HC Deb 16 June 1911 vol 26 cc1801-15

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Mr. Gulland.]


I hope we will be able to do a little useful business to-day, but, for my part, I do not intend to detain Members very long. I simply wish to take this opportunity of drawing attention to a matter which has excited a great deal of interest in many parts of the country—namely, the provision for watching the coasts in the interests of the mercantile marine in times of storm and other stress of weather or untoward event. For many years past we have been accustomed from time to time to have our attention called by the Press to the loss of some ship which might have been saved if its signals of distress had been observed on shore when they began to be thrown up, and recent events, some of them of a painfully tragic character, have brought to light the fact that, although the Board of Trade gives benevolent attention to this matter, it will accept no responsibility for our coasts or any part of them being watched in the interests of our mercantile marine. They have made certain arrangements, but obviously it is a responsibility which they cannot entirely take upon their shoulders, to see that on every part of our coasts, whenever a vessel may by storm or for other reasons fall or be driven into danger, there will be somebody looking out in the interests of life and property. During the last year or two the Board of Trade has been investigating this matter, and has been, we understand, preparing a scheme by which, at any rate, on the most dangerous portions of our coasts a watch may be observed in times of special danger. On 8th February, at the very beginning of this Session, I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade upon this subject, and received the following answer:— The investigation into the existing arrangements for watching our coasts for wrecks and signals of distress has been completed. The Board of Trade are in communication with the Treasury with regard to the steps to be taken in co-operation with the Admiralty to improve the existing arrangements."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1911, col. 283, vol. xxi.] At a later date I asked for further information, and I was told that at present no further information could be added to that given in answer to my question on the 5th February. It was understood, however, that proposals were being put forward by the Board of Trade and only wanted the assent of the Treasury, and I looked, therefore, as soon as the Estimates came out to see whether any additional sum had been granted to the Board of Trade to provide for this matter, and I assumed it would be only a small sum that would be necessary, a few hundreds of pounds, and was sorry to observe in Class A, Vote 9, sub-headings O. and P, the two sub-heads under which expenditure in connection with this matter might be brought forward, there was practically no alteration at all. Under subhead O, which is "saving life from ship- wreck," the increase in the Vote was only £17. Under sub-head P, which is for "expenses and apparatus for saving life and gratuities to coastguards and others in that connection," there is an increase of £300, it is true, but it is entirely in connection with travelling expenses of coastguard, volunteers and assistants, and exercises and also of inspectors.

It is obvious that, somewhere on the road between the Board of Trade and the Treasury building, the scheme, I may say, has suffered shipwreck; at any rate it is out there in distress, and I want, if I may employ a metaphor from my subject, to set out and save all I can for this scheme. I communicated with the President of the Board of Trade in the hope that he would be in his place here to-day, but I understand he is engaged in very important business at the Imperial Conference. I know he has personally given very close attention to the matter, and has it closely at heart; but he is not present, yet I am sure we have an able lieutenant in the person of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I trust he will be able to give me a little information upon the matter, and say whether it is really receiving attention and whether the negotiations with the Treasury are still going on, and why it is we have had since the beginning of the Session absolutely no information as to what is being done. There is, of course, plenty of time before the real strain of the winter season sets in, and I hope, if we cannot get this scheme carried through on the Estimates that are now before us, there will be some Supplementary Estimate which I suppose we must look for before the House adjourns, or at any rate early next Session, either by a Supplementary Estimate or otherwise, some provision will be made for this purpose. In conclusion, I would only urge, that although we are at present having a spell of almost unprecedentedly fine weather, which we all hope will continue, at any rate until the Coronation is over, we must be prepared for bad weather later on, and now is essentially the time when the scheme ought to be put through and well arranged before the strain and stress of winter storms. In the hope that something may be done and some promise may be given I call attention to this subject.


I am very glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to so important a matter as the watching of our coasts, and the saving of life endangered at sea. This is a matter which we all appreciate the gravity and importance of, and which, perhaps, public attention has not been sufficiently directed to of recent times, except perhaps in such sad cases as that of the "Thistlemoor," and other cases of the sort prior to it.

Especially is it important, as there is a constant diminution of the coastguard service going on all round, and it becomes necessary for the Department of State concerned to fill up the gaps, as it were, that are created by that constant diminution. My hon. Friend asks me what the Board of Trade has done. Firstly, I should like to say that we at the Board of Trade recognise our responsibility, and are in no sense anxious to shirk it. There was a passage in the remarks of my hon. Friend which gave me rather the impression that he considered we do not accept the full responsibility for the work which we do undertake. That is not so.


