Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gritnston.]
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We are raising this Debate for two main reasons. The first is to afford the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Shipping an opportunity of acquainting the House with the work of his Department, and also to state to the House some positive suggestions for the administration of the merchant navy during the war. The right hon. Gentleman has occupied his present position for several weeks, and he will not complain if we now venture to ask him several questions on his activities during that period. The machinery associated with 608 the Ministry of Shipping was in existence before the Ministry itself was created. There was some doubt in the mind of the Government as to whether a Ministry of Shipping was necessary because, as was pointed out, the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade was adequate for the purpose. Anyhow, the machinery was there, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has availed himself of its use. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman has now fortified himself with a Parliamentary Secretary. There is something to be said for this Government. It is responsive to criticism and to advice, and I would remind hon. Members that three weeks ago, in the course of the Debate on economic co-ordination, I ventured the suggestion that the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) ought to be caught up in the administrative tasks of the Ministry of Shipping. It is true that the Government have delayed for three weeks, but it is never too late to mend, and they have now the well-equipped and well-informed mind of the Parliamentary Secretary to fortify the activities of the right hon. Gentleman himself.
I am in some difficulty whether I ought to congratulate the hon. Member or condole with him. I want to be fair, however, and, therefore, I will venture to congratulate the Government. I am not so sure that I can congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on being associated with that Government. At any rate, I am satisfied that his assistance will be of inestimable value. It is singular, but I do not want to make too much of it, that the man who has a thorough knowledge of shipping matters, and whose experience derives from the last war and the post-war period, should be the Parliamentary Secretary, whereas the man who, so it is alleged, is lacking in experience, should be the Minister himself. However, I do not want to make too much of it, and I leave the matter there.
No hon. Member in any quarter of the House will deny the importance of the merchant navy in time of war. Unless the merchant navy is effective in all its ramifications, we are in danger of defeat. It is the life-blood of all our operations. The transport of troops and equipment, our export trade, our imports and the like all depend upon the active and effective functioning of the merchant navy. With- 609 out that merchant navy we should be in a parlous condition. With that view I think there will be general agreement. It is, therefore, desirable at this time that we should direct attention to the actual condition of the merchant navy. I say that advisedly, because as it appears to me there exists in certain circles an unwarranted optimism in that regard. I am sorry that the First Lord of the Admiralty does not face hon. Members during this Debate. Some of the statements for which he accepts responsibility err on the side of an exaggerated optimism in respect of the adequacy and the functioning of the merchant navy. For example, he is responsible for a statement, made a week or two ago, that we have something like 18,000,000 of tonnage available for our needs. He cannot have informed himself of the true facts of the situation. We have to subtract from that amount the vessels which now form part of the Navy itself, the auxiliary vessels. There are the vessels which have been converted for the purpose of transporting troops, and some of which have been completely denuded of their refrigerating plant and the other equipment designed for the purpose of trade alone. There are the hospital ships, and there are many others which are now more intimately associated with the operations of the Navy. Therefore, we cannot claim, much as I should like to do so, to have at our disposal at this time 18,000,000 tons of effective shipping.
There is present to my mind, as there must be to the minds of other hon. Members, the important and vital question of replacements. In this respect the Government bear a heavy responsibility. At the behest of the Governor of the Bank of England and other equally important gentlemen in the financial world we rationalised our shipbuilding some years ago and deprived ourselves in wartime of 40 per cent. of shipbuilding capacity. Now, or it may be in the future, we shall realise the gravity of that step. It is a matter which we cannot ignore. Moreover, we have to consider what type of vessel is most effective for our purpose, having regard to the new situation that has developed as a result of our operations since the beginning of hostilities. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in a broadcast utterance the other night, seemed, it appeared to me, to be encouraging the enemy to attack our shores.
610 Whether that impression be false or otherwise, this I can say, that an air attack, or an attack of any other character, on our eastern ports and harbours would be a very serious matter. Those ports and harbours are extremely vulnerable. Let there be no mistake about that. By the dislocation that would be caused by such attacks we should be compelled to divert the bulk of our shipping and the bulk of our trade from the eastern ports to ports on the west coast. That involves questions of internal transport and other domestic considerations of equal importance. In particular, it raises the issue of the type of vessel which is required in such a situation. The larger type of vessel is not only vulnerable but exceedingly difficult to mobilise rapidly. Loading and discharging difficulties are bound to be encountered in a greater degree than in normal times with vessels of that type. There is the question of convoy to be considered, on which I shall have something to say before I sit down.
Therefore, the Minister of Shipping must devote himself to the question of whether or not we should rapidly mobilise a large fleet of small vessels of the coastal type, vessels which could utilise the harbours of the West Coast of Scotland, which is an area less vulnerable, where there is ample storage capacity, and where the danger of air attack is considerably less than on our eastern coast. That brings me to the question of what the Government are doing for the purpose of replacing obsolete vessels, although in war-time few vessels are obsolete, and in particular vessels which have been destroyed by enemy attack or by operations associated with the war. We discarded the scheme which was introduced in the form of legislation some time ago by the President of the Board of Trade to provide for a greater output of shipping. So far we have not been informed by the Government about an effective substitute. In reply to a question this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman said —he will correct me if I am wrong— that one-fifth of the shipbuilding to-day was on Government order, but what amount of shipbuilding for the merchant navy is being constructed is a matter upon which the Government remain silent. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) ventured an interrogation on that subject.
611 It may be that in the public interest it is inadvisable to give details, and I am not asking for details, but we want an assurance that replacement is effective and rapid. Not only do we ask for an assurance regarding replacements, but we want an assurance that the needs of the situation in the future, which every hon. Member must envisage, are being dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman may reply by saying that the whole of our shipbuilding capacity is being fully utilised. That may mean little or nothing. It may mean, for example, that the bulk of our shipbuilding is on Government order. I believe that on the Clyde the bulk of shipbuilding is naval construction. It may be that the same thing applies to other shipbuilding centres. That is satisfactory so far as it goes, but it does not meet the point as to whether or not we are effectively and rapidly replacing mercantile tonnage. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have something to say about that subject in the course of his speech.
I want to address myself to the question of the convoy system. I do not propose to go into detail, I refrain from doing so in the public interest, but I do say that I am not satisfied with the operation of the convoy system, neither are the shipowners. There are considerable delays, there is considerable waste and overlapping, and considerable danger is involved. It is alleged—I put it no higher than that —that vessels are expected to proceed to a rendezvous that may be very vulnerable and that serious danger might ensue, and in spite of what the First Lord of the Admiralty has said in this House and elsewhere about the efficacy of the convoy system, there is some doubt as to whether all our vessels, or a large part of our vessels, are being effectively convoyed. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to furnish us with intimate details, but certainly we are entitled to a sound assurance and to hear from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman either that all is well or that it is the intention of the Government at an early date to see that the most effective convoy system is established. I ask it, first of all, because of the essential needs of the case, in the interests of shipowners and, in particular, in the interests of the men who go to sea.
612 Now I address myself to the question of the allocation of tonnage, and I preface my remarks on this head by saying that I fully appreciate, as I am sure most hon. Members do, the difficulties inherent in the present situation. It is not easy to satisfy the wants of every interest. There are the needs of the Service Departments to be considered, and the needs of trade, but this I say, that it would be a fatal mistake on I he part of the Minister and on the part of the Government if they as a principle establish priority for the Service Departments and ignore the plain considerations which present themselves in respect of our commercial needs. Again I have ro desire to enter into details, and I only add this, that the Government must not always place the needs of our export trade and our commercial needs as a whole at the end of the queue. They deserve better consideration than that.
That brings me to certain principles in relation to the allocator of gonnage to important industries, or perhaps I should say to one important industry and one important aspect of our import trade. The first is as regards coal. I speak with some feeling on this subject because my own constituency has been adversely affected in recent weeks. There has been considerable short time and the men are complaining. In that constituency we have some of the largest pits in the country, with a tremendous output of coal, and there has been much short time in recent weeks. That is bad for the men, but it is bad for the country us a whole and it is bad for our export trade. I will not argue the question of the export trade and its importance as a weapon in this war; I have done so on previous occasions, but it is a thoroughly bad thing that these pits should be working short time and that the nation should be deprived of coal for export unless, of course, there are sound reasons for that position. I understand that there are shipping difficulties. Again, I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to turnish details, but, surely, these difficulties are not to be a constant factor. Surey at some time they will be modified if net removed. As far as I can gather, there appears to be no evidence of their immediate removal, and even no evident? of their immediate modification. At any rate, the complaints still pour in, and they are 613 substantial complaints. There is some difficulty about convoy. It may be that the transport of coal from the North-East Coast to the Scandinavian countries is not regarded as of urgent importance at this time, or that shipments of coal from the North-East Coast to the London gas works is not regarded as of importance. I venture the contrary opinion, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to devote some part of his time to clearing up this mess. It will be a serious matter if it is permitted to continue.
Now I come to the question of the difficulty in shipment of cereals. I have it from a very authoritative source which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not ask me to divulge, that the Cereals Board, which is a Government Department, is experiencing considerable difficulties in obtaining the requisite tonnage for the shipment of cereals. That is a most unsatisfactory position, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something on it. I come to the operations of the Minister as regards the requisitioning of vessels and the question of freights and rates. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the principle upon which he determines the rates to be paid when vessels are requisitioned, and will he inform us as to the basis of the principles which operate as regards the requisitioning of vessels? About the latter I can say that many shipowners are complaining that the wrong type of vessel is being requisitioned. Some vessels are being gutted quite unnecessarily, when there are adequate vessels which could be utilised for the purpose the Government have in mind. I know that there is considerable controversy in the shipping world because rates have risen enormously, particularly on neutral tonnage, and that British shipowners are demanding increased rates. Here I venture to remark that the Government must make up their mind upon the principle concerned. I put it this way. It may seem strange coming from this quarter, but we have to view the situation as it is. Either the Government must give to shipowners a reasonable profit or they must take over the whole of our shipping—one or the other. You cannot expect shipowners to run their ships for very long unless they are making what they regard as a reason-, able profit. It is alleged that they are making no profits at all—
§ Mr. Shinwell
And particularly is that so as regards tramp shipping. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). It is true that many tramp shipping firms are incurring losses at this time, and we have to deal with the facts. It is the case that as a result of the interminable delays and what shipowners regard as vexatious interference, tramp shipowners are incurring losses. If you had straight voyages with no interference it would be a different matter, but when ships are held up for one reason or another and wages have to be paid and all sorts of additional costs incurred, obviously, there is a likelihood of losses being incurred. I am not going to weep tears over the tramp shipowners, they can look after themselves, but we have to deal with the situation which presents itself. Therefore, either these shipowners are to receive a reasonable return on their capital or the Government should make one clean sweep and control the whole of our shipping. I make this qualification. It may not be expedient to exercise complete control as regards certain of our liner routes, but a consideration which presents itself to the mind of those who have informed themselves on these questions, is that of preserving these trades for the after-war period; that is a matter which must always be present to our mind. We cannot afford to lose the goodwill created by shipping lines in the past or to lose many of our trade routes, it would be fatal to the industrial interests of this country.
The question I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is, what is he proposing to do? Does he propose to increase the-rates, as is alleged, and, if so, to what extent? If he increases the rates to anything like the figure earned by neutral shipowners there will be a very serious clamour in this country. A reasonable profit, yes, in the absence of complete requisitioning under national control, but to allow shipowners, as some would desire, to make the kind of profits which were known in the last war is something which this country is not prepared to tolerate. That brings me to the question of neutral tonnage and the profits now being earned. Unprecedented profits are being earned by neutral shipping. I understand that as much as £150 per day per vessel is being earned, and I understand that freight rates on particular com- 615 modities are being increased. These neutral shipowners will, therefore, do even better than they have hitherto. A point that has to be considered is whether it is wise to allow neutral shipowners to build up during the progress of this war huge reserves which may be utilised against the British Mercantile Marine after the war ends. On the other hand, we have got to tempt the neutral shipowners to carry the commodities we desire. The situation is a difficult one.
There is a point which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman will keep under close observation. It is this. I am credibly informed that Scandinavian shipowners are now paying able seamen between £30 and £40 a month, and that Greek shipowners have trebled the wages of their men. The wages of British seamen are round about £10 a month. There is a reason for the high wages that are paid to neutral seamen; they are not disposed to go to sea unless they are tempted by this financial inducement. I do not altogether blame them. I know it has been said that British seamen proceed to sea even after being torpedoed with the utmost alacrity and enthusiasm. The last thing which the seamen of the British Mercantile Marine ask is that they should be described as heroes. If one met a seaman in the East India Dock Road, in Glasgow, in Cardiff, or in any of our ports, and suggested that he was a hero, I think he would reply that a pint of beer would be more acceptable. Certainly he wants to be properly remunerated, and he is not being properly remunerated now. When the seamen of the British Mercantile Marine learn, as they are learning, that seamen employed by neutral shipowners are earning three times the amount which they are, they are a bit troubled in their minds. The question of the higher wages that are being paid by neutral shipowners must come under review. The Government must consider whether they cannot balance the rates for neutral tonnage more delicately than they are now disposed to do. For example, where neutral tonnage is absolutely essential we have to pay whatever is demanded, but where it may not be quite as essential, there is no reason why the first demands of the neutral shipowners should be met. It has been suggested that a number of Greek vessels 616 are being employed by the British Government and that extraordinarily high rates are being paid for the use of them. I do not know whether this is essential or not, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on the matter.
