§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Dr. Burgin)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is, perhaps, true to say that enough has never been made of the debt which the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth of Nations owes to its seafaring people and to its mercantile marine. An island country and a far-flung Empire alike make the necessity of sea communications obvious. I wonder how much British foreign policy has had as its keynote the keeping open of the trade routes and how much of British export trade is due to the foresight, enterprise and hardihood of these leaders of the mercantile marine. But on a Friday I propose to be severely practical and not lyrical. It would take all the prose of a Conrad and all the verse of a Kipling to do justice to the facts to which I call attention. I content myself, merely stating the claim of the indebtedness, recognise it myself, and place it on record. It is probably unnecessary also to emphasise the importance of the rô1e played by tramp shipping. In olden days when goods bad to be moved from place to place the recognised conveyance was a camel, and it is no accident that the camel is described as the ship of the desert. The analogy is perfect. In modern days when goods have to be moved, if it be by land, it is by rail or road and, if it be by sea, it is by tramp or liner. The essential difference between those two methods of transport of merchandise has been made clear in the discussions connected with British shipping which have already taken place in the House, and I need not go into them in detail. I would just mention this fact to a House of Commons which always likes to look forward. The importance of the cargo liner must never be lost sight of, but, so far as passenger traffic is concerned, the cargo liner will before long have a formidable rival in the development of 712 air services and when we are thinking, as we are principally to-day, of tramp shipping we must bear in mind that the same competition with the air does not apply, and that there will for a long time be bulk cargoes carried by sea, and that the tramp is the obvious method of transport.
I would submit four particular propositions. The maintenance of a well-equipped mercantile marine in a reasonably healthy state of prosperity is essential to the United Kingdom and to the British Empire. I do not anticipate any dissent from such a proposition. Of any such mercantile marine tramp shipping is an essential part. I should be very surprised if anyone would in the least demur at that. I should then submit that, for reasons beyond the control of British shipowners, the mercantile marine in general and the tramp shipping section in particular are not at present in a prosperous or healthy condition and they need assistance. I would submit that the assistance that they need can only at present be provided by Government and can best be provided by the means suggested in this Bill, that is, by monetary aid and by encouragement to scrap and build. That is a method which should induce a more efficient fleet and at the same time reduce the weakness to the freight market of there being excessive tonnage. May I make quite clear that, in the considered judgment of those who know, the British mercantile marine is still, taking the matter by and large, the most efficient fleet in the whole world. I do not want the stress that I am bound to put upon efficiency and modernisation to carry with it any sort of thought that our fleet is below the level of international fleets. On the contrary, it is in our considered judgment the most efficient fleet in the world.
Is it true that the mercantile marine is suffering? There is less international trade. Everyone wants that international trade to increase. There are some differences of opinion in different quarters of the House as to the method by which international trade can best be helped and augmented, but there is no one in any part of the House who will affirm that there is not less international trade and less movement of bulk cargoes between countries. There is equally no one with any knowledge of the position at all who would contradict the statement 713 that there is more tonnage available for carrying less cargo, and the inevitable effect of less cargo and more tonnage must be more competition, more competition must mean a lowering of freight rates, and a lowering of freight rates necessarily means a reduction in the receipts side of the trading account of tramp-owning companies. It is rather interesting to notice the levels. The freight rate is 84 compared with the pre-war level of 100, so that as compared with the pre-war 100 the receipts from freights are 84. Wages and dock charges have increased by 60 per cent above the pre-war level. It is not necessary to say much more to show the precarious position in which tramp shipping finds itself as a result. There are instances of tramp companies giving up. There are ports round our coast to which no tramp ship now plies. Why is all that? Certainly not for any reason that can be laid to the debit of the owners of tramp ships themselves.
This is an industry as individualistic as any in the history of our country reduced to a state of precarious financial existence by circumstances wholly beyond their control if ever there were circumstances beyond anyone's control. On top of all the difficulties of shrinking trade, of increased tonnage, of falling receipts, of increasing outgoings, the great nations of the remainder of the world have chosen to place behind their mercantile fleets vast sums of money and Government aid of all kinds. It does not follow that because foreign countries indulge in some principle or practice that lit necessarily ought to be followed by ourselves. Every effort ought to be made to induce these foreign countries to give up giving subsidies, rather than that we ourselves should embark upon counter subsidies in order to defeat them. But, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know full well, if you try to negotiate a tariff truce by offering nothing to foreign countries and merely offer to remain where you are yourselves, in spite of every good will and of every effort, after two years of trial you will come back empty handed. Consequently, we addressed communications to the Governments of foreign countries owning mercantile marines, and said: "The method of your subsidy can only lead to chaos. You will make what is bad worse. You cannot go on indefinitely. 714 Do not try to drive us off the seas, because you will never succeed in doing that. We invite you to come into a conference to discuss this matter round a table, to limit these subsidies, gradually to diminish them and ultimately to abandon them altogether."
I doubt whether any brief has ever been better prepared for a conference than the brief of the British representatives at the World Economic Conference dealing with the international plight of shipping and the bad effect of subsidies. There was not a single fact, tendency or influence which was not fully and completely pressed. At the World Economic Conference committees dealing with this matter were set up. I had some personal reason for knowing about them in detail. These Committees met, and the only countries from whom we could obtain any sort of response were those countries which had the greatest reluctance to giving any form of subsidy—the Scandinavian countries, Holland and countries which desired, like ourselves, to have a mercantile marine free of subsidies. All the great countries which so indulged in subsidies, Italy, France, Germany, the United States, Japan and other countries—I am not attempting to give an exhaustive list but merely giving examples—completely and absolutely declined to play, and we were unable to make a single yard of progress along the road towards producing an abandonment or withdrawal of these subsidies.
Faced with that position, with receipts still going lower, with expenses still increasing, with this great glut of world tonnage, with international trade tending still to shrink, and, on top of that, the remainder of the world giving subsidies, the whole position necessarily had to be reviewed. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, when it became apparent that, in the absence of some measure of Government aid, tramp shipping might indeed very seriously be affected, made an announcement in this House and indicated the kind of condition which the Government would be prepared to encourage and invited the shipping community to submit proposals. The task was not an easy one. My right hon. Friend, himself knowing all there was to know about shipping, realised the difficulties of the shipping industry. He had no light task 715 in laying down what in his judgment were the indispensable conditions which had to be realised before there could be any question of public money being given to this industry, this essential link with, and service to, transport. The House realises that it does not matter in the least how well the producer produces a crop and how keen a consumer may be to buy that crop unless international trade has at its service a transport system to enable that crop to be delivered from the country of the producer to the country of the consumer.
Transport is an essential factor of international trade, and consequently the greatest care had to be taken in the framing of conditions to see that these matters were faced by the shipping industry, and that there was not a mere ladling out of public money without adequate regard to the objects which the Government had in view. To their credit, the shipping industry devoted all their time, energy and attention to framing proposals, and I know of no calculating machine which could adequately record the numbers of interviews, the numbers of contacts, and the frequencies of communications which that study involved between the shipping industry and the Government Department in question. It became clear that the only way that this tramp industry could be saved was by Government help, and Government help quickly.
There then came to be considered what form of help. Government help could take other forms than mere money. The various proposals were canvassed, and it became clear that we had to talk to foreign countries in terms that they understood, and that if they were going to attempt to monopolise trades between particular ports in particular cargoes by means of making their ships so attractive to merchants that merchants could not in fairness fail to accept their offers, we had to put our shipowners in a position of competition whereby they too could procure a share of these trades and ultimately, as we hope, bite into the amount of trade that is taken by the foreign subsidised vessels. There is no question of the Government taking over the shipping industry or attempting the nationalisation of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] There are plenty of precedents in history for State-owned ship- 716 ping which are of sufficient warning to any country. The Government indeed are not going to be lead along that line. Money is being given to the shipowners says an hon. Member. I have endeavoured to outline to the House the processes by which it was realised that the only way you could help the industry was to put Government help behind them, and that the only practical help you could put behind them was money—national help, certainly.
Having outlined the position as I see it, and keeping myself strictly within practical points and not attempting to digress, we now come to the actual Measure before the House. The objects of the Bill are three; to assist the owners of British ships making tramp voyages to meet the competition of foreign subsidised vessels—that is the first part—to assist British shipowners by means of loans on special terms to modernise and improve their merchant fleets under conditions which will, at the same time, help to reduce the surplus of world tonnage; and, thirdly, to give some relief to the shipping industry in respect of fees chargeable for services rendered by the Board of Trade.
Perhaps we may look through the Bill together bearing in mind those threefold objects. The only part of the Bill that deals with subsidy is the first Clause and the miscellaneous provisions—Clause 6—under Part III. I want to describe now Clause 1 and Clause 6. Clause 6 is the Clause in which we find the definitions in detail, and Clause 1 sets out the substance of what we are endeavouring to do. The Board of Trade, in dealing with public money, must obey the directions of the Treasury. Subject to the directions of the Treasury, the Board of Trade desire to assist the owners of vessels that come within the scope of the Bill, to meet competition. The Board of Trade have a very intimate knowledge of the ways and customs of the mercantile marine, and a matter of this kind, affecting the day to day conduct of business in which we are engaged in the fiercest kind of competition for securing the carriage of merchandise throughout the entire world, obviously requires the most skilled and highly trained knowledge. The Board of Trade, therefore, required the industry to assist them in saying how this tramp shipping subsidy is to be expended. There is to be a committee, the Tramp Shipping Subsidy 717 Committee, to which Clause 1 refers, and on the recommendations of that Committee, subject to the directions of the Treasury, the Board will pay to the owners of the British vessels concerned subsidies in respect of tramp voyages carried out in the year 1935.
What is a tramp voyage and what are the vessels which come within the scheme? First of all, the voyages do not include the coasting trade. Voyages between ports within the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are excluded. We have already discussed in Debate why that must be so, because of the competition between road and rail and the difficulty of subsidising any one of these forms of transport. The definition of vessels making a tramp voyage will be found in Clause 6. The four classes of vessels which do not come within the Bill are fishing vessels, tankers, refrigerated ships and ships carrying more than 12 passengers. I think all of these four classes are self-explanatory. The tanker is not described under that colloquial expression, but as a vessel adapted for the carriage of liquid cargo in bulk, because besides oil there are such things as asphalt and molasses which are carried loose, and a vessel adapted for the carriage of that class of cargo is not a tramp in the normal sense of the word. Therefore, the four classes of vessels which are not entitled to the subsidy are fishing vessels, refrigerating ships, which do not normally carry tramp cargoes, tankers and ships which carry more than 12 passengers.
It is laid down as a condition that in order to be eligible vessels must be registered in the United Kingdom and must have; been British ships since 1st January, 1934. Vessels completed since must have been built in the United Kingdom in order to be eligible for the subsidy. What is a tramp voyage? A tramp voyage, as will be well understood by everybody in the trade, is a voyage in the course of which all the cargo is carried under charter party. It is that provision of all the cargo being carried under charter party which distinguishes the cargo liner and the tramp for the purposes of this subsidy. When a cargo liner carries tramp cargo under tramp conditions the cargo liner is eligible for the subsidy, but when a cargo liner has not the whole of its cargo carried under 718 charter party, but has merely taken parcels of cargo under berth conditions, it is not eligible and does not come within the subsidy provisions.
The Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee which will make the recommendations will, of course, have as its object to advise the Board of Trade on the actual working of the scheme. It will have a definite purpose to achieve. It will have to see that the tramp subsidy is really destined to bring about the purpose for which the Bill has been introduced. If hon. Members will look at the details on page 2 of the Bill they will find the duties of the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee prominently set out in Sub-section 3, lines 20 to 35. Their duty is to advise the Board of Trade. The House will understand that there is not a right to the subsidy. It is a matter of advice, recommendation and discretion to grant or withhold the subsidy. The Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee will advise the Board of Trade as to the nature and method of payment, and in considering the recommendations—I am reading from Sub-section (3) line 28—the Committee shall have regard to the purpose for which the Board are empowered to grant subsidies under this Part of this Act and shall not recommend payment of a subsidy in respect of any tramp voyage if, in the opinion of the Committee, the voyage was undertaken without due regard to the necessity for co-operation between owners of British vessels in furthering that purpose.It will be apparent to the House that for the subsidy to succeed in attacking foreign competition and securing for the Britsh Mercantile Marine a greater share of the trade carried throughout the world, and the employment of more British ships, all parties in the shipping industry must collaborate in making it a success. There must be no sort of jealousy between the different branches of the industry. There is not the slightest reason to think that there will be, but I am merely mentioning the point. We then come to the provision of staff, secretaries and so on, which is a customary Clause enabling the Board of Trade to see that the Committee has all that it wants in that respect.
The total of the subsidy—let it be remembered that this is a temporary Measure of a year's duration—must not exceed £2,000,000, and the scheme which I have outlined is the scheme for the administration of the subsidy. The 719 subsidy is intended, as I have said, to assist the tramp section of the shipping industry and in our judgment the best method of doing that is to see that those most skilled in that industry should frame a scheme and, having framed it, the Government have embodied it in their Bill, and it is that Bill which is now before the House.
I have now to deal only with the scrapping and building provisions in the second part of the Bill. Members of the House are thoroughly familiar already with the main outlines of that proposal and I need not detain them with more than a few sentences to call attention to the principal points. There is to be appointed another Committee, the Ships Replacement Committee. Advances are to be made in respect of approved proposals for constructing new or modernising existing cargo vessels. No advance can be made except on the recommendations of that Committee. The matter has already been dealt with fully in the White Paper and the Financial Resolution, but may I remind the House that the vessels to which assistance can be given are tramps engaged in the near sea trade or the ocean trade, and cargo liners engaged in ocean trade. Cargo liners engaged in the near seas trade are not eligible. The ratio of scrapping and modernising is given, and the definition of what is called the near seas trade is set out in the Bill as meaning services between ports in the United Kingdom, Irish Free State, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and ports on the Continent between the River Elbe and Brest.
The advances are not to exceed £10,000,000, and the rate of interest and method of handling the matter are set out in detail. So much for the scrap and build portion of the Bill. But may I say this. Probably this part of the Bill is as important as the remainder. The maintenance of the skilled training and knowledge of our population around shipbuilding yards is every bit as important as the maintenance of the skill and training of the people around the ports from which the ships sail. The Government are at least equally interested in seeing that every encouragement is given to reducing excess tonnage, by scrapping and replacing in the agreed proportion for modernising and rebuild- 720 ing. The Government desire to encourage the building of ships under this provision, and hope that advantage will be taken of it.
The only other Clause in the Bill is Clause 7, dealing with the repeal of Section 18 of the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1926. The House need not have any details with regard to that. It is sufficient to say that one of the methods of bringing about economies was to provide that the fees levied by the Board of Trade should approximate to one-half of the expenses, and there was a compulsory raising of fees in order to see that the income was about one-half of a certain expenditure. A repeal of this Section of the Act of 1926 enables the Board of Trade to reduce the fees, and it is expected that the reduction will be of the order of 10 per cent. That is the British Shipping Assistance Bill, those are the main provisions which I desire to bring to the notice of the House. Some hon. Members are practical shipowners with great experience. I would remind those who are less familiar with the sea of the old Italian proverb, that no ship should ever be judged from the land. Landlubbers in this House will therefore be duly modest in putting forward their proposals. The recognised greeting throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, if you desired to wish anybody good luck, was to say to them in whatever language they spoke: "May Heaven send you good shipping."
