Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £45,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of certain Services transferred from the Mercantile Marine Fund and other Services connected with the Mercantile Marine, including the Coastguard, 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.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
The Board of Trade has to perform certain services for the welfare of crews and passengers and the safety of ships at sea. In order to perform those services we get certain receipts, principally from shipowners. Owing to
§ the great depression in the shipping industry, those receipts, which are here called Appropriations-in-Aid, have fallen short of the sum estimated by £62,500. We have made savings in other branches, with the result that the sum which we require is reduced to £45,000. That is the substance of the matter and I do not think that there is any further point on which I can enlighten the Committee. These services will have to continue in spite of the receipts falling short, but it is hoped that the receipts will balance over a period of years. In some years there is a surplus and in other years there is a shortage, but we average it out over a period of years. I hope that statement will satisfy hon. Members.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
Could the Parliamentary Secretary say which is the main item in the falling off in the receipts owing to the state of shipping?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Receipts from every source have fallen off. When shipping is bad, for instance, the service for the engagement and discharge of 1117 crews receives less money. Again, when shipping is bad there are fewer ships to be inspected, and so forth.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Since the £45,000 shortage is held to be due to depression in the receipts from shipping, can the Parliamentary Secretary say when the decline which has brought about the adverse balance really set in? Will he tell us to what extent the past two months have contributed towards the decline in the receipts? Further, perhaps he will be able to tell us whether the sum referred to in the Estimate covers any further decline in shipping which is bound to accrue as a result of the Abnormal Importations duties and the contemplated Measure which we shall be discussing next week which, as he knows, must contribute to a decrease in income from the shipping industry. It is relevant to ask when the real decline in shipping receipts began and whether they have been accelerated as a result of the Abnormal Importations Act and whether the Government have estimated to cover further reduced receipts as a result of the 10 per cent. general tariff which they contemplate applying.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
We have millions of British shipping which do not conform to the standard at Lloyds and, therefore, are not allowed to trade under the Union Jack. This type of ship is usually sold to foreigners, to Greece and other competing countries, for the carrying of the world's goods, with the result that not only is our shipping industry affected but the condition of our seamen is lowered and our shipbuilding is also badly hit. Is it within the bounds of possibility for the Board of Trade to step in, if they have the power, and say that this must stop?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member is now suggesting legislation. That cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am only using it as an illustration. If the Board of Trade have not powers, I am sure that the House would give them powers to pro- 1118 hibit these ships being sold to a foreign power.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
There is an item in the Estimate for salaries, etc., surveyors, etc., £5,900, which represents a saving. [Interruption.] When the hon. Member occupies the Chair I may take instructions from him. Meantime, someone more capable of performing the duty is exercising authority in the Chair.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not know whether under the item to which I have referred there has been a saving by reducing the number of surveyors. If so, I want to challenge it very seriously. Surely, the Government are not reducing the number of the surveyors of ships. There never was a time when the inspection of ships was so absolutely necessary as now. In every other walk of life such as housing, mines and factories the tendency is, and the present Government have taken that course, either to maintain the number of inspectors or to increase it. The health conditions of these people should be maintained at a proper level. The ship is the sailor's home, and it can be either a slum or a decent dwelling. At a time when shipbuilders and ship-repair workers out of work, the number of surveyors, whose duty it is to inspect these ships is being cut down instead of increased. I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary coming from a seaport town should have seen that the number of these men was increased rather than diminished. Some of these boats have been going to sea for 40 and 50 years and it is vital that they should be properly and regularly inspected. What is the reason for this decrease? I should like to know the number of surveyors before this reduction was made and the tonnage which they are expected to survey. I notice that there is a saving of £4,600 on lighthouses in the Red Sea. I presume that the men in the lighthouses are subject to the usual reductions in wages, but those in the Red Sea are on the same basis as men in the Consular Service and their wages would be affected by our 1119 going off the Gold Standard. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us any idea how this saving has been effected?