I return to the question whether we are to permit shipowners to earn reasonable profits or to take over British shipping. There is a precedent in this war for taking over British ships. I understood that the Government have taken over the a whole of the whaling vessels. I understand that the firm of Unilever have been asked to hand over their vessels and that other firms in the same line of business are in a similar situation. I do not know what are the terms; it may be on a time-charter basis, or on some other terms If it is advisable for the Government to do this in one department of the Mercantile Marine, it may be desirable for it to be done on reasonable terms certainly as regards the whole of our tramp shipping. We have to be fair even to shipowners. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?" I We are living under a capitalist system: Obviously, if we could do without the whole of the privately-owned British Mercantile Marine in war time, I would gladly suggest that it should be done, but we cannot. We have allowed that system to grow up, and it would take some time before it would be possible to abandon it.
We have to deal with the situation as it is. We have to be fair to the shipowners. Some shipowners may lose the whole of their tonnage as a result of submarine warfare and may be put out -if business, and others, more fortunate, may retain the whole of their tonnage, and at the end of the war may be in a very fortunate position. In discussing the question of taking over vessels, the rates for requisitioning and the like, and the replacement of vessels that are lost, one must do so on a basis of equity, and the question whether or rot we should nationalise shipping at the 2nd of: the war, or even, if there is a kind of nationalisation during the war, whether it should continue, is a matter for political decision at that time. It has to be deat with in the light of circumstances. I have no hesitation in saying, for myself and my hon. Friends, that in the future Labour Government which we expect, we shall certainly nationalise the shipping industry of this country, adapting ourselves to the circumstances; but I do not suggest that 617 that could be done, at this stage, at the present time. The matter has to be carefully considered, and certainly the public interest must be considered. It is there that the question of high rates for British shipowners comes in.
Another point which I want to raise is the structure of the Ministry of Shipping itself. In replying to questions this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate satisfaction with the Advisory Council. He did not seem to be prepared to yield to pressure even in that regard, but I do not want to discuss that at this stage. We have got something of what we demanded, and there the matter stands. On that Advisory Council there are nine shipowners and nine representatives of the trade unions. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that is sufficient for our purpose. He is wrong. He has selected a considerable shipping personnel from the shipowners' side to assist him as technical advisers in the work of his Department. I will put the question in a sentence, so as not to occupy too much time—if the right hon. Gentleman is to have shipowners on his right hand, he ought to have on his left hand representatives of the labour concerned with the shipping industry, or he may reverse the geographical position if he cares. I suggest that representatives of the trade unions ought to be taken into the Ministry without being paid for their services. We have the example of the steel industry and the steel control. Representatives of the steel industry on the workers' side are associated with the steel control, and are not remunerated. What we are asking for is a measure of real equality in the administration of this great industry in war time. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly, because I feel strongly on this point, that those connected with the trade union and labour side of an industry are just as well equipped technically and even commercially as those on the employers' side.
More particularly is this desirable because of the acute problems that will engage the right hon. Gentleman's attention if the war lasts. To give him an example, the question of the organisation of the labour supply presents serious problems. I understand that there is considerable difficulty in connection with the employment of alien seamen. The British Mercantile Marine has always employed 618 numbers of alien seamen. There is considerable difficulty about the employment of Lascar and Chinese seamen. I have read in the newspapers that Lascar seamen refused to sail and were sent to prison. There is no evidence of British seamen refusing to sail and being convicted. Shipowners on the other side of the House, and shipowners outside the House, have in the past availed themselves of cheap Lascar and Chinese labour. We have warned them on this matter, and now, in time of war, in time of national emergency and crisis, we can no longer rely on these seamen. This is a subject on which I happen to have some knowledge because in the last war I had something to do with the organisation of the labour supply for the Mercantile Marine, and I venture to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, as the war proceeds, he will encounter serious difficulties in organising the labour supply, and it will not be enough to rely upon the National Maritime Board and the port consultants. More than that is required. I want the right hon. Gentleman to have in his Department people from the trade union side, equipped with all the knowledge and having the necessary influence among the men, of whom to avail himself at any time, just as he does in the case of the shipowners. There are other questions on which the representatives of the seamen's trade unions can speak with very great knowledge.
There is one point which has been brought to the notice of hon. Members on this side, and I have no doubt hon. Members opposite—namely, the conditions of the officers and men since the war began. First of all, I want to speak on the question of compensation for loss of effects. It is a wonderful tribute to British seamen, officers and men alike, that, although they have been torpedoed, they are ready to proceed to sea. Indeed —and this is a reflection on the conditions prevailing in the Mercantile Marine— although there is a provision that where officers or men are torpedoed, they are to receive two months wages for unemployment, the men are compelled to return to sea with sometimes only two days ashore after being torpedoed, or they must forfeit compensation. I was told by the representatives of the seamen's union that in various ports men have returned, after being torpedoed, expecting to have reasonable relief ashore, and have been told that unless they 619 took ship within a couple of days, there would be no compensation. As to the question of compensation for effects, at the present time, as regards able seamen and other ratings, the rate of compensation for loss of effects is £7 10s. I have been at pains to inquire as to the probable cost of this in the case of an able seaman or a fireman, and two reputable firms at the dockside have given me estimates. One estimated that the ordinary kit of an able seaman would cost rather more than £14, and the other estimated that it would be a little more than £13, and a sailors' home, which often replenishes the kit of men, gave me an estimate of £14. Yet the maximum amount that can be claimed by a torpedoed seaman, who has undergone all the trials and dangers, is £7 10s.
A mess-room steward receives £25, and although a steward may carry more kit than an able seaman, there seems to be no reason for that disparity. I do not wish to reduce the amount which is paid to the mess-room steward, but I want to see an increase in the amount which is paid to the able seaman. There is also a disparity in the case of engineer officers. Engineer officers are being placed on a naval basis, and in the Navy, engineering officers are inferior to navigating officers, whereas in the Mercantile Marine they are on the same level. The Government should have consulted with both officers and men before arriving at these determinations. The same remark applies to the question of pensions. The pension rates, in our judgment, are scandalous and must be revised. In this matter also there was no consultation I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman. As he said this afternoon, many things had been done before he was asked to take his present office but he bears the responsibility now, and I look to him to see that these matters are dealt with immediately on a satisfactory basis.
Finally, without being unfriendly, I wish to utter a warning to the right hon. Gentleman. There is a danger in over-optimism just as there is a danger in undue pessimism. We must strike a balance. We must have an effective and efficient Mercantile Marine with a contented personnel—officers and men alike. We must organise our Mercantile Marine, not from the standpoint only of the interests of the shipowners, although their 620 views in the present situation must not be ignored, but in the interests of the nation as a whole. Last but not least, the Ministry of Shipping must take its rightful place in any scheme of co-ordination— and co-ordination is highly necessary. Unless the Ministry of Shipping is recognised as one of the most important Departments in war time, I warn the Government that we may find ourselves in a very grave situation. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to those considerations. I have done my best to avoid needless criticism. I have certainly refrained from the unwise discussion of details. We are concerned with the successful prosecution of the war and we want to shorten the war as much as possible. At the same time, we are bound to criticise where criticism appears to be necessary, and we shall continue to criticise, unless the right hon. Gentleman and his very able Parliamentary Secretary appreciate what the true functions of the Department are, and try to adapt themselves to existing circumstances.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
We have now been engaged for 10 weeks in the prosecution of the war, and it is right and proper that at this stage at least one day should be given to a discussion on shipping and the problems connected with shipping. There is no industry Irore vital to our success in the war. Indeed, there is none more vital to our existence as a nation. Before the war we had, on many occasions, discussions of the intricate problems of the Mercantile Marine. We had to depart from our traditional policy and resort to subsidies, largely because of the decline in many branches of the industry. Unfortunately, it is true to say that we start this war with our shipping industry in not nearly as strong a position as it occupied in 1914. For over 100 years Great Britain could claim supremacy in the Mercantile Marine. That was due to many causes—to our position, to the natural instinct of our men to take to the seas and to our extensive sea border. In 1914 we faced war confident of our shipping supremacy. Now it is fair to say that, if we deduct tankers, our position in 1939 as regards shipping is not as good as it was in 1914. The last war dealt serious blows at our shipping supremacy. If we are not careful and wise in the organisation of our shipping, if we do not take a long view 621 of the problem, this war may prove to be the knock-out blow.
I have a memory of many discussions in the years between 1916 and 1918 when the situation at sea had become very serious. There is much in common between what happened in the last two years of the previous war and what has happened in the first two months of this war. We have the same problem of the U-boats. But we have experienced its intensity in the first few weeks of the present war, whereas it did not become a serious factor in the last war until 1917. We have the same problems, emphasised by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), of the diversion of shipping from its normal functions to the Government service, the abundance of imports and the inevitable shortage of exports though here, again, the problems which we are facing now in the first weeks of the present war only became serious in the last months of the previous war. The fact that our ships were engaged on Government service meant in the last war a tremendous premium on neutral shipping. It put Japan on its legs and gave a tremendous stimulus to the Scandinavian States.
There is one interesting difference in this respect between the last war and the present war. There is an inclination on the part of our enemy to sink neutrals without much discrimination—something which did not happen in the last war. Japan on this occasion has its own war and is very busy in the Pacific, and therefore is not able to steal the advantage in the same way as it did in the years from 1916 to 1919. Incidentally, I notice that Italy is reaping some advantage from the fact that we are occupied with war. Again, we have the call on our ships to carry troops. In the last war, at any rate for the purposes of the Western Front, the small Channel boats were used in conveying troops, but, as the Secretary of State for War has rightly pointed out, the mechanisation of the Army has made it necessary to call into service large steamers, very often liners, and to divert them to military purposes.
Then there are the convoys. Again, the convoy was not introduced until the middle of the last war. This time the system has operated almost from the inception of war. The policy is un- 622 doubtedly proving itself to be right, and I think the First Lord of the Admiralty has made out his case for it. But as the hon. Member who opened this Debate has pointed out, the convoy system means serious delays in starting and, for the faster ships, it also means much slower voyages. The weakness of the system is that the speed has to be regulated by the lowest common denominator. That is one of the matters in which the new Ministry can do a most useful service. It can improve the organisation of the convoys so that there will be a proper grouping of ships according to speed. Better regulation of this matter can avoid serious loss to the industry caused by protracted journeys. The finance of a modern ship depends largely on the number of times it is able to turn round, and if a ship is deprived of an extra voyage, it means increased cost which is inevitably passed on to the goods and, therefore, means increased prices. In connection with matters of this kind a live, properly-organised Ministry of Shipping can do much.
The hon. Member for Seaham quite properly referred to the problem of profiteering. I have a vivid memory of the speech made by the late Mr. Bonar Law in June, 1917, on this subject. It caused something of a sensation at the time. He put the responsibility on the Government, and he was quite frank with the House. He gave details of his own private transactions and of the enormous profits which a small investment of capital was able to obtain, and he justified a special tax in order to deal with that problem. Now, of course, we have our own legislation, but I say that the Government must have a properly worked-out policy to stop the kind of thing which went on during the last war, when shipowners taking advantage of the scarcity, sold out and were able to do so with great capital advantage. Anything of that kind should be stamped upon, if necessary by legislation, and should be discouraged in every way in the power of the Ministry. I agree with the hon. Member for Seaham that reasonable profits ought not to be discouraged, provided they are placed to reserve, and if by any ingenuity the Government could devise some policy on those lines, it would be all to the good, because the cost of shipbuilding is rising by leaps and 623 bounds and replacement costs will be very heavy.
Our experience in the last war was that those firms who got in early and who cleared out, made immense fortunes, while those who got in late and built ships, very often for the Government, were, shortly after the end of the war, financially ruined. It was a common thing to hear of bankruptcies in Cardiff and in many shipping centres, of shipowners who had gone into the industry late, while those who cleared out in the middle of the war had, in many instances, made immense profits. It is common knowledge that this war finds our shipbuilding industry in a much less strong position than it was during 1914. Many shipowners have gone out of action, largely, it has been suggested, for financial reasons. Very careful organisation will be required if we are to get the necessary output to provide for replacements.
I understand there is some talk of a standard ship. In fact, I am told that such ships are already being turned out, and that the Government have obtained very skilled advice upon them. Our experience in this respect in the last war was rather unfortunate. The standard ship did not stand the test of post-war conditions. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has heard of the concrete ships. There was great talk during the period of the scarcity of iron and steel about the construction of concrete ships and some were actually built, but no one can say that they were a great success. Wise direction and sound organisation are wanted, if our already decreased production capacity is to be made capable, not only of helping us through the war months, but also of ensuring that after the war we shall not have an inferior Mercantile Marine. We still have the finest building yards in the world, on the Clyde, on the Tyne and on Mersey side, and we want to see that those great assets are properly organised and their outfit used on a long-term policy and not merely to provide for our immediate needs.
