§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £236,390, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments." [Note.—£140,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move, That Subhead A (Salary of the President of the Board of Trade) be reduced by £100."
In moving this Amendment, I should like first to make it clear to the Committee that the members of the merchant service and particularly the officers are very conscious of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade gives them a most painstaking hearing to the large number of old-standing grievances brought to his notice on questions relating to the various subjects, such as deck loads, accommodation for officers and men on board ship, hospital accommodation, and above all, the question of the new sight test, but at the same time they cannot say they think that these questions have had the careful consideration of the members of the Board of Trade The present condition of affairs with regard to the merchant shipping service is extremely unsatisfactory, and very little real progress has been made. Before I go into these questions with regard to the merchant service, there is one other matter with which I should like to deal, otherwise I wish to concentrate the attention of the Committee this afternoon upon question of the merchant service. I should like to refer very briefly to a matter which I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is not under his direct control, but rather under the direct control of the Treasury. I refer to the administration of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, and especially to the importation into this country of a large number of fancy boxes manufactured abroad. The Committee will bear in mind that the box trade in this country has been placed under the Trade Boards 1273 Act, and the Board awards the wages to be paid in this country to those engaged in that industry, and those wages are now regulated under a Parliamentary authority. Therefore, it would seem to me, that that trade is entitled to the protection which is afforded by the Merchandise Marks Act, and should be so treated as required by the Trade Boards Act. I understand, on the contrary, that an Order has been issued to make the importation of boxes, some not only of considerable value but of nearly as great value as their contents, to be brought into this country without any certificate of origin. I only ask the President of the Board of Trade to take this matter into his consideration and bring what influence he can to bear upon the Treasury, keeping in mind that these imported boxes compete with British trade, which has to pay rates of wages regulated under the Trade Boards Act.
I now come to deal, first of all, with the question of what is known as the new sight test which has been imposed upon officers of the merchant service whenever they stand for any fresh examination, and, of course, before they get their first certificate, and right up to the time when they get their extra master's certificate. The results, so far as they are known, of this new sight test on the employment of a very large number of men in the merchant service can only be regarded as disastrous. The new colour test came into operation upon 1st April last, and before the month of April had expired, I was informed, in answer to a question put to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, that there were seven or eight cases of officers who failed to pass the new sight test. It is estimated that the new sight test will make a difference to a very large percentage of men getting on. As every certificate comes up the Board of Trade are taking the course, under Section 471 of the Merchandise Marks Act, which deals with the question of incompetency of officers, of applying this test, and calling upon those who fail to pass the sight test to surrender certificates they previously held. This is a question affecting the whole career of these men, and it is of the utmost importance that we should inquire into the origin and reason for the stiffening up of the sight tests, and whether they are really necessary for the protection of merchant shipping and whether they are practicable. With regard to the origin of the new test, it is curious that the Board of Trade did not 1274 move on their own volition. Pressure was brought to bear upon them by the Union Steam Shipping Company of New Zealand, which proposed fresh and more drastic tests for its officers. The officers very naturally replied, "What is good enough for the Board of Trade in England ought to be good enough for the Union Steamship Company, New Zealand." The question was brought up again at the Shipping Conference, and the Board of Trade first objected, but ultimately agreed to the appointment of a Committee to consider the question of tests. I am not going into the question of the scientific qualifications of this Committee. I only say that there were on the Committee a very large number of scientific gentlemen, and that it did include one representative of the shipowners, Sir Norman Hill. It contained no representative of the shipmasters or officers who were liable to be tried, if not for their lives, at all events as to their future careers, which is nearly the same thing to them. When the Committee reported on this question, the representative of the shipping interest put in a special reservation in the Report which shows that he by no means agreed with what they proposed, and that there is still a question for the Board of Trade. Sir Norman Hills says:—If, after full consideration, the Board of Trade adhere to the new standard as necessary for the safety, then the shipowners, and in particular those who are dependent upon the support of the travelling public, will be compelled to enforce it upon the officers now in their service whether they believe in it or not; and in that event, if the Board of Trade's estimates are accepted, many officers now holding certificates will be displaced, although it has been demonstrated that they are as regards their sight competent men.Let me say, although the. Board of Trade had scientific experts upon this Committee, I make this broad statement that scientific opinion in this country is sharply divided as to whether the tests are practical or necessary. On the 1st May, this year, the following resolutions were passed by the "Ophthalmological Society"We, the undersigned, are of opinion that the sight tests of the Board of Trade are not satisfactory, for the following rasons:—This was signed by thirty-two members of the society. Therefore, I only need to point out to the Committee that, as far as scientific opinion, upon which I am not 1275 qualified to give any verdict myself, is concerned it is sharply divided, and is by no means entirely or even mainly favourable to the position taken up by the Board of Trade. As to the real risk to the public, the first thing I would call attention to is that the late chief of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade informed the Committee that the Board were not aware of any casualty which could be traced to defective vision, and Sir Norman Hill, an experienced shipowner, pointed out that there were about 300,000 voyages made per annum in British vessels, and over a period of twenty years during which the old sight tests had been enforced 6,000,000 voyages had been accomplished without a single case of casualty which could be attributed to a defective sight. This misguided activity on the part of the Board of Trade is in sharp contrast to the want of activity of the Board of Trade in many other matters. Upon this question I want to summon to my side some expert authority among practical seamen, and I will quote Commander Wilson Barker, who commands the training ship "Worcester." He says:—
- 1. The types in the form vision test submitted should be printed on a smooth flat surface, preferably of white porcelain, and not on a roll of canvas which has to be held down by the examiner.
- 2. The wool test for colour-blindness is not an efficient test.
- 3. Any lantern used for testing for colour-blindness should have means for regulating the luminosity of the lights shown."
4.0 P.M.The examination of the eyesight of youths should be in the hands of oculist physicians, and they could determine at once whether it would be safe for a young man to embark on the career. After that the practical examination, as you suggest, might be taken up.I think it is not too much to say that as a matter of principle we might consider, in view of the enormous importance of the career of these men to them and their family, that they should at least have the same right as anybody else who find themselves in the same position in this country, and that is that they should have practical consideration of their case and that they should not be condemned on account of some expert evidence which in many cases is absolutely unpractical. I have asked the President of the Board of Trade questions on this subject in the House, and I have been told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that the cases in which officers have failed in tie sight-test examination were not officers holding certificates. I find that in every ease the Board of Trade have taken the course to which I have referred, and I would like to read a short paragraph from a letter written to one of these men who failed in the month of April last to pass the new sight test. It is signed by W. F. Marwood, of the Board of Trade Marine Department. It is as follows:—In this connection I am to point out that nude Section 471 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, if the 1276 Board have reason to believe that a certificated officer is unfit to discharge his duties, they may order an inquiry into his competency to hold his certificate. Before taking any action under the provisions of this Section the Board would be glad to know whether you are prepared, as an alternative, voluntarily to surrender the certificate of competency as first mat e (steamships) which you hold.After reading the Act I think that the Board of Trade, in taking that very drastic action, are stretching if not breaking their legal powers, and, at any rate, I would ask, in view of the fact that the Board of Trade are entitled to order an inquiry, that such an inquiry should be held, and that there should be a practical test of these men tinder sea-going conditions conducted by competent officers in the marine service, or any other seafarers who may be appointed for that purpose by the Board of Trade. Then I think the merchant service would have a very great deal more confidence in the result. As to the present test which is responsible for most of the trouble, it consists of the exhibition from a lantern on a screen of two tiny points of light, one red and one green, which, to any person of ordinary vision, look like pin points. These points are scientifically worked about to represent ship's lights at a distance of one mile. I am told by practical seamen that they represent nothing of the kind. One of them has written to me as follows:—It bears no resemblance whatever to the light of the ship at one mile distant, although it plight come within the category of a light fire miles distant.It is a test which no seafarer is called upon to look at or observe at sea at all It is an attempt to combine two things at once, namely, acuteness of vision with the question of colour-blindness. I feel very strongly about this matter because I have been through the test myself. I know that I am not colour-blind, and I could satisfy the examiners on every other point, but I could not distinguish the red and green lights when they were dodged about because I could hardly see them, and it is not fair to say that that is anything like the reflection of a ship's lights which may vary according to the dampness of the atmosphere. I can give to the Committee a number of practical cases, but I will only mention one of an officer who went up for his examination under the old test on the 31st March, and having passed successfully he decided to sit for the extra master's certificate on the 14th April, but under the new sight test he was ignominiously "ploughed," and was told he would have to surrender all his previous certificates. That one 1277 case could be multiplied by at least a dozen others which I have already sent to the President of the Board of Trade, and consequently I will not trouble the Committee with the details of them. I only wish to ask that in this matter we should have a practical test in every case where an officer has not passed under the new sight test before a man is deprived of his living. I think that is not too much to ask, and, in addition, I would like the President of the Board of Trade to go into the whole question of these different sight tests from a practical point of view. What good are they going to do? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider these points before the 1st January next, when the new and more drastic test for acuteness of vision is to come into operation. If the President of the Board of Trade will do this he will meet the demands of a very proper agitation on behalf of the officers of the marine service. I would point out that this is not a question in which only the officers of the marine service are interested, because there has been a deputation of shipowners who feel equally strong on this subject, and the pilots are equally concerned about the matter. In this case you have a consensus of opinion against the new test, and it is not a case of the masters against the men, but the whole of them are against what they call a wholly unwarranted scientific experiment which is being conducted at their expense.
Another point I wish to raise is in regard to the provision of ships' hospitals in our ordinary cargo vessels. I think some place ought to be set apart for the members of the crew who may be stricken with an infectious disease, and this is necessary for the protection of the officers and other members of the crew, as well as for the afflicted persons, who ought to have a reasonable chance of recovery. A Departmental Committee on Drug Scales on board ship made a recommendation in January, 1912, on this question. I asked a question upon it about six months afterwards, and I was informed that in ten cases only had any ship been fitted up with a hospital for the crew. I would like to know how many more have been fitted up in the meanwhile, and whether the Board of Trade are not able to do something snore practical on this subject than merely adopting pious resolutions that such a thing is desirable if it can be arranged. In this matter, as in a great many other matters, we are entirely behind every other country. If you go over the 1278 up-to-date marine ships belonging to the German Mercantile Marine or of any other foreign country which owns any mercantile marine worthy of the name, you will find that there is a far larger percentage of those vessels fitted up with hospital accommodation for the members of the crew than is the case in our own Merchant Service. On the analogous question of accommodation on board ship generally the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 requires that 72 cubic feet space should be allotted to each seaman, and even that was an increase over what had been considered necessary before that time. I would like to mention that on shore 400 cubic feet is considered the proper thing, and it appears to me that this allotment of 72 cubic feet is based upon the misguided notion that somehow or other life at sea is an open-air life. Anybody who has been even a cross-Channel journey knows that there is no spot in the whole world where people can suffer so intensely from want of air and ventilation as on hoard ship, particularly on a rough night. The whole question seems to have been regarded from a wholly impracticable point of view. It is not a question of how much cubic air space each man should have, but it is more a question of the ventilation, whether the arrangements for the accommodation are reasonable, scientific, sanitary, and proper. We have no practical supervision whatever, and nothing is done except one of the junior surveyors of the Board of Trade makes an inspection of the ship in regard to the accommodation to be allotted to the seamen, and if it works out at 72 cubic feet apiece the matter is passed quite regardless of any other consideration. Yesterday the Port of London Sanitary Authority issued a report which I think is worthy of the attention of this Committee. The sanitary officer reports:—I must again repeat that the conditions under which seamen live on board vessels are extremely favourable to the spread of infection and the development of this disease.That is under the heading of tuberculosis. The Report continues:—The occupants of the seamen's quarters on board many ships may be described as 'troglodytes,' for indeed many of these places are verily similar to caves, constructed of air-tight materials, dark, overcrowded in a hygienic sense, and ventilated (?) by an iron pipe which is generally blocked up, thus only allowing fresh air to enter by the doors. The following example, which was met with during the year, will indicate the possible danger which may arise from persons on board suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.That is exactly what takes place. The medical officers of the Board of Trade number five, and they are allotted to the 1279 ports of London, Liverpool, and Southampton, and consequently they have no time to make inspections at any other ports. Their whole time for inspecting is taken up with the inspection of emigrant ships with the exception of occasional visits to cargo vessels. There are only five of them, and they have to see whether the contents of the drug chests are in order and according to the scale. I have had letters from various officers on this question, and one of them calls particular attention to a vessel of the German Australian Line, between which and the ship in which he was sailing he draws a very marked contrast. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is creditable to us, as the country owning the first Merchant Service in the world, to have it reported with absolute authenticity that in all these respects which I have mentioned we are far behind every other modern nation. Next to the accommodation on board ship—indeed, I do not know whether it is not really more important still—is the question of the officers' hours. Of course, it is of very great importance that both officers and men should have reasonable comfort—they do not ask for luxury or anything of that kind—and healthy conditions when they are off work, but how about when they are at work? In case the President of the Board of Trade might be inclined to think that this question is one entirely for legislation, I would point out that in March, 1899, the Marine Department of the Board of Trade issued instructions as to procedure under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1897, and Items 2 and 3 are as follows:—2. Foreign-going steamships of over 2,500 tons gross s of more than 320 feet in length should have, independently of the roaster and two mates, not less than eight efficient deck hands.3. Foreign-going-steamships of over 5,500 tons gross, or of Inure than 420 feet in length should have, independently of the master and two mates, not less than ten efficient deck hands.The gross tonnage is taken in both cases, and that is the proper measure of the size of the ship. Although the Board specified that there should be two more efficient deck hands in a ship of 5.500 gross tonnage than in a ship of 2,500 gross tonnage, they specified that the master and two mates were sufficient in both cases. The result of that is the two-watch system, under which practically all our cargo-carrying trade is carried on. I should like particularly to quote one case to the Committee. It is the case of an officer on the South American 1280 coasting trade. He sends the complete register for the twelve months, showing the hours worked. That register shows that in the entire year he was on duty for 6,141½ hours, which works out at an average of 511 hours per month, or seventeen hours per day. That is the average for the entire twelve months, including Sundays. When we hear of an agitation on shore for an eight hours day and so forth, I think it is very remarkable that the Board of Trade, who are active in looking after the regulation of wages, hours, and things of that kind on shore, have paid absolutely no attention to the recommendations of the Committee which sat specially to consider this subject, and they have done nothing practicable to limit this tremendous amount of overwork. It is not only work at sea. The officer's work is not ended when the ship gets into port. I have a case of an officer who speaks of his experience at Calcutta. In three successive weeks he worked nineteen hours one Sunday, seventeen hours the next, and nineteen hours on the third Sunday. It is not likely we can get an adequate supply of officers for the merchant service—and the Navy depends, and ought to depend still more, upon the merchant service being properly officered—while this state of things exists.