No. May I just explain? I am sure you accept responsibility for the work you do undertake, but what is that work? Do you definitely undertake that all dangerous parts of the coast should be watched in times of storm and stress? That I do not think you do undertake.


What we say is that we are the Department responsible for the protection of life from shipwreck. This duty is laid upon us under Section 677 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. We do accept that responsibility. As a matter of fact, we cannot accept quite the full responsibility which my hon. Friend would like to cast upon us, because it is no use being responsible if you have not the means to carry out your responsibility. The Board of Trade in this matter does not quite receive the amount of—if I may put it that way—of the "sinews of war" which we should like to have and which we think this service requires. My hon. Friend almost answered his own questions, because he repeated the answers he had received in February and March in this House. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give him further information beyond saying that we have recently, as I think he knows, conducted an inquiry around the coasts through the medium of Captain Daintree, one of the most capable and experienced of officers. His report justifies the attention that my hon. Friend has called to the matter, and the desirability there is of making provision in case of disasters at sea. Furthermore, in compliance with that report, and as a necessary sequel of it we have approached the Treasury with a view of getting a capital sum of £9,000 and an annual sum of £5,000 in order to meet what we consider the necessity for the watching of our coasts.

We have stated to the Treasury that the Board is the Department responsible for the protection of life from shipwreck, and that we consider that it would be unwise to wait till disasters occur before taking steps to remedy the weaknesses which they know exist. I could, of course, give my hon. Friend passages from our correspondence with the Treasury if it were desirable. But it is not generally considered in the public interest that correspondence between two Departments of the State should be given in extenso in Parliament. I do not think it would be a wise thing for me to depart from the usual precedents. I can only assure my hon. Friend and the House that we have this matter very much at heart, and that we realise the urgency and importance of it; that we are taking the steps that we consider necessary to avoid shipping disasters. In other words, we have done our best to put a rail around the precipice at the top rather than provide an ambulance at the bottom. That being the position of the Board of Trade, and they not having, as I say, received a reply from the Treasury, I am really not in a position to make any further statement. I would only conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for having raised this subject, which we consider to be of great Urgency and importance.


May I, with the permission of the House, say with what satisfaction I am sure the House and myself have heard the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like to thank him on behalf of the many families and homes which I know are anxiously awaiting some scheme to be elaborated in this connection. I thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to say this.


I would like to call the attention of the House to two or three matters. The first is in connection with the outing that Members of Parliament are going to have at the expense of the State during the next few days. I think it is rather bad that the House of Commons should take to junketing at the public expense. This sail or run round the Fleet, the fact that our fare is to be paid, that luncheon and other meals are to be provided, savours very much of what Bumble is accused of doing—that is dipping his hands into the public purse for the purpose of getting a cheap holiday. I had no idea till I came to the House of Commons that it had descended so low, because I came from a part of London where the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has, to the satisfaction of every ratepayer, pulled the boards of guardians up for spending money in this way. I have tried to call the attention of the House, by questions to the Prime Minister, to the iniquity of Members of Parliament getting jobs in the Civil Service, but apparently there is one law for the humble local governing body and another law for the Members of this House. At the time I had no idea that we were going to take advantage of the Coronation to get a day's holiday for nothing down in the Solent, ostensibly to look at the ships.

I think it is perfectly disgraceful that this House should descend so low as that. It is quite bad enough for boards of guardians to do this kind of thing. When I heard the contempt that was poured out upon them, and when I remember how many of them are "doing time"—as we say in the East End—because of this kind of thing, I am really surprised that the House should treat as a joke the protest that one wishes to raise against such an outing. I do not know where the men belonging to the old school of Radicals have gone to out of this House. I remember sitting in the Gallery twenty years ago and listening to very effective protests by Members not merely against any idea of spending public money on themselves, but spending it in the wholesale barbaric manner that we are going to spend it in the next few days. Times have so changed that we vote ourselves a public holiday at the expense of the people who send us here. I hope every one of us, when we go back to the electors, will take good care to thank the people who find the money for having given us a cheap holiday—that is those of us who take advantage of it.

