§ Mr. GERALD FRANCE
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to-the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the protection, maintenance, and organisation of the Mercantile Marine are vital to national life and to the successful prosecution of the War and that there should be more frankness and consistency in the statements of the Government relating thereto."
I cannot profess any regret that this: Motion has come on before that of the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Burgoyne) ["to call attention to the administration of the Air Service"]. I say that because, in my view, and in the view of the House, I believe, the position of the mercantile marine is to-day one of the most important, if not the most important factor, in the consideration of the War as a whole and our success in that War. May I, in the first place, say that the speech to which we have listened to-day from the First Lord of the Admiralty to some extent meets some of the points raised in my Motion, and to which therefore I need not now refer. One 1399 cannot, if I may say so as a humble Member of the House, look with anything but gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the encouraging and striking picture he gave of the work of the Navy, and particularly when he emphasised so strongly in that speech the fact, for it lies at the very basis of the matter, of the essential part of the mercantile marine in the success of this War in support of the Navy, and as it was so well put, far better than I could possibly put it, by the First Sea Lord only a month ago:Without our mercantile marine the Navy, and indeed the nation, could not exist.I would even venture to go further and say that without the mercantile marine and without the protection and maintenance of the mercantile marine, not only could not the Navy exist, not only could not the nation exist, but the Armies in every part of the world could not do their work, and the War would of necessity come to an end, and the whole Allied cause, which is resting so largely on that basis, would be seriously endangered if not altogether destroyed. The main basis of my Motion is therefore that the protection and maintenance and organisation of the mercantile marine is at the present moment our supreme need in considering, as we are to-day, naval matters. I need not, I hope, say, as I have been associated in a humble capacity with naval work for the last two years that I am not going to make anything in the nature of an attack either on the Board of Admiralty or upon those responsible for the policy of the Admiralty or the policy of the Navy in all its Executive work which it has done so magnificently from the first day of the War. My object in putting down this Motion—and I had no other object or motive—was to help the Government if I could in this part of their task in the prosecution of the War.
I think it is well known, and it has been made quite manifest to-day, that the Board of Admiralty does regard this matter with regard to the mercantile marine as of supreme importance, and regards its protection as of supreme importance, and regards the danger which threatens it as very serious indeed—a danger not only affecting British shipping, but Allied and neutral shipping, which enter very largely into the supplies and strength of our position. My request, my very urgent request, to them, which to some extent has been modified, but only 1400 to a partial extent, by what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-day, is that they will be frank and consistent. To-day we have had a -good deal of frankness from the right hon. Gentleman. We have yet to prove whether the future will show-consistency. As I say, the past has not done so, and I refer to the immediate past of the last month. The late Government were frequently charged with not taking the public sufficiently into their confidence. They were told that they did not tell the public enough of the real situation. If I may say so without offence, and without any subtle sense of attack at all no one can accuse the present Ministry of being possessed of a dumb spirit. I make no complaint of the speeches or interviews of Ministers or of the Press notices. I think the present temper of the public desires that there should be free and full discussion as to many of the points which lie at the basis of their existence. But I do ask—and I think it is of supreme importance, that a rather more even temperature should be maintained and that there should not be fluctuations in declarations of policy or in advice which is given to the nation and the information which is given to it. For example, a month ago we had that speech from the First Sea Lord, in which he broke the long and honourable silence which was naturally laid upon him while lie was discharging that magnificent work which he had performed for the nation in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet. That was a speech which, I think, we all read as a very serious warning to this nation. In that speech he said thatThe submarine menace to the merchant service is far greater now than at any period of the War, and requires all our energy to combat it. It must and will be dealt with, of that I am confident. But we have to make good our inevitable losses, and in order to do this we are dependent on the shipbuilding industry of this country. The munitions organisation has done a great work for the output of munitions; it now remains for the shipbuilders and marine engineers to rival that work.That speech was confirmed in another part of the Ministry by the speech of the Minister for Agriculture, who told us that we were in the position of a beleaguered city. We had the warnings and regulations referred to to-day of the Food Controller, pointing to the fact that great preparations are necessary in view of the danger threatening, and the country, I. believe, was preparing itself seriously for that task. Then we had a Debate the other day in another place, initiated by Lord 1401 Beresford, in which he gave some very startling figures with regard to losses during recent times. He told us that in the seven days prior to his speech 150,000 tons were sunk, and that in twelve days 222,000 tons were sunk. I believe those figures include neutral and Allied ships. To-day we have a further figure given to us, a figure which is a very impressive one. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that in the first eighteen days of February 268,000 tons of British, Allied, and neutral shipping were sunk, and the British totalled 169,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman gave figures for December and January and the totals for these eighteen days, but he did not give us the totals for December and January and up to the 18th February, and therefore one is not quite able to judge of the total number of tons since the beginning of December. I would venture to point out that the loss of 169,000 tons in eighteen days, if it is continued, as I hope and believe it will not be, amounts to this, that in twelve months at that rate 3,750,000 of tons would be sunk, and when one considers what is the balance of available tonnage for civil needs, and how much tonnage there is at present being taken up, one is bound to consider that a very serious figure indeed. The speech made by the representative of the Admiralty in the House of Lords the other day, a speech which has not received sufficient attention because it was to a certain extent overshadowed by the speech of Lord Curzon, dealt with these figures and the measures which were taken to counteract the evil. The speech of Lord Curzon, which I believe made a great impression upon the country, began with the statement thatIt must be gratifying to your lordships to have heard lord Beresford adopt the tone of cheerful optimism which characterised the greater part of his speech.We had many happy experiences of Lord Beresford when he was speaking in this House, and I think it must have been something in his style of speech, which was always attractive and which always bore with it something of the ozone of the deep, which made appear cheerful optimism the figure of losses, which totalled 222,000 tons in twelve days. They did not strike me as exactly bearing out that description. Lord Curzon went on to say that no question of concealing information from the House and the public was in his mind, and that his idea of government was that a maximum rather than a minimum amount of information should be given. If I may 1402 say so, the figure which remained in the public mind was the figure of 5 or 6 per cent, as the loss represented by the net tonnage as it stands to-day as compared with the beginning of the War. I know that is so from personal experience. The-day after the speech I happened, both in the middle of the day and in the evening, to meet men, not Members of this House, with whom I have talked on the seriousness of the shipping position, and they both quoted to me the figures of 5 and 6 per cent, which Lord Curzon had given, and which had converted them tio the extent of not thinking that the restrictions upon diet and extravagance were as necessary as had been instilled into them by other Ministers in this country. May I examine how Lord Curzon arrived at that figure, because the right hon. Gentleman, (Sir E. Carson), while giving us figure with great frankness to-day, did not quite adequately touch on the relative position of the losses as compared with the vital needs of the country.