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:whilst this House recognises the necessity for State intervention to secure the rehabilitation of the mercantile marine, it regards the payment of a public subsidy to private interests as a method of assistance which has proved to be undesirable and ineffective, and which is still less worthy of support when unaccompanied by any measures to ensure the payment of fair wages and good working conditions to those employed on board ship as well as the reinstatement of the many British domiciled seamen who are out of employment through the substitution of cheap labour.There is very much with which we shall all agree in what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. He has presented his case with lucidity and clarity. We all agree that the shipping industry is in a parlous state. Many ships are idle 721 and multitudes of good seamen are without work. In asking us to take these matters into consideration, the hon. Member was careful to forswear any disposition to embark on any enterprise smacking of national control or nationalisation of shipping. These fruits of scarcity, these rewards of shortage, which we are asked to vote; the spectacle of unemployed shipping, the millions of pounds lost by shareholders of shipping companies and the multitudes of unemployed sailors, are the glorious fruits of intensive private enterprise. Seeing the hon. Member's enthusiasm for this cause, it is a pity that he has not a more fortunate manifestation of its results to present.
The scarcity of tonnage is due primarily to the fact that fewer goods are purchased by customers, and I can believe that entirely apart from the manipulation of tariffs, for which the present Government are responsible, the difficulties of international exchange and, above all, the financial policy to which they are subject, which keeps down the purchasing power of the people, has more to do with the diminution of cargoes than anything that shipowners themselves may, or may not, have done. We are asked to vote for certain purposes £2,000,000 subsidy for voyages which are to extend for one year. What is going to happen after that we do not know. It may be £3,000,000, and if it is conducted on the same lines and, yields the same results as those with which we are called upon to deal, it may easily be £4,000,000. Then there is the £10,000,000 for new construction.
I will say something about the machinery of the Bill and the proposals in the White Paper later on, but I notice a very significant omission both in the Bill and in the White Paper, and in the speech to which we have just listened. There is not a word about the officers and seamen who work the ships in the White Paper or in the Bill. Shipowners depend on the seamen and officers to work the ships, but they are left out of account, like the cargoes which are discharged on the dockside. We want to put in a plea for them, and I shall not have much difficulty in showing that they are the most vital part of the whole industry.
722 It is unfortunate, to say the least, that in asking the House of Commons to make this grant of public money, the men who do the work on ships receive no manner of recognition at all. No conditions are mentioned which will affect them directly.
There does not appear to have been consultations with the National Maritime Board, which represents both parties in respect of certain matters. This is an omission which would not have been made in the case of any internal industry. When railway companies are considering any organisation of the undertaking it has always been the custom for many years past, where large sums of public money are expended, to take all the different parties, through their responsible representatives, into consultation. In this case it is the shipowners who have been consulted from start to finish. There are, as we know, some excellent shipowners, but there are others who do not justify that expression. Here is £2,000,000 of public money which is going to be applied for by those who represent the owners, under conditions mainly fashioned by a committee of the owners. I think it is right that we should look a little closely into the administration of this vast sum, which may be greater in the future and which in effect is to be put into the hands of what is an owners' committee. We are entitled to examine their record a little more closely. In saying this I want to pay full tribute to those owners who served us so well during the war and who were associated with the father of an hon. Member whom I am glad to see opposite. I want it to be quite clear that I am only describing facts.
It so happens that by an unfortunate coincidence the right hon. Gentleman opposite was President of the Board of Trade in 1916, and in the early part of 1917 I was a member of a Cabinet Committee which had to investigate the operations and the profits of the shipowners. I do not forget that the other day in the House of Commons the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade exhorted us to become adherents of his gospel of profits. Anyhow the shipowners, as far as we found them, or some of them, certainly worshipped at that shrine. In the early days of 1917, in company with my colleagues on that Cabinet Committee, I was 723 confronted with a statement that large numbers of ships somehow or other did not seem to be available. We were told that they could not be chartered or something of that kind. Then we came under the advice of a gentleman who is now Lord Maclay. When we decided to mobilise these ships we found hundreds of them in distant waters all over the world, earning sometimes on a voyage, we were told, enough to pay for the whole ship. There were hundreds of them, As time went by and von Tirpitz got busy, we were only too glad that, on the advice of Lord Maclay, we had brought these ships into our service.
At that time Sir Josiah Stamp was at the Inland Revenue. He furnished us with a statement of their profits, and it is the lesson of these that I wish to bring before the House. In the first 26 months of the War, with insurance at pre-War values, owners of ocean tramps netted a profit of £135,000,000; and it was estimated that the shipowners' cargo and passenger liners in the first 26 months of the War, even allowing for insurance at inflated values, had netted no less than £300,000,000 of profit. It was not until after we had snatched the ships from the greedy hands of their owners that the nation was made more certain of being able to survive.
It is right to remember this lesson when we are asked to hand millions of public money into this kind of charge, and to remember too that it was this section of shipping which was the greatest culprit in 1917. They were the men who were preventing their ships, hundreds of them, from ever coming to a British port, while the nation was periously short of food. What was the seamen's record at that time, the record of the men who are left out of account altogether? What did they do? There is not a Member anywhere in the House who would not pay tribute to what they did. It was their endurance and heroism that saved the nation. They were not asking for profit, and they are entitled to be safeguarded now. There would be no difficulty in doing it. Every public authority has a fair wages clause in its contracts. There is nothing fresh in it. It would be perfectly easy to put such a Clause into this Bill and to get a composite body arranged which would devise fair and just conditions.
724 Some very startling statements were given last week on the subject of the manning of our ships and the displacement of domiciled British sailors by non-domiciled British sailors or by aliens. In his reply, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade rather questioned some of the figures. For that reason, I and others have given a good deal of time since then to an investigation of the facts, as far as we were able to do so. We got into contact with the Seamen's Union, who are in daily touch with what is happening. There is undoubtedly proceeding, especially in certain lines trading East, a considerable displacement of British sailors, either by aliens or by non-domiciled British seamen. I have here a letter which I will hand over to the President of the Board of Trade, because I cannot express any opinion upon it first-hand. It gives a detailed statement as to the name, etc., of a Chinese agent in Rotterdam who at this moment is arranging for the transfer of 15 Chinamen from Rotterdam to Liverpool to be put on a British ship. It would appear from this letter and from other information that the regulations as to alien immigrants are being very largely lost sight of. I have chapter and verse. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should have the matter investigated by an impartial body, and see to what extent British seamen are being displaced, by various subterfuges, by men of other nationalities, mainly of course because those other men are paid lower wages.
When you come to examine this matter, the number of Chinamen who were born in Hong Kong is perfectly staggering. Every Arab who wants to join a ship seems to have been born in Aden. So it goes on. There are a great many British ships which have got such crews are under the British flag, and are getting all the benefit of our consuls and all the services that we pay for, and they have not a Britisher of any sort serving upon them. I have here the details of a number of cases. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have some of these cases investigated. Here is a ship, a British-owned ship under the British flag, the "Horus." It is owned by the Maritime Transport Company, of 36, Camomile Stret, E.C. Here are the names of every one of her crew. They are mainly Italian, and I do not profess to be able to pro- 725 nounce their names, but there is not a Britisher among them.
Here is another ship which is owned by a British firm and registered here and on that ship no fewer than six nationalities are represented. I have here a list of their wages. I will pass over these details to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants them. On this particular ship the master is Giovanni Pidatelli whose wages are not stated. The mate is Furroccio Frizzi who was receiving £7 14s. per month instead of the Maritime Board's rate of £16. The boatswain Andrea Apostolov, a Rumanian, was paid £5 10s. instead of £13 1s. and so it goes on through the whole lot—Rumanians, Italians, Russians, Yugoslavs and the rest of them. We are entitled when we are voting a subsidy for British shipping to be assured that there is a fair proportion of British-born sailors employed on the ships. It is not much to ask and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman who replied last week was not fully informed and that this information, which we investigated with great care before I ventured to make these statements, is correct information. At all events, whatever may happen under this glorious system of private enterprise we are entitled when we are spending £2,000,000 of public money to see that the kind of ship which I have described is not the kind of ship on which the money is to be spent.
There is one other thing which I will ask the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to take into account. The House will remember that I asked him to say what he meant by modernisation. He told us that he meant certain kinds of improvements in machinery and so forth but he did not say anything at all about the accommodation for the seamen. I would like to pay a tribute to the improved standard of accommodation which Lord Maclay introduced into many of our ships. Some of the tramp steamers have always been the worst in this respect, and I have collected some information on this point which I shall venture to give to the House. In connection therewith, I am glad to see that the Lord President of the Council has been good enough to come here, because I have here a reference to a promise which he made when he was President of the Board of 726 Trade. I see that in 1906 a special committee of the London Port Sanitary Authority specified certain conditions which should apply to the provision of accommodation on board ship. There were nine suggestions and I shall not repeat them all, but they related to such matters as living quarters, ventilation, accommodation for food and so forth. Of those nine suggestions only one has been fully carried out which is the provision of the cubic space per man recommended. Two others, namely, those relating to a separate room for messing and crews being berthed aft, were included in the standard ship which Lord Maclay encouraged. The rest of the provisions are as yet not adopted.
Here is a description, not by a landlubber such as the hon. Gentleman opposite told us we ought to avoid, but by a sailor. Incidentally I must plead guilty to being a "landlubber," but I would point out that it is the landlubbers who are finding this money, and it is quite seemly that they should have a say as to how it is to be spent. This is a description by Rear-Admiral Boyle Somerville who is not a landlubber anyhow. It is a description of a ship of the better type, a ship that was taken over to be adapted during the war. The Rear-Admiral was doing the usual Sunday round, which is the established practice in the Navy and this is his account in Blackwood's Magazine of February, 1920, of what he found on this ship:The first and worst and rudest shock reached us all on the first Sunday on which we went 'rounds' of the living quarters allotted to the deck hands and firemen of the ship's original crew. All of the men who would 'join up' for temporary service in the war had been taken over, together with their ships…and we saw them in their native and accustomed haunts…We were conducted into the very 'eyes' of the ship—to the forecastle and the narrow depths beneath it, to the part which in the great Atlantic liners dips, shuddering, into the monstrous head seas; bears on its front the first and worst of the furious impact …No place this at any time for men;This is not from a landlubber, but from a life-long sailor—but especially not for men tired out in long watches below among the boilers or on deck … Yet this was the region allotted to the crew, squeezed here into the least possible area by the greedy owners of the ship"—727 This is a British Admiral—so as to permit of more space elsewhere. The word 'Bolshevik" had not at that period of the war been invented; but that is what we felt like when we entered those quarters.There is much more that is worse which I could quote, were it not that I think I have given the House a fair sample. There is another circumstance which arises out of this defective accommodation and that is its effect upon the health of the crews. Some very startling figures emerge from an examination of the records of the health of merchant seamen. I have spent a little time looking into the statistics relating to mortality in the mercantile marine issued by the Board of Trade in 1932. The number of seamen who died in that year was 3,166, and of these only 642 were "occupied" seamen. That seems a relatively small proportion, but when we look a little further into the matter it turns out that no less than 625 men of those not returned as occupied died within 12 months of leaving the Service and 295 died within three months of retirement. In other words, they left to die. We find that 20 per cent. of the total deaths were of men who died within a year of leaving the Service. I notice that there is a staggering record of mortality from tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. No less than 611 out of 3,000 died from those causes, and, of course, that is associated with the kind of accommodation which Admiral Somerville described. It is the inevitable result of such conditions, and when we give a subsidy of £l0,000,000 for building more ships we are entitled to secure that men shall not be subject to the sort of accommodation on them which gives those results. I am well aware that we cannot do impossible things with ships that are on the sea, but we can at least make provision with regard to the ships that are to be built. In this connection I will ask the House to refer to two expressions used by the hon. Member in his reply last week, because it is that that we are challenging to-day. He said:What I am saying is that the grant or refusal of a subsidy has nothing to do with the men or officers being entitled to have the rate of wages laid down and declared by the National Maritime Board.728 He was quite frank about it, and I honour him for being frank. He went on:I am pointing out that it is not a relevant consideration on the question of the grant or refusal of a subsidy to discuss wages, which are already dealt with in the industry by the appropriate machinery.We say that it ought to be a relevant consideration. We differ fundamentally.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The right hon. Gentleman has been quoting from remarks that I made. I know he wants to be absolutely fair, and if he will look at the same column he will find that I also said:The men and the officers and all the different classes employed on a ship are entitled to the rate of wages of the National Maritime Board independently of any subsidy being given or independently being declined."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1526, Vol. 295.]That is why it is irrelevant.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That only indicates the necessity of the hon. Member delving into this subject a little more. The National Maritime Board cannot make its writ run. That is the point. It could when the right hon. Member for Paisley's father was there, because he saw that the writ did run, but there is no power now to make it run. What is required either with regard to the conditions as to manning and the proportion of British seamen or even the payment of the seamen on the ship, does not run. If it did, all these weirdly named people would not have been on the ships that I have mentioned, receiving half the wages of the British sailors. The whole point is—and this is what the hon. Member has overlooked, and it is no good his shaking his head, because it is the fact—that the National Maritime Board cannot make its decisions effective. It has no power of doing so, and I say that these ought to have been relevant considerations now that we are asked to vote these millions away.
I have been through machinery, which I will not repeat, of the administration of these grants by the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee in respect of voyages, and the other committee in respect of shipbuilding, but I say that it would be possible, when making these grants, to make conditions for voyages with regard to a percentage of manning, including a minimum percentage of British sailors, and conditions as to 729 wages and employment could easily be grafted on to the conditions laid down by the President as those necessary to be complied with for the receipt of grants. There ought to be a joint body dealing with the matter. Similarly, conditions regarding accommodation on the newly-built ships could readily be included among the conditions which would be made by the Shipbuilding Committee. There is no reason why not, and I would entreat the right hon. Gentleman to take his mind just for a minute from the group of people which has hitherto monopolised his attention and to listen to some extent to those who represent the British seamen.
