Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £260,822, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of certain Services transferred from the Mercantile Marine Fund and other Services connected with the Mercantile Marine, including Services under the British Shipping (Assistance) Act, 1935, the Coastguard, General Register and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen and Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions."—[Note: £125,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
On a point of Order. May I ask for guidance on a matter of procedure? There are two Votes —this Vote 2 and Vote 3 (Assistance to British Shipping) —and I should like to know whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee to have a joint Debate on the two Votes?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the Committee agrees —and I think it would probably be for the general convenience of the Committee —there is no reason why these two Votes should not be discussed at the same time.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
The points which I wish to raise can be conveniently raised together, in view of your suggestion, because part of what I have to say comes under Vote 2 and part comes under Vote 3. I wish, first, to deal with the Manning Report, which was issued by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee as long ago as February last, and presented to Parliament by the President of the Board of Trade. That report, although it has a series of addenda at the end of it is, as regards the nature of its recommenda- 584 tions, unanimous, representing the views not merely of the shipowners but of the seamen. After the publication of the report, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith), when we were discussing the British Shipping (Continuance of Subsidy) Bill, asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade certain questions with regard to proposals made in the Manning Report. The Parliamentary Secretary said, in reply:I can give him an answer with regard to the manning report that was received and published yesterday. That report was accepted unanimously by shipowners and seamen. The conclusions of the report and the recommendations will be taken as the basis of the new Board of Trade instructions which are being put in hand at once and which, when prepared, will be sent to the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.Then my hon. Friend asked:Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he will implement that report in detail? He said would be used as a basis.THE PARLIAMENTARY Secretary replied:The recommendations in this report are being taken as the basis of new instructions. That is implementing in the full sense the Manning Committee Report.He went on to say:I want to give that assurance categorically," — [OFFICUAL REPORT, 20th February, 1936; col. 2063, Vol. 308.]If there ever was a case for implementing the report of a committee it is this particular case, where the shipowners, as the Parliamentary Secretary admitted, and the seamen agreed to new manning scales for the Mercantile Marine, which were endorsed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. What is the history of events since the publication of that report, about the middle of February? The shipowners approached the seamen and put before them as an alternative a manning scale which was substantially lower than that which was unanimously recommended by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee. The National Union of Seamen, quite rightly, took their stand on the document which they had themselves signed, and I may say here and now that the National Union of Seamen will continue to stand by that document. That was in March.
After this rebuff, the shipowners, trying to get out of the agreed report, made 585 further approaches to the seamen, in May. They said that they had alternative proposals to put forward, but they were not alternative proposals. I have the proposals here. There was one minor modification. The seamen, naturally, stood by the unanimously agreed report of the committee. There has been some delay since then. The seamen did not wish to press the matter unduly, but there are two points which ought to be brought to the attention of hon. Members to-day. The first is that the shipowners are trying to wriggle out of this unanimous report, and the second is that I very strongly suspect that the Board of Trade is aiding and abetting them in so doing.
I am quite satisfied that the Shipping Federation do not mean to honour the proposals agreed to by some of their representatives on the Manning Committee, if they can get out of them. It does not appear to me that the President of the Board of Trade is throwing his weight on the side of this unanimous report. Rather is his Department playing into the hands of the shipowners who are desirous of wrecking the report of the Manning Committee. I regard that as a very serious thing for the shipowners to do. It is not that the Board of Trade has been doing nothing arising out of this report upon manning. It has prepared draft regulations and has also prepared a draft circular of instructions to surveyors, a copy of which I have here. This new circular, which is supposed to implement, in the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, the recommendations of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee's Report, omits very important words which were included in a circular of the Board of Trade issued as long ago as 1909 and published as an appendix to the report of the Committee on Manning.
These words were again endorsed in the recent report of the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee make special reference to them on page 11 of their report. The committee passed a special resolution, incorporated on page 11, bringing in the very words which had been in the circular of 1909, the very words which indicate what the committee and what the Board of Trade at that time regarded as a minimum effective watch —"a competent hand at the wheel, a lookout man, and an additional hand on deck available for any purpose." Why 586 are those words omitted from the draft circular? I thought that we were living in an age of progress. I thought from the words of the Parliamentary Secretary that the unanimous recommendations of this committee were to be carried into effect. Yet in these instructions those key words, the really operative words, have been obviously quite deliberately omitted.
This is only a case of history repeating itself. The Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee in its own report reminded me of what happened before the War, when that circular of 1909 was under discussion. They thought that that circular fell short of the committee's recommendations to the extent that, one, it contained no definition of an efficient deck-hand; and, two, the suggestion that only an able-bodied seaman or a man who has satisfied competent officials that he is in fact an efficient seaman should be accepted as an efficient deck-hand, was not adopted. Before I close I shall offer some observations giving my opinion of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. Even then this crucial problem of the definition of an efficient deck-hand was shirked by the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is trying to shirk it now, after a definite promise has been given in this House by the Parliamentary Secretary that the report was to be implemented.
Recent inquiries into the losses of ships and lives at sea have shown the need for closer definition of an efficient deckhand, and the Advisory Committee is now pressing for such a definition and the Board of Trade is trying to wriggle out of it. I submit that that is a most humiliating position for a great Department of State. If the Board of Trade does not give some quite clearly defined instructions with regard to minimum watches aboard ship, the abuse which Lord Merrivale referred to in his report on the loss of the "Blairgowrie," to which reference has been made in this House on more than one occasion, will probably continue and may even be accentuated. This is what Lord Merrivale said in his report on the "Blairgowrie" inquiry:The effect of employing deck-hands in the manner described (maintenance work on the ship), apart from disregard of the Board of Trade regulations would seem to be that the expense of the upkeep of the vessel is kept down by the employment thereon of men who would otherwise be doing duty in watches.587As to the whole question of securing the safety of seagoing ships and their crews, we feel that existing provisions fall short of what is necessary. The instructions to surveyors which are in existence should be made practically effective.Four ships and 100 lives were lost before these new proposals were made, and I am bound to say that there seems to be very little desire on the part of the Board of Trade to implement the changes which have been recommended and which would do a great deal for the safety of ships and life at sea. This question of manning is a fundamental question. I will not weary the House with details, but I have here a, list of the vessels signed on in Bristol Channel ports within the last three months, with particulars of their deck complements. What is interesting is that a number of these ships have now got crews which come up to the standard recommended in the Manning Committee's report, and that others of them are much higher than the standard demanded by the existing regulations. In other words, therefore, the practice in the Bristol Channel is ahead of the new proposals which the shipowners are making and which would in fact mean going back on what are existing scales of manning on many boats to-day.
The Merchant Navy Officers' Federation, which, I imagine, would be accepted as the most influential of the officers' organizations, because some of its vice-presidents include very distinguished Members of this House, chiefly on the other side, in its annual report last year dealt with the question of manning and the importance of a look-out on tramp steamers, and said:During the period under review we have seen a number of reports from officers in tramp steamers complaining of steady deterioration in conditions aboard their ships. It would appear that there is a growing custom under which navigating officers, and in some cases masters, find it necessary to do manual work about the decks in order that the owners' requirements as to general upkeep (with a minimum of expenditure on shore labour) shall be met. A number of cases have been reported to us in which the man at the wheel is left in charge of the bridge, with instructions to call the officer of the watch (working about the deck) with a whistle.I submit that that is a scandalous state of affairs. It definitely means under-manning of our boats. Lord Merrivale has referred to this matter in the report on the "La Crescenta" inquiry: 588Owners and managers of vessels are not relieved, when a minimum crew has been put on board, of their manifest obligation to see that the ship is adequately manned for the purposes involved in her mode of employment. Whether 'La Crescenta' was adequately manned in this sense is a question of no less importance than whether she carried a minimum complement of deck-hands provided by the Board of Trade instructions.I imagine that in a sense that is an implied criticism of Board of Trade standards. It does show that in his view a mere fulfillment of the existing standards is not satisfactory unless it has regard to the safety of the ship and its crew. I hope we shall get from the President of the Board of Trade to-day again a specific undertaking that he is going to carry into effect the manning proposals made by his Advisory Committee. We have had that promise made to us once already —nearly three months ago. I think we are entitled to ask for a reaffirmation of that promise, a statement that the President of the Board of Trade still intends to keep his word, irrespective of the view of the shipowners on this question.
But that is not the only aspect of the question of the manning of ships. So far the Board of Trade has confined its regulations to deck manning. There is just as great a need for regulation with regard to the engine-room and the stoke-hold staff as for the deck-hands. On this matter Lord Merrivale had something to say in his report of the inquiry into the loss of "La, Crescenta." If all that was implied in these reports could be translated into regulations it would mean a revolution in the standards of our sea going population:The strength of the engine-room staff and the burden of their duties are also matters which clearly affect the safety of the ship. Why five engineers, four firemen and two greasers were considered a proper staff in 1930, and in 1934 four engineers, four firemen and one greaser, is as difficult to understand as it is to suppose that to dispense in the latter year with the ship's carpenter, the boatswain, two stewards, a cook and a cabin boy, could have no serious effect on the sufficiency of the crew as a whole to do the ship's work and also have reasonable periods for rest.He continued:The minimum of deck-bands is governed by regulations.I have tried to show that they are inadequately governed.The other numbers are not. It would seem that if the various elements of well- 589 being are all equally material there should, if possible, be regulations designed to secure a sufficiency of numbers throughout the vessel with due regard to the tasks involved and the mode in which she is employed.I should like to ask the Board of Trade whether they are prepared to refer the question of people serving below deck to the Advisory Committee in the same way as they have referred the question of manning. It will not be denied by shipowners in the House that manning below deck, especially on tramp vessels, stoke-hold manning, is not adequate on many boats to meet all the demands which are likely to arise, and very rarely on the smaller boats is there any reserve of force in case of accident or illness. What happens then with a, minimum deck complement already too low, and which the Advisory Committee says is too low? The effect is that when you have a shortage of labour below deck the deck complement is depleted in order to carry on the duties below deck, to supply the deficiency there. There is another part of the crew also employed on mercantile boats —the catering staff. They are not governed by any kind of regulations. They are also called upon to fill up deficiencies in the crew, whether on deck or below deck and it is not unknown for a galley boy or a cabin boy to he sent down to the stokehold to do coal trimming, because there are not sufficient firemen to carry out the duties which fall upon them.
The Board of Trade really cannot pretend that they are ignorant of all this. It is not infrequent for crews when signing off at the Board of Trade offices to make complaints about manning conditions, especially below deck, but if the Board of Trade have no complaints, I shall be very happy to supply the right hon. Gentleman with a large number which have been officially put in to his representatives at the Board of Trade offices at various ports. But manning does not merely affect the crew; it affects the officers as well. There is a National Maritime Board Agreement stipulating the minimum number of officers to be carried on vessels exceeding 2,750 tons. There is no agreement whatever for vessels smaller than that tonnage, and it has been shown by the officers' federation that many of these smaller ships are inadequately staffed so far as officers are concerned. I quote a case — I cannot give the name of the ship because I 590 should not like the person who gave the information to be victimized, but I am prepared to give the name of the ship to the President of the Board of Trade. A month ago this vessel sailed from this country to the Black Sea. She was a little under 2,750 tons, but not much. She carried a master and one mate. The Board of Trade permitted this vessel to sail on receipt of a letter from the master to the effect that he would take a watch during the voyage. That meant that the master would be working 84 hours per week, apart from his responsibilities as master of the ship.
It is obvious that the master of a ship cannot take regular hours of rest with these heavy responsibilities, and yet the Board of Trade allowed this vessel to sail last month from this country to the Black Sea under conditions of that kind. The master had no option —his job was at stake. I say that it is a criminal offence for the Board of Trade to permit a ship to sail under conditions like those. Therefore, I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will carry his investigations about manning a step further and make some investigations through the Advisory Committee as to the officers staffing in the Mercantile Marine. Finally, on this question of manning I want to say quite definitely to the Committee that we shall not accept any compromise willingly on the basis laid down in the Advisory Committee's Report. If it is forced upon us, well and good, but if it is forced upon us I say that it will be a scandal and I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman could hold up his head in any port of the country. When a body of shipowners and seamen agree on a manning scale and the right hon. Gentleman says that it will be implemented, it is an obligation of honour on the right hon. Gentleman to carry out his word.
Bound up with this question of manning is the question of accommodation, because quite clearly we are going to improve our manning scales. The Government have said so. If we improve our manning scales then, obviously, the question of accommodation aboard existing ships arises. We are entitled, therefore, to ask what new regulations the right hon. Gentleman contemplates for ensuring that the increased crews on our boats shall have adequate accommodation. I was profoundly shocked when I heard the right hon. Gentleman tell the 591 House that he is consulting the Shipping Federation in this matter. He went on to say that he would consult the Advisory Committee. Why did he not at the same time say that he would consult the officers and seamen? They will have to live in this accommodation, even if they do not provide it. It is a sinister move on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am afraid it shows where his interest really lies. He believes that they are the people who should decide these things. We have always held that in matters affecting conditions those who are concerned, who have to live under them, should be consulted as well as the people who provide them.
The situation, as I see it to-day, is this: New ships are being built; some are on the stocks at this moment, whose accommodation for the crew is no better than it was 25 years ago. They will come into commission and last another 25 years. We are, therefore, perpetuating now on many ships conditions which were a disgrace 25 years ago, and which cannot be defended now. The matter of accommodation becomes very urgent. At the Preparatory Maritime Conference last year at Geneva the seamen's delegation urged the British Government to recognise the importance of preparing for adequate manning scales by regulations which would ensure that new vessels to be built provided satisfactory accommodation. Six months have gone and nothing has happened. New ships are still being designed, still being built, with inadequate accommodation which will not fulfil any reasonable standard that this House would dare to approve. It can be done. There are shipowners in this country who have shown great foresight, wisdom and imagination.
I quote the case of Sir Arthur Sutherland who has built a ship, the "Dumfries," which sets a very high standard of accommodation. The accommodation for the crew —I ask the Committee whether this is not reasonable accommodation —will comprise central heating, separate messrooms for seamen, firemen and petty officers, separate sleeping quarters for day and night shifts, separate steel lockers for clothes, oilskins, etc., hot drying rooms for wet clothes, shower baths, hot and cold water running to the various wash basins, separate wash places and lavatories for 592 seamen and firemen, proper ventilation, berth partitions made of metal or plywood to reduce the risk of vermin, metal frame beds with laths of steel, no bunks one above the other, but all on the same level, and electric light in the seamen's quarters. That seems to be a reasonable standard for seamen. People who own ships, but live on shore, would want a better standard. Surely it is right that in the new ships we should live up to the best which can be achieved, seeing that they will exist for a generation.
I quote another ship, belonging to the Albyn Line, Sunderland, the steamship "Thistlegarth," 4,750 tons gross, and this is what a port sanitary officer says about her:I was immediately impressed by the officers' accommodation —by far the best I have seen in this type of ship or, in fact, in a large number of cargo vessels of well-known companies. The crew's accommodation was situated aft, the petty officers being housed in deck cabins, and the sailors and firemen below. The arrangement in the petty officers' berths, etc., was excellent. The sailors' quarters were on the port side below deck. I found that it consisted of separate cabins with a large mess-room and wash-place. It was essentially the type of crew accommodation for which the Port Sanitary Authority have been striving for the men, having two-berth rooms. The men were given an incentive to make the quarters homely and to take a personal interest in them.I submit that companies building ships like that ought to be a model for the rest of the people engaged in our Mercantile Marine. I want next to quote, in juxtaposition, conditions in a new British ship and in a foreign ship, not in my own words, but in the words of the Medical Officer of Health for the Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority in his recently issued report for last year. This is what he says:During recent years, although much time and thought have been devoted to improving the efficiency of ships, inspection of the crew's quarters in the majority of vessels whether recently constructed or not, has failed to show a corresponding improvement. On some occasions, however, vessels are visited which have been designed to include the comfort of the crew. It is worthy of note that the majority of these vessels have been designed and built by foreign firms.During the past 12 months it was possible to examine and compare two vessels, both of recent construction, one British, the other foreign. The crews' quarters of both vessels amply conformed to regulations laid down under the Merchant Shipping Act, 593 and this feature was the hest that could be said of the British-owned vessel. The dominant note of the crew's quarters of the foreign-owned vessel was that of comfort and cleanliness, due to care and imagination which had been used in the planning and furnishing of them.He goes on to describe the two boats, and here is the foreign-owned vessel:The crew were housed in four-berth cabins, each man being provided with a full-length wardrobe and locker constructed of polished wood. Other furnishings of the cabins were a small table and chairs of comfortable design, matching the wardrobe, etc. The bunks and scuttles were fitted with curtains similar in appearance and quality to those found in tourist accommodation of a modern passenger liner; the table was covered with a cloth and a centre-piece matching the design of the curtains. All furnishings were provided by the company, and the bareness of the ship's side was relieved by the use of polished plywood.To maintain the cleanliness of their quarters, the crew changed from their working clothes, bathed, and resumed other clothing before entering their cabins; this was done in a common-room at the entrance of the quarters. The bathing was done under shower-baths, and a constant supply of hot fresh water was obtainable from a large cistern containing 400 –500 gallons, which was electrically heated and thermostatically controlled.The mess-room accommodation was situated amidships and consisted of a galley, mess-room, and scullery; the food and dishes were passed from one room to the other through serving hatches facilitating the cooking and serving of meals…The impression gained by this inspection was that the owners and men had successfully co-operated to achieve a standard of comfort which should be provided as a routine measure for those who are compelled to pursue a maritime life.All honour to that foreign vessel. Would anyone complain that the curtains and so on were unreasonable? Nobody could complain of that kind of accommodation being either excessive or extravagant. Here is what the same medical officer says about the British ship:This vessel was built and launched in 1935. Inspection of the crew's quarters was noteworthy only by the fact that the quarters so closely resembled those provided for the crew in. British ships 20–30 years ago.The crew were housed forward, the rooms containing six to eight bunks of the tubular type. In contrast to the wardrobes and lockers provided for the foreign vessel, small galvanised iron lockers were provided for the crew.The sanitary arrangements of the two vessels bore the most striking contrast. The 594 British vessel taps were supplied with cold salt water, all hot water having to be carried from the galley, which was situated aft. Included in the lavatory accommodations were trough-closets; these were destined for the use of the stewardesses, and it is difficult to conceive why this type of closet should be found in a recently-built vessel.The features of the mess-room accommodation differed in no great respect from those found in other British vessels, the mess-rooms being furnished with plain wood tables and seats, and being situated at an inconvenient distance from the galley.Then the medical officer goes on to draw his conclusions, but first of all I ask the Committee to observe what a contrast there is between a modern ship, built by some foreign Power, embodying all that, can be reasonably provided for men under the difficulties of life at sea, and a British ship, built less than a year ago, conforming to standards which were a. scandal a quarter of a century ago. Here are the medical officer's conclusions:Various theories have been advanced to explain the continuation of these abuses in the provision of crews' quarters. An obvious objection is that of increased cost in shipbuilding, but this added expenditure assumes negligible proportions in comparison with the total cost of the vessel, provided that the inl4provements of the crew quarters are considered in the original design of the vessel A second objection sometimes raised is, that although comfortable quarters are provided, the men, either through ignorance or carelessness, fail to take advantage of these improvements. This may be obviated by efficient discipline, entailing at least a daily inspection of the crew's quarters by the master or chief engineer.As regards the second objection, that these men make their quarters as bad as they are, I can only reply that that is the slum lovers' defence of slums and has been for 50 years, and experience has proved that if you take people out of the slums and put them into decent surroundings, at least 95 per cent. of the people. respond to those better surroundings. The point which I wish to bring out is that this new British ship, in the words of the medical officer, "amply conformed to regulations." Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, because he has these abuses, as the medical officer calls them, in his power and can get rid of them should he choose. I should hope, therefore, that we may get something specific from the President of the Board of Trade that he does mean now to take active, definite 595 Steps to get rid of these slums of the sea —and I use the term again, although I know it is not popular in some quarters in this House —and make certain that new ships conform to higher standards. I would advise him to take a leaf out of the book of the Ministry of Health. They would not allow new houses to be built on the standards of 25 or 30 years ago, so why should he? These ships are the homes of these people, and I think we are entitled to ask that the right hon. Gentleman should take this matter of accommodation into immediate consideration.
