HC Deb 06 August 1913 vol 56 cc1637-44

(1) In Section 48, Sub-section (1) of the principal Act, the following proviso shall be inserted:—

Provided that in respect of that part of such period as aforesaid during which the owner of the ship is not liable to pay wages to the master, seaman, or apprentice so suffering from disease or disablement, sickness benefit may be paid in whole or part if such master, seaman, or apprentice has dependents, and the benefit so paid shall be paid to or applied for the relief or maintenance of such dependents in such manner as the society or committee by which the benefit is administered, after consultation whenever possible with such person, thinks fit.

(2) The rules of the Seamen's National Insurance Society may, notwithstanding anything in Sub-sections (4) and (8) of Section 48 of the principal Act, provide for the admission to the society of masters, seamen, and apprentices to the sea service or sea-fishing service who are entitled to be or become voluntary contributors and for allowing a member who leaves the sea service and who is or continues to be a voluntary contributor to remain a member of the society.


had given notice of the following Amendment: To move in Sub-section (1) to leave out the word "the" ["owner of the ship is not liable"] and to insert instead thereof the word "any."

This Amendment must be read with another, of which I have given notice, namely, to insert after the word "ship" the words "engaged in the home trade." The Amendment is similar to one of which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty has given notice, to insert after the word "dependents" the words "and was serving on a home-trade ship" ["or apprentice has dependents"]. This is intended to correct what I think was a serious mistake made in the Committee when Clause 22 was discussed. It restores to foreign-going seamen the full benefits which are due to those engaged in the home trade. While the Committee upstairs restored full benefits to foreign-going seamen they made no provision for the payment of the benefits. There are a large number of foreign-going seamen, and the approved societies will be quite unable to meet the obligations imposed upon them by the Clause as it now stands. Not only are they without funds to pay those benefits, but further, it would be quite impossible for any approved society to exercise supervision over their members in foreign ports. It may be taken that the dependents of any member who falls sick in a foreign port will be able to draw from the approved society the full twenty-six weeks of sickness benefit.

When the original Act was before the House as a Bill, Section 48 specially provided different benefits and different contributions for the two classes. Those who were engaged in the foreign trade were supplied with certain benefits under the Merchant Shipping Act. I never could understand why the shipowner was on that account relieved of 6s. per member of his contribution, but the fact is that the ship-owner was so relieved. The insured person was relieved of 3s. 4d. I notice that the actuary of the Department has reported to the Government that those benefits cannot be paid under present conditions, and that he recommends the reconsideration of the Clause. In view of the fact that the actuary has made that report and that the Government have seen fit to put down an Amendment similar to mine, I do not think it is necessary to occupy the time of the House with any further argument. I think that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman is a better one than mine and if he is willing to make it a substitute for mine I do not move mine.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "dependents," to insert the words "and was serving on a home trade ship."

The man in the home service pays full contributions and so does his employer. Therefore he ought to get full benefit. In the Committee the hon. Member for Derby had an Amendment which I would have accepted, but the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (Mr. W. Boyle) had an Amendment down designed to secure full benefit in all circumstances for members, whether in the home or foreign service. We all sympathise with the dependents of these men when no wages are coming in. I made what inquiry I could at the moment and I accepted the form of the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk, which applied not only to the home but to the foreign service men. Very strong representations were then made to me that it was actuarially impossible to give the sick benefit in the case of the men on foreign service vessels, whose four contributions were counted as five and whose employers paid 1d. less. Therefore, if we pay full benefit, for full contributions in the home service I am afraid that we cannot give full benefit for reduced contributions in the foreign service. The Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Tyrone (Mr. McGhee) puts the matter back into the original form proposed by the hon. Member for Derby, and we are bound, I think, to bring it back to that form if we are to keep faith with the approved societies. Where there are full payments there may be full benefits, but where there are reduced contributions both from the person employed and the employer in the case of foreign service then we cannot give full benefits. I know that the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk will be disappointed, but at any rate his action has not been futile because he will get full benefits for the men in the home service, and also the assurance that next year, when we have to consider the whole question, we will certainly consider whether it is possible to meet the case which he presented to us.


As I was not on the Committee and as an Amendment was supplied to me by the foreign going men, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk to endeavour to have it accepted. The action of the Government will be a great disappointment to all those foreign-going seamen who thought that they were going to be brought under the beneficent action of this Bill. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is sympathetic, but sympathy does not represent pounds, shillings, and pence to men out of work. The foreign-going seamen may not pay as much as men in the home-going trade, but any rate they do pay something. It is not fair that the foreign-going seaman should be asked to pay as much, because when he is sick on board ship he may be maintained at the expense of the owner for a long period. In any case he pays 3d. a week, which means a certain amount per annum, and if he cannot have full benefit, at least meet him in some way, instead of cutting him out of benefit altogether. As I understand, he gets nothing at present. If you cannot give him 10s. a week, give him 5s. a week, or 1s. a day. I am sure the House must feel sympathy for the foreign-going seaman in the circumstances in which he is placed, and the small opportunity he has to enforce his own claims. We have had an illustration to-night of Scottish Members agitating a point relating to them, and of a bargain being made with them by the Government.