Lord Curzon referred to the fact that 75 per cent, of the shipping of the mercantile marine was being employed by Government in one form or another, but that figure was corrected by my hon. Friend who represents the Shipping Controller in this House (Sir L. Chiozza Money) the following day to one of 63 per cent., owing to the fact that he referred to 12 per cent, of those ships being used for practically civil needs. At the same time, whether it is 75 per cent, or 63 per cent., the losses which are inflicted by submarines must inevitably be taken from that part of the merchant marine which is free to conduct the ordinary work of the mercantile marine. One may fairly well assume that neither the Army nor the Navy are keeping for their use one ship or one ton more than is absolutely necessary to conduct the War. I do not bring the charge that deliberately they would do-so, and therefore the losses, in so far as they occur among the 63 per cent, or 75 per cent., will have to be made good to the Army and the Navy, and the result is that the great bulk of these losses must fall upon the balance of the mercantile marine, and that therefore the figure of 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, should be very carefully examined. To arrive at that figure Lord Curzon took net losses. He must have added, or put on the other side of the account, the German ships which have been taken and which now, for the time-being, form a part of our mercantile 1403 marine, an asset which you cannot count twice, and which you cannot rely upon for meeting the needs of the immediate future. Then that 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, made no reference to the losses to neutral and Allied shipping, and although I have not got the figure with me, everyone who knows the figures of the imports and the relative importance of the imports which have come to this country m the past in Allied and neutral shipping must realise very definitely that when they are sunk a serious blow is inflicted upon the imports of food and other necessities to this country just as if that shipping were British shipping. Especially is that so at the present moment, when it is generally admitted that the financial and economic interests of the Allies are pooled, and that to injure any part of the Fleet which is bringing food to or otherwise helping the Allies is to affect us as much as if a British ship were sunk. Then that 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, figure does not bear any reference, I submit, to the increased losses which have been taking place during the last few months, but simply is a bare average from the beginning to the present moment, which I think may fairly be said is not a fair estimate of the damage which is taking place at present.
I therefore come to the question which I intended to ask, and which I fully admit to a certain extent the First Lord has answered to-day, but not entirely to my satisfaction, the question, namely, "What is the position to-day?" The First Lord said that Germany knows that position perfectly well, and to discuss it frankly in this House is not giving them information which they have not got. I have proof of that in my hand. I will not trouble to read it in detail to the House, but it is a quotation from a paper called "Die Zeit," of the 31st January, detailing, for the encouragement and support of the German people, the figures of the losses from 1st December to the end of January, putting them at 152 ships (329,000 tons), and so on. I mention that to show that they are making use of figures which may very possibly be exaggerations, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has shown, and for us to show that we are prepared to meet the figures frankly will not help them, but will more likely discourage them. I want to put a question to the First Lord very seriously and very definitely, and in doing so I do not wish to 1404 suggest for a moment that the policy he has announced to-day of telling us everything frankly is not one which he fully intends to carry out, but up till now it is quite clear that we have not been told everything. The right hon. Gentleman tells us now that we are going to be told everything, and he asks if any addition can be suggested to the figures which he would give from time to time, and he points out that an accumulation of ships appearing on a certain date in a paper gives very little indication of what is happening from day to day. May I ask if it is possible to publish figures in such a way as that the general progress of the losses from day to day can be seen, and if, in addition to showing what ships are sunk by submarines and mines, he will tell the country what ships are destroyed or sunk by raiders? I think it is only fair to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there is abroad in the City and in shipping circles a very strong impression at the present moment, and that impression is spreading to the community at large, that we are not being told all the losses, that we are not being told what is being sunk by submarines, and what is being sunk by raiders, that we are not being told of the activities of the raider or raiders at the present time which are known, and that in consequence the public are apt to believe that the losses are entirely owing to submarines, while there are, in fact, losses due to a raider. That may be an entirely unjustifiable rumour, but it is very strongly believed.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Does my hon. Friend mean that we include, as losses from submarines, losses really caused by raiders?
§ Mr. FRANCE
No. There is at the present moment in the City of London, and in shipping circles, a strong impression that the figures of losses generally are not being given completely.
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I say this in explanation. Of course, sometimes there is a ship overdue, and it has to be overdue a considerable time before you can make out whether it has been lost; but, subject 1405 to that, that there may be a ship overdue, so far as I know no losses have been concealed.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that that statement will give great satisfaction, and will do a great deal to remove what I regard as a very dangerous rumour, because if a rumour of that kind gets abroad, there is much more likelihool for there to be a panic if there is an idea of an attempt at secrecy, than for the whole truth to be told, especially when, as at the present moment, there is a tendency for fantastic stories to be circulated as to the gigantic number of submarines which we are catching every week. I recognise that there may be military reasons which from time to time make it impossible to make immediate announcements of our losses, but I am glad to know that the policy of the Admiralty and of the Government is to conceal nothing in the way of losses in the mercantile marine at this moment.
From what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I think he is convinced of this—and I agree with him—that if the people of this country cannot bear the truth and act accordingly in a spirit of sacrifice and determination, then they are neither brave nor strong enough to win this War, or wise enough to bear the results of winning, when that result comes. That is all I want to say at the moment in regard to this question of frankness and consistency. I thank the right hon. Gentleman sincerely for having given such evidence of his determination to be frank, and for the statement he has made to this House to-day. May I just say a word or two in regard to the question of the protection of the mercantile marine, because, as was said by Lord Curzon in another place, the most effectual way of protecting the mercantile marine is to destroy the submarine. With the last speaker I will not for a moment venture to discuss any details or methods of what is being done or use any language which might be turned against us. Nor would I ask any question which would be indiscreet or which would tend to hamper the Government or the Admiralty. Personally I have never been inclined to see—and I have been confirmed in that opinion to-day—any advantage whatever in the face of the danger in asking for the details of successes in destroying sub- 1406 marines. I do, however, think the facts and illustrations which have been given to-day by the right hon. Gentleman are most encouraging and most helpful. They will have an excellent effect upon neutrals—I mean in knowing that these combats are taking place, and that they are meeting with so much success. This has been said without revealing anything in the nature of the numbers or places or the details. The statement will be of very great value.
