§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE,) Carnarvon Boroughs
I have to ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1900. The Bill which I propose to introduce is based on the report of two or three Committees. The first is the Committee which reported in 1903, Lord St. Helier's Committee, dealing with two or three different matters relating to the mercantile marine; secondly, the Seaman's Wages Committee, which reported last year; and, thirdly, the Committee known as Mr. Bonar Law's Foreign Ships Statutory Requirements Committee, which also reported last year. No attempt is to be made to codify the Merchant Shipping Act, although that is very necessary. An amendment was felt very necessary to bring the merchant shipping laws up to date last year, but owing to the fact that no time was given by the Government the Bill had to be carried through without any amendment at all. This Bill deals with a few of the admitted grievances from which British shipowners and seamen suffer. The first is in reference to the application of our safety regulations to foreign ships. The regulations applicable to British ships may be divided roughly into four parts. One deals with overloading; the second deals with unseaworthiness—the defective condition of hull, machinery, and equipment, and undermanning; the third deals with stowage of grain; and the fourth deals with appliances—life-boats, buoys, and life-belts. There is no doubt at all that these regulations have had the effect of saving life during the years they have been in operation. In 1872 I find that 238 the loss of life in the mercantile marine amounted to 3,533, in 1874 to 4,171, and in 1904, the last year for which we have returns, to 1,113—a very considerable reduction. The loss of life in 1872 was one in sixty-four of those employed in our merchant ships, and it now varies between 1 in 150 and 1 in 220. This is not entirely attributable to legislation with regard to life-saving appliances and with regard to overloading and unseaworthiness. It is due also very largely to the gradual substitution of steam for sailing ships. With regard to the overloading of foreign ships in British ports, under the regulations they may be detained at the present moment if they are overloaded. These are made applicable by the rules of the Board of Trade— in 1876 a clause was introduced into the Act which made it distinctly applicable to foreign ships loading cargo in a British port; but unfortunately owing to the absence of the disc, it was exceedingly difficult to detect what ships were overloaded and what were not, and. if the Board of Trade officials detained a vessel which afterwards on survey was discovered as a matter of fact to be not overloaded, then the Government would be liable to very substantial damages for detention. Unless it was pretty obvious that a foreign ship was overloaded, the Board of Trade officials were naturally very cautious and circumspect and did not care to run the risk of detaining a vessel. Foreign ships could arrive in this country overloaded, and we have had a good many cases. We watched for some months, and reports were made to the Board of Trade. There is a very long list appended to the report on the subject, as an appendix to the evidence of Mr. Howell, of foreign ships overloaded, some to the extent of ten, twelve, and even nineteen inches, arriving in British ports in very dangerous conditions, especially ships engaged in the carrying of ore from Spain and Sweden. The Board of Trade had no right to interfere, because the regulations were not applicable to ships arriving from foreign ports. The same thing applies to unseaworthiness. A foreign ship might arrive in a British port and sail from a British port in a most unseaworthy condition: her hull might be defective and her machinery and equipment might be deficient, but the Board of Trade had no right to intervene at all.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Yes, both going and coming. There is no distinction. If British shipowners found when their ships were condemned as unseaworthy by the Board of Trade officials that it was hardly worth refitting them, if they were too rotten, they generally sold them to foreigners. There was no market for them in this country, and the consequence was that they were sold practically for an old song. I find that last year 78 per cont. of 422,000 tons of British steamers sold to foreign ship-owning syndicates, was constructed before 1895, whereas in our own country we added 1,226,000 steam tons to the register of the United Kingdom, 98 per cent. of it being new steamers. Not merely is the initial expenditure less, consequently upon the foreign shipowner getting old, discarded British ships for next to nothing, but the current expenditure of keeping the ship going is less. We have no regulations compelling them to keep up the standard, which will cost a considerable sum of money. Consequently the competition to which British shipowners were subjected by these vessels was grossly unfair. The initial capital was less, the expenditure of keeping them going was less, and not merely that, but they might come to this country considerably overloaded, probably over 200 or 300 tons in some cases. We, on the other hand, compelled our ships to be up-to-date, to conform to our regulations with regard to life-saving appliances; and shipowners not unnaturally complained that the competition was exceedingly unfair. Seeing that these laws were passed in the interests of humanity, in the interests of saving life—and that, after all, is not a national, but an international obligation —we felt that it was grossly unfair to impose obligations of this character upon our shipowners in the interests of humanity, and at the same time to allow foreigners to come into our ports and break our own laws. Therefore it is the intention of the Government to make these ides and regulations applicable to foreign ships, whether they sail from British ports or whether they arrive in British ports. In order to make them effective, it is perfectly clear you cannot throw the risk 240 upon the Board of Trade surveyor of saying whether the ship is overloaded or not. It is too much of a risk for him to undertake at the present moment, and the result is that a very considerable number escape. Therefore it is intended that after a certain date—two or three years will be given to enable the foreign shipowners who trade regularly with this country to make up their minds —foreign shipowners must subscribe to the conditions of the same disc to enable any one to see whether the ship is overloaded or not. After that date the foreign ship cannot be overloaded whether coming or going, she must be in a perfectly seaworthy condition, and coming and going she must be subject to the same regulations with regard to life-saving appliances. The only other point is with respect to stowage of grain. In some trades it is exceedingly dangerous unless you stow grain very carefully, for in rough weather the grain may be shifted and give the ship a list, rendering her very dangerous, and there are cases where the vessel has turned turtle as the result of the shifting of grain in rough weather. We have introduced regulations for the very careful stowage of grain in some parts of the ocean, more especially in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, to prevent accidents of that character, but they are not applicable to foreign ships. Thirty-six foreign ships of this character were watched the year before last, and this is the result. In nineteen cases the precautions which had been taken against the shifting of grain were practically equivalent to ours. It is not our idea to impose our regulations on foreign ships if their own are in the main equivalent to ours. In nineteen cases they were practically equivalent to ours, in five they were described as fair, and in twelve as more or less indifferent. In those cases the ships would be subjected to the same regulations with regard to the stowage of grain as our ships. The same thing applies to life-saving appliances. I do not think that the foreigner can complain. After all, he is treated very well in this country—very much to our advantage. We buy nothing from him that we do not want. There is no compulsory purchase of foreign goods. We have given him an open market and open harbours, and we treat him exactly as we treat our own ships. The Government do not propose to 241 impose upon him any obligations which our own ships have not been subjected to for years, very much to their own benefit. It is to be made plain that their ships shall enjoy the same rights, privileges, liberties, immunities and exceptions in matters of navigation as are or may be enjoyed by ours. That is really what you find in ail navigation agreements; they simply claim the same privileges and rights as native subjects enjoy.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
That is all we propose to do. We propose to put them under exactly the same obligations, and, after all, we have a sort of national obligation. Up to the present we have exacted a standard in the matter of protecting life at sea. It is not a fancy standard. It is something we have subjected our own ships to for years. Other countries are gradually approximating to ours. Germany is getting closer year by year and Franco is improving. It is not the great countries we complain so much about. Therefore I think it would assist if we not merely set this standard for our own ships, but insisted upon its being applicable to every ship that trades with our ports. After all, our carrying trade is the greatest in the world. There is a real inducement for foreign shipowners to follow the very excellent example set by us in this respect. So much for that part of the matter. I think I have dealt with grain stowage, life saving apparatus, seaworthiness, and load line. There is one thing before I dispose of this part of the Bill I should like to say. It is obviously impossible to apply rigidly our rule to foreign countries who have got regulations of their own that are practically equivalent to ours, and therefore we take power where we are satisfied that the regulations of any particular country are substantially equal to ours to except by Order in Council all vessels of that country from our rules with regard to loading. At present, if a foreign emigrant ship calls at a British port to take emigrants on board, she is subject to all the emigration regulations of this country, but if she is an emigrant ship calling for passengers she is not liable or subject to our passenger regulations. Now I think 242 the House will agree that if they are already made liable to our emigration regulations, they should also be subject to our passenger regulations with regard to overcrowding, and more particularly with regard to life-saving appliances if they are going to take passengers. There again these regulations are in the interests of humanity.
I now come to deal with a subject of much greater complexity and difficulty and one which has caused me much more anxiety. It is the question of foreign seamen. I confess when I first looked into the figures I was really very startled. In 1870 we had 200,000 British seamen in British ships, and 18,000 foreign seamen and hardly any lascars; I will give the lascars separately because their case is very different from that of foreign seamen. In 1904 the number of British sailors had fallen from 200,000 to 176,000, and the number of foreign sailors had increased from 18,000 to 39,000. The foreigner had increased from 9 per cent. to 22 per cent. Whereas we had hardly any lascars in 1870—1 believe they began about 1886—you had lascars before that but not in great numbers— they have now increased to 42,000 odd. I confess, looking at these figures, they are rather startling, and in the evidence taken on the subject suggestions have been put forward, sometimes by representatives of the seamen, and sometimes by others, that the presence of many foreigners in our British mercantile marine is attributable to the fact that the shipowner can get foreign seamen at a lower rate of pay and that he is much more amenable to discipline. But I confess, alter going into it very carefully —not merely reading evidence, but seeing shipowners and making inquiries— that I do not think there is substantial ground for that suggestion. I think shipowners have no alternative. They have taken foreign sailors because there is not an adequate supply of British sailors for the purpose of meeting the enormous and growing demands of our mercantile marine. The growth of the mercantile marine has been so amazing. It was quite impossible for the supply to keep pace with it. In 1870 you had 5,500,000 tons and in 1904 that had gone up to 10,250,000 tons, almost double in thirty-five years. The number of men 243 employed in 1870 was 218,000 and in 1904 259,000. The Navy has practically taken the cream of our men engaged in seafaring life. In 1868 there were 64,000 men in our Navy, and last year we took a Vote for 129,000 men, double the number. Last year one out of every thirty-six of the adult population of this country was engaged in a seafaring occupation, and supposing you brought in a Bill to stop every foreign seaman being engaged on British ships you would ruin the British mercantile marine. I do not despair of being able to do something with the assistance of shipowners, who seem to me just as anxious as anybody to get British seamen into British ships, and we are considering all sorts of schemes at the present time. Sir Alfred Jones has been down to Swansea, and he has suggested that in each port you should set up some arrangement for the purpose of training British sailors. I think that is an admirable idea, and I think if the Corporation in every seaport town in the United Kingdom were to take the matter up, in a short time shipowners would not be driven as they are now to foreign seamen for the purpose of manning their great fleets. That, however, is a thing we could not possibly introduce into an Act of Parliament at the present stage.