I ask that at the eleventh hour the Government should see whether they cannot do something for foreign-going seamen. You are giving preferential treatment to home-going ships, and that will discourage men from joining foreign-going ships, while we want as many sailors as we can possibly get We are not asking for this benefit in respect of the man, but in respect of his dependents, his wife and children, who suffer. I ask the Government to consider whether even yet they cannot make some proportional payment to these men, who after all are deserving of consideration and sympathy at the hands of the Government. I do not know whether it is possible at this time of day, but I am sure that there will be very great disappointment among the foreign-going sailors when they find that they were in the Bill last week, and that they are now quietly excommunicated because the hon. Member below the Gangway says he finds difficulty in paying their benefit.


The right hon. Gentleman is right in observing that sentiment is not pounds, shillings and pence. It is perfectly easy to suggest that this and that should be paid to a perfectly deserving class and to their dependents, but the hon. Member cannot have studied the Clause in the principal Act or the Clause in the Bill. If he had done so he would have known that under the Act, Section 48, sailors are exempt and their employers from paying anything for a period of ten weeks in the year. In addition to that the sailor is only required to pay 3d. a week for forty-two weeks in the year. The Amendment suggests that though there is no contribution at all forthcoming in respect of ten weeks, nevertheless during that period the dependents of the sailor may be provided for either in food or in part benefit as though that period were covered by the contribution. In other words, what is asked is this, that the approved society which embraces within its ranks the foreign-going sailor shall be required either directly to the sailor himself or to his dependants to provide precisely the same scale of benefits as those approved societies which have fifty-two sevenpences per year. I tell the hon. Member if this proposal were carried it would lead to the absolute bankruptcy of the approved societies which embrace sailors. Personally, I think there is a good deal to be said for a larger humane treatment of the seafaring class, and a great deal to be said for some special provision being made in regard to their dependants during that period when they are abroad and are not earning wages.

To ask that that should be done out of the existing diminished contributions is to break faith with the approved societies, and is to lead to the bankruptcy of those approved societies. More than that, we have heard a good deal to-night about the importance of not breaking faith with any section of the community in regard to this Act. May I point that the present scale of benefit provided by the approved societies embracing the sailors has been based upon the contributions paid in full by the home sailor and the reduced contributions paid in respect of the foreign-going sailors? If this proposal were carried it would mean one of two things, either the entire bankruptcy of the seafarers' society or a complete revision of the existing scale of benefit which has been fixed after careful calculation by the actuaries appointed by the Commissioners. For those reasons, much as I sympathise personally with this class and with their dependants, I do ask the House not to break faith with the approved societies concerned, and not to ask them out of 21s. contribution per year to provide, or to attempt to provide, a scale of benefits which is provided by other societies out of a contribution of £1 10s. 4d. per year. I therefore hope that the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman will be accepted without a Division.


The right hon. Gentleman used the expression "foreign ports in the home trade." What did he mean by that?


If a man on the home service who pays full contributions should be in hospital, say in Antwerp, then under the law as it now stands he would not get sick benefit or, I mean, his dependents. We desire he should and we should like to go further and do so for those who are in the foreign service and who do not pay full contribution. When the whole case of the deposit contributors and others is under consideration I hope the case of those men will be heard.


The hon. Member desires to know what is meant by a foreign port in the home trade. In the home trade it is between the River Elbe and Brest. Those are the home ports. The hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Liverpool was quite wrong in saying that the foreign seamen get no benefit. They get sickness, medical, disablement, and maternity benefits when they are in the British Isles and not on board ship.

Question "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words,

"In Sub-section (5) of Section 48 of the principal Act, after the word 'proportions,' insert the words 'and representation of the local medical profession of the United Kingdom to the extent of one-tenth, as nearly as possible, of the committee to be appointed as to one-half by the Insurance Commissioners and as to one-half by the British Medical Association.'"

The object of this Amendment is to give to the Seamen's National Insurance Society the advantage of having a representation of the medical profession upon the Committee. There is a complete analogy between the Seamen's National Insurance Society and the insurance societies under the principal Act. When the principal Act was passing through Parliament it was understood that the medical profession should be duly represented upon the insurance committees, and there can be no reason why they should not be represented also to some extent—I am not particular to what extent—upon the Seamen's National Insurance Society. I believe that the society would welcome the co-operation and assistance of the medical profession. For these reasons I move the Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.


Section 48 provides that international societies shall be managed by a committee of representatives of the Board of Trade, shipowners, and members of the societies in equal proportions, and in the scheme prepared under the original Act there are seven representatives of each of those parties. That represents a very carefully adjusted balance between the three interests, arrived at after delicate negotiations, and I would urge the hon. Member not to press his Amendment which would have the effect of disturbing this balance. I would press upon the hon. Member, if he will allow me, the undesirability of making the alteration. I take it that the desire for representation arises in respect of administration of medical benefit. If this is so I am advised that satisfactory arrangements have been made between the societies and the profession in this matter. That being so, I am afraid I must ask the hon. Member not to disturb the balance of representation which has been arrived at after very careful consideration.


After the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I will ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, although I must repeat that I think there is reason for the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.