That a sum, not exceeding £597,203, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will coma in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Shipping.
Motion made, and Question proposed,.
That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In reference to this matter, I should like to get some information from the hon. and gallant Member(Colonel Leslie Wilson) who represents the Ministry of Shipping. Our shipping position at the present moment is unsatisfactory. Seven million tons of British shipping have been sunk, and it is essential that we should do our utmost and that the Government should help in every way to see that our shipping gets on its legs again and remains pre-eminent in the world among the shipping-of maritime nations. We must first and last of all depend on the sea. I hope that this will be realised, and that the Mercantile Marine will be recognised as an essential part of the strength of our Navy. The Ministry of Shipping is, I believe, in a transition stage. There are many in this country who feel that the Ministry ought to be kept on permanently in some form or other, possibly as the Ministry of Marine, for the better fostering and control of our Mercantile Marine. When the Estimates were last taken I believe that the matter was still sub judice, and I would like now to ask if any decision has been taken upon it?
Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL
I would like to impress upon my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wilson) the necessity of taking steps to expedite the building of the ships that were contracted for by the Government. My hon. and gallant Friend may say that the Government have got rid of their contracts. But I think that if the Government would take the matter in hand and get in touch with the builders and use the same persuasive powers that they used up to the time they passed over the contracts for those ships to other hands, it would help very much indeed, because everybody who has inquired into this subject of the shortage of shipping at the present time knows how traffic in all parts of the world is hung up. An enor- 105 mous amount of our tonnage has been used for the conveyance of troops and raw materials, with the result that an enormous quantity of stuff in many foreign ports, that was to have been exported, has been held up. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will look carefully into the matter and see if he cannot do something to expedite the placing of a large amount of tonnage on the water in the next few months. If he can do this it will be greatly appreciated by members of the shipping fraternity and by all the people of the country.
I desire to draw the attention of the Ministry of Shipping to the great shortage of shipping between England and Ireland at the present moment. There are three main lines of steamers. There is the line that carries the mails between Holyhead and Kings-town, there are the London and North-Western Railway's boats between Holyhead and the North Wall, and there is another route worked by the Great Western Railway between Fishguard in South Wales and Rosslare in the county of Wexford. All those lines had serious losses during the War. The Mail Packet Company lost two of their boats, the "Leinster'' last October and the "Connaught." The London and North-Western Company also had serious Josses. The Rosslare and Fishguard service, I think, lost all their boats except one, and at present they are only operating one boat. Then the House should remember that there is in Ireland at the present moment a fairly large garrison, and large numbers of soldiers, when they get their leave, are constantly crossing backwards and forwards between Ireland, England and Scotland. The result is a congestion, which is dangerous, on board the mail boats. I have not travelled recently on the Fishguard and Rosslare route. I have travelled recently only by the mail boats and the North Wall boats, and I wish I could put before the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wilson) exactly what happens on board those boats. They are so congested that in the first-class saloon you have officers lying on the floor because they cannot get anywhere else to lay their heads. In the second-class and third-class sections the same thing prevails even to a worse degree. There is hardly sitting-room even, and undoubtedly if there was any accident there would be great loss of life.
106 I know that the Ministry of Shipping cannot produce extra ships at once, but they might do something temporarily to relieve this great congestion. They might perhaps lend the Mail Packet Company a boat, or perhaps two boats. They might lend the London and North-Western Company a boat. At any rate, they might do something to get on its legs again the Fishguard and Rosslare service, which for a time was suspended altogether, and which is now a very bad service and is operating only one boat. The service from Fishguard to Rosslare used to be as good as that from Holyhead to Kingstown, but now in point of time it is very bad indeed. The journey from where. I live in the South of Ireland to London, viá Rosslare and Fishguard, which used to take two hours shorter than going round by Dublin, now takes nearly four hours longer. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman could do something which could set this Fishguard and Rosslare service going again with a full service of four boats it would relieve congestion greatly, because people like myself and others who live, say, in Tipperary, Waterford, or Cork, or other Southern Irish counties, instead of doing as they do now, travelling from Holyhead to Kingstown or Dublin and down to Cork, will resume their old pre-war habit of going from Paddington to Fishguard, and thence to Rosslare, and so on to Cork and these other places. I do not know what else the Ministry of Shipping could do to relieve congestion, but I think that they might try to co-ordinate to a much greater extent the services between Holyhead and Dublin with the service from Holyhead and Kingstown.