Some time ago the Board of Trade did suggest, some recognition of Sunday-work in pay, but the shipowners said that a maritime wage was well understood to mean seven days a week, and nothing whatever has been done. Here again, I would call attention to the fact that in the United States they have just passed regulations of the very kind for which we are asking, ensuring that on vessels above a certain size there should be three officers carried besides the master. The same thing is true of Australia. It is not creditable to us to be lagging behind and doing nothing to bring our regulations up to the mark. The Report of the Departmental Committee, which sat on the question of manning, stated definitely that a ship was not to be considered in a seaworthy condition unless it was so officered that the officers had a reasonable time for rest before they took up their duties on the bridge. That is not possible or practicable in the present circumstances. The present system means work all day long. In India, for instance, an officer is at work when the ship is in port all day under the burning sun. At six o'clock or sun-down the vessel weighs anchor and 1281 goes on to the next port, and the same officer takes up his watch on the bridge. That is the common case in all these trading vessels, and it ought to be stopped, and stopped at once, certainly before the President of the Board of Trade takes any steps in the direction of stiffening up the sight test. I will only just mention the question of the surveying staff. There is an increase in the Estimates this year for nautical and marine and engineer surveyors, but that increase, considering the volume of our shipping trade, is wholly inadequate, and a great deal of it is simply with a view to looking after or superintending the provision of life-saving apparatus. That is very important, and I can quite understand what it is that has at last managed to move the Board of Trade to do something in that direction, but we do not want to have to wait until there are more shipping casualities such 'as the foundering of the "Titanic" before the Board of Trade can 'be induced to move to ensure an adequate staff to meet the ordinary contingencies of seafaring life.
The question of alien officers on British ships is one which undoubtedly requires regulation at once. The number of alien officers may not seem very great. We have sixty-three alien masters and mates on sailing ships, and sixty-two alien masters and 272 alien officers on steamships, but I say that under present conditions there ought to be none. Whatever may be necessary with regard to the crew, it would be perfectly simple to make it an absolute condition of flying the British flag that the ship should be adequately officered, and officered by British subjects. The Admiralty have recently, and I think very properly, taken steps to use our merchant fleet as the eyes of the Navy. They have issued a form to steamship owners asking them to communicate with their captains and to arrange that in time of war information should be given as to the character of every vessel which is sighted. That may be of enormous importance, but, considering that when the Pilotage Bill was before the House, it was felt necessary to give special powers to the Admiralty to preclude alien officers who hold the pilot certificate from certain pilotage districts, surely it is equally necessary that the Board of Trade should collaborate with the Admiralty in this matter of alien masters. Pilotage into port is not the only thing of importance in the time of a naval war. It is clearly of importance that the Navy should have 1282 immediate information of foreign vessels sighted in certain waters. Such information at once communicated by the right people might be the means of saving us from naval disaster or at any rate of putting us in a very much better position than if we had not the information. It is not safe or wise or in accordance with the course taken by the Government under the Pilotage Bill that we should any longer allow the flying of the British flag by vessels with alien masters and officers.
I have given particulars to the right hon. Gentleman especially of vessels trading in the Mediterranean. In one case there was not a single person of English nationality on board. The ownership was more than suspect, and the officering and manning of the vessel left no possible doubt in anyone's mind. It was to all intents and purposes a foreign vessel, but it was kept on the British register probably for the purpose of carrying on a trade which a vessel belonging to a, possible enemy Power would not be able to carry on. There is the case of the Khedivial line of steamers carrying British mails and enormous numbers of passengers. There are nineteen vessels of that line, and there are only ten officers of British nationality altogether. It is simply a question of pay and nothing else. They will not pay the standard rate for British officers, and they therefore have men whose names show the nationality to which they belong. I do not know whether I called the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the case of the steamship "Calvados," which went ashore in March last, and in which there was great loss of life. The life-saving apparatus was absolutely inadequate, and the Court made the strongest statement to the Board of Trade. I should like to read a line or two of the finding of the Court:—The Court desired specially to direct the attention of the Board of Trade to the want of certificated officers on board a ship flying the British flag, and to the fact that the Court was unable to deal with masters or mates of foreign nationality, owing to ex-territorial jurisdiction in this country. They also desired to direct the attention of the Board of Trade to the insufficiency of the means of saving life existing on board.That is the case of the ss. "Calvados," the inquiry into which was held on 10th and 11th March last. A number of the passengers and crew were frozen to death, and a great many others were drowned. Then there is the question of the load line, and the deeper immersion of British ships. That was altered in 1906. I understand that there is a Committee now sitting and taking evidence on the question before our 1283 representatives meet the representatives of foreign Powers to try and get some general and uniform maritime law with regard to these matters. I would only there again refer to the fact that there is no representative on 'that Committee of the shipmasters and officers which are and must undoubtedly be the only people who have practical experience of what this change in the deeper immersion of heavily laden vessels means. They are people very likely who, in many cases, have been in the same ship both before and after the alteration, and have made many voyages under both conditions, and they therefore can speak with authority on the effect of the change. What is more important, they can weigh and measure up the value of the evidence given. There is a good deal of difficulty in inducing ship's officers to give evidence. I understand that one officer has already given evidence, and that three or four more are prepared to do so as long as their names are not published by the Committee. I would urge the President, of the Board of Trade not to proceed in this matter on the line of levelling down, but to try and get other countries to come to an international agreement on an important matter of this kind, and to have the load line levelled up to our standard. It is not desirable that he should make a concession to shipowners to enable them to make a little more money, because of certain conditions which they consider unfavourable in other respects.
The next question, although a comparatively small one, constitutes a real and grave injustice to the officers who are concerned, when there is any casualty on a ship on which they may be, and the grievance is in connection with the question of costs of Board of Trade inquiries and of Board of Trade appeals. I would like to give the right hon. Gentleman two illustrations which occurred this year. In one case a vessel went ashore in St. Lawrence, and in the other case she went ashore in the Straits of Newfoundland. In both cases an inquiry was held in Canada. In both cases the master was found to blame. In the first case he had been on duty fifteen hours, and was unwell. There was a qualified pilot on board at the time. The master was so unwell that he had to go into hospital on arrival in Canada. The Court, however, found that he should not have left the bridge. Over here the decision was reversed. I do not propose to go into the merits of the finding of the Court in Canada. All I need say is that 1284 the master's certificate was suspended for a period of three months, and before the appeal was heard in this country, an appeal which entirely exonerated him from all blame, five months had elapsed. He had, therefore, been without a certificate not only for the period of three months, which was the penalty imposed by the Court in Quebec, but for two months in addition. He was allowed no costs. Ho got no contribution of any kind towards his costs, even in respect of those incurred in connection with the appeal in this country. As a general practice, it appears-to me the judges or those who conduct these inquiries are very much disposed to grant costs. It has not been the practice of the Board of Trade to give any costs in these cases. They are invariably refused.
I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider this question. It may be that the Lord Chancellor framed the Shipping Casualties Rules of 1895, but he did so on the advice of the Board of Trade, and in view of the raison d'étre of these inquiries, I think it is wholly unreasonable, seeing that an officer is not so much put upon his trial as that the inquiry is held for the protection of shipping and of the public, so that the whole facts may be investigated, and it may be found out what is the true cause of the casualty—I say it is very unreasonable that, where an officer is exonerated from all blame, he should not have his costs. It should be a matter of course with the Board of Trade, as representing the public in this matter, to take upon itself the entire costs of the inquiries. But there has been no initiative on the part of the Board of Trade in this direction. Frequently recommendations have been made to the Board of Trade by persons holding an inquiry, but no action has ever been taken. This is a very small matter from the point of view of the Board of Trade, but hon. Members should consider what a very serious thing it is to an officer of a ship to which a casualty has happened, for which he is in no way to blame, and in connection with which in some cases his conduct may have been not only exemplary but heroic, that he should, in spite of losing his employment for a time, and perhaps of altogether losing his engagement, be called upon to pay heavy costs. If it were not for the protection of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, that man might be ruined by the expense of the inquiry in which he makes good his, own character.
1285 Next I come to the question of the deck-load. Here, again, I believe it is very desirable that we should approach the subject from the international point of view. I am not going to recommend any Amendment in the law, because that would be out of order. But I would like to tell the Committee exactly why I do not take that course. The question of deck-loads of timber is dealt with in the Merchant Shipping Act, in Section 451, and the effect of that Section, which is in operation at the present time, is that between the 31st October and the 6th April it is unlawful for any vessel, whether foreign or British, to unload timber deck-loads in any port of the United Kingdom. There are certain reservations in regard to making specially fast or slow voyages which might bring the vessel within the prescribed time, but the general effect is as I have described. There is nothing, however, to prevent a British vessel carrying a deck-load of timber going to a Continental port to unload it there, and then coming across here to unload the rest of her cargo. Consequently this Section, instead of being a protection for British shipping, handicaps British trade. It effects no other purpose whatever.
§ Mr. PETO
No; I was explaining why I did not think that any Amendment in legislation could possibly be effective. I ask the Board of Trade to take immediate steps to inquire as to what has been the result of the working of the law as it now stands, and to hold that inquiry with a view to summoning an international conference, so that the law may be made uniform. I want the right hon. Gentleman to take executive action. I do not ask him to proceed with any proposal to amend the law of this country, because I conceive that no Amendment dealing solely with British shipping and applying to British ports will meet the difficulty. I also ask him to consider the question as regards other kinds of deck-loads. There are many vessels trading from such ports as Harwich to Continental ports which carry a great deal of bulky deck cargo, such as threshing machines, locomotive engines, furniture vans, and motor cars. These vessels were never designed for such a purpose at all and I invite the President of the Board of Trade to consider whether it would not 1286 be a reasonable exercise of his powers that he should say that shipowners who desire to go in for this particular form of trade should take some steps to comply with Board of Trade Regulations, which do not exist at present, but which ought to be framed, in the direction of prescribing the design of the vessel, so that it should have some portion of the deck which, while open to the sky, might be a suitable place for such cargo without interference with or impeding the navigation of the ship. Some such arrangement could easily be made for the kind of cargo which cannot easily be put below hatches.
It seems amazing, seeing that the deck is designed for the working of the ship and not for the carrying of such cargo, that such multifarious articles should be placed upon it, and it would be well—indeed, it should be a part of the duty of the Board of Trade to exercise some kind of supervision as to the design of vessels intended to carry that kind of traffic. I believe, if some such course was adopted, the most bulky kinds of cargo could be carried without any trouble and with the greatest safety. I would be the last person to wish to put any difficulty in the way of manufacturers of this country exporting locomotives and other heavy articles to foreign countries. But without creating any such difficulties, I say it would be perfectly easy to regulate the designs of vessels intended for this kind of trade in such a way as to ensure that these things shall be safely carried. They are not safely carried at present. The President of the Board of Trade recently got out a Return of casualties in the last six or seven years, in which the Courts found that the carrying of deck cargo of various sorts was directly responsible for the casualty. I went through that list, and I found at least thirty cases in which that was the principal cause of the disaster, which in many cases had led to great loss of life. Very often these cargoes carried on deck are so carried because of their greasy nature. They consist of lard, fats, or oils, which may be liable to damage other cargo if put below. There can be nothing more disastrous to the navigation of a ship in times of storm than to have a lot of greasy deck cargo break adrift, rendering it impossible to stand on any part of the deck. It may well be imagined that there have been cases where people have, in consequence, fallen and broken a limb, or have been washed overboard, simply through the carrying of such 1287 cargo. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention to this matter, not with a view to the Amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act, but with the object of putting forward reasonable regulations for the carrying of deck cargoes of this miscellaneous type. I would ask him to take steps at the earliest possible moment to get into touch with the mercantile marine of different countries with a view to coming to some uniform arrangement. Considering how up to date everything connected with the merchant shipping of Germany is, I do not think he will find any opposition on the part of Germany to falling into line with any reasonable recommendation that may be arranged internationally. I apologise to the Committee for delaying it so long, but these are such important questions and it is so very seldom that matters affecting the Merchant Service can be raised in this House, that that must be my excuse for speaking at this length. We have to recollect, too, that the people who are most concerned in these questions have very little, if any, opportunity of voting for the return of a Member to this House. They are, to all practical intents and purposes, deprived of the franchise, and, therefore, it is the more incumbent on Members of this House, and on the Board of Trade in particular, to give attention, and careful attention, not only to these questions, but to give practicable consideration to any suggestions that can be brought forward.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I am sure that while the hon. Member who has just spoken will not expect me to vote for this reduction, he will accept my sincere sympathy in many of the observations he has made. There is one point upon which I wish respectfully to say a few words. It came under my attention last year during a voyage abroad, when I was very seriously tackled by the captain of the ship, as excellently good a fellow as ever trod deck, with regard to the cause of casualties and loss of life at sea, casualties and losses for which he declared the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when President of the Board of Trade, was responsible by raising the load line in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906. We were very good friends at that time, and I pointed out to him that I had the greatest admiration for the then President of the Board of Trade, as I have for the present one, and that no such action on his part was taken. I could not persuade him he was wrong, and, naturally, he 1288 could not persuade me that I was wrong. Directly I got home I went to the late Sir Walter Howell, whose death, I am sure, we all deplore, and asked him for particulars. He furnished me with them and they showed that there was not a tittle of truth in the allegation made against my right hon. Friend. I am, therefore, surprised to notice that, rather under the protection of the society of which the hon. Member who has just sat down is a member and of which I am also a member, a statement has been issued which I am sure they will be the first to withdraw once their attention is called to it. It says:—It is generally understood that this extraordinary step [of raising the load line] was taken to act as a 'sop to British shipowners in order to facilitate the passing of the Merchant. Shipping Act of 1906, which placed certain additional obligations upon them in respect to the provisioning of ships' crews, and to other matters which shipowners considered were inimical to their interests.I hope the hon. Member will obtain an absolute and unconditional withdrawal of that statement, for there is not a single word of truth in it from beginning to end. The late President of the Board of Trade had no more to do with the raising of the load line than the hon. Member who has just spoken. I am particularly anxious to bring this matter forward at the present moment, because I have just received the following resolution, which is going broadcast all over the country, and is having its effect on men's minds and men's votes and giving a very dangerous impression of what took place. It says:—This meeting of the Lerwick Branch of the British Socialist party expresses its strong indignation at the raising of the load line on British ships by Mr. Lloyd George and the Board of Trade, by which several British vessels and the lives of British seamen have been lost, and the lives of many more seriously endangered. This action by administrative Order has undone the good work accomplished by the noble Samuel Plimsoll forty years ago. This meeting calls upon the Government at once to revert to the old Plimsoll line and thus put an end to this deliberate drowning of British seamen in order that ships may carry more cargo for the greater profit of their owners.The matter is one of such grave and serious importance that I thought, if I did not have an opportunity of dealing with it before, I would do so in this Debate. Can anyone imagine a more gross allegation made against an individual than that made against the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Here we are face to face with deliberate accusations. There is not one tittle of evidence in support of that statement against the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If they had taken the trouble to inquire into the facts, they would have found that the Plimsoll Act—all honour to the late Mr. Samuel. 1289 Plimsoll for the efforts he made to do something for British seamen—merely gave power to an owner to put a mark on his ship, by which mark he was bound till the vessel returned from her voyage. So far as I can gather from the sources at the disposal of a private Member, I learn that the expert Committee which was appointed in 1885 inquired very closely into this matter, and they reported that it was possible to fix tables of freeboard and load lines for various classes of ships. That was done. The Board of Trade and Lloyd's Registry used those tables for five years on the voluntary application of owners, and they remained in force until 1890. The Act of 1894 gave power to the 'Board of Trade to revise these tables from time to time. That has been done. As modern improvements took place in the building of ships, and science and skill were brought into play, the conditions were greatly modified; consequently the tables were modified from time to time. The last modification, which was a purely administrative Act, and had nothing whatever to do with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, took place in 1896. We have been assured that there have been a large number of lives lost since that date.