I want to pay a tribute—I think one ought to—to the men who go down to the sea in ships. The hon. Gentleman made some reference to them, but I want 624 to emphasise their courage and endurance, even in normal times. It wants character in these days to go to sea; there are so many other tempting industries to go into. It is right to say that the prizes are few, even at the top, the life is hard, the hours are long, and if that is so in normal times, to go to sea in war time really requires heroism. No leave; no lights, a zig-zag course, perils from mines and submarines—they are just as much heroes as the men who go into the front line and have to face the enemy there. It is right and proper that the Government should see that these men have generous treatment, that their conditions are of the best, and that they should not be under a sense of grievance because of official red tape, or the amount of compensation to which they are entitled, or any small points that are instating, to make them feel that their services are less recognised than those of the officially recognised Fighting Services. These men are just as essential and just as vital to the winning of the war and to the bringing of it to a successful conclusion as are the men of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Therefore, if the Ministerwants to make a success of his Department, he must leave no stone unturned to earn their good will and, above all, their confidence and support.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell Fyfe
It would ill become me to indulge in any congratulations, were it not that I should like to convey to the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of those in Liverpool who are all, whatever be their individual avocations, connected by feeling and interest with the trade of the sea, their heart-felt desire to assist in any way they can the operations and the conduct of the Ministry which my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have under their charge. I find to-day, having listened, I think, to every speech that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has made on shipping during the past four years, that I have been surprised by the great measure of agreement in which I found myself this afternoon. Two postulates for the conduct of shipping at the present time are beyond any cavil or peradventure at all. The first is the absolute necessity of the Mercantile Marine for the security of the country and the conduct of the war, and the second is, at the present moment 625 and in the present conditions, the desirability of maintaining the Government's policy that the industry should be run by those normally responsible for it under the guidance of the Ministry of Shipping. Therefore, starting from that common ground, I ask hon. Members to consider what are the matters in shipping to-day that would receive common consent. I think it would be agreed that the control of freights, which exists to-day, must cover the actual cost of the voyage, but, apart from that, we have to consider the question of replacements, as the conditions of the industry exist, and in accordance with the fact, which is inevitable, that replacements, as the war goes on, have to be made at a higher price, and probably a considerably higher price, when it comes to be made. We have further to consider the fourth point, that if the industry is to continue and is to attract the capital in the future which is necessary for its continuance, there must be a reasonable rate of interest on the money that is invested in the industry to-day.
These conditions, as I say, would scarcely be questioned, but to meet these conditions before the beginning of the war this House had approved of the suggestion that there should be a subsidy of £2,750,000 for tramp shipping. That is in abeyance. Therefore, that amount, which was necessary on the basis of a 5 per cent. depreciation and a margin of 3 percent., has to be recovered, if we are to achieve the efficiency which we desired by that legislation, either from the freight rates as they are to-day or from the price of requisitioning; that is, we have not only to meet these four almost unquestionable necessities, but we have to meet also the position that we recognised when we gave that legislation its Second Reading shortly before the war. We have also to remember that not only was a subsidy deemed a necessity, but it was deemed a necessity under certain conditions, namely, reorganisation and a general improvement in the conditions of the industry. I say with the greatest respect that it will not be sufficient if the Ministry simply carries on to-day, if it produces the money necessary for this purpose. The Ministry to-day has to give that control, guidance, and lead along the path of improvement which were being demanded as a condition of the 626 subsidy of which we approved earlier in this year. Further, we have to face the fact that expansion was deemed a necessity, even before the conditions of war were inevitable. Nowadays it is doubly a necessity, and I submit that it is not sufficient that we should have that expansion through Government building; it is necessary that the industry itself should be encouraged in every way to make an expansion to-day. Again we come back to this: Where is the money to come from? It can only come, as the subsidy is out of the way, either, as the hon. Member for Seaham pointed out, from some increase in freight rates or from an increase in the prices given for requisitioning.
I do not want to go into details, but I think this House should face the position that obtains with regard to neutral shipping at the present time. I take one example, which is not an unfavourable or an unfair one. It is that of a country where they have controlled freights, namely, Norway. There you will find that to-day, with regard to the River Plate, the Norwegian rates are twice the rates that the Government are paying, of 32s. 6d.; with regard to the St. Lawrence rates, they are very nearly twice, and with regard to the Pacific rates they are 50 per cent. more. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Seaham —I do not think he was in his place when I said before that I have seldom found myself so much in agreement with him, and, therefore, I am all the more glad to announce it to-day—that we do not want to take these Norwegian figures as being the right figures for us. We have to consider them in the light of the position in which the Norwegian industry finds itself and is able to exploit at the present time, but we have to bear in mind that if we scale down too much, we are not merely requiring ourselves to face, but we are definitely inviting that we shall face, the same position again, namely, increased resources, increased reserves of tonnage, increased reserves of finance, and generally increased competition in every way from the neutral countries when the war comes to an end. One really has to consider, if Ministers in this country to-day are prepared to pay something like 60 per cent. over our own rates to neutral vessels, what the outcome will be when the position of crisis passes.
627 But I should like to consider it from another point of view, which I do not think has been put before the House so far, and that is the actual effect, to take one very simple example, of the grain freights, the increases which are suggested by the industry to-day, and the effects on the 4-lb. loaf, with its present price of about 8id. With regard to the freight to the Argentine route, a 6,000-miles route, the amount which could be referable to the transport by sea is I.18d., an increase of 43d. on the rates that are suggested at present; with regard to Canada, where you have a shorter route of 3,100 miles, the rate is .69d., an increase of .22d.; and with regard to Australia, a 12,000 miles run, the amount is 1.56d., the increase being .56d. When one considers the importance and value of the industry, which we all admit, I venture to submit that these requests which are being put forward to-day are not exorbitant and should receive very serious consideration. When we come to try and face the dilemma, which has been very properly put forward by the hon. Member for Seaham, of increased freights or general requisitioning, we have surely to take this point into consideration. A general requisition is bound to mean a loss of the services of owners and managers who can at the present time provide experience and a wealth of knowledge which could not easily be obtained elsewhere, and at a time when, in all sections of the House, we are prepared to look at the problem from the point of view of the requirements and necessities that stare us in the face, and not from any preconceived notions of politics or inflexible rules of economics in which we may believe.
It is vital for the interests of the country that we should give a try-out of a method which will preserve for us that useful material in ownership and management at the present time. Therefore, I suggest that from that aspect of our problem the case for some increase in freight rates is made out and is necessary in the interests of the country to-day. I re-echo what has been said about increasing the field of consultation, and I am sure that in that regard my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will do everything that can be done to see that the industry as a whole is given its proper voice in every problem that 628 may arise. I cannot help seeing this industry, not only in the light of the national necessity and the crisis of the present time, but in the light in which I have seen it in Liverpool for so many years—in the years of depression and unemployment which pass so slowly one after another—-and I hope that we shall be able not only to deal triumphantly with the difficulties of the war, but to put the industry on a basis which in the time that may succeed the war will avoid these periods of depression and unemployment which have affected so dread fully all sections of the industry during the last few years.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
It will be agreed on all sides of the House that there is a will that this war should be won, and won by utilising every element that can help to its winning. As one who with his colleagues on these benches pressed on the Government the necessity of appointing a Minister of Shipping, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not regard it as an offence when I say that we were disappointed in his appointment. No one will deny the first part of the Prime Minister's reply, when he was questioned about it, that one of the reasons for his appointment was character. No one will deny that character reclines within the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he himself would claim, in regard to shipping and the shipping industry, to have the experience which the Prime Minister claimed that he has. Nevertheless, we welcome the appointment of the Ministry of Shipping, and we are willing to do evtrything that we can to see that it is a success. I want to congratulate the Government, at any rate, on their wisdom in appointing the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) as Parliamentary Secretary, because he carries with him years of experience in the last war. I do not want to get him into any trouble, but I will say that on this side of the House we believe he is a man who has the ability to do the work and that he will hold the scales evenly in all that he does, whether for shipowners or for the men who go to the sea in ships.
We have to criticise the Ministry already. As I see it, the Marine Department of the Board of Trade is merely being cut off and called the Ministry of 629 Shipping. What has the Minister done —or what have the Government done, for we cannot hold the Minister responsible for things that happened before he took office? In urging the creation of this Ministry, it was claimed by Members on this side, on behalf of the men's union, that there should be proper and effective representation of labour when it was established. To say that the appointment of an advisory council of nine shipowners and nine trade union representatives is meeting the promise is not correct. The Minister now finds himself surrounded by a body of advisers who are shipowners in every sense. On what are they to advise? On how to run ships, I presume at a profit but with little regard for the men who are employed within those ships. We on this side of the House believe that the representatives of the trade unions can offer to the Minister as good and efficient advice, without the desire for profit, as can ever be offered by shipowners. After all, the owners are there in their own interests. I do not blame them, for where the treasure is you will find the heart, and it is not unfair that they should look after their own interests.
What have the Government done with regard to the whole position of the Mercantile Marine? Were the Government unaware, for instance, that they were likely to lose the great majority of the services of neutral shipping in the Baltic prior to this war? Were they not fully seized of the fact that Herr Hitler would take the fullest advantage of his position there and that he had little or no regard for any agreements entered into? Why have not the Government, as in the last war, taken the fullest advantage of neutral shipping to assist the Mercantile Marine. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Mr. Fyfe) has raised the question of the additional amount granted, and, if I understood him correctly, he said that either the rates which we are now paying to the neutrals who are working for us are uneconomic to the Government, and, therefore, should not be paid; or, if they are economic, the same rates should be applied to British shipowners.
§ Mr. Smith
Every war is uneconomic, and the Government ought to be prepared to harness the shipping of every neutral country if it will aid us to win the war. The argument of the hon. and learned Member for West Derby when he quoted his figures was, I thought, the best argument for the complete control of the shipping of this country. If the uneconomic rates that are being paid to the neutrals who are working for us are going to put them in a better financial position as competitors when the war is over, the Government ought surely to control our shipping and see that when the war is over the shipping industry is not in any worse position than when they took it over. I am sure that that is sound.
I take the view that complete cunfiol is the only way out of this problem. If the experience of the last war is any guide, the Minister will see that just as fabulous profits were made then, they will, if he listens to the advisers whom he has, again be made in this war. It is the Minister's duty to see that the shipping is there, whatever calls may be made on it from profits or wages, and that it does an efficient service towards the prosecution and winning of the war. Everybody knows, as the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) pointed out, that the profits of shipowners in the last war were such that the late Mr. Bonar Law was abel to stand at the Box and say that he made £1,000 profit on a nominal sums at the cost of the loss of life at sea. A former Prime Minister of this country was able to make that statement. That experience will be repeated unless the Minister takes complete control of shipping and establishes a set of rates that will suit the country and will leave the Government in a position of having to replace the shipping as they found it at the end of the war.
All the difficulties with which we find ourselves now are attributable to the President of the Board of Trade. He always took the attitude, prior to the establishment of this Ministry, of Mr. Micawber, that something would turn up. Nothing has turned up. When I hear the First Lord of the Admiralty telling us over the air that we have 18,000,000 tons of shipping, I wonder whether he has reference to documents which exist, and which will 631 tell him that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), speaking on 8th July, 1938, 16 months before the war, said this:If you take United Kingdom shipping alone you have a reduction from 1914 to 1937 from 19,250,000 tons to 17,500,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 1,750,000 tons, and that includes certain types of vessels, like oil tankers, which are replacing the coal-mining industry.He quoted the Chamber of Shipping as saying: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 in 1914."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1938; col. 806, Vol. 338.]He is right. Is Lord Lloyd wrong when he uses the same figure, and is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook wrong? Is the First Lord of the Admiralty right? Somebody is wrong. Further on the right hon. Gentleman said that this was a serious reduction of 20 per cent., and that there was a corresponding reduction in the number of ships. Before the war we had 8,500 ships and today only 7,000, a reduction of 1,600, or, if we exclude oil tankers, a reduction of 2,000 ships. The Chamber of Shipping say that 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 by 5,000,000 to approximately 50,000,000. I should say that the present-day figures are even less than have been quoted, because many thousand tons of snipping have been sold to foreigners in the last 16 months and we did not get from the yards new tonnage which would make up that loss.
Let me say a word about shipyards and shipbuilding. It is common knowledge that National Securities, Limited, were responsible under what they were pleased to call rationalisation for doing away with 40 per cent. of the shipbuilding capacity of this country, with the result that yards in the constituency of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) and others have been idle for years. The yards are still there. Are the Government ever going to make use of those yards, which were left idle simply because they did not produce a profit for the shipbuilders and shipowners ,many of whom have a dual considering the rehabilitation of those capacity? The Government ought to be 632 yards. Everyone knows that a large part of the existing yards have been taken over for naval requirements. Without a navy we should have very little merchant service. Is not the fact that so large a proportion of the yards still in operation have been taken over for Admiralty requirements a greater reason for utilising the idle yards which were cut out a few years ago? I put that seriously to the Minister and ask him, in the interests of this country and of winning the war, that those idle yards should be brought back into service at the earliest possible moment.
Another difficulty which the Minister has had is that most of the appointments to his Ministry had been made for him before he came into office, and therefore he had no choice in the matter. Without disparaging anybody who is there to advise him or to assist him I want to ask him this: Does he think that some of the people now in those jobs are the right people to advise or assist him? There are three people whom I will mention— Mr. Vernon Thomson; Mr. Turnbull, of Cardiff; and Mr. Basil Sanderson, of the Port of London. What great success have these men ever made in their own businesses, such as would give them the right to come in and take over a great national institution in time of war? What efficiency have they displayed? In the last war the Department was run by four of the most efficient civil servants— I will not mention names—who really got on with the job of shipping. Not so in this war. No civil servant has been brought in for the purpose of controlling shipping. I suggest to the Minister that he should look into the qualifications of these gentlemen who are there to advise him in the conduct of shipping during the war. They have had no experience of the handling of great national problems, and yet they are called upon to advise the Minister in the direction of shipping now.