My only other point —and I shall deal only with one aspect of it —is the administration of the tramp shipping subsidy. There is much that I could say and much that I must reserve and that, no doubt, some of my hon. Friends will say. I am very disturbed at the way in which the tramp shipping subsidy is being administered. It is not being administered in the spirit of the intention of the House. We are still having foreign seamen used on ships which are obtaining subsidy from the Government. Very recently my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe asked the President of the Board of Trade a question with regard to the steamship "Kelvinbank." He asked whether the President would state the number of white British, lascar, and Chinese signed on the steamship "Kelvinbank," and whether subsidy had been paid. The reply was that subsidy had been paid, that the 12 officers were white British, the carpenter was Chinese, and there were 35 lascars serving on a lascar agreement, opened at Calcutta.
I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether or not it is a condition that receipt of subsidy depends upon the fulfilment of the National Maritime Board wages agreement, because in the form for an application for a subsidy in respect of a tramp voyage, the firm is asked to declare whether National Maritime Board wages are paid to all the officers and crew, and there is a side-note that if they cannot answer that question, they must say why. Is it or is it not a condition —the right hon. Gentleman gave us to understand that it was —that the agreements of the National Maritime Wages Board are 596 being observed? If so, I say this —and the right hon. Gentleman can contradict me if I am wrong that the National Maritime Board have never on any occasion recognised lascar agreements as being in accordance with their own rules. Indeed these agreements are not agreements. They have not been arrived at by an kind of collective bargaining. These people sign on at Indian ports odd people without any kind of supervision. That is not a real agreement, and so far as we know, there are no standard rates of pay; and some of the very large companies, including the P. & O. Line, pay wages to these people as low as 30s. a month, to lascar crews.
I should say, with regard to the "Kelvinbank "—and this is one of the swindles of the subsidy —that she is not a tramp steamer. She is a cargo liner, and, of course, a cargo liner can go out with a cargo on conference rates and then come back picking up cargo as a tramp and get subsidy on it, whereas the chances are that a tramp vessel might have to go out in ballast in order to bring a cargo back. That is a very serious situation. The "Kelvinbank" is a case in point of a cargo liner which time and again profits from the subsidy and employs a large amount of foreign labour.
Let me now refer to the firm of Messrs. H. Hogarth and Sons of Glasgow which, with its two associated concerns, netted over £76,000 in subsidies last year. I have here information concerning the pay of the crew, apart from officers, of one of its boats, the "Baron Erskine," a boat of 3,657 tons. The crew was signed on in Calcutta on 26th December, 1935, and the total monthly wages for 31 persons amounted to under the British equivalent of which, on the National Maritime Board's scale of wages, would amount to nearly £155 per month, so that this ship, which might be paying British seamen on a scale up to £155 per month, is paying a month. This company and its associated concerns last year had £76,000 of subsidies and they are gaining £90 a month on the wage scales of their crew. Another line which employs Lascar seamen and firemen almost exclusively is the Clan Line. A fortnight ago its balance sheet for last year was issued and I feel sure it will give great comfort to the shareholders, for it showed a handsome profit of over 597 £644,000. This company last year also received a subsidy of £17,608 19s.
There are many other firms which received very substantial sums in subsidy and which employ either Lascar or Chinese labour. I will give the names of some of them and my statement can be challenged if I am wrong. They are: the Bank Line, Limited, Thomas and John Brocklebank, Limited, Charente Steamship Company, Limited, the Ocean Steamship Company, Limited (Holt's) —all of which employ either Lascar or Chinese labour predominantly —and the Elder Dempster Lines Limited, which specialise rather in the employment of West Africans. The right hon. Gentleman said, "Only trust me and I will see that we employ British labour." When the Subsidy Bill was first introduced and I asked him whether he would accept an Amendment to make that a condition in the Bill, he would not do so. He said, as his great leader said, "Trust me," and the situation now is that large amounts of subsidy are going to firms which are not honouring a condition which this House intended they should honour. I submit that in cases of this kind the Subsidy Committee ought to refuse the subsidy.
I could go into other aspects of the administration of the Tramp Shipping subsidy, but I would prefer to leave the matter at that, because I think the point which I made in this House 18 months ago with regard to the subsidy has been justified. It ought to be used not only to the advantage of British shipowners, but to the advantage of British seamen. From what I have said the Committee will gather that I am gravely dissatisfied with the administration of the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade. The Mercantile Marine Department has an outlook which I cannot put later than mid-Victorian. I will not mince my words —it casts a friendly eye on the shipowners; it spurns the claims of the seamen; and it is only just beginning to realise that we have an organised seamen's movement. I would prefer to see the administration of labour conditions aboard ship in the hands of the Factory Department of the Home Office or in the hands of the Minister of Labour rather than in those of the right hon. Gentleman. This is in one of the industries which is the backbone of the country, 598 and there is no other great basic industry in the country in which the conditions of labour are as scandalous as they are in the Mercantile Marine. This is due to the fact that the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade is still living in the dark ages.
I have raised three points, and we shall not rest until we get a satisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman. Those points are the manning of the Mercantile Marine, the implementation of a unanimous report, and that quickly; better accommodation for the officers and crews of the Mercantile Marine; and an understanding that the tramp shipping subsidy is not to be used to bolster up the profits of highly profitable concerns who go out of their way to employ labour other than British. The seamen of this country have long been in the shadows. Since the days of Plimsoll they have found no friends in this House, but to-day they have 155, and the fight we have started now is one which will go on until we obtain a complete revision of the Merchant Shipping Act of this country, to bring it into line with twentieth-century conditions.
It would be out of order for me to deal with that to-day, but at least we can claim that all that it is possible to do by administration to improve the lot of seafarers should be done by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that to-day he will declare himself emphatically in favour of the improvement of the conditions of sea, men which I am certain the nation wants and which would win for him the good wishes of a large number of people whose lot has so often been forgotten. These people go to sea, they are away for months and perhaps for two or three years, and we landsmen care nothing for their plight. It is high time that in this new movement for great improvements the seamen should come to the fore, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, with his experience of the sea and of shipping, will help us to get for the seamen their rightful place in the community.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
When the last shipping Debate took place in this House I was unfortunately absent through illness, but at that time the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin 599 Smith) made various allegations, and I am certain the House would like me to give an answer to those allegations as far as I can. The various shipping firms against which he made these statements have been communicated with, and I have in my hand the answers from them. The first allegation which the hon. Member for Rotherhithe made was against the firm of Messrs. John Kelly, Limited, and Sir Samuel Kelly. He said that these firmsdo not observe the conditions either by the insertion of Clauses in the Articles or by paying overtime or giving time off in lieu.The company's reply is that it is quite incorrect.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
Perhaps if the hon. Baronet is going to make statements on behalf of these companies, he will give the House the details and not merely say the allegations are incorrect.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I should certainly be willing to do that, but I will explain that some of these letters are rather long and I do not wish to bore the House with them. For instance, one allegation which the hon. Member for Rotherhithe made against the firm of Messrs. Everard, Limited, fills one sheet and the reply, which entirely refutes every part of the allegation, fills three sheets.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
In that case there is no need for me to read the letter now, although I should be pleased to let any hon. Member read these replies if he wishes. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe then said that the firm of Messrs J. S. Monks, Limited,insert no clauses in the articles and do not pay overtime, nor is any time given in lieu thereof.The reply of the company is thatthe statement made by the hon. Member is incorrect.Of Messrs. William Robertson, the hon. Member for Rotherhithe said:They do not observe the National Maritime Board's conditions in any respect, they do not insert clauses in the articles and they make no payment for overtime.600 I ought to explain that the National Maritime Board's overtime clause is a compulsory agreed clause so far as foreign-going vessels on monthly articles are concerned, and is not compulsory but an optional or recommended clause for vessels on weekly articles. The company's reply to that allegation is that the National Maritime Board's clauses are always inserted in articles when their ships go foreign. They are not inserted when the vessels are in the home trade, but allowances for certain duties have always been made and are still being made. This involves no breach at all of the National Maritime Board agreements. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe then made an allegation against my own firm, the Clan Line, and said that it is:One of the largest employers of Chinese seamen and firemen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1936; cols. 751 to 753, Vol. 310.]The reply to that allegation is that the hon. Memberhas been misinformed and his statement is totally incorrect. In the case of the Clan Line steamers and other lines controlled by Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine and Company, no Chinese are employed in the ships, nor has it ever been the custom of this firm to employ Chinamen in any capacity whatever.The last allegation made by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe was against Messrs. F. T. Everard and Sons, Limited, and I have already mentioned it. As I said, that allegation fills one page and the reply to it covers three pages, and entirely refutes every part of the allegation. In fact, the bulk of the allegation was founded on the statement of one man who was discharged. The ridiculous part of it is that the hon. Member has wasted all this time in making allegations about which he has been misinformed and about which he is quite wrong, against a firm which, out of a subsidy of £2,000,000, has drawn the large sum of £67 16s. It seems to me that if the hon. Member, after looking through all the firms covered by this £2,000,000 subsidy, has to pick on a firm which is only receiving that small amount, it shows how extraordinarily good the Mercantile Marine of Great Britain has been in carrying out the requirements of the subsidy conditions.
I do not intend to devote any more time to those allegations, but the right hon. 601 Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has as usual talked about the "slums of the sea" and made other allegations. One thing which struck me about what he said just now was his appalling ignorance of shipping matters. I am astonished that anyone who is so ignorant of shipping matters should have the face to stand up there day after day and make allegations and give out his opinions upon the subject. He mentioned Messrs. Andrew Weir's "Kelvinbank" and I think he also said certain Clan Line ships were not entitled to the subsidy. I am convinced that the President of the Board of Trade would not authorise payment of the subsidy unless the conditions were being fulfilled, and there is also a committee which looks into it carefully. But the fact that a ship is owned by a passenger or cargo liner company does not prevent it receiving a subsidy if it is engaged on tramp business and carrying a full cargo of tramp commodities. It is entitled, if it fulfils the conditions, to receive the subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman's statement only shows that he has not looked into the conditions governing the subsidy.
He further referred to Lascars as foreigners. The Lascar is a native of India and a member of the British Empire and every bit as good a member of the British Empire as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and ships carrying crews composed of members of the British Empire are entitled to the subsidy just as much as those carrying purely white British crews. But when he says that those ships take on crews of Lascars from ports all over India and that these men take any wages and any conditions they are offered, I repudiate that statement. The Lascars are under the Government of India. Their regulation and organisation are under the Government of India and they are as carefully looked after as regards regulations, as any others.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I think the hon. Member will find that he is wrong there. The rates paid to these men are laid down by the Government of India and recognised as such in this country.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I think I have said enough in reply to the hon. Member, but I would like to add something regarding the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe is not, after all, quite so abusive in his language as the right hon. Gentleman. I am growing a little tired of the right hon. Gentleman's continued references to what he calls "the slums of the sea." As far as I can make out the slums exist only in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. I am sorry he is not here and I think that, having made his speech, he might wait for a few minutes in order to hear a reply to it. I suggest that if he could only get his mind into a healthier condition, he might be able to eradicate some of the slums from it and take a less jaundiced view of the position and make fewer representations —which is the mildest word I can use—against the shipowners of the country. I resent, as I am sure all the shipowners in this House or in the country resent, those misrepresentations. In none of them is there a grain of truth.
If I were to accuse the hon. Member for Rotherhithe of beating his wife or ill-treating his children, I am certain he would be indignant and I dare say he would be quite right, but I have as much reason to accuse him of that, as the right hon. Gentleman has to accuse the shipowners of the things suggested in the various misrepresentations to which I have referred. There is no difference between the two cases. One statement is as much a lie as I realise the other to be. The majority of shipowners are the sons or grandsons of the founders of these shipping lines and have been born and have grown up in the shipping business. We look upon our staffs, upon our personnel, in very much the same light as we look upon our own children 603 [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Rotherhithe may laugh but he is not in the happy position of being as closely associated with our British officers and seamen as I am.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
Has the hon. Member ever compared his boys leaving school, with one of his crews leaving their ship?
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I do not think the hon. Member can ever have seen one of them. My first endeavour has always been to look after their interests and promote their welfare. We have these continual pinpricks and misrepresentations, only I am glad to say, from one or two Members of the Labour party. These attacks on shipowners are made by those merely trying to draw a red herring across the real issue. The Labour party seem to forget the object of this £2,000,000 subsidy. I personally disliked a subsidy and spoke against it and did my best to convince the President of the Board of Trade that it was a bad thing. But the Government decided to give this subsidy to the tramp shipping section of the industry and they wanted to have the support of the whole shipping industry—liners, passenger, cargo and tramp sections unanimously. We agreed to support the demand put forward for this subsidy to the tramp industry because, as they informed us, I believe accurately, they were in a very bad way owing to bad conditions and the subsidies paid by foreign Governments. It was a whiff of oxygen given to a patient who was at his last gasp.
That subsidy is purely a palliative and not a cure. Foreign subsidies are directed chiefly against liner trades and a £2,000,000 subsidy to this one section of British shipping is quite useless to combat foreign Government in their nationalistic and uneconomic support of their own shipping. It is useless to combat the £30,000,000 a year which foreign Governments can give in the way of subsidy to their national ships. It is useless to combat the restrictions, reservations, quotas, currency measures and exchange control which foreign Governments are 604 using to bolster up their shipping. It is true that foreign Governments are supporting their own shipping in every possible way because they realise its great importance but apart from the subsidy given to the tramp section of the industry last year, our Government has not gone out of its way to help the British shipping industry in any way whatever.
The serious problem of shipping should not be treated in the rather piecemeal fashion in which the Government hitherto have treated it, but on a wider and more logical scale. It is time that the Government faced the facts and I would particularly draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the need for giving a definite lead in this matter to the other Governments in the Empire. I believe if we are to restore our shipping to its rightful place the whole Empire must act in concert. The decline in British shipping has not been arrested by the granting of this subsidy to one section of it. That decline continues and if we take the gross tonnage on the register, that is of vessels of 100 tons and upwards, we find comparing 1914 with 1935 that United Kingdom tonnage has decreased from 19,250,000 tons to 17,400,000 tons or a decrease of over 91 per cent. On the other hand world tonnage has increased from over 49,000,000 to 64,885,000, an increase of over 31 per cent. Thus British shipping is going down badly while world shipping is on the increase. United Kingdom tonnage in 1914 represented 39.23 per cent. of world tonnage, and to-day it represents 26.83 per cent. of world tonnage. These figures show the great headway which the shipping of the world has made while British tonnage has been steadily declining.
I would like to deal with a few points concerning liner trades. Naturally in the debates of last year these were lost sight of, because we were then dealing particularly with the tramp section. I wish first to mention the case of which a great deal has been heard lately of the Matson Line competition and the threatened wiping out of our Mercantile Marine in the Pacific Ocean by unfair United States subsidies. The British lines trading between North America. San Francisco, Vancouver, New Zealand and Australia are losing thousands on every ship every year. The Union Steamship Company of New Zealand have announced their intention of withdrawing in November their 605 service from San Francisco to New Zealand and Australia, and the only remaining British line in that ocean will then be the Canadian-Australian line, and inevitably they will have to withdraw their service from Vancouver to New Zealand and Australia. In that case we shall have no British line serving along the whole of that coast of Canada and America, communicating with our Dominions of New Zealand and Australia; the all-red route of Imperial communications will be severed, and the United States will have a monopoly in that trade which ought to be purely an Empire trade, between Canada and New Zealand and Australia.
Since 1932, that is to say, when the Ottawa Agreements were made, the Government have been considering this question, and although three and a-half years have elapsed, no effective action has been taken. The Governments of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are, as compared with a country like America, relatively poor. They are hopeless standing alone against what the United States think fit to do. The only hope of preventing a disappearance of our Mercantile Marine in the Pacific Ocean is, I believe, for the British Government to join wholeheartedly with our Dominions in order to see whether they can adopt measures which will meet this unfair competition. I could go on and speak of other trades such as New York to South Africa, New York to Australia, and New York to India; in all the same treatment is being applied by America against British steamship companies. In those trades our Government are, to a large extent, responsible, because during the War the boats on these trades which had been built up by British shipping were commandeered and put into the War zone to carry American troops and munitions. The Americans built a fleet and put the boats into those trades, and after the War they refused to allow us in. We have had to fight our way back, and we are fighting in all those trades against the American Government to this day. I can, assure the House that it is impossible for private firms to compete with a Government like America which is willing to spend hundreds of millions of its taxpayers' money to fight and to wrest these trades from the British.
Very much the same thing is happening to the home trade. British ships are 606 being driven out by direct or indirect government action. In regard to Russia, we have an agreement which was made in February, 1934. Russia undertook to increase the purchases of British goods and the employment of British tonnage progressively for a number of years, with a view to establishing a balance of payments. Although this country is the largest consumer of Russian timber, the Russian Government are employing fewer British ships every year, and British lives, are being gradually driven out of the trades. From the 39 ports of the United Kingdom trading with Northern Europe' —representing 70 per cent. of the whole trade—according to the Chamber of Shipping figures for 1934, as compared with last year, British ships have dropped from 97 to 59 and their tonnage from 303,000 to 197,000. Soviet ships, on the other hand, have increased from 41 to 121 and the tonnage from 130,000 to 385,000. In other words, British tonnage has fallen 40 per cent. and the Soviet tonnage has increased three times, in spite of the fact that we have an agreement with Russia in which they say they will not do this sort of thing.