We have no reason to doubt the figures in the table which has been submitted to us, which shows exactly the contrary state of affairs. It shows that for the last six years prior to the revision of the load line tables the number of vessels lost was 307; the percentage of vessels lost to vessels employed was 47, or 1 in 212; the total net tonnage lost was 158,146, the percentage of net tonnage lost to net tonnage employed was.28 or 1 in 358; the total number of crew lost was 2,092, and the percentage of crew lost to men employed was 15 or 1 in 662. For the six years subsequent to the revision of the load line tables the number of vessels lost was 240; the percentage of vessels lost to vessels employed.40 or 1 in 250; the total net tonnage lost, 151,219; the percentage of net tonnage lost to net tonnage employed,.24 or 1 in 424; the total number of crew lost, 1,940; and the percentage of crew lost to men employed.13 or 1 in 756. The number of masters and seamen washed overboard from deck by heavy seas during the five years ending 30th June, 1906, was 320, and the number during the six years ended the 30th June, 1912, was 274. These figures show a considerable diminution in the number of casualties, and prove conclusively that the statements which have been issued by the 1290 British Socialist party are entirely erroneous. I think I have made the point quite clear as to what exactly took place, and I hope my statement will satisfy both my hon. Friend, who represents the Merchant Shipping Guild, for which I have a great respect, and will also satisfy my Constituents.
There is one further point I desire to press upon the President of the Board of Trade. When the Merchant Shipping Act was going through this House in 1906, I specially directed the attention of the then President of the Board of Trade to the fact that where vessels carried boats there was no supervision in regard to exercising the boats at sea. I was so far successful in eliciting the sympathies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he went out of his way to obtain an amendment of the law in that respect, which now makes it compulsory to have the boats periodically overhauled and tested in port. I understand that has been completely satisfactory. I want my right hon. Friend to apply that same law to the state of affairs which exist when a vessel leaves this country clearing for South America, or even for the Mediterranean. What happens is that although the vessel is cleared here with its proper equipment for passengers and crew and a proper supply of boats, when it gets to other ports, what are called cluck passengers are taken on board in large numbers, and all the provision for boats is rendered absolutely useless. You may have good accommodation for 500 passengers and the crew, but there is no provision for the deck passengers. If the President would, as I believe he can, issue regulations or instructions under which these deck passengers should be duly reported, it would materially lessen the danger. The suggestion made by the hon. Member (Mr. Peto), that the President should take into his counsel and put on this Departmental Committee representatives of the Merchant Shipping Guild is a very admirable one. I cannot see that it would do any harm, and it would bring practical experience to bear. Practical experience is worth something in this world. Your scientists may go wrong occasionally, and such a step as that suggested would give confidence to the mercantile marine of this country, of which none of us can speak in too high terms of praise. I cordially support what the hon. Member said as to the long hours of officers, and upon the question of hospital ships.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
There is one very interesting point in the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He is determined, if he can, to induce the Committee to believe that the President of the Board of Trade is not responsible for the acts of this Department. That is a new theory. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he told us, has been blamed as President of the Board of Trade with regard to the load line. The hon. Member has given us a very fine example of party loyalty, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the late President of the Board of Trade, must feel that strength comes from the Orkneys and reinforcement from the Shetlands to sustain him in this difficult moment. The lion. Member said that the present President of the Board of Trade, and the ex-President of the Board of Trade, are not responsible for the acts of their Department. I should like to hear the opinion of the permanent officials of those who administer the Department under the President of the Board of Trade, and of those who draft the administrative Orders with regard to that matter.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I understand the hon. Member to say that when the Department undertakes to alter an administrative Order which has the effect of producing, as the hon. Member has shown, a great alteration in the working of the Merchant Shipping Acts and in the load line for British vessels, that the President of the Board of Trade is not responsible. I should like to ask the present President of the Board of Trade if he is prepared to shift the responsibility for administrative Orders upon his permanent and subordinate officials?
§ 5.0 P.M.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I do not think he has. Therefore, I need not dwell longer on that point, but it is quite clear that the hon. Member, in the enthusiasm of his loyalty to his party and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has advanced some new theory regarding the administration of Departments. The questions I intended to raise I shall not raise, because, happily, they have been settled. The President of the Board of Trade has a way of cutting the ground 1292 from under the feet of his foes by consideration of not merely plausible but just claims made by Members of this House in the interests of their constituents. I have no doubt the President of the Board of-Trade and his Department see how wise and just and fair some Members of the Opposition can be in their claims, and therefore meet them. I only rise for the purpose of supporting some of the statements made by the hon. Member (Mr. Peto). I remember with very great satisfaction that when the 1906 Merchant Shipping Act was passed the then President of the Board of Trade accepted an Amendment from me, which, if I remember aright, seemed to me to double the accommodation for seamen on board ship. That was very satisfactory to me and very satisfactory to Members of the Labour party and others on the Committee, but we raised the question, then, not only of accommodation but of adequate sanitary conditions and ventilation. I really cannot speak with any kind of certainty about them, but I have had complaints from sailors and others in my Constituency, and if it is true that the accommodation which was promised under the Act of 1906 is only accommodation in regard to space and does not include adequate ventilation and adequate sanitary conditions in connection with cubic square, the spirit of the Act is not being carried out, and I ant quite certain the President of the Board of Trade could have no desire not to compel the spirit of the Act to be carried out because with difficulty that, Clause and other correlated Clauses were passed in 1906, and having accomplished that, no President of the Board of Trade could desire to see the spirit of the Act unfulfilled, and any attempt on his part by administrative functions to compel the carrying out of the Act in the matter of ventilation and sanitary accommodation as well as cubic space would receive the support of everyone in the House.
I hope the President of the Board of Trade will be able to assure us that he has made intimate inquiry on this point and that his information justifies him in saying that my hon. Friend is wrong. I hope my hon. Friend is wrong, but, if he is right, it is an extremely serious matter, and I know my hon. Friend has many sources of information which are undoubtedly authentic sources and authoritative sources, and therefore the President of the Board of Trade must, I think, take my hon. Friend's statement as state- 1293 ments of great gravity and treat them with the consideration which they undoubtedly deserve. My hon. Friend also referred to hospital accommodation. That was one of the things also that we discussed in the Debates upstairs in 1906, and they are all related—cubic space, sanitary accommodation, and appliances and ventilation—and in these days on the smallest ship there should be practically perfect ventilation, because you have electricity now. Electricity can be generated on the smallest ship, and there is no earthly reason why any portion of a ship should be ill-ventilated. Therefore, I think we are entitled, and we should ask the President of the Board of Trade whether this hospital accommodation, which is absolutely necessary and which with the 'increasing size of ships can easily be adjusted to the necessities of ship board, and the necessary ventilation and sanitary appliances are going to be secured or are at present secured to the sailors on our ships.
There is another point which my hon. Friend brought up, and that is the employment of alien shipmasters in our merchant service. The President of the Board of Trade may have some ground for complaint. He may say that when this Bill was on upstairs this question ought to have been adequately dealt with. I think all of us who were on that Committee are somewhat to blame for not pushing this question as they pushed the question of the alien pilots. I must take my share of that responsibility, but there are difficulties in the case. It would be a very dangerous and difficult thing for the Government, if it had the power, to say that no alien shipmaster should be employed on British ships or on ships which fly the British flag. It would raise very serious international questions. For instance, we have got steamship lines between the United States and this country which fly the British flag behind which is British money, but behind which also is American money, and they are practically American liners. In the same way with the cross-channel traffic. It would be an exceedingly difficult thing for the Government to insist that there should be no alien shipmasters upon lines of that sort. My hon. Friend mentioned a line running from Smyrna and the Asia Minor ports to Alexandria and also Constantinople. There, again, it is a very serious question. I have thought much of it, and I always find great difficulty. It 1294 would be a very hard thing for this Government to prevent the Egyptian Government, who, naturally, want to do as well as they can by their Egyptian citizens, from becoming officers on ships that fly the British flag. It is a situation that I do not see the way out of at a moment's notice, nor do I see a way out of the situation which would be created were we to say that none but British officers should be employed on those lines of steamers running between the United States and this country, but my hon. Friend has shown the way out. He has said that under the Pilotage Act the question of alien pilots was raised, and the President of the Board of Trade had great difficulty, which, however, he surmounted, because it was an international question as this is an international question, of great gravity. He was able to secure that the Admiralty should be the final arbiter in regard to the employment of alien pilots. That, I think, was a very wise arrangement securing the national interests, but also preventing international difficulties. This, undoubtedly, is a grievance. I think there is as much danger in having alien shipmasters working our waters as alien pilots, and, if it were possible, the President of the Board of Trade ought to possess himself of the same powers as he secured under the Pilotage Act lately passed in this House. I am saying this with no little sense of the gravity of the situation, because I understand how great are the difficulties of the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman rules, but I am absolutely certain that when there is a question so grave to our national interests as this is every attempt should be made by the Government to alter the conditions in some way—if not by legislation by such agreement as the President of the Board of Trade might be able to make. I beg the President of the Board of Trade to consider very carefully the situation which he says exists, and to deal with it not with the idea of getting rid of a Parliamentary difficulty, but of doing a real national duty.
§ Mr. MUNRO-FERGUSON
Very interesting points have been touched on in the course of the Debate, and I agree on several of them with those who have spoken. I agree especially that in respect to the training, the accommodation and the hours of the officers of the mercantile marine, we find a good deal of material for consideration. I think, just as a good deal has been done for the 1295 welfare of the seamen in the mercantile marine, something more may have to be done yet—I think a good deal has to be done on some lines, at any rate, or in some classes of ships—with respect to officers. Especially, I think, although something has been done for the training, a good deal more will have to be done yet before we reach the ideal of the manning being more composed of British subjects and the officering being entirely composed of British subjects. But what I rose particularly to ask about was whether my right hon. Friend has anything to state in regard to taking any action in the direction of mediation in regard to the trade disputes at Leith. He could not have a better correspondent than the Provost of Leith, and I have no desire to take part in any correspondence which may be going on, but I have formed my own opinion for what it is worth, and my own opinion is that it would be desirable to have conciliation, and that, if that course commends itself to the Department, I do not think conciliation can be undertaken too quickly with a view of bringing about harmony between the parties engaged in the dispute. There is a tendency to take the view that, as the dispute has begun, it may as well be fought out, but it is not only those who are actively concerned in the dispute who are suffering. The whole of the industrial population of one of the most important districts in the country is concerned. No doubt in this House a strike in London excites more interest than a strike in Scotland, but I hope that in the Department, no matter where a dispute takes place, an equally serious view is taken of the consequences of a dispute of this kind. For my part, I think disputes are apt sometimes to get overlooked by the Department. I hope that will not be so in the case I have brought before my right hon. Friend as the representative of that community. I think any local effort made so far for arbitration or conciliation has been conducted under the best possible auspices, and therefore it is not until local and voluntary effort fails that. I would wish the Department to take action in the interest of conciliation.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Perhaps I may be allowed to reply to my hon. Friend now. I am in correspondence with those who have full knowledge of the matter, and one of my officers has gone down to Leith to make such inquiries as are advisable. I assure him that we are giving the matter 1296 the most earnest attention, and I would rather not make a statement in regard to it except to say that we are in touch with the Provost who is, we believe, one of the best persons to communicate with.
§ Mr. JOYCE
My hon. Friend travelled over a wide field in his speech this evening. I think it is one of the most practical speeches I have listened to in this House. I do not intend to go through all the matters he dealt with in such a masterly way, but there are one or two points to which I wish to refer very shortly. The question of the load line has come up in this House on several occasions since the Act of 1906 became law. Members seem always to be confused about it. My recollection is very clear as to what led up to the passing of the provisions in that measure with respect to the load line. Very hard words have been said with regard to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then President of the Board of Trade, by the seafaring community as to the change in the load line. I do not think he has deserved all that has been said by the people who speak so strongly. I think the men whose action led to the passing of that Act should bear their fair portion of what is said on the subject. I have stated more than once in this House that the present Leader of the Opposition was Chairman of the Committee who went into this matter after the House of Commons rose in 1905. It was in the fall of that year the Committee sat. How the Committee was composed I do not know, but certainly it was not composed of practical seafaring men who would have to face the dangers of the sea. I believe my suspicion is well founded that the shipowning community of this country had a good deal to do with the formation of that Committee. In their Report the Committee advised the Government to bring in a Bill to change the load line. I presume that that Bill was on the stocks when the General Election took place in January, 1906, and immediately the Liberal Government came into power they were faced with the fact that they had to get the Merchant Shipping Bill through. Some Members who were in the House at that time fought the question of changing the load line. I think I spoke several times myself on it. However, the load line was changed, and British shipowners benefited to the extent of about a million tons per annum by it. That has gone on since, and it. is not satisfactory to the men who have to go on the ships.
1297 I have met scores of officers and seamen who have come across the Atlantic from North American and South American ports, and they have told me that in ordinary bad weather—not in extraordinary bad weather—owing to the change in the lead line, and having to take 400, 500 or 600 tons of cargo more on their ships than before the load line was changed, their ships looked like half-tide rocks. I think something should be done in this matter. The plea put forward in those days was that the British shipowner should be put on as fair a footing as the foreigner. I would not like to see the British shipowner put on the same footing as the foreigner if it means danger. I wish to see something done similar to what was done in the case of alien officers. We did our best during the passing of the Pilotage Bill to save pilots from the incursion of alien pilots. We did not get as much as I should have wished, but still we got a little. This question of the load line should get full and grave consideration from the Board of Trade. Ships of the old class—I do not say ships of the newer class would be as bad—which were built to carry a certain amount of cargo with due regard to the convenience and safety of the men who have to go on the ships should never have been allowed to have the load line changed. Until something reasonable is done, you will have these grievances existing, and they will be spoken of in this House and outside. I have tried to put before the House my view of the matter. I rose to speak of sight tests. The sight tests of the Board of Trade are getting more severe every year.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
§ Mr. JOYCE
You caught me up very quickly on a word. Great alterations have been made in a very short terms of years. I have been on the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee for many years, and I have heard this question debated there also. It is all very well for the Parlia- 1298 mentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to shake his head. If the tests have not been changed and made more severe, why is it that the merchant shipping service have taken up this question? Why are the pilots taking it up and demanding practical tests instead of the tests made now which no practical and experienced man cares a button about? You are brought to Kensington and examined by men, who may be very clever in their way, but I do not think that they know very much about ships. There are two very tiny holes on a screen, and a green light and a red light are placed behind these holes. I think he would be a man of extraordinary eyesight who could not be confused by such a test as that. I have fairly good eyesight myself, and I am quite certain that if I had to undergo that test, I would fail; but if I were put on board a ship, I would not fail to detect the lights in a reasonable time. The Board of Trade should do away with the tests they have now and have proper practical tests.