That is with regard to that particular branch. Let me put another point before I dismiss it. I have not disposed altogether of foreign seamen. A good deal of British shipping trading between foreign ports never touch the home ports. The ships have hardly been at home since construction. We have 54 per cent. of the carrying trade of the world. There has not been anything like it in history. It is not merely that we carry two-thirds of our own trade, but 54 per cont. of the trade of the whole world, and therefore, a good number of British ships trade between foreign ports and never touch homo ports except once every four years for the purpose of classification at Lloyds. You cannot get British sailors to remain on board ships of that kind. You may get your captain and officers, but you cannot get your British sailor to live altogether in a foreign port. If you prevent shipowners from engaging foreign sailors you stop the whole of that international trade, and that is why I have come to the conclusion that British shipowners are 244 not altogether to blame for the enormous increases of foreign sailors in British ships. They have no alternative. I believe from what I have seen that they are anxious and will assist in the future to got British sailors into British ships. It is said that there is really a great danger to the safety of the country, but that is not the view of the Admiralty. I am not a great authority on armaments, but it really seems to be the view of men who know about it that there is no real substantial danger. They say that when war comes you would not draw so very much from the mercantile marine, because you would want them to carry on the trade. I would remind hon. Members who think otherwise that, as I am told, in Nelson's fleet 22 per cent. of the men were foreigners. That is not the state of things now. So much for the pure foreigner. Now I come to the lascars. There has been a decrease during the last two or three years, so far as the foreigner is concerned, and I am inclined to believe that that decrease is a permanent thing, because the conditions are improving in foreign ships, and the greater the improvement the more foreign countries will be able to absorb their own seafaring population. But when you come to the lascar there is a continual increase. The lascar, however, is a Britisher. [A LABOUR MEMBER: Like the Chinaman!] You cannot make a Britisher of him merely for the sake of bragging of the extent of your dominions, and then the moment he asks for a share of your privileges say "You are a foreigner." That is not fair; it is a question of fair play. [A LABOUR MEMBER: And wages!] The lascars themselves sent a petition which is rather interesting. They are very much concerned about their accommodation. They said—We are told that in the Parliament of England sits a gentleman of the name of Havelock Wilson Sahib. He has urged there lately, as he has often done in the past, that we should be given more space. We beseech your Lordships to tell him that his benevolence will be our bane; that as we have done him no wrong, and if he really wishes us well he will have the mercy to spare us. Should he, however, pursue us with his attentions, we are sure that after this humble representation of ours, the other members of the great Assembly will refuse to listen to him.The lascars came before Lord St Helier's Committee and I am assured by those who sat on that Committee—and 245 they are very competent judges—that no more intelligent witnesses came before them than these fellow-British subjects of ours. I am told, on all hands, that the lascars are very intelligent, exceedingly sober, hard-working and skilful, and in an emergency they are courageous men. Let me put in another word for the lascar. The lascar is an hereditary sailor. He belongs to a sailor caste. He is bound by the rules of his caste to pursue the trade his ancestors have pursued from time immemorial, from the days of the Flood. Well, now, what do they say? They had a considerable coasting trade along the coast of India. We came along and deprived them of their livelihood and they say that the least we can do is to allow them to take part in running our great mercantile marine. I am with them heartily. The British mercantile marine cannot do without them.
There is a real objection in the case of the foreign seaman because he very often endangers the safety of the ship through not being able to understand the words of command. There have been a good many cases of that character lately. If the House will allow me I will refer to one or two of them. There were cases which were tried at Cardiff. There were quite a number of wrecks, and an inquiry was held at Cardiff by a very competent and experienced Judge, and in at least three of the cases it was shown that a majority of the seamen on board were foreigners. This is the judgment of the Court in one case—the case of the "Ordovician."It is not within the province of this court to express an opinion as to policy, expedience, or necessity of employing foreign seamen on British ships, nor to institute any comparison between British and foreign seamen. But the Court deems it a duty to direct attention to the fact that this is the third wreck inquiry held here within a month, in which the deck hands have been chiefly foreign seamen with no knowledge of the English language.In the recent 'Rowtor' inquiry it was proved that a Spaniard who could neither speak nor understand English was at the wheel when the vessel stranded, and the court found that either bad steering or a certain other cause mentioned was a contributory cause of the stranding.In the inquiry into the loss of the "Bavaria"—which involved the loss of many lives—the only deck hands that gave evidence were Russians who were entirely ignorant of the English language; and this court was satisfied that they made a false imputation on 246 the reputation of the master, who had lost his life in trying to save his vessel.In the case of the "Bavaria," it was shown that foreign seamen managed to get hold of the life-boat, and having got on board with only one Britisher a Russian cut the rope; those in the life-boat were saved, but all the rest of the hands sank. In another case—the "Ordovician"—a Greek who could speak no English was at the wheel, and a Greek who could speak no English was at the look-out; also bad steering conduced to the casualty. There is overwhelming evidence that the lives of men engaged at sea are endangered by the fact that you have seamen on board who do not understand the English language, who consequently do not understand the word of command, and who, especially in moments of emergency, are absolutely worthless for that reason. The Government are of opinion that, although they cannot bring in a Bill to exclude foreign seamen from British ships, at any rate they ought to introduce into the Bill a provision that no foreign seamen, with the exception of British subjects, shall be engaged on board British ships, unless in the opinion of a competent Board of Trade officer they are capable of understanding the word of command in the English language. I put it entirely on the ground of safety. There is nothing further that I wish to say about the foreign seamen, except this. I earnestly hope that British shipowners will assist us in trying to bring into existence or to promote some sort of scheme whereby the undoubted deficiency in the supply of British seamen can be, somehow or other, made good. I am quite certain that a good deal can be done by a system of apprenticeship. The firm with which my hon. friend the Member for Dewsbury is connected—than whom there is no man in this House more competent in matters affecting the merchant service—have a regular system of apprenticeship, which is working admirably. About 50 per cent. of the boys who are apprenticed eventually stick to their posts, and I think that that is about as high a percentage as you can really expect. I believe that the experiment which has been made such a success in my hon. friend's firm could be made a success in any other firm if a real effort were made. Here you have 40,000 berths at present filled by foreigners, according to the shipowners, because 247 Britishers cannot be obtained. There would be an opening for some philanthropic trade unionist or tariff reformer who wished to find employment for British hands.
Then I come to another branch of the Bill, and that is in regard to food and the scale of provisions. At the present moment there is no statutory scale of provisions enforced upon shipowners. There is something which is known as the Board of Trade scale, but it is not a Board of Trade scale at all; it is purely a skeleton which the Board of Trade expect each owner to fill up for himself, but too often the skeleton has done the part of a real living scale. The "Board of Trade scale" is a sort of traditional scale: it is very little beyond salt meat, biscuits, tea, and sugar. It would be unfair to shipowners if I were to suggest that that is the scale of provisions which they give to their sailors. It is not. There is a conflict of evidence on this point; but I should say that the vast majority of shipowners not merely improve upon that scale, but improve upon it very considerably. Some shipowners, more especially on the great liners and the great tramp ships, provide as generous a scale as could be put into an Act of Parliament—I should say a better scale than you could possibly put into an Act of Parliament. But at the same time there is no doubt of this —that a very considerable minority of sailing-ship owners and tramp-ship owners do provide a scale for their seamen which is not much better, if at all, than this meagre, monotonous, miserable scale of salt beef, biscuits, tea, and sugar. I think that that is not the sort of thing which ought to be allowed. We have had considerable evidence with regard to desertions. The House will, I am sure, be surprised to know that in the course of a single year the desertions from the British mercantile marine amount to 28,000. According to some of the evidence, the desertions are duo to a large extent to the monotony, the poverty, and the lack of variety of the food scale in some of the sailing ships. Another sot of witnesses said that the difficulty which had been found in inducing men and boys to join the mercantile marine was very largely attributable to the fact that the food scale did not commend itself in many instances to the British working man. All that we 248 say is this. The great majority of shipowners supply their sailors with excellent food, good in quality, admirable in quantity, and excellent as far as variety is concerned, taking into account that, after all, the sea is the sea, and that you cannot go out every morning and buy fresh meat and so on. Taking all these things into account, the vast majority of British shipowners do their duty by their seamen; and all that we say is that it is no reflection upon a trading community to introduce a law or a regulation that forces the recalcitrant members of that community to live up to the standard, as it were, of the majority of their fellow-traders. That is all that we do here. We say to these men who do not provide their sailors with the kind of food which ought to be given to them, "You must, at any rate, come up to the average of the British shipowners." There has been a great deal of complaint under this head. I do not want to read out too much of the evidence, but there is a case for introducing some sort of minimum scale of provisions. I will not refer merely to the evidence of seamen; the evidence given by sailors is practically unanimous on the point. But the evidence given by independent Board of Trade witnesses corroborates the evidence given by the sailors to a very large extent. There is the evidence given by Mr. Longford, who says that the cooking on sailing ships is, as a rule, wholly uncharacterised by skill. When we are so anxious to reduce the number of foreigners on our British ships and to increase the number of British sailors, one thing to do is to make the merchant service as attractive as we can, and the first condition undoubtedly is to provide fairly good food. The life of the seaman is a pretty hard one. His accommodation is cramped under the best of conditions; there is a kind of food which in the best service in the world he would have to get accustomed to; there is the absence from home, and the deprivation of all the comforts of home life. Under these circumstances it is not too much to ask that a minimum scale of provisions should be provided for these men, and the Government have decided in this Bill to have a minimum scale. But I do not think you can have a scale which you can rigidly enforce—a scale of so many pounds of this a week and so many ounces of that. It is quite impossible rigidly to enforce a 249 scale in every particular. The only thing you can do is not to set up a scale, but to set up a standard, and the minimum scale which we introduce into this Bill is not so much a scale as a. sort of standard to which we shall ask shipowners to conform. If a sailor complains that he has not had a fair share of the things provided in the scale and the shipowner can prove that he has had substitutes which are equivalent. then the sailor will be non suited. I think that that is fair on the whole; it is hotter for the sailor and better for the shipowner. I need not say that in many ports it would be quite impossible for the shipowner to provide the ship with some article included in the scale, and then he would be able to provide some substitute.
Then it follows almost as a matter of course that if we have a minimum scale of provisions we must have some provision with regard to cooking. The Committee recommended that the cooks should be certificated. I am told that the evidence is overwhelming that the cooking is bad as a rule, and that the cook is generally a man who is not fit for anything else. The result is that shipowners do not get justice done to them because of the badness of the cooking. The provisions which come before the sailors are dressed up in such a way as to look very much worse than they really are. Therefore we have decided to incorporate the recommendation of the Committee, and to say that cooks must go through some course of training. We give two years, so that all those who have been in the service two years will get their certificates as a matter of course; therefore, for some time sailors will have to put up with a good deal of bad cooking. My own opinion is that when you get these certificated cooks the shipowners themselves will feel that it is so much easier to attract and obtain a good class of men because of the excellence of the food, that they will infinitely prefer the certificated man to the experienced but inexpert cook of olden times. I do not think there is anything for shipowers to complain of in that. I have consulted them in regard to the minimum scale, and while they agree on the whole, they do not quite agree with the minimum scale we have suggested, but we think that we have struck a very fair compromise between the scale suggested by the sailors and 250 that to which the Shipping Federation were prepared to agree. I think that on the whole our scale is not an extravagant one. Whenever I have put it to a shipowner he has always told me that his scale is bettor than that: therefore he cannot complain: he is always thinking of somebody else, not himself. But I think the standard in these matters ought to be set by the better class of shipowners. In their own interest and in the interest of the trade, the excellent example which they have sot for forty years but which has not been followed by others ought to be enforced by Act of Parliament, and that is why we have introduced this provision into the Bill.
We are also going to extend the inspection of provisions. As hon. Members who are acquainted with the Merchant Shipping Act know perfectly well, provisions are inspected on vessels going to certain parts of the world—round Cape Horn, round the Cape of Good Hope, and through the Suez Canal; but there is no inspection of the provisions on vessels going to any other part of the globe. If you inspect the provisions in the one case, it is necessary to inspect them in the other, because, on the whole, the worst-provisioned ships are not those which go these long voyages. We are not going to make the inspection compulsory; we are going to say that the Board of Trade inspector may inspect provisions in every case—that he shall have the right to do so. A good many shipowners have told me that they regard this as a protection to themselves, as very often the store-keeper is to blame for palming off inferior stores upon the shipowner. That is what I am told by shipowners, at any rate, and they think the provision will act as a guarantee as to the quality of the food.
