Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £284,970, 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, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of certain Mercantile Marine services, including the expenses of Coastguard and General Register and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen."—[Note.—£138,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
We have had in the House recently illustrations of the dangers which may befall British officers and seamen when Britain is at peace and other people are at war; and we have recognised in this House in the last three or four years that the dangers inevitably associated with the calling of seamen do demand sympathetic consideration from Members in all quarters of the House. It has, more particularly in recent months, been borne in on the minds of Members of the Committee what special responsibilities and special dangers the Mercantile Marine must take if unfortunately we are involved in war. Unfortunately, until the last three years or so there has not been much discussion in the Committee, or indeed in the House, on the position of the Mercantile Marine. But the Merchant Service is, of course, one of the foundations of our national wealth, and a very important foundation. It is a vital means of communication with the Empire, and it is obvious to all of us that it is an essential factor in our Defence services in times of war. We are apt to overlook the fact that 70 percent. of our foodstuffs are seaborne. Whether that proportion should be altered or not is not a matter for discussion to-day, 800 but the fact is that at present nearly three-quarters of all the food we need here comes from overseas. A large amount of our raw materials come from overseas. The textile industry—either the cotton or the woollen textile industry—could not exist if it were not for the raw materials imported from overseas. Every day something like 100,000 tons of food and merchandise are to be found on British ships on the high seas.
What is the position of the Mercantile Marine to-day? In my view, it is a very serious one. Mr. Souter, the President of the Chamber of Shipping, speaking at the annual conference of the Chamber about three months ago, talked about the growth and decline of the British Mercantile Marine over the past century. That is a very grave and serious statement to be made by the President of the Chamber of Shipping. An impression has been created by the Minister for the coordination of Defence, who, dealing with this problem of the Mercantile Marine in its relation to the general situation in the event of war, has said that, ton for ton and ship for ship, substantially we are in as good a position to-day to get cargo space as we were in 1914. That statement of the right hon. Gentleman was replied to in an article in the "Shipping World" by Sir Archibald Hurd. Sir Archibald Hurd, as every one will admit, is an authority in this country on this subject, while the Minister for the Coordination of Defence is merely at the beginning of his apprenticeship. The figures which were quoted made it look on the surface as though our Mercantile Marine position was not unsatisfactory—I do not think the Minister put it much higher than that.
A good impression was given by including in the British tonnage the tonnage owned by the Dominions, the Colonies and the Protectorates. Sir Archibald Hurd draws attention to the fact that while tonnage, including oil tankers, in Great Britain and Ireland has decreased by 1,450,000 tons since 1914, the amount owned by the Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates has increased in that time by something like 1,330,000 tons. But the Dominion and Colonial vessels, we are told, were built for local services, and the author of the article says they could not be available for any other duty in time of war. Moreover, the Minister for 801 the Co-ordination of Defence included in his figures the tonnage for oil tankers. I think it is perfectly clear to the House that tonnage for carrying oil in bulk has no relation whatever to the problem of feeding the people in this country, either in war or peace. The tonnage in recent years has, of course, increased very substantially to upwards of 3,000,000 tons. If the tanker tonnage and the Dominions and Colonial tonnage, which the Minister includes, are left out of account, which on any reasonable assumption they should be, then it is clear that this country would not have over 20,000,000 tons of shipping, as the Minister stated, but approximately 15,000,000 tons.
But it is not merely that there has been shrinkage among the tonnage. It is true that in the first quarter of the century the size and the speed of boats have both increased but in time of international hostilities the large ship is the bigger target, and its destruction means greater loss. The figures have been worked out to show that the loss of 100 ships of the 1914 fleet reduced this country's total carrying capacity by approximately 3.5 percent., but the loss of 100 ships of the average 1938 class would reduce it by 5.5 per cent., or, to put it in another way, the country's total carrying capacity could in 1914, during the Great War, have been halved by sinking 1,400 individual vessels, and the same result could be achieved to-day by sinking only 900 individual ships.
I submit that that is a somewhat serious situation. Great Britain before the Great War had about 44 per cent. of the world's tonnage; to-day it possesses only 28 percent., excluding tankers. The Mercantile Marine has 2,000 fewer ships than it had in 1914. Not only so, but to-day British ships are laid up, and I understand that there was a proposal under discussion only as recently as yesterday—whether any agreement was reached, I do not know—for a definite systematic plan for the laying up of British ships at a time when nearly every other nation is building new ones. The United States of America is building 70 ships in the United Kingdom to-day. While this is happening British ships are being swept off the seas. Before the War the trade between Calcutta and the Far East was completely a British trade; to-day it is said that japan now holds 80 per cent. of that trade. It is well known 802 —and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade may have something to say about this aspect of the matter—that the British flag is not seen so frequently now upon the Pacific as it used to be. The problem is complicated by the fact that numbers of ships under foreign flags in competition with British ships are of British origin, sold by British shipowners to the detriment of British trade, and also, obviously, to the detriment of the British shipping industry.
I realise some of the difficulties of the shipping companies. The general method of shipping finance is not wholly satisfactory. Shipping companies in the past, I do not think it will be denied on any side of the Committee, have made very handsome profits, but they have not always used those profits wisely for the development of their industry. Their situation is made worse, or the position of British ships which are carrying goods is made worse to-day because they are called upon in a number of cases to provide dividends not only for the shipping company itself, but for various subsidiary and allied companies, such as a managing company, a coal company, or, it may be, a dry dock company, all of which are really milking the people who are actually carrying the responsibility and carrying the goods.
That problem is one which can be dealt with. One which is graver and which is imperilling the future of the British Mercantile Marine is the stress of foreign competition, the bulk of which—not all of it; I do not believe that that of the Scandinavian countries is subsidised—is subsidised in one way or the other, either by straightforward payments on a tonnage basis or by financial assistance towards the building of new boats, or by generous mail subsidies, and so our chief competitors now are heavily subsidised. I do not think the matter of Greek competition, upon which so much stress has been laid, is as important as many people have tried to make out, because their proportion of ships relatively to the world supply is small. But in the case of Japan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States of America, where subsidies in one form or another are in operation, it is making it very difficult for the British shipping industry to keep its head as actively above water as is required in the national interest both in times of peace and in times of war.
803 Certainly all maritime countries of any importance now have a system for the proper training either of both officers and men or of officers only. Here we have no such effective provision, and the absence of that provision is a great danger to the future of the merchant service. We are entitled to ask what the Board of Trade is doing about this desperate situation in one of our most fundamental services, and the Committee are entitled to some re-assurance that the drift of the post-War years will not be allowed to continue.
I should like to say something about the general conditions of life and service in the Mercantile Marine. I am not going to deny for one moment the very substantial improvements which have been made in the last few years—we are very glad of them—but conditions are yet far from satisfactory, especially, it would seem in the coastwise trade, an almost forgotten element in the merchant service. Some of my hon. Friends will probably say more about that matter. It is still undoubtedly true, both in seagoing and coastwise ships, that the pay is deplorably low, having regard to the great service required of the officers and seamen. The hours of labour are abominably and disgracefully long. Undermanning, too, is a very serious problem. Bad accommodation still exists, and there are inadequate messing arrangements and lack of proper storage accommodation for food.
These are evils which nobody can deny, and there is a responsibility upon the Department which supervises that service to be as effective and active in its work as the Home Office is in regard to the administration of the Factory Acts. It is not as easy to get away with breaches of the Factory Acts as it used to be, because of the relatively efficient system of the inspectorate and the action which follows adverse reports. I have spoken before about the slums of the sea. So long as there is a British ship that can be described as a slum, it is a blot on the fair name of the greatest maritime nation in the world. If our people feel so keenly about the abolition of slums on land, surely the same principles which lead them to take action on land ought to lead them to sweep away the evil on the 804 high seas. Obviously, the policy of the Board of Trade should be to get the highest possible standards for new ships—standards which I am glad to know some companies are now adopting; standards which have been adopted particularly in the Scandinavian countries and some other foreign countries. The Government's policy should be to get the highest possible standards for old ships, coupled with the necessity for ensuring the maximum improvement of old ships. On land we have a policy for reconditioning old cottages. There are, of course, limitations. I realise that you cannot get out of an old ship the same accommodation that you can get from a new one, but it clearly ought to be the policy of the Board of Trade, by perpetual pressure and by improved regulations, to insist on a higher and higher standard for the ships which continue in commission, just as it ought also to be the policy of the Board of Trade to press for honourable conditions of service for both officers and men.
I am bitterly disappointed, and so are the various trade unions concerned, that the British Government have not had the foresight, wisdom and humanity to ratify the Geneva Convention of 1926. Why should this, the greatest of all maritime nations, the greatest the world has ever seen, be so behind in the enforcement of international standards. If you had had enforced international standards you would have done a great deal to break the back of the worst kind of foreign competition. Once you take the conditions of service out of the competitive field, you put them into the category of higher organisation and efficiency. That would be a wise policy for this country to follow, but instead of doing that there are Conventions now resting at Geneva and the British Government is reluctant to do anything whatever to bring them into general operation.
The Mercantile Marine, because of its importance in the national economy and because of its essential character in time of war, ought to receive much closer attention from the President of the Board of Trade than has been the case in the past. There is urgent need of comprehensive measures to stay the decline of British shipping, to improve its efficiency and to establish conditions of employment in the Service worthy of a great calling, and I ask the President of the Board of 805 Trade what active steps are being taken in these directions, in the national interest and in order to do honour and justice to the men of the sea.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Amery
It is sincerely to be regretted that a larger House was not present to hear the very important speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered, a speech concerned not with party but with one of the gravest issues which confronts us to-day. The right hon. Gentleman truly said that a great fundamental national industry is in what may soon be a desperate situation. I do not think that I need devote much time dwelling on the importance of our Mercantile Marine. It is in itself one of the greatest of our employing industries. It employs directly something like 150,000 men normally, and if we include shipbuilding, which is an essential part of it and dependent on it, something like 250,000 men.
It is a vital factor in our whole economic system. It contributes in the shape of invisible exports anything from £100,000,000 to £150,000,000 a year to our balance of payments. Our whole economic structure would collapse if we once lost our shipping revenue. More than that, the Merchant Marine has throughout our history been the twin sister and the indispensable ally of the Navy, never more so than in the last War when, in the course of assisting the Fleet directly, transporting our forces overseas and keeping this country supplied, the Mercantile Marine lost something like 7,000,000 tons of shipping. I am glad to think that we could afford that loss then.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade suggested the other day that things would probably be easier for us in the next war. I wonder why. We may be more successful in mastering the submarine danger, but developments in the air have brought a new danger to shipping in all the narrow seas, using "narrow" in a pretty wide significance. I should have thought that the dangers which will confront us in the next war are at least as great as those which confronted us in the last war. If you take the relative figures, we had more than half the tonnage of the world at the beginning of the present century and at the outbreak of the War we still 806 had over 40 per cent. of the world's tonnage, but to-day it is a little over 25 per cent. That is due not merely to the growth of the shipping of other countries but to an actual decline in our own shipbuilding.
The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in pointing out that the reassuring statement recently made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, which included Dominion shipping with our own in order to show that there was no real decline, was very misleading. After all, Dominion shipping is essentially local and not available to any extent in time of war. Moreover, it does not employ our sailors and makes no contribution to our balance of payments. It is quite unreasonable to include it in our Mercantile Marine, on which this Island depends for its existence. If you take United Kingdom shipping alone you have a reduction from 1914 to 1937 from 19,250,000 tons to 17,500,000, a reduction of nearly 1,750,000 tons, and that includes certain types of vessels like oil tankers which are replacing our coal-mining industry at home and which are not available for the carrying of essential materials and foodstuffs. In their annual report for 1936–37 the Chamber of Shipping sums up the situation in this way:The effectual tonnage for the carrying of foodstuffs and raw materials and troops in the event of war is only 14,000,000 gross tons as compared with 17,500,000 tons in 1914.That is a reduction of 20 per cent, a very serious reduction indeed. There is a corresponding reduction in the number of ships, from 8,500 to under 7,000, a reduction of over 1,600, or, if we exclude oil tankers, of 2,000 ships. The Chamber of Shipping say:These facts are disquieting when it is remembered that 7,000,000 tons were sunk in the Great War and that the population of this country which has to be sustained has gone up from 45,500,000 to 50,000,000 people.The right hon. Gentleman has truly said that we are being driven successively from one great field of shipping after another. Our liner shipping in the Pacific has been displaced by the superior ships and better accommodation of the American subsidised lines. The Union Line has gone; the Canadian Australian Line hangs on, and I only hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to assure us that the long negotiations between the different Governments for the 807 building of two adequate ships for this service are on the verge of coming to a successful conclusion. Further West the Japanese have displaced us from 75 per cent. of the trade between India and Japan, from 79 per cent. of the trade between Australia and Japan, and are steadily creeping in on the trade between our own territories round the Bay of Bengal and in the Persian Gulf. Nearer home, what about the North European trade? One hundred per cent. of our exports to Russia and more than 50 per cent. of our imports from Russia are carried in Russian ships, entirely State-controlled and beyond competition. We are losing ground to-day in Scandinavia, and in the Mediterranean France and Italy are steadily displacing us because of the subsidies which they enjoy.
And what about the much vaunted liner traffic at home? The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) elicited the fact that as between 1925 and 1937 the number of British liners plying between Southampton and America has gone down from 27 to 16, and that foreign liners have increased from 21 to 28. The tonnage in our case has gone down from 624,000 tons to 438,000 tons, while foreign tonnage has gone up from 417,000 to 730,000. There are, of course, mitigating facts in what Southampton has done to attract foreign traffic, but the figures in nearly every area of the sea show that we are steadily being displaced. We have had a year or two of relatively better shipping, but the moment depression comes our ships are laid up first. During a period of good trade we partially recover the losses of past years while our heavily subsidised competitors go on adding to their profits; during a period of bad trade we are the first to make losses. That is reflccted in shipbuilding. I wonder how many new orders for commercial ships have been given to British dockyards in the last few months?
It is a matter of the utmost gravity, and we have to face the causes. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in drawing attention to them. I think one factor has been the higher cost in this country of building, manning, and in wages and conditions generally though I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that our standards are still not high enough. I think he will have the whole 808 House with him in expressing the hope that the Government will pay close attention to everything which affects the life and conditions under which British seamen work. There is no doubt that a great deal can still be done in that direction. But whatever we do in that direction adds to the cost of running British ships, and if we ask Parliament to do these things we must equally ask Parliament to take measures which will enable our ships to be run and to protect their interests against foreign competition which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is the most serious aspect of the matter.
The situation is that other nations are determined by hook or crook to build up great merchant fleets of their own and to do it at our cost. They deliberately subsidise to whatever extent they think necessary for this purpose. The hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Anderson) has estimated that since the War over £600,000,000 has been spent in this way by other nations, and Lord Zetland in the other House said that we should have to spend £21,000,000 a year to equal the subsidies which are being spent by other countries. This is a settled policy, not a temporary phase. It is not something on which these nations are trying a flutter and which they are going to give up shortly. It is no good thinking that our shipowners, handicapped as they are, are going single-handed to defeat the Governments of these great countries. It is not a new or isolated policy; it is part of the general change in the economic policy of the nations of the world. Unless the Government step in and act as seriously and as determinedly as the Governments of other nations the British Mercantile Marine will be swept off the seas. It is no good footling about with little tramp subsidies for a year or two, which are at once taken off if trade shows some signs of improvement. It is equally no good talking about pettifogging schemes for laying up redundant tonnage. It is the policy of these other countries to make our tonnage redundant, and whenever we lay up our ships, we register one more admission of the steady weakening of our position.
Is there no remedy? There are, if I may say so, plenty of remedies, if we have the courage to apply them. In the first place, our immense import trade 809 gives us a lever which we ought to be able to use in our trade negotiations with other countries. The most famous commercial treaty that this country ever made in the past, the Methuen Treaty of 1703, was a treaty by which we secured the immensely valuable shipping trade between Portugal and her colonies at the price of drinking port instead of claret.
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, we have had to pay for it. We have abundant opportunities for rectifying the position as regards shipping at any rate with some of the nations. Last year, we bought from Russia £29,000,000 worth of goods and sold to them £3,000,000 of British goods, plus £16,000,000 worth of re-exports. Can we not make sure that the balance of adverse trade is met by seeing that those goods are carried in British ships? In the case of Denmark, in 1936, we bought £33,000,000 worth from them, and sold to them less than £15,000,000 worth, and yet the Danes carry in their ships 88 per rent. of our purchases from them and 45 per cent. of their purchases from us. In the case of Finland we bought £18,000,000 worth from them and sold £4,000,000 worth to them, and yet 82 per cent. of their purchases from us and 56 per cent. of their sales to us were carried in Finnish ships, and only six per cent. in British ships. The figures for Sweden are very similar. We are entering upon negotiations with the United States at the present time with a very heavy adverse balance of visible trade. Have we, I wonder, included in those negotiations any stipulation to ensure it that the balance will, to some extent, be rectified by seeing that Trans-Atlantic trade is carried in British ships? I should doubt it. There, at any rate, is one possible remedy.
