera happening on board the P. and O. and other boats, and, coming into a port like London, if they huddle together in "their beloved Indian fashion," I say it is calculated to create disease and thereby endanger the health and lives of the people of this country. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if he was president of the Local Government Board, and it was brought under his notice that in a certain model lodging house these lascars were being huddled together in rooms where the necessary accommodation, according to the Local Government Acts was not provided, he would accept that plea, that the lascars liked to huddle together in "their beloved Indian fashion." The lascars would be told that when they were in this country they must obey the laws of this country, and the persons who kept the model lodging-house and allowed the lascars to huddle together in this manner would be summoned and severely punished for allowing this state of things to exist. I ask, then, if that would be so in the case of persons who kept model 1413 lodging-houses, why docs the right hon. Gentleman not enforce this law with regard to the lascar seamen? I know, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman does not think there is any necessity for this, but I cannot understand hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative side of the House upholding the doctrine and preaching the policy that the Indian subjects of Her Majesty should not have equal treatment to that given to Her Majesty's subjects in this country. We call ourselves Imperialists; we beast of our great Empire, and we tell the world at large that all subjects who are in this Empire of ours shall have equal laws and equal treatment. That is what we preach, and that is what we seek to justify before the world. I say it is altogether contrary to the doctrines of the Conservative party for the right hon. Gentleman to come hero and to tell this Committee—the right hon. Gentleman did use these words one night—that no one would think of giving the lascars the same accommodation as that which is provided for white men. Perhaps I have not used exactly the words of the right hon. Gentleman, but the meaning was in that direction, that these lascars did not require this amount of accommodation. I want to enlighten the two right hon. Gentlemen on this point. I said that there are somewhere approaching 40,000 lascars employed on British ships. The only offender against the law with regard to this accommodation for lascars is the P. and O. Company. That company employ only 5,000 lascars, and the remaining thirty odd thousand are employed by other shipping companies. There is not a single word of complaint against the other shipping companies in regard to the accommodation that they have provided for the lascars. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I have not brought a single complaint against any of the other shipping companies who employ lascars about their robbing those lascars of their accommodation. I have never uttered one word of complaint against them at all. The whole of the complaints have been against this P. and O. Company, who are receiving this large sum of money from the Government every year, something like £400,000 of the taxpayers' money. Then, too, the fair wages resolution apparently applies to all others except the P. and O. Company; they have been 1414 able to sneak out of it somehow or other. I cannot toll how many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in this House are interested in the P. and O. Company; I do not know, but I suppose there are some who are shareholders in the P. and O. Company. I would make an appeal to the shareholder Members of the House, those who have shares in the P. and O. Company and get their 10 per cent., I would appeal to those gentlemen in honesty to say, "We will urge this company to comply with the law," or "We will urge the right hon. Gentleman to enforce the law." The right hon. Gentleman has told me before to-day that I may myself start a prosecution against the P. and O. Company; that if I am not satisfied all I have to do is to apply for a summons against the P. and O. Company for breaking the law. But why should I do that? It is none of my business. I am not paid by the Government to be Public Prosecutor. That is not my duty; it is the duty of the gentlemen who hold office, and I say that if they feel that they are not capable of doing their duty for the money they receive from the taxpayers of this country, they ought to retire and give some other good men a chance. Certainly there arc plenty of good men in this House who would be only too pleased to take even the position of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not feel inclined to enforce the law, I say let him retire and give one of these other gentlemen a chance. As I have said before, it is a scandal, and I do hope we shall have some satisfaction this evening with regard to this question. Otherwise we will divide upon the motion, and then I shall expect to see Conservative gentlemen trooping into our lobby as a protest against the inaction of the right hon. Gentleman. You may depend upon it that even in the next General Election this question will have some prominence. Working men are beginning to understand how it affects their interests, and that British labour is being crushed by rich monopolist companies being allowed to bring British working men down by sweating their men; they are beginning to understand that by and by it will affect the ship-yards as well as other places. You will have lascars over in Belfast by and bye. Why not bring over to Belfast 2,000 or 3,000 lascars and employ them there on Government or other work? I am 1415 afraid the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for East Belfast, would very soon be making some noise about it. I do hope that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who, I am sure, have as much sympathy with labour as we have, will enter a protest to-night against this business with regard to the P. and O. Company, that before the division is taken they will ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some satisfactory statement, and that in the event of not receiving that satisfaction they will show their displeasure by going into the lobby against the Vote.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
There is a great deal in this question which deserves the careful consideration of Her Majesty's Government. I have always understood that the lascars on board ships trading in the Indian Sea were employed entirely in the engine-room, out I believe in that I am mistaken, and that lately they have been employed much more on deck than formerly. There is no reason whatever why British sailors should not discharge all the duties on deck, but the engine-room is very different indeed, by reason of the tropical nature of the climate and the great difficulties which Europeans have at certain seasons in sustaining life in the engine-room in the Indian Seas. I find, according to the result of an inquiry instituted, I believe, by the President of the Board of Trade, that on one ship of about 2,500 tons there were twenty-seven Europeans and sixty-one lascars. There would not be so much to be said if the lascars were employed entirely in the engine-room and in difficult duties of that kind in those seas, but of those sixty-one lascars no less than twenty-four were employed on deck, twenty-nine in the engine-room, and the remainder as cooks. The Australian Government have taken a very serious view of this matter and have refused to give contracts to ships carrying lascars. I do not desire to do anything which will put lascars out of employment. They are British subjects and are entitled to employment just as much as the Queen's subjects in any part of the Empire. But considering the responsibility of the Board of Trade as regards the efficiency of the mercantile marine, another question arises in connection with the employment of lascars as deck hands, and that is 1416 that a great deal of danger is incurred in certain contingencies to the passengers on board the ships. There have been one or two cases recently. When the "City of Ardagh" was lost and the Court held an inquiry, it was held that the loss of life was entirely or mainly due to the panic caused by the lascars. I think something of the same sort occurred in connection with the loss of the P. and O. ship "China," and there have been other instances to the same effect. There can be no doubt in the mind of anybody who has been to sea that the liability to panic of lascars, Chinese and Japanese sailors in certain contingencies is a very serious factor as regards the saving of the lives of the passengers and the remainder of the crew. The matter has also a wider significance, and that is in regard to the manning of British ships. I cannot go into that question to-night, but it has already received in some degree the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, and I do earnestly hope we may have from him some clear declaration this evening of the attitude and the views of the Government upon this matter, and I trust they will be at any rate in the direction of limiting | the employment of lascars so far as possible to the engine-room, and to duties which cannot properly be discharged by British sailors in tropical seas.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
Nothing has been more surprising to me than the debates in this House with regard to the manning of the P. and O. boats with lascars. I have heard declarations from all sides, and especially from the benches opposite, that one of the greatest dangers now felt to the supremacy of this nation on the s[...] the dreadful decline in the number of British seamen in the merchant service of this country. Yet here, in this particular case of one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, of the merchant shipping companies, you have for a long period of years gone out of your way to encourage this company, even to the extent of allowing them to break the law in order to banish British seamen from their ships and to substitute lascars. I believe I am right in saying that the Orient Company, which trades in the same seas as the P. and O. Company, and does not enjoy such an enormous subsidy, does not employ las- 1417 cars, but is yet able to compete with the P. and O. boats and beat them in point of speed. I shall have a word to say as to the reason the P. and O. Company do not do without the lascars presently. I wish to deal first of all with the question of our attitude towards the employment of lascars. On many occasions when this question has been debated Gentlemen opposite, adopting the new-fangled Imperialistic spirit, have charged us who have supported the view of my hon. friend who has championed this question from the outset, with the desire to drive; these lascars out of their employment; we have been told that they too were subjects of the Queen, and why should not they have an opportunity of employment throughout this great Empire? As I understand the position it is that we object to the employment of these men under such conditions as to under-cut British labour. That is the whole point. If a lascar, or a Chinaman, or anybody else goes on board these ships or engages in any other occupation in this country, and charges the same wages and gets the same food and accommodation as the English or Scotch or Irish workman, there is no objection to his employment. But there is a great principle involved in this question, quite apart from the employment of British seamen on British ships, and that is whether you are to be allowed, and, above all, whether a great company whose profits are mainly dependent upon the great subsidy of the taxpayers' money is to be allowed to undercut, to degrade, to try to sweat British labour by the employment of foreigners——
MR. SWIFT MACNKILL (Donegal, S.)
