HC Deb 02 August 1935 vol 304 cc3013-5

11.21 a.m.


I have pleasure to-day in bringing before the House a matter of great public importance, and my remarks will be addressed to the Board of Trade. I intimated to the President of the Board of Trade the subject matter with which I proposed to deal, and I have been informed that the Parliamentary Secretary will take his place and reply on this question. The subject about which I am anxious to obtain knowledge as to what the Government are doing has reference to the manning regulations and the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee. Anyone who has knowledge of the recent inquiries in regard to the loss of four ships will be fully aware of the importance of much of the evidence that was adduced. At a later date my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) will deal with the greater portion of the matters appertaining to the loss of life in regard to those ships, and, therefore, I do not intend to labour the matter, but to deal with two important points.

I consider that it will be time well spent to consider the gravity of these matters. This is not a flippant discussion. I take it as an honour to be chosen by the Labour party to-day to deal with this particular question, especially as I come from the Merseyside, where, in my division, there is the largest seafaring population of any seaport in the world. I am convinced that the House will pay due regard to what so intimately touches the life of our people, especially those with whom I am associated and whose homes I am able to visit. This matter is vital in regard to the economic position of these people. Almost every street in our great seaports, and more especially in Liverpool, indicates the tragedy of the sea and of the men who have lost their lives. This is brought home to us when we recollect how much we owe to the Mercantile Marine, and its officers and men, who go down to the sea in ships, and who sail the seven seas.

We have had a Committee set up, and I want it to be distinctly, understood that while I shall be severe in my criticism, which I am justly bound to be, my criticism is not of the Minister but of the Government, with a view to seeing whether something is going to be done. It would be unfair from the Labour benches, when we have so many men of the working classes who are engaged in the Mercantile Marine, if we did not put forward their grievances and ask that they should be given redress by the Board of Trade, who should see that impartial justice is done to the men who jeopardise their lives, many of whom have given their lives in the service of their country.

A statement was made by the President of the Board of Trade last month which pretty well sums up the subject with which I wish to deal. The right hon. Gentleman said, dealing with various phases of shipping, But it is not that aspect of the shipping trade which I would ask the House to consider particularly this afternoon. I am thinking particularly of safety of life at sea on which we have received some rude shocks during the last winter season in the North Atlantic. The House will remember that earlier in the year we discussed here four at least of the disasters which have overcome our seafarers in the North Atlantic—the cases of the "Usworth," the "Blairgowrie," the "La Crescenta," and the "Millpool." It became clear as the facts concerning these vessels were disclosed bit by bit that we must institute Board of Trade inquiries as a preliminary to examination of these cases by a Wreck Commissioner. I am gad to say that immediately I asked Lord Merrivale to act as the Wreck Commissioner he undertook this very responsible task, and he has already completed the inquiries in, I think, three of the cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1935; col. 1257, Vol. 304] We are thankful that the President of the Board of Trade, in view of the evidence that has been produced and the various statements made, thought it necessary that something should be done. I have nothing to say in regard to Lord Merrivale or in regard to the findings of the inquiry. I do not intend to deal with matters which at the present time are sub judice. It will be time enough to deal with the position when those matters are finally dealt with. I wish to deal with questions that are finished with. It is an accomplished fact that a Board has been set up. I am in complete agreement with the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade when he said that we have received some rude shocks. Anyone interested in shipping from the days of the "Alaska," which was the greyhound of the Atlantic, right down to the "Queen Mary," which I hope will be the greyhound of the Atlantic, will know that every great disaster in connection with the Mercantile Marine is a great shock, and brings misery into the homes of our people, and if such disasters can be prevented we ought to take all possible measures to prevent them. The loss of the "Lusitania" was a shock, and brought home to us the fact that we ought to pay close attention to the needs of those engaged in the British Mercantile Marine.

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