An hon. Friend reminds me that I was going in this connection to refer to what the Lord President of the Council, when he was President of the Board of Trade, promised a deputation of seamen, in July, 1922, when these very facts as to accommodation were being urged upon him. He said:I am quite sure generally speaking, that you will have the sympathies of the Department. I do not want to say much here about the mercantile marine and what it did in the War."—I think we ought to remember it—I will promise you this. I will take this matter up myself and go into it most carefully and see what I can do.That was the promise in regard to accommodation and such like matters made by the right hon. Gentleman in 1922, since which nothing has happened, and I would remind him of that promise.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade did exhort us to worship at the shrine of profit. We do not join with him in that adoration, but I would suggest that, even when he does, it would be well in this matter to have his vision on the future, because, apart from the justice of the case to these splendid men upon whom our life depends, the wisdom as well as the necessity of the kind of provision which we are urging is surely manifest. I will not repeat what the hon. Member said as to the extent to which this country depends every day upon the service of skilled officers and men in the mercantile marine, but supposing we were ever foolish enough to engage in another war, what then? To whom then would our eyes be turned? Apart from the horrors that we might anticipate from the air, we should be looking to the sea, to the efforts 730 and endurance of our seamen. We should be glad if they were all Britishers then; we should be glad if, in time of peace, when we were granting assistance, we had grafted on to our conditions provisions which would have ensured that British seamen were continued to be employed under good conditions. I suggest that wisdom as well as statesmanship require us to secure that this body of men when we have an opportunity of helping them is not allowed to continue to decay but is assisted and that in giving them our assistance we forget a little bit the doctrines of profit and have our eye upon the more enduring interests of our fellow citizens.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. WALTER REA
It requires considerable effort to break an almost complete silence that has endured for nearly 20 years in this House, so I must ask, not for the indulgence accorded to a maiden speech, but perhaps for such mercy and consideration as may be given to a demi vierge. At any rate perhaps the House will pardon me when I address it with some diffidence on this occasion, but I cannot refrain from saying a few words on the spectacle of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade appearing here to propose a subsidy to a trade with which he and I were long connected and in doing so to go completely contrary to all those principles which I learned from him and which I sometimes like to think that he, at any rate to a small extent, learned from a relative of mine. I am not going to indulge in a practice, which, I know, he particularly dislikes, of quoting from his own speeches. It may be that I have not the quick brain of the right hon. Gentleman, but so far I have quite failed to detect the fallacy which he seems to have discovered in his previous utterances. Although I am not going to quote my right hon. Friend, and although I do not ask him to follow the precepts laid clown by my father, I do think that filial piety might induce him to pay some attention to a remark which was made by his father, not in the prehistoric past, but only a year ago, after the Economic Conference. It was on 15th December last year that Lord Runciman said:The policy of the subsidy is neither sound trading nor sound finance. … Neither a company nor a country can get out of a dirty mess by defying natural laws.731 One must admit that times have changed, and in the present serious depression of the British shipping—a depression unparalleled—it is our duty to examine with a completely open mind any scheme which is intended to help that industry. We have to consider to-day, apart from any preconceived notion of fiscal policy, whether the proposal before us is going to bring about any real and permanent benefit to the trade. Even a bigoted Free Trader must admit that the giving of a subsidy will bring an immediate, though perhaps temporary, benefit to the recipient, even if there are overwhelming disadvantages to people who have to pay it. This subsidy is not quite in the same position as the other subsidies put forward by the Government, because shipping is not only a most individual and competitive trade, but it is subject to international competition keener and more rapid in its action than any other trade of which I know. Indeed, already I hear rumours that people who charter these tramp ships are preparing to bring pressure to bear to secure even lower freights. If they are successful in bringing about such a reduction—and it is not at all impossible, because the subsistence level will be lower with the subsidy—then the £2,000,000 subsidy will not go very far.
I should like to have a reassurance as to the steps which the administrative committee are going to take to meet that very real danger. I want some further information as to how this administrative committee is going to work. A great deal of the trouble, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has been due to the disorganised condition of the industry, and in so far as its reorganisation is being brought about, we welcome the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. We are very doubtful, however, as to the advantage of the subsidy, with regard to which we want considerably more information than we have to-day. I want to know how far the administrative committee is going to interfere in the day-to-day work of the shipowner and the ship-broker. We have had some recent experience of committees under Government control interfering with trade. We have heard of pigs, potatoes, and milk control schemes, all of them bringing about friction and interference with individual initiative, and that in spite of 732 the fact that their task is very much easier, because they are fortified with quotas, restrictions and so forth which cannot conceivably be applied to the shipping trade. Where the shipowner is in the very keenest competition with the whole world, I am very doubtful as to how he is going to secure an equal share of that trade—the share to which he is entitled—if he is working in fetters whereas his rival is working without having to consider what the regulations of a Government department may be within which he will have to work to secure the subsidy.
The subsidy presents some problems on which we should like some enlightenment. Has the shipowner to find out from the advisory committee or from the Board of Trade whether his voyage is going to be subsidisable before he signs the charter? Otherwise he is taking a gamble, and will have to calculate his expenses without knowing whether he is to get the subsidy or not. To another important question which was raised by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) on the last occasion when we were discussing this subject, we have not received an answer. It appears from the White Paper that the shipping subsidy is going far more to the slowest ship, the least efficient ship, because if it is based on ton days, the ship that takes 12 days on a voyage, as against the ship that takes eight days on the same voyage, is going to get 50 per cent. more subsidy. Therefore, unless there is some explanation which has not yet been given to us, this subsidy appears to us to be in a particular degree a subsidy to the oldest and least efficient part of the trade.
I am even more alarmed at the prospect of Government interference in this trade. Although they profess that they are going to leave it to shipowners to run their own business, I am particularly disturbed when I see the effect of the grant of another subsidy to a different section of the shipping trade, namely, that granted to the Cunard-White Star Company for the "Queen Mary," if the Government are going to take any share in the management of that business, and particularly to establish, or attempt to establish, a monopoly—because in the shipping trade a real monopoly is quite impossible of achievement. But it came as a shock to 733 some of us to find last week the Chancellor of Exchequer saying that, because the Government were concerned in the finance and prosperity of the Cunard Company, the Government were taking upon themselves to prohibit the transfer of ships under the British flag to other bodies, again under British supervision, to operate those ships in competition with the Cunard-White Star steamers. It so happens that they were not in competition with the new Cunarder, but that is only an illustration of the Government acting without knowledge in these intricate matters of trade.
The point I want to make is that it indicates a very great danger. If the shipping trade once begins to accept subsidies from the Government, it will land itself in supervision, which may cost the trade something very much more than the £2,000,000 temptation which is held before it at the present time. We are told that this is only a modest £2,000,000, and that it is for a year only, but that only rests on the assumption that during the next 12 months my right hon. Friend and his Advisory Committee will be successful in their negotiations, not with one nation, but with the whole world, and that they will be so satisfactory that they will have restored the shipping trade to a remunerative level. That seems to me to be sheer nonsense. If my right hon. Friend is unsuccessful what happens then? Of course, the shipping trade will come back and say that the time has not been long enough, that circumstances have been too strong for them, and that they have not been able to make arrangements to carry out the terms of the susidy.
Judging from the precedents of other subsidies, we shall see the shipping subsidy renewed again and again at a larger and larger figure without even such conditions as are attached to it at present. I say that it will be a larger and larger figure, because, having started on this slippery slope of giving subsidies to the tramp, the right hon. Gentleman really flatters himself if he thinks he can resist the pressure that will be brought upon him to extend the subsidy to other sections of the trade. No one knows better than he how imperceptibly the trade of the tramp merges into that of the liner. We shall find that the subsidised tramp is just able to attract to itself a cargo, for example, from the other side of the North Sea which, but 734 for the subsidy, would have gone to a cargo liner on the East Coast. We shall have an irrestible argument from the cargo liner owner. Indeed, we heard the first rumblings of it during the last Debate from the representatives of the cargo liners in this House. There will be an irresistible pressure on the right hon. Gentleman to give at least equal assistance to what he will be told is a much more valuable part of the mercantile marine than the old slow 8-knot tramp which it is proposed to subsidise. In the time of war it was speed that counted, and the 12, 13 or 14-knot cargo liner——
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
I was constantly engaged in protecting the convoys coming across the North Sea, and the speed was about five to six knots.
§ Mr. REA
That is true, but I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend would have preferred faster boats. It is not germane to my argument, however, beyond the simple point that the cargo liner carries more cargo at a greater speed, and will therefore claim that in times of emergency it is of greater value than the tramp, and on that account should at least receive the same subsidy. I do not see how my right hon. Friend will resist a considerable addition to the subsidy when we come to the end of the present financial year, and it is futile to suppose that the subsidy is payable for one year only.
I shall be told that I am not being very helpful. I agree that these criticisms are somewhat distasteful to the shipping industry, but it is no use our proposing a quack remedy. When one sees that a serious disease is being treated, not by a thorough investigation and remedy, but merely by some sort of remedy to carry on for a short time, it is necessary to tell the unpleasant truth, however much the trade may desire a temporary anæesthetic. The remedy, of course, lies far deeper than the £2,000,000 subsidy, which is a mere pill to cure an earthquake. The trouble is that while cargo is diminishing, shipping is increasing, and no juggling with subsidies will alter that fundamental 735 fact. It may be, of course, that Protection and national self-sufficiency are good for the nation. We do not admit it, but, even assuming that it be so, it is no use shutting our eyes to the fact that national self-sufficiency means the ruin of shipping. The subsidy is no cure whatever for that. If we are going to produce at home the wheat, sugar and other things which not only provide freight for our steamers and their tramps, but provide freight in the coal and other things which we send abroad to pay for them, and if we cut all these things out and by artificial means produce the materials at home that used to come from abroad, we are bound to have a depressed and almost a ruined shipping.
This subsidy is merely a temporary palliative and cannot conceivably be a permanent cure. The cure is to break down these barriers. We recognise that the Government do not propose to take steps to bring about this happy day, at any rate during the year of the subsidy, and we ought to consider what more modest measures there are which can to some extent ease the present disastrous situation. To that extent, we welcome the appointment of the Administrative Committee to co-ordinate the trade, but it is Utopian to hope that within any measurable period we shall come to a world-wide understanding to bring about an improvement in trade. That is not the only matter that this country should have before it. Many friends of mine in the shipping world believe that if we cannot get a universal agreement we can attain a bloc among the lower tariff countries and the countries who do not subsidise their shipping, or only do so to a small extent. I have reason to believe from what my friends tell me that the Scandinavian countries would look with favour on such union of interests, and that Holland and Belgium might come in, and even Germany perhaps; while, at a later period, there are hopes that possibly Japan and some of the South American States would join with us.
Of course, in return for what we granted to the Dominion at Ottawa, we should ask them to come in, at any rate to the extent of refraining from subsidising foreign shipping against our own, and to put their safety regulations in line with ours. Incidentally, 736 Australia might do us the justice of helping us to impose the same conditions on competitive American shipping from San Francisco as are imposed on us to prevent the grossly unfair case of American ships being allowed to carry between New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania while British ships in the same trade are forbidden to carry between the United States and Honolulu. The Dominions might be asked to come in to help straighten out some of these things. While individual nations cannot bring about a change in the world situation, a bloc of half-a-dozen of the really important maritime nations working together could make itself felt and oven feared.
I am not sure how far it is possible for us, jointly with these other nations, to put some sort of restriction on ships which are competing by unfair methods. Already we have international regulations for deck cargoes and load lines, and I wonder whether they could be extended to the manning and the pay, to which my right hon. Friend very rightly drew attention, so that nations whose ships are subsidised or who are competing quite unfairly in the matter of overloading undermanning and so on were penalised by differential dock dues. We in this country cannot do it alone, because we are by far the biggest international traders, and we should be open to a retaliation which would be dangerous, but if we formed this bloc I believe something could be done in the way of inducing other nations at least to treat us with respect.
I am not proposing to say more than a word or two about the scrap and build policy, because we require a great deal more knowledge than we possess at the present time before we can say whether it will be of real benefit. I know that it is very tempting to try to get out of the Government some compensation for the burden that was placed on the shipping industry—at a time when, as it was argued, it was able to bear it, though time has proved the contrary—of taking over at enhanced prices the old pre-war German vessels and putting them into competition with the very efficient and much more modern German and other foreign tonnage built since the War. From my recollection of the effect of the Trade Facilities Act and the ships built then, I am a little doubtful whether this 737 policy of building more and more ships will not, unless there is very careful supervision, bring about an even more disastrous depression than exists at present. I must return once more to a danger I foresee, that if shipowners take these subsidies to build ships they will not run those ships without Government control. Bearing in mind what happened over the Red Star Line and its threatened competition with the White Star Line, shipowners will be very well advised to reflect whether the £10,000,000 is not a very dangerous gift, which will involve them in a ruinous form of indirect and unacknowledged Government control.
Of course these proposals are only palliatives. In a world of restrictions, when everybody was getting help, it was bound to happen that shipping would get its subsidy. We are not told what happened in the Cabinet, but everybody is quite convinced that there has been a fight between the two Walters, and that Walter the farmer had beaten Walter the tramp, and that the tramp has been reduced to taking as a cure a hair of the dog that bit him. But this proposal is, after all, merely a palliative, and my reason for intervening—not for too long, I hope, after a very long period of silence—is to urge the House to realise what it is doing to-day. This £2,000,000 is not a final payment; it is just as much a token payment as the £2,000,000 for the depressed areas which we were discussing yesterday. Why should it have been necessary to bribe the shipowners to induce them to do what it is obviously in their own interest to do without it? The right hon. Gentleman says that we cannot negotiate without a power behind, but I hope that when thinking of the policy of the big stick in negotiations he has not overlooked the possibility of retailiation. I only hope that he may be right and that his policy may bring about some reorganisation, but £2,000,000 will not help him very much, and I hope that his emphasis will be placed much more upon reorganisation than on subsidy. The only final way out of our difficulties lies in more trade, and that means more international trade. That implies a return to fiscal sanity, and we shall not escape from the present tragic situation until either this Government or its successor has the courage to give a lead in that direction to the rest of the world.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
The right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) observed that the personnel of the Merchant Service is of vital importance to this country, and I fully agree, and, in fact, I feel that it is almost the most vital part of the service. It should be recognised generally that shipowners take a great pride and interest in their personnel. There may be a few black sheep among them, as there are in every industry—possibly there may be a black angel in Heaven—but taking them as a whole British shipowners are keenly interested in the welfare of their crews and personnel. The right hon. Member talked about the hundreds of millions of profit which accrued to shipowners during the War, but he did not mention that 17s. or 18s. in the pound was taken back by the Government in Excess Profits Duty.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The £300,000,000 made in the first 26 months were not taken back in Excess Profits Duty. The Excess Profits Duty was put on later. But that was the sum taken up to January, 1917.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I have not the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but certainly after that date practically all the profits went back to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman complained about the greedy shipowners, but he did not tell the House that when they commandeered ships the greedy Government—he, apparently, was one of them—put up the rates of freight from 20s. or 30s. to 200s. or 300s. It is absurd to try to brand the shipowners as greedy when the Government raised freights to five or 10 times as high as the shipowners thought sufficient. In the Debate last week the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) made many assertions and accusations of a vague nature against shipowners, and when he was asked to substantiate them rode off on the horse "There is not time." The House knows how much worth to give to statements which canot be substantiated. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) is not now in the House, because I was asked to deal with a statement he made by the management of the Ellerman line. He did not mention the name of the firm, but mentioned the name of two boats, the "City of Winnipeg" and the "City of 739 Karachi," and, as everyone in the shipping world knows, the City line is part of the Ellerman group. The statement he made was:Two ships the 'City of Winnipeg' and the 'City of Karachi' were sold to the Japanese to be broken up. It seems that the company imported about 80 Chinamen from Rotterdam to crew the ships, and subsequently it was found that the ships were laden with cargo to be discharged at various ports on the way to Philadephia. The whole voyage to Japan was to occupy between four and five months.He accused Ellermans of importing 80 Chinamen to sail the ship back to Japan, but that is absolutely and entirely false. The facts of the case are that, as is their invariable custom, this ship was sold for breaking up purposes to the Japanese, delivery being given on this side, and it was the Japanese who employed a British captain and crew to man these ships and ordered them out to America in ballast. There they picked up a cargo of scrap iron. It had nothing to do with the Ellerman line. I am sure when the hon. Member hears that statement, he will be only too ready to withdraw his remark.