With regard to France, a decree of the 13th October, 1935, substitutes, for the preference given by the 1921 decree to French tonnage for the carriage of coal cargoes for public utility undertakings, an obligation to ship in French ships and it widens the definition of public utility undertakings. In the last few days we have received information of a proposed arrangement between the French coal importers and shipowners to contract for the shipment of United Kingdom coal exports to France by French ships. We have good reason to believe that this arrangement has been made under pressure from the French Government, who control licenses for the import of coal. That French importers have been obliged to accept French ships is shown by the fact that they are paying much higher-rates for French ships. The rates are in excess of the market rate at which British ships are offering. In fact, French ships are obtaining 2s. per ton, or 25 per cent., higher rates than British ships are willing to offer. In addition to all that, the French tramp shipping is receiving subsidies equal to £3 per ton, which is six times the value of the British tramp shipping subsidy. I will not go into the case.
607 of Belgium, Holland, the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Spain, because what I have said illustrates what is happening in their cases. They are all being helped by their Governments, directly or indirectly, to the disadvantage of British ships, and unless our Government do something they will eventually drive British boats out of these trades entirely.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
We are anxious to ascertain what the hon. and gallant Member means when he asks that the Government should do something. What has he in mind
§ Sir H. CAYZER
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my own speech, I will tell him. I am giving the facts and later I will try to make a few suggestions for the use of the Government. Taking the United Kingdom trade with Northern Europe—excluding France, because that would bring in the Mediterranean ports—the entrances of British ships fell from 7,032,000 net tons to 5,914,000 net tons. The entrances of foreign ships, that is, those under Scandinavian, Danish, German, Dutch and Belgian flags increased from 8,600,000 tons to 10,000,000 tons. The clearances show the same tendency. The clearances of British ships from Northern Europe fell from 9,168,000 tons to 6,283,000 tons, while those of foreign ships increased from 9,343,000 to 9,874,000 tons. So that in each case there was a great fall in both clearances and entrances of British ships and a great increase in respect of foreign ships, in spite of the fact that Great Britain has trade agreements with all these countries. These trade agreements undoubtedly provide for increased purchases of coal, but they have done nothing and are doing nothing to prevent the reduction of British shipping carrying that coal.
We do not wish preferential treatment for British shipping, but we do suggest that all possible methods should be explored by the Government—I am certain with the help of shipowners, who are only too ready to do all they can—first, for restoring freedom of opportunity, and, second, for equality of treatment of British ships. To-day, owing to the action taken by the governments of practically every foreign country in the world, this situation can only be met by 608 firm Government action. What measures are the Government going to take or willing to take to relieve British shipping, and, in some cases, to save it from going under? First, I would suggest that the trade agreements offer a large field for helping our shipping. Many of these are due for revision now, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will take the opportunity to try and get fair treatment for British shipping and to make this a cardinal requirement of the renewal of these trade treaties.
After all, this country is the biggest buyer in the world and there is no reason why we should not use our purchasing power to secure equality of treatment and a fair share of the trade for British shipping. In every ease, except with France, this country has an adverse balance of trade, and that gives us a large handful to enable us to make an effective bargain. Secondly, there are reservations and restrictions, and perhaps Russia might be dealt with under that heading. Thirdly, there is action under the Customs Consolidation Act, 1853, which provides power to impose tariff or customs duties to countervail the disadvantages to which British shipping may be subjected, or preferences, direct or indirect, given to national vessels over British vessels. This can be put into force, if the Government wished it, by Order in Council. Fourthly, we could take action under the Maritime Ports Convention, and perhaps this might be used to a certain extent with regard to France.
Whatever we may say or do British shipping is of paramount importance to this country and to the British Empire. It is the most vital thing and the most important industry to this country, however we may regard it. This country without its shipping would be unable to live, for Great Britain is not self-supporting. Unlike other great Powers, we are absolutely dependent on our ships. Normally, we have only about three months' supply of food in this country. We get about two-thirds from overseas and for overseas imports we must have ships and seamen. Our exports are necessary to enable us to buy our food and raw material, and we cannot have the money with which to buy these things unless we can sell our exports. Without exports it is impossible to maintain 609 the standard of living which hon. Members opposite are so anxious to see maintained. If we have exports we require ships.
As regards our Dominions, we are the biggest buyer of Dominion products. Bankruptcy would stare many of our Dominions in the face if we ceased to buy from them. They rely on British ships for the marketing of their produce. In war merchant shipping is essential and it must be adequate and efficient. We cannot rely on foreign tonnage in time of war. They might refuse to carry goods that we wanted and they would almost certainly charge prohibitive rates. Again, our merchant ships are required as auxiliary cruisers in support of the Navy. They are of very much greater importance to-day than even before the War. Nearly all the large cargo lines are putting down boats of from 15 to 16, 17 and 18 knots speed, and those will be invaluable to the Navy as auxiliary cruisers. Great Britain depends first, last and always on the welfare of British shipping. The decline and fall of our shipping would presage the end of the British Empire.
§ 5.31 p.m.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
I agree with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir H. Cayzer) that the shipping of this country is one of the most vital industries that we have, if not the most vital, although a glance round the benches this afternoon would hardly convince an onlooker that that is so. Nevertheless it is a vital industry to this country, and after hearing what he, a man of considerable experience in the shipping industry has had to say, there is no one who can be happy about the position of this great and important industry. The report of the Tramp Shipping Advisory Committee last October said that the last five years were about the worst period the shipping industry had gone through in modern times, and I think the facts bear out that contention. The decline of such a great industry would be a serious matter to any country, but to no country more than to our own, because not only was the Empire built up by our overseas trade but, apart from the question of prosperity, the very life of this country depends upon the strength of our mercantile marine. Were we growing more food in this country than 610 we did before we might regard the present position with not quite so much alarm, but that is not the case. We are not growing much more, and in those circumstances our dependence upon this very great industry makes it a fitting subject for energetic action on the part of the Government.
The hon. and gallant Member told us that British tonnage was less, although world tonnage was growing greater. I think I am right in saying that the tonnage launched last year was only about a quarter of what it was in the year preceding the War. Unemployment in the industry is something like 30 per cent., and in the building and repairing of ships I think it is something over 30 per cent. —and that after a good many people have left the shipbuilding industry altogether. That is a very serious matter indeed. Are the Government satisfied that everything that can be done, in view of the seriousness of the problem and its urgency, is being done at the present time? The hon. and gallant Member gave some figures of the subsidies which other countries are paying. I think he said at the beginning that he did not regard a subsidy as a very good thing, and practically every shipowner in every speech he makes says the same thing, whether his firm takes the subsidy or whether it does not. But whether a subsidy be good or bad it seems to be a hopeless proposition for this country. Even now we own far and away the largest proportion of tonnage in the whole world, and if the subsidy is £3 a ton in the case of France, and in the case of other countries amounts to £30,000,000 a year, how can we hope to compete by means of subsidies with other countries which are paying them on such a lavish scale? The position is quite obviously impossible for this country.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I said that £30,000,000 was the total subsidy being paid by all the foreign countries, and that is why I did not recommend a subsidy.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
That rather supports my argument, because as we have a far greater proportion of the tonnage of the world than any other country we should have to pay a subsidy on a scale which, I suppose, nobody contemplates. I saw a few weeks ago a speech by the chairman of Lloyd's in 611 which he said that the subsidy could not remedy the falling off in international trade, which was the cause of shipping depression, and that the real remedy lay in a revival of world trade or a removal of existing embargoes, tariffs and other restrictions. That is obvious to anybody who studies the condition of world trade to-day. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what are the Government doing or what do they contemplate beyond giving the subsidy of £2,000,000 which every shipowner and every one interested in shipping tells us is not doing the slightest good and will certainly not be a cure for the depression?
It is comforting to us on these benches to hear people getting up from all quarters of the House to tell us how bad these trade restrictions are. We have always argued that tariffs, quotas, exchange restrictions and so on are the curse of the world, and we are now joined by people from quite unexpected quarters, and I am glad to find that the people in other countries are taking the same view. The Government will probably tell us of the Agreements they have brought about. I do not think those have been very successful. There has been an improvement, but if we compare the present position with the position even in 1931, which is one of the worst years we had, and, indeed, was the year which gave the excuse for altering our fiscal system, I do not think the improvement in our trade with the countries with which we have made those agreements would justify us in thinking that any great hope lies in that direction. I would point out, too, that these agreements are in the main of a unilateral character, and there is no doubt that an agreement which has been made with one country—Scandinavia, if you like—while it has benefited the North East coast to a certain extent has definitely had a harmful effect on South Wales. We find an improvement in the coal export trade as the result of one agreement, but it has displaced foreign coal, which has in consequence got into competition with South Wales coal elsewhere. I put down that state of affairs largely to the fact that these agreements are unilateral and not carried out with a large number of countries.
612 Look at the figures of South Wales tonnage. The total trade for South Wales has declined from 38,000,000 to 24,000,000 tons and we have heard from the right hon. Member for Hilihead (Sir R. Horne) that one of the docks there is to be closed. He states that the maintenance of it cannot be justified on grounds of public interest. We are talking a great deal about defence. Are the Government quite certain that if, unfortunately, we were again involved in war, the closing of a port on the west coast of this country would assist our defence, specially in the matter of food supplies? It may well be that the Government will have to develop some of those ports which at the moment, owing to bad trade, are to be closed.
I turn next to the coastal trade. I gather that the subsidy does not affect that in any shape or form, but it is a vital trade to this country. I remember that when I was a small boy there was a port near my home in which one found ships sometimes two deep along the quays. It was the ambition of practically every small boy in that part of the world to go to sea in one of those ships, and we got some of the finest sailors in the world as a result. In that port to-day it is almost an exception to see even one ship. I have passed through it scores of times in the last few years and found not a ship of any description. The boys who used to want to go to sea do not have that attraction offered to them. One of the great sources of the strength of this country is undoubtedly the sea sense of its population, and this coastal trade, which I have always regarded as the nursery of sailors in this country, ought to be kept going for i he sake of the British Empire and of our mercantile marine. That is a point worthy of the serious attention of the Government.
I should also like to raise a question regarding fishing vessels, although I do not know whether it would be in order. I know that fishing vessels do not come on the Board of Trade Vote, but the Board of Trade at any rate look after their safety. I regard the situation in that trade as very serious. The fishing population of this country provided one of the first lines of defence in the last War, but now about 30 per cent. of that population is looking for work. In my own constituency, one of the largest fishing ports, the unemployment among the fishing population has doubled since 1931. 613 They have gone through a very difficult time. The Government ought to consider whether something cannot be done to assist that industry, because its existence is vital not only from the point of view of providing a healthy food supply but in the interests or the defence of the country. I ask the Government to give their attention to these matters, which are of vital importance to this our greatest industry—vital not only to the maintenance of our Empire but, what is just as important to the people of this country, vital to their well being, and as we realised full well some years ago, to their very safety.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
I do not intend to follow all the points put by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), but there is one of his arguments which I find it a little difficult to appreciate. He said that while world shipping has increased British shipping has fallen, and went on to say that the Chairman of Lloyds had declared that the real trouble of British shipping arose from the depression in world trade. But, surely if world shipping is increasing while British shipping is decreasing, it is something more than the depression in world trade which is affecting the position of shipping; because if world shipping is increasing in a time of bad trade, and while we are being driven off the seas, it cannot be only the world trade depression that is attacking our shipping. Some other things must be happening in the world. One of those things which is damaging our shipping more than anything else is the one referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Sir H. Cayzer), and that is the high subsidies paid to foreign shipping.
I particularly wish to draw attention to what he said about shipping conditions In the Pacific. I do not know whether hon. Members even now quite realize the appalling condition we are getting into, and how that state of affairs has arisen. Some years ago the American Matson Line put two new ships of 20,000 tons each on to the Pacific. They were absolutely up-to-date, and were put on in competition with British ships in that part of the world. I understand that the American Government subsidised the 614 building of those ships to the extent of 75 per cent., and that the shipping line have what is technically a mail contract, but is actually a subsidy. It is against that sort of competition that British lines have to try to fight. I had a letter the other day from an Australian friend of mine who had been for a cruise on one of those American ships, and he was full of praise and said what a magnificent ship it was. Of course, if you can have 75 per cent. of the capital costs of your company given to you in subsidy, you can afford to put on a beautiful ship. If you are a small company, struggling against great difficulties, you have to get your money. That is why the state of competition existing in the Pacific to-day is grossly unfair to British ships.
There is another reason. The United States consider that traffic between their own harbors, such as San Francisco and Honolulu, is coastal trade, and no foreign ships are allowed to take part in trade between those ports. Nevertheless, anyone can go and pick up passengers from a port in New Zealand. We are faced with unfair competition to-day from two different points of view, restriction as to where we may trade and heavy subsidies paid to ships. It is said that this is a matter that concerns Australia and New Zealand, but in this country we do not look upon it from quite that point of view. Are we to lose the last of our markets'? We are threatened with that loss because we are told of one line that is being taken off and another line that will almost certainly be taken off unless things are righted. This is a very vital line for trade between Canada on the one hand and New Zealand and Australia on the other. Can we face the loss of that section of the all-red route round the world?
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
Is it suggested that there is direct competition with the United States on the Vancouver routes?
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
There is no actual competition on the Vancouver route, but the ships coming from Vancouver to Auckland and Sydney call in at Honolulu. The very valuable trade between Australia and Honolulu has been injured by the Matson liners. A large amount of the capital, I understand, owned by the P. & O. Company. Therefore, it is a British interest, and if any new ships have to be built for that line this is the country in 615 which they will be built. It is a matter of some interest to us that we should get this line put back into such a condition that it can equip itself with modern ships as we should like to see it do. There is not a shipyard in this country that would like to turn down an offer of two more ships of this kind. It is no good expecting Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which are comparatively small communities, to stand up and fight against the United States. We have to give them a lead and help them. That is why I have been watching with so much interest for a statement by the President of the Board of Trade that some result has come from the negotiations which have been going on.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
On a point of Order. It looks as though the hon. Member is directing his argument towards the insufficiency of the subsidy, and as that would require legislation may I ask whether the argument is in order?
The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Certainly it would be out of order to argue for an increase in the subsidy. I was just waiting to see how the hon. Member would develop his argument.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
My hon. Friend made several suggestions which were regarded as perfectly in order as to how they could have assistance. I believe this matter could be dealt with under the Customs Consolidation Act without the need for legislation. I am fully aware that it would 'be out of order to suggest that we should discuss anything which requires legislation. I wish to obtain an assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that the Government are alive to the very great importance to British shipping interests in the Pacific Ocean, where we are faced with unfair competition which is extremely hard on British ships. The Government cannot afford that this country should lose all its shipping interests in the Pacific Ocean. In the event of war, these ships would be of the utmost value to the Dominions in that ocean. We have heard from other hon. Members how important it is to have plenty of merchant ships in those waters, and I entirely agree. We all hope that the eventuality of war will not arise, but it is not one 616 to which we may close our eyes, particularly in that part of the world. I will say no more, but hope that when the President of the Board of Trade replies he will be able to say some reassuring words on this very vital Imperial matter.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer), made certain recommendations, short of legislation, for measures which he conceives would improve the condition of British ships. It is a very strange fact that every measure recommended involves most specific Governmental interference. It is time that hon. Members opposite clarified their minds as to whether they are in favour of a measure of Government control or not. They have another habit upon which I would like them to ponder, particularly the shipowners who speak to us from the other side, of wrapping themselves in the folds of the Union Jack and claiming that unless something is done to save British shipping the outlook for the nation is grave. If they would only make up their minds whether their concern is with the Union Jack or with the profits of their companies we might approach and agree upon a, solution.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth, replying to criticisms levelled by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), championed the cause of the Lascar seamen and said that they were as good as any other Britishers. If the hon. and gallant Member thinks so much of Lascars, does he carry out his principles on the pay sheet of his employés? I am not suggesting that he should do so. There may be a case for paying them something less, but the hon. and gallant Member should not pretend that he is entitled to much credit for paying Lascars a quarter of the wage that he would have to pay if he employed United Kingdom seamen at the full wage. It would be a good thing if hon. Gentlemen opposite would clear their minds of such obscurities before they addressed the House on these problems.
I have no wish to deflect the attention of the Committee from the two main topics which are to engage our attention for the rest of the afternoon, namely, manning, and the subsidy for British 617 ships, but I represent one of the most important fishing ports in this country and I have been waiting ever since this Parliament was elected for an opportunity to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to serious conditions affecting that industry and the men who are employed in it. If I go into it in some detail I do so because, I regret to say, the Board of Trade has repeatedly denied that such conditions exist.
Out of the Port of Aberdeen there operate 300 trawlers or more. I think the number is about 310. Among the functions which the Minister has within his administrative powers, is the grave and urgent duty to give his attention to the seaworthiness of those ships. I have documents which show that the Board of Trade is not acquainted with the facts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield stated that the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade was living in the Middle Ages. I have not had close contact with them, but if the condition of the trawlers sailing out of Aberdeen is any criterion of the seaworthiness of the ships sailing out of other ports, it is high time that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade were drastically overhauled. I will give my points one by one.
We have sent in a large number of complaints that, when these trawlers proceed to the Icelandic and Northern fishing grounds, they are often allowed to load their decks with coal to such an extent that they are unseaworthy. I have here a letter sent to my constituency by the Board of Trade. It has been placed in my hands, and it says that it is reported that where coal is carried on deck "the quantity is usually not more than five to eight tons, and as it is carried in ponds, there is no danger." Trawlers, it states, also sometimes carry a small quantity of bagged coal aft. That information is not based on the facts. I have spent a considerable amount of time examining those vessels and on the last occasion I had a photograph taken of one of them. I have it here, and I shall cause it to be conveyed later to the President of the Board of Trade.
This example was not chosen by me in order to make my case. It happened on the day when I was in Aberdeen, about three weeks ago. I went down, as 618 I always do, to have a look at these vessels, and I saw this: Fifteen tons of coal on the deck; deck space choked up with coal; gangways impassable; hatches inaccessible, and the ship overloaded and down by the head in comparison with vessels of the same type lying alongside. The hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth presumed to complain about the knowledge of ships and of the sea held on this side of the House; I would like him to look at this photograph and say whether he would be prepared to go to sea in this ship. This is not an isolated case. These ships, not built for the Iceland trade, are overloaded with coal and sent there at the peril of the lives of the skipper and the crew.
