HC Deb 22 October 1919 vol 120 cc93-100

No alien shall be granted a certificate entitling him to act as skipper or second hand of a British fishing vessel.—[Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

I might point out that in the Bill itself there is a Clause preventing the employment of anyone but a British subject as master, chief engineer, or first officer of a British merchant vessel. This Amendment of mine is to apply the same thing in the case of fishing vessels. For the information of hon. Members who may not be familiar with the fishing industry I would point out that the skipper is, of course, the master of the boat, while the second hand is a misleading title, for he is second in command, and is on the same basis as the first officer or the chief engineer of a merchant vessel. The reason for moving this Amendment is twofold. The first reason is that the skipper, or second band, of a British fishing vessel has to have an intimate knowledge of the configuration of the coasts, the sand banks and currents, and the tidal features around these islands, and it will be obvious to the House that such a man would be a very valuable person to the enemy if hostile to us in the case of war. He would be in the position of a sort of super-pilot. In fact he might be more dangerous to us than a pilot, for whereas a pilot has only knowledge of one estuary or port or harbour, the skipper of a fishing vessel has a very wide knowledge of our seas and coasts.

The second reason is that these men are, I suppose, the most valuable reserves we can have for our Navy. They Lave been invaluable in the recent War as minesweepers. Without their aid we could not have kept our channels clear for the merchant shipping. They have been very valuable in connection with the submarine warfare owing to their special knowledge of the sea and coasts. Every foreigner employed in these responsible capacities in a British steam trawler is one highly-trained seaman less as a reserve for our Navy. As in the future we shall undoubtedly not be able to keep up so great a Navy we shall not have the need we had at the outbreak of the War. It is the more essential, therefore, that the reserves for the Navy should be a strong body. That reason, I think, will appeal to hon. Members. The Clause which I propose has strong support from the men's organisations. I have letters from the Association, of Merchant Service Officers and from the-Mercantile Marine Trawlers' Association which are the nautical trade unions of the fishermen. They feel very strongly indeed, on the matter. They feel that foreigners should not be in British trawlers, and they support this Clause unanimously. They ask me to point out, in case the Government brings in the plea that many foreigners at present in command of British trawlers have served in the War, that there might be made a loophole too, wide; for many of these men were paid a shilling per day and allowed to use uniform simply to safeguard them in case of capture. They went on fishing and earned a good deal of money by trawling, and they were not in any sense of the word assisting the Forces of the Crown. This should be borne in mind in case the Home Secretary may oppose a Clause of this kind.


I beg to second the Motion.

Not many words are necessary to be added; the Amendment would appear to me to be such a reasonable one. The feeling in this matter is very strong on the part of those who have been mentioned. I do not know what the objections are that can be raised to the Amendment. As regards the Trawler Owners' Federation in thy own Constituency, I am informed that they have no objection to the proposed Clause. The owners thus are apparently in favour of it, and the seamen too. If these two are in agreement it seems to me there should be no difficulty in securing the approval of the Government to the Amendment. It is important to-know that one of the main instruments with which we have been able to deal with the submarine menace in this War has been our trawlers, and the enormous importance of the skippers on our trawlers being Britishers must strike everyone who for a moment considers the thing. For the sake of ensuring the safety of this country against the submarine peril, and so that our harbours should not be subject to the intimate knowledge of foreigners, it is to me an elementary precaution that we should safeguard such a vital feature.


I hope the hon. Gentleman will not persist in this new Clause at this juncture of the Bill. It is proposed on Clause 5, dealing with merchant shipping, to deal with fishing vessels too, and when we come to that Clause hon. Members and myself are putting Amendments down to extend the purview of it. I have Amendments which on behalf of the Government I am going to ask the House to accept. The Government proposals will apply to fishing vessels as to ordinary merchant vessels—that is to say, the conditions will apply merely to the master or the skipper. There must be some provision to except those who may be aliens, who have fought for us, and have been engaged in mine-sweeping and other similar dangerous work during the War. What I would ask my hon. Friend opposite is not to persist in this Amendment at the present moment, but to raise the whole question when we come to deal with the Amendments to be raised on Clause 5.