I would also ask the Government whether they have made any approaches to neutral shipowners with a view to taking over their services. I estimate that in the Baltic alone there is approximately 10,000,000 tons of shipping, most of it lying idle to-day. Those ships are afraid to come out of the Baltic and to enter into our trade, partly on the ground that they may suffer the attentions of a gentleman who is looking after the interests, 633 presumably, of Germany. There is a great opportunity for bringing in the whole of the Baltic trade under the convoy system. Then as to America. Under the legislation just passed there practically the whole of the 14,000,000 tons of American shipping which used, on occasions, to visit the ports of this country, is now to be barred from doing so. That is a serious thing. Has the Minister any ideas about that? I suppose that some of his advisers will not like what I am going to say, but has he considered the question of getting an agreement on the allocation of trade, so that the American tonnage can be utilised for services now run by our ships, thus releasing more of our shipping for the purpose of winning this war? Some American ships have asked to go under the Panama flag and have advertised for British officers to serve in those ships. I believe that it would be possible to arrange for some of the trades which are held to-day by British shipowners to be transferred, thus releasing many tons of our own shipping for the prosecution of the war.
There is also the question of the utilisation of trawlers. I think I am correct in saying that before the war the Government were offered numbers of trawlers at practically scrap prices. Although the President of the Board of Trade had the power to buy, he declared that he did not want them and that their owners might sell them abroad if they liked. Those ships were, in fact, sold abroad. When the war came, the taking-over of great numbers of trawlers by the Navy for mine-sweeping purposes left this country mote or less without fish. It is no use saying that we did not know the war was coming. We had had the word of the Prime Minister, after the events of last September twelve months, that he was determined to give this country arms and that, if forced to it, we should go to war. That was a lively anticipation of events to come. In view of those circumstances the Government should have seen to it that those trawlers were kept in the service of this country.
Another subject which is bound up with shipping is that of dock labour. The Government had months to consider the question of dock labour. They consulted the Transport Workers' Union and received what advice that and other unions could give them, and yet we had 634 been weeks in the war before any real consideration was given to the transfer of dock labour. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned the position in some of the East Coast ports. I wish to draw attention to the position in Liverpool. Would it surprise the right hon. Gentleman to know that there are days when as many as 4,000 dock labourers are standing idle in Liverpool at this time? What is wrong with the system at the Ministry for allocating shipping to ports, that it allows thousands of men to be idle daily in the second largest shipping port in this country? Birkenhead, too, is practically idle. Why? Not because there is not work there, but because there is a nice argument going on among the various elements in shipping and the docks as to who is to be responsible for the cost of the goods going through the Mersey Tunnel. That is a serious statement to make, but it is true. It is little things like that which interfere with the effective running of our shipping, and it is the job of the Ministry to see that these little difficulties are eliminated at the earliest possible moment.
It is estimated that in the last war the men at the docks worked on an average 14 hours a day actually shipping and discharging cargo. The rest of the day was made up with other services, such as getting the goods down. I venture to suggest that to-day the average hours are about nine. It is a serious indictment, if it is true, that at this time, with a smaller merchant service than we had before the war, we are getting less than nine hours a day spent on actual shipment, whereas in the last war it was 14 hours. The men have said to the responsible authorities that they are willing to forgo the Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and are willing to work those hours under trade union conditions. What advantage has been taken of that offer? No advantage, except in the case of an odd ship here and there. The Minister must look into these things in order to secure efficiency.
Let me give an instance of what occurred in Liverpool docks in the blackout. The question of lighting arose in connection with the discharge of a ship. One of our officials who was standing by said, "What are you worrying about? What is the matter with fixing a bell tent 635 on the crane top? That would throw the light down upon about four trucks, and we could get on with the work. "But that idea did not accord with some particular regulation which exists, although it was quite a simple proposal which would have facilitated the shipment of the goods. I could amuse the House with many stories of things which happened in the last war. If the Minister would see that a stevedore is allowed to do his job without so much interference from people who know little about it we might get more effective work. A story is told of an occasion when a gentleman in the dockers' battalion, in uniform, came on the quay while a stevedore was sizing-up the job he was about to tackle. He had to load some steam-rollers and a quantity of harness—at any rate they were the two chief items in the consignment. He was sorting the cargo out with a view to putting the steam-rollers amidships and the lighter stuff fore and aft. This interfering young officer said, "What are you wasting time over this for? Put it in the hold just as it stands." The stevedore did so, and the result was that the ship trimmed by the head, and when she was warped off the dock-side her propeller was sticking out of the water and she had to be brought alongside again, discharged and reloaded.
If practical men were consulted about turning ships round more quickly there would be willing assistance from all the elements which make up dock labour. Or is there an idea in the Minister's mind that he would prefer militarising the men? Should I be right in saying that some of his advisers have already suggested that course—that some of the shipowners have said that it might be a good thing if the men were militarised and taken away from their conceptions of civil life? If so, I warn him that he will have very serious difficulties with the men. We were assured about a week ago that wagons had been pooled, as if the pooling of wagons was a wise thing which was going to get coal into ships' bottoms. I can give many instances of dealers on the market getting an order for a shipment of coal which will allow 10, 20 or 30 trucks, covering 400, 500 or 600 tons of coal, to stand in the way of another ship at the quayside waiting to get 500 tons, where practically the whole of the coal is from one pit. Why should there 636 not be for every port a coastal controller who would have the power to say that no one truck of coal should stand on the road preventing the shipping of other coal? In the last war we had these controllers, and it would be a good thing if we had them again and did away with this holding up of the quick delivery of coal. We are told that one of our great objects is to get as much coal to neutrals as possible in order, as it were, to keep them sweet. I ask the Minister to see that no obstacle is placed in the way of the utmost efficiency in getting the coal into the ship.
Some time ago the coastwise trade put in a claim for a subsidy. The representative of the Board of Trade assured a deputation that, if they gave it, they would be subsidising a section of industry which was competing with two other forms—road and rail transport. That is alright, but coastwise shipping has now pressed on the Government the necessity of bringing it under the ordinary war risks insurance, and not marine insurance. It travels mostly within territorial waters. It is doing a great service, and in my submission can do a much greater service for the country, if the Minister will get hold of it, than it has done so far during the war. They have said rightly that they have occasionally to travel outside territorial waters and, because they do that, they have to meet the cost of marine insurance instead of war risk insurance. In many cases it means the difference between getting work and not getting work. I do not say this with any ill-feeling to any section of transport, but it is fostering the railways as against coastwise shipping. The railways have increased their goods traffic by 9,000,000 tons—approximately a 33⅓ per cent. increase. They have got that from somewhere. It can come only from one of two places—road transport or coastwise. The railways perform a wonderful function for the country, but you cannot have it both ways. They should not be in the position of competing with coastwise from the mere fact that, in its ordinary trade, it has to go outside the three-mile limit. I ask the Minister seriously to look into that. If he wants to get real efficiency he must see that all the elements that make up transport are used efficiently.
Again, what is he doing about canals? In my view they should be used as a complement to coastwise shipping. They 637 should join up with it. But I see no evidence that they are being utilised in serving coastwise shipping. If they were used more effectively, the goods carried on them would be less liable to attack from the air. If coastwise shipping wants to make any approach on any subject connected with the industry, if it is wagons, it has to go to the Board of Trade, if it is the running of wagons, to the Ministry of Transport, if it is port shipping, it has to go to the Ministry of Shipping, and, if it is convoys, to the Admiralty. Then each of these Departments has to go to the Treasury. What a foolish policy that is. It would not be wise for me to say here the things that I hope to have an opportunity of conveying to the Minister. We do not want to convey to the enemy any of our shortcomings. But I am convinced that if these things are properly brought to the notice of the Minister he will do anything he can to avoid a continuance of them. It might be a wise thing for not only shipping but the whole of transport to come under a Ministry which could control the whole thing in every aspect, on the water, in the docks and on the land, where it could be looked into from the point of view of carrying out an efficient service.
I hate to repeat this, but I am an old seaman, and I am not a bit ashamed of it. I want the Minister to understand that the men in the Merchant Service, in the last war, since the last war and during this war, and for as long as this war may continue, are willing to give the country unstinted service, not for laurels, not for medals, but in the firm belief that in following their natural avocation they are serving the best interests of the country. My hon. Friend has submitted points with regard to conditions, wages, compensation, the unconscionable hours and the pay of officers. If they have any regard for this unstinted service, which is practically thrown at the Government, in decency give them the honour and the reward that are due to them.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner
This is the first opportunity I have had of congratulating the Minister of Shipping on his appointment. I certainly do so, and I believe that he possesses the necessary character and experience to ensure success in the important office in which he is now serving. 638 One thing of which I am certain is that he will never let his Department down. The new Parliamentary Secretary has had experience in the last war. He is new to the Front Bench, and I congratulate him on the office that he has attained. We must wait and see whether the great expectations that we all have are fulfilled.
This is not the first time that I have endeavoured to express the views of shipowners in this House. On occasions I have tried to represent all sections of the industry—liners, tramps, cargo liners, coasters and tankers—and where I have not expressed the views of the industry, or where I have only expressed my own views, I have attempted to make that clear to the House. This evening I speak as a tramp owner, but I feel sure that much of what I have to say will apply equally, or to an even greater extent, to other branches of the industry. I have listened to many speeches on shipping by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and once again I found myself in considerable agreement with much of what he said. I was particularly impressed by his statement that it was essential to have contented officers and seamen. I am sure that is true, but I think he might also have added contented shipowners, for they are an important section of the shipping industry. Let me tell the House at once that which the Minister, no doubt, already knows: so far as owners are concerned, the industry is seething with discontent and is indignant at the treatment which it has received. Before the war I was speaking to a shipping friend of mine in the City and we were wondering what our respective positions would be at the end of the war which we then felt was coming. My friend suggested that we should be dead millionaires. I think he would now have to revise his opinion and he would probably think that our position as shipowners at the end of the war would be more likely that of living paupers. That is certainly a much happier fate, although I am not at all sure that it would be better in the national interest.
§ Colonel Ropner
Shipowners can be replaced after a reasonable interval but it may take years, and very expensive 639 years, to make good the wastage of war or to repair a derelict Mercantile Marine.
From what has already been said in this Debate, I am not convinced that it is generally recognised that, to all intents and purposes, tramp shipping is already nationalised. Every voyage has to be licensed; when permission to undertake a certain voyage has been obtained—or it may be refused—the ship will eventually start on a voyage under Government direction at controlled rates. It is true, of course, that the Government rates are at this moment considerably in excess of the pre-war rates of freight, but there is certainly no profit—
§ Colonel Ropner
I thought I made it clear when I commenced my speech that I was speaking as a tramp owner. I was saying that in spite of the increase in the rates of freight there is certainly no profit and in many cases substantial and heavy losses are sustained. There are many reasons for this, and I have heard no shipowner describe one of the reasons as the vexatious interference to which one hon. Member opposite referred. I am sure that no shipowner believes that the interference to which he is subject to-day could fairly be described as vexatious, but of course it does lead to very heavy expenses and, as I have said, losses on the voyage. Long detention has been experienced in every case, first in connection with the stiffening of the ship and then with the final mounting of the gun. The convoy system, which I have every reason to believe is on the whole being most efficiently carried out, inevitably leads to delay. As has already been said, ships have to proceed to a rendezvous where they may have to wait many days. The fastest and some of the most efficient shipping has to steam at the rate of the slowest ship in the convoy, and, generally speaking, a voyage takes about twice as long as would be the case in normal times. Again, no doubt for excellent reasons, ships are frequently diverted. Running costs have increased enormously and, perhaps the most important item of all, repairs are not only slower but far more expensive than they were in prewar days. I would repeat, therefore, that voyages to-day are entailing heavy losses.
640 While these are the conditions ruling in the British Mercantile Marine, neutral tramps are being chartered by the Government at fantastically high rates of freights. It is a fact that, in spite of warnings repeated not once, but hundreds and even thousands of times before the war, the British Mercantile Marine has been allowed to fall to numbers which are entirely inadequate for the needs of this nation.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
I presume that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree with me that the majority of shipowners in this House would decry speed as a serious thing.
§ Colonel Ropner
I did not quite hear the hon. Gentleman's remarks; perhaps he would be good enough to repeat them.
§ Colonel Ropner
It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should raise that subject at the moment, as it is quite irrelevant to the matter with which I am dealing. I was saying that the fastest ship is often the most uneconomical ship, because it has to go at the speed of the slowest. Unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to scrap every slow ship and build new ones his remark has no point at all.
I was going to say, let us thank our lucky stars for the skill and courage of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force which seem so well able at this moment to defend both British and neutral tonnage from the torpedoes, guns and bombs of the enemy, and I should like to add my tribute to the courage of the men of the Mercantile Marine, who so bravely face the perils of their calling, and who, incidentally, give such a very good account of themselves when they meet German submarines. It may interest the House to know that while the companies with which I am concerned have lost two ships by submarine action during the war, two others of our ships have, when attacked, given such a good account of themselves that they have disabled two German submarines, both of 641 which were sent to the bottom by destroyers within a few hours of breaking off their actions with the Mercantile Marine. I am told—I hope it does not sound immodest—that at the Admiralty "Ropner's Navy" is almost as well known as His Majesty's—although no credit is due in this case to the owners, but all praise is due to those gallant seamen who, largely untrained, certainly not so trained as the German crews, engaged German submarines for four or five hours and by their action led to the final destruction of those submarines.