I also have here a list of the ages of the trawlers fishing out of Aberdeen. Over 50 are more than 28 years of age, and more than a score are over 35 years of age. Is it to be wondered at that, from time to time, regularly throughout the year, we get cases of ships foundering, ships being towed in—almost a weekly occurrence in Aberdeen—disabled or broken down, and ships running aground? I am going to give the Committee one or two examples. I will attempt to focus attention on cases which have come within my personal knowledge. I believe that these conditions are fairly typical of conditions in the fishing industry throughout the country, and, if the Board of Trade exhibit this negligence with regard to the fishing industry, that establishes a fair presumption that the complaints brought forward by my right hon. Friend with regard to cargo vessels are justified.
I shall not give the names of the ships, because I am not trying to allot blame to any particular trawler owners, though I may have to do that later on. My first desire is to get the Board of Trade to exercise its powers. All these are quite recent cases.
One is that of a vessel which ran aground when homeward bound after fishing. The helmsman had been on his feet for 50 hours. That is a case of excessive hours of work. Is anybody going to defend that? Another is that of a vessel which returned to port for the third time in one year, owing to springing a serious leak. The engineer left, because the owner and skipper proposed to bolt a patch over the hole and go to sea without a proper overhaul. Then there is a 619 case to which the Marine Department of the Board of Trade has lent its own authority. It occurred on the 14th October last year. A painter was cleaning the bottom plate of one of these trawlers in dry dock. He scraped a piece of metal right out of the plate. The surveyor ordered a doubling plate to be riveted over the hole in the hull, and the ship was allowed to go to sea. When a complaint was sent to the Board of Trade, the Board of Trade considered it to be quite proper that the vessel should have been allowed, without any further survey, to go to sea. Another vessel which left port—fortunately in calm weather—on a Thursday, had foundered by the Sunday in a dead calm. This is what the skipper said:On Sunday at 3 a.m., when about 19 miles- West-South-West of Cape Wrath, we were about to lift our trawl when a serious leak was noticed. We thought the bottom had fallen out of the boat. The sea was as calm as a millpond, so we were able to get into the small boat, luckily. She sank in an hour.I have two pages of these cases here, all of which occurred within the last 12 months. I will give only one more. A vessel was towed in in a sinking condition. The skipper reported:She sprang a bad leak, and made water fast. Soon the main fire was put out, the crew were soaked to the skin with rain and snow, and the cold was intense. The small boat was lost. Fortunately we were sighted and towed in.At least five ships have foundered or have been totally lost from Aberdeen alone in the last 12 months; four have run aground for reasons directly connected with the inadequate manning of these vessels; and at least ten—I myself have checked the number of these cases—have been towed in in a sinking or disabled condition. All that is on the small scale of private information, but I have here some extracts from the report of the Sea Fish Commission which I will add in order to fortify my own personal authority. The report exhibits a considerable tenderness towards the fishing vessel owners, but I think the Committee will be able to understand what lies behind the somewhat stilted language of a Blue Book. This is what the report says, on page 15, about the conditions in Aberdeen:There is a large element of single-vessel ownership, and the tendency has been to 620 invest in second-hand trawlers from other ports rather than in new and up-to-date vessels.That being so, it is obvious that Aberdeen is worse than other ports as regards the condition of its ships, and it becomes interesting, therefore, to ascertain what the commission think about the vessels in other ports. On page 17, speaking of Lowestoft, they say:The average age of the fleet is very high.Then, speaking of the fleet in general, they say, also on page 17:Table VI shows that, apart from Hull, 88 per cent. of the boats were more than 15 years old, 58 per cent. were more than 20 years old, and 35 per cent. of the boats were 25 years old or more.These are conditions which are better in general than those of Aberdeen—-35 per cent. of the steam trawlers of this country outside Hull are 25 years old or more. Well may the commission proceed to make the following statement:Within the next five years or so, a heavy programme of replacement is inevitable at several of the ports more especially as want of funds has prevented many owners from effecting normal repairs and replacements during the period of trade depression.I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to take that expression "want of funds" too literally. When we come to discuss the findings of the commission with regard to the prosperity of the fishing industry, we shall have something to say about the comparative prosperity of the trawler owner companies themselves and the ancillary companies, which supply the trawlers with a great portion of their requirements.
The next subject to which I desire to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is the sanitary condition of these vessels. I have taken the trouble to go and see for myself, and I will give the Committee one example of a vessel which happened to be in port when I was in my constituency a few weeks ago. Again I refrain from giving the name, and I hope that my motive will be appreciated. I am not endeavoring to allot blame; my appeal for the present is to the Board of Trade. I will let the Board of Trade have the names. This was a trawler over 30 years of age. I went over the vessel, and I quote from my notes written on the spot.
621 I found loose carbide tins supported on shelves under the leaky deck to keep the streams of water off the skipper's berth—and that was the best berth in the ship. There was no ventilation in the skipper's cabin when the door was closed, although a bare flame was burning in the room. Therefore, he was only saved; I will not go so far as to say from asphyxiation, but at any rate from danger in that direction, by the very defects in the vessel, because of the cracks in the stairway. The rat population of this vessel was, I was assured, between 50 and 100. At any rate, a few months previously 50 had been poisoned in one week, and I was assured that two dozen rats were visible at a time at certain hours of the day, when the rats emerged. I know that this has a certain humorous aspect but I examined the vessel, and, judging by the rats' excreta and so on all over the ship, I do not think that that was an exaggeration.
There was no accommodation for the food except in loose tea boxes, on account of the lack of accommodation. There were loose and missing planks everywhere. There was no chart table, and the rocket signals under the skipper's berth could not be got at, because the locker was jammed. In the forecastle, where, of course, the crew sleep, the tallow lamps were stored, in a kind of vestibule to the forecastle, where all the oil and other stores of the ship were kept; so that in case of fire the whole crew would be trapped there, and, of course, burned to death. Another thing about this vessel is that there are no swinging lamps at all, and I believe that that is the case with a considerable number of the Aberdeen vessels. The right hon. Gentleman will know what a lamp which is not a swinging lamp can do in a cabin in, rough weather, especially in a steam trawler. The plates themselves, in many vessels, are absolutely rotten. I venture to say that, in the case of 60 or 70 of the vessels in Aberdeen, if you go along the quay you will see the plates driven in, concave, on their frames. I took the troubles when going over one of the ships, to pull off from the rail a piece of metal, which I have here, and which I will give to the right hon. Gentleman with other evidences that I have. I have a great admiration for the right hon. Gentleman, as a sailor, as a shipowner, and as a statesman, but I must add, in that order. I want him to take this rusted piece of 622 metal and mount it above his own berth in his yacht the "Sunbeam," as an earnest of his determination not to rest until he has done something to improve the conditions in these steam trawlers.
I will not detain the Committee very much longer, but I have one further point that I wish to make, and that is that there is a defence aspect of this problem. There can be no doubt that the fishing industry is falling into decay as regards the quality of the vessels. I have here the information, taken from a trade paper —it is contrary to the information given by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), though no doubt he is right as regards his own port of Milford Haven—that there is a serious shortage of competent fishermen for steam trawlers throughout this country. If the right hon. Gentleman doubts that statement, I will give him the evidence of it. The reason is that the conditions have fallen so low as regards the type of ships, the pay and remuneration, and the severity of the work, that the problem of manning these vessels is becoming very serious.
I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take only my own word for that. In my division there is a newspaper which, although its general policy would be to support the party opposite, is not one which, I venture to say, would be regarded by any Member of the House as a good example of the best traditions of journalism. It is extremely careful to suppress most of the items of views, or news, of which it disapproves, and, when I go to my constituency and make public pronouncements as the Member for Parliament for the division, it does not honour me with any report. I think that that is a very serious matter, because grievances are suppressed, and the natural and proper outlet for those grievances is checked, with the result that I have 4,000 people in my division who are on the left even of me in politics, and so voted at the last election; and I venture to say that that is not a factor of our public life which ought to be looked upon with approval by any Member of the House of Commons.
If I were to make a direct approach with a complaint about the condition of the steam trawlers in my division, I should not get space in that journal, but 623 it so happens that a couple of years ago a, Board of Trade official and an officer of the Royal Navy made speeches in which they complained about the defence aspect of this matter. Then this newspaper put across its headlines, "Sad state of trawlers in Aberdeen." This is what was said by the right hon. Gentleman's official:If there were another war and trawlers were needed for national service, there are not 10 in Aberdeen which would come up to Admiralty requirements. It is an astonishing position for a fishing port like this.The naval officer went on to say that the trawler men in the War were "the most marvellous people." They are the most marvellous people in war and in peace, but they are not being treated as such either by the Board of Trade or their employers.
A further point that I want to mention concerns settling sheets. They must be in a form to be approved by the Board of Trade. Section 388 of the Merchant Shipping Act says:When paid by share, the owner shall render an account in a form approved by the Board of Trade.The plain fact is that the form has never been approved by the Board of Trade and, although the Board of Trade have a statutory obligation to secure that the form shall be approved, they have never carried it out, and one safeguard for honesty in returning settling sheets to these fishermen has been removed. The settling sheets, in Aberdeen and most other fishing ports, are a disgrace to the industry and are such as I believe the President of the Board of Trade would not tolerate if he had all the facts before him. I will give three instances of what is done. Coal is supplied and deducted before the fishermen's share is paid. The owner puts in the coal at the price he nominally paid for it but he gets an enormous rebate from the coal owning company at the end of the year. That is not credited on the settling sheet in order to give the men their bonus. Some trawler fishermen of Aberdeen are paying more for their food than a man I know can feed West End hotel people on. The actual cost of feeding people according to the standard of some West End hotels is less than is paid by some trawlermen in the North Sea, in spite of 624 the fact that they get all their fish free, and that represents about two meals out of three. I say that coal, food, and all the requirements of steam trawlers are made the subject of substantial rebates to the owners later on which are pocketed without giving the credit to the trawler-men that they are entitled to have. I earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his active attention to this evil.
My final point is on the question of manning. It runs parallel to the question of the manning of cargo vessels. There are at present no rules whatever to govern the manning scales of steam trawlers other than those necessary to keep a proper lookout, and the consequence is that the number of runnings aground is very large. The reason for it comes out at inquiries that the men are exhausted. The skipper is paid by share and the men are paid by wages and a bonus, which represents a very small proportion of a share, and consequently it is to the interest of the skipper to drive the men for the most excessive hours. It is quite a normal thing for a man not to get three hours sleep out of the 24, the whole time he is at sea. I have cases here where two trawlers have collided in the open sea in broad daylight, and the inquiry showed that there was no lookout on either. The reason was that the men and the skippers and the second hands were lying below exhausted. I can give chapter and verse for that particular case. I think the President of the Board of Trade is not one of those who can bring himself to distort the truth in dealing with matters of this kind and I am confident that he will take the trouble to acquaint himself with the facts in future and not allow, as has been done in the past, answers to be given which are not in accordance with the truth. I have on my files evidence that in regard to some of these matters he has adopted the policy of the blind eye and the deaf ear. That may be a virtue in some circumstances, as the Chairman of this Committee, I hope, will understand, but in a Minister charged with responsibility for the lives of fishermen it cannot be regarded as a virtue and, indeed, cannot be tolerated. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will, if he has not the necessary staff to carry out these duties, see to it that that staff is appointed. It will be quite useless to say they cannot be obtained. I know 625 that some of the qualities required are not too common but there are plenty of people who can be obtained to carry out the duties.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Dr. Burgin)
Is the hon. Member going to favour the Committee with any further particulars of answers given by the President of the Board of Trade which he suggests are in some way inaccurate?
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
I did not say that the President of the Board of Trade had given inaccurate answers. I said the Board of Trade had given replies that were inaccurate, and I have some of them here. As a matter of fact, this particular one was given by a previous Parliamentary private secretary to the Board of Trade, not to me but to someone in my constituency. I will give it to the hon. Gentleman afterwards. I have no complaint against anything that the President of the Board of Trade has said to me or anyone else but I am giving him a caution that in the past there have been inaccurate answers and I ask him, in his own interests, to be sure that there are no inaccurate answers in the future. [An HON. MEMBER: "In this House?"] I have not said in this House. I say that in letters which have been sent to constituents of mine from the Board of Trade inaccurate reports have been given.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I understand the hon. Member is going to be good enough to make good that allegation by giving particulars to my right hon. Friend.
§ Dr. BURGIN
It is an extremely important allegation which must obviously be tested immediately. If he will give the particulars, time and opportunity will be given for dealing with them.
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
I will send chapter and verse to the Minister. The last reason that the Board of Trade gives for not taking action in this matter is that it will involve hardship to the owners of one-man ships. That may appear a very plausible excuse but, when it is examined more closely, there is no foundation for it at all, because these trawlers have a crew of nine. They are 626 nearly all married men and, if you are going to say that a skipper of a steam trawler can disregard all the safety regulations that were thought to be necessary in 1894, you are putting forward a very serious position from the point of view of the wives and families of the crew. I sincerely hope that in the framing of his new policy—because a new policy is essential in dealing with the fishing industry—it must be a condition precedent that the existing regulations must be enforced without any squeamishness in regard to one-man owners, because once you begin to allow the regulations Ito be relaxed the situation will become worse and worse and will spread to other departments of the Mercantile Marine even more than it has already. It is essential that the regulations, such as they are, must be enforced and that then we shall consider what improvements in the regulations are necessary. Then we may reach a stage where, instead of vessels which are a disgrace to the British flag going into foreign ports, and trawlers coming into our ports from Germany which are incomparably superior to anything that I have ever seen built in Britain, British trawlers will be in a condition which will bring no disrepute upon the British flag.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Sir DOUGLAS THOMSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) stated that the subsidy was being paid to shipping firms which are not carrying out the National Maritime Board agreement. He said that the subsidy was being paid to firms employing Lascars below National Maritime Board wages. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to page 30 of the National Maritime Board Yearbook, where it is stated that national standard rates should apply to coloured men and Asiatics except in cases where a distinction in rates has hitherto been made.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
The hon. Member says that these firms are paying National Maritime Board rates. Is that his point?
§ Sir D. THOMSON
No, that is not my point. The right hon. Gentleman was saying that firms employing Lascars were contravening the agreement. I am not entering into the merits or demerits of employing Lascars, or paying them less 627 wages, but these firms, in doing so, are not violating their agreement in the circumstances of this Clause. It is just a question whether it has gone on since prewar days. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) made a point about the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer), who, he said, was taking credit for employing Lascar seamen. He was also insinuating that the President of the Board of Trade was acting wrongly. It is hardly a question of the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth taking credit for employing Lascar seamen. He merely stated on a point of law that a Lascar seaman was a British subject, and, therefore, under the Subsidy Act it would be impossible for the President of the Board of Trade to withhold subsidy from ships employing them.
The other main point of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the condition of the ships of this country. That, to a very great extent, is a question of old tonnage and new tonnage, and I agree with him that if new tonnage is being built at the present time without any improvement over the last 50 years, then that should not be allowed to go on. Negotiations are taking place, and there is no doubt that agreement will be reached, to improve the standard of conditions. The question of altering existing tonnage is a very difficult one. In many cases it is impossible to alter the crew accommodation from the forecastle to the poop, and for the same reason you cannot alter the cargo space and take, say, 50 tons out of the cargo space without altering the whole trim of the vessel. But with regard to new tonnage, I agree that conditions should be improved. The great difficulty is for shipowners to find the money with which to build the new tonnage and to see in the future the need for it. There has been considerable inducement within the last 10 years to build new tonnage. There has been very considerable improvement in the propelling machinery, but if you are to put down £80,000 or £100,000 for a new steamer, you must see reasonable security of tenure and a reasonable prospect of profit being made over a period of years. At the present time the whole conditions of the Mercantile Marine, tramps and cargo liners, are so bad that it is difficult to see where the security is to come from. 628 The same thing applies to what the hon. Member for North Aberdeen was saying with regard to trawlers. I agree with him that some of the trawlers in use are very old. He quoted a lot of instances of trawlers with various holes in the bottom and with this, that and the other defect, but he did not say whether those trawlers were sailing under Lloyd's Register or the British Corporation, but they must have been sailing under some corporation.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
That is where the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. There are trawlers in Aberdeen which have no Government survey at all. I believe that less than one-third of the Aberdeen trawlers are surveyed by Lloyd's, and one of my complaints is that there is no adequate provision compelling them to be so surveyed.
§ Sir D. THOMSON
I will not quarrel with the figures of the, hon. Member, but if they are surveyed by Lloyd's or by the Mutual Protection Insurance Society, or by any corporation or other surveying society, presumably the survey should be good enough. If they are not under any form of survey of that sort, the Board of Trade have powers which I agree, should be fully carried out.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I wish to make it clear that I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says with regard to surveys of some of the insurance companies. I was not able to deal with that matter to-day, but we have considerable grievances against the form and effectiveness of the kind of insurances of some of the trawlers sailing out of Aberdeen.
§ Sir D. THOMSON
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not confusing Lloyd's underwriters with Lloyd's Register. That is a very different thing. As far as the surveys of mutual protection societies are concerned, they should be in the interests of the people employed. The surveys should be good enough, and if they are not good enough the hon. Gentleman will have done a great service if he can get the President of the Board of Trade to see that proper surveys are carried out. There should be proper inquiry into these various cases. The hon. Member also made a point about old trawlers being brought into Aberdeen. The Committee must remember that trawlers 629 which may be too old for Iceland or the White Sea may be considered to be in good order for use for short voyages. They may not require the same reserves of stores as for long distance voyages. Nevertheless, the trawler industry in the North is in a very bad way. I ask the Government to see whether some help cannot be given to an industry, which is not only in a very bad way itself, but which is also vital for the defence of this country. I most heartily endorse what the hon. Member for North Aberdeen said in that respect.
