HC Deb 19 December 1916 vol 88 cc1398-401

It shall be the duty of the Shipping Controller to control and regulate any shipping available for the needs of the country in such manner as to make the best use-thereof, having regard to the circumstances of the time, and to take such steps. as he thinks best for providing and maintaining an efficient supply of shipping, and for those purposes he shall have such powers or duties of any Government Department or authority, whether conferred by Statute or otherwise, as His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer to him, or authorise him to exercise or perform concurrently with or in consultation with the Government Department or authority concerned, and also such further powers as may be conferred on him by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914, and regulations may be made under that Act accordingly.


I beg to move, after the-word "him" ["transfer to him"], to insert the words "and particularly all the-powers and duties of the Board of Trade-in relation to shipping and the administration of the Merchant Shipping Act,. 1894."

Unless these words are added, I doubt whether the appointment of a Controller of Shipping will be really likely to simplify the procedure that we have had so far and to get over the difficulties in regard to our getting a definite and concrete policy in respect to shipping. If the words I now propose were added to the Bill it would mean that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade would be transferred to the Controller of Shipping and, presumably, all the staff at the Board of Trade who deal with these shipping questions now. At the present time, as we were told by the Home Secretary yesterday, there are two Departments concerned with -shipping, the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, and also three Committees. If we are still to have these two Departments, the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, concerned with merchant shipping, and concerned very intimately with the conduct of merchant shipping, and if we are to have a Controller of Shipping and the present powers in regard to shipping are to be left with the Board of Trade, I fail to see how that arrangement is going to work for simplification and for the expediting of decisions on questions as to the provision of fresh tonnage or making the best use of the present tonnage. What are the questions dealt with in the very voluminous Act to which I have referred? I will not trouble the House with even the headlines, but towards the end of the three hundred or four hundred Sections we find such heads as "load line" and "carriage of timber and grain." These questions, which are presumably going to be administered by the Board of Trade, go to the very root of the most economic use of tonnage. It may be necessary during the War—I know it was in contemplation before the War—to alter the regulations in regard to the load line. If it is desirable to have the very strong regulations which exist at present in regard to the carriage of deck cargoes of timber we must remember that those are part of the ordinary peace procedure. There is no one in this House in the last few years who has worked harder to get these provisions stiffened up and to prevent their evasion by the discharge of deck loads of timber at foreign ports when our merchant ships have crossed the Atlantic with deck loads of timber which would be contrary to the Merchant Shipping Act if they were coming to our ports. If, as a war measure, that may be necessary, I would point out that the ordinary sea risks are nothing compared to the risks of submarines. Therefore, I would like to know, first of all, what is contemplated in setting up a -Controller of Shipping. Is it intended merely to have another authority added o those which exist, or are we going to have a real simplification, and a real authority set up with complete power to deal with all these questions of shipping? In the Amendments I have on the Paper I pro- pose to insert certain words, and to omit, other words. It may save time if I mention now the omission of the words—

"or authorise him to exercise or perform concurrently, with or in consultation with the Government Department or authority concerned."

If those words are left in, the powers of the Board of, Trade are not transferred to the Shipping Controller, and the appointment of the Shipping Controller will run the great risk of adding to the complication of things. More people will have to be consulted before any decision is arrived at, and before that simplification is effected which I had hoped was the object of this Bill.


Having heard my hon. Friend, I am not quite certain whether he desires to extend or reduce the power of the Shipping Controller under this Bill. The effect of his Amendment is enormously to extend them. The tendency of his argument is greatly to reduce them. I am not sure which he really desires.


My Amendment was to transfer to the Shipping Controller while he is in control of our shipping, and in these war conditions, the whole of the powers of the Board of Trade, and instead of authorising him to do things in consultation with other Departments I should like to see him given the powers to settle matters once for all and to overrule the other Departments.


I am afraid that it would not be possible to take that course. The Merchant Shipping Acts are very long, elaborate Acts which confer upon the Board of Trade powers which are of great use in time of peace to enforce Regulations regarding shipping. The purpose of this Bill is that in time of war the Shipping Controller shall have new powers altogether, powers which the Board of Trade has not got, to maintain and increase the supply of shipping for war purposes. If there is any difficulty—I dc not think that there will be—owing to the existence of the two authorities side by side, that, I hope, will be met by the powers, to which my hon. Friend refers, of the two authorities to get into consultation together. There will not be either under the Clause proposed or under the earlier Clause the least shadow of difference or conflict between the two authorities. I happen to know that the authorities who are, under those Clauses, to exercise powers, in conjunction with other authorities, in one case the Food Controller and in the other the Shipping Controller, have already met those authorities and that the two parties are quite prepared to act together. I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I would like to know whether the Shipping Controller is going to be in this House or not. I gather from reading carefully what was said by the Leader of the House in yesterday's Debate that he was going to be in the House. I understood from other references that he was not. I have no doubt that the Government have, carefully considered the giving to the Shipping Controller of these powers. It is rather a large order, from the point of view of the merchant service, to place a shipowner, and a shipowner of a particular kind of ship only, in charge of the whole of this business, particularly if he will not be in this House, so that no question can be addressed to him either in the interests of the men or of the officers. I am afraid that it will not add to the confidence of the officers, for whom I can speak perhaps more than for the men, but I do not think it fair either to the officers or to the men that vast powers, which may involve a great deal to them in the conditions of their employment, should be exercised by a shipowner, only owning a particular class of ship, who is not in this House. I should like to know whether I am right in understanding the Leader of the House—I think in column 1156 of yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT—to reply to an hon. Member that the Shipping Controller was coming into the House, and he goes on to say that he did not want to attend there very much. I should like to know whether I am right or not?


I have not the reference, but certainly my recollection is that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained to the House that the Shipping Controller did not desire to be a Member of the House. He said that his desire was to attend to his duties elsewhere, and that he would be represented in this House by a Parliamentary Secretary. That is what I understood him to say.

Question put, and agreed to

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.