HC Deb 28 May 1900 vol 83 cc1590-6
MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

I do not intend to take up more than ten minutes, and I am not going to discuss the war. I am going to discuss a question in regard to which I expect I shall have the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House. We are asked to-night to agree to the motion that the House shall adjourn for the holidays until the 14th June. I cannot understand why there should be such a long adjournment when we take into consideration that there are some important measures that might be passed through this House, measures which would give considerable relief to large sections of the working men of the country, and more especially to the seafaring men. In 1887 the Government brought in a measure to give the working men some protection in the shape of a Workmen's Compensation Act. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced that Bill informed the House that it was an experimental measure, and that it was to be applied to the most dangerous trades and occupations. Yet, strange to say, the Act does not apply to the seafaring profession, which is the most dangerous of all the trades in this country. I think a reference to the Board of Trade Returns will satisfy any hon. Gentleman on this point, seeing that it will be found that every year over 1,600 sailors, firemen, and others are killed on board ship or are drowned.


Order, order! The hon. Member will not be in order in discussing that question, as there is a motion on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for the Kirkdale Division of Liverpool dealing with the subject of the application of the Workmen's Compensation Act to Seamen.


I thought I would be in order, seeing that the motion before the House is one to adjourn for a long holiday, in complaining that there would be ample time at the disposal of the Government to legislate on such a matter if the Government had the desire to do so. However, if it is out of order to discuss the question of the Workmen's Compensation Act, I can at least bring one or two other matters before the House which directly affect the interests of seamen. I hope I shall have the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who very often in their speeches up and down the land praise the seafaring men very much, saying they are a grand body of men and that they ought to have the sympathy of the nation at large. I have on many occasions brought the grievances of the seamen before this House, but they are the very class of working men who can get no justice from the House of Commons. There is only one reason that I know of why the seamen can get no relief from the House of Commons, and that is that they are Uitlanders—they have no votes. If the seafaring men of this country had votes and the opportunity of using those votes at election times, I can just imagine how I should see the hon. Gentlemen opposite fishing around the seamen, asking them for their votes to send them to Parliament. But unfortunately very few of them have votes, and of those who have got them very few have the opportunity of using them at election times; consequently hon. Gentlemen on the other side suppose they can afford to ignore the claims of these men. But I venture to say that that ought to be a stronger reason for having the sympathy and support of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The fact that these men cannot help themselves politically, I think, entitles them to some consideration from the gentlemen on the other side of the House. I asked the President of the Board of Trade the other day whether he could see his way clear to bring in a Bill to make some alterations in the provisions scale which the seamen get on board ship at the present time. The provisions scale provided for men who sign the articles of agreement on board a British ship is the scale adopted in the year 1852, when provisions were at least 30 per cent. dearer than the present time. There has been no alteration in that provisions scale, and the men who are engaged to-day sign exactly the same scale as they signed fifty years ago. In the United States they look more after the men in that respect. There is a proper scale of