Where tramp ships and cargo liners can be helped by the Government is in the matter of trade agreements. The hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth gave various details of agreements which have been carried out in the last few years. One thing came to my notice a few days ago. It was in connection with the importation of pig-iron from the Black Sea to this country. I understand that the contract was signed for so many thousand tons of pig-iron c.i.f., and in the contract was a clause that Russian shipping was to be given preference on equal terms for 48 hours. I do not know whether the President of the Board of Trade knows about that particular case, but the dice were loaded enormously in favour of Russia. The Government could do a great deal to help the shipping of this country by bringing into the various trade agreements stipulations regarding shipping. We know how in Germany the mark exchange is wangled in some way to the benefit of those importers who import in German ships. The French Government, too, have something which is perilously near flag discrimination in their pilotage dues. These things are putting tramp, liner and coastal shipping of this country in a very prejudiced position. I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether, in connection with trade agreements, he will endeavour to help British shipping to a greater extent in order that more of the cargo coming to this country should come in British bottoms.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I have put a series of questions to the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the delay in issuing the Manning Regulations, and just as the Regulations of 630 the Ministry of Labour are to be made in the spring, so these Regulations are always postponed to some more convenient season. This matter is regarded very seriously by the seagoing population. The Tyne ports especially have had a series of shocks during the past year as a result of the various inquiries. A report has recently been made into the sinking and disappearance of the "Sheafbrook," which, I understand, the right hon. Gentleman is still considering. I hope that this report will not be used as an excuse for still further delay in the matter. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) in what he said with regard to the situation in the trawler industry, but I am more fortunate than he is in that I have a local paper which insists on reporting me, and which, apparently, regards my words of such value that it spends a great deal of time trying to find out what I say in secret as well as what I say in public. That is merely because it was until recently, apparently, the property of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and he impressed upon it a Liberal tradition which even its sale has not been able to remove, But throughout the Press of the North there is a recognition of the dangers that these men who go down to the sea in ships encounter because of the delay in revising the Manning and other Regulations.
The "Sheafbrook" was a particularly distressing case in so far as it affected my constituency and the port in which the President of the Board of Trade was born. A man who had been unemployed for months was sent for on the night the ship sailed. He did not wait to get the unemployment benefit that was due to him, but went on board that night. His widow went round the next morning. She did not know that she was his widow then. The ship foundered during its first night at sea, and this woman went round the next morning with the object of drawing the unemployment benefit, and it was refused to her because she had no warrant from the man to get it. That shows the way in which these men are exceedingly anxious to get work when it is offered to them. In view of their importance to the nation as a whole, it is due to them that they should be assured of their safety, and that their women folk and other dependants who 631 have to bear periods of anxiety while the men are away should be assured at an early date, that the conditions under which the men have to work have been brought into line with modern conditions. I hope that the delay will not be allowed to continue.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXWELL FYFE
It is always remarkable to those of us who come from the seaports to this House to contrast the harmony under which practical negotiations are pursued between employers and employed there with the ferocity with which attacks are made across these benches. It is a matter of grave disquiet to those of us who have to face not merely an industry which is suffering unparalleled difficulties, but numbers of unemployed among our own people, when we have these attacks made more for party purposes than to remedy grievances which actually exist. I will take one or two of the twists given to the facts by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) will consider whether I am correct. The right hon. Gentleman said that with regard to manning there had been an attempt on the part of the shipowners to torpedo the report to which we have had reference to-day. I ask the hon. Gentleman who will reply whether he is not aware—and I am sure, knowing the industry of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield that he must be aware—that these criticisms of the report were with regard to distinct and technical matters. My hon. Friend knows that one of them was the position of the bo'sun and carpenter as regards efficient labour on deck. Another of them was whether the standard of the efficient seamen should be judged merely by his age and experience, or whether other matters should be taken into account. These are matters of a technical nature where criticism can justly be made, and to suggest that criticism on perfectly clear and perfectly proper points is an attempt to torpedo the report, is going beyond the bounds of fair criticism.
Take another point. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the deck crew being used for stokehold purposes. I would ask the hon. Member 632 for Rotherhithe to give us one example where a complaint has been made to the sailors' and firemens' panel of the National Maritime Board in regard to that matter. If he can give an example, his researches have been more complete than anything that I have been able to make. Take the question of accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the President of the Board of Trade was being led astray; that he had turned to the Shipping Federation. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe knows the facts. The Shipping Federation have submitted proposals for the improvement of the accommodation of the crews. Is it to be sent forth to this House and the country as a criticism of the President of the Board of Trade if he gives consideration to these matters that are properly put before him? The hon. Member knows that the whole question of accommodation is being submitted as a subject for further consideration at the present time. It is very unfortunate when matters like that are brought before the House and presented to the country as bearing a colour and a complexion which they obviously have not when a complete examination is made.
There is another point, in regard to the subsidies. Again, we want to know from the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, what is his position in regard to a speech in which he referred to the Clan Line as being one of the largest employers of Chinese on board their ships? Did he verify that? He has heard not merely from the managing director of that line but also from the benches of this House a denial that the Clan Line have ever employed Chinese labour. Will he deny that? These are points which the House has a right to have substantiated. If charges are to be thrown about in that way, let them be substantiated, especially when the charges are again referred to, as they have been to-clay by the hon. Member's right hon. colleague. We who have to consider these matters from the point of view not only of the shipowners or of the employés on board the ships, but as Members for the great seaports, and who see from day to day and month to month the shipping industry struggling as it is, do very earnestly beg that these charges should not be made before they have been properly looked into and substantiated. The industry is suffering enough already from the difficulties which 633 it has to face abroad, without constant endeavours being made to make things more difficult for it and to stir up strife at home.
In considering the question of subsidy, the right hon. Member opposite referred contemptuously to the, keeping of certain rules which have been laid down. He must know that one of the matters which has been quite properly insisted upon by the Tramp Subsidy Management Committee is the maintenance of minimum freights. Will the right hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend pursue that matter a little further and let us see the effect that that has had in the Baltic trade? There an attempt was made by the industry to apply a scheme of minimum freights, based on or copied from that which had been set up as being correct by the Tramp Subsidy Management Committee. What has been the result? Perhaps this is a matter on which the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Rotherhithe may be better informed than I am. They must have been informed of the statement by Mr. Ambroshis, of the Management of Sorfract, Limited, of Moscow. What did he say about our attempt to bring about minimum freights?Minimum rates have been firmly declined by Soviet charterers, with the result that a large number of orders have been covered by Soviet steamers and by those foreign steamers which are willing to accept rates of freight less than the minimum rate stipulated in the scheme.Who are the persons who are doing that? The Government which at the same time are purporting to disapprove of a scheme of minimum freight rates have brought into effect a scheme of minimum timber production by agreement with half a dozen other countries, in order to keep up the prices of the material which they sell to this country. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) asked whether we had any solution or whether we were merely asking for Government action without knowing what we meant. When we compare what the British shipowner has to meet with at the present time with the position of the Russian Ship-owning Corporation, we ask definitely that a fixed proportion of the amount of the trade with Russia should be carried in British bottoms and that it should be made a terra of all agreements with Russia that that state of things should be brought into being, in order to help the British shipping industry.
634 I should like to say a few words in regard to what has been said about the position in the Pacific at the present time. There we have a position which has been growing more and more dangerous. We have seen one route announced as being closed down and another is going to follow it. I have always taken the view—I do not think there is a great divergence between the two sides of the House on the point—that in order to justify Government action there must be a national necessity, and there must be proof and not a mere statement of unfair action being taken by another country. There must also be proof of losses occasioned thereby. Can any hon. Member in any part of the House say that the maintenance of these Pacific routes are not a material and national necessity at the present time? Can anyone challenge the figures that have been given again and again, how the American Line have kept their ships through their building subsidies, their postal subsidies and the like?
Can anyone doubt that the losses which are alleged to have been suffered by the British companies and which have been put before the President of the Board of Trade, do actually exist and that they are occasioned by the things to which I have referred? Will any hon. Member say that that condition of things does not justify action at the present time? The example that I have given from the Russian trade applies equally to countries like Denmark, where there is a co-operative selling organisation that can, unless action is taken, insist on the preferential use of Danish bottoms against ours. It applies to much of the North European trade, which has been leaving us. The position also requires consideration in regard to other routes in the Pacific, apart from that vital one which has been occupying our attention to-day.
These matters are not mere questions of improvement. They are matters which must be dealt with if the industry is going to live. They are not mere questions of bringing about, as we all desire, better conditions in the shipping industry; they are not, unfortunately, merely questions of getting the unemployed at the Liverpool docks back into work; they are questions which are vital to keeping in work the people who are lucky enough to have it to-day. I do ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite to 635 act with us in these matters and to remember not only those praiseworthy ideals, those improvements which all of us who have anything to do with seaports or the sea, so much desire, but to remember the people who are on the fringe of employment to-day, to try and sink party differences and act with us in securing for them and for the shipping industry a chance of better times.
§ 6.58 p.m.
Mr. DAVID ADAMS
Mr. Speaker at the opening of this Parliament expressed the point of view, after his wide experience of debate in this House, that we should not rely so much upon the written word in our speeches, but rather upon extempore speech, and permit our emotions and general feelings to influence us in debate. I mention this because it seems to me that whenever the question of shipping is under review something more than Mr. Speaker's injunction sways us. I am afraid that perhaps we on this side are inclined to allow ascerbities to have sway. Yet we benefit more by a calm, equable and reasonable outlook in discussing shipping problems, than by treating them from the personal standpoint as if there were certain individuals in the House of whom it was necessary to use strong terms, and perhaps even to regard as lacking in a proper sense of patriotism.
This Debate will have considerable value to the House and the country if a proper perspective is observed. In reading the previous debate on the subsidy I was interested to notice that the last speaker on the Opposition side said that so far as he was concerned he had no objection to subsidies as such, and that if certain reforms were carried out he was not in opposition to the shipping subsidy. I think that is the position of the Opposition to-day. I should be sorry to think that this side of the House is supposed to be in opposition to the shipping subsidy because certain shipowners have failed in their duty towards the rest of the community. It is quite true that in proportion to world tonnage British tonnage is steadily declining. Shipping, certainly for the last 12 years, has not been a paying proposition. There is scarcely a lesser shipping firm which is not in the hands of the mortgagees; the banks control the industry. It is only 636 the larger firms which are in the happy position of being able to earn dividends.
The warlike age in which we live has had a deal to do with the condition of shipping. International trade is a much more delicate mechanism than many of us give it credit for. The hostile attitude of one nation towards another or a spirit of warlike opposition generally throughout the world has the effect of restricting international trade. I was associated with a shipping concern which in 1921 was running a fleet of freighters between New Orleans and Newcastle, Hull and Leith. When the French entered the Ruhr there was an almost complete cessation of that trade. Trade, remarkable as it may seem, was affected in the southern States of North America to an extreme degree, and a business which hitherto had been a profitable one ceased to be so. I am advised that it has taken some years to rebuild the fabric of that particular trade. The narrow nationalism to which each nation is devoting its best energies to-day is bound to have had its effect on our two prime industries, coal and shipping. We cannot expect to have great import and export trades, in which shipping is paramountly employed, and have also the self-sufficiency at which every nation is aiming. I question whether we shall see any day in which this nationalism is likely to disappear. I cannot believe that as every nation is concentrating on the production of a maximum amount of foodstuffs to the disadvantage of its export trade, that you are ever likely to see a day when international trade will resume its ancient sway, and as we recognise that shipping is one of the fundamental necessities for self-defence and trade in peace time, if it cannot be made a profitable undertaking under private ownership, then in self-defence the State, the Government of the day, will require to introduce some form of nationalised shipping.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I rather think that that would require legislation, and if that is so it must not be discussed in Committee of Supply.
I believe that that is so. I rather think that you were giving me a considerable amount of very generous latitude. A point of some interest which has been raised is that of the subsidy 637 being paid to large and prosperous firms. That is one of the advantages of the subsidy. It is the large firm which is able to lay up its tonnage in bad days. Everyone knows that 30 per cent. of the freights of the world to-day are not profit-making, and it is the big concern that can lay up its ships and wait for better times. But the subsidy comes along and enables that concern to earn a profit on a voyage, or to lose slightly less than would be lost in the normal course of trade. From this country to many continental ports a freight cannot be obtained of a profitable character, but where an owner may lose, say, £300, he can earn subsidy of, say, £200, and there is a balance of loss of £100. The shipowner faces that and proceeds further afield or trades in the hope that the homeward journey may reimburse him for the loss which he has sustained. It is a mistake to complain that some of our largest firms have been earning large. sums under the subsidy. If the subsidy is large it is because the amount of capital, the number of vessels and the number of voyages in the concerns in question are also large.
With regard to the accommodation of new tonnage, as far as my experience is concerned—and I have been at one or two ship lauches on the North-East Coast lately—I have observed a great improvement in the accommodation. I must say that, not in justice to the shipowners, but to the shipbuilders, and I am very jealous of the shipbuilding industry of the North-East Coast. In conversation with one of our leading shipbuilders, the manager of a very important concern on the North-East Coast, I was told that it was one of the express instructions given to the naval architects and others concerned that they were gradually to achieve a steady improvement in the accommodation for all on board. It would be a sad thing for British shipping if a callous attitude were adopted towards those who man our ships. My experience is that there is an amazing amount of good will between the employés in the shipping industry and the shipowners and those concerned in that trade.
The point which the President of the Board of Trade ought definitely to clear up is whether the National Maritime Board's scale must apply before the sub- 638 sidy can be paid. If that were cleared up, much of the difficulty which one feels might be eliminated. But as far as the employment of Lascars is concerned, those ships trading to the Far East always have employed Lascars, and they always will employ coloured labour below. They require to do so. You could not get white labour to submit to the conditions of great heat and the disabilities incidental to our Eastern trade. As many of these vessels are sometimes as much as two years away from home, it is obvious that they are going to employ that Eastern type of labour and for remuneration which may not be adequate according to our standards but is adequate according to the standards of our Eastern dependencies. If the Government will so amend the Act, a year hence perhaps, that the National Maritime Board's scale as applied to British seamen shall be applied to the Far East and elsewhere, that is a position which one can well understand; but it would be effecting a complete revolution as far as the manning of vessels trading in the Far East is concerned.
The subsidy came in far too late. Quite a number of shipping concerns have gone out of existence for want of support. I happened to be fairly closely connected with the industry some years ago, and it is true to say that again and again the North-East coast shipowners resisted the notion of a subsidy. They believed that it was detrimental to their business, but that day has passed. The subsidy has come too late and the amount is relatively small. I speak not in the interests of the shipowner—I have no shipping interests whatever—but in the interests of the North-East Coast shipbuilding and engineering industries. The alternatives are to continue the subsidy—may be to augment and increase it on a scientific examination of the position—or to set up—and perhaps that would be more desirable—a certain nationalised form of ship-owning, which would be more in harmony with the views which we hold on this side of the House than the desultory, disorderly and somewhat disorganised system of ownership in private hands.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. MACLAY
I think that those on this side of the House have listened with great interest to the speech of the last 639 hon. Member. The only point at which I became somewhat frightened of what he was saying was when he referred to nationalisation. The fact remains that the industry of shipping is organising itself to achieve by private enterprise what the other side would like to achieve by nationalisation. We believe that by individual enterprise we are more likely to. achieve the best results. We appreciate the fact that the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary have listened to almost every word of this Debate. We consider it an important Debate. I would like to refer for one moment to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones). He complained that a great many of his utterances in the country and in this House were not reported in the local Press. I hope that the speech which he has made to-day will be reported.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I do not want it to be thought that I was complaining about my local Press. I was commenting upon it. It is a matter of complete unconcern to me what they do or say. I do not rely on them for my place here.
§ Mr. MACLAY
I thought the hon. Member made a good and moderate speech upon a subject upon which something needed to be said. He was quite right in drawing the attention of the Board of Trade to the question of trawlers and safety at sea. There is a good deal of dissatisfaction among those interested in our seafaring population at the many trawler accidents which have occurred in the last year or so. While we are introducing more appliances for giving safety at sea, the number of accidents to trawlers has not decreased. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will look carefully into this matter. The President and the Board of Trade have been criticised over a fairly wide field this afternoon. Sometimes I think that the Board of Trade covers too wide an area. To-day we are considering the manning and accommodation of cargo vessels. May I say that so far as the Board of Trade surveyors are concerned there is a general feeling that much good work is being done by them. The cost of the surveyors on the Vote is not exceptionally high, and I think the country 640 gets good service from them. They are working in very difficult days, and are always liable to be criticised for any mistakes they may make.
The safety of British shipping speaks for itself. Any foreigner who does not belong to a seafaring nation always prefers to travel in a British ship and, although one may congratulate the Board of Trade in this respect, yet the losses which have been sustained during the last year or so, and also the extreme attacks of the Opposition, have created a feeling that there may be certain conditions in some ships that make a forward move in regard to safety in shipping necessary. Other industries have made progress, and there is a wish to see a forward movement in the manning and accommodation of British ships. The unfortunate thing is that this movement is coming at a period when British shipping is passing through difficult financial times, when there is not that urge to spend more money. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) went into some detail on the Advisory Committee's report regarding manning and, incidentally, I heard him for the first time say something pleasant about the shipping industry. He said, however, that in his opinion the owners were desirous of wrecking the report. I think he is wrong. Obviously, in the long run it must be all to the good of the mercantile marine to have the minimum required for safety, and to have regulations which are clearly understood by everybody. The right hon. Member for Wakefield quoted some draft regulations of the Board of Trade to surveyors. They are not officially known, but he drew the inference from them that the Board of Trade were not backing up the report of the Advisory Committee. It is impossible for an ordinary Member to say anything on that point, because he has not seen these draft regulations, but I have no doubt the President will reply to the point.
The point of the Committee's report was to make certain of a minimum number of men for safety. It was not so much an industrial point, a question of hours, or peace within the industry; but as to what were the minimum requirements for safety. The right hon. Member for Wakefield said he trusted that the Government would accept the report without 641 compromise, and he quoted some answers given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the effect that the report would be taken as the basis for new regulations. He construed this as being an indication that they would be used in their entirety, which I do not think the Parliamentary Secetary meant to imply.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
In his evidence the Parliamentary Secretary said:The recommendations in this report are being taken as a basis of new instructions. That is implementing in the full sense the Manning Committee's report. I want to give that assurance categorically.
§ Mr. MACLAY
That only strengthens my point. I want to draw attention not so much to the Government's side as to the Labour side of this matter, and to say why I think the Committee's report should not be implemented without reconsideration. It seems to me that the Advisory Committee's report has in it, if it is implemented literally, a possibility of making a large number of vessels that come under its purview less safe than they are under present day regulations. Let me give my reasons for saying that. I can only give my own reading of the report, as I was not a member of any of the Committees. Why do I say that I think the report would mean less safety? Take the position of boatswains and carpenters in this report. It will be admitted by anyone who has any knowledge of the mercantile marine that we want to keep the two best men on the ship—the boatswain and the carpenter. The boatswain is a man of considerable experience, and the carpenter is often the only man who knows woodwork and the ship's hatches and steering gear. The report lays down the minimum number of efficient deck hands, but leaves it entirely optional as to whether an owner will go to sea with a boatswain and a carpenter.