Another point I should like to mention with regard to our losses in merchant ships is this: No doubt at the present time it is being considered that there should be certain special routes, specially protected. That is obvious. Also that certain instructions should be given to merchant vessels in regard to those routes. That also is perfectly obvious. I am going to say something which may not in certain quarters meet with approval, but I think it is necessary to say what I propose to say. While joining with the several speakers who have spoken on this matter during the last few weeks in a tribute of the most profound admiration for the officers and men of our merchant ships who do their work with such conspicuous bravery, it is of supreme importance that all these officers should follow the directions that are given to them by the Admiralty. In saying that I am speaking of a virtue which may become a vice. It may be that in their bravery, in their British sailor-like disregard of danger, they are apt sometimes not to regard with sufficient care the instructions given to them by the Admiralty, instructions which are for their own preservation, and not only so, but for the preservation of all the precious cargoes which they bring to these shores. I hope the Admiralty and those who are responsible now for the general control of the mercantile marine will act together to see not only that these instructions are always clearly defined, but so far as possible carried out. If there are any who are either too brave, or not sufficiently wise to obey them, I trust that thorough steps will be taken to see that they are obeyed. There is one point. I would like to refer to for a moment, and that is the question of the possibility at some stage or other of our having to have recourse to the system of convoying. I know perfectly well what is the opinion, the adverse opinion, as to the possibility of convoys. I do not for a moment advocate it at present. I would not so 1407 presume to do. I think, however, that history does show that in any war in which this matter has come prominently to the front, sometimes, or almost always if the vital interests of this country are concerned with regard to food imports, convoying has had to be carried out. I hope it may never become necessary in our case. I ask, however, although it may not be necessary now, that full preparation should be made beforehand in regard to the necessary plans and arrangements if at any future time a system of convoying should be necessary. The movement and manœuvring of ships is a matter of great difficulty. These are matters for which I think preparation should be made for in advance. I put forward the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that if such a plan should need to become operative in the future owing to further serious depredations, or should the position become even more serious than to-day, that the matter should have been prearranged. May I also suggest this, that apart from the system of convoying, in regard to merchant ships it should be considered, if it can conveniently be arranged, that an unarmed ship should as far as possible be accompanied by an armed merchantman. There are ships of the same speed travelling in the same direction as others, and while the arming of merchant ships has proved to be of such value, until it is possible to arm them all, some such arrangement as I have suggested as to voyages might be considered.
We were told to-day with regard to inventions and research, and the work which has been done and is being done at the Admiralty, that there is a new Department. We were told to-day officially for the first time of the Anti-Submarine Department. I do not want to ask anything which it would not be advisable to answer as to the relations between the new Department and the Board of Inventions. We have been told that the Board of Inventions is a Board of great distinction. But one does not quite realise—it was not stated quite clearly—what are the functions, what the co-ordination between it and the Anti-Submarine Department. I should like to make one suggestion in regard to those who are studying this problem. I am not going to put forward any name or to advocate any personalities. There has been too much of that. I think it might be a point for those who have to discuss this problem and have this work 1408 to do, that they should be asked to do what we as Members of this House have been asked to do: remember that we are at war. In the Departments, as well as outside the Departments I think this question of personality had far better be excluded. But I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that, although it was a sailor who first pointed out the position of the submarine in future warfare as compared with the Dreadnought—a prophecy which has not proved quite accurate—I am not going to deal with that at this time—it was not a sailor who first thought of and described the very-policy which the Germans are now carrying out—that of an attempted blockade of merchant ships by the submarine. Similarly might I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was not a soldier who first of all described in detail the tanks. The type of mind which thought cut the problem—if the right hon. Gentleman likes to think so, we will say a lower type of mind—which conceived the possibility of such brutal outrages as attacking merchant ships with the submarine, the type of mind which thought out and predicted the whole scheme, the type of mind that thought out the tanks and wrote a descriptive account of what would happen in tank warfare, was that of the author of imaginative and scientific fiction. There were two gentlemen—two authors. If I may suggest it to the right, hon. Gentleman, in these problems, which are largely problems of a wide imagination, it may be wise to call into the councils of the Admiralty, not only the naval and the military men, not only the scientists, but the men who in the past have proved their capacity for having wide imaginative views on the great questions of warfare.
There is only one other point which I wish to urge, and that is the question of the maintenance of British merchant shipping. That, of course, includes a tremendous and continued effort of shipbuilding. A year ago we had a statement—a very sad statement—made by the then First Lord of the Admiralty to the effect that the resources and yards of this country in regard to men, material, etc., were not being fully utilised. I want to remind the House, and the Government, of what has been done in the past in regard to output. It ought to be possible to do it—or more—now and in the future. In 1913 there were 1,932,000 tons gross of merchant shipping constructed in this country, 1409 while at the same time there were warships constructed with a displacement of 271,000 tons. Those were the days when there was no special pressure, when there were the ordinary trade union restrictions. Those things now have gone. There is special pressure. There are now fewer trade union restrictions. There is great need. If that amount of shipping could be constructed in 1913 alongside that great construction of war vessels, I think there is every encouragement for the Government in carrying on the policy which to-day the First Lord has announced, that there is to be a devotion to only practically those types of ships of war which are engaged in directly combating the submarine, and that an enormous effort is to be made in regard to the building of merchant ships. In the first place, if we were not going to overcome the submarine menace, which I am perfectly certain we shall do—because we must!—I think the House and the country will realise that if the submarine is not vanquished it is practically the end of the British Empire. The submarine in the bands of even a smaller Power could be carried to such an extent that it might mean a vital blow at a country. If the War were going on indefinitely one would not advocate the suggestion of the provision of what may be termed palliatives. The building up of what is being knocked down might not indeed be the soundest of policies. As, however, this War is not going on indefinitely, as it is quite evident that our enemies are making a supreme effort, that they have set a period of time to endeavour to snatch a result, then it seems to me that the wise policy is that which the First Lord announced as the policy of the Government.