At present the mail starts from Euston at 8.20, and arrives at Kingstown the next morning somewhere about 6 o'clock, and there are trains to take passengers to all parts of Ireland, North, West, and South. Then about three-quarters of an hour later, somewhere about 9 o'clock, there is another train from Euston, which runs in connection with the North Wall boat, which arrives in Dublin about an hour and three-quarters after the mail arrives in Kingstown. If I travel by the boat which goes to the North Wall and arrives at, say, half-past eight, then I find myself stranded. I cannot get on to the South of Ireland except by waiting several hours in Dublin. The same applied to the traffic to the North and West of Ireland, and travellers, instead of arriving at their destination at one o'clock, arc hung up until 107 about six, seven, or eight o'clock in the evening, if they get any train at all. Would not it be possible to co-ordinate the service of these two lines to a much greater extent? Might we not have one boat departing at a certain hour, and the other boat a half or a quarter of an hour afterwards, with the result that there would not be this tremendous congestion by the two lines? If one boat was so full that it could not take any more passengers, then the passengers left behind would automatically go by the other boat. At present you arrive at Holyhead and cannot get on board a boat at all. Your boat is too full, and will not take you, and you were left in Holyhead for eight or nine hours. If we had a second boat going soon after the mail boat, the passengers left over from one boat could be taken on the other, and then, on arriving in Ireland, they would not miss their train to different parts of the country. I wrote to the manager of the London and North-Western Company in Dublin asking what he could do. He gave me courteous but cold comfort. He told me that there was very little possibility at present, with restricted shipping and great congestion of traffic, of doing very much; but it struck me, from the tone of his letter, that if he got perhaps a suggestion from the Ministry of Shipping as to the closer co-ordination of his line and that of the Mail Packet line, something might be done, and if something like this could be done to relieve the present congestion, discomfort, and danger of cross-channel traffic between England and Ireland it would be a great boon to the travelling public.
§ Mr. REMER
I desire to bring before the House the practice which has been in operation since the War began of British shippers insisting on freights being prepaid before goods leave port. This matter has been causing a great deal of inconvenience and trouble, and is of serious moment to the traders of this country. It is exercising a very bad influence upon the trade of the country generally. It is also having a bad influence on exchange. The question which arises obviously to one's mind is this: When traders buy goods for importation into this country they have to pay for them in actual credit over in America, with the result that freights have to go to America before the steamer leaves New York. As we are told that it is of very great moment that credit should not go to America more than is necessary, I 108 would like the Ministry of Shipping carefully to consider the making of a regulation whereby freights must not be paid in New York but must be paid, as was the practice in pre-war days, on the arrival of the goods in this country. The present practice came into operation during the War for the reason that, owing to the risk of a ship being lost through enemy action, they could insure their freights at a better rate.
