HC Deb 05 May 1925 vol 183 cc901-7

Order for Second Reading read


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a Bill that has to do with people who live in steel houses. Unfortunately, the time is very short, but I will try to be as quick as I can, and to describe just the outlines of the Bill, which is already, of course, very well known to the House. It is a Bill, mentioned in the King's Speech, for making the necessary Amendments to the existing law in this country to give effect to three International Conventions, having to do with the sea, which were made in 1920 and 1921. These Conventions are the result of a series of Conferences of the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations. Convention I provides that a seaman's wages shall continue during the period of unemployment due to shipwreck or loss of his ship for a maximum period of two months from the date of the loss. At the present time the law is that the seaman's wage ceases on the loss of his ship, but under this Bill, if he is employed during any period of those two months, then the money earned in such period of employment is deducted. In regard to Convention 2, this provides that no boy under the age of 18 shall be employed as a stoker or a trimmer on board ship. The reasons for that are obvious, as the work in the stokchold of a ship is likely to be detrimental to the health of a boy under 18 years of age. Convention 3 provides for the medical examination of any young persons before they can be certified as suitable to be employed on board ship.

I am not going to trouble the House at this time with very much more, except to say the object of the Bill is to implement these Conventions. The adoption of the Conventions involves the amendment of the law as it stands today. The Conventions have been signed by all the British representatives at the Conference, namely, the representatives of the Government, the representatives of the employers and the representatives of the seamen. So far as I know, there is no opposition on the part of any of the interests concerned. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) brought in the Bill last year, and it has passed through another place in all its stages, and is awaiting the approval of this House. I will content myself with, asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


I do not want to say anything to prevent the Bill going to a Committee, but I am in a little doubt, because the hon. Member in charge of the Bill said it was a Bill that had been arrived at by agreement on both sides. But since that agreement—and I was one of the delegates at Genoa when the matter was discussed—and, in fact, since the matter has left the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), and has been in charge of the present Government, and been in another place, an Amendment has been put in. In Clause 5 you have, in the expression "ship," brought out of the provisions of the Act most of the vessels that are engaged in inland navigation. It says it

does not include any tug, dredger, sludge vessel, barge, or other craft, and so on. If because the conditions of employment are different in those vessels, that has been done, then, I am afraid, the hon. Member has been misled. I think I know how this was—if I may use the word without offence—engineered. It was brought in in another place by the then Chairman of the Port of London Authority. But it was not done by agreement with the men's side at all. It was done without any consultation with them, and if by just saying this word I can keep myself clear to be able to move an Amendment in Committee, I shall be satisfied with doing that. I do not like to be silent and to allow the thing to go through, and to say this was agreed to when the agreement arrived at has been rather violated by the introduction of these words since the reintroduction of this Bill in another place.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)

Perhaps I may say one word as my hon. Friend has raised the point. I think this is really a point we ought to discuss when we get the Bill in Committee, and I shall be very glad for it to be gone into on its merits there. I do not think the Amendment in the form in which it has been inserted in another place really alters in any way either the spirit or the intention of the Convention. It was considered very carefully there, and the Lord Chancellor did consult me over the matter. I think it was the real intention of this Convention, which used a word in French, the nearest equivalent of which I think in our language would probably be "voyaging on the open sea." What was intended to be covered by this Convention was the seagoing vessels. It was said, I think with some truth, that if you had dredgers or barges which were not going to sea. but were doing their work within the ordinary limits of a port, they were not intended to he covered. A vessel sailing to Gibraltar or Malta is plainly engaged in maritime navigation, and sailing upon the open sea. However, I think that we can in all probability discuss these details better in Committee. What has been sought to be done was to carry out the real spirit of the Conventions, and to make them applicable to the vessels named in the Bill. That was sought to be done in another place, but I quite agree that when we get into Committee it will be possible to see that we have not gone outside the Convention, and to find the proper words to which reference has been made. I would ask that we might get the Second Reading of this Bill to-night, because if we do not get it the apportionment of Parliamentary time is always difficult, arid what we all want to do is to get the Conventions through.