Then there is the obvious remedy of meeting the adversary with his own weapon, and subsidising our shipping. We shall have to do that, and to do it on an adequate scale. We did it to some considerable extent before the War. Before the War, a number of our more important liner services were subsidised in general terms, not merely for the mails they carried, but to ensure rapid, regular and British services. Since the War, the Treasury have insisted that there should be no subsidy, but only the actual payment for mails. I shall be told that this 810 will cost money. Of course it will; but the money it will cost will be far less than the loss of trade, revenue and national strength which is going on year by year, and which will go on increasingly if we do nothing. We cannot afford not to afford the money to keep our merchant shipping in existence.
All the same, I admit that to some extent a policy of subsidy is unsatisfactory, and that if we can get away from it and get a more economical policy, we should do so. I believe we can. Once we can liberate ourselves from existing commercial treaties, we ought, I am convinced, to apply to our shipping those same principles of protection on which British merchant shipping was built up in competition with the Dutch, the French and others, and by which alone it can live in the future. After all, both in virtue of our immense export and import trade and of the positions we hold round the world, or which are held by our partners in the Commonwealth, we can exercise a measure of control which no one else can, and in this respect it is control that matters. If you hold the two ends of a route, you can always see to it that the goods between those two ends are carried on your own ships, and all the important nations of the world are doing that to-day. The Americans will not allow goods to be carried between New York and Manila or Hawaii on any but American ships. It is up to us either to restore the Navigation Acts, as far as we can by ourselves, and to make them still more effective, in cooperation with the Dominions; or, if we do not wish to go as far as that, there is at any rate no inherent reason, apart from temporary treaty restrictions, why we should not impose effective additional duties on goods brought into this country or taken out of this country in foreign ships, and agree with the Dominions and other parts of the Empire to see that those duties are made even stiffer when it comes to trade between the different parts of the Empire.
I shall be told that I am suggesting the waging of economic war. Of course I am, but it is not a new war. That war is being waged against us year in and year out with increasing effectiveness. It is time for us to take part in that war as something else than the mere victims of the aggression of others. If we do, there is at least some hope that some of our competitors 811 may abandon the conflict and come into line. Our experience with tariffs has shown that if we are equipped with a weapon, we have some chance of securing some concessions from others. I believe, however, that in the main, in shipping as in industry, we have to protect our own trade and the trade of the Empire.
The question is, what is being done by the Government? For years some of us have pressed for some inter-Imperial inquiry or conference to see what the Empire as a whole can do. There is, of course, the Imperial Shipping Committee, which is doing excellent work, but its terms of reference are limited to matters of comparative detail, and not to proposals for a vital change in policy. For years, some of us have urged that something should be done about our treaties; for years, some of us have urged subsidies; but nothing has happened. We get a feeble gesture, such as £1000,000 a year for tramp ships for two years. The first thing we ought to do when announcing subsidies is to announce that we mean to make them permanent and to go on raising them until we beat our opponents out of the field or make them drop their policy of subsidies. The other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) said very truly that "now is the time to make the world realise that Great Britain is determined to hold on to her carrying trade, and not only hold on to her present trade, but try to get a greater share of the trade of the world." If only that statement had been made by a Minister from the Front Bench, it would have made all the difference in the attitude of every other country.
I ask the Board of Trade to wake up. The other day, when I said that, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in a felicitous parallel, which did justice—not more than justice —to the good looks of both of us, suggested that I was preparing to play the part of Prince Charming to his Sleeping Beauty. But what is Prince Charming to do when he parts the bower and finds himself confronted, not with rosy lips, ready to thrill to life at the first touch, but with the hirsute visage and bleary eyes of Rip Van Winkle, protesting in the language of a by-gone century against 812 having his slumbers disturbed? It is time we realised that the nineteenth century is far behind us, and receding more rapidly every year. We are living to-day in a world of increasingly organised and increasingly competitive nations and only equal organisation and equal determination can meet their competition. In that competition no nation will survive which thinks that it can rely upon nineteenth century methods.
The problem is not so different from that which we have had to face in connection with armaments. Here, too, we have found that there is no use in giving an example, in making a gesture to a world which will not be influenced by it. We shall have to take effective measures to defend our trade in shipping, just as we have been forced to take them with regard to our military and naval armaments. We have had all this before. We have seen hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench listen with an attitude of indulgent contempt to our appeals. That was their attitude four or five years ago when some of us protested about the danger of the armaments of other countries increasing every year, while we were falling behind. I fear that in this matter, too, we shall, sooner or later, have the same sort of belated, desperate and not too effective scramble to try to make good the years which the locust will have eaten. Economic rearmament is even slower than military rearmament. Lost trade may take even longer to replace. And yet it is essential that we should replace it. We cannot go on indefinitely sustaining Budgets of £1,000,000,000 a year, unless we have strong prosperous industries and a mighty production behind us.
It is high time that we ceased thinking of all these problems as if they were in water-tight compartments. These are not separate problems. Foreign policy, defence, trade, shipping, finance, social reform—all are different aspects of one great problem. The one problem, the one issue, is this: whether in the new world of organised competition into which we are moving, the British State, the British race and the ideals for which they stand are to survive or are to go under.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery), and in my remarks 813 I hope to meet, though perhaps not in a very successful fashion, some of the points which he raised. I was interested in reading the report of the Tramp Shipping Administrative Committee to observe how on certain well-defined routes of traffic, British shipping has been losing in the manner referred to by the right. hon. Gentleman. Take the River Plate trade. In 1935, British shipping had 51.3 per cent. of the charterings, but in the following year that percentage had fallen to 48. In 1937, while there was a general diminution of charterings, the British share had fallen to 40.5 per cent. showing that over the two years the British share of that shipping trade had fallen by about 10.8 per cent. Within the British Commonwealth of nations, in some parts, our share of the shipping trade has been maintained. For instance, our share of the Australian trade, in percentage of charterings, has remained steady about 83 or 84 per cent. But in the St. Lawrence trade the British share of the charterings fell from 83.8 per cent. in 1936 to 76.1 per cent. in 1937.
In my humble submission that falling-off is very largely due to the policy of the Government in insisting on bilateral agreements with other countries. This directly meets the position which was taken up throughout his argument by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook. In a bilateral agreement between two countries, there is only one course for the flow of traffic, that is, between the two countries. As soon as you extend the agreement by the addition of one other country, then, as between the three countries, you have three courses of traffic, that is from A. to B., from B. to C. and from C. to A. Accordingly, increasing the flow of traffic between those three countries, means increasing the flow of traffic along those three courses. If you add a fourth country, immediately you get six courses of traffic which might well be represented by the four sides of a square and the two diagonals and the increase of the traffic accordingly, by agreement between the four countries is on all six courses of traffic. If you add a fifth country then the number of courses affected goes up to 10; and if you have 10 countries, then the combination of 10 things, two at a time as hon. Members hardly need to be reminded, is 45, which is the number of courses on which the volume of traffic is increased when the 814 trade agreement is between 10 countries. This, I think, is a matter which will bear close examination because a great deal of the loss of the world's seaborne traffic can be traced directly to the Ottawa Agreements for which the Government are responsible. The failure of the World Economic Conference was rendered inevitable when the Coalition Government took up the position that on no account would they be party to multilateral agreements.
The people affected by the diminution of seaborne traffic are many. I have been interested in questions which have been directed to the Treasury bench on behalf of holders of foreign bonds who seem to have got it into their minds that their position will be strengthened if defaulting countries are penalised by our country refusing to accept imports from them. That is a policy of despair. It is surely elementary economics that these debts owed by other countries can only be paid by imports to this country, either mediately or immediately, from those other countries. I do not want those who are putting such questions to be under any misapprehension as to my point of view. In many capacities I am deeply interested in questions that affect the holders of foreign bonds. I say "in many capacities" because the individual capacity is not the only one that a person may have. He may have a capacity qua trustee, and so on.
But there are others besides the holders of foreign bonds who are very heavily involved in this matter of the failure of other countries to meet their indebtedness to this country. We have many Scotsmen who have gone abroad as engineers to South America. They have worked, and worked well, and they have placed themselves in the position of being retired on pension and have come back to Scotland. One meets them there on the golf course and elsewhere. Scotland has always had its able bankers—was it not a Scotsman who founded the Bank of England?—and Scottish bankers and accountants have gone out to South America and so on. I know cases where business men, engineers, bankers, and others have come back to Scotland to live in retirement and have their children at schools in Scotland, in many cases in public schools, and who, on account of the international situation as affected by restricted currency, have been informed 815 that if they desired to continue to draw their pensions, they would have to go out to Buenos Aires and draw them there. That is a matter for very grave consideration, because it means that not only will these Scotsmen have to go out there with their wives, but that they will also have to take their children out with them, and they will be brought up away from their native land and bereft of intimate contact with Scotland altogether.
I have endeavoured to make a suggestion to the Treasury Bench on this topic of the meeting by foreign countries of the interest on their bonds and also of easing their currency position. On 7th March of this year, in answer to a question, I obtained figures showing the amount of coffee deliberately destroyed during the last three years in Brazil, and this, of course, affects our shipping. According to those figures, in 1935 there were over 1,500,000 bags of coffee, each bag weighing 6o kilos—this is rather over one cwt.—destroyed, and in the following year, 1936, the quantity had risen to 3,500,000, while in 1937 it had gone up to over 17,000,000 bags, or over 800,000 million tons. I put the suggestion—to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department—Why not enter into negotiations with the Brazil Government in order that part of that surplus might be obtained and put into storage in this country, partly against a prospective national emergency and partly in liquidation or part liquidation of the indebtedness of Brazil to this country? That suggestion would have meant that the coffee so imported would not compete on the market with other coffees and would not affect the prevailing market price, but it would be available as a substantial reserve in the case of a national emergency, and obviously its transport would provide work for the shipping of our country. I got no answer at all beyond this, that it was not feasible, and I should like the Minister, in replying to this Debate, to give to the Committee intelligible reasons why that very simple suggestion is not feasible.
I represent one of the great seaports of our country. We have had an honourable tradition of service in connection with the shipping of Scotland and Great Britain, and we in Greenock are interested, in large measure, not only in ocean-borne traffic, but in the coastwise 816 traffic of our country. I was interested in getting this information, in reply to a question that I put on 25th June of this year, that on 3rd April, 1911, we had engaged in coastwise traffic some 3,433 vessels, having an average complement of two officers and five crew per vessel, whereas in June, 1937, that number had fallen to 904, and the average complement was three officers and eight crew per vessel. There was this difference, that the earlier figure was for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, whereas the post-War figure was only for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That showed a certain average increase in the number of officers, but conditions have changed. With regard to vessels going from the Clyde on the longer distance coastwise traffic service, the size of the vessels has been very materially increased, having gone up from something like 500 tons to 1,500 tons.
On these larger post-war vessels the position with regard to officers and their certificates is this, that nowadays one finds that all the officers on these larger vessels hold masters' certificates. That works out on the average in this way, that I understand that you have a great number of the smaller vessels sailing under masters who do not hold masters' certificates. That is a matter that might well be looked into, in the interests of the safety of the vessels and of the men who are carried in them. The larger coastwise vessels are run with very much more precision than they were formerly, and that means that the officers and the men have little time at home and little time on shore generally. Yet it is very interesting to note that these men "who go down to the sea in ships" have their homes in towns and villages along the Clyde and, in spite of the short time that they have ashore, go back to their homes. But many of the men engaged, not only in the Mercantile Marine, but also in the Navy, are drawn from the Western Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, and the welfare of these localities is bound up with the welfare of the Mercantile Marine in particular. Many of the retired officers and men of the Mercantile Marine go back to the Highlands and Islands and have their crofts there. I am glad to say that in Greenock we have a very fine institution that is devoted to the welfare of retired, aged, and infirm mariners, associated with the name of Sir Gabriel Wood. It is certainly the most 817 magnificent building we have in Greenock, and that stands to the credit of the constituency which I have the honour to represent.
There is another matter that was borne in on those of us, who represent the ports of our country, during the Whitsuntide recess. We were away from our duties here and British ships were being bombed, and many of our constituents who go down to the sea in ships were meeting with danger and some with disaster. The picture that was drawn in my mind was a very terrible one. I could not shut out from my thoughts that historical picture of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. The Whitsuntide picture was of Neville fishing while British boats were bombed. The resentment and wrath aroused in the ports, and particularly in Greenock, were intense. The Government have a great deal to answer for in this matter of the lack of safety of the men afloat, as also in the diminution in the volume of traffic for our ships. The Government have preached and practised self-sufficiency, and other countries have listened, learned and enlarged that doctrine. An international spirit of unfriendly rivalry has grown up during the lifetime of the Coalition. That cannot be gainsaid. I shall be interested to hear any attempt to refute that statement. We have now an international struggle for a diminishing trade.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) spoke about an economic war, but the economic war in the days that have gone by was different from the economic war for overseas traffic now. At the present time the economic war is, when one examines the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, admittedly not a war to increase trade, but is a starvation war for a miserable bone with no meat at all on it. The policy of self-sufficiency means that international trade will progressively diminish. There surely is another way of looking at international trade as between the countries of the world; and it is not to go on in a spirit of warfare, economic or otherwise, but it surely is the way of re-creating a spirit of good will between countries. We ought in this country to direct our policy so as to increase the number of courses along which the volume of instructional sea-borne traffic will be enlarged. Then the number of vessels required will be increased, 818 and we will promote the welfare not only of our own country but of all the countries of the world.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Cross)
I think it would be best if I intervened at this moment to reply to a number of points that have already been made in the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) ranged over a rather wide field in his opening remarks. He had a good deal to say on the subject of crew accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman welcomed, and welcomed very warmly, the improvements which have been made in recent years, but I think he will realise that the last seven or eight years have not been by any means a promising time in which to bring about improvements in crew accommodation, because it has been a period in which the shipping industry on the whole has, during most of that time, been in a somewhat depressed condition. Indeed, the first opportunity that offered itself to make any real progress in crew accommodation was provided by a Government-aided scheme, namely, the scrap-and-build scheme, which came into operation in March 1935. All ships which were built under that scheme were required to provide accommodation of a very high standard. Further, a number of owners were successfully interested in providing a similar standard of accommodation in the new ships which they were building, and building without the aid of the scrap-and-build scheme.
It was after experience had thus been gained, and with the aid of a report furnished by the Shipping Federation, that the Board of Trade drafted fresh Instructions. Those Instructions were discussed with all the interests affected and were brought into effect in September of last year. I want to call the attention of the Committee to the nature of the improvements which these Instructions have brought about. The accommodation on ships for crews must be amidships or aft, and must be of a proper height. The bulkheads must be of steel; there must be adequate space for the crew, with separate sleeping quarters for each watch; there must be mess-rooms, each man must have a specified amount of seating and table space, and where men provide their own food they must be provided 819 with a suitable food locker. Further, there must be provision for washing places, including baths or showers, provided with a supply of hot and cold fresh water in some handy place. There must be drying rooms for wet clothing and lockers for oilskins and dirty clothes and so forth; and there are other things which I could give in detail.
These are the new minimum requirements, and they are regarded both by the port health authorities and by the National Union of Seamen as very satisfactory indeed. I think I can say that they challenge comparison with the accommodation provided by any country in the world, and are in many respects the best that there are in the world. In practice they provide for a bigger space for the crew than is provided by Scandinavian countries or Holland, and although many of these things are necessarily a matter of opinion I think we can fairly claim that many of the facilities with regard to ventilation, heating, washing and so on are superior to those provided in other countries.
But, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the difficult problem is in relation to the existing ships. It is perfectly clear that we could not reasonably require owners to make expensive constructional alterations in existing vessels, because the cost would be prohibitive, and we must remember that it is not the Government which pays for these alterations. But at the same time it is generally recognised by all those affected that there is considerable leeway to be made up in many existing ships. In this connection instructions have been sent by the Board of Trade to all their Principal Officers and Surveyors of the country, requiring them to lose no opportunity of securing improvements on the lines of the new Instructions in accommodation as well as in the provision of comforts and amenities. Moreover, ways were suggested in which the appearance and comfort of ships could be improved without requiring the owners to embark upon undue expenditure, which indeed would not be possible in the present condition of the industry. Our reports show that improvements are being steadily secured. I could quote reports from the big ports all over the country which show that substantial progress is being made and which 820 indicate in, I think, every instance the great measure of good will with which owners have approached these requests for improved accommodation.
The Board lay down, and can only lay down, minimum physical conditions to which new accommodation must comply, but in order to make that accommodation homely and comfortable there must be the co-operation of the men and, for that matter, the co-operation of the owners and officers as well. The Instructions require that there shall be regular and frequent inspection by the master of the ship, who must satisfy himself that quarters are properly maintained. Moreover, they call for disciplinary action against men in cases of persistent neglect. It is obvious that in order to secure better accommodation in the men's quarters there must be the willing co-operation of the men who are occupying them. A great deal must depend on the attitude and the kind of people who are occupying the quarters, and sometimes, of course, they are a very mixed lot. The owners' organisations have emphasised to their members by circulars the responsibility of owners and masters, and the National Union of Seamen have also done the same sort of thing. They have agreed to urge upon the men at every possible opportunity the need for keeping their quarters tidy and clean. More than that, a joint committee is being set up composed of representatives of the Shipping Federation and the National Union of Seamen to decide on methods of improving the standard of cleanliness and obtaining increased comfort. The House will see, therefore, that active efforts are being made in order to get improvements in these directions. At the same time, a great deal must obviously depend on the economic position of the industry. We must bear in mind that the industry, and not the Government, has to pay for these things.