provisions provided by Act of Parliament, and that scale gives great satisfaction to the men on board the ships. We have often been told that British seamen desert their ships abroad, and cause a great amount of inconvenience to the owners of British ships. I do not wonder at it, taking into consideration the fact that men will start on. a voyage with the knowledge that three days in the week they have got to have one and a quarter pounds of salt pork, on the other four days one and a half pounds of salt beef, a pound of biscuits daily, and half a pound of flour three times a week. But what I am amused at is this. The Board of Trade scale provides for twenty-two different things, and yet shipowners give the men only nine out of the twenty-two. No one can be satisfied on board ship with the scale of provisions at present provided for him. Only to-day I saw the crew of a vessel about to be paid off, and they told me that during the voyage they had had a short allowance of beef, a short allowance of flour, no sugar for over five weeks—in fact, they had been short of every kind of provisions during the voyage. Yet there is no redress for those men. I say that it is a perfect crime and a scandal that any ship should leave a foreign port for a four or five months passage without having sufficient provisions on board the vessel to supply the men with full and sufficient food for their wants. The complaint of the men is a daily complaint. It is perfectly true that on the principal liners, such as those on Donald Currie's line, the Castle line, the White Star line, the Cunard line, and the other principal lines, there is no complaint with regard to the food; the men get ample food and the very best of everything. But when we come to the ordinary tramp steamer, I am bound to say that on nine out of every ten the men are literally starved during the whole of the voyage. It is perfectly true that they got what the articles of agreement provide; they get that; they can claim that by law. Having signed the agreement, they get that; but what I complain of is that it is not sufficient, and there ought to be an alteration. I asked the president of the Board of Trade whether he could see his way clear to bring in a Bill to settle this question of seamen's provisions, but I was told by the right hon. Gentleman that he could not see his way to do that. Yet it is the one thing that is driving good men from the sea service; it is the one thing that has created so much desertion of British, seamen abroad, and yet a Conservative Government, with a large majority at its back and ample time at its disposal, has no time to give any relief to the poor unfortunate sea-faring men. Is there any use, I wonder, in making an appeal to- night? Will the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade tell us when he will introduce some legislation for the benefit of the seamen? The Government has had ample time now; it has been in office for six years. Year after year I have expected to see some measure brought forward for the benefit of the seafaring population of this country, but yet nothing has been done. I do not want to trespass too much on the time of the House, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury if he will say to-night when we may expect an extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act to seamen. I think it would be worth the while of the Conservative party to extend that Workmen's Compensation Act in the way I have suggested before the dissolution, because you may depend upon it that if the seamen do not get the benefits of that Act before this Parliament dissolves, I, for one, intend to make as much noise about it up and down the country as I can. Yes, I shall do my little bit at the election, and I shall not forget the seamen. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have had many opportunities of legislating for the seamen if they had felt disposed to do so. May I appeal also to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to say when he will bring in a Bill to alter the present scale of provisions which are supplied to the men on board the merchant ships? At the present moment—and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to know