I note with amazement the statement that the Government at a later stage propose to move Amendments. Why in the name of Parliamentary procedure have we not been given the opportunity to see these Amendments on the Order Paper? We have pressed again and again in this matter. This Bill left Committee on 17th July. Some 198 of us memorialised the Prime Minister to have this Bill brought on early in the Session, in order that we might have it sent to another place in time to be properly discussed. In answer to that the Bill was put down as the first business to-day. The Government have had ample time between 17th July and now to formulate their Amendments. They promised us two new Clauses. We have not been shown one of them; in fact, we have been treated as the Government have been in the habit of treating us, as subservient followers who will follow anywhere where they lead. That is producing a spirit of dangerous unrest in this party of Coalitionists, and I think I am safe in saying that a large number of us will no longer permit the Government to treat us as if we were mere cyphers. A hundred and thirty of us have just recorded our vote against the Government. We will vote against the Government every time on this Bill, and in favour of getting the Bill made what it ought to be—a measure of protection for the British. The idea of the Government coming down to the House and saying, "We are going to move Amendments presently—we have got sheaves of Amendments"—I believe that was the language—all of which have been carefully concealed throughout the whole of the Recess!If the Amendments could not, according to the Standing Orders, be placed upon the Table of the House because they were not given notice of in view of the House not sitting, these Amendments could at least have been courteously communicated to those of us who, the right hon. Gentleman knows, worked in Committee earnestly to try to amend the Bill. Surely it would have been the merest act of courtesy to have said to us, "You shall have a copy of the Amendments," or, at any rate, "Our Amendments are in this direction or the other." We have been kept absolutely in the dark!I believe I am entitled to say that up to last night the Government had not made up its mind as to what it was going to do. What a condition of things for a Government supported by so large a majority, elected very largely to pursue this very legislation!I protest as strongly as I possibly can do against the way the Government treat their followers, and I warn them, humble Member though I am, that it will involve them in many grave difficulties if they do not realise that we have some powers of self-determination in the way we shall vote in the Lobby.


I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether, in regard to these Amendments of which he has talked, it is intended that they should be proceeded with to-day if we come to the Clause? This Bill was looked forward to by the great bulk of this House, and I think by the country, as one promised over and over again during the War and at the termination of the War. I can hardly imagine that the proposals of my right hon. Friend have been in the slightest degree considered. As I understand it, they never were before the Committee upstairs, yet he proposes to ask the House to vote upon them and to carry them this evening. Anything more inconvenient I cannot possibly imagine. Why we have not been able to see the Amend- ments I do not know. It may be there is some technical difficulty in putting them upon the Order Paper by reason of the Adjournment of the House, but there need have been no difficulty in circulating them if the Government wanted to circulate them. For my own part, I hope the House will not submit without protest to treatment of this kind. It is impossible to understand the meaning of Amendments, and to what extent they carry us, without seeing them upon the Paper. I have been very long in this House, and I have tried over and over again to follow Amendments—it has been part of my business to make draft Amendments—but nothing can be more unsatisfactory than springing a series of Amendments upon the House without giving time to see how far they enlarge, cut down, or modify the particular Section of the Bill. I earnestly hope that, under the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman will at once produce these Amendments, and not proceed to the Clause on which they come until the House has had an opportunity of considering the effect of them.


I am much indebted to my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) for having expressed my views entirely upon this very important question, and if I had not regarded it as being so important I should not have added another word. We are at the commencement of the Autumn Session, and this is a matter of considerable importance, and we have now the first opportunity of expressing our view as to whether the House is going to regain mastery over its Procedure, or whether we are going to continue to submit to war conditions. If my hon. and gallant Friend withdraws his Amendment, of course it can be dealt with on Clause 5, but the House ought to know what these promised Amendments are, more particularly in view of the new Rules of Procedure. The mass of hon. Members know nothing whatever as regards what happens upstairs, and this is the first opportunity the House has had of understanding what the views of the Government are, and the views of those who discuss these matters upstairs. It is not treating the House fairly, and I hope the Government will take notice that the House of Commons intends to assert itself and recover its old command over the Procedure of the House.


I have received a strong request from the fishermen in my Con- stituency to support this proposal. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to accept it as an Amendment to Clause 5 I have nothing more to say, but I wish to put forward the strong felling of my Constituents in favour of this new Clause.