The tests should be made with lights at night-time and on the ground that the men have to go on. Bring your men down to a seaport and test them with lights at a proper distance, and then if a man fails, he knows that he has done so because his eyesight is not good enough. Take him into a room and toss a dozen skeins of wool before him, and the man may get excited at the time of the examination. It is easy Ito make a mistake, and, if he does so, he is pulled up by the examiners. It is easy to plough a man on these tests. What the Board of Trade should do—this suggestion is not brought forward in a party spirit at all—is to abolish the tests which are carried out by these gentlemen and to have proper practical tests made at a suitable time and place by practical men. I have heard the pilots complain of the present system, and they passed a resolution unanimously at a meeting held last month at South Shields, where the question was debated for four hours. I wish the President of the Board of Trade or the Parliamentary Secretary had been present to hear what these men said about the tests. The pilots have to go through severer-tests than masters and mates. They are tested at some ports every year, and at other ports every two years. The tests are getting more and more stringent, and they are carried out in the way I have described. Men who have done their work well for years will be caught napping on these little points, and if they fail they will lose their occupation. I would appeal 1299 to the President of the Board of Trade to take up this question in a practical manner. If he does so, he will allay the feeling of discontent that has arisen among pilots and others concerned at the various ports throughout the Kingdom.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
Do I understand that we can raise the question of Labour Exchanges on this Vote?
§ Mr. DENMAN
Is it not possible on the salary of the President of the Board of Trade to raise any subject for which he is responsible, and would not that include Labour Exchanges?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
No, that is not so; otherwise there would be no object in putting down separate Votes on different subjects.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
The question which I wish to raise is very important to the people of Glasgow, and especially so on the eve of the Glasgow Fair holiday, when so many of the people will go on excursions down the Firth of Clyde. I refer to the failure of the Board of Trade to enforce its own regulations, as to the exhibition of lights by small yachts and vessels anchored in the Firth and the lochs. I may call attention to a collision which occurred in the Holy Loch last year, when one of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company's vessels, the "Marchioness of Breadalbane," ran down a small yacht which was anchored at night without exhibiting any light. The case came before the Glasgow Sheriffs Court on the 20th June. It was admitted in evidence that this small yacht, contrary to the Regulations of the Board of Trade, had exhibited no light. Nevertheless damages to the extent of £45 were awarded against the steamer. That particular case is at present under appeal, and I have got nothing to say as regards the merits. I am concerned only with the fact that the small yacht had exhibited no light, which fact, it so happened, was not material to the decision in the case. Since that judgment was given this practice of failing to observe the regulations has enormously 1300 increased, and small boats and yachts are anchored in the Firth and in the lochs by night without exhibiting any light. On several occasions I have questioned the President of the Board of Trade as to whether it was the intention of his Board to enforce these regulations, and I have been unable to get a definite answer from him. I was told that he is refraining from corning to a decision in the matter until the appeal which has been taken has been decided.
I fail altogether to understand what is the question of fact or of law which has got to be decided which can affect his decision. Is he awaiting a decision as to the validity of the regulations or on sonic question of fact? Surely no question which can arise on this appeal ought to affect his decision on the simple question whether he intends to enforce these regulations or not, so long as the regulations remain nominally in force The danger to shipping is considerable. These yachts do not anchor merely in the shallow water or in unfrequented bays, as has been suggested. They anchor out in the Firth, sometimes in the tracks of steamers, and I have been informed by the captain of one steamer that on one evening on September last he was three times held up by small yachts anchored without a light, and he only escaped running them down by a few feet. You can well imagine on a dark night what a source of anxiety this must be to those who are responsible for navigating these vessels, and what a nervous shock it must give when they come within a few feet of a disaster of this kind, not merely that they may run the risk of damages, which happened to have been awarded in this case, but also that they may run the risk of loss of life! I may call attention to the injustice which has been inflicted upon owners of steamships and steamship companies. After the "Titanic" disaster very onerous and heavy responsibilities were imposed upon the shipping companies in the shape of new regulations for securing the safety of life at sea. The decks are cumbered with floating deck seats, with life-belts, and life-boats, and the deck space is taken up.
=I make no complaint about that. These regulations are very desirable and necessary, but they are regulations the object of which is to mitigate and lessen the results of disaster. It is well that these regulations should be enforced; but why should you not enforce also the regulations which are aimed at preventing 1301 disaster altogether? If you enforce the regulations which are imposed upon the owners of steamships, why should you not also enforce the regulations on the owners of small boats and yachts which anchor in the Firth? This question is causing the greatest anxiety among all captains and owners of steamships which are navigating the Firth just now when we are on the eve of the Fair Week. I raised this in the form of questions last year before the Glasgow Fair holidays commenced. I raise it again now. There will be hundreds of thousands of passengers going down the river, the steamers will be crowded to their utmost capacity, there are many evening cruises, and it is quite possible that some small vessel may be run down and that the shell of the steamer may be pierced. What would be the result of an accident of that kind upon those crowded steamers during a season like this? I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to give immediate consideration to this question, even before this appeal has been heard, and come to some decision as to whether ho is going to enforce these regulations or not. If the regulations are to be modified, let us know the conditions under which they are to be modified, and, if they are not to be enforced, let us know the conditions under which they are not to be enforced. Let us know the persons and the vessels which are going to be exempt, but do not let us remain in this state of uncertainty.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
There are one or two points in connection with alien captains to which I wish to refer. I may be told that the President of the Board of Trade has strong views on the subject and agrees with me, but that he has not got the power to deal with it. I should, however, like to suggest one or two methods by which he could take action. There is nothing more dangerous to our commerce than having foreign captains on British vessels. There is no telling in case of a war what wrongful communication British ships officered by foreigners might not make to our naval authorities. They are allowed, where they have pilotage certificates, to bring their vessels into British ports, although, fortunately, under the new Pilotage Act, they are not now allowed to bring their ships into the 'Thames, the Harwich, the Humber, or the Grimsby Pilot districts. But if the Board of Trade would take counsel with the Admiralty and arrange that no foreigner should in any circumstances, whether he had a 1302 certificate as a British master or a pilotage certificate, be allowed to navigate any ship into a British harbour. I believe that it would be an extremely good thing, not only for this country, but for our pilotage and our commerce. More dangerous even than this is the permission given to employ captains with alien certificates on British ships which do not came to our home ports. British law is supposed to be supreme on every British ship, but the man who executes it is frequently not a Britisher. I had a case a good many years ago, in Mobile, Alabama, where a British steamer came in and the captain signed on a new crew. I asked him for his certificate. He said, "I have not got to show you my certificate; I am not an Englishman, I am a foreigner." I said, "I have got your paper and your ship will not leave this port until I either see your certificate or get instructions from a higher authority than I am." He said, "This matter was tried out in New Orleans and the Consul there was told that it is not necessary for him to see my certificate. He could not endorse it and he could not cancel it." For a day I held the ship, when I got instructions to let the captain go without my seeing the certificate. The crew had been signed on at the British Consulate, and the captain was not subject to British law.
I should like to suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that he should issue a regulation that no Consular officer should ever give up the papers of a British steamer until he had seen the certificate of the captain and satisfied himself that the captain was a fit and proper person to command a British vessel. I would go further and say, that we ought not to allow any foreigner ever to raise a British flag on a British vessel, and that every captain of a British vessel should have to enter on the ship a larger number of British sailors than of foreigners. There is one other point in connection with the steamer "Calvados" to which my hon. Friend the Member for Devises referred a short time ago. That vessel, which was lost, sailed from Constantinople with a Greek who had a. Turkish certificate, with a chief officer who was a purser, and a boatswain who was a second officer. They had a crew of fourteen hands and 120 passengers on board, with boat accommodation for only forty. The Board of Trade had an inquiry which was held on 10th and 11th March, and I should like to ask the President if he intends to take any steps against the British owner of that 1303 vessel for having failed to provide the necessary boats. It seems to me that something should be done in the matter. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will give very great consideration to this question of foreign captains commanding our British vessels and coming into our British ports, and that he will, if he finds it possible, take whatever steps he can to prevent these British steamers, officered by foreigners, from using the British Consular offices.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I wish to emphasise some of the points in relation to the mercantile marine which has been raised by my hon. Friend beside me. The first is the question of alien masters and officers in command of British ships. It really does seem an abuse in itself that British ships, enjoying the privileges of British law and registration at a British port, should be in the position that the master and every officer on board may be an alien. That is, according to the present state of the law, possible. In the case just referred to, that of the "Calvados," she was officered by aliens, and met with this disaster. Apparently questions were asked, but there was no help for it., according to the present law, so I am told. Not only is it an abuse in itself that this should be so, but it is a danger, especially in war time. We know that in war time confidential information has to be given to the masters of British ships, and it hardly needs any comment to show what the position would be if the masters who get that confidential information were foreigners who could give it to our enemies. I do hope that is a matter which the President of the Board of Trade will take into consideration and deal with. Then there is the question of the manning of British ships by foreigners. Cases have been referred to in this House, in which British ships have been manned entirely by foreigners, not a single man of British extraction being on board any of them. Surely that cannot be right. The President of the Board of Trade was asked a question about it in the House not very long ago, and he gave an answer from which I gather that he is entirely in sympathy with the view that some restriction should be placed on the manning of British ships entirely by foreigners. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) referred to the case of a ship which went out manned entirely by foreigners, and he 1304 asked the President of the Board of Trade the following question:—Will the right hon. Gentleman take some steps to, put a atop to this national scandal of ships being allowed to fly the British flag officered and manned entirely by aliens?The President of the Board of Trade replied:—This raises a very large legal question. I am somewhat in sympathy with the hon. Member's views, but do not think it can be raised alone in reference to this question.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some practical proof of his sympathy in this matter. Another question is that relating to deck-loads of timber on coasting steamers, with all the dangers attendant upon that practice. The Merchant Shipping Act provides that, in the winter months from October to April, timber shall not be put on the deck of a ship which arrives at a British port. I believe the way in which that is evaded is that the ships load abroad with timber on deck in the winter months; they go to a foreign port, and there discharge the deck-load and bring the rest of the cargo into a British port. I think that is a perfectly scandalous evasion of our law. I think it is quite possible, if a complete remedy cannot be obtained, to have some form of international agreement, and that is a. matter which I would strongly urge the President of the Board of Trade to take up, and see if he cannot get other civilised Powers of the world—who after all, are interested in the safety of their own sailors as we are interested in the safety of our sailors—to arrive at some agreement on this subject. The last question to which I wish to refer is one which affects men who are brought before the Court of Inquiry by the Board of Trade, and who are often found perfectly guiltless of everything laid to their charge, but yet have to pay very large costs for defending themselves. That is a matter of administration which is in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade, and he could effect an alteration, which is much needed, without any legislation at all. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. There have been cases of which I have details here.
There was the case of a vessel, which met with an accident as to which there was an inquiry in February last. The chief officer was exonerated from blame, but he had to-defend himself at very considerable cost, and when he applied under the regulations, as he was entitled to do, that the Board of Trade should pay the costs, the Board opposed the application, and the judge 1305 refused to make an order, but intimated his opinion, with the full concurrence of his assessors, that the Board of Trade in those circumstances should in future make an allowance in respect of the costs. There was another case of precisely similar character in April of this year. May I point out to the Committee that under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, Section 466, there is an express provision that the Board of Trade may, if they think fit, pay the costs of any formal investigation into shipping casualties. That is supplemented by an Order of the Chancellor under the Shipping Casualties (Rules) Act, 1895, by which the judge who hears the case may order the costs and expenses or any part thereof to be paid by the Board of Trade, or by any other party. I put it to the President that this power, which is given to his Department to pay these costs should be exercised in proper cases. I believe it is never exercised now. Surely it is a very grave prospect for these men who are not millionaires, and who are engaged in our merchant shipping, to be brought before the Court of Inquiry, where, if condemned, they would lose their livelihood, or, if they be entirely exonerated from blame, they will have to pay the costs. I submit that it is only right that the Board of Trade, as representing the public interest, should pay those costs in proper cases. It may be said that if the Board of Trade pay the costs of an innocent man, the man who is found guilty should pay the costs. I do not think that is a real answer. If a man is found guilty by the Court of some offence in the navigation of his ship he loses his livelihood, and surely that is sufficient punishment without asking him to pay costs. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will take this matter into consideration. It is one entirely within his competence to deal with, without any legislation, and I urge upon him in the interests of these men, to whose courage and devotion the public of this country owe so much, to exercise the powers which he possesses.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I want to refer to a matter on which questions have been addressed to the President of the Board of Trade, with a view to eliciting the facts with respect to the loss of life before the alteration of the load line and since the alteration. The answers to the questions which were addressed to the right hon. Gentleman seemed almost invariably to show that the change that has been made 1306 under the Act of 1894 in the Freeboard Regulations have actually resulted in a saving of life rather than anything else. It is one of the features which are common to Departments that in answering questions they fail to make known the whole of the facts, and the result is often to mislead as it has been in this case, and I want to complain most seriously to the Board of Trade not only of their misleading replies to the questions, but their dilatoriness in this matter. It has been brought to my attention that the figures given by the Board in regard to the alteration of the load line did not take into account the few years during which the transition from the old regulations to the new was being made. It must of necessity have taken two or three years before the change was sufficiently completed to make definite and clear comparisons. With the object, therefore, of definitely ascertaining how the alterations have operated, one confines one's attention to three years before the transition began, leaving a gap for the transition, and then taking a further three years after the change had been made, and I wanted to ascertain what the effect had been under those circumstances. I asked a question, which will be found in Volume 43, columns 869 and 870 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, as to what was the total tonnage which had been lost during the three years beginning with]902–3 and ending with 1904–5, because in order to deal with the matter fairly to count by tonnage is absolutely necessary. Originally the replies given stated the number' of vessels, but the only true criterion is not the number of vessels at all, but their tonnage. In the three years that I have mentioned, ending 1904–5, the total tonnage lost—in cases of foundering and of missing—was 67,466 tons. Leaving the period between 1905–8 as the transition period, when the new Regulations were being applied, and taking the next three years, which do not include the "Titanic" disaster, 1908–9 to 1910–11, the tonnage lost, so far from being less, was more—namely, 17,529, in place of 67,456. With regard to lives, taking the same years, 1902–3 to 1904–5, under the old Regulations the total lives lost from founderings and missings was 933, and in 1908–9 to 1910–11 the total was 1,208.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell. He did not 1307 specify in his reply. It includes such passengers as were on those vessels. What I know is this, that I asked definitely, and I took it for granted, that the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, only gave the numbers relating to the changes under the load line regulation.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I cannot reply to that. I cannot say whether they are divided or not. It seems to be taken for granted by the President and the permanent officials that it is something very clever indeed if there is no increase in the loss of life, but, as a matter of fact, the changes which the shipping world has undergone for the last ten or fifteen years are such that there should be a continual decrease in the loss of life. Practically during that period sailing vessels have almost disappeared, and steam vessels are far safer. I am not a seafaring man, but still everybody knows that by the mere change from sailing vessels to steam there should have been a revolution, absolutely a revolution, in the conditions with regard to loss of life at sea from shipwrecks. Then, again, there is wireless telegraphy, and so far from these things having the influence they ought to have, the change in the load line regulations has not only deprived seafaring men of all the advantage that modern conditions should have given to them in regard to additional safety, but it has actually added new dangers. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed a Committee to give advice to the delegates who are to take part in the International Conference on the load line, but he has rigorously excluded from that Committee seafaring men, on the plea that it is a highly technical matter of calculating and computing; but, really, is not the man who is best able to judge the man who has found that his vessel would not answer the helm because it was overloaded? From the information I can get it is a most common experience for masters of vessels to come into port, especially in rough weather nowadays, cursing the alteration because they realise that the boat is not manageable and had lost its buoyancy. The inquiry into the loss of the "North Briton" ought alone to be enough to alarm the Board of Trade and to make them consult seafaring men who could tell them by practical experience what the change has meant to them. 1308 At a late inquiry into the question why twenty-one or twenty-three lives were lost, the stipendiary deliberately stated that the lives had been sacrified for the sake of 120 tons of cargo. It is a scandal that the work and efforts of Plimsoll should be undone with a stroke of the pen behind the backs of the representatives of the seamen. The blood of those who have perished is on the head of those who are responsible for maintaining the altered load line. They have to answer for it, and when the stipendiary at the inquiry said that the sacrifice of those lives was due to 120 tons of cargo, that ought to have brought it home to the right hon. Gentleman and made him that he could not sleep in his bed until the mistake and the horrible grievous blunder had been rectified.