We hear figures given of the ships ordered. Ships ordered are no use as compared with the figures of ships actually launched, and not only launched, but engined and ready for sea. A few months ago we know there were a large number of ships in the water. They were useless because they were without engines. This is largely a question of labour. I would like to urge very strongly upon the united forces of the Admiralty and the Shipping Controller to see to it that in this struggle which must go on on this labour question that the country does not suffer; men skilled in shipbuilding and engine-building should be brought to meet the need with which we are confronted. I only want to say one word about organisation. I 1410 would like to ask this question, and in that I concentrate all I wish to say on the subject. In the endeavour to use the tonnage which is employed by the Admiralty in various parts of the world has it been found possible to make use of civilians who are accustomed to shipping problems at the various points where shipping is being used? If that is so, it will be interesting to know to what extent civilians have been made use of in that connection, and how much further they propose to extend that policy.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman who, I understand, is going to reply will not give us to-night an assurance that if everybody pulls together, everything will be well, that we are to be patient and not too critical, that everybody has an excellent intention, and everybody's motives are good. The other night the right hon. Gentleman was using language of that kind when a reference was made to any possible dispute that mignt arise between the Shipping Controller and the Admiralty. I do not for a moment suggest there is any likelihood of any dispute between those two Departments that has any unworthy motive or personal consideration. The Board of Admiralty, the War Office, the Food Controller and other Departments are each of them, no doubt, trying to do their own job as thoroughly as possible in the interests of the country, and in that work there are from time to time possibilities of friction taking place. What I ask is that when such disputes occur—not of an unfriendly character, but of a perfectly natural character — the Government, who, after all, are the final arbiter in all these questions, should regard this question of mercantile marine as of supreme importance, and that the basis of success in this War is that nothing shall be allowed to interfere with the mercantile marine as support for the Navy, as support for the Army, as support for the life of this country and of the whole Allied cause. If the Government, in their decision with regard to disputes, which are almost inevitable between various Departments, will take that course, then I think the result of the War will be certain.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to second the Amendment. I think it is remarkable that almost the whole of the First Lord's very able speech, in which he explained the present maritime position of the country, and a very large part of the able, and, as I think, the 1411 very helpful speech, of the right hon. Member for Dundee, were occupied with the functions and the relationship to the needs of the country of the mercantile marine. It is certainly something quite new to me, and a source of satisfaction that we should now see the Admiralty fully appreciate the fact that the mercantile marine is playing a part in this War which is absolutely interlocked with the part that is played by the Navy, and even is essential to carrying on the War on land, as well as that the ordinary duty of the mercantile marine of feeding the civilian population which in time of war becomes in effect one of the functions that is necessary in order to carry on the War at all. The First Lord of the Admiralty pointed out very clearly, I think, that the submarine has altered the relationship altogether in two respects of the Navy and the merchant service. The first is that the merchant service now no longer has, as in the past century, completely to depend upon the Navy for protection. It has got to be armed in order to protect itself, in which we revert to the very ancient history of the merchant service in the very beginnings of the Navy; and, in the second place, modern war on land and sea has shown, at any rate, that a country like ours cannot possibly carry on war without having the mercantile marine to transport the troops, to transport munitions of war, to feed the civilian population, and to act as auxiliaries for the Navy to the gigantic extent they have. It shows the justification for the hon. Member for Morley in moving the Resolution that is before the House. The purpose of his Motion is to call attention to the necessity for the protection, maintenance, and organisation of the mercantile marine as being vital to national life and to the successful prosecution of the War. I think the hon. Member made a very good case himself, and I want, in seconding his Motion, to take up from a rather different point of view the arguments he addressed to the House.
I think it is quite clear that the course of this War shows that the whole position of the mercantile marine, and particularly its relation to the Admiralty, has got to be reviewed, and will probably have to be completely altered. There is no question that the Navy itself is founded upon a successful and a great mercantile marine. We find in the War, as the hon. Member for Morley has said, 65 per cent, of our 1412 merchant tonnage taken up for one purpose or another directly connected with the War by the Admiralty, and that seems to me to show that we should have been wise if we had carried our preparations in that direction far further than we did, so that the Admiralty had had control to a large extent of the whole merchant tonnage, and to a large extent also a say in the actual construction of that merchant tonnage, so that, in the event of war, they could allocate every class of ship to its proper war station, including all the various functions that have been performed by the merchant service in the present War. If it is necessary to supply 65 per cent, of the merchant tonnage, it is quite clear that if these vessels had been constructed, to some extent, with a view to their use in war, and all had been allocated to their proper station in time of war, we should have been in a far better state of preparation. On Thursday last the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), speaking in this House, dealt with the question of an Admiralty Regulation which precluded officers of alien birth being employed during war on merchant ships, on account of the necessary secret instructions that have to be given. He said:People who are not in a position to offer as good terms to their servants must necessarily go short, because the scarcity of officers in the mercantile marine is now so great that vessels to-day, as a result of this rule, are sailing inefficiently manned"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th February, 1917, col. 886].I was very much struck by that remark at the time it was made. It seemed to me an extraordinary position to take up on the part of any shipowner that these men are merely the servants of the shipowner in the carrying out of their duty, just as if shipping was an ordinary trade, and had no special relation to the War we are prosecuting. His Majesty evidently takes a very different view, because, in addressing to the Imperial Merchant Service Guild a letter of appreciation about a year ago, through Lord Stamfordham, he spoke of the merchant service, and what it had done during the War, as his merchant service, and even one of these servants of the shipowners is actually aide-decamp to His Majesty at the present moment.
It is, therefore, quite clear that there-is a special relation between the nation, as a whole, and the merchant service, the men of which are risking their lives every day, and who, in the eloquent words of 1413 the First Lord, "take their lives in their hands every day, in order to protect and serve their country." I was glad to hear the First Lord say that, and I think it will be a great satisfaction to the officers and men of the merchant service to feel that the Admiralty, at all events, do not regard them as merely the servants of the shipowner, which is the view of the hon. Member for Hexham. It would be easy to show that the merchant service has grown up by the direct action of the State—by protection in another sense, perhaps, than the one in which the hon. Member for Morley has used in his Motion. It is founded—and, indeed, the Navy is founded, as it arises from and through the merchant service—upon the Navigation Laws passed in the time of the Commonwealth. Then we had absolutely no merchant service worth talking about at all. The Dutch had swept the seas, and we consequently had no naval power. It only gradually grew up until the time of the Repeal of the Navigation Laws in 1819, when we owned 44 per cent. of the merchant marine of the world. Before the outbreak of the War our percentage was very much lower than that.