I do not propose to say much, because we can deal more fully with this matter in Committee. I just want to say, as an old wind-jammer of many years' experience, that I welcome the introduction of this Bill. Some of us the more welcome it when we think of the old days of shipowners and shipmasters, when every ship was a kingdom in itself, and every captain was a king, and not always a very generous one. The Bill has started on a very adventurous voyage. It has already been shorn of some of its top—hamper. It has succeeded in getting through the doldrums in another place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will be able to get his ship safely into harbour


I have no intention of delaying or hampering the Second Reading of this Bill, but I do not think that the President of the Board of Trade has given us an adequate and satisfactory explanation as to why we should exclude the seamen on the tugs, dredgers, sludge vessels, barges, and other crafts from the provisions of this Act. The right hon. Gentleman says that we are endeavouring to draft, a Bill in accordance with the spirit of the Conventions. But, surely, it is outside the spirit of the Conventions to exclude the seamen to whom I have referred. It is outside the spirit of the Conventions to take in a few seamen here and there and apply to them provisions which should be applicable to all seamen. There is another interpolation which so far as I can see appears in this Bill which is not in. the Convention itself. In Clause 1. Subsection (2) we are informed that a shipwrecked seaman may be deprived of his wages following shipwreck provided the owner can show that the seaman was able to obtain suitable employment on that day. Before whom is the owner to show that suitable employment was available? There is no reference to that in the draft Convention so far as I can see. We ought to have an explanation from the President of the Board of Trade as to why that is being interpolated in the Bill. For long years, as the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) has just said, seamen, if they were shipwrecked, lost their their wages from the moment they were shipwrecked. Many of them lost their outfit and their clothes in addition. They lost their all. Many of them became nervous wrecks as a result of the trials through which they went. They received no compensation. There still is in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, a Section 158, which, if hon. Members would read it, will show how this House only a few years ago regarded these unfortunate men. It said that where the service of the seaman terminates, and so on, by reason of the wreck and loss of a ship, or if his being left, on shore at any place abroad, under a certificate granted as provided by this Act of his unfitness or inability to proceed on the voyage—he might be dumped on a foreign shore. and might have his wages from that day cancelled. All he could get, as far as I can see, was a free passage home under certain other provisions of the Act. Surely for Great Britain, the leading maritime nation of the world, we. should have not a crimping and crabbing of the provisions of the Conventions, but we ought to have these provisions, if possible, enlarged and extended so that all seamen who sail under the British Flag shall be covered by the provisions of this Bill. I think this House should have from the President of the Board of Trade an adequate explanation even before we allow the Bill in its present form to go through


As I was in charge of this Bill last year, I am sure the President of the Board of Trade would wish me to say we welcome it and will do all we can in the later stages to facilitate its passage. It may well be that, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) has put to the House, there are some points on which there may be some strong expressions of opinion that as the leading maritime nation we should give a strong lead to other mercantile powers. I am sure he and the House will recognise it is exceedingly difficult in a Bill, the object of which is to ratify a Convention, to deal with any matters extraneous to the Convention. After what happened last year, and the delay which took place because of some small opposition and through the exigencies of Parliamentary procedure the consequent loss of a whole 12 months of the benefit which a crew would get. I am very much hoping that we shall keep the main issue before us. That is to wipe away the reproach to us as the leading maritime nation of the world that three Conventions, one passed in 1920, and two passed in 1921, still remain unratified by the leading maritime nation of the world when all the other nations arc waiting for us to give them a real lead. From that point of view we should do all we can to facilitate the passage of the Bill, while we may give consideration to other points that hon. Members may raise, and which may be dealt with in what, I hope, the President of the Board of Trade will yet consider—an early Bill for amending the Merchant Shipping Acts.

Captain BENN

As representing a constituency which is deeply interested in this Bill I should like to add a word to what my hon. Friends have already said to thank the Government for introducing this Bill. I would like also to gather hope from the words of the President of the Board of Trade, that these matters would be considered on their merits. That I take to mean, and I hope I am right, that the many friends of the Bill, and of some Amendments to the Bill, who are found in all parts of the House, will have an opportunity, free from the tiresome tyranny of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, of expressing their opinion at all stages in the sense they desire