Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £203,552, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of certain services transferred from the Mercantile Marine Fund, and other services connected with the Mercantile Marine, including a Coast Watching Force, General Register and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen, Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions, and Grants to the General Lighthouse Fund and other Lighthouse Authorities."—[Note: £300,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. SHINWELL
As the Sitting is drawing to an end I have no desire to embark on a lengthy speech, but I take advantage of this Vote in order to direct some questions to the President of the Board of Trade. The first matter to which I draw attention is the imposition of fees 2444 on merchant seamen in connection with the examination for life boat efficiency. I deal with the matter briefly, because I understand hon. Members opposite who are interested in seafaring questions, are anxious to deal with other important matters, and from the seamen's point of view these are matters which might very properly be ventilated in this House. Ever since the Titanic disaster, there has been considerable comment as to the alleged inefficiency of merchant seamen in connection with the manning of lifeboats on board ship, and, in consequence of the agitation which followed the Titanic disaster, the Board of Trade took the matter in hand and imposed something in the nature of an examination. That examination was in abeyance during, and for some time after the War. Recently, the Board of Trade indicated they were about to make the examination more rigid and regular. Speaking, as I do, on behalf of a very large body of 2445 seamen, I am expressing their point of view when I say that they are entirely in sympathy with the desire of the Board of Trade—and, I hope, of the shipowners and the general community—that seamen should be properly instructed in lifeboat drill and should be truly efficient in that respect. The men are exceedingly anxious that they should be not only capable of protecting themselves in times of stress on board ship, when a disaster occurs, but that they should be at the beck and call of the travelling public in such circumstances. But what the seamen do object to is this: The Board of Trade have insisted on the men being efficient, and, as a result of that, the shipowners have arranged for seamen about to be engaged on vessels to undergo an examination on board certain vessels, particularly of the trans-Atlantic liner class, and a fee of 2s. has been imposed on the men. It is a very moderate fee, I admit, but one which, in my judgment, and in the judgment of seamen generally, ought not to be imposed on the seamen themselves.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Some shipowners do not endorse this view, but, generally speaking, the opinion of shipowners and of seamen is that the charges which are incurred as the result of the examination imposed on the men should be borne by the Board of Trade itself, and I think that that is perfectly reasonable. If, in the interests of the travelling public, the men on board ship are required to be efficient so far as lifeboat work is concerned, then such a charge ought to be imposed on a State Department, and not on those who are expected to show the efficiency which the Board of Trade desires. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this matter his very close attention. He said, I think, the other week, in reply to a question of my own, that it was not being made a condition of employment that a man should demonstrate his lifeboat efficiency, but as a matter of fact some of the liner companies now do not employ a man unless he possesses a lifeboat certificate, and in many cases—and I think that in this matter the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) will agree with me, because recently we went to inspect one of the large liners, and saw a most efficient examination, 2446 which impressed us both, so far as efficiency was concerned—the Noble Lord will agree with me when I say that the liner companies are themselves not anxious to impose this fee on the men, and would much rather it were undertaken by the Board of Trade, but that they are making it a condition of employment that the men should have the certificate. In many cases the man has been unemployed for, say, six months, or sometimes 12 months, as is the case with a large number of seamen nowadays, and he cannot get employment until this fee of 2s. has been paid. It may happen that the 2s. is not forthcoming, and the man, not having the certificate, is not able to get employment. I am sure that no one in this Committee wants to prevent a seaman from getting employment simply because he has not the necessary 2s. to obtain the certificate, and I would ask the Board of Trade to give that their attention.
The only other matter, in view of the lateness of the hour, to which I want to refer, is in regard to a promise made to me by the right hon. Gentleman some time ago. I pointed out to him that his predecessor, who is now Prime Minister, had promised that he would make a personal inspection of some of the forecastles on board ship, in order to ascertain whether the accommodation was of the best possible kind, and the right hon. Gentleman promised me on that occasion that he would carry out the promise which his predecessor had found himself unable to fulfil, owing to his change of office. So far as I am aware, he has not yet done so.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Then I would ask him whether, as the result of what he has seen, he is of opinion that a change ought to take place so far as forecastle accommodation is concerned? I will give just one or two brief quotations from reports of medical officers of health at certain seaports in this connection. One is from the annual report of the medical superintendent of the Royal Seamen's Hospital at Cardiff. He is not a medical officer of health in the ordinary sense, but his report is just as useful. He says:In spite of the popular belief in the healthiness of the sailor's life, consumption is terribly rife among seamen and stokers. This is accounted for by the limited, con- 2447 fined, ill-ventilated sleeping, resting and eating space between decks.Again, Dr. Hope, the medical officer of the Port of Liverpool, in his annual report, alludes to the number of deaths caused by the peculiar environment of the sailor, such as damp forecastles, diminished water supplies, close association of the sick with the healthy, and the confined quarters on shipboard. These are unbiased reports by those who are best competent to judge, and I want to ask whether it is proposed to take any action in this matter? I am not blaming the shipowners in general for the conditions which obtain on shipboard in this connection. I know that most of the new ships which are now being constructed, and those which have been constructed within the last few years, have accommodation of a superior kind. I have seen the accommodation, and the seamen are quite satisfied with it. There is splendid bathroom accommodation, and in every respect it is all that could be desired. But on the older class of vessels the forecastle accommodation is of the worst possible description, and particularly does that apply on the liners. One would imagine that on liners, carrying passengers who pay very high fares, the seaman's accommodation would be of a parallel character, but it is far from being so, and the accommodation for seamen on some of our well-known liners is worse than on some of the old tramps. I ask the Board of Trade to apply some of the powers it possesses to improve the accommodation for seamen.