I want to call the attention of the House to the old policy underlying those laws, which I think is absolutely sound, although no doubt in any re-enactment of them at the present time they would have to be modified for the twentieth century. There are two principles enshrined in the navigation laws as then passed, one of which is that goods produced overseas should be carried in vessels "onely such as do truly and without fraud belong onely to the people of this commonwealth" and the other is that "masters and mariners are for the most part people of this commonwealth." That has a very direct bearing on this War. I want to show the First Lord that, owing to the Admiralty never having had the close connection it ought to have over the merchant service, the question of manning and officering—officering is now engaging their attention—has operated in a very curious way during this War. When the German raider the "Moewe" was out about a year ago, she sunk a great number of our vessels, among others, a collier named the "Corbridge." The "Moewe," being not only short of coal, but of men, the commander examined the men found on the "Corbridge," and ascertained that they were getting £8 a month from the owners. 1414 He offered £10 a month to any who would volunteer for the German service, and proceed to sink more vessels under the British flag. He got a very good response. His staff was increased by eight men from that collier. Four were Greeks, one was a Spaniard, two were Norwegians, and one was a Swede.
The ownership of the vessel itself is almost as important a matter. We know that the whole of our law, quite apart from the Navigation Law, has always been that merchant ships under the British flag should belong to Great Britain, but the company law has rendered that inoperative, because now we find not only ships entitled to fly the British flag, but whole lines of steamships owned by the enemies of this country are entitled to fly the British flag because some half a dozen people in this country have become incorporated as a company, although nearly the whole of the capital may be owned in Berlin. Those are two subjects relating directly to the question of these men, and they are concerned with the protection and the organisation of the merchant service.
I want to ask, in view of the teaching of this War, that the Admiralty should very carefully consider and make preparations in advance establishing the relationship of the merchant service with the Admiralty. The First Lord in his speech referred to an answer which he gave me in December, which was of the very greatest importance with regard to the rights of arming merchant vessels. I would like to say that the whole conception of a merchant vessel having to protect itself and its cargo and crew by its own action as an armed vessel shows quite clearly that the Admiralty cannot be uninterested in this question or unconnected with it. We know that no private individual is entitled on his own motion to provide his own guns and gunners to fight when this country is at war. That must be the act of the Government, and the First Lord's words are so important that I should like to quote a portion of his answer fully. It is as follows:Our position is perfectly clear—that a merchant seaman enjoys the immemorial right of defending his vessel against attack, or visit or search by the enemy, by any means in his power, but that he must not seek out an enemy in order to attack him, that being a function reserved to commissioned men-of-war. So far as I am aware, all neutral Powers, without exception, have taken the same view with regard to this question, which is clearly indicated in the Prize Regulations of the Germans themselves.1415 No more satisfactory statement could possibly have been made, and I should like to ask, now, whether the First Lord agrees with what appears to arise out of that answer, and it is this: According to the law of nations, merchant vessels are entitled to defend themselves against attack, but if they do so they are clearly committing a belligerent act, and have all the rights and privileges and responsibilities attaching to it. If merchant officers are given Royal Naval Reserve commissions, and a uniform which is recognised by the State, they are not necessarily part of the combatant forces of the Crown at all on account of that. They are not mobilised, they are not part of the Navy, they are not doing naval work, and they are not engaged in seeking out the enemy's ships, and are not in the full sense belligerent. These men continue as mercantile officers, although potentially they may be combatants. When all ships of war operated on the surface the rule was that if a naval vessel hoisted a signal or fired a shot across the bow and called upon a merchant vessel to stop, she must do so and submit to the right of search, or decide to defend herself.
Since the right hon. Gentleman answered my question Germany has announced to the whole world that she proposes to sink at sight not only our vessels, but the merchant vessels of all neutral countries when they are found within what she calls the blockaded area, and she has given notice to every merchant ship that they are liable to attack, and therefore every merchant ship captain is entitled without further notice, whenever he meets a submarine, to take any steps he can to avoid that attack, due notice of which has already been given. If that is so, what is the difference in the German position between the case of Captain Blaikie, of the steamship "Caledonia" and Captain Fryatt, of the steamship "Brussels"? In the case of Captain Fryatt the Germans claim that he had no right as a civilian to take any steps to protect his vessel, and they murdered him after a mock trial. In the case of Captain Blaikie they took a different course, and they said that they had reason to suppose that he was on an armed ship, and consequently he was a belligerent, and on that account they said they were not going to shoot him. They made that announcement just before they announced their policy of sinking every merchant vessel on sight. The connection 1416 between this and the line of argument they took is obvious. They wished to justify what they intended to announce by saying that they were going to regard all merchant ships as belligerent ships. We really come to this position, that a merchant vessel, whether armed or not up to the moment she opens fire, is entitled to all the privileges of a civilian trader. If she attacks a submarine, then she is entitled to all the privileges of a belligerent. I think that brings the connection between the marine service and the Navy more clearly forward even than it was before.
I would like to emphasise one thing which was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill). He pointed out that it was of enormous importance that all these merchant vessels which were to replace the lost tonnage should be provided with engines, so that they will be able to go at a speed exceeding the submerged submarine. I have been told by a great many captains that they consider they are inadequately armed by this gun only on the stern, but I know from Admiral Jellicoe himself, and I am not going to dispute his view, that that is considered to be the proper place to arm any ship for defence against the submarine, because if she is going away from the submarine she offers the smallest target, and at the stern she has the best gun platform and the best means of using her gun effectively. But surely the whole question is at what speed can the vessel go. I have seen letters from captains of merchant vessels which have been attacked where the submarine travelling on the surface has travelled at a greater speed than the vessel she is attacking, and consequently the submarine has been able to play with the merchant vessel being pursued as long as it pleased her to keep out of the range of the gun on the stern, and she has been able to plant her shots anywhere she likes on the merchant vessel. The question of the speed of the vessels you are about to construct now is vital to this question. A submarine can now go at 20 knots on the surface and only 12 knots submerged. I think if you give the captain of a merchant vessel a good gun mounted on the stern, and a vessel that can travel fifteen knots an hour, he will give a good account of himself, and we shall have no more grumbling about having guns in the bow as well.