I fear that the admiration that I feel for those who sail under both the White Ensign and the Red has led me to digress. I was about to tell the House that, owing to the lack of vision which has led, I submit, to the shameful neglect of British shipping by successive Governments since 1925, this country is going to pay as many millions of pounds to neutral shipping as it would have been necessary to pay thousands of pounds to our own companies in order to ensure that this nation should maintain an adequate merchant fleet during the past 15 years.The: British Mercantile Marine must not be swept from the sea; subsidy will be met by subsidy.These were brave words, uttered by a recent President of the Board of Trade; but they were followed by niggardly action and haggling for months, and sometimes for years. What a dismal record is that of our shipping legislation of the past few years. What encouragement has been given even to those within the industry who, while appealing for Government help, could not appreciate the true nature of the threat to which British shipping was subject? It was not only the President of the Board of Trade, but, to a certain extent, representative, or non-representative, shipowners, who were fearful of internal competition, who talked about scrapping two ships before owners were to be assisted to build one, and who quite recently discussed the advisability of tying up ships, when the number of British ships on the high seas had been reduced already by 2,000. In the summer of this year, after the Munich crisis, the Government produced a Bill which was a bitter disappointment to British shipowners. I say "bitter," not because it did not produce what the industry considered to be the requisite amount of cash, but because the Govern- 642 ment had evidently not begun to appreciate that, whatever had happened with the armies and navies and air forces, the merchant navies of the world were already at war, and we were being beaten. Now we are all at war, and the Government which neglected the merchant navy in the past is at present—I am glad to admit that the right hon. Gentleman has occupied his post for only a few weeks—crippling the industry. Am I wrong in suggesting that the British Mercantile Marine should be allowed to make reasonable profits?
Having regard to the number of shipping advisers that the right hon. Gentleman will find in his Ministry, fears have been expressed from the benches opposite that the views of the Minister will be overborne by the avaricious intentions of these shipowners. I have exactly the opposite feeling. I know many of the men in that Ministry. I know that they are of high character and ability; but my fear is that there will be a sort of inverted sense of fair play, and that the pressure on the Minister from within the Ministry will be such as will induce him to give the industry a deal which will be somewhat less than fair, rather than in the opposite direction. I think that any hon. Member who knows the men to whom I refer will say that that fear is more well-grounded than the one expressed from the benches opposite. I am afraid it is true that more ships will be lost, and it is certainly true that new ships will cost one and a half times, twice, or three times as much as those which have been lost, and which they are built to replace. Unless the Government fix rates which will show a profit, how can shipowners build new ships?
The Minister is in the position of being able to do almost anything he likes with this great industry. It is a very heavy responsibility. He can, I think, ask for powers to limit dividends. I want the House to believe that I am not concerned with dividends. It is the future of the British Mercantile Marine of which I am thinking at this moment. As I have said, neutrals are building up enormous reserves. Limit dividends by legislation, but let the shipping companies put something into reserve; let them build ships during the war, and have something with which to fight after the war. I feel certain that the Minister's advisers will fill up any gaps which the Chancellor of the 643 Exchequer may have left open, and through which a man might crawl to greater individual wealth. If it is the intention, as I believe it is, to stop increases in personal fortunes, leave the shipowners to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If you do not trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer, urge the Minister of Shipping to proceed on the same lines, and I will urge him to take the same action. But leave the shipping companies the power to create a reserve, to build ships which they can use after hostilities have stopped. The Minister must make absolutely certain that, somehow or other, real confidence as to the future returns to the industry. There must not only be that incentive to build, but—let me repeat—there must also be a reserve with which to pay for new ships.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
We are accustomed to shocks in this House, but we have seldom listened to such a shocking exhibition as that of a prominent and wealthy shipowner making a powerful plea to be allowed to make dividends out of the necessities of his own countrymen.
§ Colonel Ropner
Was the hon. Lady equally- shocked when an hon. Gentleman on her own side, and an hon. Gentleman on the Liberal benches, made the same plea?
§ Miss Wilkinson
At least they offered an alternative, and, in any case, they are not shipowners, but possibly altruists. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman was begging us here to increase his income and that of his own particular class. May I join in the congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary on his new appointment? I hope the object of the Government has been to secure expert help and not to silence one of the best informed critics on shipping in this House. I thought, when I read about the hon. Gentleman's appointment, that he must have felt rather like the priest who was taken in the tumbrel to the guillotine and comforted himself with the thought that, at any rate, in a few hours he would soon have the answers to his own spiritual doubts. The effect of making the hon. Gentleman Parliamentary Secretary is that, I suppose by now, even though he has been Parliamentary Secretary only a few hours, he will at 644 least know the answer to his own questions which he has been putting to the Minister of Shipping. The only thing that worries us is whether we are to be allowed to share his knowledge.
I very much want to know the answers to some of the questions that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary has been asking. He has been pressing hard to know the principle on which the remuneration for requisition planning is to be fixed, which—and I use his words —with due regard to increased cost will secure the normal rate of profit on peacetime standards and no more. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) has left, as he would have been comforted by these words. We really want to know why there is this delay in deciding the principle. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has brought us the complaints of a shipowner, but what concerns this House as representing the taxpayer is to know whether the delay is due to the shipowners trying to force high rates from the Government and, after the exhibition given by the hon. and gallant Member, I presume that that is the case. The conduct of the shipping industry during the last war justified every suspicion, and it is pleasing to think how strongly this suspicion must be in the mind of the hon. Gentleman the new Parliamentary Secretary. In that very fine book, "Allied Shipping Control," which has been a bible of mine for some time, he pointed out that, for the first 26 months only of the last war, the shipping industry made no less than £262,000,000 profit, which was nearly equal to its entire capital in 1914. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member has left, because there is something I wanted to tell him which I am sure he would have appreciated. The "Shipping World" has taken his words and added to them a real heart song. On 25th October it said:War, famine, and pestilence, shipowners of a past generation regarded as offering opportunities for building up reserves from which new ventures might be financed.War, famine and pestilence are the opportunity at present, looking at the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, of the younger generation. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) mentioned the Bonar Law speech. Mr. Bonar Law pointed 645 out that on an investment of £8,100 on which he would have been glad to get 5 per cent., £405, in 1915, he received £3,624, and in 1916, £3,847 profit, a total of E7,471 in two years, instead of £810. A voice from these benches asked, "Was that after paying Excess Profits Duty?" and Mr. Bonar Law replied, "Yes." That gives some indication of what those profits were like.
I would like to tell the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash that we cannot really expect the Ministry to fix these profits according to neutral profits. My hon. Friend rightly said that we may have to pay through the nose for neutral shipping, but when the hon. and gallant Member demands that the rate shall be fixed higher because it is necessary for the shipping companies to have reserves, I would like to ask him how the shipping companies spent their reserves after the last war? One of the tragic scandals of that war, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his book, was the dissipation of these reserves in war dividends, excess profits and in buying up ships at fantastic prices. These reserves were not used to build up Britain's Mercantile Marine. I regret the hon. and gallant Gentleman had not the courage to stay here to be told the truth in the cut-and-thrust of debate. The British shipowners must make sacrifices like the rest of us. Why should they be exempt? It is fantastic to leave the shipping industry in the hands of the men who had mismanaged it for years and who came crawling for a subsidy.
If ever there was an occasion for an industry to be nationalised it is now, and if ever a case was proved up to the hilt for the national control and ownership of a vital service, it is that of the shipping industry. It is never a pleasant job to have to act the role of a pessimist in this House, but ever since I returned to the House in 1935, I have pointed out, whenever you have given me an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, what would be the result if the activities of the National Shipbuilding Securities, Limited, were to be left untouched. Now we have seen what they have done. The British losses in this war up to the middle of November are 53 ships, totalling just under 250,000 tons. That, I admit, is less than we feared, but they have not started bombing our ports yet. I have stood on the quayside at Barcelona and have seen what it was like 646 to have ships on the quayside bombed and how terribly helpless they were as targets. Therefore, we shall be glad to have some of the neutral shipping that some hon. Members of this House sneered at during the Spanish campaign, if the enemy bombs our ports.
What is the relation of tonnage sunk so far to our present shipbuilding capacity? I speak as a Tyneside Member. In the last eight years the annual output of the Tyne yards was only 90,000 tons. As I have said, our shipping losses have not been as large as we feared, but in two months the Germans have sunk the equivalent of 2½ years of the shipping output of the Tyne. National Shipbuilding Securities Limited, have scrapped 40 per cent. of our shipping capacity, and I would impress that upon the Minister. In reply to a question which I put to him he was good enough to say that he no longer regarded the ban of National Shipbuilding Securities Limited, as necessarily valid, but, as I have indicated, National Shipbuilding Securities have not only scrapped 40 per cent. of our shipping capacity but have scrapped what Lord Runciman said were the finest shipbuilding sites in the world. Of these, one was in the town which I represent, Jarrow, Palmer's shipyard, was one of the big six shipyards of this country, and one of the most efficient shipyards of the country. It was admitted by Lord Runciman to be the finest shipbuilding site in the world. What have National Shipbuilding Securities done there? They have not merely closed the shipyard but they have torn up in most cases practically all the shipbuilding equipment.
If we were doing our duty we should have the leaders of National Shipbuilding Securities before this House, for what they have done. This was not done in a time of settled peace, when we did not expect war, but in a period when Lord Baldwin said we were being forced to re-arm. If we calculate the amount that has been spent in public assistance and unemployment assistance for the men thrown out of work in that unfortunate town, it would have sufficed to have kept the shipyard on a decent maintenance basis and would have enabled us to build up a reserve of national ships. Now the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash comes forward and blames the Government. He asks why have we not got this reserve of national ships; yet he speaks as a repre- 647 sentative of shipowners who called the Government every name they could think of when they merely ventured to consider that it might be advisable to put a few ships away in one of the islets of the Dart.
I would ask the Minister whether he is going to take up the question of these sites, because to re-equip one of the sites would probably take a year at least. I do not want merely to come here and plead for my own devastated constituency, which has lost its great shipyard, but I do not want the Minister to be told by one of his advisers that the site of the shipyard is now covered by a steelworks, and that the site is no longer available. That is not correct. There is a steelworks and two small industries, but that great site is substantially there. I pay my tribute to the Commissioner for the Special Areas who has consistently refused to allow what he has described as a remarkable site for shipbuilding, broken up. He has had the industries that have come there put into a small corner. I would, therefore, ask the Minister to look into this matter and see what possibilities there are, if a new yard has to be built.
I notice from the current number of the "Shipping World" that the British Government have ordered 30 ships of a standard size from Canadian shipyards, and that four builders are ready to carry out those orders. Two of them have had considerable experience in building vessels. These orders are going to Canada, and they will help in building up a shipbuilding industry there which may be a very real competitor of ours at the end of the war. I notice that one of the firms is Vickers, Limited, who were so anxious to get Palmers Yard closed down. If it had not been for the activities of Sir James Lythgoe, Vickers and the rest, these ships would have been built in this country by British labour, and they could have been built at a time when that labour was unemployed and when its skill was fading away. I have a letter from a woman, who points out what is happening. The Government would do nothing about shipbuilding, except to allow National Shipbuilding Securities to close a yard, thereby keeping the men on the barest limit of subsistence and allowing their skill to rot.
648 What is happening now? The woman says:I should like to say a few words concerning the calling up of shipyard apprentices of 20 to 21 years of age for the Militia. The shipyards were closed for at least 15 years from 1921 to 1936. There would have been thousands of skilled workers turned out in that time, but there are very few mechanics to-day between the ages of 21 and 35. I have a son, aged 21, whom I put to his father's trade as a rivetter, and although he has another 12 months to serve, he is a really good mechanic. There are not six rivetters under 50 in this port, and those of 50 are prematurely old men, through years of unemployment. There are men of 70 and over employed in the dry docks here. The Government has called my son up and put him to the Royal Signals Corps, while his father, aged 50, has to work every day and every week-end since the war began, after years of unemployment. I ask you how long can these men stand this strain while the Government are taking the young men away?The skilled men are not there and the ships are not there. We are fighting for our lives, and the Government have known this all along. This is not a war of which we can see an early end. We know that we have our backs to the wall and that everything we care for is at stake. We have to ask for equal sacrifice whether from shipowners or men. The Minister of Shipping and the Parliamentary Secretary would go down to posterity as having done a very great job for the nation if they would say: "We are not going to have the tragic experience of the last war repeated, but, instead, we are going to have a national service to meet a national need."
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
When the Prime Minister was challenged about appointing the right hon. Member for the Pollock Division (Sir J. Gilmour) as Minister of Shipping he said that he appointed him because of character and experience. It was suggested that the right hon. Gentleman had no experience of shipping. I want to disabuse the minds of those who think along those lines. The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Shipping has been connected with shipping right from his grandfather's days, and it is news to me that a man must belong to a particular industry before he can be the Minister of a certain Department. It has always been laid down in our party that it was a recommendation to office to have no knowledge of the particular Department. But the Minister of Shipping, much as I respect 649 the man personally, is not going to ride away on the excuse that might be made for him that because he has no knowledge of the business we do not expect great things from him. I expect great things of him, and woe betide him if they are not forthcoming, as far as I am concerned. We have pressed the Government time and again for the appointment of a Minister of Shipping, just as I have pressed the Government time and again for a Minister of reconstruction as soon as the war is over. I represent the greatest shipbuilding centre in the world. Ninety-five per cent. of our workers are engaged on war work. What is going to become of them when peace arrives Heaven only knows. I do not, and neither do the employers in the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde. They are very distressed about the matter.
At question time to-day I questioned the Minister in regard to the shipbuilding side of his Ministry. I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman when he replies—and I hope he will reply better than he did at question time, although I know that it is not a matter which could be dealt with by question and answer— whether he has on his staff a practical shipbuilder who is capable of taking over the management of a shipbuilding yard? My information, not from the workers or from the managers, is that there is no practical man on the staff, and, not only that, but the most efficient managerial part of shipbuilding staffs in Great Britain is not being tapped by the Minister. As to the running of a ship and the conditions on a ship I cannot say anything more than can a simple passenger, but I know something about shipbuilding and engineering. I have passed all my life in engineering and I know that I view with alarm the idea that this side of the business should pass into the hands of civil servants.