§ Viscount CURZON
I have sat here all the afternoon to try to get a few words in on the subject of merchant shipping. I agree with all the hon. Member has said in regard to the examinations for seamanship. The amount involved is very small indeed. The total amount is only about £2,500 a year for all the examinations held at all the ports. Also, the seamen, whether they are employed or unemployed—and in most cases they are unemployed when they take the examination—have to pay this two bob and it is a real and genuine hardship in many cases.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
Is the Noble Lord aware that the question of this 2s. fee has not even been mooted by the Seamen's Panel on the National Maritime Board, which deals with their complaints?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
That is because he does not know anything about it and does not represent the seamen.
§ Viscount CURZON
I am not concerned with the point raised by the hon. Member. He is as well aware of the facts of the case as I am. But I am certain he himself does not like the idea of imposing a charge of 2s. upon the man for an examination in life-saving, simply in the interest of the passengers he may or may not carry, when the man may be out of employment and not know where to get a crust of bread. I am certain he would not like to support such a proposition. Another point is the question of deck-loads. Recently the British Chamber of Shipping presented a Report dealing with deckloads. The shipping community are in certain spheres feeling very much the competition of Scandinavian steamers. They are allowed to have very much larger deckloads than English steamers. I have seen some of these Scandinavian steamers in the North Sea in a very unseaworthy condition, with their deck cargo partly shifted. The British Chamber of Shipping has presented a Report dealing with the subject and proposing some alterations in the Regulations which amount to an alteration in the loadline. I hope, whatever the Board of Trade may do in the coming year they will set their faces against any alteration whatever in the loadline of ships. I regard it as absolutely essential that the loadline should be kept as it is.
Another question I should like to touch on is the question of lifesaving appliances generally, and in connection with that, wireless. The Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee recently published a Report, in which they made certain recommendations. I have put certain questions to the Board of Trade to know whether they are carrying out the recommendations. I am assured that they are, but whatever they are doing nothing seems to happen. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will accelerate the translation of the Report of that Committee into action.
In regard to wireless in ships' boats, we had a case recently of a ship being lost in the Indian Ocean, and the boats' crews having to make an unparalleled voyage in open boats across 1,000 or 1,500 miles 2449 of water in order to reach land. It is possible that had this ship carried at least one boat equipped with a wireless receiving and transmitting set, the crews would not have had to make that tremendous voyage, with so much risk and loss of life. I urge the President of the Board of Trade to carry out without any unnecessary delay the recommendation of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee with regard to wireless in boats. There is another point, in regard to unemployment amongst merchant service captains and officers, who are compelled to exist upon charity. Could not the Board of Trade do something to help these men. The public, the shipowners, and the Shipmasters' Association have already combined and raised a small fund. I would like to see it many times larger. Could not the Board of Trade also do something to help? It is dreadful that in a country so dependent upon its mercantile marine, the officers out of employment should be forced to exist upon charity.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I will answer several of the points that have been raised. With respect to the question of boat drill, I am very much interested in the point put forward, but my difficulty is that it is not a statutory duty. Therefore, the whole thing is voluntary. It is a case where the Board of Trade has met what is, I believe, the general convenience by providing for this examination; but it is not a statutory provision.
§ Viscount CURZON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they cannot get employment on board ship unless they have gone through this examination?
