HC Deb 15 March 1938 vol 333 cc187-8
9. Mr. Owen Evans

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the widespread concern on the subject, he will immediately institute an inquiry into all conditions of service in the British Mercantile Marine, and particularly into the condition of seamen's quarters?

Mr. Stanley

The general conditions of service in the Mercantile Marine are primarily matters for the National Maritime Board, and the record of that body, which is fully representative of both sides of the shipping industry, shows its ability to deal with working conditions in the industry. As regards crews' quarters, the question of improvement was fully considered by the Board of Trade in consultation with all the interests concerned as recently as last year. As a result, a standard of accommodation which is reported as satisfactory by those interests is now required in all new ships. It is the constant endeavour of the Board of Trade to secure that existing ships are brought as far as possible up to a similar standard. As at present advised I do not think a special inquiry necessary.

Mr. O. Evans

Has the right hon. Gentleman acquainted himself with the reports of his officers to the effect that even now the quarters of the crews are wholly unsuitable for habitation, and in view of that does he not think an inquiry is necessary? Is he aware that the regulations made last year were made under Statutes which are now more than 30 years old?

Mr. Stanley

I do not see the relevancy of the last part of the supplementary question. The regulations were approved by all people interested in the industry after consultation with all bodies, including the National Union of Seamen, the Trades Union Congress and port local authorities. In regard to conditions in existing ships, where the accommodation is not up to standard, we are trying by constant vigilance and inspection, and with the co-operation of the owners, to bring them as far as practicable up to the new standards laid down.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that there is considerable discontent among the men in the mercantile marine because of the delay in reconditioning quarters in existing vessels, and will he use his influence with shipowners to induce them to expedite their reconditioning which is so urgently required?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Member will appreciate that the reconditioning of existing ships is a very difficult question I am using all the influence I have, and I have issued instructions to the staff. I must tell the House quite frankly that I have received the greatest co-operation from shipowners in this respect.

Mr. Holdsworth

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to recent articles in the "Times" on this subject?

Mr. Stanley

My attention has been drawn to these articles and I very much hope on a suitable occasion the House will have an opportunity for debate, because there are many things which I should like to say in reply. But apart from these articles in the "Times," there has been during the last year a constant endeavour by the Board of Trade to bring the quarters in old ships as far as possible up to the new standards laid down.

Mr. Gallacher

You should visit Soviet ships.