this, because I believe that if I could touch his heart he would be inclined to do something for these men-there are three sailors in Greenwich Hospital brought in there suffering from scurvy caused by the bad provisions supplied to them on board their ship. Surely that ought to touch the right hon. Gentleman's heart if it can be touched at all. The right hon. Gentleman has time to alter this state of things if he likes. All he has got to do is to bring in a Bill. I am quite certain it would be backed by hon. Gentlemen who sit on the other side of the House. The only opposition we might expect to such a measure would be from two or three ship-owners-not from the bulk of ship-owners in this House, but from two or three outside. As far as this side of the House is concerned, I think I can guarantee that such a Bill would be supported by every section of the Members here. Now, I do ask the right hon. Gentleman, seeing the amount of time there is at the disposal of the Government, can he not hold out some promise that something will be done for the seamen before this session is brought to an end.


rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put,"

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes, 187: Noes, 67. (Division List No. 140.)

Gibbs, Hn. A.G.H.(City of Lond) Lowe, Francis William Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.
Giles, Charles Tyrrell Loyd, Archie Kirkman. Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Charles T.
Godson, Sir Augustus Fred. Lucas-Shadwell, William Royds, Clement Molyneux
Goldsworthy, Major-General Macartney, W. G. Ellison Samuel, Harry S. (Lime house)
Gordon, Hon. John Edward Macdona, John Cumming Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Maclean, James Mackenzie Seton-Karr, Henry
Goulding, Edward Alfred Maclure, Sir John William Sharpe, William Edward T.
Graham, Henry Robert M'Killop, James Shaw, Charles E. (Stafford)
Green, W. D. (Wednesbury) Marks, Henry Hananel Shaw-Stewart, M.H.(Renfrew
Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury) Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W.F. Simeon, Sir Barrington
Greville, Hon. Ronald Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire) Smith, A. H. (Christchurch)
Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick) Milward, Colonel Victor Smith, J as Parker(Lanarksh.)
Gull, Sir Cameron Monckton, Edward Philip Stephens, Henry Charles
Gurdon, Sir William Brampton Moon, Edward Robert Pacy Stone, Sir Benjamin
Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord Geo. More, Robert J. (Shropshire) Strauss, Arthur
Hanbury, Rt. Hn. R. Wm. Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Heath, James Morrell, George Herbert Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G.(Oxf'd Univ.)
Helder, Augustus Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford) Thonton. Percy M.
Henderson, Alexander Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C. Tritton, Charles Ernest
Hermon-Hodge, Robt. Trotter Muntz, Philip A. Tuke, Sir John Bitty
Hickman, Sir Alfred Murray, Rt. Hn A Graham (Bute) Vincent, Col. Sir CEH (Sheffield)
Hobhouse, Henry Murray, Charles J. (Coventry) Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)
Holland, William Henry Newdigate, Francis Alexander Warr, Augustus Frederick
Hornby, Sir William Henry Nicholson, William Graham Welby, Sir Charles G.E.(Notts.)
Hudson, George Bickersteth Parkes, Ebenezer Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd
Hutton, John (Yorks, N.R.) Pease, Herbert P. (Darlington) Whiteley, H.(Ashton-under-L.)
Jackson, Rt. Hon. Wm. Lawies Pease, Sir Joseph W. (Durham) Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Peel, William Robert Wellesley Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)
Keswick, William Penn, John Willox, Sir John Archibald
Knowles, Lees Phillpotts, Captain Arthur Wilson, J.W. (Worcestersh, N.
Lafone, Alfred Pilkington, Sir G. A (Lancs, S. W.) Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)
Lawrence, Sir E. Durning- (Corn) Platt-Higgins, Frederick Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Wrightson, Thomas
Lawson, J. Grant (Yorks.) Pretyman, Ernest George Wyndham, George
Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong
Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Swan.) Purvis, Robert Young, Commander (Berks, E.)
Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Pym, C. Guy
Loder, Gerald W. Erskine Rankin, Sir James TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Long, Rt. Hn Walter (Liverpool) Rasch, Major Frederic Carne Sir William Walrond and
Lonsdale, John Brownlee Renshaw, Charles Bine Mr. Anstruther.
Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller Rentoul, James Alexander
Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N.E.) Hemphill, Rt. Hn. Charles H. Rickett, J. Compton
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Hormman, Frederick John Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)
Bainbridge. Emerson Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Roberts, John H.(Denbighsh.)
Barlow, John Emmott Jacoby, James Alfred Robson, William Snowdon
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Joicey, Sir James Runciman, Walter
Bolton. Thomas Dolling Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire) Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Brigg, John Lawson. Sir W. (Cumberland) Schwann, Charles E.
Broadhurst, Henry Lewis, John Herbert Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Burns, John MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Souttar, Robinson
Caldwell, James M'Laren, Charles Benjamin Steadman, William Charles
Channing, Francis Allston Maddison, Fred. Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Clancy, John Joseph Morton, Edw. J.C.(Devonport) Tanner, Charles Kearns
Colville, John Norton, Capt. Cecil William Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)
Crombie, John William Nussey, Thomas Williams Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Dalziel, James Henry O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Wedderburn, Sir William
Dewar, Arthur O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.) Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Donelan, Captain A. O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Wilson, Hn. J. (York, W. R.)
Doogan, P. C. Palmer, George Wm.(Reading) Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)
Duckworth, James Pickersgill, Edward Hare Yoxall, James Henry
Fenwick, Charles Power, Patrick Joseph
Flynn, James Christopher Price, Robert John TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Goddard, Daniel Ford Randell, David Mr. Kill ride and Mr. Have-
Griffith, Ellis J. Reckitt, Harold James lock Wilson.
Hoyden, John Patrick Rickardson, J. (Durham, S.E.)

Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising do adjourn till Thursday, 14th June, and that so soon as Government business is disposed of this day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put.