Then there is another thing. I am sorry to weary the House with all these details, but I want to explain the whole Bill. We are going to substitute new regulations for those which are found in some of the schedules of the old Acts. A good many of those regulations, with regard to the emigrant ships and the carrying of cattle, and so forth, are hopelessly antiquated; they were made for a state of things which does not at all obtain at the present day. In 1854, our ships were chiefly of wood and iron; they are now of steel; in 1854, our sailing 251 ships were 4,000,000 tons and our steam only 300,000; in 1904, and it is going up every year, our steam had gone up to 8,750,000, and our sailing ships were only 1,800,000. It is quite clear that regulations applicable to the old days of sailing ships, when steam was only an experiment, would be inapplicable when steam is everything and the sailing ship is a declining and decaying quantity. Not only that, but in the old days you had not the huge mammoth concerns which you have now. For instance, in those days you had a regulation like this: you are not allowed to carry in an emigrant ship more than ten head of large cattle, including horses and asses. All that sort of thing is hopelessly inapplicable to the present state of our shipping, and what we propose is this. It is a great mistake, I think, to put into an Act of Parliament rigid rules which require another Act of Parliament before they can be altered. It is very difficult to carry Acts of Parliament nowadays, under any scheme, with the present congestion of business. That applies to the simplest Act of Parliament, even when you have the assent of practically the whole House —and that is a thing you cannot always get. One man raises his hat, and his hat is more potent than the voices of the remaining 669 of his fellow members; he simply has to object and the Bill is stopped. Therefore, it is inconvenient to require an amending Act of Parliament whenever a new regulation seems to be necessary to meet the changing circumstances of our mercantile marine. In ton or twenty years there may be as great changes in our mercantile marine as have taken place during the last twenty years. Who can foresee what may happen? There may be a totally different state of things existing, and what we want is to be able, by means of an Order in Council, if necessary, to introduce regulations applicable to the changing circumstances of the hour, without having to have constant resort to the House of Commons to obtain sanction for every change that may be required. That is what we propose. We propose to abolish these schedules and to substitute for them regulations of that character.
Another thing that we propose to do is this. It is obviously impossible for shipowners under every condition to conform absolutely to every regulation made by 252 the Board of Trade or laid down by an Act of Parliament. Circumstances are sometimes too strong for them; they have to carry on their business under very trying conditions. There is at present, in the Act of 1894, a sort of dispensing power. Where a shipowner has on the whole done his best to what the regulations demand of him, there is a power to dispense with the strict enforcement of the letter of the regulation—but it is only in certain circumstances. We propose to include in this Bill a rather wider dispensing power under which the Board of Trade may dispense with the strict enforcement of regulations of this character where it is perfectly clear that the shipowner has done everything the circumstances would allow to conform to the regulations or the law.
Another thing is this, and I hope this will be my last point. It is proposed to give power to the Board of Trade to set up Advisory Committees for the purpose of consultation with regard to regulations. The Board of Trade, in the last few years more especially, have set up Advisory Committees for the purposes of consultation in regard to load lines, safety appliances, and all sorts of things in regard to which the law has laid obligations upon our mercantile marine, and almost without exception those committees have proved to be of the greatest possible assistance to the Board in arriving at decisions satisfactory to all parties concerned. After all, no one wants to harass our great mercantile marine in the conduct of its business; but it must be subject to those regulations for the safety of human life or the protection of the sailor, whose guardian we are. But I think it is fair that the men who are interested, who have special knowledge and experience in matters of this character, should be consulted, and I propose, if this clause is carried, at once to invite gentlemen representing the various interests to form an Advisory Committee to assist the Board of Trade in framing these new regulations. They may also assist with regard to the food scale; there may be reason to vary that from time to time. In matters of this and other kinds such a Committee would be of undoubted assistance to the Board of Trade in framing regulations which would work satisfactorily.
253 There are other provisions which I will not stop now explain, dealing with the title of ships to be registered—the Board of Trade will require proof that a ship is entitled to be registered as a British ship, because it is at any rate suggested that there are frauds at the present time—the bringing of certain rules in the Act of 1894 up to date, the property of seamen dying on board ship abroad, desertion and so forth; but I think that, on the whole, I have outlined the main provisions of the Bill. After the Second Reading I shall ask the House to refer the Bill to the Committee on Trade, where I hope, and I have no doubt that it will, be freely criticised. But I should be sorry if the Government were to bring to bear the pressure of their Whips to force the Committee to any conclusion against its will. For my part, I shall throw the Bill on the mercy of the Committee, as I think it is a great mistake to make every detail of a Bill a Government matter, and I trust that when it emerges from the Committee it will be a Bill which will be of benefit to all concerned in our mercantile marine— the greatest the world has ever seen.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1901."— (Mr, Lloyd-George)
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
I wish to say that we have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with intense interest. No apology was needed from him for detaining the House so long as he did. It was not only an interesting speech, but I think it will prove to be a memorable speech. It marks a stage on the road which leads away from the high and dry theory of free trade. I noticed the anxious care which the right hon. Gentleman took from time to time to assure us that all this interference on the part of the State was solely in the interest of human life and the safety of human limb. Did it occur to him whilst framing this interesting piece of legislation that the result might have a protective value? Has it never occurred to him either that, by interfering as much as he does interfere, he may, by putting disabilities on the freedom of trade in one country, be imposing disabilities upon those who compete with our trade? We have heard from a member of 254 this Government — from one of the great protagonists of free trade—that some kinds of competition can be grossly unfair. And why—I quote the right hon. Gentleman's words:—"Why are British shipowners subjected to grossly unfair competition?" Because labour legislation, and very proper labour legislation, places some restrictions upon British shipowners which do not apply to the owners of foreign vessels who compete with us How far is the President of the Board of Trade prepared to go on this path? We welcome his first footsteps along it. The salutary regulations of the Board of Trade are no doubt restricted so far as the shipowners are concerned. It costs them more to make a profit under these regulations than it costs shipowners who are not subjected to them. What about the Board of Trade regulations which apply to railways? The goods which come on a ship which is allowed to be unseaworthy come over a railway which is not subject to the regulations which apply to our railways. Is he prepared to say that notice will be taken of the fact that the platforms may be as short as you please on the railways of a foreign country?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
But I presume the goods come partly by rail and partly by ship. Some regulations are to be imposed with respect to the sea borne part of the voyage, but the railway part is a matter we need not take into account. But I do not want to discourage the President of the Board of Trade. We cannot expect his progress to be very rapid, but it is significant. Then he apologised almost to the Labour Party for not legislating directly at this stage against the employment of foreign seamen. We may hope for that in another year or two, when the education of the right hon. Gentleman has proceeded at the hands of the Labour Party, and then perhaps legislation will take direct notice of the fact that foreign seamen compete, and compete seriously, with our British mariners. The right hon. Gentleman says that if they got rid of foreign seamen they would ruin the mercantile marine. There is very little applause for that sentiment from hon. Gentlemen who sit below the gangway on the Opposition 255 side. And so now the right hon. Gentleman is going to perform one of those manၓuvres to which the orthodox is sometimes driven. The foreign seaman is to compete with the British seaman, but not unless he knows what starboard and larboard mean. And so a little incidental protection is given, for which no free trader, however orthodox, may have cause to blush. We do not complain only that foreign seamen are ignorant of our language, but we complain that some foreign captains and mates have too much knowledge of our coasts; and it is a matter to us of intense importance that now you are looking into this business you should see that the British pilot, who goes through an expensive training to take out a certificate, is not robbed of the fruits of his industry by foreigners, even though they do know our language, which they have studied in our estuaries and channels. Then the President of the Board of Trade went on very effectively to say that seamen ought to be properly fed—that the Board of Trade scale was a skeleton at their feast, and so forth. But he was going to deal with this matter very cautiously, even in respect of British seamen. I have got one Question to ask him: is he going to look after the meals of the seamen on foreign ships which compete with British ships?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
It makes all the difference in the world. If the right hon. Gentleman will name a foreign country that has not got a minimum scale, I will answer him.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to establish equality in that respect? He has told us, so far as unseaworthiness and over-loading go, that he is going to apply to foreign vessels which come to our ports the regulations which apply to British vessels. I merely asked him whether, when he was arranging for the British mariner's meals, he would also see that 256 the mariner on the foreign vessel had as good a meal? Why have equality in respect of over-loading and unseaworthiness if the foreign competitor is allowed to economise on the meals taken on the competing vessel?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The United States of America have a much higher minimum scale than I propose to introduce here. France has got a minimum scale, so has Germany—or at any rate at its principal seaports—and Denmark, Sweden, and practically all the foreign countries in the world except ours.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
What I asked the right hon. Gentleman was—and I repeat the question—whether he will see that our scale is not superior to the scales of other countries. I now come to the last part of the speech, to which I invite the serious attention of the House. You cannot pick and choose amongst these regulations by saying some insure safety of life and limb. If once you begin to interfere with freedom of trade you have abandoned free trade, and you must take a general view of the whole facts of your interference with that trade, and so the right hon. Gentleman will discover. But when I ask him whether in respect of his regulations as to food he will see that equality is maintained, he is not in a position to answer me, because he is going to give up his power, as I understand, in a large measure to such counsels as he may receive from advisory boards.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
He is going to withdraw the power from this House, and that is a matter of immense importance, and even on the first bringing in of the Bill we cannot afford to pass it over without some solemn word of warning. As I understand it, these regulations and schedules are to be changed by Order in Council. That is a constitutional change of grave moment, and although it would not be proper at this stage of the Bill to express any opinion upon that, still I think the right hon. Gentleman must be warned that to withdraw questions of this kind, in which the public is more interested perhaps now than in any other questions, from discussion in this House and to reserve to a bureaucracy the power of altering conditions of labour on 257 British ships is a grave constitutional question; and when, in addition, you withdraw the power from this House and transfer it to a Government Department, and say that the head of the Department is going to reserve to himself a right of dispensation, and that certain ships which find favour with high Government officials are not to be interfered with, and that others not so fortunate are to be interfered with, that is a power of dispensation of which our ancestors in this country have always been jealous, and of which we shall be jealous when the Bill is brought in.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down gave us, I think, a very humorous speech. I did not expect that he would have dealt with this very serious question in that way, and I fail to see how he could with reason work in the question of tariff reform. However, it is quite evident that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side, whenever they can put in a word to bolster up tariff reform intend to do so. There was only one serious point on which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman touched, and that was the last one of all, in which he dealt with the subject of advisory committees. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover that that is a very serious and a very dangerous proposal, because I can imagine that a Liberal Government might make very liberal regulations, and in the course of time we might have a change of Government, and I can imagine a Conservative Government being very ready to alter the regulations to suit the convenience of some of their numerous friends. Therefore it would not, in my opinion, be to the advantage of the seamen. Something of the kind has been going on during the past twelve months with regard to load line regulations. By Order in Council, the Board of Trade are empowered to make certain alterations, and within five years the shipowners without coming before the House of Commons, without the matter being discussed or adopted in the House of Commons in any shape or form, have had two goes at the load line, with the result that ships are now carrying more cargo than they carried previously; and only two days ago the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of 258 Trade had to sanction certain regulation that had already been practically adopted by the late Government or the late President of the Board of Trade, which regulations have not been submitted to this House, with the result that shipowners are now able to load their ships deeper than they could before those regulations came into operation. Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman did score a point with regard to Advisory Committees. If the Government would make the Committees equal in representation — if they would give the seamen, and shipmasters, and officers the same representation on the Committee as the shipowners — then I am sure that the seamen and the officers would certainly be able to hold their own. But I have had twenty-six years experience of Advisory Committees, and I generally find that they are composed of shipowners, insurance brokers, who are largely interested in shipping property, and a number of other people interested in ships, and then, as a kind of makeweight, they throw on a seamen or a fireman, who is practically helpless, and whose voice exerts no influence on the Committee. If the Advisory Committee gives equal representation for all parties, then I would not say that the proposal would be so dangerous. With regard to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, I desire in the name of the seamen of this country to thank him and the Government for making one step forward in the right direction. I always believe in the policy of taking all you can get and then asking for more. The proposals of the right hon. Gentleman do not satisfy me by any means. Take the whole of his proposals and they amount to very little indeed. Certainly there are one or two very important points. First of all with regard to the application of English regulations to foreign ships. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover has an idea that by adopting what the Government now propose we are taking a step in the direction of protection. May I assure him that the law has been the same for the last twenty years, and under it foreign ships are now subjected to the English law with regard to the carrying of deck loads of timber to English ports in the winter months. That law has been in operation for over twenty years, so that it is not a new 259 principle, but simply a matter of understanding the principle which has been recognised for many years. The same with regard to the loading of ships. We have always had the power to interfere with foreign ships when loading in British ports, but as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out very clearly—as I think every hon. Gentleman interested in shipping will understand—there is the responsibility of the officer detaining a ship which has no mark or anything to guide him; and it might turn out that the ship was not overladen, and then the owner would be entitled to heavy damages. Therefore it is necessary to have the load line on the side of the vessel, so that at a glance the Board of Trade officer may be able to satisfy himself whether or not the ship is all right and in proper trim. I cannot see that this has anything at all to do with free trade or protection. [AN HON, MEMBER: It is fair trade.] Well, we will allow it to be that, but it is a question of the protection of life and limb, and it is not a question of giving British ships any advantage. We are simply asking that the same law which applies to a British vessel shall apply to a foreign vessel in our own ports. I do not know whether my right hon. friend intends this Bill to apply to ports outside the United Kingdom—I mean to our Colonies. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider this point.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