Let me turn aside for a moment to a criticism which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield made of the Government for not having ratified the International Labour Office Convention on hours and manning. He said with obvious truth that if the Convention applied to all maritime powers these things would be taken out of the competitive field and consequently would be a great help to the British Mercantile Marine. That is exactly where a great difficulty lay. The Convention did not contain sufficient safeguards 821 to prevent its coming into force before all the principal maritime powers had adopted it. It required the ratification of only five of the principal countries to make it effective, and it would certainly not have increased our competitive power had we adopted it while many of our principal competitors were free.
The improvement in crew accommodation must, as I have said, depend largely upon the position of the shipping industry. That industry is notoriously subject to slumps and booms, and the conditions during the past seven or eight years have been for the most part by no means satisfactory. The conditions improved considerably in 1936, and in 1937 they became definitely favourable; freights were high and practically no ships were laid up. Unfortunately, these improved conditions were not maintained and shipping generally has been affected by the prevailing uncertainty in world trade. The position that has developed in the past six months is again causing grave anxiety to British owners. The Tramp Shipping Advisory Committee, in their fourth report in January last year, showed that British tramp shipping owners were left after the bad years with accumulations of depreciation amounting to over £10,000,000 at the end of 1936. The short-lived prosperity of last year did not last long enough to enable the industry to make any real headway towards making up this deficiency. Now, before the industry could be restored to conditions of financial strength, further bad times have come upon it. The present position is that employment of any kind for tramp shipping in any part of the world is extremely difficult to obtain. For the future a great deal must depend on the level of commodity prices and upon the willingness and ability of European countries to buy and pay for those commodities.
In the case of liners the position is different. One cannot generalise about liners because the position of each Line must vary with the circumstances of the route which it serves, with the volume of the trade and the economic condition of the countries served and with the degree of competition to be found on each route. Liner companies generally are members of Shipping Conferences which regulate more or less the conditions of their trade. In some instances the purposes of this conference 822 are undermined, if not rendered nugatory, where foreign competing Lines are subsidised or through some form of subsidy maintain excessive services or ships which for speed and luxury are out of proportion to the earnings obtainable. The Government undertook in 1934 to consider on their merits any instances of this unfair form of competition which might be submitted to them by the interests concerned. Before making this announcement of policy the Government had already assisted the Cunard Line by providing additional insurance facilities and also making loans for the completion of the "Queen Maly" and the building of her sister ship.
A case of the application of that policy is that of the Canadian-Australasian line. That line maintains services between Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and it has been meeting with heavy competition from an American line operating from the west coast of the United States to the same Dominions. The American line, with the aid of constructional and operating subsidies, placed on that route two vessels which for their speed and luxury outclassed the British vessels which were competing against them. The owners of the British line asked for financial assistance to construct two vessels which could compete with the American subsidised vessels. That case is clearly one for all the Governments concerned, namely the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, at least as much as it is a case for the consideration of the United Kingdom Government. From the outset close consultation on this project has been maintained with those Dominion Governments. Considerable progress was made at the Imperial Conference last year, but after that certain unexpected difficulties arose. However, I am glad to say that discussions are now being resumed, the outlook appears to be reasonably hopeful, and when the result is known a statement can be made to the House upon whatever decisions may be reached.
§ Mr. Cross
I cannot say. That is a matter for the Dominion Governments concerned. It is certainly not the fault of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that a decision on this 823 matter has not yet been arrived at, and I cannot answer for the speed at which some of His Majesty's other Governments will proceed.
Some other hon. Members touched upon competition in the Far East, including Japanese competition. The right hon. Member for Wakefield spoke of our loss of trade on routes from Calcutta to the Far East, and there has, indeed, been a great intensification of competition upon routes upon which British ships have long been trading in the past. The Imperial Shipping Committee is now engaged upon a wide survey of all the facts of the situation, its terms of reference being:To inquire into the position of British shipping in Middle and Far Eastern waters, having regard more particularly to changing conditions of sea-borne trade and increasing competition from foreign flags.That Committee will, no doubt, make any representations it sees fit to make as to future action in this part of the world, and the Government will consider those recommendations and consult the Dominion Governments which may be affected.
I would also call attention to the help which the Government have already given to the merchant service through the tramp shipping subsidy and the scrapand-build scheme. Hon. Members should not underrate what the Government have already done to help the industry. The right hon. Member for Wakefield deplored the fall in the proportion which British shipping bears to world shipping, and it is a matter which calls for the regret of all of us, though I think we should at the same time realise that it is very much more a reflection of the increase in foreign shipping than of the decline in British shipping. World shipping rose from 43,000,000 gross tons in 1914 to nearly 63,000,000 tons in 1937, and United Kingdom shipping admittedly fell from 18,892,000 gross tons in 1914 to 17,675,000 to-day, a fall in the neighbourhood of 1,200,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman discussed this from the point of view of the adequacy of the Mercantile Marine in time of war, and he was critical of the inclusion of Colonial and Dominion shipping in making a comparison with 1914. I would submit that it is justifiable to a large extent, if not completely justifiable, to include 824 Dominion and Colonial shipping in making that comparison, because if the Dominions and Colonies did not possess the tonnage which they actually have we should, in conditions of war, find it necessary to provide tonnage for them.
Attention has been called to the fact that a good deal of their tonnage is for local use, but they have a certain proportion of larger ships which it is appropriate to take into our reckoning. The right hon. Gentleman also criticised the inclusion of tankers. The fact of the matter is that we must look at the problem as a whole. This question has been most carefully considered, as the right hon. Gentleman would expect, from the purely defence aspect, and regarding it as a defence matter I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has already stated, that the position is not unsatisfactory. I am not going to deny for one moment that we should all like to have rather more tonnage than we possess, and, indeed, the condition of the Mercantile Marine is a constant preoccupation of my right hon. Friend's Department. In this connection I should like to welcome the support which the right hon. Gentleman gave to any course which would improve the position of the British Mercantile Marine.
Let me give the figures of what the total British tonnage is, without saying that it will be a complete answer to the question of the adequacy of our Mercantile Marine in time of war. The tonnage is at about the same level as in 1914. In 1914 we had 20,524,000 tons, and today the figure is slightly up at 20,719,000 tons; so clearly, from that point of view, and that point of view alone, the volume of tonnage we have to-day can easily challenge comparison with that of 1914; and if we take into account also, as I think we should, the improved loading and unloading facilities at our ports, the greater speed of the vessels and their greater carrying capacity per registered ton, it is clear that we can all the more easily challenge comparison with 1914. My right hon. Friend commented upon there being fewer and larger ships than there were in those days. No doubt that is a fact which has its disadvantages as well as its advantages, but at all events we cannot reverse the present economic trend of shipping, and I think we should all agree that what we want is to get 825 the industry into, and to keep it in, as healthy a condition as possible.
What is the broad policy of the Government in this connection? That policy was announced by the late President of the Board of Trade some four years ago. It is in very wide terms, and it seems to me that it is fully adequate to meet the needs of to-day, and that any action which may be necessary can be taken under the terms of that policy. It had two main features. The first was to assist any section of the industry which was in difficulties in any way that was open to the Government, not excluding temporary financial help where no other course would avail. The second feature of that policy was to promote measures of tonnage-rationalisation and of co-operation among shipowners with a view to avoiding a recurrence of the bad conditions in the industry, or at least mitigating their effects. The position of British shipping as a whole was most comprehensively reviewed at the Imperial Conference last year. It was agreed then that the maintenance of adequate British shipping was a matter of common concern to the whole Empire, and that where foreign competition resulted in prejudice or danger to the interests of British shipping it would be for the Empire Governments concerned to consult as to the means of meeting the situation.
In conclusion, I should like to refer to the condition of the United Kingdom merchant fleet in the matter of age. The proportion of vessels in our fleet which are over 25 years old is 8 to 9 per cent., approximately what it has been for the last 10 years, and it is the lowest figure of any maritime nation in the world, with the exception of Holland, where the figure is 8 per cent., which is approximately the same as our own. On the other hand, tonnage under five years of age on the register continues to increase. In July of last year it was 2,500,000 tons gross, as against 1,600,000 tons in the previous year. The United Kingdom proportion of the total world tonnage is to-day about 28 per cent., but the United Kingdom proportion of the total world tonnage under five years of age is 30 per cent., so that the picture which I have tried to make this morning of British shipping, while showing a number 826 of mixed features is, at all events, one which is in some way quite encouraging.
§ 12.46 p.m.
Mr. Owen Evans
I want to intervene very shortly in this discussion. The Committee will have been glad to know of the progress which has been made and which was described by the hon. Gentleman. Some time ago I asked a question in the House on this matter, not only because of a certain article in one of our leading newspapers but because of the correspondence which took place afterwards and which appeared in the Press and rather confirmed my own experience and conversations with a very large number of seafaring men. It may not be within the knowledge of the Committee, in the constituency which I represent, a very large number of men go to sea, and in the past found there a profitable occupation. It is therefore very important for me to know what the present conditions are. The information given by the hon. Gentleman confirms that which I previously obtained from many of those men. It is gratifying to know the new conditions are laid down in the new ships, the standard of which, as was stated by the hon. Gentleman, is as high as that of most other countries, and that the new ships compare favourably with the new ships of other countries. Nevertheless, I would say in passing that if we have to wait until those satisfactory conditions become general and our ships are completely reconstructed or rebuilt to meet modern conditions, I am afraid we shall have to wait a long time.
This question is of very great importance because there is to-day a lack of inducement to the men of our country to go to sea and to regard that as a profession as they did in the past. It is no longer the case that most of the men in some of our villages go to sea. We now turn out young boys and send them to the intermediate schools. They get the benefit of secondary school education, pass examinations and obtain higher certificates and then, as young men, they try to get occupations on the land. Their parents not only do not encourage them to go to sea but even discourage them, because those parents have had experience of the sea and are not prepared to send their sons, who have had a good education, to such occupations. It is no use disguising the plain and simple fact, known to many 827 shipowners who are Members of this House, that industrialists do not treat their executive officers as the men who control ships are treated. They are executive officers and they require training, experience and education. The better training we give to the officers of the Mercantile Marine the better it will be for the shipping of this country. To maintain our shipping in the world, we have to see that our ships are manned by educated men, and to obtain the services of a number of educated men the conditions of their employment must be greatly improved over what has been the case in the past.
I do not want to overstate the case, but attention must be paid not only to certain of the matters that were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in his very interesting speech, but to other matters of great importance. I will try to mention a few of them. I have read about the minimum requirements of the Board of Trade, but the tendency is that minimum requirements become maximum requirements. There are very important questions relating to social amenities and comforts which might very well be considered by our shipowners in relation to their crews. The new ships may be provided with electric light and central heating, but I am informed by men upon whose word I can rely that the electric light and steam heating are shut off in port and that even in freezing weather there is then no other means of heating the ships. I was told by one master mariner of considerable experience, of whose word I have not the slightest doubt, that if in ports like Rotterdam and Hamburg you were to see three ships lying beside each other in the dock, one of which was in comparative darkness while the other two were well lit with electric light, you might be certain that the dark ship was a British ship, although it might be equipped with electric lighting plant. The sailors would have to rely on paraffin lamps or candles. The same applies to the heating arrangements. In Northern ports the temperature may be extremely low, but I am told that it is the common practice of British shipowners to give instructions that all heating is to be done away with in ports. Such matters are of considerable importance when we consider inducements to our men to go to sea.
828 Another important matter is that of cleaning the quarters. The hon. Gentleman referred to the necessity of getting co-operation between, I take it, the ordinary sailors and the officers, and he made the remark that one had to remember that those people were a very mixed lot. Well, that may be, but if you give proper surroundings to people they acquire better habits. There are in this House many farmers who would agree that, although a pig is supposed to be a dirty animal, if you put pigs in proper surroundings they keep themselves clean. It is the same with men. It is no excuse to say that these men are a mixed crowd. Proper quarters should be provided for them, and an organisation set up by which those quarters may be kept clean, but not by the sailors themselves. What do the Board of Trade regulations require in that respect? Do they provide that each man shall keep his own bed linen clean, washing it himself? Should not that be done by some department on board ship whose job it would be to keep these quarters clean? Again, how many bathrooms are there in the new ships, and what is the standard? I am told that in some ships, which are certainly not very new, there may be one bathroom for 10 men. That is the figure that is given to me. There is no hot water and no running water for anybody; they have to wash themselves in any way that they can. What about the new ships? I am told that in these there are four lavatories for 20 men. These are conditions which really are not conducive to getting our merchant marine manned by the right type of men.
Take the question of food. We all know, of course, that a minimum standard ration is laid down, and the food may be excellent for ports in this country or in Europe; but there is no imagination at all, no study of the comfort of the men and of the different kind of food that is required in different climates. A ship goes from this country to, say, California or Vancouver, where excellent first-class fruit is available very cheaply; but no shipping company, or at any rate very few, will make any change in the rations so as to give the men the advantage of this excellent fruit, which is a most suitable diet for men in those climates, and if the officers or men want these additional articles, even in substitution for something else, they have to buy them themselves. 829 Then there is the question of the employment of our officers, apart entirely from the men. I repeat that, in order to maintain the standard of the British Mercantile Marine, educated men are required for the command of our ships, and they must be provided with good conditions. Perhaps someone will be able to tell me how many shipowners in this country even provide pensions for their officers.
That is a very new state of affairs, but I am extremely glad to hear that the step has been taken. Perhaps the hon. Member will explain what the scheme is. It was certainly needed. I have known men in my constituency who have served the same shipowner for 25 or 30 years in command of a ship, but who at an early age, perhaps because of failing eyesight or some other physical failing, have been turned out with no means of making a living afterwards, and with not a penny piece in compensation for the loss of their employment. If some of us who employ men on land today were to adopt that sort of practice, we should be very severely criticised. There are many other points which I could illustrate to the House where improvements could be made, and ought to be made, in the conditions both of our officers and of our sailors generally. I can only say I am very glad to hear to-day that some progress has been made, but again I say that it seems to be remarkably slow.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Barrie
It is only on rare occasions, at any rate of late, that one has found more or less unanimity in all quarters of the House on any subject of debate, but I make bold to say that there is one subject on which the House and the country will be unanimous, and that is that we should have, not only an efficient, but a sufficient Mercantile Marine. The speeches so far to-day have all been on that basis, and I think that in particular the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) was one which the shipowners of the country, and, indeed, the personnel of our Mercantile Marine, will gladly welcome. The shipping community are only too glad that there has been this opportunity of ventilating what they 830 believe to be a very serious position in regard to the Mercantile Marine in general. We have heard so much lately about the air arm, about food supplies, and about guns, that we are inclined to forget that, unless we have a sufficient Mercantile Marine to bring to this country food for our people, all these other provisions will be of little avail. Something like 100,000 tons of food per day have to be brought into this country, and, if we have not a sufficient Mercantile Marine to bring in that food in time of war, whatever else we may do will be of little avail.
I want to draw particular attention to the position of the tramp ships, as apart from the general position of our shipping. I do not want to quote a great many figures, because the position with regard to numbers in our Mercantile Marine is well known, but there is no doubt that the foreigner has very largely taken our pre-eminent position. While foreign shipping shows an increase of some 1,100 vessels, totalling 8,000,000 tons, we have 1,000 fewer vessels of 3,000 tons, and 2,000,000 tons less. Taking the whole of the figures, including the smaller vessels, we are short by some 2,000 ships, representing 3,500,000 tons. I know that these figures do not agree with those given by the hon. Gentleman a few minutes ago, but his figures included tankers and vessels of that character. We must also remember that in recent years we have built some very large vessels, like the "Queen Mary," and naturally, if these are taken into account, the tonnage is swollen. But this country is not supplied, so far as shipping is concerned, by vessels like the "Queen Mary" and tankers; it is the general tramp shipping of the country that really matters—the small vessels. It is numbers that count, apart altogether from tonnage. In the last War some 7,000,000 tons of our shipping was destroyed—1,400 vessels. To-day we have only 12,000,000 tons instead of the 14,000,000 tons which we had when the War started in 1914. I hesitate to suggest it, but I hope the Government are not being at all complacent in the matter of the Mercantile Marine. I must say, however, that the statement made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on 9th February was very disturbing to the shipping community. He said:I agree that there are substantial dangers in the destruction of shipping, but I do not 831 agree that there is at the moment any shortage of ships, because ton for ton and ship for ship substantially we are in as good a position to-day to get cargo space as we were in 1914."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1938; col. 1123, Vol. 331.]The Minister gave his authority as the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association. The statement made by the Association—which, be it said, represents only something like 18 per cent. of the shipping of the country—was in connection mainly with the liner type of vessel. What they said in the report that the Minister was quoting was:having regard to the increase in carrying power resulting from improved methods of construction, there is no reason to think that the present-day British Mercantile Marine is any less an efficient cargo-carrying instrument that it was in 1914.The difference between the two statements will be noted: one said "sufficient," and the other said "efficient." I have not the slightest doubt that the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association represent a very large proportion of the efficient tonnage of the country, but we are dealing with the question of sufficiency. In considering the volume of tonnage, we must bear in mind that in 1914 half the tonnage was liner tonnage and vessels built for special trades; and these vessels cannot be eventually switched over from one trade to another in a day.