§ MR. DILLON
At any rate, they are not born in these islands, and are not of the same race. The question is whether they are to be allowed to drive out European labour by the employment of men who work for low wages, who are willing to accept a smaller amount of cubic space, and who arc fed at less than half the cost. Moreover, the clothing of these men is a disgrace. I recollect starting from this very city in a P. and O. boat, and these wretched creatures were hardly sufficiently 1418 clad to be decent, while in the Bay of Biscay they were shivering this way and shaking that, having just merely the clothing they would have in the tropics. I recollect one night in the Bay of Biscay it was very stormy; I never had such a fright in my life; I thought we were going straight to the bottom. I heard the most awful shrieks and yells resounding from one end of the ship to the other. It appeared that a little sail had broken loose and was lashing the side of the ship, whereupon the lascars were called up to put the matter right, and from the noise they made one would have supposed that a legion of demons from the lower regions had broken loose. I cannot believe, after that experience, that such a crew would be a very effective one in a case of real danger. Be that as it may, it is absurd to have all this declamation about the right of British subjects to employment in this country. Suppose lascars or similar individuals were brought into the mills and factories of this country. Does any Member of this House imagine that the Government could allow employers of labour to import by the thousand such men into the mills of this country, driving out British workmen? The principle would remain the same; they would be British subjects; and there would be less cause of complaint inasmuch as the mills and factories are not subsidised by the Government. If such a thing was done you would very quickly have such a condition of things set up that no Government could possibly tolerate. We have had an opportunity of judging what the effect would be. Go to Australia or Natal —where we hear so much about equal rights, and where all the subjects of the Queen are supposed to be treated alike— and you will find that because this very thing has arisen, and these very lascars and Indians have been imported largely to work on the plantations and in the mills, the Australians and the people of Natal have passed stringent and severe laws to deal with the question. The popular opinion of this country would sweep out of existence any Government which remained idly by if the labour of this country were threatened to be placed upon the same terms in competition with foreigners as British sailors now are placed on board English ships. It is really absurd, because this thing has been allowed to go on under circum stances unparalleled in the history of this 1419 House in regard to the delays and obstruction placed in the path of my hon. friend in pursuit of this question by the Ministers of the Crown, and this obstruction has to be accounted for by some extraordinary circumstances. The impression does exist outside this House that the P. and O. Company is too influential a company, and undoubtedly there is an enormous occult influence which makes it almost impossible to compel the P. and O. Company to be subject to the same law as any other shipping company. I think the whole course and history of this question is a striking illustration of the necessity for the motion made by the hon. Member for South Donegal a few days ago in regard to the question of Ministers of the Crown acting as directors of public companies. I make no charge in this matter, but I say that before the opinion of the country, it is unfortunate that this company—which has been allowed by the Government for nine years to break the law of the land, and which the Government refuse to prosecute—should be allowed to carry on as no other company has been allowed to, and that a director of that company should be a member of the Government itself. Admitting that Lord Selborne has no influence in this matter, to say the least of it his presence an the Government, having regard to the history of this company, is not decent. After what has happened, for the sake of the Government itself, and in deference to the general public opinion of the country, Lord Selborne ought to make his choice. If he chooses to remain a director of the P. and O. Company, he ought not to remain a member of a Government who are shielding that company while it is breaking the law. Moreover, I do not think any man ought to join the office of a director of a company with that of a member of the Government from whom that very company receives enormous subsidies. I will conclude by saying that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who intervened in this debate two or three times when this Vote was under discussion before, set up the doctrine that the contract having been made the Government had no power, and all they could do was to enforce the terms of the contract. But that contract was made long after my hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough raised this question, and it was made in spite of the 1420 repeated questions of my hon. friend. The Government ought to have cleared their minds as to the law before making this contract. Admitting that they are bound by the contract, does the President of the Board of Trade desire us to conclude or imagine for a moment that if he had addressed a strong remonstrance to the P. and O. Company they would have dared to go on breaking the law? If he had done so it would have been impossible for the P. and O. Company to carry on these operations. The demand of my hon. friend is too moderate. It is confined to this—that the lascars should get equal accommodation to the British sailors. If my hon. friend had taken my advice he would have gone much further. The British sailor ought to got more protection, and he ought not to be subject to the unrestricted and free competition of men who will work for less than half his wages and live on half his food. If the employment of these lascar seamen is to go on unrestricted; if the Government of this country, while talking about the urgent necessity of increasing the number of British seamen in the mercantile marine, are going to allow thousands and tens of thousands of these inferior people, who are not under the evil influence of the paid agitator, and are therefore content to be fed on a little rice, to be employed on British ships; if the Government and this House are going to allow the British sailor to be subject to competition of labour of that class, then I say it is hypocrisy and humbug to get up and talk about your desire to have a fleet and mercantile marine composed of British sailors.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. RITCHIE, Croydon)