Some of the Colonies are in advance of our own law upon this question; Australia and New Zealand, especially, are well ahead of us. I see no reason, however, why the right hon. Gentleman should not apply this condition to India, because the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act is bound to have an effect upon all ships trading in Indian ports. I do not think there is any question about that. I think the proposal of the Government to bring foreign ships coming into British ports under our regulations with regard to life-saving appliances, loading and the load line, is a step 260 in the right direction. With regard to the President of the Board of Trade's remarks about foreigners and lascars, I am sorry that I cannot follow him—in fact, I do not agree with him at all. First as regards the foreigners. The right hon. Gentleman said that as far as the figures he had got went, the number of foreigners on board British ships was 40,000; but if my right hon. friend was to put another 20,000 on the top of that, I think he would be nearer the mark, because it must be borne in mind that there are hundreds and thousands of foreigners who have British names, and as a matter of fact, claim to be Britishers. I have seen a foreigner who could scarcely speak a word of our language sign an English name, and he told the British officer in charge that he was a native of Penarth. It must, therefore, be taken for granted that, in addition to the number mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade, there are a number of other foreign seamen. I wish it to be understood that I raise no objection to foreign seamen. I do not object to any man on the ground of his nationality or his colour, but what I do say is that foreign seamen have no right to be given employment which they are not competent to perform. Again, it is not right in principle that foreign seamen should be used for the purpose of lowering the conditions of employment of our own men in our own country. I have given a good deal of consideration and thought to this question for many years, and I do not agree with my right hon. friend when he says that the reason why the foreigner has been brought in is because the shipowner is unable to get British seamen. Let me draw a distinction for the moment between the sailor and the fireman. We are always hearing a good deal about the boy sailor. I wish to speak about the fireman, because it must be borne in mind that the firemen on board British steamers are more numerous than sailors. I think I am right in stating that there are a much larger number of firemen than sailors employed under present conditions. Therefore, I do not see the force of always talking about taking apprentices to create boy sailors. In my opinion the stokers ought to be the great question for us to consider on board ship. The President of the Board of Trade appeared to think that there has been a 261 great increase in the mercantile marine, and that in consequence the supply of seamen has not kept up to the demand I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we have less sailors now than we had twenty-five years ago. I may say that twenty-five years ago the number of sailors in the mercantile marine was over 300,000, and now there are not more than 240,000. The reason of it is that there has been a great change from sailing ships to steam ships, and therefore the fireman has come in to take the place of a large number of the sailors and deck hands who have been displaced. But it is nonsense in my opinion to say that the shipowner has been obliged to resort to the employment of foreigners because he could not get Britishers; that is not so. I have seen in almost every seaport in this country hundreds of British seamen who could not get employment, and as a matter of fact, if a sailor can get employment upon another ship, within six weeks of leaving his old vessel, he is a very fortunate man indeed. For every sailor that is required in any seaport town you will find at least nine or ten who want employment, and that is the state of affairs that has prevailed for the last twenty years. There has never been a scarcity of British seamen, and I say to the shipowners in this House, that if they want to fill their ships with British seamen and firemen they can do it tomorrow without any difficulty whatever. Let us take some of the principal lines; take, for example, the Cunard Line. Have they any trouble in getting British seamen? Take the White Star Line. Have they any trouble in getting all the British seamen and firemen they require? The same applies to the Union Castle Line, and any other firm of shipowners. I am not arguing that foreigners should not be employed; all I say is that if a foreigner is employed on board a British ship he ought to conform to our standard; he ought to be a qualified sailor or fireman, and he ought to be able to understand the ordinary language used on board a ship in giving orders. The cases that I have brought before the House of Commons from time to time of the class of crews that have been engaged at ports on the Continent for British ships reveal a perfect scandal. I have brought under the notice of this House cases in which fourteen and fifteen men have been 262 engaged on a British ship in Antwerp and eleven or twelve of them have been men of different nationalities, not one of whom was able to understand a word of our language. Can we wonder that ships are lost when manned under such conditions as those? Then I would like to ask what necessity is there for the discharge of crews in foreign ports? The right hon. Gentleman says the shipowners cannot help this, and that it is not a question of wages; but I say emphatically, in the presence of shipowners in this House, that there is one reason, and one reason only, why they discharge their crews in Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam, and that reason is that they may got men at a lower rate of wages. Let any shipowner contradict that statement if he can. The Articles of Agreement for these men are drawn up for the final port of discharge to be a port in the United Kingdom; and when they discharge the men on the Continent, it is because the wages at Continental ports are about 20s. a month less than in British ports. I do not make that statement with a view of making grave charges against shipowners. I do not wish to give offence to any hon. Gentleman interested in shipping, but I do say that I am not going to have it said that the reason for the employment such a large number of our ships is that they can any other class of labour. I cannot possibly tolerate such state-know that being true. With regard to the lascar, I have no objection to lascars being employed whatever. I agree with some of my hon. friends who say that the lascar is a Britisher, but what about the lascars who are not Britishers? How many thousands of them have we on board our British ships who are not Britishers? What about the Chinamen included on board British ships? When were they made British, and what part of the British Empire do they come from? I noticed that there was a great cheer went up from the tariff reformers when the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the lascars being Britishers, and when he said that they ought to have more consideration than the I would say, however, that put the lascar's wages up standard of the alien, the lascar will no longer be required, 263 although he is a Britisher. What I want with regard to the lascars is this. I want them to have the same conditions on hoard British ships that Britishers obtain. I want them to have the same accommodation as white men. As a matter of fact, according to the evidence given before the Mercantile Marine Commission, Dr. Collingridge, the medical officer of the Port of London, said, when questioned as to whether a lascar required as much space as a white man, that he required more space, because he was physically weaker. And yet we have shipping companies getting large subsidies from the Government who are employing lascars and giving them between forty and fifty cubic feet of space instead of seventy-two feet. We would have had 120 cubic feet as recommended by the Royal Commission had it not been that the Board of Trade would not offend the P. and O. Company by making a proposal to increase the accommodation. We could have increased accommodation for the white man if we would leave the lascar outside. I can see that the policy of that is to give them better facilities for employing coloured labour. With regard to the Chinaman, the right hon. Gentleman did not make any degrees when he talked of lascars, but he included, I suppose, all Asiatics. But the Chinaman is not a British subject, as far as I am aware, unless he hails from Hongkong, and I suppose they all come from Hongkong when they are on board a British ship. In dealing with the question of the language test, will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the Chinaman from Hongkong? He ought to know something of the English language at least. If all of them do not understand it, at least a proportion of them do. I have had some experience in this Chinese flood, as I call it, because British seamen have been gradually done out of employment on board British ships, largely by Chinamen whom I look upon as a greater danger than foreigners. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in bringing the Bill forward will not forget that. Then, with reference to the food scale, at last the long looked for comes. I have been looking for this food scale for a long time now, and certainly I have made a good many speeches in the House of Commons with regard to it. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not, as far as I can judge, made it as 264 liberal as it ought to be. I was sorry to hear him say that it is on a lower standard than that of the United States of America. I think we ought to feed our seamen as well as those of the United States are fed, and I am rather surprised that we are not going to have such a good scale: why, I do not understand. The shipowners and other gentlemen interested in shipping to whom I have talked in regard to this matter have all assured me that they pay not less than 1s. 6d. per day per man for feeding the crews. The food recommended by Sir Francis Jeune's Committee only cost 1s. 1d. per day, so chat the shipowners evidently are going to have 5d. per day out of this scale; 5d. per day is a consideration.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The right hon. Gentleman says that they are not going to save 5d. per day. I know that the scale of Sir Francis Jeune's Committee will only cost 1s. 1d., and I do know that if the shipowners say they now pay 1s. 6d., then they are going to get 5d. per day.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
My hon. friend will see that the cost of food depends on how it is calculated. Are you going to calculate 1s. 6d. per day as the price here, or taking the voyage all round? It is very difficult to arrive at the price, because the cost depends upon whether you calculate here or make the provision for all over the voyage.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I do not know that. I say that if a shipowner states that he is now paying 1s. 6d. per day, and that the new scale will only cost 1s. 1d., it will be a disadvantage to the seamen. It is time that we had a food scale, because there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction on board ship, and I think it is largely due to the unsatisfactory scale in existence since 1854. I am sure that the majority of the shipowners of this country feed their men well. It was only the other day that I asked a sailor who had been in the line, 265 "What kind of food have you had?" "Well," he said, "we could not have had it better." But there are a minority to whom 8d. per day would be an extravagant price to pay. They are in the hands of the ship's stores dealer, and I say that very often indeed he is the worst chap of the whole lot. I hoard of a case, and I have every reason to believe it is true, of a certain ship's stores dealer who opened the casks of beef and took so many pieces out of each cask, and in that way made up additional casks. Each cask contains 312 lbs., but in this case there was only about 270 lbs. Now, the steward is responsible for 312 lbs., and by-and-bye the beef begins to get down, and the captain begins to grumble at the steward when the beef is disappearing so rapidly. The steward has to clip a bit off the men every day to make it spin out. I think that the Board of Trade, when they inspect provisions, should also weigh them and see that the proper weight is in each cask. That would be a safeguard to the shipowners and protect their interests. A shipowner cannot always be present. He may have a ship loading in Liverpool, and he does not wish to trouble to go down there to see after the beef; but if he could know that the Government Department was seeing after not only the quality, but also the weight of the provisions put on board the ship, I think it would be an advantage to shipowners generally. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to carry the inspection a little further? At the present time the Board of Trade inspect only certain portions of the provisions, such as beef and pork, bread and flour. I cannot see why the whole of the provisions should not be subjected to inspection. Butter, tea, and coffee should also be inspected. I got a sample of butter from a ship the other day and I took it to an analyst. He thought it was cart grease. I showed it to one or two Members of this House and the smell of it was sufficient for them. One gentleman was going to venture to taste it, but I advised him otherwise. That butter had in all probability the shipowners did pay for butter, though it was not butter. The seamen who are supplied with provision of that kind are getting food which is not fit for human consumption, and there ought to be some authority to whom they 266 might appeal, and a prosecution should take place in the same way as would be the case on shore. With regard to cooks, I think the right hon. Gentleman has touched a very sore point on board ship. The food has not been very plentiful on some of these tramps which we have condemned severely; but when they have an inferior cook that makes matters worse, and I think the proposal that cooks should have certificates is a very good thing indeed. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will make the Bill cover as many points as possible. I do not want to ruin the shipping trade, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman of that: I want to help the shipping trade if I can; but, at the same time, I want to see a body of men in the mercantile marine that this country will be proud of, and I want to know that those men have something like fair conditions.