I only want to say that on that point, except further to emphasise the point. I tried to make at the beginning, that I hope to live to see the day when Members of this House will do, as many public authorities have done, put a bar against any Member of the House, receiving a Civil Service appointment while he is a Member of this House, and. I hope to see us so ashamed of ourselves that whenever the next Coronation comes, which we hope will be a long time yet, that holidays at the public expense for Members of the House of Commons will not take place. I want also to call attention to the condition of our streets. I drove down here to-day by a motor 'bus and taxicab. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I paid for it; I did not get that at the public expense anyhow. But coming through the public streets I was astounded to find that the Home Office are barricading almost every inlet into this sacred part. After all, are the Home Office and the Police Commissioner afraid of the public on this occasion? We have had a little of it in the bigger streets on previous occasions, but London has never been barricaded round in the present fashion since the days of the old wail round London. You cannot get through anywhere without these barriers, and as a very humble citizen of London I protest against these barriers being put up and us only being allowed through in single file. It would be practicable to have stopped all vehicular traffic through the streets and have thrown the rest of the streets open to all-comers. I am not at all certain that if there is any crush the arrangements being made are the best, because there are certain points where the crush will be largest, but if you are going to put up barriers of this kind and only allow people in by driblets I am certain that you are running a very grave risk indeed. I protest against the idea that the public are to be dragooned in this fashion. The streets are ours, and the least. we can claim is the free use of the streets, even on an occasion of this kind. I am sorry the Secretary of the Board of Trade has gone.


The President is here.


No, he is not. The President of the Local Government Board is here, as he always is. I want to call the attention of the House to something that is rather more serious than the barricading of the streets, but not more serious in my judgment than the decay of the House of Commons as witnessed by the matter to which I first called attention. But I wish to call attention to the fact that at this time of supposed peace in the world there is going on, without very much effort being made to put an end to it, a most terrific struggle in South Wales. I would like Members of this House to remember that during the time that you will all be junketing next week there will be ten or a dozen thousand men, heads of families in the Rhondda Valley, who altogether, with their dependents, number 30,000 or 35,000 persons, who for nine months have been kept on the verge of starvation because of the fact that monopolists are not allowing them to go to work for a living wage. I cannot help but feel that the Board of Trade ought to have made some sort of effort to have brought that tremendous struggle to an end. It will not be very good reading for His Majesty to know that not only have we a seamen's strike, but we have also this frightful lock-out in the Rhondda Valley. All the money that will be spent on this Coronation, whether it is spent by ourselves individually or in the streets here, in the main has to come from the labour of people like those down there, and when you have 10,000 of them, with their dependents, kept on the point of starvation I think this House long ago ought to have had something to say on the matter, and I certainly think that at the present moment, when everyone is wishing to glorify the unity of the nation—because if the Coronation means anything at all it must mean that the King symbolises the unity of the nation—there is not much unity when you have 10,000 men in one district being starved and penalised in this way, and I at least want to enter my protest against that.

I understand I cannot raise the question of the military show, but if I can I would like to enter a very emphatic protest against this country of ours, which is not a military nation at all, this United Kingdom of ours, celebrating the Coronation merely by a show of militarism. Only the other day, in this House, we had the two Leaders glorifying Peace, and saying that Peace was the object we all had in view, yet the only show we can give the world is a military show. The only thing we can put before the nations of the world is the glory of our Army and the glory of our Navy. I feel that the nation depends on something very much more substantial than the Army or the Navy, and that it depends really on the prosperity and well being of the whole of the men and women who make up the nation, and for that reason I protest against the idea that this show that we are having next week is national in any real sense of the word. If we want a national show, it ought to represent science and art and all the things that go to make up the prosperity of the Empire, or, rather, of our nation here. Then, if I may, I would like also to say that I protest against these ugly buildings that have been stuck up round about that old venerable Abbey of ours.


I must remind the hon. Member that there is no money taken for the Coronation in this Vote on Account, which is included in the Consolidated Fund Bill, and the matters on which he is now touching do not seem to me to be relevant to the Bill. The matter which he first dealt with, namely, the Naval Review, I think comes under one of the Votes, and therefore I allowed it, and I think his reference to the Home Office was also possibly in order, but now he is dealing with the general Coronation preparations, and there is no money in this Bill for that purpose.


I am much obliged to you, Sir. I shall, of course, obey your ruling, and take my chance when the Vote comes up to say what I have to say on that matter.


There is one matter I would like to draw attention to, and that is the state of the rivers. I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking the President of the Local Government Board for his support to the Joint Rivers Committees which are endeavouring to improve the state of the important rivers in the North of England. I happen to be unfortunate enough to live on the banks of the great River Aire. The Aire and the Calder join at Castleford and flow past the end of my garden, apparently resembling a stream of black, inky sewage. I know very well some of the ablest men in the West Riding are busy endeavouring to purify that river, and that there is also the Mersey and Irwell Joint Committee endeavouring to do the same with regard to the Ship Canal. I would like the Local Government Board to give further active support and encouragement to these public-spirited men who are endeavouring to purify these great streams in the north.