There is also a saving of £4,000 under the item "Subsistence of Seamen." I presume that applies to ships engaged by the Board of Trade for various purposes, but I should like to know whether this saving is taken from sailors in reduced subsistence allowances. Does the sailor suffer a double cut, a cut in his wages and a cut in his subsistence allowance? Surely the Parliamentary Secretary is not going to defend a double cut on these men. Now I come to Appropriations-in-Aid. There has been a substantial decline in receipts—namely, those payable by the shipping industry for services rendered under the Merchant Shipping Acts. It amounts to £62,500. As far as I can see, the reason for the decline in these services is because there are fewer ships going to sea, but I should like to ask whether any steps are being taken to see that every shipowner pays what the Board of Trade should get; that is to say, that there is no leakage in the payment of these sums to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I am much obliged and indebted to the hon. Member below the Gangway for the very thorough cross-examination to which he has subjected this Estimate, and I will try to answer his questions. In regard to lighthouses in the Red Sea, the salaries are paid in rupees and are under the administration of the Indian Government, through Aden. I have no reason to believe that there has been any reduction in salaries, but there has been a reduction of £4,600 in the cost of the maintenance of the lighthouses. The hon. Member asked for the number of surveyors. There were 210 at the beginning of the year when the original Estimate was brought forward. There have been five vacancies, but they have not been filled immediately. Owing to the decrease in work it has not been found necessary to make five extra appointments. Consequently, under that heading we have been able to save money. As to their salaries, these surveyors start at £300 per annum rising to £850 according to grade.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
They are subject to the ordinary Civil Service cut as applied throughout the Service. Under the heading "Subsistence of Seamen" we have been able to save £4,000 because of the fact that there being less shipping at sea there have been fewer distressed seamen. Our consuls abroad look after distressed seamen, and we pay the account. If a seaman goes to hospital abroad we charge that to the shipowner. The hon. Member inquired whether there has been any leakage between the time the money left the shipowners' pocket and reaching the Board of Trade. I need hardly assure him that we have no reason to suspect that anybody has put his hand in the till. Everything has been accounted for, and we have no reason to complain. I must congratulate the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) on his most ingenious introduction of the Abnormal Importations Act into the discussion. We have no reason to suppose that it has had any injurious effect on shipping at all. As he knows, shipping has progressively declined during the year and that is the reason why we have received less money under that head.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reconsider the question of surveyors. On the Clyde and in other shipbuilding ports we look upon it as a very important matter. It is, of course, a fair point to make that there has been a reduction in tonnage, but it must be remembered that it is much more difficult to survey ships now than it was a few years ago. The oil system of fuel means that a ship is much more liable to fire, there is much more danger, and that makes the survey much more important. Under the old turbine system boats were very much alike and surveyors were able to make their survey very quickly and simply, but with the development of oil power there has been a rapid change and surveyors cannot do their work with the same rapidity as they could under the old system. In 3924 when Mr. Alexander was at the 1121 Board of Trade—I think it was Mr. Alexander, be attained Cabinet rank ultimately, so there is a chance for the hon. Member, I do not say that sarcastically—there was a slight reduction in the number of surveyors. We view these reductions with great alarm. In other fields of Government work the number of inspectors is being increased, but for the inspection of these homes of the sailors there is a decrease in the number. I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the matter. The number of surveyors was reduced in 1924, and is now being reduced again whilst the number of inspectors for other things, for mines, is being increased. At least some of the vacancies should be filled. If he can give a satisfactory answer we will allow the Vote to go without opposition, but otherwise we shall have to vote against it if there is to be any reduction in the number of surveyors.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I understand the feeling of my hon. Friend on this subject, and I can give him an assurance that I will devote my personal attention to see that there is no slackening in this important work. Indeed, it would be a shame if the life of any seaman were put in jeopardy owing to an unnecessary reduction in the number of surveyors. But, of course, if the work declines, it might or might not justify a decrease. I believe that no charge has ever been levelled against the Board of Trade about the inadequacy of the inspectorate. If it is made now and my hon. Friend would represent it to me at any time, I would look into it; but I thought it was recognised that this work was always done extraordinarily well; I was not conscious that there were complaints against the surveyors of the Board of Trade, and I thought that our standard of safety was higher than that of any country in the world. We are now considering in Committee a Merchant Shipping Bill with which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) is giving assistance. That Bill will further improve British standards. In so far as it is within my power, I shall see that nothing is done to imperil the lives of those who go to sea.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The National Union of Seamen has once or twice called attention to this matter. They 1122 think that the number of inspectors should be increased. I shall certainly take steps to see that representations are made to the hon. Gentleman on the matter.