On the last occasion when this matter came before the Committee I stated exactly what the position of the Government was upon this question. I stated then that we had, for some time past, been in doubt as to what the law was. To-night this question has been again raised in two aspects. Firstly, there is the general question as to the employment of lascars, and secondly there is the breach of the law. So far as the general question of the employment of lascars is concerned, I imagine that a general discussion would not be in order upon this motion, and I do not propose now to discuss that part of the question, because this is not the 1421 proper occasion to deal with the subject I will only say this, that it would be extremely unwise for the Government to take any steps by which the lascar sailors would be prevented from following this employment. It must be remembered that these lascars are just as much British subjects as the hon. Gentleman himself, and it would have a most unfortunate effect if it were to get abroad among the natives of India that when the British Government make contracts with the owners of steamers plying between India and this country we should make it a condition that lascar seamen should, not be employed, or should only be employed in the engine-room. That is a very important matter, and the Government would not be justified in taking any such step. The lascar seamen are sober, quiet, and industrious people, and although they are not as capable as the British sailors —I may mention that I believe at least two lascars are employed in place of one British seaman—and although they are not as strong, they are very capable of performing the work they are called upon to do in these steamers plying between India and this country. Much as I desire to see the employment of British sailors on British ships, I do not think it would be a justifiable act for the Government to make any condition demanding that the P. and O. Company should not employ lascars. No doubt the Committee are perfectly justified in calling attention to the fact that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company are not acting in accordance with what we are now advised is the law. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said he did not make any charge, but he insinuated that the inaction of the Government was due to the fact that a colleague of mine was a director of the P. and O. Company. I do not propose to discuss the question as to whether that is right or wrong, but as the hon. Gentleman has made this insinuation I can say this conscientiously, that I had utterly forgotten that my colleague was a director of that company, and during the whole of these negotiations with the P. and O. Company it has been utterly absent from my mind that there was any such connection. Until it was brought to my attention the other night the fact had never before passed in my mind. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has also said that if the Govern- 1422 ment were to address a strong remonstrance to the company he is satisfied that it would have the desired effect. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if the law has not been complied with it is not for the want of strong remonstrances. Until quite recently the Board of Trade were unable to say distinctly to the P. and O. Company that they were breaking the law, because it had not been established until recently to our satisfaction that the company had been breaking the law. We have on many occasions called the attention of the P. and O. Company to the fact that the space allowed in some of their steamers to lascar seamen was not the space allowed to British seamen, and that they were not acting in accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act, although we were not then able to say that the company was actually committing a breach of the law. We have been in communication for some considerable time with the India Office and with the Indian Government upon the question of the advisability of taking in hand an amendment of their Shipping Act. The Merchant Shipping Act of India, as hon. Gentlemen probably know, does not allow the same amount of space for seamen as the British Act, and it is here that the difficulty arises. These lascars are shipped in India, and the difficulty arises whether or not the company are bound by the one Act or the other. The Law Officers of the Crown advise the Government that the English Merchant Shipping Act does apply, but they say that it is not incumbent upon the Board of Trade to prosecute, having regard to the Indian Act, and they are entitled to take into consideration all the circumstances of the case. Nor is it true that the Board of Trade are the proper body to prosecute in a large number of cases where they have jurisdiction. The Board of Trade is not a properly constituted Board to prosecute. I do not say that there are not cases where we ought to prosecute, but we are under no obligation to prosecute even where the law has not been complied with. Anyone who is interested in this matter can take the P. and O. Company before a magistrate in the police court. It is an extremely simple thing to take out a summons, and if any- one would do that it would certainly settle the law on the question. The P. and O. Company deny that they are 1423 breaking the law, and they have denied it all along. Therefore anyone who will summon the P. and O. Company before a magistrate can have the question settled as to whether the law has been broken or not. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, has, upon many occasions, brought this matter before the House on more than one Vote, although I do not know that he has ever brought it forward before on this particular Vote. I do not know that I can add anything upon this question to the statement which I have already made. There are two ways in which an offending steamship company can be fined if they do not comply with the Merchant Shipping Act in regard to crew space. One way is taking them before the magistrate, and the other alternative course is, one would imagine, a strong and very effective course. There never was any doubt in our mind as to the taking of this alternative course of refusing to allow the usual deduction of the crew space from the tonnage of the vessel. In all these cases the P. and O. Company have already been heavily fined, and where they have not allowed the proper space for the seamen they have been penalised by not having the deduction for crew space allowed from the tonnage of the vessel, which, of course, involves the payment of heavier tonnage dues. It seems to be assumed in the discussion which has taken place that the P. and O. Company are offenders with regard to all their steamers, but that is not the case. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough has again and again called my attention by means of questions; to the crew space of one steamer after another belonging to this particular company, and in nine cases out of ten brought forward by him the hon. Member has been wrong. In the tenth case the hon. Member has been right, but even there the difference between the space which the Merchant Shipping Act lays down and the space given by the P. and O. Company is extremely small. Of course, it is a reasonable argument that the P. and O. Company ought to give that little more space and get rid of this question.
§ * MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind my correcting him on this point? Although the P. and O. Company have provided a certain number of cubic feet space, the 1424 right hon. Gentleman has admitted that they were only giving nine superficial feet instead of twelve feet.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I had that in my mind while I was making my statement. There were a large number of cases to which the hon. Gentleman directed my attention where the proper cubic space was given, but there were others where it was not so. I agree with the statement which has been made that a company like the P. and O. Company ought to be beyond reproach, and I have made it known to them more than once, and in strong terms, that, in my opinion, they ought to give to their lascar sailors the space which the Merchant Shipping Act allows to British seamen. But I have gone further than this. I have informed the P. and O. Company some time ago, that, although the Board of Trade have been unwilling to prosecute, in the hope that our negotiations and the remonstrances which we were making would have the effect of inducing them to comply with the English law, there will come a time when I should consider it my duty to order a prosecution if the law is not complied with. The attention drawn to this matter to-night may perhaps bring the importance of this question to the notice of the company, and I hope that, in the end, we shall not have an annual recurrence of these complaints.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
The admissions which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in this debate are of a very serious character. The right hon. Gentleman has told the House for the first time authoritatively that this company has been violating the law.