In the last war the Government adopted the plan of advising shipbuilders to take on chartered accountants as managers. In every case it was a gigantic failure. They went further and instituted the idea that, in order to co-operate and co-ordinate all the different departments in a big yard connected with the building of ships, an admiral, a real admiral, a man who was in the habit of commanding men, should be brought in. Again, that had to be given up in every case. That was the experience 650 of Sir James Lithgow, Sir William Beardmore and Sir Charles Craven, and the Government had to adopt what I am now suggesting, the appointment of a practical man. Canada has received orders to build ships, but Canada has no practical experience in the building of the particular ships which are required at the moment. Therefore, I hope the Minister will take it from me, not in a critical way but as giving him the advice which has been given to me to give to him by men who are employing thousands of shipbuilders, that they view with alarm the idea of handing over the building of ships by the Government to men who have no knowledge of the industry.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am following the hon. Member with interest. He as talking about the managers of shipyards. There is no proposal, as far as I can gather, that the present managers of shipyards should be discharged.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I am sorry if I have not made myself clear to the hon. Member and therefore it is apparent that I have not succeeded in making myself clear to the rest of the House. My point is that as the Government are going to build ships it should be shipbuilders who should see that these ships are built not civil servants, who have no knowledge of the industry. That is my point.
§ Mr. Maxton
That is just the point on which I want to be clear. It is a fact that most of our Clyde shipbuilders have had experience of building ships for Government Departments before, for the Admiralty and on subsidy for the Board of Trade. As I understand it, the relationships between the Clyde shipbuilders and civil servants representing the Admiralty have always been good and harmonious.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That is where the hon. Member is making a mistake. When civil servants have come in to interfere with shipbuilding, neither on the Clyde nor on the Tyne nor anywhere else have the relations been good, and that is why shipbuilders are so anxious that it should be a practical man who will give instructions as to what is to be done and what is not to be done, and see that what should be done first is done first. For instance, rudder posts, which take a considerable time to make, can be gone ahead with 651 before they start to lay down the keel. If these things are left to civil servants, they will start on the job at the wrong end, and interfere with the shipbuilders' work in a section of the business in which the shipbuilders have been reared and trained.
I want now to say a word or two about National Shipbuilders Security, Limited. I opposed their action from the very beginning, and I was not very much supported on these benches when I did so. One of the finest equipped yards in Britain, comparatively speaking, a new yard, Beardmore's in Dalmuir, was shut down by National Shipbuilders Security, Limited. A quarter of a mile further down the Clyde, one of the most efficient yards. Miller Napier's, was closed; and in Dumbarton, Harland and Wolff's, commonly known as Macmillan's yard, one of the most up-to-date yards in Britain, was shut down. These three yards in my constituency were closed. The House was told that redundant yards would be closed, but the yards to which I am referring were not redundant. They were yards equipped with up-to-date machinery. To-day, they are scrapped. There were no better equipped yards in the world than the last two yards I mentioned, Miller Napier's and Macmillan's, for building the type of ship that is now so desperately required by the Government. I do not say anything against Sir James Lithgow personally, but why did he, as the leading hand, initiate the idea of shutting down those yards? Was it in the interests of Britain? Not a wee bit of it. It was in the interests of the shipbuilders. The men and the country were not considered for one moment. It has to be remembered that in every case the owner of the yard was compensated. I drew the attention of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, to the compensation that was being paid to those shipbuilders and shipowners, and I asked what compensation was being paid to the men in those yards, whom I represented. His reply was a reference to our incomparable social services. Those incomparable social services were the Employment Exchanges for the workers. Now, we are reaping the harvest of the dragon's teeth. This is a result of National Shipbuilders Security, Limited.
652 Moreover, this happened as far as the shipowners were concerned. After the war, we not only commandeered the German Navy, but we took the whole of the German mercantile fleet. Who got it? The shipowners of this country. Let the Minister of Shipping remember that those patriots, the shipowners, whom we subsidised not so very long ago, got the German mercantile marine for £5 a ton, and that at the time the shipbuilders of this country could not build at under £28 a ton. That is what the shipowners did, and that is what they will do again. That is why I say, every time and all the time, that the only way out of the difficulty is that we should take control of the industry, and take it out of their hands. I am not blaming the men as men; I am blaming us for allowing this to go on. They do not run the industry for the good of the country. My own employer, Beardmore, used to say to me, "This is no philanthropic institution; I run this business for profit." Of course he does, and so do all of them.
I believe the time has come when it is possible to change that system, and to change it now, just as I believe this is the time to change the Government. We ought not to assist the Government to carry on. The Government could not last for one day if it were not for hon. Members on these benches. If this is not a good Government, if this is a Government that landed us in war, we should put it out. At any rate, that is what I was sent here to do, and I am going to do it to the best of my ability. I do not care whether the intelligentsia of the party smile, but that is my attitude. When I look around and see the power that we have in this House and the power that is being handed to the Minister of Shipping, and when I consider what he can do if he likes to exert himself, I must say again, as I have often said before, that I never challenge a statesman's ability, whether he be in a Labour Government or in any other Government, but I challenge his courage. I say to the Minister of Shipping that if he tries to run this Department on orthodox lines, he will go down the drain. There is nothing surer than that.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I do not believe that he is going down it anyhow. It depends upon himself. His doom is not written.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
He will write his doom himself. The future lies with him as far as shipping and shipbuilding in this country are concerned. Coming as he does from the Clyde, we expect great things from him. I have stood here and defended him up to now, and therefore I expect him to deliver the goods. If he does not, we will oppose him, and call the attention of the country to the fact that this is not the man for the job, and that this Government is not a Government with which we ought to collaborate, but is such a Government that we ought to insist upon having a General Election at the earliest possible moment.
§ 8.11. p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
One can recall, in connection with amateur performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the embarrassing position which was sometimes created on the last night if the leading lady received fewer bouquets than some of the other ladies in the cast, with the result that a certain heat and friction developed. I trust that a similar situation will not be created in the Ministry of Shipping, but I have noticed that whereas, in the Press the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary has been greeted with a unanimous chorus of approval, the appointment of the Minister himself has met with an almost unanimous chorus of disapproval. Something of the same sort was to be noticed in the Debate this evening. A great many tributes of praise have been handed to the Parliamentary Secretary, but, as far as I recollect, the only tribute to the Minister was that of an hon. Member who repeated on his behalf the testimonial of the Prime Minister that he was a man of character. Character is by no means a bad qualification for any post, but where shipping is concerned, I should say that integrity and impartiality are qualities very much needed indeed. I must say that I join in the welcome which has been given to the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary. I rejoice to feel that his efficiency and competence, and above all his great experience, are now placed at the service of the country. I hope this may be the forerunner of many similar appointments and that the great fund of knowledge, experience and 654 confidence which is at present unused, may, in due course, be brought into the country's service.
Before passing to other remarks, I would refer for a moment to the question of the speed of our merchant ships, which has already been mentioned. We must all realise now, that, well satisfied though we are with the success which has attended the working of the convoy system, we are paying a heavy price because of the reduction in the speed of our merchant ships. We are paying that price in extra fuel consumption, in all the expenditure which is involved in convoy work and in the slower arrival of our imports in this country. I noticed the other day a striking illustration showing how the speed of merchant ships is their finest defence against submarines. We read an account of a merchant ship which was attacked. Her nominal speed was, I think, 13½ knots, but she managed to produce 17 knots on this occasion and thus escaped the submarine. What surprised me was to find that the captain alone was decorated for this exploit. I do not begrudge the captain his decoration, but I should have thought that a decoration might also have found its way to the chief engineer, who, presumably was down below sitting on the safety valve during this episode and so enabling this phenomenal speed to be attained.
My chief object in rising is to say a few words as a naval officer regarding the work and qualities of the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. Those officers and men are certainly second to none. They are doing their job, because after all, the food is arriving in this country. There may be differences of opinion between hon. Members on this side and hon. Members opposite about what is to be done with it on its arrival and whether it should be rationed or not, but the point is that the Mercantile Marine is doing its job and that imports are coming into this country in a steady flow. This is, of course, the joint work of the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, but every naval officer would agree that in courage, in seamanship and, above all, in resolution, there is nothing to choose between the officers and men of the two Services.
That leads me to another consideration. I have said that this work is the joint work of the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, but compare the conditions of 655 Lieut and of service in the two forces. I believe the Sovereign is the head of both. He is certainly the head of the Navy and I believe that he is, in some honorary capacity, the head of the master mariners of the Mercantile Marine. The Sovereign can go aboard any ship of the Navy and he will find nothing to be ashamed of when he goes through the men's quarters and sees how the men live, how they are fed and how they are looked after. But I am afraid that the Sovereign in his capacity as head of the master mariners, could hardly go on board any ship of the Mercantile Marine and feel equal satisfaction in what would be shown him of the living conditions of the officers as well of the men. I think a comparison between the conditions in the two Services is a very interesting illustration of the difference between Capitalism and Socialism. The Mercantile Marine is certainly run for private profit and there you find deplorable conditions, whereas the Navy is a State service, and there you find nothing to be ashamed of in the conditions which appertain to those working in it.
Shipowners are, I am sure, very patriotic and loyal men. We have some representatives of them in this House and there is no fault certainly to be found at any time with the patriotism and loyalty which they display in their speeches. I wish all shipowners would decide to manifest their loyalty by making all the merchant ships flying the Red Ensign worthy of this country. After all, a merchant ship is a great advertisement for this country. Our Mercantile Marine goes to ports which are little visited by men-of-war. A ship flying the Red Ensign ought to be a ship which speaks well for us wherever she goes. Unfortunately that is not the case. She is too often something to be ashamed of. Consider this point about the crews. Very often you will see a fine merchant ship which looks very imposing. A ship may be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, with a cargo on board worth more hundreds of thousands of pounds, and she may have 100 passengers, with a crew of 145, but except for two white stewards there may not be a white man on board, apart from the officers. That is a very unfortunate and disgraceful state of affairs indeed.
Do not let it be thought that I am condemning all our merchant ships. I 656 know how good the conditions are in many modem ships, but in many vessels the conditions are shocking and disgraceful, and, after all, Members on all sides of the House are agreed about this. I remember that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), the last time we debated this matter in the House, spoke very eloquently indeed upon the subject, and I remember those remarkable articles in the "Times" newspaper, which called the attention of the whole country to the shocking conditions obtaining in our Mercantile Marine. I know, of course, that he cannot do much, because his time is so much occupied, but I do wish that the Minister of Shipping would come with me aboard some of these ships and look at the conditions about which I am speaking. I can tell the House this, that in a literal sense of the word the conditions would turn his stomach, unless he had the stomach of a rhinoceros. Reports about these conditions used to go to the Board of Trade. From all our great ports reports on these foul and filthy conditions on British ships used to go to the President of the Board of Trade, and it was his duty to examine those reports. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell me whether any President of the Board of Trade, on receiving any of those reports, ever went down to one of our great ports to see these conditions for himself. Things have not been altered or improved because those who are responsible for these things do not go and see with their own eyes the matters which are reported to them.
I admit at once the great difficulty in this matter. I know that modern regulations and so on are good and that the new ships that are being built are good, but the fact that we are faced with is this, that there is still in existence a great deal of tonnage which is quite capable of earning a profit for its owners, but in which, for structural reasons, the men's accommodation and living spaces cannot be brought up to the modern standard. With all the will in the world, what is called modernisation cannot, for structural reasons, be carried out, and, therefore, the officers and the men who have to go to sea in these ships and earn a profit for the shipowners, although their accommodation is admittedly unsatisfactory, have to put up with it. I have often thought that that state of affairs, 657 which we must all agree is unfair and unsatisfactory, could be met by a system which was at one time in operation in the Navy in the case of destroyers. At one time destroyers were extremely uncomfortable craft, in which officers and men lived under conditions of considerable hardship and discomfort, and the Admiralty used to allow them hard-lying money. They were given a small addition to their pay, a small bonus, in recognition of the fact that they had to put up with those hardships. Why cannot that be done in the case of the old and unsatisfactory Mercantile Marine tonnage which admittedly is inflicting unfair conditions on the men who serve in it? If those ships are kept afloat because they are capable of earning a profit for their owners, surely it is not too much to ask that their owners should pay a small hard-lying bonus to the men who have to serve in them in order to earn that profit. I throw that idea out, if I may, to the Parliamentary Secretary as a means of meeting what is an admitted difficulty and at the same time an admitted hardship.
I had intended to say something about the state of affairs created by the conditions affecting ships owned by foreigners and flying the Red Ensign, but I will not go into that question to-night. There are Government schemes for disability pensions, widows' pensions, and dependants' allowances, and if they were looked into, it would be found that in the conditions of those schemes engineer officers are placed in an inferior position as compared with deck officers. That is an anomaly which the deek officers themselves, I am sure, would be the first to regret. Again, in connection with the Government scheme of indemnity for loss of personal effects, I would point out that the chief engineer of a ship has, of course, to take to sea with him precision tools and certain instruments. That being so, I think that his indemnity for loss of personal effects should be at least £75. I think the indemnity at present is too low and should be increased on that side. I also notice that electricians are ranked as uncertificated officers in regard to the matter of the loss of personal effects, and that again, I think, is an anomaly.
