HC Deb 28 September 1909 vol 11 cc1076-7

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention had been called to the loss of the steamer "Umhlali," at Cape Point, Cape Colony; whether he had received any official report that this ship was manned by Lascar sailors and firemen; that, on the ship striking the rocks, the Lascars were in a state of panic and fear, rushed into the boats, lay at the bottom, and refused to help to save the lives of the passengers and the rest of the crew on the vessel; whether his attention had been called to previous cases of wreck when the Lascar crews were found to be useless in times of danger; and whether he would introduce legislation for the purpose of seeing that when British ships carry passengers from the United Kingdom they were manned with a sufficient number of European sailors and firemen to safeguard the lives of the passengers and crew on board?


I am informed that the steamer "Umhlali" went ashore five miles from Cape Point on the night of 15th September. No official report of the wreck has, however, yet reached me. Pending the result of the inquiry into the casualty I prefer to say nothing as to the conduct of the Lascar seamen when the wreck occurred. The records of previous wreck inquiries do not support the view that Lascar crews are useless in time of danger, and while British passenger vessels when leaving the United Kingdom are required to be properly manned, there is no discrimination against Lascar seamen, nor do I propose to introduce legislation with the object of preventing the employment of such seamen when competent. Perhaps I may refer the hon. Member to the Report of the Departmental Committee which sat under Sir Francis Jeune's (afterwards Lord St. Helier) chairmanship in 1902 and 1903, which found no objection to the employment of Lascar seamen in the British Mercantile Marine.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the chief reasons why shipowners engage Lascars is that they cost about £1 a month less than white men?


I am quite clear that if we prohibited the employment of Lascars in the mercantile marine a very great injury would be done to the commercial interests of the country.