I want to put four or five different points quite shortly, which I think show that the Admiralty must exercise a much 1417 closer control over the merchant service in the future than they have done in the past. The first is that in the designing of merchant vessels they should provide for their possible employment in one or other of the numerous subsidiary services in case of war. They should also be able to use a sufficient number of vessels of the mercantile marine which they think would be of the greatest possible use in case of war. All vessels which are to be provided with armaments clearly ought to be to some extent designed by the Admiralty as far as the gun platform is concerned, and there should be the necessary stiffening to make them effective vessels to use the guns which they intend to mount upon them. With regard to personnel of the merchant service, the First Lord told us to-day that in this Token Estimate he is asking for 400,000 men. He mentioned the growth of the naval personnel since the beginning of the War. We know that is made up to a large extent by drawing from the men and officers of the marine service. The Merchant Service Guild, with which I am connected, had many months ago obtained for the Admiralty over 2,000 officers to take commissions and do combatant work in connection with the Navy. Therefore, I say that the whole of the personnel of the merchant service is very much concerned with the Admiralty. That is what is going to affect the Navy in time of war, and in that way you can extend the Royal Naval Reserve and give them the necessary training. I consider that the entire registry of the British Mercantile Marine should be under the review of the Admiralty. If the Admiralty had a say in this matter, as they ought to have, I am quite sure they will be very careful about the rules which permit the employment of aliens, both as officers and men, in the merchant service, because you cannot draw from the miscellaneous lot of men I have decribed for any purpose in the Navy because you could not depend upon them in time of war.
There are just two or three detailed points I want to put before the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty in regard to which, perhaps, he will be able to give me an answer. Both in this House and elsewhere he has never withheld his meed of praise for what the merchant service has done. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Morley (Mr. France), that in some cases I have no doubt that Admiralty instructions have not been followed as they ought to have been, 1418 and I assure the First Lord that I shall do everything I can, when I meet the members of the Merchant Service Guild, to lay before the merchant officers what has been said, and do all I can to impress it upon them. If the Admiralty would like to send somebody down to meet those men, I think it would be a good thing if they would do so, because then they would give this information with more authority. I frankly admit that it is very nice to hear these words of praise. There are a few little points, some of them rather important, with regard to which the merchant service officer does not feel that he is quite fairly treated. I would like, first, to refer to the question of discipline on board the vessels which are employed by the Admiralty. I believe it is a fact that the Naval Discipline Act is being gradually extended. In the early days of the War, in October, 1914, a memorial was sent to the Admiralty by no less than fifty-three officers commanding transports, saying, in fact, that they could not be responsible for the safety of the troops entrusted to them unless they were given the powers of the Naval Discipline Act, so that they might exercise some control. The Central Liquor Control Board had done a good deal by limiting the opportunity for drinking at the ports, but there is still a great deal to be done, and I should like to hear at any rate with regard to these very important vessels that the powers which are conferred on the Admiralty under the Naval Discipline Act are being more widely used. Then there are the Regulations issued by the late Board with regard to the uniform of officers in the merchant service. That caused an immense amount of heart-burning and bad feeling, and I am very glad that those Regulations have been withdrawn. I will quote a line or two of what one officer says:The Admiralty must know what discipline means. They also know the extreme difficulty there is in preserving discipline in the merchant service. Therefore, we feel that if due consideration were given to the matter they would remove the recent Regulations which are entirely subversive of discipline on board merchant ships.I believe that to-day a conference has taken place between representatives of the shipowners and of the association of the officers concerned, and I most sincerely hope that under the wise guidance of the Admiralty they will thrash out this question and agree upon some uniform which will not be regarded merely as the livery of the owner of the ship and worn 1419 in that capacity, but which will be regarded as a mark of distinction and as something which will show that these men have a definite part in the national organisation for the protection of their country in time of war. I want the right hon. Gentleman to reply on the question of seniority as between officers of the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He answered a question of mine a month or two ago, but the answer does not seem to have been fully understood. He told me that officers of the Royal Naval Reserve would never take precedence of officers of the Royal Navy, but it is not quite clear whether sub-lieutenants in the Navy take command over a lieutenant-commander of the Royal Naval Reserve. I would like to call attention to an extract from a letter which I have put before the Fourth Sea Lord, sent by a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Reserve who won the D.S.O. some time ago, and who is very bitter on the point:Shortly before I left my last ship I had to submit to the orders of a supplementary lieutenant of the Royal Navy, who was a second officer in a liner when appointed R.N, three years ago, and who had been in his first command only three months. I had then been a destroyer commander over one year.I do not think that can possibly be the intention of the Admiralty in carrying out the Regulation. Another officer says that the right hon. Gentleman's answer to me is not satisfactory:He says that a lieutenant-commander of the Royal Naval Reserve cannot take command over a lieutenant of the Royal Navy, but at the same time he says that the relative rank of lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Reserve is senior to lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Now the question is: Can a lieutenant in the Royal Navy take command over his senior in rank, i.e., lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Reserve?I should like to know exactly how the matter stands and whether any fresh Regulations have been issued. A good many of these men who are lieutenant-commanders of the Royal Naval Reserve were commanders of very big liners before the War. They have done their regular Reserve training from time to time, and they have now been in command of a destroyer for a year or more. It is not a satisfactory state of affairs, and has no parallel in the Army that their junior officers, who may have been their juniors in the merchant service before the War and who are now supplementary Royal Navy lieutenants, are to take command over them. There is also the question of discharge from hospital in cases of sickness 1420 where the medical authorities do not consider the disease has been entirely caused by the War. I have called attention to one case of pleurisy, in which the man says:I can swear on oath that pleurisy or anything like it has ever troubled me in my life. Moreover, I was passed as fit and sound by the naval medical officer at the Admiralty.Under the Regulations a man in such a case gets a week's notice and a week's pay. This man very properly writes:This comes mighty hard on me, having no pay for just on three months now. How is one to exist and keep a family? I left a life's berth to go to this, and then some people wonder why there are slackers about.I hold no special brief for the shipowners, as I fancy the House will have gathered, but I am quite sure that there: is no shipowner who would treat an officer who is suffering from an illness like pleurisy in such a way, giving him a week's pay and saying that they have no further liability whatever. Even when it is more than doubtful that the illness was caused by the War there is this Regulation:The grant is made entirely without prejudice, and implies no liability on the part of the State towards the officer.I do not think those Regulations are quite conceived in the spirit one would expect in a time of war and in respect of men who are performing the service that these men are performing to the State. The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to the hardships of the crews of these vessels which are sunk and who, after exposure in boats, finally arrive on shore frozen and dead owing to the terrible weather that we have had. Surely men who keep on stoking m the stoke-hole, working the engines, knowing that any moment a torpedo may blow them to eternity, surely men who have to take to