Let me give an example to the Committee. In the middle section of ships, that is, from 2,500 to 5,000 tons gross, at the lower end of that scale the smaller ships at present carry eight deck hands, and in the majority of cases that number includes a boatswain and carpenter. The report, if it is carried, says that you must carry a sufficient number of deck hands, namely, eight men, but you must not count in the boatswain and carpenter. 642 That is all right if the owner, over and above the deck hands, also carries a boatswain and carpenter, but the Advisory Committee have no right to take it for granted that during these difficult times an owner will, above his minimum requirements, continue to carry a boatswain and carpenter. Instead of carrying eight men and a boatswain and a carpenter, you may carry eight men and no boatswain and carpenter. Therefore I think I am right in saying that for a large number of smaller ships the report will legally enable owners to send their ships to sea under less safe conditions than they are under present regulations. It may be said that owners, in spite of the regulations, will carry a boatswain and carpenter. Those firms which have reserves certainly will for the better upkeep of the ship, but the smaller ships which are up against the competition from Russia, which is one or their chief competitors, will not be able to do so. And it must be remembered that the Russians are saying that they are going to capture 100 per cent. of the export timber trade. Many of these shipowners are hard pressed financially. What incentive have they to put on, over and above the minimum requirements, a boatswain and carpenter?
It will be, I think, exceedingly unwise if the Board of Trade implement the report literally. I agree that if they use it as a basis for new instructions it will be all to the good, and that is all that was intended by the report. You would not get a dozen men who would be willing to implement it in full, and merely to say that the Parliamentary Secretary has made a statement, which was not his original statement, is not sufficient to hold the Government when they believe that the report is not a sound one in its present form. It is not for me to give a solution. I do not know what the solution is going to be, but any solution should take into account the two most important men in the ship—the boatswain and the carpenter. The Board of Trade and the Opposition would not do badly if they would consent to the matter being referred back to the people most concerned—the National Maritime. Board, the National Seamen and Firemen's Union and the owners. The second criticism of the report is that in its substitute Clauses it is far too severe on the question of boys. It is going to 643 make it impossible for the mercantile marine to keep up a flow of boys into the service. If it is proposed to substitute six boys for one man, as can arise under this report owners will not have the necessary accommodation. You are proposing to raise the minimum crew and to make the number of substitution boys too severe. In that case you will not get owners in these difficult times willing to carry boys.
Again, the committee recommend that age and length of service should be one of the main points for qualification as an efficient seaman. There are some men who have been at sea for 20 years who are not as useful as a smart boy of 14 and, therefore, I think that too much stress should not be laid on that point. I think the Opposition will agree that this report makes no suggestion with regard to a transitional period after the regulations have been prepared and issued, and indeed it does not take the matter into account at all. It is admitted on all sides, by those who know most about it, that there is bound to be a shortage if you increase the manning requirements. According to latest information there are only 2,600 efficient deck-hands available, and this report will touch over 2,300 ships, so that there is a problem to meet, and the report makes no suggestion with regard to it. What do the Government propose in the way of a transitional period? You cannot immediately fully man your ships, at least on the basis of this report.
With regard to the question of the shortage of men and boys, it is not altogether the Board of Trade's job, and I think they would be well advised if they would consider with the Admiralty as well as with the mercantile marine the question of setting up some more sea training schools and training ships. The Admiralty knows the position as well as does the mercantile marine, and I think we should begin to start right now, in view of what is going on in other parts of the world, in making sure of securing a regular inflow of young men for the mercantile marine. I would put this small but important point to the President of the Board of Trade, but I do not want an answer now. The way in which seamen sign on now is that they have to register at the Board of Trade offices as well as 644 at the Employment Exchanges, and I think my right hon. Friend would be well advised to go into the question of changing that system and letting them sign on at what is known as the joint supply, because it is very difficult at any given moment to know exactly what number of men are available. There are a great many men in this country—and I do not mean by this anything wrong—who are registered as seamen but who have not the slightest intention of ever going to sea again if they can find anything else to do, and think that matter wants looking into.
The question of the three-watch system is one which is bound to arise shortly, and it is not one that interests the Committee on this occasion. It is an industrial and domestic matter, but it is well that the Committee who are reporting just now to the President should keep it in mind; actually they make no Mention of it. They are rather acting on the basis of the two-watch system, when, in the opinion of some of us, that system is gradually nearing its end. On the question of stokehole manning there is at present a Maritime Board agreement. I think the Mercantile Marine would welcome any suggestions that could be made to ensure that if ships are not properly manned, then the Board of Trade should have power so far as under-deck is concerned, just as they have on deck The question of overloading, which has arisen once or twice in the last year or two, leads me to make a suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade regarding his administration, on which again I do not ask for a reply to-night. In various parts of the world, more to-day than ever before, the crew take more of an interest in how their ship is loaded, and while the onus is on the captain and the owner to see that the load-line regulations are observed, there is no means by which any member of the crew can ascertain whether or not the ship is overloaded. It is only right, and it is done in many companies already, that the load-line chart should be available and posted up in the ship where it can be seen by the men. Many captains themselves would approve of that. It is a most complicated thing to load a ship properly, and the load-line chart is a very clear document.
645 One word on wireless—and here I would like the President to give me an answer. Is he satisfied with the present regulations governing the size of ships carrying wireless? I think we have been promised some legislation on this subject. The feeling is that all foreign-going ships, so long as they are not purely pleasure ships, should be bound to carry wireless on board, and I think we should be given some legislation dealing with the matter. There have been very few, but one or two, ships disappearing where wireless might have given some help. Also there is the question of the classification of ships. I had intended to go into it, but I will content myself by saying that on the whole the classification of ships has worked well. Taking into account the number of losses recently, it would at least be worth while, I think, for the Board of Trade to look into the question in order to see whether the present classification survey of ships over 20 or 25 years old is too widely spaced. I should like to know whether that matter has been considered and whether the Board of Trade are satisfied that the present classification spacing is correct for the older ships.
Finally, in connection with accommodation, everyone, or at least the majority in the mercantile marine, admits that the accommodation is on the whole very fair, but there are a number of older ships and an occasional newer ship where the accommodation is not up to standard. The same arguments apply to accommodation as to manning, that other industries have moved forward and everybody is anxious, especially in this House, when we are putting through so much legislation in connection with the housing of our people on shore, that we should not let the opportunity go past of at least trying to realise that the time has come to make a move forward with our accommodation at sea. Other nations are doing it, but they have had an easier time in doing it, and it is obvious that the Government must pay some heed to the financial conditions of the industry. You cannot ask it to do the impossible. But with regard to the older ships, I am sure the Board of Trade will be able to find some sort of satisfactory way of bringing them into a better condition, although it is unfortunately admitted on all sides that it is a difficult problem.
646 With regard to the newer ships, I join with other hon. Members who have asked that the Board of Trade should hurry up with the regulations. We are on the eve—and when I say that, it may be a few years yet—of a considerable building programme in this country. There are great limitations on what you can do in a ship. It is much easier in the Diesel or oil-fired ship than in the coal steamship, because you have not got the bunker accommodation, but we feel that in the last five years some of the ships which have been built have not been up to the standard which the country would like to have had. If it were put in the original specifications, it would not add very greatly to the cost of building.
The hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Liberal benches made a plea, which I also wish to make, on the broader aspect of this question. A great many of these improvements have been held back owing to the poor state of the shipping industry. The shipping industry depends on the skill of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in making trade agreements for the benefit of this country and in getting a freer state of trade in the world. If he can do that, he will be doing the shipping industry the greatest benefit that can be done for it.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
The Debate to-day has naturally covered a very wide field, and in this quiet atmosphere we have been able to touch on a number of subjects which have a direct bearing on the comfort and safety of "those who go down to the sea in ships." In the course of the discussion, an effort has been made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to accuse the Board of Trade of having been remiss in the performance of its duties, and I must say that I regret that he should not have restricted his condemnation to the political heads of the Department, but that he should have extended it to the whole Mercantile Marine department of the Board of Trade. I have had a very much longer connection with shipping than he has had, and I can assure him that in all my experience, outside political life and inside it, I have never come across a department which was more alive to the burdens which rested upon 647 its shoulders, to the sense of responsibility, or in the assiduity with which it has carried out its work. That is one of the reasons why in many parts of the world they copy our official mechanism; they adopt it because they find it works well here.
I am prepared to take whatever blame is rightly due to me for any justified accusation of remissness, but what is the charge made by the right hon. Gentleman? It is that, with regard to important matters of manning, accommodation and the subject of safety, we have been guilty of delay. I listened with great care to hear what justification there was for that charge. The alleged delay was mainly with regard to manning. What had the right hon. Gentleman in mind? I presume that he thought that once the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee had produced their report on manning, all that remained to be done was for the Board of Trade to put their seal on one corner of it and for it to be sent to all the ports and orders given for it to come immediately into operation. Nobody could have listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay), who has just sat down, without realising that these things are not as simple as all that. There are a great many matters where, if we go astray, we may injure the employment of those who live by and on our ships, and we might jeopardise the conditions under which their safety is maintained. The least we can do is to be careful not to make technical mistakes
It is very easy for those who do not know anything about these technical matters to give advice and to charge the officials concerned with slackness in their administration, but we have had to adopt the method with regard to the manning scale which was followed by previous Governments. The right hon. Gentleman, again and again in the course of his speech, referred to our not having made any advance during the last 25 years. I do not agree with him in his condemnation, but if it were sound and true, it would be a serious condemnation also of his own Government, for they had some time in which to deal with these matters. I presume that they were as much alive to the conditions of seamen in those days as the right hon. Gentleman and his 648 friends are now. Indeed, I know they were involved in some very hot controversies with their own organisations at that time, and I hope that those controversies have now passed away. It is very much better that labour should be represented by harmonious bodies who are very highly skilled in their technical knowledge on one side of the shipping industry.
What would the right hon. Gentleman; have done if he had been in my position? I am quite certain that, being a careful administrator, he would not have merely put his name at the end of the report and said, "That is all right." He would have done exactly what I did. He would have given instructions for the official orders for our representatives in the various ports all over the United Kingdom, to be sent to the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee to ascertain what was their view with regard to them, to ask for their corroboration of our interpretation of the advice they had given. That is what the right lion. Gentleman would have done and that is what we have done. There has been no delay. I do not know whether he is referring to the delay this week. Does he suggest that there is any delay this week? if he does, I can tell him that there was to have been a meeting to-morrow morning and that it was put off, not by the Board of Trade, but by those who were going to attend the meeting.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
It was put off also in order that this Debate might take place and the right hon. Gentleman give us for once a definite date on which he would be prepared to implement this report. That was the reason the meeting was postponed.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
There is no truth in that. The opinion of the Board of Trade has been made perfectly clear and nobody on the advisory committee has the least doubt as to what that opinion is. They put off the meeting which was to have been held to-morrow morning for their own convenience, and the charge of there being a delay does not lie against the Board of Trade. I quite agree that these things ought not to be allowed to go on for a long time, and I think anybody who takes the trouble to look into these matters will realise that we have been very care- 649 ful to deal with them with discretion and safety, that we have not been failing in our duty, but have done all we could to see that no technical errors were made. I do not know how soon the advisory committee will report to us and, therefore, I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who asked when the report was coming in. The sooner they are ready, the sooner we shall be ready, but I cannot tell them to give me an answer before they are ready to give it.
I will now deal with some of the points which have been discussed under this heading this afternoon. The question of manning is by no means easy, and to illustrate this I will take the apparently simple case of the definition of an efficient deck hand. That has been the subject of discussion for many a long day and the official definition in the Manning Committee's Report is that:A seaman shall not be accepted as an efficient deck hand unless he is over 19 years of age, and can prove by discharges, indentures or other conclusive evidence, three years' sea service on deck, provided that in the circumstances mentioned below, there may be accepted in place of not more than two of the efficient deck hands specified in A (1) above, or in place of not more than three of the efficient deck hands specified in A (2) above, or in place of not more than four of the efficient deck hands specified in A (3) above, seamen of over 17 years of age with more than one year's sea service.All that may sound complicated and may be providing for an amount of experience which cannot easily be obtained. I am sure my hon. Friend was justified in saying that we do run a considerable danger of not keeping up the supply of those who can be efficient deck hands if we take a wrong turning at any one point. We ought to take great care that we do not cripple the Mercantile Marine. I must warn the Committee in this connection that already there are reports coming in from various ports as to the shortage of A.B.'s. The shortage has been experienced at Victoria Docks, Southampton, Plymouth, Falmouth, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Barry. There is a shortage of ordinary seamen reported at Glasgow, Leith, Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hull and South Wales, and of firemen at Victoria Docks and Barry. I must confess that those reports cause me a certain amount of disquiet. 650 If we are to have our ships held up from a shortage of crews it will be just as damaging to us as if they were held up for some other less important reason. There is a considerable number of men on the unemployed list who entered that list as seamen, and an hon. Member speaking in the Debate said that from information which he had he was bound to infer that a good many of them would never go back to the sea again. He said they were on the look-out for shore jobs and if they could get them would prefer, in their advancing years, not to go to sea again. If we do not look ahead we may find the supply of these very sea-minded individuals falling short of our requirements.
I was very glad to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) refer to the type of young sailor who used to be produced in days gone by on the coast of Wales. I think my hon. and gallant Friend already knows it, but I can tell him that in the days when I was concerned with the administration of ships I used to get nearly all the boys we had from Wales, and I am glad to say that a very large proportion of them became masters in our concern. They were excellent captains not only because they were very quick and alert in mind—as are all the hon. and gallant Member's fellow countrymen—but because they had that sea sense which made them so useful in times of emergency. I have got rather out of touch with these things during recent years, but I am told that the shortage of these young men is becoming very marked and that it is not so easy now to obtain young men of the right type to work in the Mercantile Marine.
Here I come to another aspect of these shipping problems, which are all linked up together. The manning problem is closely associated with the other problem raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite. Naturally one reason some young men do not care to go to sea in old ships is that there are no amenities. They get very little of the amusement which is available to those who are ashore and their surroundings are not as comfortable as they would be if they lived in cottages and houses instead of the forecastle. Those who look after the well-being of the mercantile marine ought to keep well in view the fact that if we are continuously to 651 attract these youths and young men into our ships, we must provide them with better surroundings. It is here that we come to the most difficult of the subjects with which we have to deal. How are we to accommodate on a better scale those who are employed in our ships? I do not think there is any serious problem with regard to the new ships. The new vessels which are under construction and are being planned have infinitely better accommodation than that which was provided some 25 or 30 years ago. During the Debate I was looking through a list of the equipment which is becoming characteristic of the new vessels which are under construction and which are being ordered. Separate mess-rooms and washing places are practically always provided in new ships under construction. The mess-rooms are better designed. A large number of recent cases shows that the sleeping space, excluding mess-rooms and washing places, has a capacity of from 160 to 260 cubic feet—not much ashore, but a good deal afloat—and is a great improvement on what used to be the case. Cold salt water showers are always provided. Hot fresh water is always available either in the galley or in the washing basins. Very often it is more convenient to have it in the galley than in the washing basins, because the crew are sure to get it much hotter there if they are able to keep on good terms with the cook and get what they want at all sorts of odd hours. Bogey stoves arc being displaced in the forecastle by hot water and steam central heating. That is undoubtedly one of the things that ought to be included in all new vessels, for there is nothing a sailor values more than being warm when below. He gets plenty of fresh air on deck and he does not believe much in ventilation down below. Lockers in which to hang oilskins are nearly always provided now. Drying rooms are not always available, but they are becoming more frequent. The lighting arrangements are being improved, and that adds very greatly to the brightness of the surroundings. The sanitary conveniences have been very much improved in recent years.
In mentioning what is being done in the shipyards now, I would like to point out how extraordinarily difficult it is to apply the same regulations to the older ships. 652 In new ships it is possible to utilise space both in the fore end and aft end very much better than when the vessel was built for a special trading purpose. She has a bulkhead arrangement for the traffic she is to deal with. If some of these things were attempted in the older ships they would alter the trim of the vessel. You would have to take cargo space in places in which the ship was never designed to take it and this might add greatly to the discomfort and possibly endanger the safety of the crew. Consequently, in dealing with these old ships we must, if we can, devise some way of improving the present surroundings of the crew. I do not believe that we have come to the end of our ingenuity. I have said that lighting is of considerable importance, and it is possible to put electric wires into the forecastle of the older ships. So far as daylight is concerned, it is possible, without unduly weakening the vessel at the fore end, to give it very much larger portholes than has been the custom. If the vessel is to go into a warm climate it is possible to give it very much more ventilation, not only the ordinary ventilation, but also ventilation under pressure. All these things can be done in the older ships if there is discretion and if the naval architects are allowed a certain amount of free play by the classification societies.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman opposite did not accuse us of any delay over these things, because there is indeed no ground on which he could; but I can tell him, to sum up what I have to say in this section of my remarks, that so far as new ships are concerned we are not only encouraging but are placing every possible inducement upon the owners and the builders to provide this improved accommodation. The power that we have of holding up vessels because they are not properly equipped we shall use as far as we possibly can. With regard to the older vessels, I think the best thing we can do is to try to-gather in all the technical knowledge of those who know something about the construction of the vessels and who also, I hope, have some enthusiasm for the better appearance, upkeep and equipment of our ships. In that way we shall be able to-break the problem of the older vessels, which are always the ones which give us the most trouble not only in this matter but in many other matters.
653 I can assure the Committee that on these two important subjects we are going ahead and are not delaying unduly. Naturally we are trying to act on the best advice we can obtain and we are getting the co-operation of those who are responsible for the management of these vessels, the classification societies and the health authorities. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to cling very lovingly to his phrase "the slums of the sea." I quite agree with him, for I do not want to see slums in any one of our ships. These men very often have to live in filthy quarters ashore and the least we can do for them is to give then clean, if some-most incongruous, quarters afloat. Let us not devote ourselves in Committee of Supply to mere criticism either of a Government Department, which cannot answer for itself, or of the Minister concerned, unless the facts are very well grounded. Let us rather pool the knowledge which can be brought from various parts of the country and from various industries for the improvement of the mercantile marine itself.
I do not know that I need say more on that subject except to assure the Committee that we are going ahead as fast as we can, and, if anything were necessary by way of acceleration, a discussion such as we have had will certainly help us to advance. But cannot we do that without accusations and suggestions that we are trying to wriggle out of the recommendations of our own committee, and that we have been holding back the more advanced representatives on the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee, that is, the committee which has considered manning? We have done nothing of the kind. I would like to see those committees provided with more powers and more knowledge and if I may lay any charge against my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) of being at fault it is that he ought to be sitting on one or other of those committees. His technical knowledge would be of great service there and it would enable him, moreover, to make speeches here which would be much more destructive in effect.