In rising to support the-Amendment, which is similar to the one which stands in my name, I wish to assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is in no way actuated with a spirit of hostility to him, nor with any desire to deduct part of the pittance he now enjoys for the hard work he has done. Such a. process, however, is necessary to draw attention to some grievances, one of which has been touched upon very well, both by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) and the' hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Joyce), and that is with regard to the eyesight test. What I would impress upon the Committee is this, that both officers and shipowners, all of whom practically unanimously object to the new test, are desirous that there should be the fullest tests which are necessary to ensure safety of life at sea. What they do ask is that those tests should be fair tests, and, above all, practical tests under service conditions. I think I might say that it seems rather unjust that a man of fifty years of age should have to go through exactly the same eyesight test as, say, a young man of twenty-one or twenty-two years of age, and for this reason: The captain has to pass a much higher navigation examination and to have higher qualifications, which is quite right, but you cannot expect a man of fifty years of age to have quite the same good eyesight in many cases as the younger man. Surely the captain is responsible for the navigation of the ship. He should be the brains of the ship and the eyesight may well be supplied by the younger officers. There seems to be no necessity for any alteration at all in the sight test. 1309 Sir Walter Howell, who was chief of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, said that he knew of no casualty either among officers or the look-out arising from defective vision. That, I think, extended over a period of nearly twenty years, during which the old eyesight test had been in operation. It was stated before the Departmental Committee and is in the Report, that the Liverpool Steamship. Owners' Association knew of no casualty arising from defective eyesight. The new tests have met with an almost universal chorus of condemnation, and the event has proved, as I believe was found also by the Union 'Steamship Company of New Zealand, who were perhaps the first to ask for more severe tests, that some of the most efficient officers have failed in those tests.
The unfairness of the test is shown by the fact that nearly 50 per cent. of those rejected passed on appeal. It is especially unfair to those officers who have been some time in the service and who have rendered efficient service, to find themselves after many years liable to be turned out of their employment and by what they consider a purely arbitrary test. My hon. Friend quoted the case of one officer with regard to an extra master's certificate, and I should just like to quote another. This gentleman went up for his master's certificate last December, and he passed in both colour and form vision, but unfortunately he showed keenness, a quality apparently to be deprecated, and wished to obtain the extra master's certificate. He again presented himself for examination on 4th April and failed in the new lantern test. The other gentleman to whom my hon. Friend alluded, I believe, failed ultimately on appeal. There are scores and scores of officers who have suffered in greater or lesser degree by these new sight tests. The Board of Trade examiner at Hull gave evidence that out of 565 candidates, who were able to pass the old form of vision test, no fewer than 101 failed under the new test. I would ask the Committee to realise what this means not only to officers now in the service, but, even more, what it may mean to the future of the officering of our mercantile marine, because you are not likely to encourage men to go in. for this occupation if they feel, having performed their duties at sea in an efficient manner for a good many years, they may be suddenly called upon to go through another examination and turned out of their employment.
1310 I wish to deal very shortly with regard to the form vision test. A leading expert, Dr. Fergus, put it very well. He said a man was told to pick out letters of a certain size, on canvas, at a distance of sixteen feet, and that many men who might fail to do this might be extraordinarily efficient in picking out lights and objects at sea at great distances. After all, the object of a sailor's sight at sea ought to be to pick out lights and objects at distance, and not necessarily to be able to distinguish letters of a certain size at a distance of sixteen feet. Even there the process employed is very unsatisfactory. The letters are placed on canvas, which is very liable to curl up, so that it has to be held in position by the examiner, who holds it at, the bottom. The result is that the canvas very often becomes concave or convex, and when concave it is very liable to give an astigmatic effect. This absurdity is produced, that a man with a defect of eyesight may be able to read the types better than a man with normal vision. If this test is used the letters ought certainly to be on some flat surface, preferably of white porcelain, and the light, instead of coming from any direction, should be thrown directly on the letters themselves. It is complained that even in London the lighting is defective If that is the case in London, it can be imagined that the lighting is not likely to be any better at smaller places in the provinces. Another complaint is that the daylight necessarily varies, and, therefore, different men are not examined under similar or equal conditions. These tests are already pretty severe, but on the 1st of January, or at any rate, at the beginning of next year, they are to he made still more severe, because each eye is to be tried separately. I do not imagine that anyone uses only one eye at sea, unless, like Lord Nelson, he has lost the sight of one eye. Sir Norman Hill, a great authority, himself made the reservation in the Report of the Departmental Committee that he wished to allow candidates to qualify by passing their tests in the manner in which they keep their watches, that is to say, with both eyes open. That is a most thoroughly common sense and practical suggestion. With regard to the lantern test, the chief complaints are that there is no means of regulating the luminosity of the light, and that there are only two colours and white shown, so that the man who is being examined knows that it must be one of those three.
I do not say that it is more difficult for one man than another, but if you want a really practical test, there ought to be some system of regulating the luminosity of the light. The pinhead test seems to be perhaps the most unfair of all. I am informed by those who have been a good deal at sea that no light ever viewed from the bridge at however great a distance will appear so small, or that, at any rate, it would require to be at a distance of over three miles to appear the size of a pin's head. With regard to the lantern test it has been suggested, in order to make it more practical, that there should be some system of representing mist or other similar weather conditions. The wool test, according to the report of those who have been examined, appears to be worse than before. Men maintain that no one, except perhaps a salesman of some big shop, such as Gorringe's, beloved of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be able to match the various skeins of wool shown. A man is told to pick out all the green wools in one case and all the blue wools in another. It is very difficult in the case of a bluey-green for a man to know whether blue or green predominates, 'and if a man could not decide that he would be liable to fail. Moreover, there are numerous colours absent which should be present. These are the main points complained of in regard to the wool test. Without detaining the Committee further, I would merely remind them that 10,000 signatures of officers have been obtained to the petition of protest. It is not only officers, shipowners, and pilots who object to these tests, but a very large proportion of pathological experts as well. My hon. Friend mentioned a meeting at which thirty oculists said that the tests were not satisfactory. I hope that for the sake of justice to the officers now serving, and for the sake of the future recruiting of officers for the mercantile marine, the right hon. Gentleman will do something, that he will 1312 suspend the new test and appoint another and an unbiassed Committee of experts to go into the whole question, with a view to devising a test which shall be fair and practical under service conditions.
§ Mr. WING
The Board of Trade is regarded more and more by the working classes as a great protective force. This applies especially to the seafaring population. I wish 'to call special attention to a matter not yet touched upon in this Debate, namely, the care of our fishermen in Icelandic waters. The difference between the care exercised by British authorities and that exercised by French and German authorities is very remarkable. In the North Atlantic and also in the Arctic Ocean surrounding Iceland the French have already two vessels, which are not only for protective purposes but act as hospitals, together with two hospitals on Vestmann's Island and on the mainland. We are the largest fishers in Icelandic waters. I suppose we have more trawlers there than the combined fleets of all other peoples. In the months of January and February the fishermen are trawling on the south side of the island, where there is an uninterrupted coast of some 250 miles without a single harbour. That is a portion of Iceland where wrecks are exceedingly numerous, and where men, having been thrown over by the big surf and the banks created by the wash of the sea, if they are fortunate enough to climb up the cliffs, find themselves in a position of exceeding difficulty, inasmuch as they are faced by the largest glacier in Europe, together with numerous streams, with no guidance as to which direction to take. The result is that a man, if he escapes from the sea, only finds himself in danger of perishing on shore. The Germans were the first people to take any steps for the protection and help of the fishermen on that coast. Through their Consul they erected a refuge which has been exceedingly useful, and now the trade, together with the Powers of Europe, and I believe the Board of Trade have something to do with it, are erecting another refuge at another dangerous point. The authorities of Iceland, too, are increasing the number of lights along the coast. What I want to ask the President of the Board of Trade is that, bearing in mind this numerous body of men, comprising some of the bravest men in the service of mankind, he should take into consideration the provision of ships along the south coast for protective 1313=purposes and of hospitals on land, on Vestmann's Island or on the mainland. At the present time, if any fishermen are taken ill, they become inmates of the French Hospital, which, I am proud to say, has always been open to them.
In addition to that, I want to call attention to an impression abroad respecting the Plimsoll mark. There never really was a Plimsoll mark. It was really an arrangement the same as the present mark. Mr. Plimsoll in my presence repudiated the mark which is very often alluded to as his mark. Its proper name is said to be the Norwood mark. Mr. Charles Morgan Norwood, at that time a very large shipowner and a representative of the City of Hull, was on the Committee, and the mark was a compromise between what Mr. Plimsoll desired and what the shipowners would grant. There is a very unpleasant feeling in the minds of the working classes with regard to the alteration of that mark. Even men who have no contact whatever with the sea, miners and men in other industries, feel that their brethren who go down to the sea are not being fairly treated, and that their lives are being unduly endangered. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take into consideration this unpleasant feeling that men's lives are being needlessly sacrificed. It is made all the sadder because they believe that at the back of it there is some question of profits on the part of shipowners. I would ask shipowners themselves to take some part in endeavouring to destroy this impression, which, after all, is a very sad one. I believe that the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Jowett) was voicing the feelings of a, large majority of the working classes in the remarks which he made on this particular matter. Another serious question to which I wish to call attention has reference to the men whose lives are sacrificed on steam trawlers, who, because they are supposed to have shares in the ship, are outside the Workmen's Compensation Act. `The result is that while workers such as deck and engine room hands, come under that Act, the skipper and the mate are outside it. Last winter was a very serious one in regard to loss of life round the coast, and charity Droved that it is not sufficient to meet the needs of those dependent on the people who are sacrificed. I wish to ask the President of the Board of Trade to move for legislation, so that all those who go down to the sea in ships shall be included.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
If I ask the Committee to turn away from the vital matters which they have been considering, it is not because I do not realise their great importance to the mercantile marine. I respectfully suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that almost every other point which has been raised this afternoon is a point of great importance for the Department in which he is in command, and opens up opportunity for action. I pass, with the permission of the Committee, from that subject to another. I would ask the Committee for a moment to leave decks and the merchant service and to enter the bakehouses of London. I rise to make no attack upon the Board of Trade. I rise rather with the object of asking the sympathy of the Board of Trade in respect to a subject which, I think, is of great importance, and in order that those in this House who really do take an interest in matters of social reform may have their attention called, however inadequately, to what I conceive to be a very scandalous and very disgraceful state of affairs. The history of the London bakers has been a somewhat unfortunate one. They have been suffering from grievances and working under conditions which have existed for many years, and conditions and grievances which have not been in any way remedied for many years, and in respect of which attempts have been made on several occasions to arrive at some sort of satisfactory settlement. Each time those attempts have been made they have unfortunately broken down. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will bear me out when I say that though those grievances have been entered into during several years past, it has never been possible to amend them. I would ask the Committee to accept from me the statement that the men in the bakehouses of London work, in many respects, under-conditions which are very disgraceful.
Their hours of labour are much too long. Their remuneration is much too small. The conditions of many of our bakehouses, and the conditions under which these men labour, are, I think, very discreditable to the State. The attempts which have been made to arrive at an agreement have all 1315 broken down. They have all broken down for one reason, and for one reason only. That reason is that always—I think I am right in saying always—those who signed the agreement on behalf of the Master Bakers' Protection Society were unable to control their own fellows. We find that employers cheerfully and periodically come forward and accept the proposals which, may be the Board of Trade, or it may be someone else have arranged, and sign agreements which say in effect that the hours of these men are too long, their remuneration is too small, and the conditions under which many of them work are disgraceful; therefore the employers agree to these evils being remedied. All that happens. The employers bind their fellow members, and thereafter find that they are unable to force their opinion on the great majority of their own people. The Committee will perhaps remember that a third or fourth attempt was made in the early part of this year, I think early in March, to avert what was really a very serious threatened strike. The matter will be fresh in the minds of the Committee. Hon. Members read with great alarm the prospect of a strike of the London bakers, which would have had the effect and consequence of very serious injury to the poorest of the people in the London districts. Under these circumstances, I believe the House of Commons at the time would have done anything to have averted such a disaster. Fortunately, the action on their part never became necessary, because, owing to the good advice of the President of the Board of Trade, his comptroller-general, Mr. Barnes, intervened, and once more, on the eve of the strike, five days before the strike was to commence, called together both parties. Thus he was able, fortunately, to arrive at a settlement which the Committee will remember averted the strike.