§ MR. RITCHIE
No, no. Perhaps the hon. Member was not present during the whole of my statement. I have made that admission several times.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I was going on to say that the right hon. Gentleman had made this admission for the first time in this debate.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I have stated it again and again in answer to questions, and the hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that this is the first time I have mentioned it in this debate, for I mentioned it upon the last occasion when this matter was discussed.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I am sorry I did not hear that statement, and it came as a great surprise to me that the right hon. Gentleman should make such an admission in regard to that company. The right hon. Gentleman says he has been addressing strong remonstrances to the company; he also says that the Government are in communication with the Indian Government to secure an extension of the Indian Act; and he has told us that, although hitherto it was not possible to institute a prosecution, nevertheless he has made up his mind that the time will probably come, and come soon, when he will be obliged to order a prosecution. All those admissions are a complete justification of the course taken by the hon. Members who on this occasion have raised this debate. So far as it goes, it is sufficient explanation of the position of the Board of Trade. Now the right hon. Gentleman says that things have come to such a pass that he must order a prosecution unless the company obey the law, and that is as much as can be expected of the Board of Trade, although, perhaps, that might have been done sooner. But this by no means exhausts the public questions involved in this debate. This is not a question merely for the Board of Trade. We are now dealing with a Post Office Vote, and we have yet to learn what is the position of the Post Office with reference to this question. It involves the question of what is to be the attitude of the State towards a company with whom the Government makes a contract, when that company breaks the law which the State has laid down for the government of that contract. That is a question upon which we ought to have some authoritative reply. It is not with me a mere question of prosecution, for that is a comparatively small matter in the history of this question. I want to know what the Government think they have a right to do in all cases where a contractor violates the law. I put that question the other night, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was here, and he gave me an answer which it was too late to reply to, but which seemed to me to be in the highest degree unsatisfactory. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said practically, "What business is it of ours, if this company performs its service, and who can say that we ought not to pay the company for the service which it performs according to the contract?" That 1426 is not the question which was put and raised in this debate. This is not a mere matter of payment for services rendered under this continuous contract. I ask the House to consider what is the position of the Government with a continuous contract such as this, in the execution of which the other contracting party persistently violates the law which the House and the country have laid down. Pay them, if you like, for services rendered, but what about continuing the contract? Is it not one of the conditions of the contract that the other contracting party shall obey the law of the State with which he contracts?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
The Secretary of the Treasury says it is not one of the conditions of the contract that you are entitled to insist upon the law being obeyed. If that is not a condition of the contract, then I say it ought to be made a condition. I am far from accepting the contention of the right hon. Gentleman, unless he says that he has been advised by the Law Officers of the Crown to the effect that a person who makes a contract with the State is entitled to insist upon a continuance of such contract if he refuses to obey the law of the State. If this is the state of the law, then it should be made a condition in all Government contracts that the other contracting party shall obey the law laid down by the State. That is a question affecting the Post Office, to which the interesting and candid speech of the President of the Board of Trade gives no answer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury will be able to give us a considered answer to this question, which I put this day week to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which I venture to put again now, for the question is one which I think is worthy of the consideration of the House.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
While I am in sympathy with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, I think he missed the important point that ought to be pressed on the Board of Trade and the Post Office. I have always felt strongly in this matter, and it was raised several times—I raised it myself—before the hon. 1427 Member came into this House. This is a great Imperial question. I am not so much concerned myself as to whether the law is broken or not as far as the lascars are concerned. I have been aboard a P. and O. steamer, and I am well aware that the accommodation provided for lascars is somewhat restricted, but I am equally well aware that the lascars are content with the accommodation given to them, and that it is in conformity with Indian law. That, I believe, is not contradicted. But, passing from that, I now come to deal with a more important question. I have always held that, while we realise that shipowners carry on their business in an honourable and straightforward manner, they should be allowed to man their ships as they like. When Parliament abolished the Navigation Laws it set shipowners free, and therefore we have no legal right, though we have a moral right, to complain. Shipowners in this age of competition run their ships in the cheapest possible manner, but, as a naval man, I think the Government have a duty to the State in this matter, and that when they are in a position to grant these enormous subsidies, they have a right, in the interests of the public, and of the maintenance of our sea power, to impose conditions such as have been alluded to. We know that those lascars have often cowered at danger, though on other occasions they have behaved uncommonly well. But I say it is bordering on a crime for a great sea Power like England to shut its eyes to the way these ships are manned. On Imperial grounds the Government should insist that every ship enjoying a subsidy from the Government should carry a certain proportion of British seamen. Foreign countries pay large subsidies and bounties, but they compel the shipping companies to carry a certain proportion of national seamen. We have allowed the whole thing to go by the board, and there I am dissatisfied with the President of the Board of Trade, because he knew the evidence given before the Manning Committee, which disclosed the evils and the dangers of the position. He is more responsible than any other member of the Government by not enforcing his power and using his influence with the Treasury. I am sure that the Secretary to the Treasury will not deny that he sympathises with my view in this matter. 1428 A distinguished officer, Sir Alfred Wright, urged me years ago to press this matter, as one of national importance, on the Government. I have, however, long felt that I can do nothing in pressing matters of this kind on the Board of Trade, but I have some hope yet that the Treasury may realise its responsibilities and refuse to pay these subsidies except on the condition that the company carries in its ships a certain proportion of British seamen. We want to maintain our sea power. Our mercantile marine is fast decaying, apprentices are becoming fewer, and 40,000 or 50,000 foreigners have displaced British born seamen in the mercantile service. Foreign seamen and lascars will not tight England's naval battles, and seamen cannot be made on shore. They must have sea experience. Therefore I say that this is a great Imperial question, and that it has not been handled as it deserves from my point of view. I feel very strongly upon it, and I hope that this discussion, although it has not dealt with the larger aspects of the question, will not be without some benefit. I shall not support the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite. [Mr. J. HAVELOCK WILSON: Oh, oh!] You do not think I am going to vote against my own Government— but I will walk out and not vote, for I hold that the Government have neglected their duty in neglecting to make the employment of British seamen a condition of a mail contract.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman deplores that he has not been able to get the Government to do anything he suggests in connection with this matter—and other matters. He is surprised that the Government will not listen to him. I will tell him why. Let him not walk out when a division is called, but vote against the Government. Governments do not care about attacks from hon. Gentlemen who never vote against them. We on this side of the House, when we differ from a Government, even if it is our own Government vote against it. When we disapprove of the action of our own Government we are not like sheep led to the slaughter; we do not follow the example of the hon. and gallant admiral and run away. The advice I would give to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and to hon. Gentlemen opposite is: If you want your Govern- 1429 ment to go on well, keep your eye on them, attack them when you think they are wrong, and if they will not yield join us in voting against them. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was one of the most remarkable I have ever heard in this House, certainly from any member of a Government whose business it is to see that the law is complied with. According to his view the Government may enter into a contract with some firm to provide any article of manufacture, and if the firm steals that article and hands it over to the Government all the Government would say would be, "We know the article is stolen, but we do not protest against it, and we will continue the contract."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I am generalising from the right hon. Gentleman's answer, and, if he will excuse me saying so, I am not doing him any injustice in this generalisation. The Government have a contract with the P. and O. Company, and yet the right hon. Gentleman gets up and says that the company is violating the law. Why there is a general obligation on the part of all citizens to obey the law, and it is the duty of the Government to sec, particularly in transactions in which they are concerned, that the law is carried out. The P. and O. Company are violating the law in the most atrocious way, in an infinitely worse way than if they were robbers. They are committing practically murder. The law lays down that seamen shall have a certain number of cubic feet of air as an essential necessity, but this company, because it can get these lascars at 24s. a month instead of £4 10s., deprives them of the amount of air which the law says is absolutely necessary. That produces disease and shortens the lives of these unfortunate men, and yet the right hon. Gentleman says that is no business of ours. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the further remonstrances of the Board of Trade were not complied with, the time would come when the P. and O. Company would be prosecuted. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on having at last realised the situation. He has taken several years about it. I hope, when he says the 1430 time would come, that he remembers the remonstrances have already been made, and that we may expect within a very few months that either the company will yield the point or will be prosecuted. One other point I may mention. One of the members of the Government is a director of this particular company. I perfectly agree that Lord Selborne is quite an honourable man. I believe the right hon. Gentleman when he says that the Government were not influenced in their action by the fact that Lord Selborne is a director of the company. But the right hon. Gentleman now says that this company will be taken before a magistrate if it does not yield. Who will be taken before the magistrates? I presume the directors, and the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in the terrible position of having by his action put one of his brother members of the Government in the criminal dock. Is not that a reason why members of the Government should not be directors of companies, particularly where the interest of the companies are not always identical with the interests of the Government? It seems to me, after the debate and the expression of opinion we have had to-night, and especially in view of the terrible position in which the right hon. Gentleman may be placed by having to put a brother member of the Government in the dock, that it would be a graceful thing—and I am sure I am expressing the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite —if the member of the Government who is a director of the P. & O. Company would at once resign his directorship.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I expected that the Government must have committed some offence, owing to the very vigorous attack made on them. But what do we see? The President of the Board of Trade has abandoned position after position, until now he is in full flight with the whole of his commando with the exception of the hon. and gallant Admiral. That is really remarkable, because the position which the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned is the position of the Treasury. The diminution of the Vote in effect says this: "You, the Treasury, are paying a subsidy to the P. and O. Company, which is breaking the law. You must stop that subsidy; if not, we will stop it for you." I think it 1431 is a little unfortunate that the Postmaster General should not be in this House to answer for himself on an occasion like the present. I believe him to be a very capable Postmaster General. He has repented and joined the Government, though others who have not repented have also joined the Government. It does not seem to me to be quite reasonable that because the President of the Board of Trade has not enforced the law, the Treasury should, therefore, stop the subsidy to the P. and O. Hon. Members have assumed that the law has been broken. That has not yet been shown. What has been shown is that that is the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, or rather of the one Law Officer now left. I was told myself by the First Lord of the Treasury that the opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown were not infallible. Neither are they. You cannot and must not assume that the law has been broken until a decision has been given by the courts.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
That is not my business. I am not a member of Her Majesty's Government, and I cannot explain their inner secrets, but at any rate we cannot assume that the law has been broken until a decision has been given. It is the opinion of the surviving Law Officer of the Crown that the law has been broken, but really that has not yet been established. I myself am very much surprised at that opinion. As I read the Merchant Shipping Act it seems to me the law is not broken by employing lascars in an Oriental trade under Oriental shipping articles, and under Oriental conditions. But the Attorney General thinks the law is broken, and the advice I would give to the President of the Board of Trade would be to lose no time in bringing the matter to a proper test. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman opposite that his motion implies a vote of censure on the Postmaster General and the Secretary to the Treasury. Suppose it is proved that the law officer is mistaken, and that his view is incorrect. I do not know what the opinion of the P. and O. is.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Quite two great legal authorities — the Attorney General on the one hand, and Lord Selborne on the other! Who is to decide between them? Nothing less than a court of law can decide between the actual and the hereditary lawyer. Meantime I would point out to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen that they are premature in assuming that what the P. and O. is doing is illegal. As to the merits of the question, I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that we should not do anything to prevent our Indian fellow subjects getting employment. They are British subjects, very poor and very much hindered in their work, and if they are satisfied with the conditions under which they are carried on board these ships I think it is very hard that they should be turned out. It is not a case of one lascar being replaced by one British sailor—it is a case of five or six lascars to one British sailor. I am always sorry to see lascars with their poor little arms and legs like pipe-stems taking the place of brawny British sailors. One of my reasons is that if you get into trouble you can place more reliance on one British sailor than on four or five or six lascars put together, though there have been occasions on which the lascars have behaved well. Hon. Gentlemen must feel the force of the argument I address to them, that we do not at present know with absolute certainty what the law on the matter is. But even if the law is as the right hon. Gentleman states, he is at present imposing a penalty which the law does not provide. What he says to the P. and O. is this: "I am not going to prosecute you for an offence, but I will penalise you in another way by not deducting the crew's space from the tonnage, thereby causing you to pay increased dues." Suppose this Vote is passed, the Secretary to the Treasury will have to go to his subordinate officer the Postmaster General and say: "You have got to withdraw £100 from the P. and O." Then the Postmaster General will say to the P. and O., "I have got to take £100 off the sum due to you, the reason being that the President of the Board of Trade has not done his duty in prosecuting you for offending against the law." It is quite clear that the Opposition have given the Government a great shake and that they are in full retreat. I have never heard of such a surrender as that 1433 made by the President of the Board of Trade, and I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will show mercy after their triumph. If this motion be carried—I will not say whether I will take refuge with the hon. and gallant Admiral, or be shot at in the open by voting against the Government —it will be a very extraordinary and illogical proceeding. On the other hand, if it is withdrawn I think the President of the Board of Trade has had such a lesson as will induce him to bring this matter to a legal decision in the shortest possible time, and also that the Secretary to the Treasury will exercise such pressure as will result in the improvement which is desired.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is mistaken in supposing that there is any desire on this side of the House to deprive lascar seamen of any fair opportunity of employment, but what we desire to enforce is that they should seek employment under the same conditions as British seamen. At present, I maintain, they are obtaining an unfair advantage, from the fact that the Government have allowed the P. and O. Company to infringe the law, at any rate in this country. The point raised by the hon. and gallant Admiral is much more serious than the country seems to realise. I do not know whether any figures have been given as regards the seamen employed on British vessels.