I would like to call attention too, very briefly, to the old question of the hours of duty that are being worked. They are largely unregulated, and I wish to point 658 out that now, during the war, there is, of course, a great deal of extra watch keeping, not only at sea in the submarine zones, but also in harbour, and that is a hardship. I would also like to mention again the question of the conditions affecting master mariners. At a time like this, when the master of a ship has a great burden of responsibility thrown on him, this whole matter might well be looked into, and I think that masters should have representation on approved negotiating machinery. There is also the question of coasters. We still have many coasting vessels in which there is only one officer, in addition to the master. That is a great strain in time of peace. Think of what the strain must be in wartime, with so many lights extinguished and other difficulties to contend with. I think it is quite fair to say that in any coasting ship up to 1,000 tons there should be two officers, in addition to the master, and that in any such ship over 1,000 tons there should be three officers, in addition to the master. That, I feel, is not too much to ask for. Also, now that we are in a state of war, I think all foreign-going ships, whether they are above or below 2,500 tons, should carry three officers. Officers of merchant ships at sea at present who are in convoy are having a great deal of extra work thrown on them, and I think it should be compulsory to carry the same number of officers on ships under 2,500 tons as on ships over 2,500 tons.
I feel that the Minister has hoisted his flag in a command fraught with the most grave and anxious responsibilities for this country. I am sure he realises that the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine are every bit as devoted as those of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We in this House for some time past have heard the Ministers responsible for those three brave defence forces come and take pride, and legitimate pride, in recounting all that they have been doing for the men of those forces in order to bring their conditions of service and living up to modern standards and ideals. I hope with all my heart that during his period of office as Minister of Shipping, which I hope will be a fortunate and prosperous one for the service as well as for the country, he will similarly be able to come to the House and take pride in telling the House of reforms which he has been able to bring about in the 659 conditions of service and living of the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. I hope he will be able to come here and tell us things which he has done, and not merely to promise that something will be done after the war, because those promises are of the "jam to-morrow and never jam to-day" type, and they represent only hope deferred which makes the heart of the sailor sick.
§ 8.32 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
It is a pleasure to join in the congratulations to the Government on the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the New Ministry of Shipping. I was once connected with that industry, and I take particular pleasure and pride in the hon. Gentleman's appointment. I am looking forward to him as being in his new position a resolver of doubts and difficulties. Unquestionably there may be something of the Eastern magician in the part that he has to play, inasmuch as one matter which has occupied a great deal of the Debate to-day, namely, the proper payment for requisitioned tonnage, will probably be solved by a mere wave of his wand. He is evidently capable of doing it, for on the 31st of last month the hon. Gentleman asked the Minister of Shipping:whether, in arranging with shipowners the terms of remuneration for requisitioned ships, he is proceeding on the principle of fixing terms which, with due regard to increased costs, will secure a normal rate of net profit on peace-time standards and no more?Clearly the Parliamentary Secretary holds the key to this difficult problem, and if he is to be the spokesman for the Ministry to-night, he will resolve all the doubts which have animated each hon. Member who has spoken on the subject. The Minister of Shipping, in reply to that question, however, gave a somewhat cautious answer, for he said:As I explained in the answer which I gave on 17th October to a question by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) rates of hire appropriate to the conditions of service will be paid in respect of merchant ships which have been requisitioned. I have noted the hon. Member's suggestion as to the basis on which he considers the rates should be fixed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1939; col 1750, Vol. 352.]That was an excellent and cautious statement, which did not commit the Minister to anything too specific, waiting no doubt 660 for the good day that would dawn when the Parliamentary Secretary would solve that very simple problem. The position to-day is undoubtedly an unsatisfactory one from the shipowners' point of view, if the whole of the tramp tonnage, with which we are more largely concerned, is entirely requisitioned. Is that the case? I have heard, on the one hand, that only part of the tonnage is requisitioned, and, on the other hand, that the whole of every owner's fleet is requisitioned. On looking at some of the figures, I find that to the Plate the general rate is 203. outward, but homeward, for requisitioned tonnage, the Government are paying 32s. 6d. per ton, whereas neutrals are obtaining 55s. —a terrific difference. I am apprised by shipowners of, say, vessels of 6,500 tons dead weight, that they are actually losing money upon the voyages. They state that the normal time is 27 days, but that to-day, owing to diversions for coaling, awaiting convoy and instructions, and so forth, the time occupied is about 50 days. It can, therefore, easily be reckoned up that a very slender profit, if any, can be made on such voyages. It is the same in the coasting trade. Voyages from Newcastle to London and back are now taking three weeks instead of the customary two. That is a difficulty which will require to be closely looked into by the Minister.
The position offers itself for speculation as to what the basis of payment should be. Should our shipowners be permitted to accept rates which are quoted in the open market? I have no doubt that the Government say, "Emphatically no." If that were permitted it would have to be under some system in which the earnings should be garnished during the war and be under Government control. The dividends paid would have to be restricted and there would have to be the obligation to build fresh tonnage out of surplus earnings. That would not be unreasonable, for this is one of the vital defence services of the country. Then there might be controlled freights, of which we have had a sample, or there might be freights based upon the voyage cost, of which the Parliamentary Secretary will enlighten us. There could also be, as there was during the last war, the requisitioning of part only of a company's tonnage by the Government and the balance left to the open market. Lastly, we might be driven to requisition all tonnage, which would be virtually the 661 nationalisation of this industry. If it was desirable in the general interest to nationalise the railroads of the country, another service which is infinitely more important to the nation's safety might receive consideration, upon those lines unless some equitable arrangement or organisation can be effected to allow private ownership to continue, subject to such Government control as will preserve carefully the national interest.
I come next to the question of new tonnage, which has scarcely been touched upon in the Debate, although it is of supreme importance. Of late months I have been endeavouring to obtain information as to how much control there is in the building of new tonnage. We ought to know whether there is control of the materials required for the building or equipping of ships. I notice that Lord Essendon, who is the head of Furness Withy and Company and of the Prince Line, Limited, gave an illustration of the position yesterday at the annual meeting of the last named company. A new vessel had been lost. He said that it had been insured, as the owners thought very sagaciously, for 50 per cent. more than it cost recently, before the outbreak of the war, but the lowest quotation—and I can count upon Lord Essendon obtaining the lowest quotation—for a new vessel was 65 per cent. above the cost of the old one.
Will the Ministry inquire about the relative costs of ships built here and abroad? It is a question of importance financially, because we in our yards are building almost exclusively, if not exclusively— perhaps there is still a foreign vessel or two in building—for Government and private account. I tested the Ministry of Supply, who stated that while they control a certain proportion of the raw materials they do not control partially-manufactured raw materials. As we know, a crankshaft or a tailshaft is raw materia] in the construction of a steamship, and if that is not controlled by the Ministry of Supply, then I must inquire what Ministry does control prices. If they are left uncontrolled they will soar as high as freights do in war time. Ministers will, no doubt, remember that during the last war, though it was towards the end of it, the Government were driven to a control of prices, and to other forms of control, of certain non-ferrous metals and most 662 ferrous metals. We were driven to do so then, and perhaps we ought to consider action on the same lines now, not only on account of armaments but for the sake of safeguarding our food supplies and our export trade. If we permit the cost of ships to rise to phenomenal figures it will be impossible for the vessels of this country to compete with the cheaper tonnage held by neutrals, and I hope the Minister will make a note of that important question.
Then there is the question of war risk insurance as it affects coasting tonnage. I recently addressed a question to the Minister of Shipping upon this subject, because a serious situation prevails. I have a telegram from coasting owners in a large way of business indicating that as a result of the heavy additional cost of 15s. per cent. ad valorem upon all goods carried by the coasting trade where the vessels pass even a short distance only beyond the three-mile limit of territorial waters it is impossible to compete with either road or rail, and I have it on the best authority that no less than 40 per cent. of our coasting tonnage is laid up in port. In London, 12,000 dockers, stevedores and other men, are wholly unemployed on account of that, and there is a similar position in the other coasting ports of this country. It seems to me that that is a charge which ought to be borne under the Government scheme, as it is borne by the Government in the case of goods conveyed by rail or road or upon our rivers or on the high seas, provided it is within the three-mile territorial limit. Surely the fact that vessels pass a little outside the three-mile limit should not be a reason for the infliction of this great disability. The coasting section of our Mercantile Marine is as vital, in its way, to our safety and security in training youths and men for a maritime career as any other section, and in war time we ought not, for so slight a reason, to impose upon them that disability.
With regard to Shipbuilding Securities, Limited, we all know the mistake which was made, and which I believe the Government admit was a mistake, in permitting 40 per cent. of our shipyards which existed at the end of the last war to be closed. We now find that our tonnage is less by 1,500,000 to 1,750,000 tons than it was at the end of the last war, and that not only is our tonnage 663 being sunk but neutral tonnage also. We are deeply concerned with the position of neutral tonnage, because most of the friendly neutral tonnage is either operating free and carrying traffic in the main to this country or is in Government employ. Therefore, it is of vital importance that the Ministry of Shipping should look closely at the position in the great centres of shipbuilding in this country, and if it is found that we are not likely to be able to maintain the necessary weight of tonnage either in our own hands or in those of friendly neutrals, the Government ought at once to equip some of the old Shipbuilding Securities berths, as can still be done on the Tyne. While they were largely cleared of shipbuilding apparatus they were not entirely cleared, and could at relatively small cost be re-equipped. I think the Government might turn its attention to getting out the tonnage that is sheltering in the Baltic. I brought a British vessel out of Kronstadt in 1916. The Russian Admiralty made all the necessary arrangements and gave assistance in raising mines and giving a proper convoy, and subsequently a number of North country shipowners did the same thing. Is it not possible to pursue a similar line now? I have great hopes from releasing tonnage which wants to be released from the Baltic to assist us in crushing the enemy upon the high seas.
Attention was directed by the last speaker to the position of our officers and men in the Mercantile Marine. It is a melancholy thing to me that the masters' panel of the National Maritime Board is not operating. The reason, I am advised, is the opposition of the shipowners. They can do without the National Maritime Board's intervention so far as masters, of whom there is a plethora at the moment, are concerned. I hope the Minister will look upon himself as the shepherd of that flock, and see that they are protected to the extent that the panel which was set up on their behalf should be set to work forthwith. The coasting trade is a shocking scandal. It is no uncommon thing that men work 80 and 90 hours a week under the most strenuous war-time conditions.
There is no agreement as to hours and overtime. I have had cases brought to my notice at Newcastle in which the hours of officers and men alike are so great, the men receiving overtime, that their 664 Waées have exceeded the wages of the officers. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs which no one desires. In one recent case the officers of a vessel engaged on national work, conveying explosives, made representations to the owners that they should have some recognition for the long hours that they were going to be called upon to work to carry this cargo where it had to go in the national interest. It was brusquely refused because there was no agreement with regard to officers as to special remuneration for any hours beyond those for which they had signed. The naval authorities suggested that these officers ought to receive extra payment not only for the excessive overtime but for the dangerous nature of the work. In one case a large part of a cargo exploded and a number of men were killed. One is inclined to imagine that the excessive labours that these officers were called upon to undertake under strenuous conditions, perhaps, contributed in some indirect way to the unfortunate accident. I think the new Ministry of Shipping has a noble part to play. I believe that in the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary we have two men upon whom the House and the country can rely to fulfil their solemn obligations to the full, and I believe success is bound to follow their efforts.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Last week during the discussion on rationing, the Lord Privy Seal made the remark that "the Germans will never starve the people: of this country," to which I interjected, "No but your gang will starve them." It is with this thought in mind that I would speak on this question of shipping. Sniping is of the greatest importance for the life and well-being of the people of this country. They are interested in shipping not only because it keeps the industrial organisations going which provide for the work on which they depend for their livelihood, but because it brings their food. They are especially interested in shipping from the point of view of food. The shipowners are interested in shipping not because it brings food, not because it brings in any particular commodity, but from the point of view of getting profits, and we have a Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary who are here, no matter what sentiments they may have expressed in the past, to represent the interests of profit. 665 Let the Parliamentary Secretary take any step that interferes with the profits of the shipowners, and he knows where he will land. He will not take such steps. There can be nothing in common between the welfare of the people and the profits of the shareholders.
It has been said that the making of profits is itself in the interests of the masses of the people. It is not true. During the last war we had a terrible example of what profit-makers will do. I do not have to go into that, as it has been dealt with by the hon. Member for J arrow (Miss Wilkinson). We know also what happened after the war. Enormous fortunes were made. In an earlier speech I drew attention to a deal of the Runciman family. In 1922, they sold their Moor Line boats to the Western Counties Line at £22 per ton, then the latter firm went bankrupt and they bought them back at £4 per ton. That is the sort of thing that went on. Some of the greatest fortunes in this country represent the robbery of the people of this country, and yet millions of pounds have to be poured into the industry. Nobody with any sense of what constitutes the well-being of the people or with any sense of morality or decency could tolerate such a situation. Will the Minister of Shipping or the Parliamentary Secretary come out against the robbers? No, they will defend them.