That is only history repeating itself. That is either the third or fourth time that the men have come to terms with tile masters. Here, again, history repeats itself. The men are no better off than they were, for the masters have been utterly unable to keep the agreement which they entered into. That agreement, I must remind the Committee again, was one which was signed by the President and secretary of the Master Bakers' Protection Society. That is the state of affairs at the present time. I would ask the 1316 Committee to regard the position of affairs as very serious. It does seem to me that, having regard to the utter breakdown of these agreements which have been made so often, made under the auspices and with the great assistance of the Board of Trade, and having regard to, the many grievances of the men, that it is time that something was done. Something might be done by the President of the Board of Trade to avoid what certainly, in my view, may develop into a very serious situation. The employers who have abided by the agreement are, of course, the larger people, but they only employ a comparatively small number of men. I believe I am right in saying that all the larger employers who are still abiding to the agreement arrived at only employ 1,800 men, whereas it is computed that there are no less than 10,000 operative bakers in London. I give the Committee those figures. I can vouch for them as being entirely accurate. The Committee will see that the agreement arrived at in last March has been an utter failure. Those masters who are abiding by it have to face the unfair competition of the smaller employers, who employ their men under conditions which, I think, this country ought not to tolerate. I need not enlarge upon the undesirability of having the food of the people, and particularly the food of the poorer people, produced under circumstances such as are certainly in evidence in many of our bakehouses. I need not enlarge upon the undesirability of having that food produced by men who are being paid the wage of the sweater, and who are working hours which are a disgrace.
Just one point more before I sit down. A week or two ago I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade. I drew his attention to the fact that the last agreement had broken down, and asked him to say whether lie would receive a deputation of the men to submit to him a statement as to wages, conditions, and so on, in order that he might, at any rate, consider their application to bring their trade within the Schedule of the Trade Boards Act, 1909. The President of the Board of Trade drew my attention to the fact that there is at present before the House a Provisional Order Bill, which I think has obtained its Second Reading, in which there are four trades added to the existing Schedule, and the suggestion is that it will be impossible to add a further-trade at the present stage. But I am in 1317 hopes—while I quite appreciate the present difficulty—that when the President of the Board of Trade makes his reply we shall at any rate hear from him that there is some hope that the Government may see their way to do something. I would suggest to him that this is a trade which might well be included in the Schedule, and one which does very much require his close attention. The President in his reply to me suggested that I, and those on whose behalf I spoke, might wait until the Industrial Council had reported on the subject of enforcing industrial agreements. I have not been as long in this House as many other hon. Members who are listening to me, but I am afraid that that reply is cold comfort to the men who are suffering from these grievances. We do not know when the Report of the Industrial Council will be submitted to the House. Further than that, we do not know when the House is likely to act upon the Report and when we may expect some sort of legislation. It is very vague, and very much in the air.
While I appreciate the attention which the President of the Board of Trade has given to this matter, I rise rather with the idea of asking him to give us, if possible, some sort of assurance that the Board of Trade really means to do something. With great respect to him, I do not think it is sufficient to ask us merely to wait and to do nothing until the Industrial Council has reported. I shall be glad if we can get some sort of assurance from him as to when we are likely to receive that Report, whether it will be soon, and when and whether we are likely to have the opportunity of discussing it, and, if necessary, bringing in some immediate legislation in order that we may render it impossible for agreements which have been solemnly arrived at by both parties to be broken whenever one party chooses to break them. I would only ask the President of the Board of Trade to bear this in mind, that a bread strike, which in March was averted, will not bear a policy of drift. As certainly as we are sitting here to-day, so certainly will there be another strike upon us if a policy of drift is persisted in. What, then, will be the position of the President of the Board of Trade? What, then, will be the position of the House of Commons if for another time on the eve of a disastrous and tragic strike the representative of the House of Commons has to go to these men and ask them again to meet the masters and enter into another agreement, which, of course, they know will 1318 eventuate as have previous agreements? In these circumstances, I suggest that the President of the Board of Trade, in face of a threatened strike, will be powerless. The House of Commons will be powerless. It is because I do not want to see that situation arise that I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to deal with the question now, and to give those interested some sort of encouragement, some sort of sympathy, to show that the Board of Trade appreciate the urgency of the matter, so that on the eve of a strike there may be no panic measures required to be taken. I ask for some sort of sympathy in the need for reform on behalf of the men who live and work under the conditions I have depicted.
§ Mr. LEACH
The Committee will hardly expect that I rise to support the proposition made by the hon. Member for Devizes. I have no desire whatever to reduce the salary of the President of the Board of Trade. I would rather support an increase of his salary, so that it might be more on a level with other of the salaries paid in the other Departments. Nor have I any grievance to air or any complaint to make. But for some time past I have received a considerable number of letters from my Division containing resolutions passed at various public meetings, making strong statements respecting the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was President of the Board of Trade, and charging him with altering the load line on British ships, to which reference has been made by two or three speakers. I only want to ask the President of the Board of Trade if he can say something to-day before the Committee and the country as to the facts of the case, and to state to us, if he will, what has been the result of the moving of that load line. The hon. Gentleman who was sitting behind me called attention a little while ago to the large number of deck passengers taken on ships in the Mediterranean and along the Syrian coast. I myself on many occasions have seen far more deck passengers on ships—and if I am not mistaken, some of them flying the British flag—than could be accommodated below deck—first, second, and third class passengers. I should be glad if the President of the Board of Trade would say anything upon these two points: first, the effect upon the load line, arid, secondly, the larger number of deck passengers taken on board vessels on the Mediterranean and Syrian coast.
§ Mr. LEWIS HASLAM
I listened with great interest to the speeches made as to the condition of steamers and merchant vessels. I especially desire to emphasise the great importance of a proper system of ventilation on board ships. I know, from my own experience, that the ventilation of the men's quarters, even in large British ships, is nothing less than abominable. I cannot help speaking upon this important point, because we know that the absence of proper ventilation has very bad effect upon the men's health and produces many diseases and especially tuberculosis. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) said that there were only seventy-two cubic feet of space per man. I think it is now 120 cubic feet per man. But I would point out that the question of cubic space has very little to do with ventilation on vessels. The real question is whether there is adequate change of air. I know whether the quarters are in the fore part of the ship or the fo'c'stle, the portholes must be kept closed during the whole voyage, because of the wash when the ship is going through the water, and I think the only other means of ventilation are merely the doors of the cabin. I advocated in the last speech I made on this question that forced ventilation should be considered in connection with the ventilation of ships.' Of course, by forced ventilation I mean a system of forcing the air into the quarters, instead of allowing it to find its way in by what we may call natural means. This system is very much used for similar kind of quarters on land and there is no good reason that I can understand why it should not obtain on board ship. I also think where there are a large number of men employed, there ought to be some means of allowing them to bathe. There are no baths, and it is impossible for them to get hot water if they desire to bathe. One hon. Member called attention to the fact that on a great number of German ships the conditions of the men are very much better than in those of this country, and, not only is cleanliness better looked after, but all the sanitary conditions are better. I do not wish to go more deeply into this question, but I say that a change is necessary and is very desirable, and I feel certain that the President of the Board of Trade is doing what he can to get information with a view to doing something in these matters. There is another point to which I would like to call attention.
1320 Whenever there is any infraction of the Merchant Shipping Act on the part of a master of a vessel in any part of the world, I understand that his name alone appears in the indictment that comes up before the Court. It appears to me it would be a very beneficial fact that the name of the responsible charterer or owner, as well as the responsible master of the ship, should appear in the indictment. I also think—but in this I speak without very great knowledge—it would be a good thing if there was a notice prominently put up indicating exactly what the rules are with regard to improper loading. I understand that is not done at present, and there are no indications to show when the rules are contravened, and, of course, hon. Members can understand it is very difficult for seamen to give evidence for fear of being victimised. There is one other subject I desire to bring before the President of the Board of Trade, and I am sure it is one in which the Committee will feel interested. Can he give us some information as to the recent working of the Trades Boards. There has been an increase of nearly £2,000 a year in salary in the last year, and I think it would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman made a statement upon that subject.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
The matter to which I desire to call attention is one with regard to the control of the Patent Office, and although it is the irony of this House to have to move for a reduction of the salary of a particular official in order to raise certain questions, I, personally, have no desire to see the salary of the present Comptroller-General of the Patent Office reduced. In fact, the plea I put before the Committee is that the expenditure on that office might be increased, and increased in one or two directions. The first increase I should like to see, would be an increase of staff to examine all patents when they come before that office. I have had something to do with patents in the last forty years, not that I ever took out one myself, but I have had to do with the advancing or the loaning of the money to finance patents, and I have found that patents granted by the English Patent Office seem to be less secure than those granted in other countries. I congratulate the Department to this extent, that there has been a very great improvement in the length to which research is carried when a new patent is asked for. I know that is a fact, and I sincerely trust they may increase their staff in order to increase their 1321 efficiency, because when one goes to get a patent now the first question is not "Have you got an English patent?" but "Have you got a German or a United States patent?" I may give one instance to the Committee of the care exercised in the German Patent Office before they issue patents. This was a matter that came under my own cognisance, where the Patent Office in Germany quite failed to understand the limits of the application made, and they insisted upon the person who applied should bring over his appliances in order to explain to them in the German office the full nature of his application before they granted it. Most inventors are poor men, and unless, when they get a patent, they get something that cannot be easily attacked, they are unable to obtain the value of their invention.
I plead for a great number of men who, having received what they consider to be a document of the greatest security, find, when it is attacked in the Courts of Law, it is of little value and that the patent they own is easily upset. I believe that the office should exercise great care, and should establish the greatest scrutiny before patents are granted. I believe also the right hon. Gentleman might extend the efficiency of his staff in this way, that when the Government of England gives a man a patent, of which he has a right for fourteen years to make use, they should not be content with the piece of paper which they give a man containing some sort of a guarantee, but they should defend it if the patent was attacked. When the Government issued the patent, after having made the fullest research, they should give to the holder of that patent some sort of assurance that if the patent was attacked they would defend it. It seems to me it would be a very great advance to have a Court of their own officials and the higher members of their staff, that a case of dispute as to contravention of a new patent should come up before them, and that they should settle the question of right with an appeal to a higher Court. Men who hold patents are almost afraid to defend them because of the enormous expenses, and I do believe that the establishment of such an office would be a very great advance, and for this reason: During the last thirty or forty years an enormous number of new inventions have brought the Patent Office into touch with many thousands and thousands 1322 of people. From the invention of the motor car and its subsidiary industries an enormous number of men are asking for patents without exactly knowing the position in which they are in. I plead that they should be more thoroughly safeguarded than they are to-day. I do not see why it should not be possible to negotiate with the Patent Office in France and Germany and the United States to have something like a joint issue in each, when they know that a patent is to be applied for in these great countries, and perhaps that it should be refused in England and granted in Germany, or refused in France and granted in the United States. In such circumstances, men who spent years and years in great inventions would have them safeguarded more than they are to-day. We are all delighted with the foresight shown in the preparation of the Patent Act, and many of us thought it was going to develop into a very great and useful weapon in this country, but we were sorry to know that a serious leak took place in the investigation of that Act, and I would like to ask the President of the Board of Trade if he could explain the meaning of the word in Section 15, Sub-section (2), with regard to power which is now given to have a foreign patent cancelled if the patentee does not work that patent for this country, unless the patentee provides that the patented article or process is manufactured or carried on to an adequate extent in the United Kingdom. There is great heart-burning in many of the industrial centres of which I have personal knowledge as to what this word means, and I ask, is it necessary in the carrying out of a foreign patent in this country that the man who owns the patent, say, in France and patents it in the United Kingdom must make half of what he sells in the United Kingdom, or may he make a quarter in the United Kingdom, and ship over from France three-quarters, or may he go down to one-tenth? What is the meaning of the phrase "adequate extension"? If the President of the Board of Trade would enlighten the Committee on that point, I am sure the whole of those in the country who have to do with patents would be greatly relieved. There is a feeling that this leakage in the Act ought to be stopped, and I should be exceedingly pleased if the right hon. Gentleman will take it into consideration—not to legislate, but to see whether he can, as 1323 the head of that Department, give such a reading to that Clause that those who are in business and handling goods may really know the meaning of those words. I trust that by an act of administration, and not by an Act of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman may give a ruling as to what is meant by those words, and if he does, we who are carrying on industries under the patent laws will then have some guidance as to the meaning of the Act.
The other points that might be raised with regard to the patent laws,are not such as I can touch upon here to-night, but I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman can give us some assurance that he will, if possible, engage more men. I see that he has 196 assistant examiners commencing with a salary of £150 and working up to £450. We know that for these appointments a very wide and extensive education is necessary, because they have to read an enormous number of scientific text books, and all this is necessary for any man who is going to examine into the question whether a patent has already been foreshadowed by some other person. I am told that in other countries they not only examine previous patents, but all the text books bearing on the matter in question, and all that extra care and oversight which is considered necessary before any patent is issued in this country should be extended. When a man receives a patent from the British Government he thinks he has got an unassailable document, but when he gets into the court of law he often finds that it is immediately upset by something he knew nothing whatever about, and which the officials at the Patent Office knew nothing about. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might establish a Court of his own permanent officials to hear evidence with regard to the infringement of patents which might be given some authority in ordinary cases. I think an enormous number of minor cases might be settled by an appeal to the officials who often know more about the matters at issue than the judges in the Court.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Perhaps I may be allowed at the outset to express my gratitude for the manner in which the criticisms of my Department have been made. When we have a discussion of this sort dealing with a large number of interesting questions, hon. Members express their views fully and frankly, and very often it is of great 1324 assistance to the Minister in charge of the Department in the discharge of his duty, and therefore I am grateful for the Debate we have had so far. The Debate has ranged over a considerable number of subjects, but it has dealt chiefly with questions affecting the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. I should like to make a few observations before I come to the matters which have been chiefly discussed this afternoon about the work of the Trade Boards and the extensions we are going to make. I think it is a matter of interest to the public outside, and it may possibly be of interest to the Committee to hear a few words with regard to that subject. As the Committee are well aware at the present time there are four trades which were originally brought under the operation of the Trade Boards Act. They are the box trade, the chain trade, the lace finishing trade, and some portions of the tailoring trade, and they represent about 200,000 persons, the bulk of whom are women workers.