* THE CHAIRMAN
That subject would be quite beyond the discussion. The hon. Gentleman must limit himself to the P. and O. ships, because the reduction has been moved on that particular item.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I fully realise that, Sir. I am simply about to state the general figures and contrast them with figures relating to the P. and O. On the American liners and on the Union and Castle lines there are 90 per cent. of British seamen and on tramps 30 per cent., whereas on the P. and O. ships there are only 25 per cent. That is really a very serious matter, and when we have to depend on our seamen for the safety of this country, I think it ought to be taken more seriously into consideration. At the last general election I remember perfectly well Conservative and Unionist candidates raised the cry of British seamen for British vessels, but 1434 the Government have done nothing during the five years they have been in office in order to put that cry into effective operation. Here is an opportunity. It is not a question at all of prosecuting the P. and O. Company. The President of the Board of Trade admits that he has addressed remonstrances to the directors of the P. and O., and that he is advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that what the company is doing is illegal. It is not a question of prosecuting, but of whether the subsidy is to be continued. The practice may not be illegal in Indian waters, but surely it must be illegal in British waters. I do not think it will be contended that that is not the case. I ask the President of the Board of Trade how is it that no steps have been taken to prosecute these ships in British waters? We ought to have some answer also from the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Post Office as to what action he proposes to take in regard to these subsidies and the conditions of the law.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorkshire, E. R., Holderness)
The substantial question is whether the lascars ought to have the same allowance of air space as British seamen. That does not at all affect the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne. I should have thought that the arguments of the hon. Members for the Scotland Division in regard to the necessity of giving the same amount of air space to lascars as to British seamen were unanswerable. I agree with my hon. friend below me on the Imperial importance of the question of the supply of seamen, but I attach more importance to the question of justice between the lascars and the company. In the event of this country being engaged in war I very much doubt whether we should find any considerable flow of seamen to the Royal Navy from the great lines of steamers. Be that us it may, I quite agree that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough in the efforts he has made for a good many years in urging the provision of adequate air space for lascar seamen has raised a question of real importance and of real justice, which my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade and the Postmaster General ought to take into consideration before new contracts are entered into. I think my right hon. friend the Secretary 1435 to the Treasury ought to give some reply to that definite question since the Post Office is concerned in the contracts.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
This is a question of much wider importance than the employment of lascars by the P. and O. Company; although I do not consider that lascars should not have justice. This company, which is largely subsidised by the money of the British taxpayer, should engage English, Scotch, and Irish sailors for all deck work, and let the lascars go below and be engaged in the stoke-room. I should like to know whether there are no labour conditions in these contracts. If there are none, there ought to be. Who was the Minister who drew up the contracts? I should think he is not worth his salt if he drew up a contract of this kind without inserting labour conditions. We have the British flag now flying from Cape Town to the Zambesi, and in that great stretch of continent we have hundreds of thousands of Matabeles, Bechuanas, Swazis, Mashonas, and Zulus. These men work for 4d. per day; they are big, strong, powerful fellows, who will do double the work of the lascars, and what will the President of the Board of Trade do with the lascars when the P. and O. Company engage two or three thousand of these South African natives? Are there any provisions in the contracts against sweating? It appears to me there are none; and that the P. and O. Company may, if they like, carry on sweating of the most severe order. The right hon. Gentleman says that he sends in strong remonstrances to the company. Can he not go further than remonstrances? Are there no money penalties? I cannot find any, if there are, in the Appropriation Accounts. I think it is altogether wrong that a Minister of the Crown should do this act of injustice. I make no charge against Lord Selborne, but a Minister of the Crown should not be a director of a company which is doing wrong. He might influence his colleagues to be merciful to the wrong-doing company. It is said that there are no complaints from the lascars. Of course there are no complaints; there is no organisation amongst them. If there was a powerful organisation the P. and O. Company would not dare to take such liberties with them, paying them half the money they give to British 1436 seamen, and feeding them on the commonest food. I would advise my hon. friend to accept the pledges of the President of the Board of Trade, and not go to a division. I quite agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne said as to the decay of the mercantile marine. In the fishing industry in Scotland the number of men engaged has during the past few years diminished 45 per cent. It is no use saying that British seamen cannot be had, when by your laws and administration you are driving them into the towns.
§ MR. HANBURY
I shall confine myself in the observations I have to make to the direct interest the Post Office has in the matter. The contract with the P. and O. Company runs up to the year 1905, and therefore we have really to consider what we have to do during that very considerable period. The discussion has embraced two rather different subjects. One was raised by my hon. and gallant friend below the gangway, who objects to any considerable number of lascars being employed at all.
I have no objection whatever to the employment of lascars,. within limits. I only say there should be a definite proportion of British seamen.
§ MR. HANBURY
My hon. and gallant friend knows, of course, that there is a certain proportion of British seamen engaged on all these boats; but we must recollect the fact that, after all, these lascars are British subjects, and that they may fairly claim some right, at any rate, to a place on British ships. However, that question cannot arise during the existence of the present contract; but it is a subject I am quite prepared to take into consideration when a new contract is signed. As to the other point, namely, the legality of the conditions under which the lascars serve, I do not know that I have anything whatever to add to the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other evening, when he said that so long as the P. and 0. Company carry out the conditions of the contract we have no right whatever to withhold payment of the subsidy.
§ MR. HANBURY
The point that is raised is the area of air space, and the fair wage clause does not cover that point. The fair wage clause, as far as I understand, only applies to payment, and the question now raised is the amount of cubic air space allowed to these men.
§ * MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I understand that in all contracts the contractor must give a guarantee that he will give fair conditions of labour, and therefore that ought to apply to the question of wages.
§ MR. HANBURY
I believe that the Indian law applies to these lascars, and so I take it that the rate of wages current in India will be the proper rate of wages to pay them.