I would ask the House still to bear with me, because I want to deal with a rather more personal matter, in connection with statements made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) who, I am sorry to see, is not in the House either. I took the trouble to communicate with him two or three days ago and warn him that I intended to bring this matter up. He made a statment on the Committee stage of this Bill on 4th December, in which he said:Here is the name of the firm of Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine and Company, Limited. Another name is the Clan Line of the Clyde. There are also firms on the Mersey and the North-East Coast. What is it that those firms are enforcing?As a matter of fact, the firm of Cayzer, Irvine and Company, Limited, and the Clan Line of the Clyde are one and the same because Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine and Company are the managers of the Clan Line. The hon. Member went on:These firms systematically ask engineers after agreeing under the National Maritime Board Agreement, to sign in their contract that at the end of their voyage they will forego so much of their wages to the firm.That is an absolute, downright untruth. There is not a grain of truth in it. The Clan Line has never done this, and they 740 have no intention whatever of doing what the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs says they do. As a matter of fact, all seagoing engineers in the Clan Line are paid in excess of the Maritime Board scale. They are continuously employed; the day they sign off they sign on again. I am quite certain that in this case also, the hon. Member will be only too ready, when he appreciates the statement that I have made, to withdraw his allegations. But he went on to make a further allegation. He said:A further point is that the marine engineers and those who go down to the sea in ships surrendered their two weeks' holiday per year with pay.That again is quite wrong. The engineers get 14 days' leave a year. It is true that owing to the exigencies of the merchant service sometimes one year you cannot give it, but it is invariably made up so that over all they get 14 days' leave. If by any means you cannot give it, they get double pay for the 14 days which they have missed. I do not think you can get very much further than that. The hon. Member went on to say:They are not satisfied with asking the men to surrender part of their pay at the end of the voyage, but they have displaced the fifth engineer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; cols. 1470–71, Vol. 295.]There is no magic in the fifth engineer. According to that statement, the hon. Member considers that five engineers are a necessity and are laid down for ships. Hon. Members may be surprised to know that many of our ships have seven engineers on board; if you add the refrigerating engineers and the electrician, actually ten. It is true that in the bad times—they were very bad two years ago—on a certain number of our boats which only carry five engineers these were reduced to four, but even that number is in excess of the requirements. Those boats are only required to carry three and even when we reduced them to four they were carrying one over the requirements. Now times are looking a little bit better, and a few months ago we brought in a scheme to take on probationers, not in any sense to replace the fifth engineer. They are supernumerary, and they are in excess. They are given £2 a month, but when you take into consideration their food and accommodation I am told that it works out to about 35s. a week. This system of taking on probationers in excess of the already 741 excess number of engineers was introduced for three reasons: first, to help to reduce unemployment; secondly, to try to train these men to become efficient watchkeeping engineers, and, thirdly, to give them a sea sense.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
No, they have been apprenticed, but they have finished their apprenticeship. Since this scheme has been put into force we have had an enormous number of applications, literally dozens, asking to be taken on. A young engineer, when he has served his apprenticeship prefers to work at his trade and to try to obtain his certificate, instead of getting to a dead end and having to go on the National Insurance. By this system of probationers we have done a great deal to satisfy, as far as we can in a small way, what they desire. Several of these probationers have been promoted, and they are now enjoying wages in excess of the Maritime Board's scale. While I am on this point it is just as well to let the House know that, in spite of the fact that in nearly every case our crews and officers are in excess of the scale required, our wages are also in excess. We have for a number of years instituted a pension scheme which is entirely voluntary and non-contributory. It is given to captains, chief engineers, stewards and carpenters, so that when the time comes for those men who have served us loyally and faithfully to retire, they may enjoy their well-earned rest in comfort and security. I apologise for taking so long on the digression, but it is only right, when statements are broadcast by hon. Members of the Opposition and are not founded on fact, that other Members should contradict them if they can.
There is very little new that can be said on this Bill to-day over what has already been said, but the title seems rather a misnomer. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade took pains to show that this is entirely a Bill to give assistance to tramps. Why not, therefore, call it the British Tramp Shipping Assistance Bill, or better still, call it a Bill to grant assistance to the distressed areas in British tramps? To say that it is a Bill to help British shipping as a whole is not quite fair, because, according to the figures given by the Chamber of Shipping in their annual 742 report for 1933–34 tramp shipping is about a quarter of British shipping. About 75 per cent. of British shipping gets no assistance, to all intents and purposes, under this Bill. A great many of the liners are very much afraid of the probability that they will be worse off than they were before. Many of my friends come up to me and say, "You are all right now. You are to get a subsidy," and I have the unpleasant task of replying, "Excuse me, but I do not get any subsidy so far as I can see, and I may be in a worse plight than I am now."
On page 4 of the White Paper the President of the Board of Trade suggests that shipowners should press upon shipowners in other manufacturing countries to frame proposals to adjust the supply of tonnage in the world to the demand and thus to raise freight rates once more to a remunerative level. That is a very difficult job. It is easy to say on paper that you are to adjust the supply of tonnage in the world to the demand and try to raise freight rates, but it is the hardest thing in the world to bring about, and no one knows the difficulty of it better than the President of the Board of Trade. The liner section will endeavour to co-operate with the tramp section with a view to bringing this about. Only two days ago there was a meeting of principals representing liner companies, at the office of the Chamber of Shipping, and this resolution was passed:That this meeting takes note of the assurances given by the President of the Board of Trade, and of the expressed willingness of tramp owners to promote cooperation, and unanimously resolves that the liners should be ready to co-operate whole-heartedly with the appropriate tramp committees and sub-committees, and is agreed that a representative committee of such principals should be formed to promote such co-operation and welcome proposals from the tramp committee.I think it must be agreed that, while the liners have not quite seen eye to eye with the Government throughout this matter, they are out to do their very best to bring about co-operation in the industry. It is however, a difficult matter. As an hon. Member said just now, shipping is not a question as between tramp steamers and passenger liners in this country—it is international; and, while liners and tramps may co-operate as much as they like, sometimes there comes out 743 of the blue an Italian, or French, or Japanese boat and takes the cargo for which we have been negotiating. It may happen that, while we are trying to arrive at an agreement to get rates improved, the foreigner will slip in. In some trades agreement has been arrived at to a certain extent, as in the case of the Australian trade, where, as regards wheat, there has been a good deal of cooperation, and benefit has resulted from it, between liners and tramps. In other trades, as in the Canadian trade, it has failed. In a trade like kernels from Madras, you may be negotiating to get rates raised, and then find a foreign liner that is not in the Conference, or perhaps a Japanese boat, coming down and taking the cargo from under your nose. You have not time to negotiate there in order to improve rates, but have to act on the spur of the moment. The same thing may be said as regards Bombay and Karachi. It will be a very difficult matter. It may be possible to achieve a little success, though only a little; but even a little means something. On the other hand, Clause 1 of the Bill begins:For the purpose of helping the owners of vessels registered at ports in the United Kingdom to compete with foreign shipping in receipt of subsidies from foreign Governments. …That is rather the reverse of the previous request to co-operate in order to raise rates. Now we are asked to co-operate in order to compete with foreign shipping which is in receipt of subsidies, and that means a lowering of rates. As far as I can see, these two things are completely contradictory. I do not quite know to which of the two the President of the Board of Trade and the Government attach most value, but I cannot see how we can achieve both. We can either make our best efforts to raise rates, or we can make a dead set at trying to compete with foreign subsidies, but how rates are going to be lowered and raised at the same time I do not know.
If we are to fight subsidies, we must be given a big stick with which to do it. Up to the present, British shipping has had no bargaining power whatever, and a subsidy of £2,000,000 given to a quarter of the British shipping industry for a temporary period of one year is not going to be a strong enough weapon with which to fight foreign subsidies. I think there 744 is no question about that. The mere fact of its being given temporarily for one year will convince every foreigner that he has only to wait until after the year has elapsed, and for that reason, if for no other, I should like to see the period of one year and the temporary nature of the subsidy knocked out. I think we have to do a good deal of bluffing as well as actual fighting. After all, we are up against a very big thing. Foreign subsidies to-day amount to £30,000,000, The United States pays £17,000,000, France £6,500,000, and Italy £5,500,000, and to give a light wand like a subsidy of £2,000,000 to British shipping, and ask it to fight against the heavy cudgel of £30,000,000, is asking the impossible.
§ Commander MARSDEN
Does not that figure represent the subsidy to the whole shipping industry, and not merely the tramp section?
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I do not think you can fight a subsidy for tramps without fighting the whole. If you have to fight subsidies, you have to fight the subsidies given to shipping as a whole, and not merely the subsidies given to tramps. If we really want to try to kill foreign subsidies, we must do something more than give a subsidy of £2,000,000. As I have said before, the liners have asked that they should get another £500,000 in order to equalise the conditions as between them and the tramps. We want to ensure that the subsidy shall be given to the whole of British shipping, because it would then be used by the whole of British shipping against the foreigner, and not by one section only. In the second place, we think that it would materially help the co-operative spirit to which the President of the Board of Trade, quite rightly, attaches so much value. In fact, so much is that the case that some tramp-owners have told me that they would actually prefer that the £500,000 should come out of the £2,000,000, in order that co-operation may be brought about, but the liners have refused to do that; we think that, if it is given, it should be in addition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon made a point just now about the amount of money that has been given to the shipping industry, and he asked, why should the shipping industry ever get any money or any help at all——
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, I did not. What I said was that, if money was given, conditions ought to be attached to secure the well-being of the seamen.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says. A great many conditions are attached. I am sure that, if he knew of the amount of time and trouble that has been spent in these negotiations, he would realise how difficult the situation has been as regards conforming and complying with the conditions. If the right hon. Gentleman objects to money being given to shipping, I would ask him if he has thought of the enormous amount of money that has been given in subsidies during the last few years? I believe that, between 1925 and 1933, £34,000,000 was given to the sugar beet industry—an uneconomic industry. I am told also that housing has had £154,000,000, and I think the right hon. Gentleman had something to do with——
§ Sir H. CAYZER
At what price? At the cost of millions for many years to the taxpayers of this country. The money wasted on those houses under the right hon. Gentleman could have been well utilised in other directions. Then there is wheat, which has had £8,750,000 in the last two years; milk has had £2,000,000; cattle £3,000,000; civil aviation £3,250,000; while in the case of agriculture I am told that taking subsidies and remission of taxation, £52,000,000 goes to that industry in an average year.
We are against subsidies; we all dislike them; we should have liked any other measure to be tried except subsidies. It was not our wish to have a subsidy. Many times in this House I have given instances of other ways in which the problem might be tackled, and the President of the Board of Trade has also; but the Government seem almost literally to have one idea in their heads—that the panacea for all ills is a subsidy. If you are going to carry on on those lines, why grudge to one of the most important, if not the most important industry in the country, a £2,000,000 subsidy, or another £500,000, when you are giving away hundreds of millions for which the poor ship-owner is being taxed? Shipowning is not only an important industry, but it has a far-reaching effect on a great many industries throughout the country. En- 746 gineering, shipbuilding, joinery, electricity and numerous other industries are affected by the welfare of shipping. The position is serious to-day, because, whereas since 1914 British shipping has depreciated by 1,500,000 gross tons, the shipping of the world as a whole has increased by 19,000,000. That shows that we are losing ground rapidly. In fact, last year alone British shipping depreciated by 1,000,000 tons. We shall have to come to bigger measures to help shipping to regain its position in the world, and when we do that it will be a case of doing it as an Empire as a whole. I believe the President of the Board of Trade holds similar views.
I have said before that the industry as a whole is not very much in love with the scrap and build programme. The principle seems to me to be 90 per cent. for distressed areas and 10 per cent. for tramp shipping. In other words, the race for loans will be won by distressed areas, tramps will come in a good second, the cargo lines will be well down the course third, and the passenger liners will be left at the post. A loan to shipping will help distressed areas. I should like to ask why refrigerated tonnage is excluded. That is a class of tonnage which will give a larger amount of indirect employment than any other class of ship building, and is one which will require to be built in the near future owing to the requirements of modern science. The Bill is an attempt to help the part of the industry that is most down and out, but I think it has been rather too closely designed to prevent the liners reaping any benefit from it. I believe that building one boat and scrapping two may be actually the means of putting more ships into the water, because many of the boats that will come under the scheme for scrapping would never have gone to sea again, You may actually have the position that you are in reality only scrapping one and building one, and in other cases you may be scrapping two which would never have gone to sea again and actually building a new boat, so that the position as regards other shipowners may actually be worse instead of better.
I hold the view that you really cannot permanently improve shipbuilding artificially. The more ships you build redundant to the trade of the world the longer you are going to postpone recovery. 747 On the other hand, if you can put shipping on to its legs again I am convinced that ship building will automatically restart. Liners and tramps will require a great deal of new tonnage in the future and, when trade improves, you will find orders flowing in automatically to the shipbuilding yards. I feel that, when you give a subsidy or a loan to shipbuilding, you are starting at the wrong end. It is no good artificially helping shipbuilding and leaving shipping out. It makes matters worse. If you put shipping on to its legs, you are bound to help shipbuilding at the same time. The Government are now providing £9,000,000 for the two luxury liners, £10,000,000 for the scrap and build programme, and £2,000,000 subsidy for tramps—£21,000,000 in all. That is practically 25 per cent. of the British shipping industry. They are doing at present practically nothing for passenger liners, cargo liners, tankers and coasters, and they represent three-fourths of British shipping.
One dislikes being told that you are getting a subsidy when in effect you are not. It is only human nature. I do not want to belittle or to hinder the subsidy to tramps. We have supported that, and we will continue to support it, but we like to feel that we shall not be told that we are getting assistance and that all those millions have been given to help shipping when we have really had nothing at all so far. All the same, in spite of the fact that liners feel that they have been rather unfairly treated, we shall do our best to make this scheme a success, and, if we can achieve both the ends that the Government aim at, that is, to raise freights and to fight against foreign tramps we shall do our best to do so, but we are afraid that, if we succeed at all, we only can do one. If we do only one, or a portion of one, we shall certainly be doing something to help British shipping to some extent, at any rate.
§ 1.12 p.m.
Captain ARTHUR EVANS
I do not think there is any reason at all for my hon. and gallant Friend to apologise to the House in contradicting some of the wild statements that were made when the Money Resolution was before the House. I am sure the House is very grateful to him for giving us the facts of the case and 748 dissipating once and for all the charges that have been made. Although most of us here to-day would, no doubt, quarrel with the terms of the Labour party's Amendment, we should all agree that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was moderate and interested many of us. At the same time he drew attention to a number of cases about which he said he had the facts in his possession. I sincerely hope my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will investigate them and will take an early opportunity of reassuring the House on these points. The right hon. Gentleman's (Dr. Addison) charges against the shipping industry as a whole, and in particular the tramp shipping section of it, astounded me, but I feel that perhaps there is a lot more to be heard of the other side of the case.
The Parliamentary Secretary drew, as he usually does, a very interesting and telling review of the situation that led up to the introduction of this Bill. I was interested to see a statement made in the Press only a few days ago by the President of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, because I think in a few words he dealt with the situation well and hit the nail on the head. Mr. Leighton Seager was reported as saying:The tremendous decrease in the number of British tramp vessels; the number of our ships laid up; and the unemployment of something like 40,000 of our seamen are factors that make it all too apparent that Government assistance is necessary and has been too long delayed. Whether the sum provided will prove to be adequate to achieve all that is desired remains to be seen. It is, at least, a gesture of encouragement to an industry that has almost exhausted its resources in its fight against uneconomic foreign competition. It is a warning, too, to other countries that Britain intends to defend its Mercanile Marine on he high seas by means of subsidies in the same way as she was compelled to defend her internal industries by means of tariffs.While I hope that another 20 years will not elapse before we have the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Rea) again, I rather regretted, when listening to his speech, especially when we know that he is an expert in these matters, that he was not a little more constructive in the arguments he was submitting to the House. As far as I could judge, there was no constructive suggestion to deal with the industry in the position in which it finds 749 itself to-day. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has told the country frequently that this subsidy should be compared with oxygen given to a dying patient. It is needed by an industry which does not care for subsidies, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, but it is nothing but a palliative. It is not a sure means of curing the ills from which the industry is suffering to-day, but it is the only means at the disposal of His Majesty's Government to deal with the situation as they find it and so prevent the tramp shipping industry as a whole from practically going out of existence, and the people who are interested in that industry from being faced with bankruptcy.