Another class of tonnage is tramp tonnage. We must have this if we are to preserve our carrying power. To neglect our tramp trade is to imperil our existence, because we should starve to death if the sea routes of the world were choked at any time through the fact that we did not have sufficient tonnage. One hon. Member referred to the fact that a large proportion of grain from the River Plate is carried in foreign vessels. It is perfectly true that far too large a proportion is carried in foreign vessels. It is also true that the Tramp Shipowners' Committee have been taking the steps open to the shipping community to lay up vessels if they are not required. But surely the obvious thing for the Government to do is to ensure that British cargo is carried in British vessels and, by that means, increase the possibility of British trade for British vessels, and the number that may be required. Another factor that has been ventilated on several occasions is that the Government seem to 832 rely on allied tonnage coming to our aid in the event of war. It is true that in the last War we were able to get a large proportion of foreign tonnage; but we had the power rather in our hands at that time of supplying coal. It was very largely a question with the foreign countries of saying to them, "If you do not allow us to use your tonnage you do not get any coal." We had the bargaining power at that time, which possibly we have not to-day, because a large number of these foreign vessels are now oil-burning instead of coal-burning. The tanker question I will not refer to in any detail, but it is perfectly true that the tanker tonnage added to the total tonnage which is given by the Government would seem to show that we have quite a large proportion of tonnage—some 20,000,000 tons. But what we are considering is the supply of foodstuffs to this country in time of war—and, indeed, in time of peace—and we should like to see the tonnage increase.
Another matter that I would like to mention is the construction of ships. It is well known that the shipyards at present are getting rather bare of work, but the fact is that while many owners would like to increase their fleets, they cannot afford to do so. In 1914 and 1915 one could build a 9,000-ton dead-weight steamer—I was offered one—for £72,000. To-day that would cost £132,000 to £135,000. It is impossible for shipowners to build any large number of vessels at these figures, and the tendency is for the position to get worse. The difficulty is to know what to do. If the shipowners cannot afford, taking the long view, to build these vessels, should the Government come in and supply the need? One does not like the idea of the Government becoming shipowners, but during the last War, they were forced to do so, and the ships were sold to shipowners at a later stage. I throw this out as a suggestion—I am not keen on it myself, but one has to consider what can be done—that the Government should review the whole position so far as the volume of tonnage is concerned. They should then say "We are evidently getting short of tonnage, and as prices go we shall probably get shorter still. Should we not lay down a certain proportion of tonnage every year of certain classes of vessels and hold these vessels, as we would a fleet, against the day when they might possibly be required 833 in a war? ". These vessels would be handed over or sold to a shipowner only if he lost a vessel, but they would be just like wheat or any other commodity, at the disposal of the Government in the event of any difficulty.
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) raised the question of the quarters of the crews. So far as shipowners are concerned, we make no defence in that matter. If quarters are bad, they ought to be made good. In the merchant vessels, things are much better than they were. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say, "It is time." That also is true, but one did find until recently that the conditions of houses in the country were none too good, and the Government have given large subsidies to housebuilders and owners of property to enable them to improve their property. The shipowners do not ask for that. We do not want subsidies; we want to carry on without them. The hon. Member for Cardigan should remember that houses last for 50 or 60 years, while ships last for a much shorter period, and therefore we shall, at a much earlier date, reach a stage when the accommodation and conditions will be much improved. I agree with all that the hon. Member said about making the Mercantile Marine better, so that better lads will go to sea, thus improving the status of the Mercantile Marine. I think shipowners are very much alive to that, and are anxious to do it. All these matters, such as wages, working conditions and holidays, have been under consideration for the last two or three years, and before long I think there will be little that can be said on that account.
Finally, I would like to raise one matter in connection with the running of the Mercantile Marine. All who had anything to do with it in the War know that it was only about 18 months after the War started that it was found essential to have a ministry of shipping. If war were to break out again we should have the same thing; so, if we should have to have it eventually, why not have it now? In saying that, I wish to pay 'tribute to the staff in the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade. I have the greatest admiration for those officials, all friends of mine with whom I worked during the whole of the War, but the position is so serious that there is no doubt that a minister of shipping 834 is required to-day. The Board of Trade has so many things to do, and a minister of shipping, if essential in time of war, is just as essential in time of peace. I hope, therefore, that, in considering these matters, the Government will try, if possible, to bend their efforts in that direction, as I am quite sure that in doing so they will have the country behind them. As I said at the beginning, we require not only an efficient but a sufficient Mercantile Marine. We require it to be looked after, and, with all the best will in the world, and while the Board of Trade does what it can, there would be a great improvement if we had a ministry of shipping in charge of the Mercantile Marine of the country.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
The hon. Baronet the Member for Southampton (Sir J. Barrie) deserves and must always command attention on the subject of shipping, of which he has had great experience both during the War and since, but I think he glosses a little over the question of accommodation for seamen in the Mercantile Marine, a subject upon which I will say a few words later on. The Debate, as far as it has already proceeded, has shown that Members in all quarters of the Committee are very perturbed as to whether the merchant fleet will be equal to the responsibilities which will fall upon it in time of war. It is obviously folly to devote so much attention and so much money to every other form of national security and to neglect this one. What use are any of the Defence forces without the Mercantile Marine at the back of them? It is a vital problem in rearmament and in Defence. If the numbers and tonnage of our merchant fleet continue to decrease, how are our essential supplies to be maintained during war time? The war duties of the merchant fleet will be very heavy. It will have to bring here three-quarters of our food, the raw materials essential for munitions manufacture, the fuel oil on which all the Defence services depend, to transport our troops, carry supplies to overseas bases, and to feed 4,000,000 more mouths in this country than we had to feed during the War.
These are anxious and responsible duties, and we may well feel concern as to whether the merchant fleet is adequate to perform them or not. I will give one example of the increased requirements, 835 comparing the present day with the War. In 1914 we imported 646,000,000 gallons of petroleum; in 1935 these imports had gone up to 2,808,000,000 gallons. That is one example of how our requirements are increasing while our carrying capacity is decreasing. A fair estimate of our imports of food and raw materials is 50,000,000 tons per annum, and in order to bring those quantities to this country we have 17,500,000 tons of shipping. Allow each ship three round trips in the year, which, I think, is a fair allowance, and that means that these ships have a carrying potential of 52,500,000 tons per annum. Balancing that against our requirements, we have only 2,500,000 tons to spare. In fact not all that 17,500,000 tons is suitable for cargo carrying. Much of it comprises passenger ships. Nor does all the cargo ship tonnage represent carrying capacity. Bunker space must be deducted, say 10 per cent. Then we have to allow for the ships required to carry supplies overseas, bunker supplies and overseas bases and also troop carrying. We have to take into account the losses which we shall suffer during a war from raiders, submarines and aircraft. During the last War we lost 2,479 ships and over 7,000,000 tons of shipping in addition to what allies and neutrals lost. We have to reckon on the dislocation of port facilities by air attack. If we take all these things into consideration, our reserve of 2,500,000 tons is dwindling rapidly away and begins to look what it is, pitifully insufficient.
§ Sir D. Thomson
Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman not applied gross tonnage, saying that that is cargo carrying, and does he realise that a cargo boat carries about twice its gross tonnage.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I understand that. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and I have taken that into consideration in the figures that I have quoted. Is the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence prepared to tell us that our tanker tonnage under our own flag is sufficient for our civil as well as our military requirements? In war the enemy will certainly concentrate air attack with thermite bombs upon our tanker tonnage and there will inevitably be very heavy losses indeed, if the tanker tonnage is not sufficient. What exactly is the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence doing about 836 it? I notice that he made a speech at Southampton fairly recently on the subject of our merchant fleet, and he deplored the passing of the sailing ship. That is a valuable contribution to the subject. We should look very well in this country during a war, sitting waiting for the sailing ships of the Clan Inskip Line to bring the food home to us.
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman of opinion that sailing ship training is the best training that can possibly be given to seamen? We should not forget that aspect of the question.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
That is a very debatable point, and I am not at all inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member.
The hon. and gallant Member had not the privilege of serving in sailing ships. I had.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
These are the days of the turbine and Diesel engine, not of masts and yards. Between June, 1914, and June, 1936, foreign tonnage increased from 28,000,000 tons to 45,000,000 tons, and during the same period our tonnage decreased by 2,000,000 tons. In 1914 we had 8,587 ships and 18,892,089 tons of shipping. In 1937 we had 6,903 ships and 17,436,207 tons. In face of such facts it is not clear how the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence can possibly justify the statement that he made in the House that, "ton for ton, and ship for ship, we were substantially in as good a position as we were in 1914." The simple question I would like to ask on that is whether the Minister's own Food (Defence Plans) Department confirms his statement? I do not believe that he could quote a single shipping expert who would confirm or support the figures he gave in the debate on 8th February, or his statement, which I have just quoted.
I remember that in that Debate he charged the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) with exaggeration and with representing to the world that the position was worse than it is. If he wished to make attacks like that upon the hon. Member for East Birkenhead he might at least have got his own figures right before he made his own speech. In confirmation of his statement that he did not agree there was any shortage 837 of ships he quoted a statement by the Liverpool Association that the Mercantile Marine was equally as efficient as in 1914. Why quote a statement about efficiency to back up a statement about shortage? It is completely irrelevant. The report of the Chamber of Shipping calls attention to the fact that we have "2,000 fewer ships than in 1914", and it describes that as "a position which must give real anxiety." The report goes on to say:Owing to the greater distances our imports and exports have to be carried, the demand upon our shipping is greater although its volume is less than before the War.The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence feels no anxiety about the shipping situation, but the Chamber of Shipping feels great anxiety and gives its reasons, namely, that while the demands upon the ships are greater the volume of tonnage is less. Of the two authorities, I think a great many hon. members would prefer to trust the views of the Chamber of Shipping rather than the views of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence.
I wish to turn to the question of foreign competition with British shipping. As usual, we have had some very brave words from the Government benches on this particular subject. Lord Baldwin, when he was Prime Minister in 1933, said:We are not going to see British ships swept off the face of the ocean.Lord Runciman, when he was President of the Board of Trade in 1934, said:I do not want to use the large stick, but we have to make it clear that if foreign countries are going to treat our shipping unfairly we shall know how to put them on an equal footing.That was in 1934. We do not seem to have progressed very far in that direction. British shipping has to face the heavily subsidised competition of Germany, Japan, Italy, the United States of America and France. The total of the subsidies which those countries are paying to their mercantile fleets probably amounts to £30,000,000 per annum. That money is spent in order to drive our ships off the seas. These foreign subsidies and discriminations constitute the real threat to our Imperial communications. In face of this competition there is a great deal of laying up of British shipping. Laying up is a defeatist policy, which aims at conserving profits. Why should British 838 ships be laid up while other countries are building? I believe that 70 United States ships are building at the present time in the United Kingdom.
World tonnage has increased by 44 per cent. between 1914 and 1937. British tonnage has declined by 1,500,000 tons, while foreign tonnage has increased by 21,500,000 tons. Look at the figures of some of this competition. Take the Calcutta-Japan trade. In 1911 that was wholly British; to-day it is 61 per cent. Japanese. Bombay-Japan trade is 80 per cent. Japanese. India trade as a whole is 73 per cent. Japanese. Australia-Japan trade is 79 per cent. Japanese. Moreover, Japan has announced her intention of doubling her tonnage. The Government referred this position to the Imperial Shipping Committee in May 1937. Since then, what has happened? The Minister to-day was inclined to throw the blame for any delay upon the Dominion Governments. He seemed to be representing this Government as a perfect ball of fire for speed, while the Dominion Governments are apparently a drag on progress.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I listened to the Hon. Member very carefully, and I understood him to say that these matters involved negotiations with Dominion Governments and that those Governments did not always move quickly.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
But my remarks refer to matters referred to the Imperial Shipping Committee. Eighty per cent. of our imports from Scandinavian countries come in foreign ships. Between 75 per cent. and 92 per cent. of our coal exports are carried in foreign ships. To face these facts and to meet the general shipping situation no short-range policy is any good. Subsidies to tramp shipping, subsidies for the building of "Queen Marys," the scrap-and-build policy—these things are no real remedy. They are like aspirins to tide over a hangover. The Government must get down to the matter in consultation with the shipping interests, find out how far the Dominion Governments will go in support of 839 British shipping, and work out a long-range policy to deal with foreign competition at sea.
In conclusion, I should like to refer to the question of accommodation for seamen in our ships. I was very sorry to hear the Parliamentary Secretary identify himself with that form of defence which blames the state of seamen's accommodation on the habits and customs of the seamen themselves. I have here a quotation from the annual report of the medical officer of the Hull and Goole port sanitary authority, on accommodation in ships. He compares the accommodation on our ships with the accommodation in Scandinavian ships, to the advantage of the latter. He says that the Scandinavian ships in this respect come first, and that the German ships come next to the Scandinavian, closely followed by British and American.
Seamen are in a different position from other workers. They do not go back home after they have finished their day's work. The ship is their workshop and home, and as a home it compares in too many cases very unfavourably with a home ashore. Conditions afloat have lagged very seriously behind conditions ashore. The Minister referred to new Board of Trade regulations. Other countries already give their seamen far superior accommodation from that which is called for by the Board of Trade regulations of 1937. Those regulations show no advance on what several other counties are doing. Instead of lagging behind what Holland, Northern European countries and the United States of America are doing, we ought to be giving a lead. I fear that the general public are very ill acquainted with the conditions under which all too many of our seamen have to live. The medical officer of the port of Hull says that in the majority of ships entering Hull the crew accommodation is, "in the opinion of a sanitarian, quite unsuited for human habitation." The "Times" of 11th April, 1938, made a very pertinent comment upon that statement of the medical officer, and said that this statement:certainly does mean that in a large number of cargo ships the men, the ships' masters, the owners and the Board of Trade have been content with conditions which can only have been officially tolerated by being officially ignored.840 I would ask the Committee to mark those words "officially tolerated by being officially ignored." The conditions in our ships range from poor to bad and very bad. We consider ourselves the leading maritime nation of the world, but we are not giving the world a lead as regards care for our seamen. The latest Board of Trade regulations show that we deliberately adopt and accept inferior conditions, compared with those adopted by other countries. It is something for us to be ashamed of that that should be so.
Articles in the "Times" have been referred to this morning, and if the Committee will permit me I should like to quote from those two very remarkable and valuable articles. The correspondent of the "Times," who has certainly performed a public service, after describing admirable conditions in one ship described those in another. He said:The forecastle was not a fit place in which to require any man to live for a single day.He went on to enumerate:—Not a vestige of paint, fragments of old mattresses, bunks so broken as to be unusable, no table or chair or locker. He said:The place was an unfurnished iron shell and nothing more.That was the place in which the crew had to live and sleep and eat and have their being. Moreover, that ship was, and I daresay is still, flying the British flag between Brest and the Elbe River. What an advertisement for how Britannia rules the waves? I imagine that both the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary have always enjoyed cleanliness and comfort as a natural condition in their lives. What do they mean by allowing such a state of affairs to exist in a ship flying the British flag; conditions which the Home Secretary would not tolerate for a moment in a British prison? The same article went on to describe a typical forcastle of a British ship:Crowded, dismal, ill-painted, having no clothes lockers the men hang their spare underclothing on lines stretched from end to end of their bunks. There may be one or two hard benches for seats. If there are separate mess-rooms, they are as often as not merely iron walled spaces. The accommodation is rough, untidy and uncomfortable; a dismal and disordered lodging. Washing places are supplied with buckets. Sanitary conveniences are often foul. The horrible rough privy is sometimes installed. The accommodation is, in short, little better than wretched. Nevertheless there is nothing 841 in these depressing and miserable conditions which gives the medical authorities of the ports the right to interfere. What the law tolerates is almost unbelievable.The right hon. Gentleman whose Department tolerates this state of affairs might take a look around his own dining-room, bedroom, and bathroom to-night and reflect on the difference. Have the President or the Parliamentary Secretary seen these conditions for themselves? Have they communicated with the medical officer of any port and said that they want to be taken on board these ships to see these things? No. And then as a crowning meanness we have charges of uncleanliness and untidiness brought against British seamen in order to defend this state of affairs. I know something about seamen. They are what owners and officers make them. If these seamen are untidy in their habits it is because conditions have made them so. It is because of the long record of brutality and indifference with which seamen have had to put up for centuries. There is a certain type of officer and a certain type of man who always sneers at any attack on amenities for seamen. I would like to quote the opinion of Admiral Goodenough, a man who has always known how to treat seamen and get the best out of them. In a letter to the "Times" he said:Similar things were said when miners were given bathrooms—that they would use them to store their coal. Give the amenities, a new generation will learn to use them.And in speaking of merchant seamen the Admiral said:Nothing of importance has been done for them. Let us do it now.Why not do it now? The Government need have no fear. This is no party matter. They need not put on the Whips, for the House and the country will support them if they set out to put these things right. In conclusion may I quote a passage from an organ which supports the Government, the "Daily Telegraph" of 21st February, 1936:The conditions of the crew or officers on tramp steamers are not a bed of roses at the best of times, and some boats are notoriously cruel to their crews in dirty weather. These are the inevitable handicaps of the seafaring life.That is true; they are the inevitable handicaps of seafaring life; but the handicaps which bad and greedy owners and 842 antiquated regulations inflict upon our seamen are not inevitable handicaps. They are harsh, wanton, stupid and thoughtless, and it is time they were swept away.