§ MR. BRACE (Glamorganshire, S.)
I desire to associate myself with the expression of opinion which has been given by my hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade upon the introduction of this Bill, which refers to a number of matters which show that human life after all is of some value to this country. As I understand the Bill, it has been introduced for the purpose of affording better protection to the lives of our sailors than is given at the present time. I welcome gladly the provision that seamen shall not be employed on British ships in future unless they have full understanding of the language, so that they may understand the orders given to them by their officers. May I venture to express the hope that the House of Commons will also later on carry out the same principle in connection with the mines of this country? A similar provision ought to be made by which alien miners — the Poles in Scotland — who do not understand the English language should be prevented from going into mines until they have learned the language sufficiently to understand the orders that are given; otherwise danger is involved not only to themselves but to the whole of the men employed. I was very surprised to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that there is a shortage of British sailors. I represent 267 the constituency of Barry Dock, perhaps the greatest export dock in the world, and I have found continuous complaints of unemployment by Britishers there. I have also found a similar complaint at Carnarvon. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated that the reason why alien sailors are employed is that there is a shortage of British sailors. Probably later on I shall have an opportunity of going more closely into this and inquiring into the actual facts of the case. My experience, like that of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, is that there are plenty of British sailors conditionally, that is, if the shipowners are prepared to pay the wages. It is largely a question of wages. There is no inducement under the present rate for a Britisher to go to sea if he can get work on land at all. One cannot be surprised under these circumstances that men will not go to sea, with all its dangers and discomforts, if they can get better wages on land. I therefore ask the President of the Board of Trade to give some attention to the question of wages which these men should enjoy; and I ask him, in reference to foreign sailors on British ships, that he should also lay down the law that alien seamen and firemen shall be paid at the same rate of wages as British sailors and firemen. I notice that provision is made for in-pecting the provisions supplied to the sailors. That is very proper; but why not inspect the ships as well which are in course of repair in British docks? During the last day or two I have had a considerable correspondence with workmen interested in the shipbuilding industry, and they inform me that for want of local inspection by practical men many ships have been sent out of dock after repair which would not have been allowed to be sent, if they had been properly examined. Statements have been made to me—I do not vouch for their absolute accuracy— that some of the plates in some of these repaired ships were as thin as a shilling. Therefore, I venture to hope that the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade will follow up the close inspection which ought to be made of the food by a more exacting inspection of the vessels in course of repair than is provided for at the present time. In regard to what the right hon. Member for Dover has said on the question of alien pilots, I am not aware that it will 268 be touched by this Bill, although I think that it should be. There is a real national danger in allowing masters and first officers of foreign ships being granted pilots' certificates to bring foreign ships into British ports, if their ships trade with these ports regularly. In Russia, Germany, France, and many other maritime countries, there are a sufficient number of men regularly working in these foreign mercantile ships who could pilot a foreign Navy into British ports. Therefore, if no provision has been made in this Bill to prevent that, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do what has been asked for for many years, namely, provide that every vessel coming into a British port shall be piloted by British citizens, by men whom we can trust. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite if this question is so important as the right hon. Member for Dover now says it is, why did not the late Government do anything to remedy the evil when they had the power? I understand that the pilots in British ports have, by deputation and petition, been pleading with successive Presidents of the Board of Trade to do something to abolish what, in my judgment, is a very serious danger to the nation. I welcome the introduction of this Bill and support its principle, with the reservation that when it comes into Committee we shall be at liberty to move any necessary Amendments.
§ SIR ROBERT ROPNER (Stockton)
In reference to what the hon. Member for South Glamorganshire who has just sat down has said in regard to the repairing of ships in dock, I may say that vessels nowadays are nearly all classified. There is not a single steamer or sailing vessel now being repaired in this country which is not properly inspected by the Surveyors of Classification Committees. I should like to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on the manner in which he has dealt with the recommendations of the three Committees of which this Bill is the outcome. I think he has dealt with these recommendations in a very judicious and fair manner. I can only say that I was glad to hear his concluding remark that this is not a political question. It is not a political question, and I do hope I shall have the sympathy not only of hon. Members on this side of 269 the House, but of hon. Members on the Ministerial Benches, when I say that we shipowners come here not to differ from the President of the Board of Trade, but to congratulate him, and to endeavour to make this Bill as good a measure as it can be made. The Bill, I believe, will do away with the necessity for any further legislation for fifteen or twenty years; for it is very much to be deprecated when there is continued interference with any trade. No trade can prosper when there is a fear that something will be done by way of legislation to interfere with it. We are all aware of the importance of the mercantile marine to this country. If it were not for that mercantile navy I do not think that our country and Empire would be what it is to-day; and therefore there ought to be sympathy with the men who carry on that trade, and they should be dealt with in a fair manner. Of course, we have in the mercantile navy passenger liners, but we do not look upon them as the whole of the mercantile marine. They constitute only 10 per cent. of that navy. The main part of it is made up by the so-called tramp steamers, which carry cargo all over the world. These are the mainstay of our mercantile navy. As the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out, this measure naturally divides itself into two sections, one to remedy some of the evils under which the British shipowners have suffered for many years, and the other to improve the conditions of seamen employed on British ships. British shipowners welcome the provisions which will put foreign vessels under the same restrictions with regard to overloading, seaworthiness, and equipment, as British, and also as to the regulations with regard to the carrying of passengers. In regard to the load line, I should like to say that, though in future, if this Bill passes, foreign steamers in our ports are to be dealt with in the same manner as those belonging to our own country, that is not the whole difficulty under which we labour. It is only in the ports of the United Kingdom that they will be interfered with. They will have the same freedom as at present all over the world to carry much greater cargoes than British ships can. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that no British legislation can remedy this; but we British 270 shipowners shall do our best in the future as in the past to meet this unfair competition. I now wish to say a few words in regard to what a good many shipowners in this country will no doubt think the prejudicial part of the Bill. The clause making it impossible hereafter for sailors to be employed on our vessels who have not a sufficient knowledge of English seems right, and I, for one, am perfectly agreeable to that; and I am perfectly certain that a large majority of British shipowners are quite agreeable to have a law of that description. I think it is only right that the men manning our ships should understand the orders given to them, but I would warn the President of the Board of Trade not to make that clause too drastic. Everything depends upon the man who has the supervision of the signing on of sailors. I hope that when the Bill passes it will only put a stop to the engagement of sailors who cannot understand sufficiently the orders which are given to them, otherwise it might be difficult to employ foreigners on board of British vessels at all, and in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, I am of opinion, speaking from the experience of many years, that there is not a sufficient number of British sailors to man all our ships. If we were only carrying on the trade of our own country there might be a sufficient number of British sailors, but seeing that we are actually the intermediaries of the trade between foreign countries, it is quite impossible that we should be able to find a sufficient number of British sailors to man all the British ships at sea. I admit that there may be occasions when there are British sailors in British ports unemployed, and that some owners may give a preference to foreign sailors. But I am told to-day for the first time that the cause of that is the lower wages paid to foreign sailors.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I did not say that the foreign seamen accepted lower wages than British seamen in the United Kingdom. What I said was that foreign seamen accepted lower wages than British seamen in Continental ports.
§ SIR ROBERT ROPNER
I accept that explanation; but what I say is that foreign sailors when engaged 271 in this country get exactly the same wages on British ships as British seamen. There is no truth in the allegation that the foreign sailors are engaged in this country because they accept lower wages than our own men. I should like to say a few words in reply to what the hon. Member said as to the statutory scale of provisions. I speak again from experience, and I say that the food scale which is at present being employed by most of the shipowners costs something like a minimum of 1s. 3d. per day, and the food scale which is now being introduced by the Board of Trade will cost the shipowner an additional 3d. a day per man more than he has been accustomed to pay. The additional 3d. a day per man means £100 a year for a tramp steamer manned by twenty-five hands. Even £100 a year is a great consideration to a good many tramp steamship owners who cannot protect themselves by forming themselves into syndicates, conferences, and trusts, and who have to go into the open markets to do the best they can. Seeing that there is a great deal of competition by foreign steamships, it is a most difficult matter sometimes to secure freights with which you can pay your way, and to pay something like £100 more for food when you are aware that you are giving as much in the way of food as any workman in this country gets, and more than our sailors get under the food scale in the Navy, seems to me a little hard. I do not think that shipowners should be called upon to give a better scale than exists at present. Nevertheless, here again we are quite ready to do what is reasonable, and if this House thinks that the food scale proposed by the President of the Board of Trade is a fair one, I shall be the last one to say a word against it. I hope that the proposal will be generally accepted in that spirit by the shipowners of the country, but I repeat that the scale as now drawn is a better one than required, especially as I know that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough himself a few years ago would have been glad to have accepted a scale of a lower description. The next point I have to deal with is the inspection of provisions and water. There is no reason whatever why provisions and water should not be inspected. All shipowners are anxious 272 to see that good provisions are put on board. This is naturally the case as we have to pay for them, and I am glad to learn that the Bill provides that not only shall the shipowners be responsible for bad stores, but that the storekeeper who supplies them shall also be liable. As to the scheme for providing certificated cooks, I am not quite sure whether the time before this Bill will come into operation is long enough to enable us to make certain that when the moment comes for this provision to come into operation we shall have sufficient certificated cooks in the country to supply the demand. We are told, however, that the President of the Board of Trade will have power to make new regulations, and I have no doubt that in this matter also he will have power to meet the difficulties of the shipowners should they arise. I think I have touched upon everything of importance in the Bill. I entirely approve of the intention of the President of the Board of Trade to have an Advisory Committee. Who are the people in the country who are best able to give good advice, and able to judge what is best for this shipping industry but those who are engaged in the trade and who are fighting its daily battle? Therefore I say it is a very wise thing that an Advisory Committee of that kind should be called into existence. It is another question whether the Board of Trade should receive the power which the President is going to take, to make new regulations without the consent of the House being obtained, and this is a question which the House itself must decide. In conclusion I should like to finish as I commenced. I do hope that this Bill will be looked at not only from the political point of view, but from the trade point of view, and that it will emerge from this House fashioned in such a manner that it will give entire satisfaction not only to the shipowners themselves, but also to the men whom they employ.