There is one factor in the situation which has led up to the present position to which I do not think that attention has previously been drawn. I have in mind the attitude of the banks in connection with the shipping industry. It is true to say that four or five years ago, when times were a little better certainly than they are to-day, the banks made advances to owners of tramp shipping, but subsequently they were rather frightened, and they compelled the owners, much against their wishes, to lay up their ships rather than run them at a loss, and then, after a time, insisted upon those ships being sold irrespective of the uneconomic price which obtained in the market at that time. In many instances they forced British owners of tramp ships to dispose of their ships to foreign owners, particularly to Greeks and Italians, at a price which was little more than the scrap price ruling at that time. These ships, when they were run under foreign flags, competed with our own ships sailing from the same ports because they were in a position, as has already been said, to pay lower wages and to indulge in such practices as undermanning, and they were not, of course, required to comply with the strict regulations of the Board of Trade.
This policy was not only pursued by one bank, but I believe it is true to say that it was pursued by the five big banks, and it looked on the face of it that it was the result of an agreed action by all five banks. It is a very short-sighted policy to drive the owners out of business in this way, and I hope most sincerely that now, if the banks have 750 regard, as they must, to the prosperity of any industry in which they are interested, they will not pursue a policy which is calculated to bring about the bankruptcy of the people upon whom they must depend in the future for their business.
The Parliamentary Secretary in his most able introduction of this Bill told us of the efforts which His Majesty's Government have made to persuade other countries to meet at an economic world conference with a view to bringing about a state of affairs where subsidies are abolished, and he told us that the most important countries, such as Italy, France and Germany, have positively refused to enter into any negotiations at all, and, in fact, that they are not disposed in any way to discuss the matter. He told us also that certain other countries, Scandinavian countries in particular, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, have informed the Government—and I think that this was recently through their Ministers in London—that as far as they are concerned they realise the futility of pursuing a policy of this nature and that they would be happy to enter into negotiations for the abolition of subsidies wherever they operated.
But the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out to the House this afternoon some of the difficulties with which the Board of Trade have to deal. I do not think that the least of these difficulties is the most-favoured-nation clause which figures so prominently in some of the agreements which have been concluded with foreign countries. If it were practicable to suggest the early review of agreements containing this clause, it would free the Board of Trade in their negotiations with foreign countries, and enable them to discriminate against goods as well as shipping of subsidised competitive countries. I think the House would agree that nothing could be more effective in bringing this undesirable competition to an end.
There is no doubt that the granting of this subsidy will, at least, give a breathing space to the industry. It will enable them to carry on negotiations with foreign competitors irrespective of any negotiations which may or may not be entered into by the Board of Trade with a view to the international rationalisation of the industry, and, in doing so streng- 751 then the hands of shipowners in negotiating an agreement which may restore prosperity to freight markets, and go far towards solving the whole problem of foreign subsidies. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) has pointed out, after all, £2,000,000 is a very small sum of money when one compares it with the huge sums which have been granted by the Treasury not only to housing and to agriculture, but to other industries. We cannot lose sight of the present state of the industry. I was frankly appalled the other day in looking at the returns of the number of shipowners, the number of ships and the tonnage which existed in Cardiff in 1930, and comparing them with the present position. I found that in 1930 there were 77 firms owning 319 vessels of a gross tonnage of 1,166,879, and that to-day there are only 47 firms owning 202 vessels of a gross tonnage of 747,483. It seems likely that, unless the House adopts this Bill, if we examine the figures a few years hence they will have dwindled practically to nothing.
One is not often tempted, certainly I am not, to quote the "Daily Herald" in support of any arguments submitted to the House, but in an issue of that newspaper on the 6th July of last year there was a report of a meeting of the conference of the International Transport Workers' Federation, which was hold in London the previous day. In connection with the Opposition Amendment on the Order Paper to-day it is interesting to note some of the observations made by delegates at that International Transport Workers' Federation Conference. Mr. Henson, of Great Britain, who presided over the Conference, quoted official figures showing that more than 2,000,000 tons of shipping had been transferred from the British flag in the last three years. Much of this tonnage went to Finland, Panama and Greece, where conditions and wages were lower than in Britain. Mr. Walleri, of Finland, said that during the last two and a half years 230,000 tons had been added to the Finnish mercantile marine, an increase of 66 per cent. The General Secretary of the Conference said that:Greece now came third in the list of countries handling River Plate trade. This was made possible because British shipowners had been selling their old ships 752 to Greece and they were now being used against their previous British owners.Let us follow these observations to their logical conclusion. If the Amendment of the Socialist party were accepted by the House it would mean that no practical help of any kind would be given to this industry, and the conditions to which the delegates to the International Transport Workers' Conference drew attention, would be aggravated rather than lessened.
I should like to raise the question of coal. It must be acknowledged that we cannot disassociate the lamentable state of the shipping industry from the question of the depressed areas, not only because those areas are interested in shipbuilding but also because they are interested in coal. On that very debateable question of the burning of coal or oil, I should like to ask my hon. Friend if it would be practicable to suggest that the subsidy granted to an individual ship should be increased, say, by 10 or 15 per dent if British or Empire coal were burned instead of oil. I feel that this is a unique opportunity for the Government to save the taxpayers' money and give practical help to the coal industry. Sir David Milne Watson did very well the other day when he asked this question:Does the scrap and build policy in case of tramp steamers mean that coal-fired engines should be scrapped and oil or diesel engines built? If so, then one subsidy would increase the need for the other.I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that there is some justification for asking a question of that kind, as in the past, in South Wales we are dependent to a pre-eminent degree on the bunkering trade and the displacement of coal by oil has contributed materially to our depressed state. I realise some of the difficulties which the Board of Trade have to bear in mind when considering a suggestion of this kind. There is not the slightest doubt that South Wales realises that the Admiralty list is unhappily a bygone day that will never come back. Nevertheless, it is difficult for us to appreciate what is the economic factor which makes it desirable for British tramp shipowners to burn oil instead of coal, particularly in the South Wales area where those tramp ships are engaged exclusively in the transportation of coal from that part of Wales. Sir Wyndham 753 Portal, the Commissioner who has recently made a very interesting Report on the distressed area of South Wales spoke of the coal trade and said frankly that:There is little chance of a revival of shipping in the area unless and until the South Wales coal trade recovers.If it is possible by means of an increased subsidy, for the Government to give encouragement for the new vessels which will be built under Part II of the Bill to burn British coal instead of imported oil, it would go far to help us in some of the difficulties with which we are faced. In 1913 the tonnage of vessels departing with cargoes from Cardiff, was 9,649,537. Of this total 5,804,633 net tons, or over 60 per cent. was British. In 1932, the last year for which official statistics have been published in the "Annual Statement of Navigation and Shipping", the total of ships departing with cargoes was less than half of what it was in 1913, and less than 45 per cent. was British shipping.
There are only two other questions which I desire to put to my hon. Friend. In connection with Part II of the scrap and build policy, paragraph (9b), of the Memorandum on the Financial Resolution published in July last, allows foreign ships to be purchased for scrapping purposes. I should have thought that there was sufficient redundant, obsolete British tonnage in the estuaries around our coasts that could be used for this purpose before we bought foreign ships. I take it that the whole purpose of the Government in doing what they can to help the shipping industry at this time is to ensure that, not only now, but in the future, British tramp shipping shall be of the most up-to-date and most efficient kind possible. Surely it is desirable that all our obsolete, redundant tonnage should be done away with and replaced by modern up-to-date tonnage, even of a smaller quantity, which as international trade revives could be built up to meet the demand. It may be said that if that were the case and foreign tonnage were excluded from the terms of the Bill, the prices which British ships sold to scrap would fetch would rise beyond an economic figure, and therefore it would be of no avail to say to the shipowners: "You can have this money at 3 per cent." That could be safeguarded if the purchase of foreign tonnage depended upon a licence being 754 issued by the Ship Replacement Committee, who would have to satisfy themselves that no British tonnage was available for the purpose. Perhaps my hon. Friend, in reply, will be kind enough to enlighten me on that point.
I want to ask a question about the Money Resolution in regard to the date of 1st January, 1934. The Money Resolution lays it down that before a British ship is entitled to claim the subsidy under Part I of the Bill it must be proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that it was a registered British ship on the 1st January, 1934. As I understand it, the principle which the Government have in view is that they want to discourage and rightly so, the action of British owners who, previous to the announcement of the subsidy being made in the House, took advantage of the lower rates of wages, the different regulations and upkeep costs, to transfer their ships from the English to a foreign flag, and since the decision of the Government was made known have brought their ships back again from the foreign flag to the British flag, purely for the purpose of obtaining a subsidy. I agree that an arbitrary date must be fixed, and that no one in the House will have any sympathy with such a course of action on the part of any shipowner.
But in the case to which I drew my hon. Friend's attention the opposite process has obtained. In that case, a company was formed in Cardiff and purchased a ship from a foreign company, a ship originally British in character but which at the time was being run under a foreign flag. They brought the ship back to Cardiff and engaged it in the Cardiff trade, displacing a foreign ship, engaging a British crew, paid the proper rate of wages laid down by the National Maritime Board and complied with all the regulations of the Board of Trade. I submit that that action on the part of this company was entirely patriotic. If they had desired to avail themselves of the facilities of running under a foreign flag, they could have continued to do so at less expense and, therefore, it is unfair that the company should be penalised in this way. After all, the whole purpose of the Government is to deal with foreign competition. In this particular case a British ship purchased by a British company 755 displaces a foreign ship, and British seamen who were previously unemployed are now employed. Also, they are engaged in a trade previously enjoyed by the foreigner. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that during the Committee stage of the Bill the Government will be able to accept an Amend-which would have the effect of giving these ships a subsidy.
In conclusion, may I say that I regret exceedingly that this opportunity has been taken by the official Opposition to raise the question of wages and conditions of labour in the industry. In my opinion, they have nothing to do with this Bill and, moreover, there are many other opportunities available to the official Opposition to raise questions dealing with wages and conditions of labour in regard to the shipping industry as a whole, and not to the tramp section only of the industry. Whether the industry is subsidised or not cannot interfere in any way with the regulations which are laid down by the National Maritime Board, and, if hon. Members of the Labour party are not satisfied that the awards are being properly upheld, it is up to them to take an opportunity of raising the question. But do not let them try to draw a red herring across this discussion, or hinder the immediate help which will be afforded to the industry and to unemployed British seamen by the passage of the Bill into law.
§ 1.40 p.m.
I agree with what has been said by some hon. Members this morning, including the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans), that the Bill is not concerned with wages and conditions of employment. Who would expect a National Government to look after the wages and the conditions of employment of seamen, or of anybody else? The Bill should be called "The Shipowners' Dole Bill"; that would be a more apt description than its present title. It is a dole Bill without any means test, or signing on. No one who has heard the Debate this morning will ever suspect that it is going to give real satisfaction to the vested interests in the shipping trade. Already they are asking for more. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) has said that the £2,000,000 is far too small, and the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff 756 has said something of the same kind. He has said that the £2,000,000 asked for by tramp shipping is the minimum required to keep them going for 12 months. If we compare it with the large amounts given to agriculture in marketing scheme connected with milk and sugar, and so on, it is of course a very paltry sum. Of course it is; and they are not satisfied. The hon. and gallant Member wants not £2,000,000 but £20,000,000. On the 4th December last the "Financial News" said:No sooner has a subsidy been definitely granted to the British tramp shipping industry than the British cargo liners have come forward in their turn with demands for a subsidy.And so it goes on; they want more and more. I wonder if hon. Members remember the debates we had about four years ago when the right hon. Gentleman for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) introduced a Bill to extend pensions for a certain class of workers. On that Bill speaker after speaker told us that we were demoralising the moral fibre of the workers by giving State assistance and that we should instead teach our people to rely upon themselves, to have initiative and enterprise, to put their backs into it, and not be helped by doles. That was quite a common thing for hon. Members to say, yet the same hon. Members, or at least Members of the same party, are now asking for £2,000,000 for this industry and £4,000,000 for that, apparently, having forgotten all the dangers of demoralisation. They do not see that their own morals may be in danger; a subsidy does not injure them. I hope that the shipping interests will repudiate any idea of state interference, will refuse to be helped by the State. I hope they will say that they will depend on competition, initiative and enterprise, and will refuse to come cap in hand and beg for State assistance to help their broken down industry. I want to see the British characteristic of independence—no begging for the dole.
I was interested to hear several hon. Members say that the shipping industry is really in a very bad state. Figures have been quoted showing that very few ships are making a profit and that many are running at a loss. Many causes have been given for this state of affairs, causes which, I agree, are quite outside the power of this House to remedy. It may 757 be that world depression and the unfair competition of subsidised foreign fleets are important factors, but I think another important factor is the policy of this Government in restricting imports and exports by their various quotas, regulations and tariffs. When the right hon. Member for Wakefield made the point that restrictions on our trade were adversely affecting the shipping industry, the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be rather indignant about it. He said that the figures of imports were £56,000,000 more in the first ten months of this year compared with a similar period of last year, and that the exports were £23,000,000 more than a year ago, and then he added:I am replying to the right hon. Member's point that the Government have been reducing and restricting trade. The truth is exactly the opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1529, Vol. 295.]I think the Parliamentary Secretary scored merely a clever debating point there by comparing this year with the worst post-War year from a shipping point of view, and probably the worst year from the trading point of view in the century. He might have made comparisons with 1931 or 1930 or 1929, but he chose the club at the bottom of the Football League table to compare it with one at the top. He would not say now that our foreign trade is comparable with the trade that we did in 1930 or 1931. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade told us how tonnage was decreasing and said that we could not regain prosperity unless we made a recovery in the freight market. The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the freight market diminishing—the very opposite point to that made by the Parliamentary Secretary. If it be true that our trade is improving, why come to this House now for a subsidy of £2,000,000? If the shipping trade is improving because of more imports and exports month by month, it is a useless expedient now to give the industry State relief. Let the industry depend upon itself as it is becoming so prosperous. But, of course, it is not true that the industry is prosperous, for on the same day the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) said:Bad as the shipping position was earlier in the year, I think that those who understand the industry best will agree that it is a Great deal worse now."—[OFFICIAL 758 REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1473, Vol. 295.]Therefore a member of the Parliamentary Secretary's own party contradicted the Parliamentary Secretary's statement. How can the position be worse now if it is true that our exports and imports are increasing?
§ Mr. MACLAY
I would remind the hon. Member that British shipping is not concerned with British trade alone, but with the trade of the whole world.
Nor are exports and imports concerned solely with British trade; they also go to and come from all parts of the world. I do not understand the relevance of the interruption. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) also made a debating point by comparing the losses of State shipping industry with those of private enterprise. He talked about the Canadians losing £3,000,000, Australia £10,000,000 and France £30,000,000 by State ventures, and he went on to say that in this country:Hundreds of millions of pounds were lost by British shipping before 1929, and even since that date some £100,000,000 has been lost."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1482, Vol. 295.]To me as possibly a very ignorant backbencher that seemed to contradict the hon. Member's own statement. If the private firms have lost £200,000,000 at least the loss of £10,000,000 by Australia is relatively insignificant.