§ 1.41 p.m.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has quoted so fully from the "Times," because those articles have done more than anything else to awaken the people of this country to the conditions under which our merchant sailors have to live. I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member that all shipowners are bad, nor are they all greedy, but I do say that they have a terrible record as far as the conditions in the merchant service are concerned. One can hardly attack shipowners after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie), because it showed that their hearts are with us in this matter. I do not mean to attack them, but I do think that there is nothing too strong which this House can say about the conditions in which the majority of our merchant seamen have to live to-day. The hon. and gallant Member has quoted the medical officer for Hull. I, too, was going to make the quotations. The hon. and gallant Member, however, forgot to say that this officer was dealing with a survey of 1,800 ships, not a few ships, some of them from 40 tons to 6,000 tons in size. Half of them were British, and he said that they were unfit for human habitation.
Something must be done to awaken the Government on this matter. I know that they have issued instructions, but instructions are not regulations, and the Government must do something to improve matters if they want to get young men to join the Mercantile Marine. They have done something in the last two years but the House feels that they can do much better. Instructions which depend on moral suasion or on the crew striking, are not regulations, and they do not affect old ships, which means that for 15 or 20 years our seamen will still have to live under these appalling conditions. They are worse than slum conditions, because in the one case people can get out and walk about the streets, but men who are in ships cannot get out. It is perfectly true that shipowners have been going 843 through a very bad time, but when they were having good times they did nothing in this respect. We cannot wait for improved economic conditions to make these social conditions better. When we wanted to get the Factory Bill through it was always said that industry could not afford it. There never was a time when industry was able to afford it. That argument in this case is not good enough. I wish more hon. Members had been here to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and compare it with the speech we had from the representative of the Board of Trade. One is right and the other is wrong. I do not know which is right and which is wrong, but that is a question which the country has to settle. The life of this nation depends on the sea, and if the facts given in the most interesting and instructive speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook are right, then the Government are wrong.
This is not a party question. It goes far beyond party matters. I do not intend to go into the bigger aspects referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson), who said that our shipping would be put right when the world was free and when economic conditions were better and so on. Those are vague things which may happen when all men are brothers, but we are a long way from the brotherhood of man, and I do not want to wait until that time to put our merchant shipping right. I want the things that can be done to be done now. I do not ask anything unreasonable, but I ask that the country should demand that, within the next four or five years, minor alterations shall be made in these old ships in which the crews are living in such filthy conditions. It would not be very costly to make those alterations. I do not want to list the things that can be done, but if the Board of Trade do not know, those who are interested in this matter can tell them.
The Committee and the country must realise that in many of the old ships, the conditions of the crews' quarters are far worse than any conditions in the slums of London. The lavatory, cooking, and washing conditions are simply appalling. Not long ago, I persuaded an hon. Member to go to the docks of London and to look round, and when he had done so, his comment was that 844 he would not put ferrets, let alone men, in some of the ships. He was a very Conservative Member of Parliament. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade spoke about the co-operation of the men in keeping these places tidy. If there were a regulation that the men should do the cleaning in their working hours, instead of doing it during their private hours, the officers would have some control over the conditions. One cannot expect men to work the long hours they have to work, and then to keep their rooms tidy in their spare time. If it were part of the regulations that the cleaning should be done during working time, the officers would have the right to inspect, and even to punish the men if they did not do it properly. The other day I was talking to a very good shipowner, who told me that the minute he improved the conditions, the men responded. They respond in a remarkable way.
I know that the Board of Trade must be anxious, as I am sure the country is anxious, about the lack of recruits to the Mercantile Marine. One hon. Member opposite made a splendid speech in which he explained why young men will not join the Mercantile Marine. In Plymouth, when good boys, who have been to secondary schools and so on, look at the conditions on the ships, they will not enter the Mercantile Marine. The Government say that they want to keep the conditions in the Mercantile Marine as healthy as possible, but the conditions now are thoroughly unhealthy. No instructions will put them right; there must be regulations. For years we have heard that the Ministry of Health have given instructions about infant welfare, but half of the local authorities in England have not got infant welfare. The instructions have done no good. We have had all sorts of instructions, but only when regulations are laid down, will the conditions in the ships be made better.
It is no good the Government telling us about these instructions, and saying how good the new ships will be. I cannot speak from my own knowledge, but I am told that many of our new ships are not up to the level of the Scandinavian ships. I am told that the Danish, Swedish, and even the Russian ships—but, of course, the Russians send out a good ship for propaganda—have better accommodation for the men than 845 our ships have. I know that in some of the big liners, the accommodation is ghastly, and I wonder sometimes why the men are as patient as they are. Certainly it is not very comfortable for anybody travelling in first-class accommodation to know of the ghastly—the almost insanitary—conditions in which a great many of the crews live.
The other day, the Prime Minister, speaking about agriculture, said that we should be safe as long as our Navy and Merchant Service are what they are. He was right. If we were to put every acre in England into food production, still we could not feed our people. We depend upon the seas. If that be so, and if, in order to keep up our Merchant Marine, we have to have subsidies, let us have them. If a subsidy will keep the Merchant Marine going, I am all for it. Another thing which a subsidy would do would be to give the Government power to make regulations instead of instructions. I think that is a very important consideration.
I beg the President of the Board of Trade to realise that we shall not be quiet about the conditions in which the crews live. We know that seamen do not organise and agitate; if they did so, their conditions would be better There are thousands of these men who cannot do that, and I feel it is right that, without waiting for the new ships, we should see that the conditions in the old ships are made sanitary and decent, because the men will have to live in them for about 15 years. I ask the Minister to go and see the conditions. If the Ministry would back up their officers, they would do far better. The officers are not backed up vigorously enough by the Board of Trade. I know of one appalling case where the crew of a ship had a ham, and the only place in which they had to hang it up was the lavatory. When the ship got into the port, the inspector told them to take the ham out, and they did so, but when the ship left port, it was put in again, and so it went all round the coast. I will not go into details about the conditions, but if hon. Members knew them, they would be horrified. There are verminous conditions, but they cannot be dealt with as long as the men have to live in the accommodation which they now have. These conditions are a crying shame, and the Minister must realise that we shall 846 go on agitating, following up those articles in the "Times," until something is done. It is no good telling us that the industry cannot afford to make improvements. What we say is that the country cannot afford to lose the Mercantile Marine because young men will not go into it. No parent will willingly send a son into the Mercantile Marine until conditions are far better than they are. I congratulate the owners who are improving their vessels, but I cannot congratulate the Government unless they make stricter regulations in regard to the old ships in which the men will have to live for the next 15 years or so.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Sir D. Thomson
I think the Committee are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for his speech at the beginning of this Debate, and the succeeding speeches also have been very much to the point. The Committee have, I think, two questions in mind. The first is the question of whether our merchant navy is sufficient, and the second is whether conditions in the merchant navy are reasonable. Both questions, in my opinion, come back to the one point, of whether the industry is in a paving condition or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) gave the Committee various figures, and put before us the proposition that this country should go to each country with which we have a trade agreement, or any trade relations—he instanced Denmark and Russia—and say, "Our adverse balance of trade with you is considerable; we want to rectify it, and we are going to bring our shipping into the calculation. "The suggestion is that we should say, for instance, to Denmark, that we would require to have more produce carried in British ships between this country and Denmark. That is an attractive theory, but we must remember that we do carry a large proportion of the world's trade to-day, and if we adopted that course in regard to individual countries and carried that theory too far, we might find that it would react unfavourably against our-serves.
Pre-War Empire shipping was about 45 per cent. of the shipping of the world, and pre-War Empire trade was about 3o per cent. of the trade of the world. At present, Empire shipping is approximately 847 3o per cent. of world shipping, and Empire trade is about 3o per cent. of world trade. If we started off by applying this method in the case of an individual country like Denmark, for instance, we might have more shipping trade between this country and Denmark, but it might react badly upon us with other countries, where we would be damaged. That does not apply to countries like Germany, Japan, and Russia, where trade is no longer individual trading but is carried out entirely by the Government. The Russian Government, for instance, compel the vast majority of their trade—too per cent. one way and 8o per cent. the other way—to be carried in Russian ships, and in face of such action the individual British shipowner, obviously, can do nothing. We are entitled to say to our Government, when there is deliberate Government interference against us on the part of other countries, that our Government should support us and reason with those other Governments.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield mentioned the scheme of laying-up and said very truly that the laying-up of tonnage was no solution of our difficulties. That is obvious. I have not studied in detail the amended scheme which is before the industry at the moment, but it was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary during the last Debate. It is a scheme in the nature of a pool for compensation for laying-up. I believe that any scheme of that kind must be international in its conception. It would be absurd for British shipowners to say, "We are going to lay up so much of our tonnage in order to balance the industry" if the foreigner is simply to come in and take the trade. The effect would be to allow more foreign tonnage to displace British tonnage. British shipowners are well aware of that position, and I think this Committee ought to realise that any scheme of that nature must, in the end, be international in character.
A great deal has been said to-day about the question of accommodation and about what were described as "slums of the sea." The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Owen Evans) made some reference to the conditions under the new instructions. Those new instructions were brought out only last September, and the 848 noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) cannot have seen many steamers built under these instructions—although they may have been in operation unofficially for some time previous to last September. But I am advised—and I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) has to say on this subject—that these new instructions will bring British ships up to as high a standard as any in the world. The hon. Member for Cardigan said that in the new tonnage the baths for the men were not supplied with hot water. I do not think it is fair that the Committee should be left with that impression, because that is specifically laid clown in the instructions.
§ Mr. D. Evans
I did not say that that was the case in the new tonnage. I gave an example of where, to my own knowledge, that was the case in ships which are at present in commission and are considered to be good ships.
§ Sir D. Thomson
I agree that in the case of existing tonnage, hot water is not in all cases supplied in the baths. Indeed in very many cases it is not, but the Committee will be pleased to know that under the new regulations baths are to be provided and they are to have both hot and cold water. The hon. Member also brought up the question of lighting and referred to the contrast which he said existed between a British ship and a foreign ship lying side by side in a foreign port, suggesting that the British ship was in darkness while the other was illuminated. I do not know whether the hon. Member is referring to the evening at seven or eight o'clock or to a later hour. I know that it is frequently the practice in ships to shut off the dynamo at about eleven o'clock at night.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member is more familiar than I am with the practice of shipowners. I am asking whether it is not a fairly common practice in British ships to shut off the dynamo and allow the crew and the officers to be content with candles and oil lamps, whereas that is not done on the foreign ships?
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Is it not an instruction to skippers that they must do these things on the ground of economy?
§ Sir D. Thomson
I am trying to deal with that point. As far as any company 849 with which I am associated is concerned, there is no such instruction, but I cannot, of course, say what instructions other companies may have given. If the dynamo was not turned off at eleven o'clock at night, it would mean that you would have to keep a member of the crew engaged in the boiler room and probably also a greaser, and the dynamo is of no great service in the early hours of the morning. But in connection with the new tonnage I am advised that the lighting question has been gone into thoroughly. There is an instruction about the proper admission of daylight so that an ordinary newspaper can be read by natural light in all parts of the accommodation. I do not suggest that that is a high standard but specific reference is made to the fact that where natural light is not available during daylight artificial light must be available for use at all times—and that presumably includes both day time and night time. Even in cases where there is proper natural light during the day the instruction says that the place is to be sufficiently illuminated at night or in dull weather by electric light or other approved form of artificial light that is approved by the Board of Trade. As far as the new tonnage is concerned I would not like the Committee to be left under the impression that we have not made a great advance. These instructions were worked out by the Shipping Federation, in collaboration with the seamen's and officers' unions and they represent a considerable advance.
The hon. Member for Cardigan also referred to the subject of pensions. I thought it was a little ungracious of him to say that at last we had taken some action in this matter. I would prefer to put it the other way round and to say that we ought to be given some credit for the fact that now for the first time we are making available for all officers and engineers, a pension scheme. Wage rates have gone up since 1932.
§ Sir D. Thomson
The cut is restored, and in the case of officers and crew it is more than restored. Then, as regards bedding, in foreign-going ships, in 90 per cent. of the cases bedding has been provided for a long time past by the owners, and it is now obligatory for it to be provided, vided, certainly in foreign-going ships, 850 though I am not familiar with home ships. The hours of duty have been reduced, and —
§ Mr. O. Evans
Does the hon. Gentleman say that the provision of bedding for the crew is now obligatory on the owners of foreign-going ships, even for the officers?
It has been the custom for very many years, and I think that 95 per cent. of the foreign-going ships provide bedding for the officers, and now it is obligatory on the owners of foreign-going ships to provide it. I think the hon. Member for Rotherhithe will agree that we have made substantial advances in the last few years. On the question of accommodation, the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division said it was frequently verminous, dirty, and lacking in paint. In so far as the accommodation is dirty or verminous, that can very easily be put right, and it should be put right. I understand that a Committee is at present sitting, composed of representatives of owners and men, to see how we can get captains to exercise more authority about keeping the accommodation clean. That is a fairly simple matter.
The question however, of accommodation for the crew is more difficult where it may need big alterations, and while I am the last person to try to stop improvements in that respect, I think it is only fair to point out one or two of the difficulties that have to be encountered. Under the new regulations, the crew must be housed either amidships or aft. In the old days they were almost universally housed forward, in the forecastle. In an ordinary 9,000-ton steamer the crew are now housed forward, and if an owner thinks he would like to move them aft, the cost might amount to £500 or £700. But there is a very much more formidable difficulty than that. With a 9,000-ton steamer you have about 50 tons of cargo in the poop, and when you take the accommodation of the crew from the forecastle and put it in the poop, you are removing 50 tons of weight of cargo from the stern end of the ship and putting it right forward. This would put the vessel out of trim—say two feet more by the head. Supposing you did not put the 50 tons into the forecastle space you would still put her perhaps a foot or more out of trim by the head. You would in fact have not only to lose that 50 tons 851 carrying capacity, but perhaps a further 50 tons from the forward holds. You would have to leave out l00 tons or more in order to bring her up level, which would be very expensive to do. Not only do you have to bear the cost of removal of accommodation, but you also lose for all time the freight on 100 or even 200 tons of cargo, which may amount, in the case of the average four voyages a year, to some £400 or £500 a year.
Comparison has been made with foreign countries, but I think the ordinary old British tonnage will bear comparison with the ordinary old foreign tonnage.
§ Sir D. Thomson
Comparison has been made with Scandinavian vessels. Those vessels are almost always motor vessels, whereas the ordinary old tonnage in this country is steam. The difference between steam and diesel is the difference between dirt and cleanliness. It is very much easier for the Scandinavian diesel tonnage to keep their accommodation clean than it is for our old steam tonnage. For one thing, the men on the motor vessels are now more used to clean accommodation. But comparing old British with old foreign tonnage, I do not think it is right to say that the British tonnage is not in as good order as the foreign tonnage.