boats and are finally frozen to death are worthy of a special mention. We know that the Naval and Army casualties are recorded. It is perhaps poor consolation to the families to see their names mentioned, but surely these men are just as worthy of the necessary space in the public print for the authoritative announcement that they are casualties and that their death has occurred whilst defending and serving their country just as much as the men in the Royal Navy and the Army. The right hon. Gentleman said that some of them are published, but they are not published in such a way that anybody can see them. The Admiralty recognise that they have just as much claim on their country as any man in the Army or Navy, and I hope that it will be done. I hope that what I 1421 have said with regard to a closer union between the Admiralty and the merchant service will at any rate be considered. I should like the Admiralty to take the view that agriculture and the great transport trade are really pillars of the State with the Navy, and that the mercantile marine is as intimately connected with the Navy as it is certain that the Navy has grown out of the merchant service in the past. The conditions which have arisen out of the present war show that there must be a far closer connection between the two in the future, and that the Admiralty are going to take some responsibility for the design of vessels, for the allocation of vessels, and for the personnel of the officers and crews.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
There were a number of interesting suggestions made after the First Lord's speech, and before the Amendment was moved by my hon. Friend, that shall certainly be represented in the proper quarter; but, under the Rules of the House, I am restricted now to the point which has been raised by the Amendment. The First Lord's statement earlier in the day showed how emphatically is the acceptance of the earlier part of the Amendment that the protection, maintenance, and organisation of the mercantile marine are vital to national life and to the successful prosecution of the War." There cannot be any two opinions about it. We are all in agreement there. With regard to the latter part of the Amendment, "that there should be more frankness and consistency in the statements of the Government" respecting this matter, I think it was met in anticipation as regards frankness by the speech of the First Lord. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) went so far as to say that it was one of the frankest speeches he had ever heard on such an occasion, and I am sure it will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. France). No doubt that frankness will be marked as time goes on with complete consistency. With regard to our mercantile marine losses, my hon. Friend will have heard the announcement of the First Lord in introducing the Estimate as to the statements to be published. My right hon. Friend is not sure whether it will be possible to publish a statement day by day, but at any rate it will be published at the shortest 1422 possible intervals, and I am quite sure that not only my hon. Friend, but the whole House and the country will be perfectly satisfied with the statement which the First Lord made on the publication of losses in the mercantile marine. My hon. Friend referred to the question of convoying. That is a naval question, as to the expediency and practicability of which I do not think ho was quite prepared to dogmatise. I am certainly not, but his views shall be placed before the proper authorities.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes; it is on the question of the policy of preparation. The hon. Member's views shall be placed before the proper authority. My hon. Friend asked questions: in respect of the Anti-Submarine Department. He inquired if that Department was expected to wait on the Board of Inventions and Research, r if, supposing it had something before it the development of which promised good results, it could go ahead. Of course it can go ahead, and, if it so desires, it can go to the Board of Research, but there is no necessity for it to wait until that Board takes action. My hon. Friend also inquired whether it had been found possible to employ civilian transport officers. It has not been found so possible, and there are weighty Service reasons against doing it. But a large number of the transport officers are Royal Naval Reserve officers with a lifelong experience of the loading of commercial ships and the general working of ships in port, and they are, in their capacity of transport officers, in the actual control of ship-loading. Further than that, a number of these transport officers have civilian assistants to help them in the discharge of their duties. Expert civilian advisers visit the ports, and any suggestions they may make are at once taken up, and, if they are found practicable and useful, acted upon. Then we have a number of civilian experts at the centre, the Transport Department, and that number is constantly growing. My hon. Friend was quite right in laying great stress upon the relations between the shipyards and shipyard labour and this problem. Apart from the Allied problems of restriction of imports, the restriction of consumption, and the development of home produce, the answer to the submarine menace lies in the shipyards and in the marine engineering shops. The Admiralty 1423 has at present in each shipbuilding district an admiral and a staff, and under him of experts in the labour problem in connection with shipbuilding and repairs. And, again, in the shipyards we have technical officers not merely superintending Admiralty work, but also assisting in the development of commercial work. Now we have the great advantage at the centre of the whole-time services of Mr. Lynden Macassey, and all these agencies are developing all possible co-ordination at the centre between the several departments and branches, and in the locality in the direction of securing wherever possible better organisation in the yards, so that the whole-time capacity of every skilled man shall be fully occupied, and so, too, that there may be greater mobility of labour, more dilution, and the frank setting aside of demarcation rules, and of any rule which seems to lend itself to a reduction of output below the maximum.
I think we must look for a substantial acceleration in the output of merchant tonnage of the right sort, and at the same time all possible expedition in the matter of repairs and new construction. I repeat that, apart from the allied problems to which I have referred the answer to the submarine menace is in the shipyard and the marine engineering shops and the boiler shops. I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend say what he did on this point. Under Mr. Macassey's direction, and with the assistance of other gentlemen and the close co-operation of the Minister of Labour, the Board of Trade, the Labour Exchanges, and the Shipping Controller, the answer I have given is the only one that can be given. With regard to the points raised by the Seconder of the Amendment I will now say a few words. The hon. Member spoke of the question of discipline on board merchant vessels employed by the Admiralty. He knows the crews of certain auxiliaries and armed merchant cruisers and transports sign on under the terms of T 124. The period of engagement is the duration of the War and the officers and men who sign on under T 124 are subject to the same discipline as naval officers and men. Therefore, as far as they are concerned the crews of certain auxiliaries, armed merchant cruisers, and certain transports no question arises in connection with the contention he has put forward. There are certain other cases in 1424 which men remain in the service of the-owner. In those cases there is a clause embodied in the Board of Trade articles which puts them under naval discipline, and no question again arises as to them. There remain still other crews of transports engaged in the naval and military service who sign under the ordinary Board of Trade articles. They represent the great majority. If they sign for foreign service they sign for the voyage, but if for home service they sign until the 30th June or the 31st December, which are the dates, as the hon. Member-knows, on which these agreements are signed. These crews are not under naval discipline. They are under discipline as laid down under the Merchant Shipping Acts. As my hon. Friend knows, since the War began these provisions have been modified and strengthened by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act. I have no doubt he knows the extent to which they have been modified. That is the whole story as regards discipline in the various crafts and of the various services.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