§ Colonel ROPNER
The scale of losses of the British Mercantile Marine has to be compared with the very much smaller fleets of nations which nationalise their tonnage. Private enterprise in this country is far more efficient than the State-owned fleets of Australia, Canada and the United States. I may add that the hon. Gentleman has misquoted figures which I gave.
If I have done so it was quite unintentional. I may have given the figures approximately, but I think it is true to say that my quotation was correct when I mentioned £3,000,000 loss in the case of Canada.
Then it is £23,000,000 for Canada, £10,000,000 in the case of Australia and £30,000,000 in the case of France. I 759 have given round figures. The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not give any figures to show that the losses of State shipping ventures were any worse than those of this country. He mentioned hundreds of millions as the losses here. I assume that that means £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 at least. What I wanted to speak about was the fact that not only have shipowners suffered a great deal economically in the last three or four years, but seamen have done so also. They have had their 10 per cent. cut in wages. We have been told by people who know of the accommodation conditions, and of the food conditions in some of the worst of the cargo boats, and worse than that, we have been told of the great unemployment that exists in the industry. Here again the Parliamentary Secretary gave some peculiar figures in our last Debate. He said it was quite true that there were 50,000 coloured seamen employed, and he said that of these 42,475 were Lascars, and added:It is no good talking about the brotherhood of man and suggest that there is some difference between a white British subject and a coloured British subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1532, Vol. 295.]I fail to see the relevance of that statement. Hon. Members on the Labour benches object to the employment of these coloured men not because they are coloured men, not because they are not British, but because they are employed at very much lower rates of pay than those of the average British sailor. How the brotherhood of man comes in, I do not know. It is a question of unfair competition from a wages point of view. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary would say in his own constituency that it was right for a British shipowner to give employment of 700 Lascars or Chinese rather than to 700 men from Liverpool. There may be reasons in certain tropical lines for employing certain kinds of cheap labour, but the main reason why so many thousand of Lascars are employed is that they are cheaper than British sailors.
We have been told to-day that it is not at all infrequent for British shipowners to transfer their flag to a foreign nationality in order to take advantage of lower wages and cheaper conditions generally. I do not know how that can be held to conform with the principles of patriotism. I think it is very un- 760 patriotic to change one's flag merely for the purpose of securing cheaper labour, whether coloured labour or white labour. It seems to be the very negation of patriotism. We on these benches think that this subsidy is wrong and that it is no remedy for the shocking state of affairs which prevails in the shipping industry. In any event we feel certain that, even if such a subsidy could be justified on other grounds, to give it without safeguarding the wages and conditions of employment of British sailors is wholly unjustifiable.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Captain MOSS
May I be permitted in the first place to thank the Minister for the kindly observations with which he opened his most interesting speech and I am sure that the House will have appreciated the fact that those observations were so heartily endorsed by the right hon. Gentlemen who immediately followed him. Those observations will carry all the way across the seven seas and wherever are to be found "men who go down to the sea in ships." I speak from a very long experience of and connection with the merchant service. I know how those observations will be appreciated. The men of that great service will be very glad indeed to know that their services to the country are so much appreciated in the House of Commons. They will be much encouraged indeed by this recognition of the services which they have rendered to the country in the past, which they are rendering in the present and which we all hope they will continue to render in the future.
I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who followed the Minister. I think the House will have noted how remarkable was the fact that he referred time and again to his close connection in 1917 with Lord Maclay who, as the whole country is aware, performed immense service to the nation and to the mercantile marine during the War. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that in 1917 the shipowners had accumulated in profits I forget how many millions I thought he might have told the House also as he did in regard to other things of the information which was given to him on this matter by Lord Maclay. He might have told the House that Lord Maclay also in- 761 formed him of where those millions have gone since 1917. As I had the honour to inform the House in July last, all the money which the ship-owners made during the War was utilised in the years that followed to keep their ships at sea and to keep their seamen in employment. I also said in July that I supported this subsidy for British shipping because of the economic necessity for it, if for no other reason. I endeavoured at that time to outline several ways in which the Government, if they so desired, could assist the industry in, a larger more lasting and more satisfactory way than by any effort which they might anticipate as a result of this subsidy. While I do not think the President of the Board of Trade has since then indicated that any such steps are in contemplation I am encouraged to think that that is the case, if only because of the fact that the United States are providing some £17,000,000 in subsidy, France some £7,000,000 and Italy some £6,000,000 whereas we in this country, enjoying the oldest, the greatest, the largest mercantile marine service in the world, can only find a meagre £2,000,000. That, to me, as I hope it will be to the House, is an indication that during the existence of this temporary subsidy the Government intend to introduce some other way of coping with the enormous difficulties which confront this great service.
We are considering to-day the destiny of our mercantile marine. If we turn back the pages of history we find that that it is the service which was responsible for carrying the pioneers of our Empire across the seven seas. It is the service which was responsible for planting the Union Jack throughout the Empire. It is the service which in days gone by has rendered immeasurable service in building up the wealth and power of our nation and it is the service—with whose destiny we are now toying—which made the prosecution of the great War possible. It is the service upon whose welfare depends the welfare of these islands and indeed the very safety of our people. Surely, then, its destiny which has such remarkable repercussions in regard to the welfare of our country and our people should not be determined on points as to whether a subsidy is to have conditions, how those conditions are to be applied, to what extent the personnel of the service is to be considered 762 or regarded. I speak as one who has had a long connection with the service when I say that I regard this question from this point of view—that unless and until we have a policy that will put to sea British ships, manned, as I hope they will be, by British crews, and will continue to keep British ships at sea, little good, either for the service or for those engaged in it, can possibly result from such criticisms as those to which we have listened in the House to-day.
I believe that the President of the Board of Trade and his Department are as fully aware as any observations of mine might indicate that no subsidy, however small, however great, that is to be confined to any section of this great service, and particularly the tramp section, can be of the slightest assistance in endeavouring to put a stop to subsidised foreigners cutting into the trade routes of the British Empire or seeking to rob legitimate British coasting ships of those cargoes around our own islands to which they have surely a strong claim. Indeed, I would go further, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman; to consider that, whereas a subsidy neither applies nor can be of any service to that coasting trade, there are other ways and means of meeting this foreign subsidised competition. Why should British ships find themselves in so many parts of the world with discrimination against them, and by the ships of those countries which are not even content with discrimination, but have introduced the weapon of the subsidy as well? Are we expected to believe for a moment that, by seeking to retaliate with the weapon of the subsidy, we are likely to induce these foreign maritime Powers which to-day possess their own mercantile marine to take their ships off the seas and to allow British ships to come back again into their own, as in the days before the war? We all know that the answer is "most certainly not."
Foreign maritime countries are to-day living in the enjoyment of their own mercantile marine, and they have no intention of giving up their ships, nor have they any intention whatever of showing the slightest fear for the introduction of a British subsidy. I would remind the Opposition, who protest at such times as the present, seeking the opportunity of such a Bill as we are now discussing to put forward their claims to be the 763 direct, indeed the only representatives of our seafaring community, that this is the only time we ever hear their voices raised in connection with that Service, and they never seem to remember that if they would like to see all the improvements for which they ask carried out, especially in accommodation and such things as that, their objective should be directed against that somewhat obsolete entity which we have known for a great many years under the name of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade.
If the truth were known, the men who earn their livelihood in British ships are not so keen on a subsidy as they are upon the very policy which is so consistently opposed by the Opposition. The men of the mercantile marine would gladly see a stop put to foreigners stealing from them their own coastal trade, they would gladly see a stop put to foreign ships cutting across the trade routes of the Empire, they would gladly see the Government take some steps to insist that British cargoes consigned to this country should be brought into these islands by British ships, and they would gladly see that principle introduced with every country which sends goods to this country and enjoys an adverse balance of trade which is against ourselves. I should like the House to appreciate that the men of the mercantile marine understand these things and are fully appreciative of their value, and none would welcome more than the service itself, whether the personnel or the owners who own and employ, some such steps being taken, and being taken quickly, by the right hon Gentleman who presides over the Board of Trade. I believe that such steps will eventually require to be taken, and I am encouraged to think that the smallness of the British subsidy will be accepted by the House, and especially by this side of the House, as an indication that such steps are even now in contemplation.
There is only one thing that I can regret in the recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself. He did not say so directly, but I think his speech implied that it might be necessary at the end of 1935 to continue this most unwelcome subsidy. I hope that I am wrong in coming to that conclusion, and I hope that I am right in thinking that the Board of Trade will sooner or later, and 764 the sooner the better, introduce a new measure of assistance for the shipping services of our country, without which I am sure he must know, without which I can assure him that the Service itself does know, there can be no recovery for the British Mercantile Marine; and without that recovery we cannot but remember that, unless we have a strong Merchant Service, prosperous, employing its people in the days of peace, we cannot hope to have a strong Service to look after the interests of this country and the welfare and the safety of its people if ever again we are faced with war. I trust that the President of the Board of Trade will not hesitate to inform the House that such schemes as those to which I have endeavoured to refer, though quite briefly, are under consideration, and that he will bring to the shipping industry that courage which he displayed in the alteration of the fiscal system, so that there may be formulated and laid before this House similar schemes calculated to bring equal benefit to the greatest service and the greatest industry which this country enjoys.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rather hesitate to enter into this discussion, for my only knowledge of shipping is due to the fact that all my working life I was engaged in helping in some way or other the construction of ships. Be that as it may, I make no apology in this House for entering into the discussion, because I have often noticed in this House that the man with very little practical knowledge of a trade is often able to understand it in a freer way than possibly those who are interested in it.
I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), and may I say that I congratulate the Labour party on the accession of the right hon. Gentleman to its strength? I think the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a brilliant speech, if I may say so—one of the most capable speeches I have ever heard in this House. I do not say that in a patronising sense, but because I thoroughly believe it. That, however, does not absolve me from the duty of saying a word or two in connection with the Opposition's policy and Amendment. One thing which I cannot follow in connection with this matter is that during the right hon. Gentleman's very capable speech very 765 little, if anything, was said about the subsidy. There was strong criticism of the policy of shipowners, how they undercut wages and lower the standard of life, and as regards the accommodation provided for the men; but little was said in relation to the Government policy of subsidies. I cannot quite follow them in their reasoning. Not many months ago the Government embarked upon a policy of subsidy to the Cunard Company for the building of two great ships, one immediately and one almost certain. The Government set aside £9,000,000 of public money for that purpose. I was one, I think, of three Members, the other two being the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and the senior member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), who took the view that that subsidy was wrong. The whole House accepted the view of the subsidy for that ship. I cannot defend the vote to-day, but I can defend it much more rationally than I could the vote for the Cunard liner.
The Government, supported by the whole House, Labour, Liberal and Tory, voted £9,000,000 of public money without a single safeguard as to wages, either in the construction of the ship or its manning, and that for a liner that could only carry the aristocrats of this country. Once you accept the view that you can devote public money to the building of a ship, even on the Clyde, for the use of millionaires, then I cannot see the logic which says "We will give you public money for millionaire ships, but we must not give you public money for the building of tramp ships." For that I cannot find any answer. I opposed the Cunarder and I oppose this subsidy, but I say that you cannot rule the policy of a party on the popular wave of building a ship on the Clyde. My point is that once you start on this policy of subsidy, of using public money, it is difficult to draw the line, and, in any case, to my mind it is anti-social to use money created by the social public capacity of the people to bolster up private interests.
The hon. and gallant Member for Rutherglen (Captain Moss) criticised the members of the Labour party for not having raised their voices hitherto as to the conditions of seamen. The first speeches I heard in this House were from Members of the Labour party on this subject.
§ Captain MOSS
I think the hon Gentleman will remember that I was putting forward the point of view of the seamen, and said it was entirely different from the point of view which came from the Labour benches.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that they never raised the question. When we differ in debate we ought to try to be fair to our most bitter opponents. The Labour party have raised the conditions of the seafaring community not once but many times over a long period of years.
To-day we are asked to grant this large sum of money—£12,000,000 in all. Everyone knows that the £2,000,000 is not satisfactory. The hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay), the last time he spoke, asked that it should be extended. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) described the sum as very small. Every Member who spoke who had a knowledge or an interest in shipping on that occasion dwelt entirely with the fact that the subsidy was inadequate or illogical, and could not be maintained on its present basis. What is going to happen? The Government grows weaker every day. As it grows weaker, the other interests grow stronger, and they can no more resist the demand for an extra subsidy to those of their section of shipping than they can keep back the next election. Their own weakness will drive them out then, and it is a sign of their weakness that they are using public money to bolster up private enterprise.
We are told in the House of the losses of the shipowners and of the bad times they have had. I admit they have lost money, but I see them still living in comfort and with a standard of life which I never knew. I turn in other directions, and I see workmen who have lost their jobs—men who have invested their lives and their all in learning a trade. That is their investment, which is just as important as the investment of the shipowners. I see them swept aside by new machines. They are driven to a starvation level, and, when we come here and ask that they should be treated like any other human beings, We are told: "No, they must live on a Poor Law level." There must be many cases of men who have been unemployed for a long time living on less than that. I cannot see the logic of this House helping men who 767 are not poor although their industry may be bad and the factors they are fighting may be great. You can give the nation's wealth to them, but when we demand help for some other section of the community which is much poorer than they, you can find a 101 reasons why it cannot be done.
I may be plain in these matters, I may not be able to understand the ramifications of international trade and the cross-currents that go to make it and to undermine it, but I do understand simple issues. We are told that this nation is hard-up and is not yet out of the mire, but next March we shall hear about the burden of taxation. It is not too poor. It may be said that this £12,000,000 will give employment, but that is not the reason for which it is given. It is to establish the shipowners. In giving this public money we should insist on conditions. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the National Maritime Board was insisting on conditions. The conditions of that Board are already too low, and, if there be a criticism from this side, it is that the Board is only asking for the present low standard to be maintained or that it should be the minimum. In these days of trade depression the unions cannot use their powers to enforce the agreements which have been made, but when £12,000,000 of public money is being granted the power of the unions ought to be strengthened by the Government insisting that no person who in any way shares any of this public money shall receive it unless he gives a guarantee to observe fair wages and conditions of employment.
The Parliamentary Secretary is usually so clear, but I could not follow him in this matter. He said that we do not want to interfere in these matters. The one thing that the Government have shown is that they can interfere in almost everything. Their policy in agriculture has shown that they can do things which no Conservative Member would have believed five years ago could be done. It may have been the wrong policy, but it has been done. The Parliamentary Secretary now tells us that it is out with the Government's power to see that every British sailor gets the minimum standard laid down by the National Maritime Board. Is it really impossible for the National Government 768 to do that? They have accomplished things at Geneva, but they cannot, when they are granting £12,000,000 of public money, see that the men who work the ships are guaranteed the minimum standard wage of their occupation. It may be said that in the main the owners do this but they do not do it in many cases. While ships are built for cargo, they have to be manned, and the men who man them ought to have some say in the accommodation. We build houses with subsidies, but the people who have to occupy them do at least, through town councils and other bodies, have some say in the accommodation which is granted. A ship is a man's house and home. Why should not the men who have to live in them have some say in the accommodation provided?