There was a time when the River Aire, as it flowed through my Constituency, was a stream in which angling societies loved to compete for prizes, but now the stench is so bad that it is almost a miracle that I am able to appear in the House this week. If I had not been blessed with a good constitution the stench from this river on Sunday and Monday last was so bad that it is really a marvel how I escaped from it and arrived at Westminster. I do not want to say anything disrespectful of the sanitary authorities of Leeds and Bradford, and I appreciate that large sums of money are being spent by them to cleanse the river, but the result is still very unsatisfactory. The position is that the poor working men who are members of our angling societies have to make long journeys in order to get a clear stream in. which to fish for their humble prizes. The rates in my township are now 10s. 4d. in the £ and I claim to possess the unique record of representing the rural parish of England with the highest rate. We have appealed to the Local Government Board to help us to get a purer water supply to drink. The people have not got an adequate water supply either for washing or drinking purposes, and they are now drawing water from this black inky stream and boiling it. The condition of things is deplorable.

I want to emphasise the fact that in this particular instance local government has completely broken down. Here is a rural parish with rates actually higher than the manufacturing towns on the banks of the river. We have to put up with this stinking river without a proper water supply, and we are unable to flush the sewers. That is the state of things in the parish in which I live. I appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to do something in this matter. There seems to be quite a deadlock, and the rural district council and the West Riding County Council can do nothing. We are told that we have exhausted our borrowing powers, and all these great towns up stream are pouring this awful black liquid into the river which flows through this charming rural district. I think this is a matter which should demand the attention of the working man who now sits at the head of the Local Government Board. The colliers in my district say they have greater faith in the right hon. Gentleman because he happens to be one of themselves, and they have not yet lost faith in him. I feel sure that I am making an appeal to which the right hon. Gentleman will respond.


I am sure we are all glad that the hon. Member, by what he has described as a miracle, was able to attend the House, and has been able to voice the serious condition of one of the rivers which happen to flow through his constituency. I think he has used his presence in this House very properly to appeal to me as the President of the Local Government Board, to respond to his suggestion, and to one or two of his criticisms with regard to the condition of certain rivers in the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and I may add other industrial counties. I readily respond to his request, because I think it is only right that he should know the latest information we have on this particular subject. I believe that in a very short time we shall be able, in his particular district and others, to give some relief from the pollution of these rivers which is going on, the extent of which I regard as nothing short of scandalous. We are very fortunate in having this question raised to-day, because the Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal, which has had this subject under consideration for some time, is now on the point of concluding its labours, and I think I am justified in saying that their labours will be completed by the end of this year, and probably before.

I think that one of the recommendations which that Commission will make will be the creation of joint rivers boards to which the hon. Member for Pontefract has referred, the institution of which he did my Department the honour of saying we had done everything we could to facilitate. Beyond that there will, of course, be a number of other recommendations, all of which will bear upon the question of how trade effluents can be satisfactorily disposed of, and how sewage effluents can be best treated before being discharged into existing rivers and waterways, and how by a combination of sane and practical remedies the rivers in our industrial counties can be saved from the gross pollution to which many of them are being subjected. In anticipation of that report and collateral with some of the recommendations, the Local Government Board are now almost in a position, after having received many deputations, to draft legislation, the net effect of which will meet in a substantial way the criticisms and complaints which the hon. Member for Pontefract has very properly made about the pollution of the river in his district. The hon. Member can rest assured that what he has said will be borne in mind.


I wish to raise a matter relating to Admiralty administration, and make a complaint. Before doing so I wish to allude to the Navy training scheme. I do not want to discuss this matter now, but I should like to know from the Secretary to the Admiralty if I shall have any further opportunity of discussing the matter in the House during the present Session. I do not think this is a proper occasion to discuss—


I am afraid this question does not arise now. The hon. Member will be able to ask his question upon another occasion.


I think you will find, Mr. Emmott, if you refer to Clause 11, that provision is made for the cost of the instructors for this very scheme under the heading "miscellaneous effective services."


Those Estimates, I believe, are on Vote 5.


I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary if we are going to have any proper opportunity for discussing the matter I have referred to this year. I made reference to this matter a few weeks ago, but it did not receive any attention from the Front Bench. I should like an opportunity given to be able to discuss this matter in a really effective manner.

