HC Deb 28 June 1920 vol 131 cc5-6

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether it is a Regulation of the Board of Trade that all steamers leaving British ports should carry wireless telegraph operators; whether during the recent strike this Regulation was suspended; did the suspension apply both to passenger and cargo steamers; and will he state the reason why his Department suspended the Regulation?

10. Mr. MYERS

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that during the dispute between the Wireless Operators' Association and the Marconi Company instructions were given by the Board of Trade to waive the safety-of-lives Regulation passed by two international conventions, the Defence of the Realm Act, and the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1919, and permit vessels to leave port without wireless operators on board during the continuance of the strike; whether this action received his sanction; whether he is aware that the s.s. "Minnidosa" left Liverpool for Canada with over 1,000 souls on board without certified wireless operators on board; and whether, having regard to the safety of the lives of the passengers and crew of ocean-going steamers, he will take steps to see that the regulations are properly carried out in future and that his department will not in future interfere on the side of the employer when a labour dispute is in progress?


A regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act was passed during the War to the effect that British sea-going ships of 1,600 tons gross and upwards shall be provided with wireless telegraph operators, that Regulation is still in force. It was not suspended during the recent strike, but shipowners were informed that if a wireless operator could not be obtained from any source the owner who sent his ship to sea without a wireless operator would not be prosecuted, the condition being made, in the case of a passenger steamer, that the attention of intending passengers should be called to the fact that wireless would be out of action during the voyage. It is to be kept in mind that the dispute then existing was not one between the shipowners and the wireless operators, but between the operators and the wireless companies.

The reason for the action taken by me was that while wireless is a valuable additional assistance in calling help if a ship is in danger, it is not essential to the seaworthiness of a ship or the safety of those on board, and I took the view that in these circumstances to hold up the shipping of this country with the effect of inflicting untold hardship on the whole community which is dependent upon overseas supplies would be unjustifiable.

As regards the case of the "Minnedosa" to which the hon. Member for the Spen Valley refers, this vessel left Liverpool on 17th June with a wireless operator on board.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

What is the present situation with regard to this strike? Is the Department of the right hon. Gentleman attempting to adjudicate or negotiate between the parties?


That does not arise out of the question, but my hon. and gallant Friend may know that there is at the present moment an arrangement for a period during which negotiations are taking place. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that it is not the business of my Department to adjudicate.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that wireless is merely a luxury, and is not a primary element of safety in the navigation of ships?


Obviously, it is not a primary element of safety, because it has only come into vogue recently, and sailors have been sailing the seas for many generations.

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