§ MR. HANBURY
The whole point is whether the Indian or the English law, and the Indian or the English rate of wages, should apply to these men coming as they do from India. I think there can be no doubt that the rate of wages for these men is the rate current in India. We come now to the legal point as to the cubic air space allowed. As I have said, so long as this company carry out the terms of the contract, we are bound to carry out our side of the contract. The public inconvenience that would result from putting an end to the contract would be enormous, and no one suggests that we should take any step of that kind. Our position is this, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained, we are bound to carry out our portion of the contract so long as the P. and O. Company carry out theirs. It is said that there ought to be a general clause put in the contract, which would be most unusual, that the company should obey the law in all respects. Well, that is assumed; but, as my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn stated, the law is not yet settled. The Department has only obtained the opinion of the law officers; but until a case has been taken into court and decided by a judicial judgment we have no right to take any step in this matter. If we did before such a decision is given we should be placing ourselves in an absurd position.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I am rather sorry at the speech which the right hon. 1438 Gentleman has just made, because it takes away from the effect of the speech of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade. However, I will be satisfied with what the latter right hon. Gentleman has said, because, as was remarked by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, it practically surrenders the point made in my motion. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 3. £2,220,330, to complete the sum for Post Office Telegraphs.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
I wish to draw attention to the question of underground telegraph wires in the north of England and south of Scotland. In times of storms the north of England and south of Scotland are frequently without any telegraphic communication whatever. Of course that is a very serious matter, because a great many business transactions depend upon telegraphic communication from day to day and hour to hour, and great loss is thereby incurred by the business community. Now, what is the remedy? Overhead wires are liable to interruption during storms, and underground wires should be laid to be used in cases of emergency, so that certain communication could be kept up during storms. I believe that an underground system of wires has been adopted very extensively abroad, and has been found to work well. No doubt underground wires are not so profitable nor so efficient, in working as overhead wires in ordinary weather, but an underground wire would be better than no wire at all.
§ MR. HANBURY
As the hon. Member knows, the only underground wires laid at the present moment run between London and Birmingham. They were so laid because that is the course which the principal storms follow, and why we chose that line first for making the experiment. It is an experiment, because both telephone and telegraph wires are laid in the same tube, and there was some doubt as to whether the telephone service could be carried on effectually with such long underground wires. If the experiment is successful, the Post Office would probably extend the underground service in other directions, and probably up to the North. The 1439 facilities for insulating wires are now greater than they used to be, and more economical. Brown paper, it has been found, is as good as indiarubber, and cheaper, and also lasts much longer; and therefore it is probable that the underground system will be used in the future.
§ * SIR CAMERON GULL (Devonshire, Barnstaple)
The first question to which I wish to call attention is purely local. It has been dealt with in correspondence over and over again, and nothing has been done, so that I venture to call the attention of the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman to it. All round the coast of Devonshire the telephonic communication goes well as a rule, but in several places there are serious defects. At one most important point whore there are two lifeboats the wire goes through the post office, and consequently during the time the post office is shut there may be serious interruption to communication. Then on the other side of the Bay the line passes more than a mile away from the coastguard outlook. In both these cases great delay may take place, when every half hour is of importance in a question of saving life. I ask for a communication to be made to the coastguard outlook, because in this particular district we have special dangers to contend with, seeing the vast amount of traffic which passes up and down the Bristol Channel. The lifeboat is on one side of the estuary, the crew on the other side, and the horses necessary for launching the boat are two or three miles inland. Now, when you have the coastguard outlook more than a mile from the point of communication there is considerable loss of time in giving warning and turning out the lifeboat.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Barnstaple has given notice to move a reduction on the Vote, and he is now in possession of the House. If the hon. Member for Barnstaple does not move that reduction it will be open to the hon. 1440 Member for Ross and Cromarty to raise any point he pleases.
§ * SIR CAMERON GULL
I will not move the reduction. It is a matter of great urgency to make this additional communication which we have been promised for more than a year. There is another point as to the service of the telephone. The telephone wires, in most eases, are run into the houses of the coastguard, and as long as they are on duty the service is admirably performed. But a considerable number of the coastguard have been mobilised, and the result is that the telephone might be at any moment without attendance, and in the event of a storm practically useless. I asked a question of the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject, and he said that, so far as regards war, the service of the telephones was arranged for. But these telephones were put up mainly for times of peace, and we might from oversight find them entirely useless at a moment of great emergency. I understand that communications have been made between the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and the Post Office, but I have not heard of any determination being come to. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure me that proper arrangements will be made for the service of the telephones when the coastguard are mobilised. Another question is as to the use of the telephones for thy purpose of surprise practices of the lifeboats. I have no doubt that in most parts of the country there is no necessity for the use of telephones, because the crews are not widely scattered, and can be called together by means of rockets. But I would again remark that we have a lifeboat on one side of the estuary, the crew on the other side, and the horses inland, and the right hon. Gentleman will see that all these men cannot be communicated with quickly so long as there is this defect in the whole telephonic arrangements. It is for that reason that I have pressed the right hon. Gentleman to allow the Lifeboat Committee to use telephonic communication. I think this question has been pressed upon him also by the National Lifeboat Institution. It is no use arranging a surprise practice a long time before, because everybody knows it is to be and everything is ready. The great object is that it shall be a surprise, 1441 and that cannot be unless the Committee is allowed to have once or twice a year the use of the telephones. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some satisfactory reply to these three points.