§ MR. JENKINS (Chatham)
I must join with my hon. friends in congratulating the President of the Board of Trade upon the presentation of his Bill, but I should like to put one or two questions to the right hon. Gentleman which I have tried to formulate as carefully as possible. I 273 understood him to say that lascars were British subjects, and I quite agree that that is so. But with regard to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman when he dealt with the question of foreigners on board British ships and suggested what the Government intended to do in order to dispose of the difficulties which have been encountered very recently, and especially in connection with several wrecks that have taken place on our coasts, I should like to put a query to him. The right hon. Gentleman is going to provide that a clause shall be inserted in his Bill whereby the Board of Trade official when the crew are being signed on is to satisfy himself that the foreigner is able to understand the British language. That is a provision which I entirely agree with, but lascars, although they are British subjects do not understand the British language. I myself have worked on board ship, where, going into the forecastle of the ship, you would find thirty or forty of these men, not one of whom could understand a word of English. I do not know whether the same conditions are to be observed when the lascar is shipped on board British vessels, as are to be observed in the case of foreigners. If the right hon. Gentleman when he replies will bear that point in mind I shall be exceedingly obliged to him. I am not going to say one word about the provisions except in so far as the inspection is concerned. I understand from the President of the Board of Trade that an inspector will be appointed to carry out not in regard to part but in regard to the whole of the ships, what is being done at the present time in regard to a part. On certain ships the provisions are being inspected according to the principle laid down by the President of the Board of Trade for certain voyages. Now we have from the President of the Board of Trade a proposal that the inspectors of that body "may" inspect, and whilst I have every respect for and agree with the general remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, "may" to me is a word which is very permissive, and I do not myself believe in Acts of Parliament where there are too many "mays." This word is very often interpreted in a very wrong way. I happen to be a member of one of the Local Marine Boards of this country. I am a lay member, and have been appointed by the Board of Trade, 274 but nearly all the other members our Local Marine Board are shipowners. It is the same throughout the country, and I would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider this matter and give a fairer representation to seamen on the Local Marine Board. This would do away with the suspicion which is created in the minds of the seamen by the fact that nine tenths of the members of those Boards are directly connected with or interested in shipping. In other respects I trust the President of the Board of Trade will not make this Act too permissive. I should also like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentle man to the fact that he has omitted to consider one important post on board a ship. I refer to ships' carpenters. There is no compulsion upon a ship to carry a ship's carpenter, but where there are ships' carpenters no provision is made for their examination. At the present time a system prevails whereby a man is shipped on board a vessel not as a carpenter, but he is termed "seaman and carpenter." There is a very old saying that no man can serve two masters, and he certainly cannot be at the same time a seaman and a carpenter. This method of shipping him is adopted from the economical standpoint and not for the purposes of securing safety. I say that the President of the Board of Trade should do by the carpenter what he does by the engineer. You will not enter into your dockyards or into the ships of the Navy a carpenter unless he passes an examination, and if you insist upon that in the Navy and the dockyards, why should not care be taken that thoroughly trained men, conversant with the technicalities of ship-building, are employed on board other ships? There are many technical matters upon which in case of emergency it is necessary that the ship's carpenter should be fully instructed. I thank the President of the Board of Trade for having brought forward this Bill, and for suggesting that it should not be dealt with by means of any hard and fast line. He says that he is willing to receive all that he can get in the way of opinion from this House, and that with the assistance of the House of Commons he will endeavour to carry a Bill which shall be suitable, and which 275 shall at any rate in every way be practicable and possible. Therefore I appeal to him to insert in the Bill a clause as to the carpenters on board ship, that they shall pass a qualifying examination, showing that they have served their apprenticeship to the trade, and that they are able in a practical way to demonstrate their ability, and in a theoretical way to explain all that is necessary for the safeguarding of a vessel at sea.
§ MR. H. H. MARKS (Kent, Thanet)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has to-day dealt in a very sympathetic manner with a matter of great importance and of increasing interest. The Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced has been awaited with very great expectation and interest, but judging from what we have heard this afternoon those expectations are not likely to be fully realised, though there is reason to hope they will not be entirely disappointed. It was hoped that the President of the Board of Trade would have been able to see his way to do something to prohibit or restrict the employment of aliens, not only as seamen, but also as captains, officers, and petty officers, and as pilots in British waters. With regard to the employment of aliens as seamen, the Bill which is to be introduced proposes to deal only with the fringe of a great question, and that very lightly, by what is called the language test. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has suggested one reason for not dealing with this question on its merits. He says there is some doubt as to whether there are a sufficient number of Englishmen to man the ships now largely manned by foreigners. On that point I admit there may be some doubt, although the information that I have gathered does not confirm the view that there is any great shortage of Englishmen for this purpose. On the contrary there is strong evidence that if Englishmen are wanted they can readily be obtained. But however that may be, if it should hereafter appear that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman was not accurate, and that the employment of aliens was not due to the lack of British seamen, I do not gather that, under this Bill, he would be able to deal with that subject. That seems to 276 me to be a serious defect in the Bill. If we are to have provisions dealing with foreign emigrant ships calling at English ports, dealing with the load line; with the carrying of life saving apparatus; with the storing of grain; with the food scale; and in addition to all these provisions the Board of Trade proposes to take powers for the purpose of modifying certain existing regulations. It seems to me a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman does not cast his net a little wider, and take powers to deal with the question of the employment of aliens in the mercantile marine, and with the question of granting pilot certificates to aliens in competition with British pilots, many of whom have served an apprenticeship of twelve years before they could aspire to the responsible and remunerative position which is practically within the grasp of any foreigner who has had six months experience in our waterways. Another point which might have been considered, but which I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not considered, is the question of the discharge of British seamen in foreign ports. That is a question that presses for treatment at the present time, not only because it indirectly affects the whole question of the employment of alien seamen, but also because it leaves British seamen stranded in foreign parts and leads to great hardship. Among other things it leads to the spending by British seamen discharged at foreign ports of their accumulated wages, which would otherwise reach their families to be spent in England. No adequate facilities are afforded to seamen to send their wages to their families at home. It is true that there is some arrangement by which the wages may be sent home through the British Consuls, but the charges made by the Consuls are excessive. They amount to something like 3d. in the £, which is about four or five times as much as the ordinary banker charges for a similar accommodation. In the year 1904, at the four ports of Antwerp, Dunkirk, Rotterdam, and one other whose name I do not recollect, 27,674 British seamen were paid off, and only 4,134 remitted their wages home. Out of the £232,000 which was paid to them in wages, only £54,000 was transmitted to England. I submit that that is a matter that might well engage the 277 attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and power to deal with it should be included in the powers he now proposes to take for the Board of Trade. I do not say that we should not be thankful for the language test, and accept it with gratitude for what it is worth, but whether it would be feasible to have a Board of Trade official in every seaport of the world in order to secure that no alien should be shipped who did not understand the English language is a point which we can only find out in practice. No captain short-handed in a foreign port would be very hard to satisfy as to the knowledge of English by a foreigner desiring to join his crew. No seaman who had been doing double duty owing to the ship being undermanned would be very critical on the point. The complaint I make against the Bill is that its policy is the policy of personal restriction, whereas powers of general restriction (subject to Parliamentary) control would enable the Board of Trade to deal with each and every grievance as it arises. Instead of a language test the Bill should provide general powers to impose such tests or restrictions as circumstances might show to be desirable. The Board of Trade might take powers to make regulations—as it has made collision regulations —instead of having to come to this House on each occasion with a proposal for new legislation. To take such powers would not necessarily prejudge the question of their application. The new regulations would lie on the Table of the House and would be subject to Parliamentary sanction. They would commit neither Parliament nor the Board of Trade to anything, but at the same time the plea of having no power could no longer be made the ground for non-interference. One of the chief objections to this Bill is that while it only touches very lightly the fringe of this important question it will be counted in the future as a measure dealing with the whole question. However ineffective it may prove to be—and I hope it will not prove to be very ineffective—it will be brought forward for years to come as a reason for not further dealing with the Merchant Shipping Acts. It may therefore, while doing very little good now, be the means of preventing much good being done in the near future. We hear much of the pressure of time in this House, and 278 the right hon. Gentleman has said very truly that it is very difficult to carry an Act of Parliament whenever a change of regulations is required. For that very reason, therefore, I would urge upon him now to put in this Bill all that may be required in the near future; to include in it all the subjects that he and the past Presidents of the Board of Trade have had pressed upon their attention. It has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors in office, and notably by his immediate predecessor, upon a question which was put to him with regard to the issuing of pilotage certificates to aliens, that while they sympathised with those who brought the matter forward, they had no power to act. Let the Board of Trade take power now. I urge this upon the right hon. Gentleman now, because he has introduced a good Bill and has outlined the way in which it is going to deal with a very important question. But the Bill unfortunately leaves outside its scope many other important matters of detail which must inevitably call for treatment before long. Now, therefore, is the time when the right hon. Gentleman should see to it that this Bill shall be no mere makeshift but should, so far as circumstances permit, be made a comprehensive and an effective measure.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
The House, having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton, will regard that as a happy augury of the prospects of this Bill. Nobody could have spoken with greater weight upon this subject, and the hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, have the support of every one who desires to see legislation on this subject. When he said that he trusted that this question would not be discussed in a Party spirit, or treated as a political measure, I agree that there is a good reason why the Bill should not be regarded in that light. Here we are not only dealing with a great Imperial industry, but with a class who, by their calling and their absence at sea, are precluded to a large extent from taking part in the elections to this House, and who are therefore to a large extent unrepresented. I congratulate the Government on having introduced at so early a stage in the session this important measure for the good of this great industry and for 279 the good of what has been a neglected class of the community for many years past. I should not have intervened at this stage of the Bill had it not been for the attempt that has been made to drag the trail of protection over this measure. I served on the Committee appointed by the late Government and presided over by the late Secretary to the Board of Trade, Mr. Bonar Law, and I remember then that some alarm was expressed that this Bill might have a protective tendency. The Chairman of that Committee was perfectly fair in the attitude be then look up, and he stated that there was never any suspicion of its having any protectionist character. As for the main provisions, I think on the whole they are excellent. I will say a word about these consultative committees which have been proposed. I think those committees are very desirable, but where I think we need some reassurance is that the representation of the officers and men shall be adequate. I think that if that is secured these committees are good in themselves, because the officers and men are so much at sea, and it is so comparatively difficult for them to combine, that the shipowners are not in such constant touch with them as other classes of employers and employed, and I look to those consultative committees, as giving them a common meeting ground, to remedy some of the many grievances of which we complain. I am delighted that so much stress has been laid upon inspection. We all of us regret that there is not a greater proportion of British seamen on board our mercantile marine, and I am sure that one of the best ways to set about the remedy is by having better conditions of food and accommodation. I hope that the inspectorate will have a wide discretion, and will be able to inspect very freely and very largely at its discretion, and that an effective remedy may be introduced. I think the language test is an excellent one. I myself will not go much farther than that, at any rate at present, and I think so far from this being an unimportant Bill it promises to be one of the most valuable of measures to one of the most neglected classes; and when we reflect, whether in regard to compensation for injury or in respect to other circumstances, how this class has been, I might almost say wronged as compared with other sections 280 of the community, I think we might well join to secure for this Bill a full and fair discussion, and give it every chance to pass into law.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