On the question of food, I think the scale for merchant seamen is now about 30 years old. There is a Committee sitting at the present time on this question. Within the last 10 years or so there has been an enormous improvement in the refrigeration and preservation of food in innumerable ways. Certainly my experience in shipping is that the best fed ship is the cheapest fed ship, and if you get a complaint from the crew that the food has been bad or not up to standard, in almost every case you find that it is the most expensive ship in your fleet. It is not a question of cost so much as a question of inefficiency, the inefficiency of the cook or of the stewards, or general neglect. It is a very difficult matter for the shipowner because he cannot be at sea all the time, and has to trust his officers. The attitude of saying "What was good 852 enough for our fathers is good enough for us" is very seldom adopted by shipowners now, and I do not think it is at all frequent on the question of food. If it is, I should be the first to contend that it should be changed. I think the present regulations are quite out of date, from the best fed ships we very seldom get complaints, but possibly they are not getting what they are legally entitled to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) spoke about the great increase in the cost of building at present, and quoted figures showing that the increase was about 50 per cent. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will no doubt realise that there are shipowners in this country who from 1931 to 1935 made no depreciation at all. In 1936 they did, and they have now made up some back depreciation. They now have money and they would spend it in replacing steamers which should have been replaced in years gone by. They have ready money and would invest it in new tonnage if they could get reasonable prices with reasonable delivery dates. Some three or four months ago we found that a £100,000 steamer on prices of two years ago would have cost £165,000, with delivery in two years. It is a terrible thing to ask any person to build a ship for which he has been accustomed to pay £100,000 at a cost of £165,000, because always at the hack of his mind there will be the vision that when he gets delivery in two years' time the ship may be worth probably only about £80,000. I do not know what the solution is. My hon. Friend suggested that the Government should build tonnage and lay it up, but I do not know whether that will be satisfactory or not. We know that a ship's life is only some 20 or 30 years, and therefore, by natural processes, we must within 25 years or so get new tonnage under these new conditions. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division was more than right in saying that we are not going to wait 25 years, but it is a very difficult question.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that two years ago the Government laid down their policy, which was to give help to any section of British shipping which was in difficulties. My last word is this, that I do not think any individual section, except possibly on the 853 Australian run, or the Calcutta-Japan run, is actually now in immediate acute difficulties against foreign subsidised shipping, but we find that the whole of British tonnage is being continuously pressed back. The Japanese are very actively pressing us at the present time in the Far East. They get one per cent. and in six months time they get another one per cent. I do not think the Government will ever find any section in acute and sudden difficulty, but they will see every section actually retreating. As to what the solution is I make no suggestion, but I do say that the Russian and Japanese Governments, more particularly the Japanese, are gradually and slowly pushing back British shipping. Some solution, although I make no constructive suggestion, must be found for that problem.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
It is to be hoped that the President of the Board of Trade has noted the unanimity of opinion expressed throughout the House against the policy carried out by his Department. Criticisms have been directed against his Department largely because of its inability to meet the changing conditions that are taking place in the merchant service. Even his Parliamentary Secretary made no effort to deal with the position stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). Neither did he attempt to make a case on behalf of the Board of Trade as to what had been accomplished in recent years. It is unfortunate that we have to face the position that progress that should have been rapid has been very slow.
There is just one aspect of one section of sea-borne trade upon which I want to touch, and that is the coastal trade. I am not going to cover the whole of the position because my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) is going to deal with it in greater detail. I want to refer to one aspect of it which is dealt with in the Report of the British Sailing Ship Owners' Association for 1937–8 in which reference is made to the building of coastwise shipping that is going on in this country in comparison with building in other countries. In this report they say that during the year, 45 coasters of under 800 tons gross were constructed for British owners, while no fewer than 48 854 vessels of similar sizes were building or on order in Holland for Dutch owners. Then the report calls attention to the considerable rise which has taken place in every item of shipowners' costs, and it states that the cost of building new tonnage is greater than it was two years ago by about 40 to 50 per cent. I take it that that is due to the heavy cost of our rearmament building to-day. In those circumstances it is quite conceivable that it is impossible for us to compete with the Dutch building of those vessels that is going on to-day.
There are other aspects of coastwise shipping that undoubtedly will be dealt with by my hon. Friend, but there is one aspect of the general position to which I want to refer, and that is the conditions in our merchant shipping fleets. From practically every quarter of the House these have been emphasised and reiterated to-day. We are aware, of course, of the new regulations and instructions that have been issued by the Board of Trade, and we are fully aware that these can only be applied in the main to the shipbuilding programme as it proceeds. We fully admit the difficulties that there may be in the adaptation of the older types of vessel to the up-to-date conditions that we would anticipate should apply in the 20th century. The Parliamentary Secretary indicated that there were only some eight to nine per cent. of vessels in Great Britain to-day between 20 and 25 years of age, but I should say that in coastal shipping the percentage would be very much higher. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield has characterised many of the shipping fleets as the slums of the sea. When it comes to coasting vessels I should say they could be termed coastal hovels in many instances.
I would press the President of the Board of Trade to take into account the essential services that coastwise vessels carry on all round the coasts of this island country, and to see if in some way or other he can increase the activities of his Department in seeking to better the conditions that apply to those vessels. In manning, accommodation, and conditions of labour there is much to be accomplished. I would suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that he might consider at least the setting up of an investigation, not merely with regard 855 to the operation of these vessels and the provision of an essential service, but into the circumstances in which this service is carried on and into the conditions of the men employed. I believe it will be possible for him to do something by improved regulations without the need for new legislation. I trust that he will enter upon some investigation not only into the conditions necessary for the continuance and development of coastwise shipping, but also into the conditions of the crews that man these vessels.
There is an aspect of the general conditions of accommodation which has not been mentioned in the Debate to-day and which is referred to in an article in the "Merchant Navy Journal" for March-June, 1938, from which I should like to quote. It prefaces the article by the customary glorification of our merchant service and the strength of our fleet as compared with other countries, and it goes on to show that there is one aspect of it in which practically little progress has been made:It is in the standards of living accommodation for the crews of our ships that we have fallen behind. For many years port medical officers have drawn attention to this, but neither they nor even the Ministry of Health have anything whatever to do with ships under construction.That is a position which could be rectified by the right hon. Gentleman's Department in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health should be consulted before the conditions are made for the construction of ships, and it should not merely allow their medical officers to visit the ports and then find room for complaint as to how the construction of vessels in regard to accommodation has been carried out. This article goes on to say:They are not consulted in matters of hygiene or sanitation, and not until a ship is completed and actually in commission have they any opportunity of inspecting the housing of passengers or crew. While the ship is building everything is controlled by the surveyors of the Board of Trade who, in relation to the hygiene of ships must carry out the Board's 'Instructions as to the Survey of Master's and Crew Spaces'.It says that the Board has revised these instructions recently, but that they apply only to new ships. I again emphasise that something should be done to remedy the conditions of the existing vessels. The average life of a boat in the merchant 856 service is from 20 to 30 years, and the conditions that applied 30 years ago when some of them were built are not applicable to the needs of to-day. The conditions are the cause of much of the difficulty in getting the best type of personnel into the merchant service to-day. There are one or two aspects which the President of the Board of Trade could, in his general administration, improve tremendously and so assist to attract the personnel that ought to be in the merchant service. On questions of manning, hours of duty and accommodation the National Maritime Board have certain obligations, which are advisory in the main, but we believe that the President of the Board of Trade could give them greater powers to deal with some of the wider problems that have to be met in this industry. It is essential that there should be better conditions and more up-to-date methods of recruitment in order to attract new personnel into the Service. We trust that the administration of the right hon. Gentleman's Department will be speeded up to a much greater degree, and that the result of this Debate will be to reinvigorate the energies that the right hon. Gentleman has at his command in order to bring about better conditions in the merchant service.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Commander Marsden
The Committee has shown unanimity in the speeches to-day that there is much that might be done and should be done for the Mercantile Marine. Hon. Members opposite have practically confined their remarks to the living accommodation of the men and officers. They quoted many cases and used the old adjectives and phrases like "slums at sea," and so on. I would not be rude enough to contradict them, but I suggest that the conditions as they described them occurred in the past and that, although they may sometimes exist now, they are certainly not prevalent. Where hon. Members are not fair to the owners is in not being able to recognise what has been done and what will be done to alter those conditions. If hon. Members are not conversant with that, I would refer them to the various statements that have been made, particularly by the National Union of Seamen. They said that "1936 was a wonderful year of achievement." Much has been said about the officers. Their position has improved enormously. In 857 1937 the Merchant Navy Officers' Federation said:Never before have officers' conditions of service improved with the speed and to the extent that has been evidenced in 1937.It is not much good criticising and saying that nothing is being done when we get direct evidence from both seamen and officers that much has been done in those years. I am not suggesting that finality has been reached in these matters. I trust that the conditions will continue to improve as the years go on. I particularly ask the Committee to bear in mind the years 1936–37, because those were the years after a long period of slump when the trade was doing much better and making profits. I almost apologise for using the word "profits," because I know how annoying it is to hon. Members opposite. Without profits, however, these conditions would not have improved. If no profits are being made, as is happening in many cases now, ships are laid up, ships are not being built, and men are put out of work. The whole evidence goes to show that when trade is prosperous the owners are the first to appreciate the fact that the conditions of work of officers and men must and shall be improved.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Will the hon. and gallant Member take notice that the time when the State was giving £1,000,000 a year to the tramp shipping industry synchronised with the time when these improvements took place, so that nothing came out of the shipowners' pockets?
§ Commander Marsden
I do not follow the force of that observation. The subsidy enabled a large number of ships to be kept at sea which otherwise would have been laid up, and a large number of men were kept in work who otherwise would have been unemployed. That was the first reaction of the subsidy, to my mind, and I am sorry that the hon. Member shakes his head. Prosperity comes and the conditions of the men improve while the ships are kept employed, and the next point to which I wish to come is what can best be done to employ our ships at sea. That is where the Ministry must take stock of itself. My own opinion is that the Board of Trade is not pressing this matter sufficiently on the attention of the Government and of the Cabinet.
Take the case of Russia. In the course of the Autumn, Russia will be exporting something like 3,000,000 tons of grain 858 through Black Sea ports to the Continent and the United Kingdom, and will probably require 300 to 350 ships for the purpose, ships of about 7,000 tons deadweight each. Where will those ships come from? The first to be employed will be Russian ships, and when the number of Russian ships is exhausted Russia will charter vessels in the open market, and in nearly every case will prefer foreign ships to ours, because they can undercut us to a small extent. In the end, when there are no others available, our ships may possibly get a turn. This is the point 1 wish to make—inadequately, I know, because I have not the words properly to describe the position: Of this grain a large amount will come to England, and why should it not come in English ships? In the case of everything which Russia produces and sends to this country the Russian Government have the power, and they use it, to see that it is carried in Russian ships, and it is my contention that we ought to have at least a 50–50 bargain with them, so that half the goods coming to this country shall be carried in British ships.
Next I should like to say a word about coastwise shipping, in which I have a particular interest as I am connected with the Coastal Trade Development Council. The coastal trade is one of the strong points of the traffic in this country. It is carried on all round our coasts from harbours tucked away in little estuaries, and in my submission it will be one of the methods in war time by which necessary goods, and particularly our food, can be best transported. We shall see the big ships coming in and discharging their cargoes, and the best way of distribution round the coast will be by coastal ships. Therefore, in the national interest, apart from the consideration of its being a training ground for seamen, the Government must not overlook the importance of the coastal trade. I will not say too much about foreign competition. We see Dutch ships coming up the river here, but their competition is not alarming, except in this respect, that in the case of the small ships—the coastal tramp ships of, perhaps, 300 tons and less—the number of Dutch ships has doubled in the last two or three years, and the coastal ships built in Holland which are getting into our trade are more in number than the ships for the same purpose being built in this country.
859 There is another form of competition against our coastal trade which has not been mentioned, and that is the competition from the roads and the railways. I do not think coastwise shipping is getting a fair share of the carrying trade of the country, because it is being cut out by the railways by a method which it is very difficult for it to combat and without help will be impossible to combat. A typical case occurred a short time ago. There were 10,000 tons of grain to be carried from Bristol Channel ports to the South Coast. For years the coastal trade had carried the grain, but the railways came in and quoted a rate which was more than 50 per cent. lower than the established rate of the coastal trade, and consequently the railways got the contract. An appeal was made to the Railway Rates Tribunal, but they turned down the application of the coastal trade. Many reasons were given for it; one was that the affairs of the coastal trade had nothing to do with them in particular, and they said, further, that this traffic would not make an addition to the net revenue of the railway companies.
There is a committee composed of representatives of the roads, the railways and coastwise shipping, and the President of the Board of Trade—who, I am sorry to see, has just gone out—will remember that when he was Minister of Transport, I and other Members tried to get greater representation for the coastal trade upon this Committee. The trouble is, however, as was pointed out at the time, that before action can be taken on any appeal the business has gone, the contract has been placed. I hope, however, that my words will be taken to heart, and that the coastal trade will be given greater facilities to get a fairer share of the traffic which in the past has been carried by coastal ships.
Next I would say a few words about the conditions for officers and men in the coastal trade. The right hon. Member for Wakefield used some wonderful adjectives. I took them down as fast as I can write, but he talks much quicker than I can write, and so I do not suppose I got all of them. Among other things he said that the pay is "deplorably low." I shall never be satisfied that the pay is enough, and I hope that it will continue to be improved, but do not let us speak of it as being deplorably low when it 860 is higher than the pay in every other country. Hon. Members spoke about how much superior were the conditions of life in the ships of Scandinavia and other countries, and I am all for improving the conditions for sailors, but I think that the ordinary sailor, if he gets a warm, dry bunk and good food, would sooner have the extra pay which he gets in this country. The pay on our ships is just about double that on the German ships, and therefore we ought not to call it deplorably low.
Then there was a reference to the hours of work. I do not propose to argue about hours. Hours of work at sea are quite different from the hours anywhere else. Suppose the Geneva Conference set up a standard of hours, and in the middle of a gale, or in the middle of some happening at sea when the help of everybody was required to ensure the safety of the ship, the men could say suddenly, "Time is up, lads, down tools," and they all go down below. We cannot have that happening at sea. What is more, sailors do not mean it when they talk about fixed hours. They will try it on their M.Ps., but that is just to give them something to talk about.
§ Commander Marsden
On the question of manning, certainly the more men there are in a ship the easier the work is, but such questions are largely economic, and to attack the Board of Trade on that matter is to attack them without justification. The coastal trade is free from many of the regulations applying to vessels in the ocean trade, but at least the Board of Trade have the right to step in and stop a ship in the coastal trade from going to sea if she is in a dangerous condition, either from undermanning or for other reasons. There are many cases in which, when a coastal vessel is going beyond her usual voyage in the coastal trade limits, the officials of the Board of Trade step in to say, "No, you are going a couple of hundred miles further up the coast, you will be longer at sea than usual and you must take an extra hand." That is continually happening, and so it cannot be said that the Board of Trade are losing sight of that side of the matter. More men make easier work, but economic conditions have to be considered. 861 Accommodation I will not say anything about, but I wish those who go probing into what they call "the slums of the sea" would occasionally visit a modern-type motor-ship, and then they would see something. They are very fine ships indeed.
§ Commander Marsden
Every new one built is up to date, and when you talk about the instructions that are "followed" I would point out that in the majority of cases it is the Board of Trade which follows, the modern ship being in advance of Board of Trade instructions.
A further point relates to alterations to existing ships. The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) gave a lot of quotations from medical officers of health. The Port of Manchester is no mean port. I venture to say that it sees more ships than they do at many other places. The medical officer there said:During the year 1937, we have seen striking instances of improvement in the hygiene and amenities of crew spaces.That is a very great advance.
I have made most of the points I wished to make. There is one other which was touched upon, about certificated officers. Let us not get the idea that we can do the coastal trade any good by insisting upon certificates for officers who, in the coastal trade, are as fine a lot of seamen as anywhere in the Mercantile Marine. They are not navigators but pilots, and there is a deal of difference between navigation and piloting. These men know the coast and to insist upon their taking certificates would not tend to greater safety in the conduct of ships, and there would be no point in it. One suggestion has been put forward by many people and was proposed in the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) who gave us a really interesting view, as a shipowner, of what he is doing and intends to do. He was not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, with the Board of Trade. We have here the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary. We know that nobody would give more sympathy or bring a clearer understanding to the matter when the views of the House were brought before them, but they do not live with 862 these subjects. The hon. Member for Southampton said that he brought to our notice the fact—which, of course, we knew—that there was a ministry of shipping during the last War. I think he advocated a ministry of shipping now.
I cannot be quite so sure about a ministry of shipping, because it may need a powerful Cabinet leader who might make himself too powerful. They might want to alter everything. [Laughter.] I remind hon. Members that I used the word "everything". We do not want that to happen in the technical part of the work. We want things to go on as they are in that respect. There seems to be no one co-ordinating brain to think about and sleep with the subject throughout the year. Within the Board of Trade there is the Secretary for Mines—and when I look at him I cannot imagine that he thinks about anything but mines—and the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department. The same thing applies to him. Being within the Board of Trade they have the President continually to consult, and they may bring forward measures for the betterment of their respective spheres of action. I suggest that the best thing for the shipping industry at the present moment is not to have an inquiry, which would only waste time by going on for ever. An inquiry about a certain other unfortunate and tragic state of affairs in the Pacific is still proceeding and, so far as I know, has come to no decision or, if it has, no action whatever has been taken.
I suggest that we should have a Parliamentary Secretary who could devote his whole time and energy to this important subject. I ask myself whether, at Four o'Clock, the President of the Board of Trade will get up and go out with his colleague, and they will congratulate themselves upon having given us all satisfactory answers, and having satisfied us, whether they are going to say: "That's that. No more Mercantile Marine until next year"; or whether they are going to the Cabinet, saying: "It is the opinion of the House of Commons that something drastic and immediate should be done to improve the whole status and position of the Mercantile Marine."
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
I do not propose to follow the noble Lady, the successor of Drake, or to follow the hon. and 863 gallant Member in all the points which he has made. He has been to sea much longer than I have. He is now, to his disadvantage, still at sea. From some of the things which he did not want done he must be among the most reactionary Members who have ever spoken on that side of the House. He did not want too much change in case too much was done. I can understand the hon. and gallant Member being consistent with his past, but he seems to have a quarrel with the Government on that point. I do not understand why. The Government do not seem to want to do anything progressive at all. I speak as a Member who has to cross the Atlantic every time he wants to get to his constituency. For that reason I have a very special interest in seamen and seamen's conditions, and not only in their own homeland but everyhere they go over the seas of the world. For centuries we have supplied seamen, not only to the British Empire but to every country in the world. We have men not only in our coastal shipping, but wherever our ships go, flying the flag of British trade throughout the world.