As regards the operations of the Trade Boards, hon. Members know the object of bringing in these and other trades. The object was to secure a minimum wage for the persons who were underpaid in order to improve their position, and the Act makes wages below the minimum rate illegal without prejudicing higher rates. The experience we have gained during two years' working in some of the trades and some months in other trades, and the success which has so far attended the work of the Trade Boards has enabled us to propose the inclusion of five other trades—namely, the confectionery and food preserving trade, the shirt-making trade, the linen and cotton embroidery trade, hollowware making (including tin boxes and canisters), and the calendaring and ironing in steam laundries. The Bill dealing with these trades, I am glad to say, has received a Second Reading, and has been referred to a Committee. The Committee have met and they have informed us that they have had to strike the calendaring and steam laundry trade out of the Bill. I understand they have done so, not because they thought in any sense that the Board of Trade was not fully justified in including it in the Bill, nor because they were hostile to its inclusion, but it was due to a question of definition in reference to steam laundries as to whether the word "steam" was not too restricted and would not include all "power," electric and hand laundries, and, therefore, our definition would not work 1325 satisfactorily. Therefore, they had to consider the question of altering that word, and they came to the conclusion that if they altered the word to bring in a certain number of laundries, it might be thought that they were outside the Act, and that the persons affected ought not to be put into that position. Under these circumstances, for the time being, the committee decided that steam laundries should be excluded from the conditions of the Bill, and in view of the close of the Session, it is quite clear that we must acquiesce in this. I give the laundries due notice, however, that in no way has our view been altered as to the advisability of including them in the Bill.
As regards the other four trades I have mentioned, we have no opposition from them at all. In the first instance, we had representations and opposition from all of them, but when they came to talk it over with us, and discuss the matter from a practical, point of view, and when we pointed out the experience we had gained from the working of the Act in regard to other trades, they all readily acquiesced in the extension of the Act to them, and therefore we have had no difficulty in regard to that matter.
Of course, our experience has not yet been very great in regard to the working of the Act, but I think I may say that as far as we are able to judge, we are able to say that the Trade Boards Act passed by this House has been a success, and that we may now safely extend it to other trades as well. The best test of that is, I think, that while in the first instance employers were somewhat nervous and hostile, and especially some of the best employers, not only do they now acquiesce in the working of the Act, but I may say that the different employers are satisfied with the position in which they are placed 'under the Act. I think it is worth observing that if we had proceeded with the laundry case, we could have put into the witness box in our favour representative employers in other trades which have been brought under the provisions of the Act. Two objects were to be obtained by the Act. One was to improve the conditions of the work-people themselves, and the other was to protect the better class of employers from undercutting by the worst class of employers. The protection afforded against this cut-throat competition has been of very great significance and a great advantage. So far as our experience goes, we may also safely say that the improved conditions 1326 anticipated from the Act have been largely fulfilled, and I am glad to say that the various disadvantages prophesied at the time of the passing of the Act have not obtained. I have already mentioned the advantage of good employers being relieved of competition by the undercutting of the worst employers. This has been a great advantage to both sides, because it has brought about organisation on the part of the employers, and it has given an opportunity for the first time of organisation amongst the employés. One of the reasons for the miserable wages which used to be paid was that the work-people were unable to co-operate with each other through want of organisation.
I think I can also say that the prophecies of disasters and dislocation of trades have not taken place, and these difficulties have been met by better methods of organisation and by adjustment to the new condition. As regards the employés, undoubtedly their wages are considerably higher than the lowest wages they were earning before the Act. It is not easy to give the actual figures, and it is very difficult to make a proper comparison, but I can safely say that the advantage to the employés has been very considerable owing to the working of, the Act. It was said at first that after this Act had come into operation, many employés would at once be thrown cut of work, and we were told that it is better to be sweated than to starve. I think the answer to that argument was that as a matter of fact, the sort of wages the work-people were getting in some trades at that time meant a continual state of starvation, and it is better that that state of things should come to an end than that it should he allowed to continue. I am now able to say that these people are neither sweated nor starved. As regards the older people and the less efficient with whom some sympathy was expressed, I am glad to say that an arrangement has been come to with regard to piece work, and as far as. we can judge up to the present there has been no hardship to them, and they have been able to work under proper conditions under the Trade Boards Act. I am glad to think that the time has come to extend the operation of this Act to another 150,000 or so persons, and, if that has the success I feel sure it will, we shall feel still more justified in the future in extending the operations of this beneficent Act to other industries.
The Debate has been almost entirely taken up with questions connected with 1327 the Board of Trade Marine Department. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to take their minds back to about a year ago, when the Board of Trade came in for some considerable comment with regard to alleged neglect in reference to life-saving apparatus and matters of that sort. I would ask the Committee therefore to allow me, before dealing with the specific points raised, to say shortly what we have done at the Board of Trade in the last year in regard to these various matters. If we were to blame before, I hope that the Committee will feel that after all we have endeavoured to meet our past deficiency by our present action. I am not going to admit that the Board of Trade was in the wrong. It would be too much to expect from the President of the Board, though I quite agree that. he ought to take the fullest possible responsibility for everything that is done in his Department. The Committee will remember that the matters arising out of the disaster to the "Titanic" were referred to a Court, consisting of Lord Mersey, with assessors to assist him. Lord Mersey's Commission went into the whole case and issued a very interesting report which was published as a Parliamentary Paper. He made twenty-four recommendations in reference to the safety of life at sea on ocean going steamers, and they are printed in his report. Three of these recommendations referred to watertight compartments and bulkheads. I had, some considerable time before the report was published, appointed (indeed I was in process at the time of the disaster of appointing) a very strong Committee to go into the whole question of bulkheads. It is quite clear that until that Committee reports, and they are making most exhaustive inquiry and calculations, it is impossible to deal with these three points raised by Lord Mersey. Two other recommendations also depend upon what the Report of that Committee may be. Four recommendations—those with regard to look-out men, the police system, going to the relief of vessels in distress, and moderate speed in the presence of ice—were intended to be dealt with by the shipowners. We have drawn the serious attention of the shipowners to these matters, and I am sure that they are taking them into account.
That leaves fifteen recommendations which were more or less for the Board of Trade to examine. One of them, the question of compulsory protective fenders, was 1328 referred specifically to an expert Committee, presided over by Professor Biles, and the Committee recommended that it should not be made compulsory. We have not, therefore, made it compulsory. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the question with regard to these protective fenders. Another question, that of the greater continuity of service for seamen, is also one on which there is very great difference of opinion, both among the shipowners and among the men themselves. It is one which I have had the opportunity of discussing with them, but at present there is no agreement in regard to the matter between the interests concerned, and, therefore, so far as that goes, I have not taken any definite action, though I am prepared to do anything that I can if it is thought well on the part of both parties.
Other recommendations dealt With the revision of the statutory rules for safety appliances; the provision of lifeboats; or equivalent for all on board; the number of boats to be based on the numbers carried and not on the tonnage; the staff of surveyors to be increased; stricter inspection of foreign-going passenger vessels; inspection of boats to be more searching; the question of motor boats; the equipment of boats; the better training of boys, and other matters—every one of these we have already carried out. A scheme for the efficient working of boats has been prepared in consultation with the Advisory Committee and has been communicated to the shipowners, and has, I think I may say, been adopted by them. We have a scheme before the Treasury for testing the efficiency of boat hands, and we are also discussing the matter internationally. Practically, therefore, all the proposals, with one exception to which I will refer, namely wireless, of the Mersey Commission have already been carried out by the Board of Trade, so far as it has been practicable to carry them out. Obviously some we cannot carry out until we have obtained the Report of the Bulkhead Committee.
In addition to those recommendations there are three other matters in regard to which we have taken spontaneous action, and I think that our action will commend itself to the Committee.
Sir G. PARKER
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it will be voluntary on the part of the shipowners to adopt 1329 the scheme he has under consideration for boat drill and the training of hands on board ship or whether the Board of Trade will impose it?
§ Mr. BUXTON
A scheme has been suggested to the shipowners, after consultation with the Advisory Committee; they have accepted it, and I feel confident that they will carry it out. We have no power at present to enforce it, but I need hardly say that if it were necessary to obtain powers to enforce it we should not hesitate to ask for them. Lord Mersey's Court dealt with ocean-going steamers, but we have extended the life-saving apparatus to the whole trade, to cross-channel passenger ships, excursion steamers, and so on. I think we have, without putting any undue burden upon them, and without restricting the operations of these excursion steamers and cross-channel steamers, been able to provide very effectively and efficiently for the safety of the lives of the passengers on board.
Then, secondly, we, as the House knows, in co-operation with the shipowners, chartered a ship, the "Scotia," in order to enable the movements of ice to be observed. The ship has done very good service already, and I hope that in the future we shall be able to co-operate with some other countries in connection with this matter.
Further, speaking broadly, the Marine Department itself has been reorganised and the staff overhauled. We have been adding to it for the purpose of carrying out the additional responsibilities throw e upon us. The hon. Gentleman who moved the reduction referred to that question and said that the twenty-eight surveyors of various sorts who had been added were not adequate for the purpose. If and when we consider we require further additional staff, I need hardly say that we shall certainly add to our existing numbers.
There is one question to which I will refer, but in regard to which I regret that I have not been able yet to take definite action, and that is the question of wireless telegraphy. I have had a Bill prepared for some considerable time past, and the only reason for delay is that this is a matter which has already been dealt with by the Radio Telegraphic International Convention, and it is obviously a question which, if it is to be dealt with effectively and properly, ought to be dealt with internationally. It is one of the questions which, I hope, will 1330 be considered in a friendly spirit when the International Conference takes place, and I hope that it will take place this autumn. I, therefore, on the whole, came to the conclusion that it would be wiser to delay its passage through this House until we can obtain more or less of an agreement with regard to it. I am glad to say that delay is of less importance than it would otherwise be, because it is common knowledge that a compulsory Bill will be introduced and many passenger ships are being increasingly fitted with wireless stations. I find that last year, from July, 1912, to July, 1913, the number of ships provided with wireless communication has increased from 457 to 710 an increase of no less than 55 per cent.
Various members have pointed to the advantage of International agreement with regard to questions affecting shipping. I am anxious, if we can, to obtain in regard to most of these matters to which I have referred, and others, International agreement. I am quite certain that our example—and in most of these matters, I am glad to think, that we are ahead of other nations—is followed by others, and we are thus appreciably able to raise the standard.
I said just now that the International Conference in regard to life-saving at sea will meet in the autumn, possibly in November. It may be said that it ought to have met earlier. The reason for the delay is a very simple one, and, I think, a very good one. The principal nations—I am speaking of France, Germany, America, and ourselves, who are the principal nations concerned—have all been examining very carefully the various matters concerned, and that takes time. It is very important, when you have an international conference, that it should meet after the various countries concerned have had a full opportunity of examining the questions they are to discuss. They then meet, with their various propositions and with full information, and are able to arrive at a much more practicable result than they otherwise could do. We have had the advantage of some preliminary discussions with Germany and France, and to some extent with the United States, and I hope that we shall have some more with the last before the conference, to see how far we can clear the ground and how far we have a common basis of action. I am glad to think that these discussions have shown, there is every hope that we may be able to arrive at satisfactory conclusions.
1331 I have mentioned all these matters at some length to the Committee because I think I can claim a not bad record in reference to the action we have taken in regard to these questions affecting the mercantile marine. I can safely say that I myself, and the heads of my Department have given without stint their time and attention to all these matters. I say, frankly, that last year when attacks were made on the Board of Trade, and aspersions were cast upon my officials and upon myself for lack of sympathy and for timidity for not at once doing this, that, or the other. I felt those aspersions very deeply indeed. There was no want of sympathy at that time; and I think I may claim that it took greater courage to resist than to give way to panic pressure; it showed a truer sense of proportion to decline to be driven to premature action in the form of ill-considered measures. I hope the House will feel satisfied that, in regard to all these matters, we have given the utmost possible attention, so that they may stand the strain of experience and time. I hope hon. Members will feel satisfied that we have done something towards increasing the safety of life at sea and to securing better conditions of service in the mercantile marine. When one has held an office such as that I have the honour to fill, one likes to feel that he has done something in this direction.
That brings me to some of the questions which have been raised by hon. Members, because we have not stopped at the various matters affected by the recommendations of the Mersey Report. We have taken steps regarding other matters affecting life and safety at sea in which progress has already been made. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), in the observations with which he began his speech, said that, as far as the Board of Trade was concerned, we had met the representations of the Merchant Service Guild in a frank and friendly way. I can assure him that I am very much indebted to that Guild, and to other Associations that bring these matters to my notice. I do not say I can always agree with their views or carry out what they propose. Like everybody else in this world, they think there is nothing like leather. But the head of a Department like the Board of Trade has to look at matters all round and from different points of view, and, sometimes, those points of view may conflict with particular associations or 1332 with individuals. But I can assure the non. Member I have endeavoured to deal with these matters in a friendly spirit, and, as he has admitted, I have discussed them with a desire to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.
Various questions have been raised, but the one of the greatest interest is that of the load line. I have seen the resolutions which have been circulated broadcast throughout the country. They contain an attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and on others. With regard to that point, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Joyce), no question of party arises, because, so far as this alteration is concerned, it was begun, and would have been concluded, under the late Government, but that it so happened that in the interval of examination, and before a definite conclusion could be come to, there was a change of Government. Therefore, the person nominally responsible was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I wish the House to understand that it was not a case of gratuitous action on the part of the Board of Trade. It was action in conformity with an obligation put upon the Board by Parliament to consider from time to time, in connection with certain Bodies, the question of the load line, and the alteration I need hardly say was based on the fact, well known to all interested, that in the interval following the time when the load line was previously fixed, the building of ships had improved and the vessels had become stronger and more seaworthy. That was the sole reason for the alteration in the load line. There never was an idea that the load line at no time was to be altered. That was not Mr. Plimsoll's idea. It was deemed quite possible that an alteration might be advantageously made from time to time. When the change was made it was believed that the alterations, such as they were, were alterations which were justified by the circumstances. I am not going to deal with the attacks which have been made in these Resolutions. I do not think anyone can believe that either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or myself, or anybody in our position, is going deliberately to take action which must result in the drowning of a lot of people. Persons who think that are not worth answering.
I quite agree with another point which was raised by the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Jowett), that there is in this matter at the present moment an uneasy feeling. I however anticipate this 1333 feeling and will take action. It did strike me that, having had six years' experience of the load line, the time had come, especially in view of the International Conference which is about to take place, that it would be an advantageous thing to have a further inquiry into this matter, and to see how far this or any other alteration might be made. I thought it would be well to take the whole thing into account, and to see how the matter stands, and I am very glad that that should be done, because, as I have said, there is a certain uneasy feeling in the minds of some persons that the alteration in the load line has, in a sense, led to a larger number of casualties. The hon. Member quoted some answers which I had given him with regard to this matter. I asked lira to believe, and I think he will agree with me when I state, in the first place, that, as far as the Board of Trade is concerned, in this matter it has nothing to conceal. Its only desire is to arrive at the truth. It is rather hard that the hon. Member should have suggested that the Board of Trade was trying, or that I myself was trying, in these replies to conceal something. We have nothing to conceal. We do not desire to conceal anything, and we have in every case given him all the information he has asked for. With regard to the questions affecting tonnage and statistics generally, there may be a difference of opinion. I think we have given him more than he asked for, and I really would ask him to reconsider his opinion on that, point, and to give us the benefit of the doubt.