§ Mr. HURD
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Shipping would, if I may say so, do a great service by making a statement bearing on the recent trouble amongst Canadian troops at the Witley and Epsom Camps. Those outbreaks have arisen, as I understand, because of a deep sense of grievance. These Canadian soldiers—nobody will doubt it—are amongst the most gallant men in the Empire. They have done splendid service, but here they are resting in these camps in comparative idleness from day to day, and are kept in this country while they see American troops: returning to their homes at a very much greater pace. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that the delay in the return to their home is due to the action of the Ministry of Shipping. If it is not so, I am sure the representative of the Ministry of Shipping will do a great service if he will say so and also if he will state what is the cause of the more rapid repatriation of the Americans. Between 11th June and 21st June no single Canadian got away. It is said to be due to labour strikes, but such difficulties do not seem to have impeded the return of the American troops. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman could make an explanation which would cover these points he would be helping to allay a great cause of unrest.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of SHIPPING (Colonel Leslie Wilson)
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that the Ministry of Shipping does not need to be reminded in any way of the very great importance that the Mercantle Marine has on the whole future progress of this country, and I can also inform him that we realise to the full that launchings are not taking place as rapidly as we had hoped. As I said when speaking on this Vote in Committee, it was anticipated that at the present rate of launching we should put into the sea this year only 109 1,000,000 tons. We hoped at the beginning of the year that we should launch at least 2,000,000 tons, but I cannot hold out any hope that we shall do so. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) suggested that the Ministry of Shipping should retain the contracts which they originally held. The Ministry does not hold any contracts now for any ships on the slips. It has disposed of all its contracts, and the only ships owned by the Government are ships actually in the water at the present moment.
Sir F. HALL
But the Ministry of Shipping had entered into contracts with builders for building standard ships which have since, by arrangement with another party, been taken over and distributed amongst various owners.
§ Colonel WILSON
That is quite correct. The Ministry has disposed of its contracts, and even if it held them I do not see that the launching of these ships would be hastened in any way. The reasons for the decrease in the number of anticipated launchings and for the existing shortage of tonnage—are numerous. In the first place, there has been a very large amount of delay in British and in foreign ports solely in consequence of labour troubles, with the necessary corollary that there has been severe congestion at the ports. Another reason undoubtedly has been the shortage of coal and the threatened coal strike had a very serious effect on the reconditioning of ships, because we had to prepare for any eventuality that might take place had such a strike occurred. Then, of course, there was the strike of ship repairers, which lasted for over two months. That seriously delayed the reconditioning of ships and also, naturally, stopped the ships which would have returned to their ordinary trade. Then there has been large military demands to be met, for Russia, for India; there has been the necessity to take a large amount of wheat to India and largely increased cereal demands for Europe. Those are only some of the reasons. The main reason, one of the main reasons, why there is not the necessary amount of tonnage on the sea apart from launchings is owing to the serious delays which have taken place in the various ship-repairing yards mainly because of the threatened coal strike and labour troubles in the yards.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull asked whether it was possible 110 to make any statement as to the formation of a Ministry of Marine. I am not in a position to make any statement. As he said, the Ministry of Shipping is in a transitional stage. What is to be the future control of the Mercantile Marine in this country is a question which has not been decided by the Government at the present time, and I am therefore not in a position to answer him on the point. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finchley (Major Newman) had alluded to a question which he knows well is causing a considerable amount of interest, and that is the question of the congestion on the Irish route. I may say the Ministry has done everything in its power in order to relieve this congestion. The hon. and gallant Member has put forward some very valuable suggestions, and I wish he had put them forward when I saw him at the Ministry. I will certainly convey these suggestions to my right hon. Friend the Controller of Shipping, and we will communicate them to the authorities in Ireland and endeavour to come to some such arrangement as ho suggests. At the same time I must say that while there is undoubtedly discomfort in travelling in Ireland, it is not, after all, any more discomfort than is being felt by practically everyone who travels on the sea at the present time. Those who have to travel to South Africa, to Australia and to India have to travel under conditions which they would have thought intolerable in pre-war days. That is simply the result of a great shortage of passsenger shipping and it is prevalent on every route throughout the world.
May I ask whether the House will be told something about the Fishguard-Rosslare route? is there any chance of its getting going again? If they got two services a day there would not be the congestion. Why is that route so neglected with only one ship running, and the Government making no effort to get the route into proper working condition?