Many Islesmen do not go to sea solely for the love of the sea; there are other reasons, with which the Government are guiltily acquainted. Among them are, lack of prospects in their own homeland and failure of local industries. In many places failing a policy for the land there is practically nothing else for men to do but to go to sea. Rates of wages do not form the most important question for sailors. I think it comes somewhere about third on the list of the complaints and grievances which are received by Members of Parliament. The first subject of complaint may be taken as food and accommodation, and the second, hours of work and the way in which hours are worked; then comes the question of wages. The hon. and gallant Member opposite has just made a comparison with German conditions, but considering the conditions in Germany and the deplorable conditions of seamen in certain other countries which compete with our commerce, the com-parison should not arise. We should consider the conditions of seamen in relation to the conditions of British workers generally and to the hardships they endure and the urgent importance of their services.
864 In my constituency, plying between the Western Isles and the mainland, are steamer services which are subsidised to about £50,000 annually by the Government. I have been at pains to examine the accommodation for the crews in some of those boats and I have found that in some boats there is practically no reasonable accommodation at all. In order that members of the crew may sleep, others have to accommodate them by not sleeping. The whole crew could not possibly be in comfort in the crews' quarters at the one time. Not only are the conditions cramped but they are often very insanitary. In one boat, perhaps the best of this subsidised service, the "Lochness," the crew are cramped into one little corner below water level with water tanks jutting into their room owing to the construction of the cramped space. Such conditions can hardly be considered to be healthy and they are certainly not comfortable. There is only room in those quarters for a table, besides the bunks. There is no room for any comfort, there is no room for any lounging about during leisure hours. Indeed, I do not believe they could comfortably play cards with each other without cheating.
§ Mr. MacMillan
The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), very properly referred to the better condition in Scandinavian ships. Everyone who has examined the average of these ships, and particularly the modern ships, knows that they are better than the average of our ships, both old and new. I have seen some of each, and I know that a real effort has been made by those Governments to see that the seamen are given good accommodation and comfortable and clean quarters. Our Government may be, after six long years of consideration, coming to the active stage of seeing that these things are being done here also, as they have been done by others for years past, but they have not exercised proper control over private companies so as to ensure that such out-of-date instructions as are supposed to be in force are carried out. As long as these companies know that the instructions will not be enforced, they are not likely to carry them out. The Noble 865 Lady referred to a Russian ship which was better than our British ships, but she said that it was sent for propaganda purposes. I am not going to accept that as true, but I think the best propaganda we could show to the world on behalf of Britain and British ships would be to send such good up-to-date British ships to other countries and into our own coastal trade.
I have already referred to the subsidised service to the Western Isles; and more specifically to the position of the sailors. When subsidies have been given, they have not gone to the sailors. Such attention as has been paid to our mercantile service has not been given to the sailors in proportion to their importance. Whether we advocate nationalisation or the continuance of our Mercantile Marine under the present system, it is the sailors in these ships who make our Mercantile Marine possible. Our British commerce would never have reached the heights of prosperity that it has reached but for these men. Do not let us imagine that it is easy for a man to go to sea, to leave his family for weeks and months together, to cut himself off from all connection with the amenities and comforts of his own home and country, and to go to the far ends of the world to earn a living. It is one of the most arduous, difficult and exacting occupations, and I think the least we can do is to encourage in every way the amelioration of the conditions of the people who make the Mercantile Marine possible.
In my constituency we have a community who for generations, from their geographical position and a certain love, inherited from their Scandinavian ancestors, of the sea and its traditions, have been among the world's best sailors. But this community, which is only one of many around our coasts has been almost completely neglected in regard to the question of local mercantile training and the development of the people's natural aptitudes. They are left to rust in physical idleness, to become demoralised through long unemployment, when, if the opportunity and reasonable conditions were offered to them, they would be only too glad to do as effectively and efficiently as any sailors in the world the work which they and their forefathers have been accustomed to doing for generations. It has been said by an hon. Member that when there are subsidies, there is better 866 control but, unfortunately, the subsidies given to the shipping industry have been unconditional—
§ The Deputy - Chairman (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member is now raising a subject which comes under another Vote altogether. The subsidies in the case of the service to the Western Isles come under the Scottish Votes.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I would accept your correction, Captain Bourne, but I was really referring to the wider question of subsidies generally, as it has been raised by a previous speaker. Where subsidies have been given, we have had the unfortunate position that there has been no stipulation whatever that the first claim should be on behalf of the seamen who make it possible to continue to subsidise the Mercantile Marine.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden) said that the question of manning is an economic question, but I do not think that that is altogether the case. When an industry is found not to be working economically, and subsidies are given to it in the national interest and for other reasons, the question becomes, not only an economic, but a national and social question. Where a shipping company claims that it is not able to pay decent wages to the men who make its continuance possible, the economic method of dealing with it would be to say that it is not worth while continuing to run that company, and that, theoretically at least, it should be smashed. If it is decided that its efficiency shall be increased at the expense of the 'taxpayer, certain conditions must be imposed, and among these should be a condition that the first claim shall be that of the seamen who run the ships. Without dealing with the Western Isles steamer service as such, but merely mentioning it among the other services which receive subsidies, I would point out that it does not give an adequate return to the taxpayers who make these subsidies possible. I will not refer in detail to the conditions of the third-class passengers on some of our passenger services, but, if I might put it in this way, and still be in order, I would say that the conditions of the crew are almost as bad in some cases as the conditions of the third-class passengers. I conclude by asking, as other Members have asked, that the fairest and most generous consideration should be given 867 to the position of these men who are fundamentally the most important and certainly are the least rewarded people in the whole mercantile service.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
The position of the Government in this debate is not an enviable one. Every speaker, from whatever quarter of the House, has, in his final analysis of the Government's position, come down heavily against it. I have listened to most of the debate, and I think that only one Member, the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden) set out as an apologist for the Government; and he finished by condemning them. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that, taking it by and large, the whole of the criticism that has been levelled against the Government has been directed towards, not their activity, but their inactivity. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) painted a dreadful picture to-day of British shipping. What he said was perfectly correct. But will he forgive me if I say that the policy for which he stands, namely, protection and tariffs, has been the prime cause of the parlous condition of British shipping to-day? You cannot show me, I think, a country in the world that has a tariff policy and a successful shipping service at the same time. The Under-Secretary spoke of the work the Government have done. He mentioned various figures, and pointed out that during the last five years efforts had been made to improve accommodation. New hygiene and health conditions in general have been brought into being. But he mentioned another figure, and that is that 25 per cent. of the total shipping tonnage of this country is over 25 years old.
§ Mr. Smith
I beg your pardon; eight per cent. is over 25 years old. If I say that the next 20 years will not see these evils remedied, at the present pace, I think I am using a fair figure. I was asked by one hon. Member what my views were with regard to the Regulations and Instructions issued last September. No one is complaining of those Regulations and Instructions. What we are complaining of are the conditions of service that have lasted for so many years and have resulted in the terrible 868 conditions under which the majority of the men in our merchant service have to exist at the present moment. The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey said he wanted a body that would have a coordinating mind and would then sleep on it. We want a co-ordinating mind that will keep very alert.
§ Commander Marsden
The hon. Member is not being quite fair to me. I said that it should keep continually in mind what I said.
§ Mr. Smith
You certainly said, "sleep on it." However, the hon. and gallant Member must understand that in the ordinary knock-about of debate, he cannot only administer a few blows but has to take them too. The general condition of the foreign service has been dealt with. The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey went into the position of coastwise shipping. I propose to paint not quite so rosy a picture of the coastwise trade as he did. He is interested in the coastwise trade, unlike certain Conservative Members for Liverpool constituencies who are not sufficiently interested to be here to-day, knowing, of course, that they are perfectly safe with the Board of Trade and the Government as a whole. I notice that nothing was said by the hon. And gallant Member for Chertsey to the effect that the condition of this trade was bad, although he did say that they are unable to meet to-day either foreign competition or competition with the road haulage and the railways. But in July, 1936, the Earl of Cork, who is President of the Coastal Trade Development Council, stated that the fortunes of the coastwise shipping trade in the preceding four years had been on the mend. He spoke of satisfactory progress, reviving prosperity, steadily increasing volume of tonnage, and gave the following figures. In 1931 the coastwise trade carried 48,000,000 tons, and in 1935 54,700,000 tons. I have had reference to the trade and navigation accounts, and, in adopting the same system of calculation as that adopted by the Earl of Cork, I find that in 1936 it went up to 56,699,000, and in 1937 to 58,393,000.
It is the case that the railways complain bitterly, and the road haulage concerns will certainly in the near future have to meet the commitments of the Road Haulage Act when it receives the Royal 869 Imprimatur as to hours and wages. There is for the railways a statutory board which lays down hours and wages, while in the coastwise trade wages are notoriously low and hours notoriously long. I will seek to prove that before I sit down. If the trade is improving or is in such a good condition, as I have been able to prove, why is it that the attitude of the representatives of the coastwise trade on the Maritime Board steadfastly refuse to look into the question of hours, accommodation, holidays with pay or manning? Why is it that, when challenged by the representatives of the various associations, the officers' union and the Seamen's Union, they refuse to submit their case to an arbitration court? The right hon. Gentleman in answering a question of mine a few days ago said that there were within the constitution means by which arbitration could be effected. Nevertheless, while these means exist, nothing that the representatives of the officers and men have been able to do has been effective in bringing in some outside mind to bear on the position of the wages, hours and general conditions of life aboard coastwise vessels.
Foreign competition, says the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, is not so bad as far as the Dutch trade is concerned, but, nevertheless, it is a serious factor. Well, is it? If we take 1935, with a total volume of 54,700,000 tons of goods carried, the foreign trade carried 574,751 tons or 1.05 per cent. In 1936 it was 56,699,000 and the foreign trade carried 784,000 tons or 1.38 per cent., and in 1937, out of a total of 58,393,000 tons—and I admit that it is increasing—the figure had gone up to 834,000 tons or a percentage of 1.42. If such figures could be given for the world trade for our foreign-going ships we should not here be discussing the perilous position of foreign-going ships at this time. When it comes to railway interests—and they are well represented in this House—and to the people who are employed we feel frankly that the attitude of the coastwise shipowners is one, the object of which is, by virtue of long hours and low wages, ultimately to reduce the wages and worsen the conditions of the people employed in road transport and in the railway services. By their system of undercutting they undercut and reduce the wages and general conditions of these other industries.
870 I want to call attention to what I think is a fair picture of the average conditions on board a coasting vessel. The accommodation for the crew cannot be confined entirely to that space where the individual sleeps, but takes in all the spaces which are used for his convenience and comfort. These include mess-room, galley and utensils, lavatory accommodation, wash place, clothes lockers, food lockers, drying rooms and recreation space. In small coasting vessels, the crew accommodation is bound by the fo'c'sle head, and is limited to two triangular unlined spaces, containing bunks for a certified number or firemen and sailors, a table and forms, a small Board of Trade locker for each member, and a coal bogie. Forward of the sailors' fo'c'sle is a bow-locker, where the gear, the ship's cable, ropes, etc., are kept. Whatever is needed from this store must be dragged through the fo'c'sle to the fore-deck, and every time the ship comes alongside or comes to anchor and access to the locker is required, it means that whoever is sleeping there can make up his mind that there will be no rest for him while that is going on.
On deck at the break of the fo'c'sle head is the crew's W.C. This is usually a trough of obsolete pattern, generally insanitary and flushed by means of a bucket filled with water, on the end of a heaving line from overside. These things have to be faced. They may be unsavoury, but it is well to bring them out in this House. Occasionally while washing down, the hose is turned into the W.C. and it is literally washed out. As the door is closed to continue washing down decks, the seaman leaves behind him a saturated compartment and soddened dollops of newspaper about the floor. The next person to use the compartment brings his newspaper, spreads its sheets on a wet seat and perhaps sweeps them into the trough, followed by one bucket of water. If one bucket is not successful, what does it matter? That is his share towards the hygiene. Would it be too much to ask you to provide decent lavatory accommodation for the men who are making profits for you?
§ Mr. Smith
The Noble Lady was not here at the time. When it comes to the officers, these amenities are supplied. The small ships have no mess-room, wash-place, food lockers, drying rooms or oilskin lockers. The seamen hangs his working clothes on the bulkhead, his oilskins on the wooden partition, his sea boots in some corner of the fo'c'sle head, his shore suit in a suitcase or in a spare bunk, if there is one, and his washing on a line to dry by the coal bogie. The bogie is responsible for the dirty paintwork all thro' the winter, while its position is governed by the space allotted to its funnel flange on the fo'c'sle head, regardless of its position in the fo'c'sle. Few have a proper box for the bogie coal, resulting in coal being kept on the deck or in a makeshift box too small for the purpose. In this space the seamen sleep, eat, wash, bath and wash clothes in bad weather, and there they have also to study if they are trying for a certificate to become a third officer. The coasting vessels built this year are still inadequately supplied with clothes lockers and food lockers and are retaining the filthy coal stove without provision for its fuel. Few vessels in the coastwise trade have sufficient storage for food. The only fitting when the ship is built is a Board of Trade locker for each man which is insisted upon whatever the size of the ship, and it is about the size of a four gallon petrol tin. Its position depends entirely on what space is left in the bulkhead, and its value is negligible when the bogie is on in winter or when placed on the ship's side. Many lockers are close to the bogie stove, none are capable of keeping meat, few are suitable for butter, and in fact, the most useless and unhygienic fitting is the Board of Trade fo'c'sle food locker. These men have to carry their own food. That is a point with which hon. Members generally are not seized. Can we wonder that the men are dyspeptic? If you look at the health returns you will find that in regard to chest complaints and rheumatism these men suffer in as high a proportion as any trade in the country if you take vessels up to a crew of 12.
872 With all the opportunities which coasting sailors have for purchasing fresh milk, no vessel has a suitable compartment in which milk can be stored. The Noble Lady mentioned the fact that she knew of instances where hams were hung in the lavatory. It is not an uncommon thing to find the most filthy place in a ship the coolest place, because of the use of the hosepipe. That is literally true. When it comes to the means of cooking, these ships carry no cook, there is nobody to look after the meals, and there is no stove or oven which can be used for cooking. Therefore the men have to resort to strong tea and frying their food, two of the worst types of feeding that can be imagined for anyone's digestive organisation. That is the general condition aboad an average coasting vessel. It is either tinned food or fried food, both of which militate against the health of the seamen as well as against the contentment of the seamen.
I have a very vivid recollection of my first coasting vessel. The recollection of it came to me when I attended the official opening of the dock at Goole. It had never occurred to me before that my first employment was on the schooner "Alpha" until somebody asked me, "Is this the Omega?" The wages were 15s. a month, and there was one bunk for a crew of three. Those were the conditions in which I worked. When we got our cocoa, we used to throw weevilly biscuits into it, and to bet on how high a weevil would jump.
§ Mr. Smith
I mean cocoa. I drifted from the service into the deep sea trade, and from that into Her Majesty's Navy. I did what hundreds of thousands of men have done in the past; but they are not doing it any longer. The children of these men, whom we shall ultimately depend upon to feed us in time of war, are being driven from that trade by the horrible conditions in which they are asked to serve in these ships. I will give some evidence of these conditions. I will 873 not mention any names, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when I hand this information to him later on, to treat it as confidential, for as things are bad in the service, these men would probably lose their jobs if I gave their names. I will give one case which shows the mind of the average owner. He writes to his captain as follows:Please note that as from 1st January your wages are to be £6 a week; able seamen and firemen, £3 2s. plus 2s. for overtime; ordinary seamen,£2 3s. 9d. plus 2s. in lieu of overtime.—and here is the gem of that communication—Please note that we wish you to keep the amount of your wages strictly secret—you can always pay the crew first and then include yourself afterwards—as we have found in the past that sailors and firemen know exactly what their masters are earning.That is a clever letter to send to a captain, and it rather depicts the mind of the average person who owns coastwise shipping. In another case, the writer begs to inform his union of the living conditions aboard a certain company's ships. The officers suffer greatly as regards having their meals. They have no cook or steward to care for them, and days go by when they have only a cup of tea for dinner. They have no time to do justice to their duties when they have to buy their food, cook it, keep watch on the bridge, wash out their own cabins—which have some bugs in them—and they cannot spare any time to clean them out. They have cooks on a few of their ships, but on others they have none.
In another case, the mate and second engineer give a description of their conditions. The cases to which I am referring have reference to officers, and if officers suffer these conditions, what must be the conditions of the men? In this case, the mate and second engineer are called at five o'clock. The mate prepares the vessel to start loading; the second engineer raises steam; the crew musters—mate, boatswain, two able-bodied seamen, one ordinary seaman, two engineers, and firemen. One fireman relieves the second engineer from eight until 12 noon. He goes on to refer to other duties, and ends by saying that a 19-hour day is quite the usual thing. In another case a, man gives a return of his hours for a period of nine weeks. In those nine weeks, he works 880¾ hours and he has off 631¼ hours. His wages are £4 6s. a week—for nine 874 weeks £38 14s od. He works it out in his own way—774s. or 9,288 pence; dividing one by the other, it gives him a figure of 10.54d. per hour. That is an officer and that is only for hours worked, counting nothing for hours off duty and with no regard for deductions for pension, insurance and food.