I wish to deal shortly with another aspect of the problems which have been brought up this afternoon. Little has been said about the distribution of the tramp shipping subsidy. It has been referred to in various quarters and there 654 has been a suggestion that we do not apply strictly enough the conditions which ought to apply to the granting of the subsidy. I can assure the Committee that there is no failure on the part of the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee or the Tramp Shipping Administrative Committee or the Board of Trade itself to see that in the granting of the subsidy the employment of British seamen is one of the first conditions. Since the advent of subsidies the requirement that British shipping tramp owners should employ British subjects as crews, wherever available, has been strictly maintained. As a result of that, and the replacement of numbers of foreign seamen by British subjects, there are now comparatively few British white seamen unemployed in the United Kingdom. In this respect the position is better than would appear from the unemployment statistics and there is no doubt that we have done a great deal in the inducements offered by the subsidy to bring vessels into employment again and provide remunerative work for officers, seamen and firemen.
The subsidy itself has had a very remarkable effect. When it was first discussed here there were representatives of the cargo lines who complained that we were restricting the subsidy to the tramp shipping section only. I felt and argued at the time, and I think events have justified the view, that if assistance were given to tramp shipping it would react almost immediately and certainly in the near future upon other sections of British shipping. What has been the result? The Advisory Committee wisely set up small sub-committees to deal with the principal trading routes one by one. They secured the co-operation, oddly enough, of foreign tramp fleets as well as British, and they have succeeded, in the case of no less than five of the principal trading routes of the world, in obtaining a standard of minimum freights which has enabled our ships to trade backwards and forwards on those routes and at the same time has actually provided the cargo liners with a higher scale of freights than they were obtaining in the days when they had no assistance, direct or indirect, from these subsidies.
I heard my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) say that he was against subsidies. He was against subsidies in the 655 old days—I mean the old days of two years ago—when he did not realise what their direct and indirect effects would be upon cargo liner owners. There is scarcely a cargo liner owner to be found in the country now who does not realise that the use of the subsidy organisation to raise the whole level of freights on the principal routes of the world, has reacted upon the cargo fleets as well as upon the tramps. That, in itself, has been a great advantage, not only to British shipping but also to those employed in our vessels, and it has, indirectly, led to the ordering of more new vessels.
I must inform the Committee that wherever I go and in all circumstances I do my best, first, to prevent any surplusage of tonnage and secondly to encourage the building of new ships. One of the reasons why I want to see more and more ships on the stocks is because we need, for purposes of defence, a full and efficient shipyard organisation throughout the country. Further, we must get new ships, if we are to raise the standard of accommodation for our seamen. There has been an amazing advance in the design of ships in the last few years. It has been possible even in these apparently hopeless times to make our ships a great deal better. We must do that without creating a surplusage. Most of the lines have been considering the construction of new ships. The more the better—and, in passing, may I say the more we have built in the United Kingdom the better. I cannot say that I look with equanimity on the placing of shipbuilding orders on the Continent of Europe by owners who have their registered offices in London. It is true that these vessels are not being built for those who are owners and nothing else. They are in many cases being built for the shipping side of some great industrial concern. Let us encourage those concerns to come here with their orders. We have done a great deal especially by the use of the "scrap and build" scheme and by advocacy in every quarter, wherever we can lend our influence, to bring about a considerable advance in the industry.
§ Colonel ROPNER
I think it would be unfortunate if the right hon. Gentleman were to limit his remarks on that head 656 to the few words he has spoken. I would like him also to remind the Committee that it is by no means the fault of the British firms themselves that these ships are being built in Germany. They are being compelled to have the ships built there because of frozen credits and would welcome help from the Government which would enable them to place the orders in England.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I know that that is one of the reasons given for building on the Continent but I cannot say that I look with equanimity on that either. After all, when our traders and merchants sell their commodities to any Continental country they should be entitled to full payment on a sterling basis and if this is thought to be one of the ways in which payment can be secured from these foreign countries, then I think it would be much better that we should set our ingenuity to work and try to get round it, just as they have got round us. In any case I think it most unfortunate that some of our large industrial concerns, on their shipping side, should give the impression that they can be satisfied in Germany but not here. It will not be readily believed that it is merely for financial reasons that those ships are being built on the Continent. The suggestion will be made by canvassers for foreign shipyards, in competition with our own, that the foreign yards provide better ships cheaper and more economically than our own yards.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have been trying to argue during the last few minutes that we ought to build in this country and why on earth should I suggest that, if it was not my opinion that we can provide ships here as good as they can be provided elsewhere.
§ Mr. L0GAN
Would the right hon. Gentleman also remind the hon. and gallant Member that we would not have so much unemployment in this country, if he and his friends followed the advice 657 which is now being given to them; and does he not think that it is most unpatriotic to take this subsidy from the country and to have the ships built abroad?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have been endeavouring to show that our shipping policy hangs together as one more or less complete whole. It has its humanitarian side and I say by all means let us try to advance it on that side. I am just old enough to remember the days of Plimsoll and of Havelock Wilson and other union leaders who took up the cause of the seamen from time to time. We have heard some echoes of the old controversies this afternoon. But whether or not we remember what was argued in the past, or the movements in which we took part in the past, does not matter very much. What does matter is that we should make up our minds now to maintain this industry as not only one of the most efficient but one of the most attractive of our British industries.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman has been I must say more pleasing than some of the speeches which we have heard heretofore. Nevertheless we are not yet completely satisfied, any more than some of his own supporters with the conditions of manning and accommodation on board British ships. There is a series of committees to advise the right hon. Gentleman. One of these is the Manning Committee. That committee submitted to the right hon. Gentleman a unanimous report. There is no question about that. Yet we hear the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) to-day arguing against that unanimous report and saying that it ought to be referred back.
§ Mr. MACLAY
I said, as an ordinary Member of Parliament, who had studied the report from the safety point of view, that I considered that if the report were put into effect as it is, safety at sea in many ships would actually be less under the new condition than it was at present.
§ Mr. SMITH
The point is that this is a technical committee representing people who get their living both on the labour side and on the ownership side from the industry. They came to a definite conclusion and so reported to the right hon. Gentleman. We on this side 658 naturally say that when a committee of that kind is unanimous, then for the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else to endeavour to frustrate that report is to do an ill turn to the shipping industry as a whole.
§ Dr. BURGIN
Does the hon. Member still suggest that the Board of Trade is endeavouring to frustrate the implementing of this unanimous report?
§ Dr. BURGIN
Is the hon. Member not aware that regulations drafted upon this report were sent to the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee and have not yet been returned?
§ Mr. SMITH
I am fully aware of that, and the reason it was sent, I understand, was that there was an endeavour to get a modification of that unanimous report. In that sense I say that whoever is responsible is remiss. They are at this moment in possession of a report which has been thoroughly threshed out. and has the stamp of unanimity, and to do anything against that report is, in my opinion, wrong. It is this continual procrastination, this lack at looking at the problem as it ought to be looked at, that we on this side condemn in the President and his Department. They are setting up a number of committees arising out of what everybody believes to be a sad set of circumstances. I refer to the loss of various ships and the comments made on them by Lord Merrivale. I do not want to thrash that question; I am not anxious to continue to hold up the shipping industry in this House as something that ought to be taboo. With the Government I and my hon. Friends would like to see the conditions in this industry such as would attract people and not detract them because of the appalling conditions that exist in most of the British ships.
We therefore say that that report should be implemented. The circular that was sent out, in our opinion and in that of the men's representative, is an effort to circumvent the report. The President says that he is doing all he can to implement it, yet in that report there is a condemnation of the Board of Trade as far back as 1908–9. What we ask the President to do is this: If the subsidy 659 to British tramp shipping is to do the work that it is intended to do, as we understand it, that is, to give the owners an opportunity of setting by sums of money for depreciation so that they can go on with the rebuilding programme and bring new life to our shipbuilding—that is what we were told from the other side of the House—We say that the proper thing to do is to lay down standards at once. The Manning Committee have given a standard to go by. The moment you accept a new standard of manning the question of accommodation immediately looms large. Ships which carry eight of a crew will under the new regulations carry 11, and they have to be put somewhere. That is a fact of which cognisance ought to be taken.
We ought to be laying down standards of shipbuilding and not going cap in hand to the shipbuilders asking them whether they would mind doing this or that. We ought to lay down a definite arbitrary standard below which none should fall. That, I take it, should be the work of the Board of Trade. In laying that standard down you would, by a mere system of evolution, be developing an industry at sea on lines that would attract people to it instead of, as at present, frightening the average person from entering sea service. My right hon. Friend submitted two points to-day. One was manning, with which I have been dealing, and the other was accommodation. The shipowners and their representatives are touchy. We are blamed for continually using the House of Commons as a forum for airing the grievances of people who get their living from shipping. We are told that the shipping industry is in such a parlous condition that no one can afford to meet the reasonable requirements demanded on behalf of the people who get their living in it. But not a word was said about it when the industry was affluent. That was the opportunity, surely, to have developed along the lines of accommodation and manning so as to make the industry attractive, but everything is done for profit and the men, as usual, are forgotten.
I have been called to account to-day by several hon. Members for statements that I made in a recent Debate. I have been told that in the case of John Kelly 660 and Company my statement that they did not observe Maritime Board rates and conditions was definitely untrue. The hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) simply said that that statement was untrue, but he gave no facts or figures to support his assertion. Only last week, at the meeting of the National Maritime Board, the very complaint that I brought to the House was before the board for discussion and, we hope, settlement. I have the minute of that in my possession. What is the use, therefore, of the hon. Member just getting up and giving a negative statement? He should prove his case if he wishes to deny anything. In the case of Messrs. Everard, my union had a letter from the firm saying that I was guilty of untruth. It is not my intention, and never, I hope, will be, to use this House for making untrue statements. The facts are that a man was discharged, presumably for insolence. The man claimed that the firm owed him 270 hours' overtime. The firm wrote to my union and I went to see Mr. Everard with the officer who made the complaint. He assured me that he knew as much about seamanship as I did—although I do not know what that had to do with the case—and that he paid Maritime Board rates. When I questioned him about how he paid them, he referred me to the Maritime Board and not to his books. On questioning him further, I discovered that he had no need to come under Maritime Board rates at all because he was in coastwise shipping. He said that he did not pay overtime, but left it to the skippers to decide when men should have time off. He had no record whether the man in question had had his time or not. In the end, he arranged for two skippers, the man and an officer of my union to meet at Gillingham next week. That does not lock as if the mere denial of the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth has cleared up the question of Messrs. Everards.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I told the Committee that I had a document covering three sheets dealing with this matter. I asked the Committee if it wanted me to read it, and I said that any hon. Member who wanted to see the letter denying the hon. Member's allegations was at liberty to do so.
§ Sir H, CAYZER
I said that Messrs. Everards categorically deny the hon. Member's misrepresentations and say they are untrue.
§ Mr. SMITH
I say to the hon. and gallant Member, in reply, that Mr. Everard, when I was in his office, was unable to substantiate that, and, as proof of it, he has arranged the meeting of an officer from my union, the man and two skippers from his own ships in an effort to settle the matter. That is what I am telling the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Mr. SMITH
Whatever letter he sent to the hon. and gallant Member, please understand that he wrote that letter to me, so I know the contents of it almost as well as the hon. and gallant Member himself. With regard to the Clan Line, a statement was made by my right hon. Friend and me that it employed both Chinese and Lascar seamen. They employ, I understand, Las-cars only, and I am happy to withdraw the reference to Chinese. The intention was, I understand, for that statement to refer to the Bank Line, which employ white officers and Chinese crews, and not to the Clan Line. It can, I think, be said therefore that I have reasonably cleared up the statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I realised of course that this was purely a misunderstanding, and I did not wish for a moment to mislead.
§ Mr. SMITH
The hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Fyfe) regretted that we have to have these controversies across the Floor of the House, and said that it was inimical to the best interests of the shipping industry. What does he suggest should be done? A National Maritime Board exists for the purpose of eliminating as many complaints as possible, but there are certain things 662 arising out of the Act of 1924 concerning manning, accommodation, safety appliances and the like which must be dealt with across the Floor of the House. In the light of what happened to four ships when 100 lives were lost, we have to bring up the subject here to air our grievances. We are not met with the open-handed method of saying "come let us reason together, let us settle down and get over our difficulties," but we are met by the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary with complete evasion.
§ Mr. MAXWELL FYFE
The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that one of the matters of which he complained was that members of deck crews were used for stokehold work. I have challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) to produce any record of that complaint having been made before the Seamen's and Firemen's Panel of the National Maritime Board.
§ Mr. SMITH
I did not make the statement, and naturally I should not be called upon to prove it, but as a practical seaman I have known of many occasions in the tropics when seamen have had to go below to help to trim for the firemen. I know of my experience that it has been done. Whether any case that went to the Maritime Board has been substantiated is another matter. The Parliamentary Secretary was rather aghast when I talked about evasion by the Board of Trade. I shall try to prove it. On Tuesday last I asked the President of the Board of Trade a question in these terms:Whether the British Government have yet made replies to the questionnaire issued by the International Labour Office for the purposes of the International Maritime Conference, 1936; whether he will inform the House of the nature of those replies: and whether he took steps to consult the shipowners', officers', and seamen's organisations as to the nature of those replies?I got what appeared to be a perfectly straightforward reply:His Majesty's Government have not yet replied to the questionnaire, the points in which are still under consideration by the National Maritime Board. Officers of my Department are in touch with that body on these matters.I pressed the right hon. Gentleman:Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the whole of the elements that make up the Maritime Board are being consulted?663 His reply was:I said the points were still under consideration by the National Maritime Board, and, of course, all the organisations represented on that board will be aware of what is taking place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1936; col. 185, Vol. 312.]On the afternoon of 12th May, as soon as the reply of the President was known, inquiries were made of all people who constitute the Maritime Board, and it was learned that neither seamen, officers nor shipowners were aware of any communication having been, addressed to the National Maritime Board by the Government relating to the forthcoming International Maritime Conference or anything in any way connected with it.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I wish to correct a misapprehension. The hon. Member is referring to some communication having been made?
§ Mr. SMITH
Yes, the reply was that the officers of your Department were still in touch and the question was being discussed by the Maritime Board. It was learned from the three parties to the board that no consideration was being given to a questionnaire issued by the International Labour Office and that, in fact, the questionnaire had not been seen. On 13th May, Mr. Spence telephoned to the secretary of the National Maritime Board and also consulted the joint secretary and each declared that there had been no communication from the Government on the matter. In that situation I approached the hon. Gentleman who, to his credit, immediately made inquiries and told me that I should get a statement from the President of the Board of Trade, which I ultimately received. In that statement, after having mentioned that I had spoken to the Parliamentary Secretary, he said:As you will be aware, the points set out in the report of the Conference dated 6th September, 1935, were actually drafted by Mr. Sneddon, Mr. Bevan and the Belgian Government's delegate.Of course they were, they were drafted at Geneva, and here is the document which says:After discussion a resolution was carried… 'The General Purposes 664 Committee recommends that the preparatory meeting should proceed with the first discussion of the question of hours of work on board ship and manning on the basis of the White Report and any other documents which may be, submitted to it, it being understood that the results of such discussions and any observations made on those results by Governments will be used by the International Labour Office to prepare a final report which may contain a draft for a Convention or a recommendation in accordance with Article 6, paragraph 7, of the Standing Orders of the Conference '.If the hon. Gentleman, who has a copy of this document, will turn to page 29, which summarises the discussion, he will see that it states:The foregoing summary, together with a full report of the speeches delivered, will suffice to enlighten both the International Labour Office and the Governments on the points under consideration. It is possible to deduce from the above summary the principal points which it would appear desirable that the International Labour Office should take into consideration in drafting proposals to lay before the 1936 Special Maritime Session and in consulting the Governments in accordance with the resolution quoted on page 2.Both owners and employés on the National Maritime Board were urged at Geneva by the United Kingdom delegate, and have since been urged by members of the Department, to proceed with the consideration of the points without awaiting any further official communication from Geneva. Will the hon. Gentleman give us the dates when the Maritime Board have been urged to do this by this Government?
§ Dr. BURGIN
It would be more convenient if the hon. Gentleman finished the reading of his papers and then, perhaps, I might deal with the interrogatory as a whole.
§ Mr. SMITH
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the dates when communications were made with the Maritime Board. That is the point. The right hon. Gentleman went on:I understand that a sub-committee of the Seamen's and Firemen's Panel and the Catering Department Panel of the National Maritime Board was set up on the 11th February to examine speedily whether a national settlement on hours and manning could be arranged on a practicable basis.It was not at the request of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman understands that; he does not say, "I request it." He goes on: 665As I understand it, this sub-committee was set up definitely with a view to pre- paring for the conference which is due to meet at Geneva in October next.How does the right hon. Gentleman understand that? What reason can he adduce for having such an understanding?
§ Mr. SMITH
This is the British Government, and it is for this Government to convey instructions to the secretary and not take their instructions from the secretary. I have the whole of the Minutes of all the meetings of those two panels, and in no case is there a word of any intimation from the Government, or from the President of the Board of Trade or his Department, asking them to discuss the question of the International Convention. On the 11th, all the members were present and all that was mentioned was:It was further agreed that a committee be set up forthwith to examine speedily whether a national settlement on hours and manning could be arranged on a practical basis.Note the point; a national settlement, bearing out the burden of the shipowners' request at Geneva all the time that we ought to have a national settlement and not be mixed up in any international settlement with other countries; an effort, as it were, to sabotage the International Convention at Geneva.
A meeting of the sub-committee on hours and manning was arranged for Thursday, 20th February, at 10 a.m. The meeting took place on the 20th February, and again the union representatives proposed that discussion with regard to hours and manning should take place on the basis of the white paper issued by the Workers' Group at the Geneva Conference—the only other time that Geneva is mentioned—and that very statement says that the effort was to get a national standard as against an international standard. I believe it referred to 68 hours per week as against the American and the French 48 hours. The next meeting took place on 28th February, and on that occasion the only matter discussed was the proposal by the union representatives that there should be a 56-hour week 666 at sea on deck, on foreign-going cargo liners and foreign-going traders with European members of the crew. The question of vessels in the home trade was deferred.
The report states:The union representatives added that in the discussion on the home trade coasting vessels… below a certain tonnage, they could give no indication "—et cetera. There again there was no question of discussing the International Convention. The Minutes prove that they had had no communication on this question with the Board of Trade, or with the representatives of the Board of Trade.