I am opposed to the subsidy entirely, but if a subsidy must be granted, and if Parliament is to hand over privileges in this way, the Opposition is performing a proper function in saying that Parliament has a duty to safeguard the men who do the work on the ships. That is even more important to the sailor. Others can make their grievances heard every day in the week, but the sailor may be away at sea for years and have no say in public affairs. Apart from wages and conditions of work the Board of Trade might do something to ease the lot of sailors by giving them better facilities for getting home from foreign ports in case of illness or threat of illness. Those are matters which might well be discussed, though I refrained from entering upon any discussion of them now. I support wholeheartedly the Amendment before us, and trust that the public will take note of these subsidies and will insist that if the nation has millions of money to hand out the first people to receive consideration should not be shipowners or the shipbuilders but the great mass of the common people, who need it more and deserve it all.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I would like to associate myself with the last words which fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). We on this side have taken the line that whilst we recognise that public assistance may be necessary for industries, as for poor individuals, it is essential that such assistance should 769 only be given where those who receive it undertake their public responsibilities. I listened with interest to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I gathered from him that the tramp shipowners of this country are the "white-headed boys" of the British economic system, that they never did anything wrong, never exploited the public, never sent ships down to the sea that ought not to have gone down to the sea; that they are people who are more sinned against than sinning, people who are the victims of economic circumstances over which they have no control, and that a generous Government, recognising their serious plight comes to their aid first to ladle them out public assistance on a scale which they have settled themselves at £2,000,000 and then to make provision for the building of new ships. I say that the tramp shipowners themselves are largely responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. Complaints have been made of the wild charges I made in the House when this question was last before it. I shall make some of them again to-day. I withdraw nothing that I said on the previous occasion. I never made a charge which I was not prepared to substantiate, giving the names of the shipowners if they were requested: and if in what I say this afternoon the names of owners are asked for, the House shall have them.
I say the tramp shipowners themselves are in a large degree responsible for the situation in which they are to-day. With a knowledge of the facts or, rather, without a knowledge of the facts, although they should have possessed such knowledge, they have been over building at high prices since the War. They had enormous reserves made out of the exploitation of the nation during its time of crisis. They frittered them away, and were bound to come to the poor law, sooner or later, on those grounds alone, even had economic circumstances been favourable; but the tramp ship owners have known for some years now of the dangerous possibilities of the cargo liner putting many of them out of business. I think I am right in saying that since the War the cargo liner tonnage in this country is double what it was and the tramp tonnage is half what it was. Tramp owners have watched this happening and have taken 770 no practical steps to deal with it, and now they come cap in hand to the Government to get them out of the difficulty. Tramp shipowners in this country have sold ships abroad. That was admitted by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans). He quoted the case of the sale of ships at the International Transport Workers Conference. I could not understand the deduction he drew from the facts, but I admit the facts. I think he said that 2,000,000 tons of shipping had gone to foreign owners.
Ships have been sold by Members of this House, patriots too. That is one of the reasons why the tramp ship owners are in the position they are to-day. There has been the same difficulty in Lancashire, where textile machinery manufacturers who were not makers of cotton sent out machines to India, Japan and China to equip competitors against Lancashire's textile industry. But here is a case where British patriotic shipowners have sold their ships to sail under foreign flags in competition with what was left of the British tramp shipping industry. There are tramp shipowners in this country—I am prepared to give the names, I am not withdrawing one word of what I have said in these debates—who started this mad business of rate-cutting when they need not have done. The tramp shipping industry is in the position it is to-day because it has refused any kind of co-operation. It has prided itself on its individualism, on the fact that it would never come to the Government and beg for bread. It has had to do it now. It has refused as an industry to sit down and concert a common policy with the whole shippng industry of the country.
I was interested when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary say that the British Government, during the Economic Conference, had done what it could to get other nations into some sort of conference. I think that a wise policy, but it is not the policy which has been pursued by the shipowners. British shipowners have lagged disgracefully in the rear when any proposal has been made for international co-operation among shipowners, and there is not a shipowner in this country who does not know that, with the world demand as it is, we have more ships than we need. As the Presi- 771 dent of the Board of Trade has said on more than one occasion shipping is an international problem, but not only have our tramp shipowners refused to cooperate but our shipowners as a whole have refused to take those international steps which are essential if we are to find a solution of these difficulties. It is true that there is one factor for which shipowners are not responsible, and that is that there is less carrying trade in the world to-day, and fewer goods on transport from country to country. That is due to national policy in various countries. His Majesty's Government have not assisted the shipping industry by their own national policy in this respect.
The whole case for the Measure is that there are foreign subsidies, but we haw never had any statement as to what these foreign subsidies are. We are told that foreign nations subsidise their mercantile marine, but we have never had one word about the facts. If the facts are as I understand them, only one country in Europe subsidises tramp shipping. Countries may subsidise shipping in general, but I think I am right in saying that the only European nation which has a special subsidy to assist tramp shipping is Italy, and the plight of the tramp shipping industry in Italy is even more parlous than it is in this country. Even if it were true that there are these undisclosed subsidies about which this House knows nothing, I am not satisfied that the right answer is that given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that we must start another one, and throw £2,000,000 into the hands of the tramp shipowners as a direct subsidy. It is not going to stop there. When the President of the Board of Trade moved the Money Resolution, he said very airily, in a way that was most astonishing from one who knows so much about shipping and finance: "Of course next year we can alter it if we like." Will it be £2,000,000? You will have to increase the dose. This kind of dipsomania lives by increasing its doses. A year from now, when the £2,000,000 is spent, the plight of the tramp shipowners will be just what it was before, and perhaps a little worse, and the wretched victims will come and say "Please can we have three tablespoonfuls a day instead of two—can we increase the £2,000,000 to some larger sum?"
772 We have looked at this problem, not from the point of view of the poor starving shipowner, but from that of the seamen and officers in the mercantile marine, and especially in the tramp shipping section of the industry. We are faced with a serious problem of unemployment in the shipping industry, created not so much now by economic conditions as by the fact that white British seamen are being replaced by coloured seamen. I know the way of getting out of it by saying that they are subjects of the British Empire. I suggested in an interruption in the Debate last week, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) said this morning, that it is astonishing where these people come from. There never was a Chinese seaman who was not born in Hong Kong; there never was a lascar who did not hail from Aden. It is astonishing how all these coloured seamen are members of the great British Commonwealth of Nations. Whether they are or not, our problem of unemployment is more serious than that of most other countries. It is a monstrous thing that there are more non-domiciled British and alien seamen employed on British ships than there are British domiciled seamen out of work. I should have thought that that would have made an appeal to the patriotic party.
§ Mr. SLATER
The right hon. Gentleman probably remembers that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade gave figures which showed that the number of alien seamen was not increasing, but rather the reverse.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
We are prepared to go into these figures a little further. I say that they are increasing. When it comes to the Committee stage do not think that we have finished quoting cases, because we have not; we have a lot more yet. It is not merely that there is this problem of unemployment, largely created by the use of coloured seamen, but there is the serious position in which the mercantile marine is placed to-day. Many of the officer class are being degraded. Men below deck are being degraded. I am prepared to mention the steamship company. I have nothing up my sleeve in this business. Here is a line of steamships engaging young officers with second-mate certificates and signing them on as cadets at £2 per month to act as seamen in their ship in the North Atlantic trade, 773 taking the place pro tem. of lascar seamen when the ships are trading in latitudes north of Cape Hatteras. In one instance, four young officers were appointed to sign on as cadets, two apprentices being carried on the same ship. The six young officers were temporarily taking the place of the lascar crew, in latitudes in which the employment of lascars is prohibited, that is, in the North Atlantic trade. If that had not been prohibited, these young officers would not even have got jobs as seamen. To-day there are officers—I have scores of letters about this——
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
This use of foreign labour, not all of which is from Hong Kong, is a scandal of first-class importance. I am surprised that the Royal Navy itself and its auxiliary tankers use Chinese labour. Perhaps the tramp shipowners may be forgiven, but it is an astonishing thing that the Royal Navy, in the case of a boat—and I can mention the boat if you like—should quite recently have used for oiling a British ship—I am told that it is usually the case—a ship with a Chinese crew. Perhaps the tramp shipowners will plead that they are only acting in conformity with what is done by the Government itself.
§ Sir ARTHUR SHIRLEY BENN
May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman has ever seen a white sailor in a stokehold in the tropics, and, if he has, would he not far sooner have a lascar doing the work?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The introduction of lascars was largely due to the need for getting labour of that kind in the tropics; that is true, but it is also true to say that there are white sailors who do go down in the stokeholds. Then I come to the question of conditions.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I understand that it is a British ship; anyhow, it is employed by the Royal Navy. Its name is the "Warbharatu" It was recently at Weymouth. I am afraid that hon. Mem- 774 bers are not going to catch me up on any facts that I am giving.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
That is quite right, and I want the public to know. As to the question of conditions, I have a case here, with sworn affidavits, which I am prepared, if the President likes to have them, to hand over to him, of a fireman on a British ship, passed by the Shipping Federation's medical officer as being fit for service as a fireman, going out to West Africa, not liking it too much because he was not really feeling too well. Because he took some objection, he was disrated by the chief engineer and the skipper of the boat to the position of an ordinary seaman. That man was found dead in the stokehold, very largely, I suspect from various sworn statements, not merely because of his own physical condition, but because of the condition of the boat itself. Here is a sworn statement which I have received from a member of the crew—I have several of them——I noticed, and with the other fireman suffered from it that the baffle-plate of the centre fire of the port boiler was missing, the result being considerable heat being thrown out into the stokehold.I will add this sentence:The coal was particularly bad, until we started to use the coal in the reserve bunkers.Those are conditions of employment which we regard as intolerable. The Minister of Health, in a phrase which I have previously used, but which had not then the same amount of publicity, said that this Government could not pay for rotten cottages any more than it could pay for rotten meat. I do not see why we should subsidise the slums of the sea. There are no worse conditions afloat than in tramp shipping.
§ Mr. DICKIE
That is definitely untrue. I apologise for interrupting, but I am one of the few officers of the Mercantile Marine in this House, and I am the only marine engineer in this House who holds a first-class Board of Trade certificate. I have been through this particular mill, and I tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is a foul thing to libel the conditions under which British seamen work. They are the best conditions in the whole civilised world, and are infinitely better 775 than they have been, because there has been a tremendous improvement during the course of the last 20 years, to my own knowledge.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
After the hon. Gentleman's outburst, I shall now repeat my charge. I do not care whether the conditions here are better than they are in other countries. That is not my point. My point is that we have no more right, in a subsidised industry, to compel people to live in the slums of the sea than we have to compel them to live in slums on land.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Well, we will have another letter. I will not mention the name of this ship unless I am challenged, but this is a ltter which I have received from a very skilled man. I do not wish to disclose his name, because he has two sons in the Mercantile Marine to-day, though he himself is retired. He has been an officer in the Mercantile Marine for over 40 years. He writes:Take the case of the loss of"—A certain ship which I can name—Whoever sent that ship to sea should be severely dealt with. The mine disaster"—I imagine he is referring to Gresford—"occurred about the same time, and in this respect there have been investigations ever sine, but, so far as I know, nothing has been done in respect of the loss of this particular ship. Furthermore, another ship belonging to the same company was very nearly lost at the time.He goes on to deal with conditions on ships—I will read the rest of the letter if hon. Members like. He says:I have been aboard one of the same company's ships, and I can assure you that the state of affairs on that vessel was appalling. Judging by appearances, the apprentices and some of the men had not washed during the voyage, and the officers were not much better. To put it mildly, she was a disgrace to the flag.That is the flag of hon. Members opposite, about which they are so proud.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I cannot give the name of the person, but I can give the name of the boat. The boat lost was the "Millpool." Does anybody know the owner? There were, not so very long ago, ships which were known as coffin ships—some of them belonging to firms like these 776 —ships that were put out which ought never to have been put out, in the interests of the seamen and officers abroad them. The living conditions in them were inhuman and monstrous, judged by 20th century standards. What we are asking is that, if the State feels that during this time of difficulty the tramp shipping section of the industry has to be assisted, that assistance ought not to be given to the slums of the sea. If this Government is firm that these bad houses are deserving of no consideration from the State, we claim that ships of that kind are not deserving of any consideration from the State.
§ Mr. SLATER
Is not that best dealt with by the getting of new ships, which the Government are going to assist?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I appear to be irritating hon. Members. I never mind when I make hon. Members opposite articulate, even if it is only with indignation. I am not saying that we should not have better ships; I am on the point that £2,000,000 is to be given to shipowners in this country for nothing that affects the conditions of the seamen. Our point is this. If we are to accede to this, we want a Plimsoll line of a new kind. The Plimsoll line, after a lot of agitation in this House, was established in order to do somthing to save the lives of men who went to sea in ships that were disgracefully overloaded and also, no doubt, to save the insurance companies from having to pay out on those ships. We want a new Plimsoll line of conditions for the seafaring classes which must be accepted before any shipping company gets a penny of public money.
I am interested in a speech that the President of the Board of Trade made exactly a week ago in the Town Hall at Leith. He did not say this in the House. I wish he had. It would have made our task a good deal easier. He said:Power had been taken to prevent black-legging in the chartering of tramp steamers that were entitled to the subsidy. They would see to it that the portion of the British mercantile marine that received subsidies should not blackleg in wages or other conditions that were under the control of The National Maritime Board. They wished to benefit the industry as a whole in all its branches and ramifications and their policy extended beyond the mere freight arrangements for tramp shipping.I bate blacklegs, I think, even more than the right hon. Gentleman, and I am glad 777 that he has done something in the Bill to stop tramp owners blacklegging on other tramp owners, and I am glad to know that he is prepared to stop black-legging in wages or other conditions But, if he means that, why is it not in the Bill? If this be a serious statement, after all, there are conditions for the receipt of the subsidy in the Bill and we are entitled to examine these other conditions. The right hon. Gentleman ought not to speak in a Scottish port and then not be prepared to implement his words in legislation.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I will do that all right.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
In that case, our efforts will not have been in vain. I read his words with very special care:We will see to it that that portion of the British mercantile marine which received a subsidy should not blackleg in wages or other conditions which were under the control of the National Maritime Board.That does not satisfy us. We want to go a little further than that. The Merchant Shipping Acts are hopelessly out of date. The shipping industry has been the Cinderella of our industries for over half-a-century. We want far more than the conditions dealt with by the National Maritime Board. We want it securely established that, if people are going to receive public money, they must, as regards those whom they employ, fulfil all reasonable conditions such as this House would wish to see applied. Then I go a little further. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to see to it that they receive the wages and other conditions that are under the control of the National Maritime Board, he will alter his relationship to the National Maritime Board. The trouble to-day is that while, of course, large numbers of shipowners fulfil their obligations and the agreements reached with the National Maritime Board, they do not all do it. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that he is going to make it a condition of the receipt of the subsidy that the shipowners who benefit shall fulfil all their agreements with the National Maritime Board? Then we go further and say—I made this protest briefly on the last occasion that I spoke—that we regard it as an insult to the mercantile marine that, when they are considering the future of a branch of it, the people employed in 778 that industry are never consulted. We have got beyond the stage when the workers of this country are the helots of the employers. We have arrived at a state now where we feel we have a right to ask for consideration when any question is raised affecting an industry in which they are engaged. It is not that we are objecting to the subsidy. We do not like the Poor Law system. We never have done.