Representing a riverside constituency—a constituency which has observations always on trade and commerce as represented by shipping—I think it not unnatural that I should say a few words in connection with this Bill, so ably introduced by the President of the Board of Trade. I think that the moderation of the speeches which have been delivered is the best evidence that can be given to the President of the Board of Trade, first, of the wisdom of having brought in the Bill, and, secondly, of the wisdom of the provisions so far as they go. For myself I do not think the provisions have gone quite far enough, and I do not wish the President of the Board of Trade to think that is because I am supposed to have protectionist leanings. It is not that, but it is because one cannot travel the world over and observe the conditions under which our seamen work, and in which our shipping moves throughout the Empire, without having brought home very strongly to him certain inequalities, the regulation of which the right hon. Gentleman has embodied in this Bill. The President of the Board of Trade would not think, I believe, that he had protectionist leanings if I said that he was interested in the regulation of inequalities in international trading as represented, for instance, by the embargo placed upon British shipping in the islands of the South Sea. I do not want to enter into that question, but it must show the House that one is necessarily impressed in watching the developments of our shipping by these inequalities in international trading which oppress not only the seamen but the shipping itself. The President of the Board of Trade said that he was very much astonished to see the proportion of foreign seamen in our mercantile marine as against the number of British sailors employed. He regarded it at first as a very serious thing. I still regard it as a very serious thing. The President of the Board of Trade thinks also that possibly these conditions will be ameliorated by foreign countries in developing their own shipping and absorbing the men who now come into 281 our mercantile marine. Very well; but is it not a curious thing that since the very beginning of the development and extension of foreign shipping there has been an increase of foreigners in our own mercantile marine? That is a point which I beg the President of the Board of Trade to consider.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
What I more particularly referred to were the conditions of sailors on board foreign vessels.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
I may have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, but I think the impression of the House was that they were going to absorb in their own ships the seamen who now come to us. I think, on the contrary, that when you once begin to decline in the employment of your own people, unless you take more or less drastic measures, you cannot prevent continued decline. If the tendency is to decline it will continue to decline, and if there is an upward movement, it will continue to be upward unless you have something more than a moral oversight of these conditions. I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that while I am sure he is sympathetic with me and a great many others who sit on the Opposition side or on the Ministerial side in regard to alien pilots, he ought to put his sympathy into practical exercise. I know the House is quite aware that while we admit alien pilots into our waters to exercise their functions, without any of the real examination which our own pilots undergo—an examination which belongs also to a constant daily experience in our waters— while that is the case, not a single British pilot can have the run of foreign waters. That is an inequality which has nothing whatever to do with protectionist leanings, but has to do with an injustice which I hope the President of the Board of Trade will attempt to remove, in spite of the suggestion that the agitation behind this Alien Pilots Bill may come from the Opposition side of the House. I honestly do not think that the President of the Board of Trade would attribute to sympathy with protective measures in other directions the view we take on this matter, and if he goes on in the course which I judge he has mapped out for himself in this Bill, I think he will find on the Opposition side of the 282 House constant congratulation. I have always felt during the six years I have been in Parliament that the Board of Trade was behind in matters which it ought to have been forward in. The President of the Board of Trade has an opportunity of creating for himself a reputation in that department of public service for which not only his own side of the House will thank him, but also the Opposition and the Labour Members. May I raise another question? I do not know whether Members on the Opposition side will agree with me or not—but take the question of the lascars, and other Asiatics, who are employed in the mercantile marine. It is a very difficult question and involves a constitutional consideration, to say the least, but I think that in the interests of safety the language test ought to be applied to them as to foreign seamen —to this extent, that one man at any rate out of ten lascars should be able to speak the English language. It is evident that I am not pressing this in order to achieve any object except that of having in our mercantile marine the quality of safety. Now the President of the Board of Trade bases all the provisions regarding these regulations as to foreign seamen upon the basis of safety. I really do not think it is the case. I think he has other ends in view. However that may be, he let the matter rest upon the basis of safety. I really cannot see why the same element of safety should not enter into the employment of lascars in our mercantile marine, and I would suggest that the Serangs, who are generally the head of about ten lascars, should be able to speak English.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
Very well; but is that embodied in the law? I press this upon the right hon. Gentleman as a question to consider. It would naturally come up on the Second Reading of the Bill. I congratulate him on his intention of establishing regulations for a load line and for a scale of food. It is not for me to say a word against shipowners or to make any criticism whatever, because I do not know the inside of the business as the right hon. Gentleman does; but I have, for the past five years, been reading on this subject—my constituents compel me to do so—and I find that again and again responsible public men 283 connected with the trade of shipping have stated that much could be done, by improving the scale of food on ships, in inducing not only boys to enter the mercantile marine but to stay and not desert. The right hon. Gentleman said, I think, that 28,000 seamen deserted last year. That is a very serious thing indeed, and I believe that if the seaman's life, which is not an easy one, were made more palatable by better fare, and better accommodation on board, there would be a difference in the returns regarding desertion, and you would not find that continually decreasing number of British seamen. I wish to read an extract from a report upon certain occurrences at Cardiff, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Cardiff is, of course, in a peculiar position, as we all know. Cardiff is different from almost every port in the kingdom; there you have a centre of disaffection among seamen for many reasons. You have the question of employment of "Greeks, infidels, and heretics" and people of all nationalities, who are employed at £1 per month less than British seamen receive. If you have one part of the United Kingdom where that kind of thing is going on, you have just as dangerous a thing surrounding wages and employment and the standard of life of the seamen as you would have if you introduced into Stepney 8,000 or 10,000 aliens. It is exactly the same thing. Bring foreigners into Stepney to lower the standard of wages and the whole condition of labour, and you have exactly the same thing as occurs in Cardiff which is described in the following newspaper quotation—It is not uncommon outside Cardiff shipping offices to see scores of British seamen standing aside with discharge books, while the books of Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, Italians and Russians have been taken possession of by the chief officers of ships. In a walk along the Bute Road—the main thoroughfare to the docks—one meets and hears as many foreigners as Britishers.I think I see in this proposed Bill something which is going to have a considerable effect upon such conditions, because if it establishes the principle that every foreigner upon a British ship must understand the rudiments of the English language, then I think that when that British ship goes abroad to a foreign port, it will not dismiss its British seamen to the same extent as is being done now, if that ship 284 when it returns to a British port must employ a foreigner who can speak the British language. Therefore, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon one means of checking alien immigration which I think will be most effective, and it has no taint whatever of those principles which I and my friends profess. It is retaliatory but not protective. It only establishes the conditions that there shall not be gross inequalities of service between the foreigner and the British citizen. I shall have great hopes of the Party opposite if the President of the Board of Trade is only permitted to lead them in their policy, which will satisfy me as well the Labour Members sitting on this side of the House, who are as keen about these things which are not called by such names as terminological inexactitudes, but which deal with conditions in which foreigners work at an advantage over the British workman, whether in shipping or any other form of labour in the national life. I wish to quote one thing more, and it has reference to the question of wages. We have dealt most largely in the House this afternoon with sailors in our home ports, and in what may be called home trade. I wonder if it is realised how extensive is the employment of foreign sailors on British ships in distant parts of the world. The figures, I am sure, have astounded the President of the Board of Trade, and they have astounded me. Of petty officers the percentage of foreigners is between 60 to 78 per cent. of those employed, able seamen 77 per cent., and firemen 86 per cent. Those figures relate to sailors employed on British ships trading to the Ear East and elsewhere.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
No, it does not include lascars. If these figures are not correct, they are worth consideration. This report goes on to say—I have exact particulars of a small vessel trading to the East which has tried all three crews for the same voyage. The monthly wages were:—British (18), £81; Dutch (18), £68 5s.; Lascars (37), £60 13s. There was a further difference in the cost of food of 5s. 9d. a day in favour of the lascars against the other two, which both cost the same for this item. The proportion in cost works out thus:—Lascars 100, Dutch 118, British 131.It must be clear to this House that if you have those cutting conditions in the 285 trade of shipping or anything else, our own seamen must suffer. It has been said in the House that the fact is that there is no competition, and that our working classes do not care to be seamen. It is said that other trades are more attractive, and that even if you were to give them more encouragement they would not accept service as seamen. I may say that there is scarcely a week passes without an appeal reaching me from my constituency from some home or foreign going pilot, or some waterside man who says that he cannot get his son into a British ship. I know two instances of boys of nineteen years of age who are able-bodied fellows, who came up to the London docks and applied to the British ships there, and could not get on; and why? Because of the foreigners. At last one of them got a berth on an American ship, but the other returned to Gravesend and he is still seeking employment. That young fellow wants to go to sea. I am aware that British shipping companies have done a vast deal to encourage boys to enter the mercantile marine. I think the right hon. Gentleman suggested that Sir Alfred Jones had tried to experiment first under Mr. Ritchie's scheme which was effective although not so effective as it ought to be. Other firms have records which I could enumerate and develop, but I forbear on this the first reading of this Bill. Earnest efforts are being made by British shipping companies to induce boys to go into the mercantile marine. A remarkable letter was written by Lord Inverclyde which offered a very excellent suggestion, to which I will draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. Lord Inverclyde says—I believe British shipowners are most desirous of employing dependable British sailors, and from my own experience those sailors who have had a training in the reserve of the Royal Navy are most desirable men to have in merchant vessels, and if the Admiralty will do more to encourage boy sailors in the Naval Reserve, there will be more British sailors in the mercantile marine.If there were more co-operation between the Board of Trade and the Admiralty in this direction, I think a great deal might be done. The danger is not alone an industrial danger. It is serious enough industrially, but it is also a national danger. It effects our very security and our position as a great mercantile nation; and not only this, but 286 it affects us also as a great Imperial Power with vast interests in every part of the world to protect. Continually, as we are opening up new avenues for our trade in neutral markets, since we are shut out of other markets to a considerable extent, there devolves upon us the responsibility of encouraging by some wise scheme the employment of boys as apprentices. I know the old system of apprentices cannot be re-introduced, but I suggest that these figures are extremely suggestive and very significant. In the year 1845 the number of apprentices in our mercantile marine was 15,704, but in the year 1903 the number was only 1,072. I do not know whether the hon. Members who represent the interests of labour more directly than I do can see a way out of that difficulty, but I do suggest that the President of the Board of Trade,, in further developing this Bill, as I hope he will do, will see if there is any way by which he can create a new interest for boys in our mercantile navy and give them a new encouragement. I am certain that if the right hon. Gentleman develops this Bill on the lines upon which it has been introduced, and if it passes with all those suggested clauses which the right hon. Gentleman has presented this afternoon, the course of the employment of foreign seamen in our waters and in our ships will be arrested, and we shall have started upon a new course in the defence, shall I say, of the interests of our shipping, of the interests of industry, and of the interests of labour. Because I feel that this Bill is a step in the right direction, I most cordially support the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has brought in; and when he has passed it, the President of the Board of Trade will have produced for this country legislation which is for its good, for the good of trade and commerce, and in the interests of national safety.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