§ Colonel WILSON
Every effort is being made, and we are very anxious to get the route into proper pre-war working order, as the congestion is mainly caused now because everyone will travel by the Holyhead and Kingstown route instead of going by the southern route. Even if they would use to the fullest extent that one ship on the Fishguard route it would considerably relieve the congestion. The hon. and gallant Member said you can do 111 something. What are we to do? He said, "Lend us some boats." Where are we to get the ships from? We have not spare passenger boats which we can put on any line where there is congestion. There is congestion everywhere. We have the same demands coming from the West of Scotland and from the North of Scotland. We are doing everything we can to return the ships to their proper and normal trade. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Hurd) for raising the question of the trouble which has occurred in the camps he indicated. I would like to inform the House that by the 30thof June no less than 87.2 per cent. of the Canadian troops will have embarked for Canada. I think it is only right for me to say also, on behalf of the Ministry I represent, that we have carried out, not only what we said we would carry out in regard to the repatriation of Canadian troops, but more than that. Certainly with regard to the last two or three months we have carried more troops than the Canadian authorities suggested that we should carry. I think I may say that we have met practically every request that has been put forward. There have been, it is true, certain delays in those particular days between 11th June and 21st June. They were delays which were due to labour troubles—small labour troubles such as that in connection with the tugboats, but all these things mean delay. We were behind our programme for this month on 11th June, but I am informed that by the end of June we shall have caught up the whole programme for the month, and shall have fulfilled all the requests made by the Canadian military authorities for that month. I am sure it is incorrect to say that the American troops are being repatriated at a greater rate than the Canadians.
§ Colonel WILSON
It is not correct. I know they are not being repatriated in British ships. We have repatriated 134,500 United States troops in British ships, whereas we shall have embarked by 30th June 238,000 Canadians—that is, 87.2 per cent. of the total number to be repatriated.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Colonel WILSON
No British ships have been used during the last two months for the repatriation of American 112 troops which the Canadians were willing to take. As my hon. Friend probably knows, there have been placed at the disposal of the Canadian troops the monster ships which were originally at the disposal of the Americans. The Ministry of Shipping was so anxious that there should be no delay in the repatriation of the Canadian troops that the placing of the monster ships at the disposal of the Canadian troops was done at a considerable risk, because Halifax is not a very suitable port for these large vessels to go into. It is really the very worst time of the year for those monster ships to approach Halifax and it has been done at considerable risk in order that there should be as rapid repatriation of Canadian troops as possible. The only other question was that raised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) as to freights being paid beforehand. That is a matter which rests between the shipowner and the man who is paying for the freight and is not. really a matter in which the Ministry has any authority whatever.
§ Colonel WILSON
I will bring the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the notice of the shipowners' representatives at the Ministry, and I am sure that they will realise its importance.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
With regard to the hon. and gallant Member's explanation as to the removal of some Canadian troops, I understood that they were suddenly told that they were not going by a ship which was to have been available. Like everybody else, they want to get home as quickly as possible, and that announcement gave rise to the trouble. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to put the whole blame of the shipping trouble on coal shortage, but I cannot say that I entirely agree with that explanation. I happened to be talking recently to a colliery proprietor, who informed me that there was a considerable surplus of bunker coal as there was not sufficient demand for it, and therefore it seems rather contradictory to say that all these troubles are due to coal shortage. I think the hon. and gallant Member will also have noticed that the Coal Controller withdrew the other day the prohibition on the export of coal from the Humber. 113 and the reply to an inquiry as to why that was done was that in the Yorkshire district there was a surplus of coal. I only bring this matter up to show that while it is very easy to throw on coal the whole blame—
§ Colonel WILSON
I said that one of the reasons why there was not sufficient tonnage was owing to the threatened coal strike.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
I understood the hon. and gallant Member to refer also to the question of coal trouble in preparing the ships as well. A great many of the statements brought forward by Ministers and generally in this House in regard to coal are not founded on fact. There is a fair quantity of coal, and there could be far more coal if the miners would only work properly.
§ Question put, and agreed to.