I may also add that I attach very little importance to statistics alone in matters of this sort. Statistics can be made to prove almost anything. I have never relied upon them by themselves, but as far as they went, it did appear to me that they showed that the reduction of the freeboard had not had the effect of increasing the number of casualties. I do not want, however, to argue that point.
I want the matter fully inquired into, and that was why I appointed a Committee—a suitable Committee as I think—for the purpose of conducting the investigation. I am quite certain it will go perfectly impartially into this question, with the sole desire to arrive at the truth. My hon. Friend says he has knowledge of those with experience who can give evidence. The Committee, I am sure, will be extremely indebted to him or to anyone who will come forward and give them, con- 1334 fidentially if they like, such evidence as they have in their possession. I desire to thank the hon. Member, and through him the Merchant Service Guild, for their disinterested efforts in this matter. Wt do not ask them to come forward with actual proof to show that certain ships went down in consequence of the alteration in the load line. I am sure I am speaking the mind of the Committee when I say they are not asking anything of that sort. But the Committee will be extremely obliged for suggestions and evidence, good, bad or indifferent, which it may be desired to put forward. It is not a question of a man getting into the witness-box and being cross-examined. What the Committee want is anything that will throw any light on this matter, and perhaps my two hon. Friends who have referred to this question will be good enough to look at it from that point of view, and see how far they can produce evidence in regard to this matter. That is the position in regard to the question of the load line.
The next point is the question of deck-loads, which has been referred to by more than one speaker. This is a question to which I have been giving most careful consideration. It was brought to my attention very lucidly by a deputation introduced by the hon. Member for Devizes, and it is undoubtedly a, matter which ought to be dealt with. It is difficult to deal with it. I have no doubt in my mind that the figures show that these excessive deck-loads in the winter have led to a considerable number of casualties. It certainly is an anomaly, and nobody can deny it, that a particular ship should take on board an excessive deck-load in the United States, should cross the Atlantic, the most dangerous part of the passage, should unload its excessive deck-load at a Continental port, and then come on to a British port to discharge the rest of its cargo. We have no means of checking that. We cannot deal with it if it has unloaded the excessive deck-load at a foreign port. As the hon. Gentleman said, that is a matter which must be dealt with internationally. It is no use penalising our own trade unless we can effectively stop the danger. It has not been fund possible so far to persuade other countries to accept our view, but I am somewhat sanguine in the matter. We are doing our best, and will continue to do our best, in that direction. I think a good feature at the present moment is this, that the underwriters and shipowners here and 1335 in foreign countries, and others interested in the matter are moving in order to bring about a common agreement. So long as all are put on the same terms, they will be very glad to get rid of this additional danger. I can assure the House, therefore, that, so far as my Department is concerned, we shall do our very level best to bring this evil to an end, and, if we cannot do it internationally, we shall endeavour to do it in some other way.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I had a note of it but overlooked it. It is a question of deck-loads other than timber loads. Timber loads are undoubtedly the most dangerous. The statistics go to show that. I quite agree there are other deck-loads which are either too heavy, or are of a particular character or are not properly stowed, and therefore become dangerous. It is a matter into which I am looking to see how far, either by regulation or in some other way, deck-loads which are dangerous shall be regulated. I come to another point which has exercised the minds of a considerable number of speakers—that is the question of sight tests. The hon. Member who made the most violent attack is not here, and that always make it difficult when one is answering. I should like to ask hon. Members who have raised this point what is their exact position. In 1910 I appointed a Committee to examine the question of sight tests, because it was thought that the existing test, the wool test, was not altogether satisfactory. That view is confirmed by a memorial of the association, read by the hon. Member, which said that it was totally ineffective. It was quite clear that some step ought to be taken to see how far the tests could be made effective, and what would be the best method of carrying them out. The question I put to the hon. Member who raised this point is, What does he actually want? Does he say there shall be no test in regard to form vision and colour vision? Does he say that there is to be no responsibility for the safety not only of the man himself but of the passengers and crew, and no protection against the man, whether he is colour blind or his sight is so bad that he cannot 1336 distinguish one light from another? I do not think he goes so far as that. Therefore the whole question becomes one of degree, and of the best method of having a test. The wool test was, on the whole, shown to be unreliable, and has now been modified in a way which has made it more effective.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was informed that the old sight test was much easier than the new one. I have gone through both tests, and while I passed the new test with comparative ease, I very nearly had my certificate taken away over the old test; therefore, I do not at all agree with my hon. Friend that the old test is more simple than the new one. At all events, whether it is so or not, it is in the nature of a primary test, and in addition to it you must have something to check any idiosyncrasies of the wool test. Everybody agrees that if you are to have a second test, it should be in the form of a lantern test. The Committee recommended one form of lantern. Other inventors have other forms of lanterns. When one deals with a particular invention, we know that there are people who say that theirs is the one and only, and that everybody else's is a poor adaptation of their own, or is totally ineffective. That is the position of the question at the present time. It would not be fair for me to give a personal opinion as to the qualifications of the two lanterns which are in question in this matter. All I can say is that so far as our view and the view of the Committee goes, the particular lantern we are utilising—I do not say it is the best lantern—seems, for our purposes, to be, on the whole, the best. I have examined it carefully; I have seen candidates on appeal being tested by it; I myself, and my hon. Friend have been tested by it, and the whole of the heads of my Department have been tested by it, and it is amusing to see how they come out. I think that when the hon. Member for Devizes was tested he somewhat failed in colour vision.
§ Mr. BUXTON
My hon. Friend said that the new tests had been a disaster. My real answer to the criticisms that have been made in somewhat exaggerated language—I am speaking of the colour tests, not of the form vision tests—is that we are 1337 all agreed that you must have some test. Even the hon. Member for Limerick will agree with that.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I thought so. The new test has been in operation for four months, from 1st April to 8th July. There have been 2,865 candidates, including officers and men. Putting aside the candidates still on appeal, no less than 2,714 passed, and only 151 failed, so that no less than 94.7 passed and only 5.3 failed.
We give every opportunity of appeal in regard to the colour test. One hon. Member proposed that where an officer failed he should have a practical test. The Court can always give him that practical test, which saves him from any injustice in regard to this matter. As regards the colour test, I have looked into it very carefully, and I do not think there is much of a grievance, but I am still examining it further to see how far there may be some substance in it.
There was a question with regard to the form vision test. The Committee recommended a considerable increase in the standard. That is a matter which my hon. Friend and myself are most carefully examining with a view to seeing whether the proposals of the Committee are excessive. If they appear to be so, we shall not hesitate to reduce them. I hope it will be possible to announce a decision shortly, but I can assure the House that I am giving personal care and consideration to it, with a view to ascertaining how far the complaints are justified.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I have said that if he goes to a Court, the Court may order a practical test. I think that is a considerable security for the officer.
§ Mr. JOYCE
Pilots have to pass tests every twelve months or two years. Could these tests be made practical tests in the various ports where these men have to pass the examination? They are upon a different plane from the masters and mates, who, when they get a certificate, are clear for all time, while the pilot has to pass a test every twelve months or two years. If they object to a test by these small points of light, an artificial test as 1338 I call it, will the right hon. Gentleman give them a practical test under the conditions in which they work?
§ Mr. BUXTON
It does not arise now, and I cannot give any undertaking. My point about the officer is that if he does not pass his original test, and fails to appeal, he then loses his certificate, or has an opportunity of going to the Court. If the Court, for good reasons, say he should be allowed to go through a practical test, we should not oppose such a proposal. A pilot is in a different position, and I should like to consider further the point my hon. Friend has put, but. what I have said in regard to the one must not be taken to apply automatically in regard to the other.
The hon. Member for Devizes raised the question of the long hours which, unfortunately, many officers have to work, and also the question of the number of certificated officers in various ships. As he knows, we have a Bill before the House of Lords under which we are going to compel home-trade ships of a certain tonnage to have certificated officers, and I hope we shall have the support of Members on both sides in carrying that Bill into law. When the Merchant Shipping Bill is introduced, and undoubtedly next Session such a Bill will have to be introduced for several purposes, I certainly propose to include some provision as to the number of mates and engineers required in foreign-going ships. I cannot say more upon the subject at present, because it is a matter for legislation. It very much affects the question of hours.
Another point mentioned was that of alien officers. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker) expressed some doubt as to haw far action should be taken. What some Members have asked for is that we should prohibit altogether any alien officers from being masters or mates on British ships. There are great difficulties, and international difficulties, in connection with that question. I should have thought that so far as the merchant service is concerned, there is probably a considerably larger number of British mates and masters on foreign ships than foreign masters and mates on British ships. If the question was raised from the point of view of the merchant service, I think that, on the whole, they will not 1339 benefit, but rather suffer from such action, because if we took it, other nations would do so as well. It is not really a matter of such great importance as some hon. Members seem to think, because I find that during the last five years, since the last Merchant Shipping Act was passed, the number of foreign mates, masters and engineers has considerably diminished.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I cannot say, offhand. I will look it up. At all events, the figures I want to give are really an answer to all these complaints. Taking the whole of the British Register througout the world there are at present 7,995 masters, of whom only eighty-seven are aliens—a percentage of just over 1 per cent. I really think, under these circumstances, it would be rather a large thing to ask that we should undertake a difficult international question for such a small percentage as that.
The hon. Member (Mr. Peto) and the hon. Member (Mr. Haslam) raised a point which I consider of very great importance, namely, the question of what is commonly called crew space. Of course, in the Act of 1906 the space was considerably increased—from 72 to 120 cubic feet for new ships. I am glad to think there has been a steady improvement in the conditions under which they serve. The hon. Member (Mr. Peto) quoted from one of the sanitary officers and gave very alarming figures in regard to what the doctor alleges is the state of consumption among the lower ratings in consequence of their housing conditions. I should like to give some figures in reply to that, because it is a very alarming statement, and there is no foundation in fact whatever for it. In the last ten years the average of consumption among firemen, seamen, trimmers, stewards, and so on, has been in itself very considerably reduced, and as compared with males over fifteen the present rate of consumption is only 325 as against 1.87, that is to say, the disease is no less than five times as frequent on shore as on board. I do not say the present conditions are satisfactory. I have been giving the matter very considerable care, and we have now issued revised Instructions, after consideration and consultation with the medical officers of the Local Government Board, to `whom I desire to express my indebtedness for the 1340 way in which they have given us assistance and advice. I fully hope that local sanitary officers will work in harmony and accord with our officers in these various ports, and I am sure that these new regulations carry out very largely the suggestions made in various quarters, and I am certain they will mean a real considerable step forward in regard to sanitary conditions and crew spaces on board. In addition to that, 'we intend to have more frequent inspection of crew spaces.
§ Mr. BUXTON
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that is best done by medical officers. I can assure him it is not so. It is not a question of medical knowledge-but of hygiene. Definite standards are laid down in regard to lighting, ventilation and sanitary conditions, and the officers have to see that they are complied with, and under the new regulations things will be more stringent than they were before. It is a question of fact and not of opinion, and their training and practical knowledge of these matters makes them much' more useful people to deal with this class of questions than medical officers, and in addition we get much greater uniformity. I can assure the hon. Gentleman it is a matter to which very careful consideration has been given, and I am sure we are making a very considerable step in the right direction, and it is a matter which we shall continue to observe very carefully, in order to keep as far as we can up, to date in regard to it.
The hon. Member (Mr. Cathcart Wason) raised the point of carriage of deck passengers on board. I do not know to what particular line he was referring, and so far as it may be a line which does not commence its voyage in Great Britain, we have not at present, without further legislation, the control which I should be glad to have. But so far as it does commence its voyages in the United Kingdom, we have brought to the knowledge of the various shipping companies that they must comply, if they are going to do this, with the life-saving appliance provisions which are now statutory. The hon. Member (Mr. Shirley Benn) spoke about a particular case of a wreck, and wanted to know whether we were going to prosecute. The particular inquiry took place abroad. We-arc considering the question of whether if is advisable to prosecute, and whether we have enough evidence to enable us to do so successfully, because we know it is 1341 better not to prosecute at all than to have an unsuccessful prosecution.
I desire to thank hon. Members for the way in which these matters have been discussed, and to assure them—I am sure they do not require the assurance—that in reference to these matters of safety at sea we must have regard to the liberty of action of shipbuilders and shipowners, so as to avoid diminishing their sense of responsibility or in any way hampering or discouraging enterprise or improvement. I am glad to think that as regards our life-saving appliances and other rules of that sort, we are assisting and in no way interfering with improvements and inventions, and we shall keep actively upon our mind the object of improving the safety of our ships at sea and also, as far as we can, of improving the position both of the officers and the men.
§ Mr. GEORGE TERRELL
I am sure on this side of the House we are all very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very conciliatory manner in which he has dealt with the various points of criticism which have been directed against his Department, and in particular against his administration of the Department. But there are many matters which he has touched upon, and though his tone is conciliatory, yet I am sorry to say the conclusions which he has arrived at are hardly satisfactory, and the explanations which he has given are hardly as sufficient or as full as we should desire. He commenced by dealing with the boat question, which is always a burning question, because so much has already been said about it in the House. The point in which most people are interested is how these new regulations of boats for all are going to be successfully applied to the old ships. That is a point which was raised when we had the "Titanic" Debate. It is the most important question of all, because unquestionably new ships can be built to carry any number of beats, but if you are going to apply the rule of piling a lot of boats on all vessels you increase the top-hamper and you fly from one danger to another, which is probably very much greater than the evil of want of boats. I hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have dealt with this point and explained exactly what the Board of Trade proposed to do in this matter.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I did not deal with it because no one had raised it. We dis- 1342 cussed it before and, as far as I know, the rules which are now the operating rules, were subject to considerable discussion and consideration by the shipowners and those concerned. I had many interviews with them, and I understood they accepted the rules as practical rules which they were able themselves to enforce.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
Of course the whole point was not raised in the earlier part of the Debate, but the right hon. Gentleman volunteered certain information, and I hoped he would have made his explanation on the point a little more full and definite. He referred to the load line and to suggestions which have been made that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for the alterations in the load line during the time he was President of the Board of Trade. But the explanations, such as they are, that this was a matter which was under the consideration of the previous Government, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer succeeded to, half finished negotiations and simply carried them out, does not relieve him as head of his Department from full responsibility. Surely he ought to have looked into the matter and investigated it. There is not the slightest doubt that amongst seafaring folk there is a strong belief that this raising of the water line has contributed to the numerous disasters which have occurred, and the consequent loss of life. One has only to stand on the Admiralty Pier at Dover when there is a strong Westerly wind, which I have done, and see the tramp steamers loaded up almost to their decks plunging through the head seas down the Channel, to realise what the condition of those vessels must be, not only loaded with internal cargo, but frequently loaded up with deck cargo.
It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under-Standing Order No. 10, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.