§ MR. WEIR
desired to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether he would consider the desirability of providing some further facilities for telegraphic communication in the remote parts of Scotland. He pointed out that at the present time district councillors and parish councillors in these remote districts had to provide guarantees, otherwise the postal authorities refused to put up the telegraph. He thought that the Post Office might do something to aid the district and parish councillors of these congested districts, and not leave the whole burden of instituting and guaranteeing an income from these lines upon them. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would give some attention to this matter. Referring to the question of rates on telegraphs, he suggested that the accounts in future should show that item apart from telegraph stores depot. He thought the present mode of keeping accounts was unsatisfactory, and that it would be more satisfactory to separate the items. He also called attention to the fact that £90,000 was paid to the railways in connection with the wires which run down the line, and expressed a doubt as to whether the public got full value for that money, and asked whether it would not be wise for the Post Office to take the management of those wires into their own hands. He was glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to give his attention to the subject of, as far as possible, having telegraph and telephone wires underground instead of overhead. He complained of the priority given to railway messages over those of the public on those lines which run down the railways, where the telegraph office was in the railway station instead of in the post office in the village. It frequently happened that public messages were considerably delayed owing to railway messages and those of the clerks employed by the railway who frequently used the telegraph for the purpose of making appointments with their friends for the evening—taking precedence of public messages. He thought that the public messages ought to have precedence. In 1442 his opinion the railway companies had too many privileges, and that particular one ought to be taken away. He urged the importance of checking the number of messages sent by the employees or the companies themselves on their own business. A very large sum of money was expended on the wires of the railway companies, and it was only proper that the public should be attended to first. Another reason for the delay of messages sent over the companies' wives was the fact that where the telegraph office was at the railway station the porter delivered them. He did not deliver them at once, but only when he was free, and when the message arrived he might be engaged in shunting operations or might have to wait in order to attend the train which was coming in, and in that way great delay was caused. He thought that if the telegraph office was removed to the post office in the neighbourhood it would be a very great improvement. With regard to the sum paid to the railway companies as remuneration for the management of public business over their lines, £74,000, he noticed that there was an increase of £2,500. He did not think they managed the public business in a satisfactory manner, and in many cases considerable delay took place, which the Post Office ought not to permit. £74,000 was a very largo amount, and he would like to know under the circumstances what the nature of the contracts between the Government and the railway companies was. Were they terminable contracts? If they were, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would terminate them at once. With regard to the staff at the Central Telegraph Office in London, he pointed out that there were hundreds of young men and young women engaged at that office day and night, and that the facilities allowed them for getting their mid-day meal were extremely unsatisfactory. The rooms were overcrowded and the ventilation defective, and in his opinion the whole place required the inspection of a sanitary officer. He did not expect the Government to provide such accommodation for telegraphists as was provided in the House of Commons for the Members, but he did ask the right hon. Gentleman to take such means as to provide that the rooms which these young people had should be sufficiently large and well ventilated for their requirements, and that the sanitary 1443 arrangements should be made as perfect as possible. He had no intention of moving a reduction of the Vote, but at the same time he considered it was only right to call attention to these matters, and he did so in the hope that some measures would be taken in the directions which he suggested.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that there was one fact with regard to the account to which he desired to draw attention, and that was the omission of a sum of £400,000 which was paid to the cable companies, and which one would have imagined ought to have appeared in the accounts now before the House. It appeared in the finance account, under the head of Telegraphs, at page 23. It was not an appropriation-in-aid, and he wished to know whether he was right in assuming that it was the share of the cable company of the receipts of the telegrams which passed over their cables; if that was so, it should appear somewhere in the accounts then before the House.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am not quite sure that it ought to appear in the finance account, but I am quite sure that it ought to appear in that of the Post Office, because it represents payments for telegrams sent by submarine cable, and those amounts are received at the Post Office, but in that case the Post Office is a mere receiver for the companies. With regard to the points raised by the hon. Member opposite, I gathered that the first subject discussed was the extension of telegraphic facilities in the Highlands of Scotland, and an appeal for a telegraphic system without a guarantee. I sympathise a great deal with the hon. Gentleman, but at the same time I think it only right to remind him that in the last two or three years we have done a great deal in that direction, not only with regard to telegraphic but also with regard to postal facilities, and even on the question of guarantees the hon. Gentleman ought to remember that the guarantee is much less now than it used to be. Three years ago the whole of the deficiency had to be made good by the guarantors so long as that deficiency existed. That is now all altered, and the guarantee has only to be given for seven years and for only half the deficiency, the Government bearing the loss of the re- 1444 mainder. In addition to that there is the further fact that the area over which the delivery of telegrams is free has been greatly extended, and that relieves some of the grievance. But of all the counties, the district to which most facilities have been given, the Highlands have been most favoured. As the hon. Member knows, we have treated the highlands exceptionally, and have given more facilities there than we have given to any other part of the country.
§ MR. HANBURY
I fully appreciate the appeal ad misericordiam, but at the same time I think the Highlands have had their full share of our benevolence up to the present moment. The hon. Gentleman then complained of the amount paid for the wires running along the railroad. That may be due to two causes. It may be that the railway companies do their work more expensively, but in any case it is quite clear that we could not undertake the maintenance of the wires running over their lines. I do not think the proportion we pay for maintenance is at all too large. He also asked me whether at the telegraph offices at the railway stations the railway companies gave proper facilities to the public. I have not received any complaints that they do not give proper facilities, or that they give undue preference to their own messages, but if the hon. Member will give me a case where that has occurred I shall be glad to look into it. But, as at present advised, I think his remarks are only the outcome of a general suspicion on his part, which has no firm basis in fact. He also raised the question of the delivery of telegrams from these offices, and I quite agree that it would be better, as a rule, to have a postal telegraph office, instead of a railway office; but the companies are under exactly the same conditions as the postmasters, and if they are within reach of messengers whom they can employ, they are expected to deliver with the same rapidity as the postmaster, but the railway station is sometimes remote, and it is difficult to find a messenger, porters not always being able to be spared. Coming to 1445 the points of the Member for Barn-staple, two of the questions he raised are questions which concern the Board of Trade or Admiralty rather than the Post-office. The first point he raised was telegraphic communication with the coast- guard, in regard to which I understood him to say the Board of Trade had given a distinct promise that his wishes should be carried out.
§ * SIR CAMERON GULL
The Postmaster General also promised as soon as funds were available he would deal with this matter. It is quite true that I extracted a promise from the Board of Trade, but the Postmaster General promised as well.
§ MR. HANBURY
The promises made by the Postmaster General and by the President of the Board of Trade shall be carried out. With regard to telephonic communication between the coastguard stations in connection with lifeboat surprise practice. I quite see the point of my right hon. friend, and I will consult the Admiralty upon the subject, and see if this matter can be remedied. The difficulty of the Post Office in the matter is that there is a fear if it is used for this purpose there may be a danger of crying "wolf" too often, with the result that the men would not respond in the way that they should; but if my hon. friend has gone into the whole question and understands the matter of the lifeboat service, I shall be glad to discuss it with him. At the same time that is the fear of the Post Office.
§ * SIR CAMERON GULL
said he happened to be the president of the Lifeboat Committee in North Devonshire, and he could only say that there was urgent need for the permission that he asked for in order that they might be able to communicate over a considerable distance with the crews.
§ MR. CALDWELL
thought the answer about the underground telegraph wires altogether unsatisfactory. It might take two or three years to provide the service.
§ MR. HANBURY
Oh, no, no. It will only take two or three months to find out whether the system works properly.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said there would be improvements suggested by the actual 1446 working, and the Post Office might go on postponing the extension of the system indefinitely. It was only in time of crisis that the underground system was of very much practical value. It would be of very great advantage to the people, and the cost would not be great. He hoped the Post Office would begin to extend the system to the North of England and also to Scotland. The loss was very great to the people of Scotland through the interruption of telegraphic communication on account of storms. They had been as long as seven days without telegraphic communication. Therefore the extension of the underground system should not be delayed.
§ Resolution agreed to.