Those who are supporting this Clause are in this difficulty. The Government ask the hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) to withdraw his proposal in order that it may be taken on a later proposal, which I understand the Government are going to put down as an Amendment to Clause 5. What are we to discuss? The Government have not yet disclosed their Amendment. I think a protest should be made against the way the House is being treated in regard to Government Amendments to this Bill. During the Committee stage certain Amendments were passed against the Government and apparently the Government are now trying to get their own way. I think the House ought to form its own judgment, and we ought to have before us what the Government propose on Clause 5. On some of the other Clauses pledges have been given to put down now proposals, and those Amendments and new Clauses should be on the Paper. I suggest that when we come to any of the proposals of the Government which are not on the Paper the House should refuse to proceed, and we should insist on having the whole matter before us before we proceed further. With regard to the suggestion that this Clause should be withdrawn, that is a matter of procedure, and it will probably be more convenient to the House, but I hope we shall not consent to Clause 5 being whittled away by Amendments which are still in the pocket of the Minister.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to meet the convenience of the House, with regard to manuscript Amendments being brought forward on an important matter of this kind because it is absolutely impossible for hon. Members to follow them. It does not require many words to alter the whole sense of a Clause. It cannot be such a vital matter that the Report stage should be completed to-day. The Government can put their Amendments on the Paper to-night and they will appear to-morrow, and if my right hon. Friend would agree to the adjournment of this debate in order that we might have an opportunity of considering his proposals then we might go on with the measure to-morrow, and I am sure the general consensus of opinion of the House would be that that is the only fair way in which we should be treated. I hope my right hon. Friend will accept this suggestion.


I must apologise for not having been able to bring these Amendments after the completion of the Committee stage, and I have not had time to decide upon the Amendments before. It was quite impossible for me to do so on account of the Rules of the House during the recess, and therefore it was not my fault that they were not put down on the Paper. The other complaint is that I did not choose a certain number of hon. Members and supply them with private information in regard to these Amendments, which I confess did not occur to me, or I should have been extremely glad to have done so. With regard to the request that hon. Members should see those Amendments, that is essential. It is clear that we cannot finish the Report stage to-night, and the first Amendment I should have to propose would be to Clause 4. I wish to show the House that it does not matter much whether they see the Amendments or not to-night because we are accepting the Clause as it stands subject to this, that we have an agreement with France embodied in the Statute Act of 1913, and therefore we simply propose to put into the Clause words safeguarding the provisions of the Act of 1913, and subject to that, Clause 4 Would stand as it is.

Then comes Clause 5, which I agree is a, more serious matter, and after having gone as carefully into it as we could our intention is to move to eliminate the words "chief officer" and "chief engineer," and to oppose my hon. Friend opposite. So far as the Government is concerned with what is already on the Paper, we propose to go through' the new Clauses and the Amendments to Clause 4, which we could do without any inconvenience to the House, and hon. Members will have an opportunity to-morrow of seeing what our Amendments are, and then, of course, if more time is necessary the question can be raised, and we shall do our best to meet the general wish of the House. I agree that the difficulty is really my own fault, but I have not been able to find time to go into this matter. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but I really think we may now proceed up to Clause 4 without any inconvenience.


I am anxious to see this Bill on the Statute Book as soon as possible, but I cannot agree with the views which have been expressed by the Home Secretary. I will tell the House what appears to me to be the difficulty. If hon. Members will look down the Paper they will see a very important new Clause standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) and a number of other hon. Members as well as myself, the object of which is to prevent enemy aliens from holding land in this country, and from holding shares in British ships and British key industries. When I moved this proposal in Committee the Home Secretary said that he sympathised with the Clause and that it would require very careful consideration, and he promised to bring up a new Clause on Report. We are asking where the Clause which the right hon. Gentleman contemplates is to be found, and we want to know whether it will be of any use. I think the question whether enemy aliens shall hold land in this country is an extremely important one—


That question is not under discussion now, and the point will be reached in a Clause later on the Paper.


I only want to point cut the grave difficulty of proceeding with this matter in view of the fact that the Clause is not on the Paper.


Will the right hon. Gentleman look through the list of new Clauses and say which of them the Government have no objection to, and then we might adjourn until to-morrow?


I think we must take the usual course, because to have a discussion on a number of Clauses at the same time would not be convenient.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I ask leave to withdraw my Motion on the understanding that the question will come up again on Clause 5.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.