There are cases-where they are not working either under T 124 or the Board of Trade Articles, and they are being brought under the Naval Discipline Act generally.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am afraid I cannot submit myself to cross-examination upon the point. I recognise my hon. Friend's point of view; indeed, he has raised it many times; but I have now-stated the exact position. With regard to uniforms for these officers, as my hon. Friend knows, we are going into this, matter pretty closely with the owners of the vessels and with the Board of Trade; in fact, we had a conference to-day between the various parties. It is generally agreed that there shall be a standard uniform not to be compulsory. The details will be worked out by a Board of Trade Committee, including representatives of the Admiralty, owners, and officers. Any company that requires their officers to wear a uniform must adopt the standard uniform, and any company which wishes to retain its own emblem may put that emblem on the standard uniform. I cannot take my hon. Friend any further than that, 1425 I have given him the result of to-day's proceedings. If there is any further question he desires to put to me, and if he will indicate it. I will try to elaborate the point. As regards the relative seniority of Royal Naval officers, Royal Naval Reserve officers, and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers, I may tell him that officers of the Royal Naval Reserve rank with, but after, officers of equivalent rank in the Royal Navy, but lieutenant-commanders of the Royal Naval Reserve rank after all lieutenants in the Royal Navy for purposes of command, the reason being that, before 1914, there was no such rank as lieutenant-commander. A lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Reserve ranks below a lieutenant of the Royal Navy for this purpose. The hon. Member put the case of the sub-lieutenant. I can say nothing about that beyond that I will make inquiries. Officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve rank after officers of corresponding rank in the Royal Naval Reserve. In the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve an officer has no right of command at all outside the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve unless ordered to take such command by superior authority. That is the whole story, but if my hon. Friend wishes for further elucidation and will communicate with me I shall be glad to see what I can do for him. He also referred to the question of hospital treatment and sick pay of officers in the mercantile marine engaged in the Royal Naval Reserve or on transport work for the naval or military services under Admiralty authority.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The facts are as follows: Officers of merchant shipping in Admiralty employment under naval discipline T124, or under the modified Board of Trade articles, are granted ninety-one days full pay sick leave where the injury or disability is attributable to the Service. It is now proposed to extend that and to give these officers also ninety-one days full pay sick leave where the injury or disability, though not originally attributable to the Service, has been aggravated by it. That is an extension which follows the extension granted with regard to the treatment of men in the services in connection with disability pensions and allowances. If at the end of that time they do not return to the Service their claim for any further compensation will fall to be dealt with under the Injuries in War 1426 Compensation Act. That applies alike to officers and men in the mercantile marine serving on ships under Admiralty authority, and they will get benefit according to their rank and pay, the degree of disablement, and the incapacity resulting therefrom.
On the same point, although my hon. Friend did not refer to it, I should like to deal with it as regards the men. I make no apology whatever for doing that, because these men deserve every consideration at our hands. I would refer to the matter because there was apparently some misunderstanding about it. As regards the men who serve under similar conditions to T 124—that is to say, under Admiralty authority and under naval discipline, engaged in naval or military service, if a man falls sick he is, of course, treated on board ship, or, if he is landed, he is sent to a naval or other hospital, assuming that the sickness is through no fault of his own. There he is treated free of expense, with pay until he returns to duty. Then comes his claim, if any, under the Injuries in War Compensation Act. We have to consider at that point whether it is a disability that is attributable to service, and, in such a case, he is eligible for injury pension, varying from two-thirds of his peace pay in respect of total disablement downwards, according to the degree of impairment of earning capacity. I cannot refer to that without recalling to the hon. Gentleman that the pay is certainly higher than is the corresponding service pay. The dependants of the man are likewise eligible for pensions and allowances in the event of death of a man from similar causes. The widow's pension is calculated at one-third of the man's peace pay, or 10s. a week, whichever be the greater. The child's allowance is one-twenty-fourth of the peace pay, or 2s. 6d. a week, whichever is greater. The allowance to other dependants varies with the degree of dependence. In the case of ships engaged in naval and military service, although not in the direct employment of the Crown, there are precisely similar arrangements under the War Risks Clubs scheme, except that the men or the dependants are eligible in that case, in the first instance, to benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and the benefits thus received are deductible from those payable under the War Risks Clubs scheme. My hon. Friend also-pointed out that when men have given 1427 their lives, as they have done in such heroic circumstances it sometimes happens that there is no notification of that, and their relatives have not the satisfaction of seeing that their services are recognised in the roll of honour, the Casualty List. As I said earlier, either in reply to a question or by way of interruption, in all cases where the names of officers or men of the merchant ships in Admiralty employ are known to the Admiralty, those names are published in the casualty lists.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That is so. The difficulty is that in regard to many of the merchant ships in our employment we have no cognisance of the names of the officers and crews, because they are paid not by us, but by the owner. We ultimately foot the bill for the hire of the ship and the claims of the crew, but we do not get the names.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
If we receive them we shall certainly publish them, as we have already done in the case of those we have received. I am not sure whether it would not be a good thing to make this intimation to the owners.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am quite sure I need scarcely mention that to my right hon. Friend the First Lord to secure his agreement to that step being taken, so that we should not miss the opportunity of paying whatever tribute is possible to the gallantry of these men. Finally, I should like to say that I associate myself most cordially with what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends as to the dauntless gallantry of the men of the merchant service and the men on the trawlers engaged in mine-sweeping and other operations. No tribute we could pay would overstate our debt of gratitude and our obligations to these men. My hon. Friend has interested himself many times in questions and in Debate in the matter of the recognition of their services. I cannot carry the matter further now than the answer I gave on the 17th February last year in reply to a question put by him and my hon. Friend the Mem- 1428 ber for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman) which, perhaps, I may be allowed to read:The Board of Admiralty cordially associates itself with the tribute which my hon. Friends have paid in their questions to the services rendered in the one case by the Channel packets and in the other by the ships serving as Fleet auxiliaries and requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service. I gladly take this opportunity also of acknowledging the inestimable value to the Empire of the services rendered by the mercantile marine generally. I need hardly assure the House that these services will be adequately recognised at the proper time." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1916, col. 220, Vol. LXXX.]
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I assume it will be at the close of hostilities. I would appeal to the Mover of the Amendment to allow it to be technically negatived. Then we shall be in a position to carry the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair, and, if the House desire, we can proceed in Committee with the general discussion on Vote 1.
§ Mr. FRANCE
If I agree to that course, may I understand that the Government and the Admiralty accept the principle of the Motion?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I accept the earlier part, certainly. No one can take objection to the declarationThat … the protection, maintenance and organisation of the Mercantile Marine are vital to national life and to the successful prosecution of the War.There is no need to dispute that. As regards the latter part, I think I have answered that.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot carry it further than I have done. I have explained how the position stands, and how far we have gone in connection with a standard uniform, if the Mover allows his Motion to be technically negatived, we shall be in a position to resume the general discussion on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.