I really rose to call the attention of the House to the wages paid by the Admiralty to labourers and messengers in various places. I will specify one, and that is on their own doorstep in their office in Whitehall, within half a mile of these buildings. I merely use that as an illustration, because I believe the conditions of service there are exactly the same as elsewhere so far as these men are concerned. I make the charge against the Admiralty that they are not paying a wage sufficient for the ordinary decencies, to say nothing of the comforts, of life, and I go further and say the pay is small in consequence of the fact of these men being pensioners from the Navy. I have heard mention made frequently from the other side of the House of the desirability of giving preference in the work of the Government to pensioners who have served their time, and I have always objected to that, not because I have any lack of sympathy with the pensioners, but because I have always said that the fact that a man has a pension is taken into account when that man is employed by any one of the Government Departments. I have proof of that statement in a circular or order of the Admiralty in advertising for these men. I find a paper was issued by the Admiralty in June, 1908—I am told it is still in Operation and had been in operation before then—and in this paper, which I suppose is circulated in the Navy, men who have obtained the position of petty officers are told they can apply for jobs at the Admiralty Offices and elsewhere before their Lime expires in the Navy. They must be under forty-five years of age, they must be of good character, they must be recommended by their commanding officer, and they must be in good health. If they fulfil all those requirements, then their names are put down upon a list for employment. Then follow the conditions of that employment. They have, for instance, in the ease of the messengers, to work from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., and in the case of the labourers from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Their rates of pay are set out in this paper. They are to receive 21s. per week, rising by annual increments of ls. to 24s. I am told, by-the-bye, that condition with regard to annual increments is not fulfilled, and that, as a matter of fact, 75 per cent. of these men at the present time are working for 21s. per week.

I submit that the Admiralty in employing men for such a wage are not fulfilling the conditions which I, at all events, had thought had been imposed upon all Government Departments by repeated Resolutions of this House. I do not know what the Admiralty or any Government Department are supposed to pay. I do not know that anything has been laid down, but I do not think it would be unfair if we took the Resolution of two years ago as determining what the conditions of service of these men ought to be. That Resolution lays it down that, in the event of any arrangement between an employers' association and an association of workmen, that rate and those conditions should be observed, but where there is no such arrangement the Admiralty are bound to pay the wages observed by good employers. Therefore, if the Admiralty excluded from consideration altogether any idea of these men being pensioners, which they ought to do, then, according to the Fair-Wages Resolution, they would pay them at least the wages which are paid by good employers in the district. It is perfectly obvious no man can maintain in decency, to say nothing of comfort, himself, his wife, and family on 21s. per week here in the heart of London, and the most expensive part of London in which to live. I say, therefore, the Admiralty are getting outside the conditions imposed upon them by the Fair-Wages Resolution in paying to these men this miserable wage.

1.0 P.M.

I want to refer to another matter, and that is the conditions of service of the boys. We have heard a great deal in recent years about dead-end occupations, and the Post Office, I believe, have made considerable improvements in the conditions of service there in consequence of representations in this House and elsewhere, and they have now made provisions for the boys being retained or, otherwise, they will not employ so many. The War Minister has already given his word the same will be carried out in the War Office factories at Woolwich and elsewhere, but in the Admiralty boys are taken about fourteen years of age and paid 9s. per week—I make no complaint on that point—and go up to 13s. 6d. at eighteen years of age, but they are then sent out—


I am very sorry, but I do not possibly see how these boys come under any of the Votes taken in this Consolidated Fund Bill. The Admiralty Vote, which, perhaps, the hon. Member thinks is included, is not included. We did not take the Report stage of Vote 12 for the Admiralty last night, and therefore we cannot discuss questions coming on that Vote.


I shall take an opportunity of bringing that before the House at the proper time. I will leave it now and content myself with asking, in the first place, when we shall have an opportunity of discussing the Navy scheme for the training of officers, and, in the second place, if the Admiralty have any explanation to offer why they are employing men at this miserable wage of 21s. per week, contrary to the spirit of the Fair-Wages Clause and the desire of this House very often expressed. I would urge the hon. Gentleman to give the matter his favourable consideration with a view of bringing these men's wages up to at least as much as is paid by good employers outside. I think I might go further and say, if the Government are going to be in the first flight of employers, they ought to encourage employers outside to pay more.


The first point raised by the hon. Member was with regard to the scheme for the training of officers. I am afraid I cannot discuss that now, because it is, as you have pointed out, Sir, out of order, and, with regard to the question as to whether an opportunity will be given for the discussion of that Vote, I think my hon. Friend forgets we have already had some considerable discussion on it, in which he took a very able part, and the question of any further opportunity is not one I can determine. I am in the same difficulty with regard to the Naval pension messengers at the Admiralty who come under Vote 12. Vote 12 is not touched here at all. Perhaps the hon. Member will see me and explain the point on which he desires information.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.