I should like to say a word or two with regard to this Bill. It seems to me that not sufficient attention has been paid to the mercantile marine in times gone by; this Bill is wanted very badly so far as the mercantile marine is concerned. It has occupied a very prominent part in the recent election, so far as the north-east coast is concerned, on account of there being no load line on foreign 287 vessels trading in the ports on that coast, in competition with British shipowners, and the difference between the load which they are able to take has proved sufficient to enable the foreign shipowners in many cases to take the trade away from British firms. I am pleased, so far as this particular phase of the question is concerned, that in future both are going to be treated alike. I do not agree that we have not sufficient men in our own country to man the mercantile marine; on the contrary, I am convinced that we have sufficient Britishers, but when you review the whole of the circumstances appertaining to the mercantile marine, you will find that the conditions are not sufficiently tempting to induce boys to go to sea. If this Bill is carried out in a proper spirit, and all those reforms which have been mentioned are given effect to, the mercantile marine will be made more attractive, and we shall find that there are plenty of English lads ready to go to sea to serve their time as in days gone by. Certainly, so far as our sea-ports are concerned, the number of lascars and other foreign seamen employed have not at all admitted of English seamen going to sea. It is all very well to talk of the lascar being a Britisher, but whether in that category or not he should be made to comply with the same regulations as the British seaman. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill dealt with the case of foreign crews. I think that would be a danger in case of war, and it is not creditable to us as a nation that we should have so many foreign seamen on board our ships as we have at the present time. I think we ought to view the matter very seriously from that standpoint. I am convinced that if we were at war with any strong nation we would find it was an extreme danger. We ought to give more attention to it than the right hon. Gentleman seems disposed to do. In regard to the question of handing seamen over to municipalities for training, I think that should not be altogether considered a municipal question. In this country, however, some authority, I contend, should see to the fulfilment of the conditions laid down. I think there are many ways in which we might encourage lads to go to sea, and I would like, so far as the municipalities are concerned, that encouragement should be given to them to provide the necessary material. 288 I am pleased that the question of a food scale has been dealt with; I think that has been a standing disgrace in regard to many of our ships for many years. I do not see why we cannot have a food scale for the mercantile marine. We have a food scale in connection with the Navy and the Army. There is one matter which was touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman which I do not care much about, and that is the question of advisory committees. It has been a grievance for many years with regard to local marine boards that you have generally on a board one representative of the men and nine or ten shipowners. If we are going to have advisory committees of that character, then so far as I am personally concerned, the proposal will not receive my support If we are to have advisory committees there should be equal representation on them, and on that condition, and that condition only, am I prepared to hand over increased authority to the advisory committees. I am sorry that the question of alien pilots has not been dealt with. I do hope that this question will be dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman. I know that the pilots of the place from which I come feel strongly in regard to this matter; they have not only "deputised" myself on that question, but they have written to me at the House of Commons, and it will be a great disappointment to them if it is not taken up and dealt with in this particular Bill. I am very pleased at the advent of the Bill, and I hope and believe that if it is carried out in a proper and true spirit, it will tend to make the mercantile marine of this country more attractive to our sons, and tend also to the benefit of the nation.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
I represent, it is true, an inland city, but it is one which takes the greatest interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of the mercantile marine. When I contested my first constituency, twenty-one years ago, Mr. Samuel Plimsol, to whom the mercantile marine are so greatly indebted, represented the City of Sheffield. That shows that it is a city which has been most deeply interested in seamen and in the shipping of our country, My right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade has received much congratulation from both sides of the House 289 this afternoon, and I hope it will be an encouragement to him in bringing in this measure of justice for British shipping and British seamen. I hope it will encourage him to turn his attention to other matters pertaining to his department, and that he will see that equal justice should be done to our countrymen in all branches of trade and commerce. For myself I have never pretended to care in the least from what Party the reforms I have advocated come. I am ready to accept them from the right hon. Gentleman opposite quite as readily as I should accept them from my own side. The only thing that I aim at is the reforms themselves, and if the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to carry them out, my gratitude will go out to him quite as much as to his predecessors in office, who happened to be my political friends. It is not a question of fair trade, or protection, or tariff reform, or anything of that sort; it is a question of justice to our countrymen in the shipping trade and to our own sailors. The Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has described this afternoon in many particulars, so far as we are able to gather from his able speech, appears to carry out, or endeavours to carry out, that measure of justice to our own people. I think he will admit that from all on this side of the House the matters to which he has referred have received very full consideration. The ship-owners, represented by the hon. Member for Stockton, who speaks with unequalled authority, gladly welcomed the Bill.? The seamen themselves have been largely represented, as also the interests affecting the sea ports. The right hon. Gentleman will not have failed to notice one suggestion of a very significant character which came from an hon. Member on his own side. It was to the effect that he ought to take care that the wages paid on foreign ships coming into British ports are on the same scale as the wages paid to British seamen on British vessels. I do not desire a better sentiment to be expressed from any part of the House or from any section of the community than that, and when we find that that feeling was received with so much favour on the benches opposite I hope my right hon. friend will take note of the sentiment and direct his legislative measure in that direction. I join with the hon. Member for Sunder- 290 land in expressing regret that nothing has been done as regards Alien pilots. This Bill will be referred to the Grand Committee on Trade, and it will be left, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, to the good judgment of that Committee without any pressure from Government Whips or political Parties. It is quite possible that the right hon. Gentleman may see his way to incorporate or assist in the incorporation of a clause in the Bill which will carry out this measure of justice with respect to the pilotage on our coasts. It is perfectly scandalous that so long a time has been allowed to elapse without any adequate measure being taken in that direction. Not only is there considerable danger indeed in giving such an intimate knowledge of our ports, harbours, and coasts to foreigners, but the competition which they exercise in that very important profession is of a very serious character, and I hope that means will be taken to put an end to it, and to enable our people to compete on fair terms. Many times in the past twenty years I have called attention to the immigration of between 10,000 and 15,000 foreign sailors. The hon. Member for Sunderland spoke of the difficulty of getting boys to enter the Navy and the figures which were given to the House by my hon. friend the Member for Gravesend were of a very significant character indeed. There were 15,000 apprentices in 1854 and only 1,000 in a recent year to which the hon. Member referred. I think the reluctance of boys to enter the mercantile marine is connected very intimately indeed with the enormous immigration of foreign sailors who make it exceedingly difficult for them to obtain a satisfactory livelihood. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, who speaks on this subject with authority, said that for every berth our British sailor could obtain there were from ten to twelve candidates. That is a very serious statement to have made to the House, and it is important that at last we should have the attention of the Board of Trade directed to this circumstance. I am sure that every support that can be given to the right hon. Gentleman in carrying the Bill which promises to be of such a valuable and useful character will be given by all the hon. Gentlemen who sit upon this side of the House. For myself, if I may venture to do so as representing 291 a constituency deeply interested in the mercantile marine, I express my gratitude for the measure he is proposing to introduce.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I trust that the House will now allow us to get our Bill. I did not introduce the Bill under the ten minutes rule because I recognised that there ought to be an expression of opinion on a matter of such considerable importance to the shipping industry. But I hope it will be recognised now that we have had two or three hours debate that we should be allowed to get the Bill brought in. The reception accorded to the Bill has been exceptionally gratifying. I think I had better not tread on the dangerous ground which the right hon. Gentleman opposite invited me to enter upon; it is rather a quagmire, and I would rather avoid it at the present moment. There are two or three very practical questions which have been raised in the course of the discussion, which I should like to reply to before I sit down. The question of alien pilots was referred to by the hon. Member opposite and by my hon. friends on this side of the House. It is not such a serious matter as hon. Members seem to imagine. I have gone into the matter and I find that there are only eighty-five certificates issued to foreigners. Now that cannot be a very serious detriment to our pilots in this country. Still, I agree on the whole that they ought to be granted. My impression is that none of the Presidents of the Board of Trade have come quite up to the high standard of the hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield. This practice is quite recent, and I do not think it is one which ought to have been entered upon. I might have incorporated a clause of this kind in the Bill had it not been for the very important constitutional question which arises upon it. I believe that there are foreign countries which give pilot certificates to our shipmasters. At any rate, it is a treaty question. I submitted the matter to the law officers of the Crown, and it had to go to solicitors first. As hon. Members know, these gentlemen do not move very rapidly, and therefore I did not get an opinion from the law officers of the Crown on the point before my Bill was introduced. But if my legal friends tell me that there is no great constitutional or international difficulty in the 292 way, and if any Amendment is moved in that direction to the Bill when in Committee, I shall be happy to accept it.
§ MR. LLOYD GEORGE
I should say that that would be a question for Mr. Speaker. In regard to the advisory Committee, I do not understand my hon. friend opposite to deprecate the setting up of such a Committee. There must be a Committee to advise before the regulations which affect a very great industry are framed. The hon. Gentleman must not assume that the Board of Trade would not set up such a Committee without the seamen as well as the shipmasters being adequately represented. I certainly had it in my mind that there be representatives of a class whose lives depend on the working of these regulations. My hon. friend raised the questions of lascars. I do not understand him to go as far as to deprecate the employment of any lascars on British ships. That would be provincialism of the very worst kind. I think that my hon. friend only wishes that there should be a certain proportion of white men to the lascars, and, if I understood him aright, he suggested four in sixty. At the present moment there is one white man in fifteen, which fairly answers to what my hon. friend wants. Then my hon. friend spoke of the lascars being unable to understand English orders; but there is a serang, who gives the orders to the lascars, and I believe that he understands the sort of English language which is used in the East on British ships.
SIR GILBER TPARKER
The proportion of white men to lascars may be the same as mentioned by the right hon. Gentlemen on P. & O. liners, but there are certain tramp steamers on which the proportion is not so large.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I have given a general answer to the hon. Gentleman, but I will look into the matter further. I understand that there is not such a difference as my hon. friend seems to imagine, in regard to the question of wages paid to lascars. I am informed that if a calculation is to be made in regard to the wages paid on board ship, two 293 lascars are equal to one European. I understand that you cannot employ Europeans in the toke hold in the Red Sea.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I would point out that more than half the ships trading to the East through the Red Sea have white men employed in the stokeholds.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
That was the information given to me by a shipowner. However, I do not think that there is such a difference with regard to the wages as my hon. friend stated. I sincerely trust that hon. Members will now allow this Bill to be read a first time.
§ SIR W. EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
The right. hon. Gentleman spoke of emigrant ships coming to British ports picking up passengers, but he did not make any mention of foreign immigrant ships which bring an enormous percentage of foreigners to this country, nor did he make any reference to the disgraceful condition in which these people come to this country.
§ MR. C. D. SCHWANN (Cheshire, Hyde)
There is, I am informed, as much danger of ships being underballasted as being overloaded, and I hope something will be done to fix a light load line. I am told that in an ordinary sea the screw is well under water in a lightly ballasted ship and that the vessel is well under control, but that in rough weather the screw pitches out of the water, and it then becomes exceedingly difficult to direct the course of the ship. A large proportion of the dangers and harm to vessels in ballast occurs when they are not sufficiently ballasted. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to overload his Bill, but I wish to draw his attention to this matter, which is worthy of serious consideration.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
I wish to ask a question in reference to the status of officers on board British ships. Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to do anything to secure that these officers shall be British subjects? 294 As I understood the President of the Board of Trade, he only referred to the members of the crew. Then as to the Consultative Committee. There are two associations — the Merchants' Service Guild and the Mercantile Marine Association. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that either of these associations should have some representative on the Advisory Committee?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
In regard to foreign officers on board British ships, they must get a British certificate. As to the second point, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not invite me to enter on the very thorny subject as to which of the associations I shall make a selection of representatives on the Advisory Committees from. I will not commit myself on the point at the present moment. On the question of a light load line my hon. friend knows that it is a very difficult point, and that a Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on this subject and was dropped. However, I will consider it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1901, and that Mr. LloydGeorge, Mr. Solicitor-General, Mr. Kearley, and Mr. Runciman do prepare and. bring it in.