Another meeting took place on 20th March at which the shipowners' representatives stated that since the last meeting of the committee they had carefully investigated the proposal put forward by the union representatives but had found the proposal impracticable—again national hours and manning. The unanimous report on manning has been before the President of the Board of Trade for the last three months. The minutes say:After the general exchange of views, the union representatives intimated that they would like to consult their management committee on the proposals before them. The shipowners agreed to consider the points which had been raised. It was therefore decided that the committee should adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Friday, 27th March, 1936.There are the whole of the minutes referring to national hours and national manning, and in no instance has a single discussion taken place with regard to preparing for the International Conference at Geneva next October. Seven months of the year are gone, and the President of the Board of Trade is saying, "I am leaving this to other people. It is not for me," and the other people are waiting for the President of the Board of Trade to ask them to meet on the question. The request is not forthcoming. After that statement, am I wrong in saying that the Department are evading things? I put that question quite fairly to the Parliamentary Secretary. The letter goes on to say:The National Maritime Board were not fully aware of the contents of the questionnaire, or that they were not doing what I said in my answer they were doing, namely, considering the points which the 1935 conference left for the consideration of Governments in preparation for this year's conference.667 According to the letter and according to the minutes, not a single thing has been done to implement that, or to prepare for the conference next year at Geneva. Therefore, I stated that there was evasion and an effort to evade.
I am in a, difficulty, quite frankly. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will say, "All right, I will take the blame for my Department." He is bound to say that, but if that statement be correct that has been given to the right hon. Gentleman from somebody within that Department, and that somebody must have been knowingly telling what was an untruth. When the right hon. Gentleman states that, I claim that his answer to my question is inaccurate. I say that I am justified in making that statement. I say here and now that there never has been a communication from the Board of Trade to the Maritime Board; that it has never been in the minds of the sub-committee; that they were set up to discuss national hours and national manning and that it has never been in their minds that they were expected to discuss or to report on the question of the International Conference.
I think I have made out my case that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken the questions, that were submitted to him, in an effort to elucidate and, although you may doubt my word, in an effort of helpfulness, to get this industry upon a proper foundation. We ask these questions in all seriousness, and we expect to be taken seriously, as we in fact are. It is not taking us seriously when questions are replied to as they have been replied to by the right hon. Gentleman, and when, in accordance with the statements that are given to me, no communication has ever taken place between the Board of Trade and the National Maritime Board on the international situation.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I do not know what would be most convenient for the Committee. I thought it would be best to intervene now simply to reply to the last matter which the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) raised. It might be more convenient to reply to his speech as a whole, but I rather thought this matter of evasion was a separate matter which could properly be handled quickly and disposed 668 of. In the first place, the President of the Board of Trade would desire me to express his regret that he is absent at the moment. He has been sitting on the Bench throughout the whole day, and his absence implies no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman. The charge is made against the President of the Board of Trade of having given an answer inaccurate in itself, and of having given it for the purpose of evading some question. I am not sure—I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
I do not want to say, and I do not want to be made to say, that I hold the right hon. Gentleman personally guilty of that. He was, no doubt, advised on that answer, and I am saying that the advice was wrong advice.
§ Dr. BURGIN
Do not let us mince matters. The President of the Board of Trade would accept responsibility for advice tendered to him. I was merely trying to explain what I understood the hon. Gentleman to be alleging. I understand him to say that the answer was inaccurate, and that the inaccurate answer was given for the purpose of evading some question put by the other side. There is not a shadow of foundation for that from beginning to end. The Government were asked, in a perfectly proper question by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe: Has an answer yet been given to the questionnaire contained in a report from the International Labour Office at Geneva? The answer is: No, it has not. The points are under consideration by the National Maritime Board, and officers of my Department have been in touch with that organisation. The words are:Officers of my Department are in touch with that body on these matters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1936; cod. 185; Vol. 312.]The questionnaire, which is a very long one, in this report from Geneva, raises a large number of questions, but they are substantially questions of manning and hours. These subjects of manning and hours are under consideration by the National Maritime Board. There is no possible doubt about that.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The questions of manning and hours to which the questionnaire relates are under consideration 669 by the National Maritime Board. Nothing could be more definite than that. The International Labour Office circulated the printed report, containing the questionnaire, to the Governments and to all delegates and advisers. In each separate questionnaire so circulated the Governments were asked to reply. Owners and men, since November last, have known that is was necessary to proceed with discussions with a. view to preparing for the Geneva Conference of 1936, and, at the meeting on the 11th February to which the hon. Member has referred a Press announcement was issued, and that Press announcement, while not mentioning Geneva, was described to the Board of Trade by the then Secretary of the National Maritime Board as meaning t hat the purpose of the Committee was to prepare for the Geneva Conference of 1936.
§ Dr. BURGIN
There is no question of advice. The question is, what was the object of setting up the sub-committee? It was to prepare for the Geneva Conference of 1936. No Government answer has been sent to the questionnaire, but the subjects of hours and manning are under consideration by the National Maritime Board. The third point is: Are officers of the Board of Trade in touch with the National Maritime Board on that subject? Yes, Sir, they are. The whole of the employers' section of the National Maritime Board have been received in deputation, and individual members of the workers' side of the' National Maritime Board have been received in consultation, not once, but four times within t he last month.
§ Dr. BURGIN
What I will say is that the object of the interview between the workers' representatives and the officials of the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade was to discuss hours and manning, the subject of the questionnaire.
§ Mr. SMITH
It is difficult for me to intervene again, and it seems that we shall get no closer to this, except that the Parliamentary Secretary at no time has refuted the statements I have made. His answer implied that in fact the things were being done that governments were expected to do at Geneva. He takes his knowledge from the Press, but at no time did he say that he was definitely, either in person or in writing, in touch with anybody on the Maritime Board on the question of the international conference at Geneva, in October next, and, until that can be said, I shall deem that the answer was an evasive answer to the House.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I suppose that nothing I can say will rub out that impression from the hon. Gentleman's mind. I have said time and time again that the interviews with the officials of the Mercantile Marine Department were for the purpose of considering manning and hours, the subject of the questionnaire, when the workers' representatives were told exactly what was to be done with a view to preparation for Geneva in 1936.
§ Mr. SMITH
If there is a record, it can be produced. I will undertake to say that the difference between us exists, and I am willing to attend the Board of Trade with the representatives of the men personally and to refute, through those men, or to withdraw my statement. If the hon. Gentleman can produce evidence that at these meetings the International Conference at Geneva on hours and wages was under discussion, I will withdraw in this House and publicly; but in the meantime I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to receive the representatives of the men, who have heard him make this statement, and are prepared to deny it.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Colonel ROPNER
I am bound to confess that I do not feel qualified to take any part in the squabble to which we have been listening for the last half-hour or so, but I want to call the attention of the Committee to a statement made by the President of the Board of Trade a short time ago. It is usually my fate, in these shipping debates, to quarrel with 671 hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I am sorry that on this occasion I must dispute an impression which, I hope unintentionally, was given by the President of the Board of Trade. I am sure that the House, and, I believe, all those who read the President's speech in to-morrow's papers, will gather the impression that shipowners, of their own free will, are placing orders for ships in foreign shipyards. The President of the Board of Trade said that, if that were true, it would not only be directly damaging to British shipyards, but the impression would be given throughout the world that British shipowners believed that better ships could be built in foreign yards. That was the impression that the President of the Board of Trade gave, but it is totally untrue. So far as I know the facts—and I believe I know them completely—they are these:
In the first place, those firms that have given orders for ships in foreign countries—and I think the orders given to Germany are those which we have in mind—are not, properly speaking, ship-owning firms at all. They are firms such as Levers, which have very wide interests outside shipping. They sold commodities to Germany, and have what are called frozen credits in Germany. They are placed in an extremely awkward position by the German Government. They cannot get the money for the goods they have sold but are forced to take goods, and the goods they have to take are ships. They have to place orders for goods of some sort in Germany in order to get their money out of that country. [An HON. MEMBER: "While British shipyard workers are unemployed."] That is perfectly true but surely, when the President of the Board of Trade asks industrialists to use their ingenuity to get over this difficulty, we might retort that it is up to the Government to use their ingenuity. I have not placed an order for ships in a German yard, but I have received representations from a firm which builds trawlers in my constituency, and they tell me that orders have been placed for, I think, 16 trawlers in Germany. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fifty."] I think the figure put to me was 16, but I am speaking from memory. They asked me to communicate with the President of the Board of Trade, which I did. The right hon. Gentleman replied 672 very sympathetically but said nothing could be done by the Government, and it is most unfair to give the impression that, where nothing can be done by the Government, private individuals can take some action.
I feel that I shall be supported by Members in all parts of the House when I say that I very much hope that the Government will be able to devise means to enable firms which are at present placing orders in Germany to release the credits that they have there and to place orders in Great Britain. I am certain that I am speaking for them when I say no one will be more pleased when that day arrives, but at the moment they have had no sort of assistance from the Government. I have not risen to attack the Government because they have not been able to take any action. I know there are very great difficulties, which I am sure they are trying to overcome, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will at least absolve from responsibility those who are being forced by circumstances over which they have no control to place orders in Germany for ships when, as the hon. Member opposite aptly interrupted, workers in British shipyards are unemployed.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. FURNESS
This is an exceedingly serious matter for shipbuilders and ship-workers and it seems to me, in reviewing the facts that have come to light, that this thing will be progressive if it is not stopped.
§ The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Robert Young)
I only allowed the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) to say what he has said because of the remark of the President of the Board of Trade on the subject. There is nothing in the Estimate referring to shipbuilding in Germany.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The Committee will have understood that my intervention a moment or two ago was merely to deal with the suggestion that the answers of the President of the Board of Trade have not been accurate. I propose now to say a few words in reply to the Debate as a whole. The main points that have been raised have already been covered, I have 673 no doubt to the satisfaction of the Committee, by the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade himself. The burden of the attack has been manning, accommodation, and certain matters relating to the distribution of the subsidy. I have tried very hard to eliminate a heresy from the mind of the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith). He is still, apparently, under the impression that the Government is in some way delaying the issue of regulations with regard to manning. He read with succulence some words of mine in answer to a question in February with regard to implementing a unanimous report. Let me state the facts. As the result of some inquiries conducted by Lord Merrivale, it became obvious that manning was a matter of great importance. It was always recognised as important. It was recognised, perhaps, that there were special needs for the manning regulations to be altered, and the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee made a report which, as the hon. Member says, was unanimous. I say "was" rather than "is."
The report being unanimous, it was quite right that I should give the House the assurance at once that it was proposed to implement it. The only way you can implement a report is by issuing regulations. Regulations were drafted. The form of the regulations is a circular to surveyors. That is the form which implementing one of these recommendations takes. The draft was prepared, but these are very technical matters—the definition of efficient deck hands, and other matters of that kind. This draft was sent to the committee responsible for issuing the report. No one can complain of that. But the draft has not yet been returned because, although the report on manning by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee was unanimous, there are difficulties experienced in its application and both sides of the committee, the shipowners and the men's representatives, are at present engaged in considering the manning scales which they themselves have recommended. It is because of those discussions, which are continuing, that the draft circular prepared in the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade has not yet been returned to my Department. A meeting had been summoned for to- 674 morrow but, at the request of both sides, it stands adjourned for some little time. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe said it stood adjourned for reasons connected with to-day's Debate. That is a complete failure to understand the position. It stands adjourned because both sides have asked for a little further time to consider the circular. There is no difference in policy. We desire to implement a unanimous report. A draft circular for that purpose is before those who made the report for consideration of its terms. There will be no delay once the draft is returned in issuing it in the form of a circular of instructions.
§ Dr. BURGIN
That, of course, is not a question which I can answer. It is not a meeting to which the Board of Trade are parties.
§ Dr. BURGIN
No, I have no reason to think that the matter will be adjourned for any length of time. All I know is that the meeting, to the holding of which on 15th May we had looked forward, stands postponed at the request of both sides notified to the secretary of the committee. I should imagine that it is temporary, and that the wishes of the committee, strongly expressed in the House to-night, will be of material use in inducing that meeting to take place quickly. At any rate, that is our wish. These are instructions to take the place of instructions issued as long ago as 1909, and now that we have decided to make a change the sooner we snake it the better.
The second point dealt with in the Debate was the question of accommodation. A good deal was said about the accommodation being out of date. I want the Committee to understand that the phrase that we go upon is, "Proper accommodation for the men." It is a very useful method of drafting if you have words which are applicable whatever the passage of time may be. We use these words, "Proper accommodation for the men" to mean proper accommodation in the light of the knowledge at the time you are applying them, rather than an interpretation of the time when the words were first put upon paper It is convenient. The Committee, of course, know 675 that under the scrap-and-build scheme the Board of Trade have secured the provision of crew accommodation at least equal to, and in many cases better than, that covered by the recommendation of the Shipping Federation Committee. The crew spaces in these ships generally accord with modern ideas of hygiene and comfort. The Committee understands the sanction of the Board of Trade with regard to accommodation for the crew. What is the sanction which the Board of Trade possess? It is that you are allowed for the purpose of registered tonnage to make a deduction of crew space, and you only do that if the Board of Trade are satisfied in the matter. The Board of Trade, therefore, have the controlling influence by not allowing the deduction if, in their judgment, the accommodation is not satisfactory.
I do not think that I need say many words on the distribution of the subsidy. Some complaint was made about the employment of Lascars. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe withdrew the allegation that a particular line had been employing Chinese when his attention had been called to the fact that it was not accurate. But the burden of the complaint today was the employment of Lascars. I am sure that the Committee will face the difficulties of the situation. A very large number of Lascars are British subjects, and this House would be slow to recommend grades among members of the British Empire. It is a very difficult matter to regard a British subject as a Class A British subject or a Class II British subject or anything of the kind. [An HON. MEMBER: "Except for pay!"] It is no good the hon. Member opposite saying "Except for pay." We are dealing with the question first of nationality, and if by nationality the Lascars in question are British subjects, it is no good, for the purpose of slurring it over, for the Front Opposition Bench to call them foreign. That is an elementary question of fact.
Under the appropriate section of the Merchant Shipping Act the Lascar agreements are dealt with by the Government of India, and as long as the Government of India prescribe regulations which are applicable it does not lie upon hon. Members to suggest that there is anything wrong. With regard to alien seamen generally. I should like to quote from the 676 issue of the "Seaman" of 1st May, 1935, which says, in the editorial by "The Man at the Wheel":Too much has been made of the question of the employment of aliens as such because there are, according to the latest return of 15th June, 1933, 7,661; whereas the men who really displace our men in very large numbers are not aliens but Lascars.In other words, the editorial of "The Man at the Wheel realises that the suggestion of tilting at the employment of alien seamen is really missing the mark. The number of alien seamen is steadily being reduced all the time. The real complaint of hon. Gentlemen opposite is the employment of a type of British subject who are Lascars.
We have dealt with most of the questions that have been raised in the Debate, and I would like, in conclusion, to say a word to the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) who raised the question about trawlers. He made what has been described by the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) as a very useful contribution on the whole question of the age and safety of the fishing fleets. The Sea Fish Commission in the second report on the white fish industry have made strong recommendations with regard to trawlers. The Committee are probably familiar with some of these suggestions, such as more frequent surveys, the improvement of existing conditions and a number of other matters relating to life-saving appliances on board fishing vessels and so on. Legislation would be required to bring some of those recommendations into force. The only question is whether that should be a separate short Merchant Shipping Measure, or part of a more general scheme of merchant shipping legislation, or part of a Bill necessary to implement the Sea Fish Commission's recommendations.
Do not let the Committee imagine that there is any substantial difference with regard to policy. It is a question of Parliamentary procedure. I hope that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen will be good enough to carry out his promise of communicating to the President of the Board of Trade or to myself certain information which he has in his possession of instances in which trawlers were putting to sea, in his view, improperly, and I can promise him at once the most complete investigation. We are most anxious 677 that the whole question of the safety of trawlers should be dealt with as expeditiously and with as much care for those on board trawlers as the question of the safety of shipping generally.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £260,722, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 119; Noes, 191.679
|Division No. 186.]||AYES.||[9.15 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T, D. (Barnstaple)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Potts, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Price, M. P.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hardle, G. D.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Riley, B.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, T, (Tradeston)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barr, J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Batey, J.||Holland, A.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Bellenger, F.||Hollins, A.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Benson, G.||Hopkin, D.||Shinwell, E.|
|Bevan, A.||Jagger, J.||Short, A.|
|Broad, F. A.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Silkin, L.|
|Bromfield, W.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. [...]. Ayrshire)||Kelly, W. T.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Burke, W. A.||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lathan, G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Chater, D.||Lawson, J. J.||Stephen, c.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Compton, J.||Lee, F.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Leonard, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Leslie, J. R.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Daggar, G.||Logan, D. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Lunn, W.||Walker, J.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McEntee, V. La T.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ede, J. C.||MacLaren, A.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Maclean, N.||Westwood, J.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Marklew, E.||White, H. Graham|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Marshall, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Foot, D. M.||Maxton, J.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Gallacher, W.||Messer, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Montague, F.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, s.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Gibbins, J.||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Paling, W.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Parker, H. J. H.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Dunne, P. R. R.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Agnew, Lieut. -Comdr. P. G.||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Emrys Evans, P. V.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Errington, E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Cobb, Sir C. S.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Colfox, Major W. P.||Findlay, Sir E.|
|Assheton, R.||Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Fleming, E. L.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.||Furness, S. N.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Craddock, Sir R. H.||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H.(Isle of Thanet)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Crooke, J. S.||Goldle, N. B.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Cross, R. H.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Crossley, A. C.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Culverwell, C. T.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Gunston, Capt. D. W.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Guy, J. C. M.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Donner, P. W.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Harbord, A.|
|Bull, B. B.||Drewe, C.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Burghley, Lord||Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Harvey, G.|
|Burgin. Dr. E. L.||Dugdale, Major T. L.||Hellgers, Captain F. F, A.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Duggan, H. J.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Cary, R. A.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Holdsworth, H.|
|Castiereagh, Viscount||Dunglass, Lord||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Moreing, A. C.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Morgan, R. H.||Scott, Lord William|
|Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Selley, H. R.|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Shaw, Major p. S. (Wavertree)|
|Jackson, Sir H.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Muirhead, Lt-Col. A. J.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Munro, P.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Somerville. A. A. (Windsor)|
|Kirkpatrick, W. M.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Spender-Clay, Lt.-CI. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Palmer, G. E. H.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Leckie, J. A.||Peake, O.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Peat, C. U.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Leigh, Sir J.||Penny, Sir G.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Lindsay, K. M.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Llewellin, Lieut. Col. J. J.||Petherick, M.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Loftus, P. C.||Procter, Major H. A.||Turton, R. H.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Ramsbotham, H.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Ward, Lieut. Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon M. (Ross)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Reid, W. Allen (Derby)||Wells, S. R.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Remer, J. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Williams. H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut. -Colonel G.|
|Magnay, T.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Ruggies-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Wragg, H.|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Salmon, Sir I.||Commander Southby and Captain|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)||Waterhouse.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Order was read, and postponed.