I could go on reading letter after letter bearing out this case. Here I have a list of 20 companies which I will hand over to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will let me have them back and will treat them in confidence. The average weekly hours of these companies is over 92 and, as far as I can see, the least number of hours is 81 per week. When the right hon. Gentleman is questioned he appears to me to take up an attitude towards coastwise shipping—no doubt on the advice of his officials—both as regards manning and officers, and general conditions, of what I would call callous disinterestedness. He will forgive me for saying that. I do not attribute it to him personally. I believe that he himself is a kindly disposed man, but he has to say things in this House which his people advise him to say.
What I have said is a fair general average statement of the conditions with regard to the coastwise trade. Now I come to another aspect of the work of the Board of Trade. I wish to call attention to the great delay which takes place in holding inquiries into the cases of ships that have been wrecked or have been in accidents. I may mention four. The first is the "Quarrington Court." The date of the accident was 7th December, 1937, and up to now the date of the inquiry has not been fixed. The second is the "Laganbank." The date of the accident was 13th January, 1938, and the inquiry has been fixed for mid-September. The next is the "Annagher." The date of the accident was 11th December, 1937, and the date of the inquiry is not fixed. The fourth is the "Ino." The date of the accident was 14th October, 1937, and the date of the inquiry is not fixed. The last two ships, incidentally, were engaged in the short sea trade. I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise the significance of this. Just after an accident has occurred the incidents are vivid in the minds of the people concerned and for the purpose of eliciting the truth, the sooner the inquiry is held, the better for all concerned. But if it is allowed to get 875 cold and if no written record has been made at the time of the details, the incidents fade in people's memories and when the men come before an astute nautical lawyer they are liable to be turned inside out and their evidence made to appear as worth more or less nothing. The right hon. Gentleman must pay attention to the solicitors' department in the Board of Trade as well as the other departments which have been under review. If real justice is wanted, if the truth is being sought, then I say it can only be obtained by having expeditious inquiry into these accidents as and when they arise.
I am afraid that I shall have to conclude because the right hon. Gentleman has to reply and I do not want to encroach upon his time, but I want to bring to his notice. The question of the existing facilities for the training of officers and men. There is at the moment a Merchant Navy Officers Training Board. The criticism against that scheme is that it is inadequate and that the officers have little say in its control. Indeed they have secured only one representative on its council. The training given resolves itself into part-time work, without any additional payment to the instructors, and, generally speaking, the scheme fails to meet the needs for which, presumably, it was created.
I do not want to keep on bringing in a personal side to this, but one of the things that strikes me as most condemnatory of the present attitude towards seamen, and especially young seamen, is the fact that everybody who migrates to some reformatory ship is sent there with a view to sending him to sea. That is all wrong. It puts a stigma on the service if it is looked upon as an outlet for people who cannot behave themselves in civilian life. I am not ashamed of it. I remember, after I had been to sea for two years, from 11 to 13, joining the "Warspite" training ship, and I was very proud of the fact when I read, in red ink right across it, the words "Warspite Training Ship, not Reformatory." I say that if we had more "Warspites" and fewer reformatory ships, and a greater desire on the part of the Government to see that our new seamen are properly taught and trained for their job, the better it would be. The average man to-day could not tie an eye-splice or a short splice and knows practically 876 nothing of knots, bends, or hitches; all he knows is how to put a bit of oxide on a boiler where there is a rusty spot. We shall have to go into the question and to bring up, in this island country of ours, a body of men of whom we can be proud, sailing in ships of which we can be equally proud. At this moment, I venture to say, we can neither be proud of the ships, proud of the Service, proud of the Government, proud of the owners of the ships, nor proud of the country that is calling upon men to serve under such rotten conditions. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give this matter his personal attention. I would plead with him again also that his ordinary staff ought to have a medical officer of health who can be looking into the construction of these ships from the point of view of accommodation and leisure, and not wait until the ships are built.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not mind whether it is a man or a woman, so long as we get the results, but my experience at sea was that the farther we kept the women out of it, the better for all concerned. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to look at it from the angle that I have suggested, and if he himself feels that his Department is covering too many things, that shipping is a mere sideline of his Department, I beg of him to consider the question either of asking the Cabinet to introduce, as many other countries have done, a Minister for Shipping, or, failing that, to have a watertight compartment and ask the Government to give him a Secretary to undertake that duty and no other.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I was very glad when I heard that the Opposition were putting down this Mercantile Marine Vote as a separate Vote. We have had experience before of this Vote being put down at the same time that the Board of Trade Vote is put down, and the result has been that these extremely important questions of shipping have become mere sidelines in a general industrial discussion, and the task of replying adequately to a debate of that kind has become really impossible. To-day we have had the whole of our limited time devoted to this one subject, and I think 877 the Committee may well feel that the time spent on it has not been wasted and that we have heard a number of extremely interesting speeches.
The general debate has fallen into two halves, with which I will deal in turn. One has dealt largely with the question of the accommodation of crews and the other with the more general and wide question of the whole position and future of our Mercantile Marine. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) made a speech to which the Committee has listened with the greatest interest and also the greatest amusement, and if I am not being impertinent, I really cannot bring myself to believe that a man who can speak with both such force and such humour raised himself in his youth entirely on such a beverage as cocoa.
§ Mr. Stanley
There were two specific points which the hon. Member raised with which I should like to deal before I deal with the rest of the subject. One is the delay in holding inquiries. We are, of course, anxious to have inquiries as soon as possible, taking into account all the difficulties we have in getting all the evidence available, much of which has to come from abroad. But in every case, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, we have a preliminary inquiry. It is only after that inquiry that it is possible to know whether we should have a formal inquiry. These preliminary inquiries are held as soon as the evidence of the crews concerned is available. Therefore, the point he made of taking the evidence of the crews while it is hot in their minds, is covered by the fact that we have already taken it in a preliminary inquiry. The other point, with which, I am afraid, in the short time left to me I cannot deal adequately, is the question of training. That is a matter of immense importance, and one which, I think, must stretch beyond the bounds of my Department. We have to enlist a good deal of sympathy and help from the Department over which I presided a short time ago. We have set up a new body to try to improve the amount of education and the quality of education which is provided by apprenticeship, which still remains the normal way of entering the Service.
878 Let me pass from those two specific points to the first of the more general questions raised, that is, the question of crew accommodation. I am very glad that we have had this opportunity of dealing with the question. Some time ago, in answer to a question on the matter of the "Times" articles, I said I would welcome the opportunity of such a discussion, and of being able to reply to it, because I think the tendency when this matter is discussed is to ignore, not only some of the difficulties, but many of the achievements which have actually been accomplished and much of the progress which is now being made. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe spoke about the years wasted and about how long this has been going on, but hon. Members opposite cannot afford to challenge the Government and say that hon. Members on this side are complacent. The year which the National Union of Seamen itself said was the year of resolution in this matter was the year 1936, not the year 1929 or the year 1930 or 1931. If the right hon. Gentleman and his Government in 1930 had brought in the instructions which we have now made, much of the trouble with which we shall have to deal in respect of the old ships would have been avoided. We should have been very much nearer a solution of the problem than we are to-day. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, when they had the opportunity, did nothing, are not entitled to complain of the Government, who, even though possibly late, have, at any rate, in the last few years accomplished a great deal.
§ Mr. Montague
Why did the right hon. Gentleman wait five years? The Labor Government were in office only two years.
§ Mr. Stanley
We did it in the end. I am not being complacent about the condition of these ships. I am prepared, and the party on this side of the House are prepared, to bear their share of the responsibility for the years that have gone by, because those are the years to which these conditions are due, but hon. Members opposite have to take their share of the responsibility as well. No real attempt has been made to criticise the instructions which have been issued with regard to new ships. The Noble Lady made a point, which I am afraid has no substance whatever, that this should have 879 been done by regulations and not by instructions. There is no difference, for the legal sanction behind the instructions is the same as the legal sanction behind regulations.
I want to challenge the criticisms which have been made in the "Times" articles that the new standard which we laid down is inferior to that of other countries, including the Scandinavian countries. I deny that absolutely. This standard was adopted after long and numerous consultations with all the interests concerned. It was adopted as a result largely of their advice and of those consultations. I have obtained the latest information with regard to the standards laid down by all the countries to whom reference is made. I can say from an examination of them that the standards are different. On two points, at any rate, there is a difference of opinion between experts in this country and experts abroad as to which is the better of two courses. The course we chose was chosen because our people thought it better, and the Scandinavians took the opposite course because their people considered it to be the better one. I refer to the question of the covering of the partitions and of the two-berth cabin or the larger cabin. In all other things our standard was equal to theirs and in many cases superior in accommodation, in furnishing, washing, ventilation to avoid draughts, the setting down of a definite standard of heat, the prohibition of stoves except in special cases, and in the provision of heated rooms for the drying of damp clothes. I deny as emphatically as I can that the standard laid down as a result of co-operation between all sections of the industry is inferior to that of any laid down by any other nation in the world.
§ Viscountess Astor rose—
§ Mr. Stanley
I hope that hon Members will not think it discourteous of me if I do not give way to questions as I have only 12 minutes to complete my speech.
The only other point I want to deal with is the question of the old ships. Everybody recognises that this presents not only a great evil but a grave problem. We know that these bad conditions do exist, and those of us who have studied the question know how difficult it is in many cases to remedy them, and how impossible 880 it is in the case of some of the old ships to bring them up to the new standards which are required by any structural alterations. Our task, therefore, must be to produce whatever improvements are practical and possible within the limitations of the particular ship. Instructions were sent out to my inspectors last Autumn to take this matter particularly in hand and to make every effort, whenever they noted the need for alteration and the possibility of alteration, to get it made by co-operation with the shipowner. I do not want hon. Members to think that these instructions have either been neglected or been without results. It is easy enough to quote cases. I know there are a number of cases where no improvement has yet been made, but it is equally true that, as a result of those recommendations, in the past 12 months a larger number of very substantial improvements have been made in a number of ships. That we owe to a large extent to the willing co-operation of the great majority of shipowners. Ever since those instructions were sent out to my inspectors I have had from them monthly reports as to the conditions they found, the suggestions they made, and the steps which were being taken to remedy defects, and those monthly reports show a large number of cases in which really substantial work is being undertaken, and in which within the limits of the old ship, the maximum of improvement is being made. If I had had the time I could have given the Committee a long list of examples of ships up to 9,000 tons which the owners are reconstructing so as to give conditions almost as good as those laid down for the new ships.
I can assure this Committee that I dislike, I detest, as much as they do the sort of instances they quoted, although I cannot accept them as being average cases, but even if they are abnormal cases I detest it that they should exist at all. I would emphasise, however, that in these two years we have done more, probably, to improve conditions than had been done in a generation. The attempt to improve existing ships is being pressed with all energy, and our efforts are already meeting with a large amount of success, but I would emphasise, because this leads me quite naturally to the second part of the problem with which I have to deal, that the economic condition of the industry does to some extent 881 regulate the pace at which advance can be made. While I pay tribute to the willingness of the vast majority of shipowners to co-operate when things are good, you cannot expect, and you will not get, the same willingness to co-operate when shipowners are going through the difficulties which they are experiencing at the moment.
I will pass now for a few minutes to a question with which I did deal to some extent the last time this Vote was being considered, and that is the general question of the conditions of the Mercantile Marine, looked at in the light of possible war and also in the light of the more certain, as we hope, and long-lived purposes of peace. A good deal of criticism has been directed against a statement by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, after a general review of the conditions, that in the event of an emergency the state of our shipping would be found to be not unsatisfactory. It is impossible to judge the correctness of that statement simply by a comparison of the amount of tonnage under the British flag to-day with the amount of tonnage under the British flag in 1914. I do not want to go again over points which have already been dealt with, including the amount of tonnage under Dominion flags, and the fact that some services which were rendered in the last War by United Kingdom ships, are now rendered by Dominion ships, and to that extent we are entitled to count the ships under the Dominion flags in the total. What I would emphasise is the fact that any real consideration of the adequacy of our Mercantile Marine for an emergency depends upon a vast number of considerations, many of which, after all, we cannot even discuss in public. You have, first of all, to ask who are going to be your enemy. You have then to make the assumption of the kind of war you are to fight: will it be the same sort of war as the last war? Then we had 1,000,000, or whatever number it was, of our troops in France, and I think there were five other wars going on at the same time, in Palestine, Aden, East and West Africa, Mesopotamia, and in the Dardanelles, and all of them requiring ships. You have to make an estimate of the new speed of the modern methods of unloading and against that you have to make your estimate of the new and increased peril of 882 the air against the old and what we believe to be the rather decreased peril of the submarine. It is only when you make all those assumptions and have taken all those factors into consideration that you can venture an opinion.
It was after that consideration and with those estimates, that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence made the statement, with which I agree, that if an emergency were to occur the state of the Mercantile Marine would be not unsatisfactory. While I do not believe that it is either wise or necessary to paint things blacker than they are, I do not want hon. Members to think that the phrase "not unsatisfactory" applied to the Mercantile Marine means that we can view the position with complacency or take the view that nothing better can be done. Even if the Mercantile Marine is sufficient for an emergency, if it should come, we want more than sufficiency; we want a good margin of sufficiency. Nor must we think that the purpose of the Mercantile Marine is only a purpose of war. We must think of the Mercantile Marine as one of our greatest interests in peace.
I should like to express to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite our realisation of the gravity of the position and of their implicit acquiescence and support for whatever measures it might be necessary for the Government to take. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in an interesting speech, accused me of living in the nineteenth century and he implored me to think of the new century. I must say, when I think of the criticism which he and many of his friends make on some of the legislation which it is my fortune to introduce, that it is he rather than myself who was thinking in the nineteenth century, and when he talks about the Rip Van Winkle awakening which is in store for the Board of Trade I would observe that if he estimates Government somnolence as long as that he should remember that there were several years when he must have been adding a snore or two.
In the short time that remains to me I want to repeat the statement that I made on a previous occasion and which in itself is only a repetition of a statement made by Lord Runciman in 1934, that 883 this Government recognise the vital importance of the shipping industry to this country and that we are prepared to help it in any way satisfactory, even if, as was said then, help involved financial assistance, as for a period it did. What I feel is that in an industry so complicated as this and with ramifications so vast, the first move must and should come from the industry, and that the industry should, with the knowledge of its difficulties, itself see and think what are the possible ways of helping itself. I can assure the industry that when it has performed its task and brings to the Board of Trade its results, it will not
§ find either myself or the Government to which I belong unsympathetic to the claims of an industry upon which the greatness of Britain was built in the past and upon which it must rest in the future.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Would the right hon. Gentleman undertake to bring to the notice of the National Maritime Board their powers of arbitration, with reference to the question of the condition of coastwise shipping?
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £284,870, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 73; Noes, 156.885
|Division No. 290.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Montague, F.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Grenfell, D. R.||Paling, W.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Parker, J.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Pearson, A.|
|Benson, G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hardie, Agnes||Ridley, G.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Ritson, J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hayday, A.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Daggar, G.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Dalton, H.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hopkin, D.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Day, H.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Dobbie, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Thorne, W.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thurtle, E.|
|Ede, J. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Edwards, A (Middlesbrough E.)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Viant, S. P.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Kirby, B. V.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Evans, D. O.(Cardigan)||Lathan, G.||Wilson, C. H. (Attereliffe)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||McEntee, V. La T.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Frankel, D.||MaeLaren, A.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Gardner, B. W.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Marshall, F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Groves and Mr. Mathers.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Colman, N. C. D.||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Goldie, N. B.|
|Assheton, R.||Cox, H. B. Trevor||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cross, R. H.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Davidson, Viscountess||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Dawson, Sir P.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||De la Bere, R.||Harvey, Sir G.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Denville, Alfred||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Doland, G. F.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Hely-Hutehinson, M. R.|
|Boyoe, H. Leslie||Duggan, H. J.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Brass, Sir W.||Eastwood, J. F.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Elliston,Capt. G. S.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Bull, B. B.||Elmley, Viscount||Hunloke, H. P.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Keeling, E. H.|
|Cary, R. A.||Findlay, Sir E.||Kerr, Colonel C. l. (Montrose|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Channon, H.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Furness, S. N.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Petherick, M.||Spens, W. P.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Procter, Major H. A.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'I'd)|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Stewart,, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Ramsbotham, H.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Rankin, Sir R.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|McKie, J. H.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Maenamara, Major J. R. J.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Touche, G. C.|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Salmon, Sir I.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Moreing, A. C.||Selley, H. R.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Shakespeare, G. H.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Munro, P.||Smith, Braoewell (Dulwich)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Peake, O.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Captain Dugdale and Mr. Grimston.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Silverman rose—
§ It being after Four of the Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.886
§ The remaining Order was read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER ad- journed the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 11th July.