Captain A. EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is not objecting to the subsidy. Has he read the terms of the Amendment on the Paper where he and his hon. Friends object to it?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
We are saying, as I said in the earlier part of my speech to which the hon. and gallant Member did not listen, that, if an industry is in a very serious plight and has to be helped by public money, in our view it can only be helped if that industry fulfils its proper public obligations, and it has not done so in this case. My friends of the Transport Workers' Union, of which I am a member, and my friends of the Seamen's Union were not consulted before this scheme was concocted. We do not object to the scheme for scrapping and building, but there was not a word of discussion with the shipbuilding unions or with the Seamen's Union or the Transport Workers' Union, whose members will have to live in the ships that are built. We regard this as an affront. It is something which would never have happened in the mining industry of this country, and it happens merely because the merchant service is the Cinderella of all our industries very largely because of the nature of the allocation of the workers. If you recognise all activities in the ports, I fancy that the right hon. Gentleman might have listened to the seamen and transport workers a little more than he has done.
We have nothing to withdraw in anything we have said in this Debate. We shall see this crusade which we have started on behalf of the seamen and officers of the mercantile marine through until we have achieved what we think we 779 are entitled to achieve and the people engaged in this arduous and essential service enjoy the kind of accommodation which Members of this House themselves desire to enjoy. Although the right hon. Gentleman may get his subsidy and may give his £2,000,000 this year, and £3,000,000 next year, to tramp shipowners, although he may get his way, just as Plimsoll saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of seamen by his campaign, so we on these benches shall continue until we have saved the lives of those who are now in the mercantile marine.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has drawn a picture of the British mercantile marine that no well-informed person would recognise. From the account that he has given of the way in which the mercantile marine is managed, its officers and crew are paid and housed, and of the way in which shipowners fail to enter into arrangements with their confreres in other countries, you might have imagined that those who were in control of this industry were not only cruel, but were idiots. Why, the right hon. Gentleman does not know even the recent history of the mercantile marine. I heard the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) refer to some events of the last few years, but his history was a little out of date. Even he was wrong, and he is usually very accurate. As for the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), all that he has done has been to draw the grand flamboyant figure which he is to display on every platform in the country. It is time that we came to the actual facts and had done with these slanders upon a perfectly honourable profession. I observed that when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Sir H. Cayzer) had given to the House a full account of the incidents to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred on the last occasion, the right hon. Gentleman got up again and repeated the whole thing, in the absence of my hon. and gallant Friend. I need hardly say that that is not the sort of fair treatment that we expect from one Member of the House of Commons to another.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
On a point of personal explanation I did not hear the hon. and gallant Member's speech. I understand that he accused me of quoting the name of a firm on the last occasion. I did not.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I said that the right hon. Gentleman had made vague assertions without any substantiation and that when he had been asked to quote the name he ran away from it and said he had not the time.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
What I said, when challenged by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) as to giving cases, was that we would give cases and were prepared to give them. I have given the cases of companies in which Members of this House are interested. I have done that this afternoon.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
What I object to is the repetition of the charge against my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South, who, in the full hearing of the House, has given the true facts.
§ Mr. PALING
The hon. and gallant Member did not deny the charge about the wages paid to cadets. He called them by another name.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon referred to the health conditions in the mercantile marine. I do not know from what report he was quoting, but I have here the latest volume of statistics relating to mortality in the mercantile marine, published in 1932. Let me read out the salient passages from page 58:A crude death rate has been calculated and for ages 20 and over is found to be lower than that for the general population, but the results cannot be regarded (a) as reliable, owing to the difficulty of estimating a population figure for the mercantile marine at a date about nine years after the preceding Census of Population, or (b) as furnishing an indication that the mercantile marine is a perfectly healthy occupation since the results are affected to a very considerable extent by the age distribution of merchant seamen which is so different from that of the general population.Paragraph (7) says:The conclusion reached is that, apart from drowning and injury, service in the mercantile marine is no more inimical to life and health than are many occupations ashore frequently regarded as healthful.781 A further paragraph says:The question whether a period can be fixed so that, if all deaths of seamen occurring beyond this period after leaving the sea are excluded from the statistics of the occupation, the result represents the mortality due to sea service, has been examined, but it has been thought advisable to exclude any mortality record solely on the ground of the time elapsed since the last sea employment of the deceased, each case requiring to be decided on its merits.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The whole of my point related to the sentence which my right hon. Friend has just read, namely, paragraph 10, where it says:The question whether a period can be fixed so that, if all deaths of seamen occurring beyond this period after leaving the sea are excluded from the statistics,etc. The whole of my point—I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman pays tribute to my accuracy—was that a number of cases, 630, I think, of seamen who died within 12 months of leaving the service were excluded, and that they should be included. If these numbers are included it means that large numbers of men retire from the service to die.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It would have been fairer to the House if the right hon. Gentleman had read paragraph 7 as well——The conclusion reached is that, apart from drowning and injury, service in the mercantile marine is no more inimical to life and health than are many of the occupations ashore frequently regarded as healthful.Surely he is the last person to criticise us on the subject of subsidies. We are still having to provide, under the Ministry of Health Acts, about £6,500,000 per year subsidies for which he is responsible. The right hon. Member for Wakefield is anxious that people should have good houses; I am equally anxious that they should have good ships in which to work. The right hon. Gentleman made a point with regard to the manning of our ships. It is by no means a new point, because it has been before one committee after another for years. The right hon. Gentleman imagines that he is going out on a campaign as a pioneer. The subject has been talked about for the last 40 years, and the improvement made has been continuous. Let me tell the House exactly how matters of employment and remuneration 782 are dealt with in the mercantile marine. They have been worked on what is practically a voluntary basis up to the present time. The National Maritime Board is a voluntary organisation; has no statutory powers but yet so effective has been its work that there has been no trouble in regard to employment or wages throughout the whole of the mercantile marine, and no one is more enthusiastic about the work of this Board than the typical British shipowner.
The National Maritime Board is representative of every branch of the industry, owners, officers, engineers, and men in every branch. It had one of the best chairman who ever presided over such a Board, who has a reputation in the mercantile marine of which any man might well be proud. The Chairman of the National Maritime Board, until recently, was the late Sir Frederick Allen, who was well known to many hon. Members, and anyone who knew him and his work will say that he did it admirably. But the Board has no statutory powers, and there are occasional blacklegs, men who ought to know better. I do not say a single word on their behalf. They have behaved disgracefully. We want to bring that to an end. How shall we do it?
The right hon. Gentleman says that the answer is to insert a Clause in the Bill which has nothing directly to do with the Bill. I say that wages have no more to do with this Bill than they had to do with the Agricultural Marketing Act, for which the right hon. Member for Swindon was responsible. He never thought of putting wages into that Act. Why? Because the right hon. Gentleman thought that they were not germane to that Act, and the reason why I have not inserted a Clause in this Bill dealing with wages is because it is not directly germane to the Bill. If he sees no means of dealing with wages except by an Act of Parliament that is another matter, and I should be open minded enough to discuss it, but you can get all you want without altering the voluntary system under which these matters so far have been dealt with, and after they have been assented to by every section of those who represent the men in the mercantile marine. How is that to be done? The shipowners' committee, which will act in an advisory capacity with regard to these matters, will, of 783 course, have to take into account each case which comes before it. I am already assured from such consultation as I have had in conference that they would not regard blacklegging in wages as being less penal an offence than blacklegging in freights, and they would refuse to advise the grant of a subsidy to an owner who did not pay National Maritime Board wages.
The next point is with regard to manning. The manning scales are arrived at in the same way by consultation. Not only the shipowners, but the officers, the engineers, catering department, firemen and seamen are all represented there and have their spokesmen. From all the experience I have had of them I can say that they have shown themselves to be extraordinarily acute in their criticisms and very wise in their suggestions, and in 99 cases out of 100, if not in 100, their advice has been taken by the Board of Trade. In this matter we are not going to depart from that precedent. If I am asked what is to be done with regard to manning I say that the only point of criticism raised here to-day that is worthy or our consideration is with regard to the employment of foreign seamen. Where do we stand on that subject? The employment of foreign seamen is very largely a matter of climate. The number of foreign seamen employed by the mercantile marine is actually coming down year by year.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman gets his information. He will not find it in any official publication. The figures have gone down from 81 per cent. in 1929 to 5.2 per cent. I call that a considerable improvement. Let me come to Lascars separately, because I understand that the right hon. Gentleman dislikes them even more than the foreigners, a strange doctrine for an internationalist. During the same period the number of Lascars has gone down. In 1929 there were 53,500 employed and to-day there are 42,400. In those circumstances how can the right hon. Gentleman expect us to believe him when he says that it has gone from bad to worse. The fact is that it has very much improved, and where Lascars are employed they are employed 784 very largely because it would be impossible for the ordinary white seaman or fireman to do the work without injuring his health. There is a very considerable number of ships that trade between foreign ports and never come home, except to pass their survey. Those vessels are usually officered by British officers. The engine room staff are certainly British, with Scots predominating. But they have to get their labour where they can, and they get it naturally from the classes who are most capable physically of standing the strain that is put upon them. When they are employed they are employed in places where to substitute white labour for Lascar labour would be an expenditure of human life as well as of human health.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Rea) has a special claim upon my attention, partly because he succeeded me as member for Dewsbury and partly because he so seldom speaks in the House, and thereby exercises a virtue, or I should rather say displays a virtue the example of which might well be followed in some other quarters. There is a third reason. What he has said is quite true as to his father and my father and the fiscal doctrines which I imbibed in my youth, but my hon. Friend and I are in exactly the same boat with regard to recent events. When the crisis came in 1931 he did not depend upon the strict doctrine of Free Trade as governing all his actions. On the contrary, he came into the Government and he was sitting on these Benches when we instituted the 50 per cent. duty and voted in the Lobby when we divided on the subject, and it is a little late in the day now for him to say that never in any circumstances should any fiscal views be modified.
§ Mr. REA
My right hon. Friend will forgive me but I did not say anything of the sort. I specifically said that the special condition which we had to consider was whether this particular subsidy was going to be a benefit to the industry or not. It was from that point of view that I was criticising it.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That is true, but my hon. Friend did go into the other subject. However I shall now deal with the technical points which he raised. He knows a great deal about this subject and he knows how very quickly decisions have to be taken, and how essential it is that 785 it should not be necessary to have too many consultations before you decide whether you are going to take any particular action or not. That is one of the objections to nationalisation—that you would have to have consultations throughout the whole range of the Civil Service before you could do anything. My hon. Friend is very much alive to that fact and he pointed out that in the chartering of a ship, even half an hour or a quarter of an hour might make a difference because the representatives of some foreign firm might come along in that time and snatch the ship from under one's eyes. I hope that the Shipowners Committee are just as alive to that risk as my hon. Friend and I. They will avoid that danger, I am sure and find some means of dealing with the question. At all events that is one of the points which has been put to me by those concerned with this side of shipping technique.
My hon. Friend also wanted to know whether the effect of working on a ton-day basis would not lead to our helping the old slow boat at the expense of the new fast boat. I thought that the ton-day basis was devised to prevent that and that it really put all vessels upon the same footing. After all there are only 365 days in a year, and you cannot have any more ton-day payments and I doubt very much whether my hon. Friend need be at all anxious upon that point. He had two other points of a practical nature. The first was with regard to the low tariff countries. He wanted to know whether we could not join with them in order to attain our object. We had some experience of working with the low tariff countries in the World Economic Conference of last year. The trouble about it was that they were in such a minority. To begin with, they wanted to make arrangements which would have excluded our manufacturers and exporters from some of the benefits to which they are entitled under most favoured nation treatment and that we could not agree to. When we came to shipping we found that, having put forward a very full and complete shipping case, having set up a special committee and examined it very carefully, the representatives of the low tariff countries, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and possibly Belgium, although I am not sure about that, were prepared to endorse our international 786 shipping policy. But there was not another country would do it. They would not touch it. The Americans would not have anything to do with it; they would only attend the Committee, and the Italians got up at once and said they would have nothing to do with international arrangements. The French would not fall into line.
The fact was that there was no force or weight behind the low tariff countries which would influence the others to change their views, and that is why we found it necessary to take powers. We must have some means of dealing with the situation and of putting our people on the same footing as our competitors; otherwise they would snap their fingers at us next year just as they did last year. I do not want to use the large stick, but we have to make it clear that if foreign countries are going to treat our shipping unfairly, we shall know how to put them on an equal footing. In the second place, if we are to bring about amelioration in the international shipping trade of the world, it must be done on an international basis. That is the reason why we have invited them to consider the proposals which we made in the middle of the summer. That is why the shipowners are going to assemble here in a voluntary association, not driven to it by Government pressure, but on our suggestion that they should meet here, in an international shipping conference, as they have done many times in years past. I hope that in the early months of next year we shall find that not only our own shipowners, but the shipowners of America and of Europe, will be in close consultation and will find some means out of our common problems.
My hon. Friend had one other practical suggestion to make. He said, "Do not use the big stick, but," he said "if there is a flag that is misbehaving, use differential dock dues." What does he mean by "differential dock dues"? He means charging higher dock dues to a country which subsidises shipping than to a country which does not. He means that the Italians should have to pay a higher scale of dues than the Danes, or the Norwegians, or the Scandinavians, or ourselves. Surely that is using the big stick. If you impose a penalty on misdemeanours, does that not mean, clearly, that you are going to put 787 them at a financial disadvantage? That sort of argument is not consistent with my hon. Friend's general position. I believe there are one or two hon. Members who wish to say a few words before we rise to-day, but I trust they will let us get a Division on this Bill and thus get to the Committee stage.
I want to say, in conclusion, what I understand is likely to be the result of the arrangement which we are asking powers to make. It will tend, I believe, to a general screwing-up of the conditions under which the mercantile marine is administered. I believe it will bring actual, positive help and aid, at a time when it is most urgently needed, for those large numbers of the seafaring classes who are walking about the streets in our ports at the present time. I believe the best service you can render to them is to devise means by which our vessels can be employed, and I need hardly say that they will not be employed
§ unless they can be employed profitably. Some of my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite seem to think that if they only use the word "profit," they fire a bombshell into our camp. On the contrary, I say that it would be impossible under any system, individualist or Socialist, to carry on our mercantile marine unless you can carry it on at a profit, and unless you can carry it on at a profit, it means that large numbers of men who are at present walking about with no job or going to sea in grades far below those for which they are qualified will not receive the employment which they so badly need. I beg the House to give us, at all events for 1935, whatever we do after that, this means of conferring benefits on the most deserving of all classes of our community.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 121; Noes, 38.789
|Division No. 24.]||AYES.||[3.40 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Goldie, Noel B.||Rankin, Robert|
|Albery, Irving James||Gower, Sir Robert||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Rhys, Hon, Charles Arthur U.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Greene, William P. C.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Grimston, R. V.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Borodale, Viscount||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Ker, J. Campbell||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Unv., Belfast)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Slater, John|
|Bracken, Brendan||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E.R.)||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Soper, Richard|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||McKie, John Hamilton||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Maclay, Hon Joseph Paton||Storey, Samuel|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Cooke, Douglas||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Denville, Alfred||Natlon, Brigadier-General J. J. H||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Dickie, John P.||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Nunn, William||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Peake, Osbert||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Percy, Lord Eustace||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Petherick, M.||Withers, Sir John James|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Pownall, Sir Assheton||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Commander Southby and Dr. Morris-Jones.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Batey, Joseph||Cocks, Frederick Seymour|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Cove, William G.|
|Banfield, John William||Buchanan, George||Daggar, George|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Hicks, Ernest George||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||John, William||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thorne, William James|
|Dobble, William||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Edwards, Charles||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Wilmot, John|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Parkinson, John Allen||Mr. Paling and Mr. Groves.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Rea, Walter Russell|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Captain Margesson.]