§ Mr. GOULD
Is it not a fact that the Board of Trade have made it a practice to see that the inspection services throughout, in regard to shipping, is a self-contained and profitable transaction? In every other Department, where the welfare of the public is concerned, the charge is borne by the State, but in this case the charge is borne by the shipowners or the men.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
That is not so. That was the recommendation of the Committee, but it is not a recommendation which I accepted. What I propose was that the cost of the service should be borne half and half. That is the 2450 present position. I am prepared to go into this question with the Treasury and look into the cost. I think I ought to get the opinion of the National Maritime Board. [An HON. MEMBER: "It does not represent the seamen!"] Oh, yes. I do not think that is fair—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Is that not obvious from what the right hon. Gentleman said? He said he knew nothing about it.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
No. The National Maritime Board represents the seamen and the owners. If I were to ask either the union or the Chamber of Shipping they would bear me out. I am prepared to go into this question and get their opinion upon it. If I find it is a serious matter, I am quite prepared to take the question up with the Treasury to see whether on another Estimate provision for this can be made. I cannot, obviously, across the Floor of the Committee—and I have no authority—give a pledge of this kind, but it is a matter which ought to be considered.
With regard to the question of accommodation, I did carry out the promise I made as to an inquiry. I found that you got some up-to-date ships with extremely good accommodation, and that you had a number of old ships—perhaps 30 years old—where the accommodation was bad. The practical question is this: I can make a great many Regulations after, perhaps, getting statutory authority; but, suppose I were to make Regulations to bring the old ships up to the requirements of the best ships now being turned out. In the first place, that would be physically impossible, and you could not reconstruct the ships to do it. If I tried to do that, the ships would be scrapped and, especially in these very difficult times, I do not think I should be helping the case of the men by laying down these Regulations which, on paper, look ideal, but which would not help them if, at a pinch, they find they had not the ships to go to. With regard to load lines, if my hon. and gallant Friend, after the Debate is over, looks at a Measure now before the House, he will see that special provision is being made to deal more effectively with ships coming into our ports under conditions which transgress our Regulations in this respect.
As to the fitting of wireless on boats, nobody appreciates more than my hon. 2451 and gallant Friend that the matter is not a simple one. Apart altogether from the question of expense, you have the consideration of taking up a great deal more space in the boat. These, however, are just the kind of things which it is very important should be worked out by the advisory committee, and any practical proposals we shall, of course, consider. As to the Regulations generally, my hon. and gallant Friend knows that the new Regulations are now before the advisory committee, and we are awaiting their report.
§ Sir BURTON CHADWICK
It is lamentable that a matter so important as the British mercantile marine should receive only 30 minutes' consideration. In regard to what my hon. Friend opposite said about the 2s. fee for the initiation of a man into the management of a boat, if a man could be taught to handle a boat for 2s. then that does not matter much. I know it cost the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) more than 2s. to learn to handle a boat. The question of wireless is one which is of very far-reaching importance. The aspect of that, upon which I wish to touch, is this: that the cost to the shipowner of wireless on his ship to-day is monstrous. It is right, I think, to provide wireless. I was one of the advocates in this House years ago for fitting wireless on every ship, if only from the point of view of its value as a life-saving medium, but the cost to which the Board of Trade has forced the shipowner to go is prohibitive, and should be, and can be, reduced. It was introduced on ships down to 1,600 tons, but I wanted it on ships of a lower tonnage, and to-day it is advocated for lifeboats. But if a lad after a few months' training could go into the air with wireless in an aeroplane, and operate the wireless, and, I think, fight his machine at the same time with an efficiency which would mean the difference between dropping shells on his own lines and on the German lines—I may be a little extreme in my description—but if that kind of result could be produced in that way, surely it is possible for wireless to be established on a tramp steamer or on a lifeboat, so that any member of the crew could operate that wireless and call up any steamer within reasonable range to pick up a lifeboat which is leaving a 2452 sinking ship, or receive an emergency call by wireless from a tramp steamer. I would urge attention to that point, because it is a great hardship to the shipowner and it is a great obstruction to the use of wireless. We have nowadays—I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow will forgive me—a body of people on board ship known as wireless operators, whom I describe as useless, obstructive people. They are not wanted on board ship. They are useless on board ship. They know nothing about ship life and should not be there. We might have a system by which boys going to sea might have sufficient wireless knowledge to enable them to operate simple wireless, not the extraordinary extravagant wireless which we are forced to have to-day, for the purpose of life saving service in the mercantile marine.
§ Mr. GOULD
In the few moments which I have left I wish to express agreement with what the hon. Member for Linlithgow has said as to the 2s. fee. We make a lot of fuss about these men who, for instance, were on the "Trevisa" boats, but nobody knows better than the hon. Member for St. Helens and myself, who have been to sea in a practical way, that the average man who goes to sea to-day knows nothing about lifeboat work. It takes very good men to handle a lifeboat in a heavy sea, and the men who go to sea are not accustomed to handle a lifeboat in a heavy sea. The 2s. fee which is charged is an outrage. I do not object in the least to pay for it myself, but in the case of other industries I find that the State takes care of the individual in the industry, and I do not see any reason why this should be imposed on—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.