We are concerned with food for the people—one of the most important things —and the livelihood of the seamen. Will the Minister of Shipping or the Parliamentary Secretary deny that the filthiest slums in this country are on the ships that go to sea? They are breeding dens of tuberculosis. I did not have much experience, but I went to sea for a time and I remember that when I was finished at night I could not go down the glory-hole. I had to sit on deck until I was completely exhausted, and when my senses were deadened I went down. The smell was thick and terrible. Maybe things have changed since then. Not a bit. I know a young lad in Glasgow, a medical student, who thought he would get a job on a ship during the summer. He joined a ship and he was sent down the glory-hole. But he came up in a hurry and went home as sick as he possibly could be; he never went back to the ship again.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Yes. An hon. Member on this side of the House suggested that the Minister should visit these ships. Two years ago I asked the Minister who was then responsible for shipping to visit the British ships and see the conditions under which the seamen had to exist. The conditions are absolutely unspeakable, but profits are made all the time. Somebody said that profits and the welfare of the people go together. Why did we have the destruction of the shipyards if profits and the welfare of the people go together? If you had the destruction of the shipyards you had also the destruction of steelworks, coal mines and cotton factories.
To-day the Chancellor of the Exchequer was paying tribute to Lord Stamp, and referred to the services that he could give us on the Advisory Committee on economy. Lord Stamp cannot give any service as far as economy is concerned, because he does not know anything about economy. If the Government want someone who can give advice on economy they should get someone who has made a study of Karl Marx. They would know this for a start, that in the days of Liberal capitalism—in the pre-monopoly era—capitalism was progressive in so far as it was advancing the forces of production. Would the Parliamentary Secretary say that capitalism in the monopoly stage advances the forces of production? No, it prevents production and destroys the forces of production. That is what Marx makes clear. Will the Members of this House not realise that capitalism as a system is in decay, and that it cannot assist the forces of production?
We have been discussing the shortage of shipping. Look at the opportunities in this country for building shipping. We have the space; look at the yards that we can get, and the labour that we can obtain. What have we been doing? We have been closing up yards and throwing men on to the Employment Exchanges. It is only as we understand the process that is going on that we can represent and care for the masses of the people in this country. The Minister of Shipping and the Parliamentary Secretary cannot do it, because they are not out to protect the people, but to protect profits. I say to every Member in this House and the people of this country that if shipping is to be developed as a great service for 667 the people, if the food of the people is to be brought into the country and the people to be cared for, this Government must be cleared out. This Government, which represents profits for all the evil elements in this country must go. Incidentally, it might be to the advantage of the Parliamentary Secretary if he cleared out before the evil got too far, because his present position will not result in anything to his credit. He cannot serve two masters; he cannot serve the people of this country and the profit-mongers who are represented by the shipowners. If we are concerned about the welfare of the people we must have a government who will take the people out of the war and put the profit-mongers out of business. That is the important thing. That is the way to guarantee food for the people and it is the way to guarantee the welfare of this country.
Of course, everybody says that he wants to be out of the war, but you can never be out of the war until you have a Government who will take the people out, and you will never get a Government who will take the people out except a Government who will take the profit-mongers out of business. That cannot be provided by the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister. They know that they cannot do anything about it. It will not be done by them but by the workers. I say to this House that our task is to build up in this country a great shipping industry that will be a great national service and not a means of creating swollen fortunes for a gang of robbers.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
There is one point which I want to put to the Minister of Shipping, and it deals with a very important aspect of the problem of economic warfare. The war, clearly, is going to be won by the use of that most powerful weapon, and the Ministry of Shipping is an essential part of that weapon. I want to find out where the responsibility lies with regard to certain matters. Arising out of the economic problem there are, obviously, certain questions which, while not exactly conflicting with each other, require coordination; and I want to know where the Ministry of Shipping comes in in regard to the point to which I am going to refer. Suppose there is, somewhere in Europe, a river, or a sea in the neighbour- 668 hood of a river, where it is desirable to secure the shipping in order to prevent it being used by the enemy. It may be that that shipping would not necessarily be required for the transport of any materials. If it could be used to bring goods from some other country to Great Britain, so much the better; but it might be that there was no produce available, yet it was very important to prevent that shipping—perhaps river tankers, or something of that kind—falling into the hands of the enemy. The problem would be to tie up that shipping, so that no use could be made of it.
If a case of that kind arises—and I know that it does arise, because I have a specific example in mind—would it be the duty of the Minister of Shipping to deal with it, to make a decision and, by executive action, purchase or hire the shipping; or would it be a matter for the Minister of Economic Warfare, or possibly, if it was a case of bringing food, the Minister of Food? In the case to which I am really alluding, no use would be made of the shipping; and I want to know whether, in that case, the Minister of Shipping is the authority one should approach; or would the matter be referred to other Ministers and to some final coordinating authority? It is important that some clear-cut decision should be made about this, so that those interested in the perfecting of the economic machine should know to whom they ought to go. The important thing is to have it clearly stated where the decisive authority rests, so that we can be certain that in the Government there is somebody who is in a position to take immediate action on a question which may be of the greatest importance to this country in the prosecution of the war.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I have waited all day, not to speak but to hear the Minister make his debut in this entirely new part. I have seen him appear before the House in half-a-dozen different offices, and I liked him best in the first in which I saw him some years ago, as the Scottish Whip for the Government. There he remained completely silent. He seems to be adopting the same policy at the present time. I did not come to speak, but to hear his great oratory on this important subject for which he is now made responsible. I rise now only because he seems quite determined that he will not 669 get to his feet until the last and most insignificant utterance has been made; and I hope that this will be regarded as it. The right hon. Gentleman has now a most important office indeed. I hope he will take note of the tendency displayed by people in shipping to make a ramp out of the shipping business. I suggest that he should write one or two biographies of the shipbuilding profiteers of the last war. I remember one who sat in this House; he came in as a shipping millionaire, and told us how everybody who wished to be wealthy could be, if he put his mind to it, and that there was no need for anybody to be unemployed. He was a millionaire, on paper; and he finished in the bankruptcy court. A lot of others did so as well, while a Member of another place finished in prison as his enthusiasm for shipping developed on the balance sheets. It would be worth while for the Minister to point out that it is quite possible, in the midst of a nation's difficulties, for people holding the cornerstones of the nation's industries to make fabulous profits on paper, but that they should remember that there is an aftermath which is not such good fun as the period of bringing in the sheaves.
The points that I want to put are these. One relates to the question put by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) about the unused shipyard labour. I have taken the trouble to look up the latest figures available, those for September; and I find that there were something like 90,000 people in the shipbuilding and ancillary industries unemployed. I do not know the present figure, but there has been a substantial and distressing rise in the numbers of unemployed people in this country—a rise that the Minister of Labour will be called upon, I hope, to explain in this House at an early date. When one considers that more than 500,000 young men have been taken out of industry, either as conscripts or as reservists called up, it really means that at the outset of a war period, when manpower is required for a great multitude of civil purposes, we have very nearly 1,000,000 people actually coming out of productive work, instead of going into it.
I want the Minister of Shipping to find out what has taken place with regard to shipyard labour in that period. In reply to a question I put to-day, he told me that one-fifth of the commercial tonnage now under construction in the yards is for 670 direct Government orders. I want him to find out whether the other four-fifths, for private orders, is for shipping of a kind that is of the maximum value to the nation at present, and to see that in this period, when food-carrying is an essential point of national interest, shipyard labour and plant shall be used only for the construction of the ships which have the optimum value to the nation at the present time. I want to ask whether that one-fifth, which is presently being built to Government order, is likely, in the near future, to be an increasing figure. In my view there ought to be no difficulty in coping with this mercantile shipping problem. Some years ago, when unemployment on the Clyde was even worse than it is now, I took the trouble to go into it in some close detail, and I made the extraordinary discovery that the then available shipyard plant and shipyard labour, if employed to the maximum, could turn out sufficient tonnage in five years to replace the then existing Mercantile Marine. The productive power in the shipyards had come to such a stage that you could build a merchant fleet, modern and up to date, with greater speed, of the same tonnage as was existing, in a period of five years. The real problem for our shipbuilding towns and centres is that you can build as many ships as the nation wants in five years, and they will last for a maximum of 25 years, which means that your shipyards will have to stand by for the next 20 years until these ships have gone down before they are wanted again. It is a problem to which I cannot see an answer in the existing order of society, but in war-time it ought to mean that, without great difficulty and with a little push, any tonnage that you have lost can be very easily replaced in a matter of months, if your available plant is used to its maximum, and your available labour is not allowed to drift away from the shipyard into other openings, which no doubt will present themselves.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was telling me the other night, if I may use the information he gave me, that in his very highly skilled trade of pattern-making there has been in the last few months, in a trade where there has been a remarkable breakaway, a drifting back of members of his craft from all sorts of trades and industries, from small shopkeeping, from insurance and 671 from different things of that sort into which they had to go when trade was dull. There is a whole lot of shipyard labour that has gone away like that, and there is a whole lot still standing at the Employment Exchanges, and I ask the Minister of Shipping to see that shipyard labour, if he cannot use it all to-day or to-morrow, is used in the very shortest possible time. If he cannot use it now or in the immediate future, he should at least see that it is not dissipated and that it is kept for this very urgent purpose.
I do not want to say any more on the subject, except that I would like to add one word about the conditions of merchant seamen, and, in particular, about their wages and living conditions. Will the Minister see that in this war construction, allowing for all the difficulties and urgencies of the time, some thought will be given to the accommodation and general amenities of the men that are going to live on board the ships? That can be done perfectly well at this time without any waste of time or without any undue expense, and it can make all the difference between having healthy, happy and comfortable men and men who are living unhealthy and unhappy lives on top of very great danger.
§ 9.26 p.m.
I am afraid I am going to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) because it is only a Scot that can come between two fellow-Scotsmen. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) must be gratified with this Debate, which has ranged over a period of five hours, and has, in the seamen's language, provided a very good middle-watch. But it has undoubtedly, in view of the formation of the new shipping department, given an opportunity to review the situation in the light of the circumstances of the war. For that purpose it is certainly advisable that we should be able to adapt our outlook to these new conditions not only in the interests of the nation but in the interests of those who are engaged in the shipping industry.
The two main points that have been raised to-day and which have been mentioned by the majority of the speakers have been, first of all, the efficiency of the Mercantile Marine in these days and how it can be maintained, and, secondly, 672 which is equally as essential, the development of the emergency conditions that will have to be operated in shipbuilding and modern engineering. In consequence of those two factors, with the dangers and risks of the war—this country as an island may have to run great risks and dangers—if the Debate to-day focuses our minds upon how we can best utilise the resources of the nation for our protection, it will have been of some value. I do not intend to cover or to attempt to survey the whole of the ground that has been covered this afternoon. Not only should there be the maintenance of the fleet in the Mercantile Marine but the establishment of even better conditions on behalf of the officers and men of the Merchant Service. I speak as one of a seafaring family that appreciates what it means to them even in peace conditions without the hazards and risks which war brings in its train.
The hon. Member for Rotherbithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) reminded me of one aspect that he had overlooked in his very human appeal this afternoon, and that is the question of the ordinary regulation laid down in the maritime agreement with regard to the crews of ships that are limited to a 64-hour week, which, covering a seven-day week, runs out at over nine hours per day. Under normal conditions overtime rates are paid after 64 hours, but I have been asked to remind the new Minister of Shipping that, unfortunately, some of the shipowners are claiming that war conditions are an emergency and that overtime should not operate. Whatever may have been the intention behind the maritime rates, as confirmed by agreement, surely war-time conditions are the last thing that would be intended to be brought in as justifying this claim of the shipowners, particularly under the conditions which preve.il to-day. No doubt the Minister will verify this matter, and instances can be given with regard to it.
With regard to the two points that I have mentioned, in regard to maintenance and rebuilding, it must have been impressed upon the Minister that there are idle hands and idle yards which could turn out the equivalent of all the tonnage that may be sunk in this war, and could help to re-equip us with a better Mercantile Marine than ever we have had. Therefore, I hope that the Minister and 673 the Parliamentary Secretary will take full advantage of the powers bestowed upon them in the new Ministry to see that the output of tonnage is maintained and that we shall finish the war with a better mercantile fleet than when we started.
There is one further aspect of the question, which I presume comes under the new Ministry, to which I should like to refer. I refer to the fishing fleet, which I suppose comes under the right hon. Gentleman's control. He will be aware that certain legislation was passed during the last Session which brought into operation the Sea Fish Act. There were many circumstances that necessitated that Act, but under the conditions of war some of them have had to be postponed from corning into operation. I know that the Sea Fish Commission has been suspended for the time being, but it does not necessarily follow that we should not look to the sea fish arm without some degree of beneficence so far as their labours are concerned. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is present, and probably he will confirm the fact that within recent weeks the subject of the fishing fleet has caused much concern to the Admiralty and other Departments. I am assured that at a conference recently held, of which the First Lord of the Admiralty was chairman, steps were taken to rehabilitate the fishing industry from the position created by the temporary taking over of the personnel and the trawlers that had been fishing from our home ports. Probably as a legacy that will be left from the Admiralty, a promise was given that the necessary steps would be taken for re-equipping the trawler fleet even in this time of war. I understand that it is probable that we shall have a standardised vessel, and that there is no desire, for the immediate necessities of the Admiralty, that we should be deprived of the fleet which is essential for bringing foodstuffs for the people of the country.
There is one aspect of it which, probably, has not been fully considered yet. At the conference, which was representative not only of the trawler owners but the fishermen themselves, it must have been in the minds of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the officers of his Department, as it certainly must be in the mind of the Minister of Shipping, that for the provision of the need fleet there 674 must be some responsibility with regard to the cost and the equipment of that fleet. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) has said to-day that the charges for building ships had increased enormously, and that the shipping interests were looking with some concern as to what the cost would be if the continual rise is allowed to go on. From that point of view I trust that the burden of building the fleet will not be put upon the fishing industry. It is the one industry in which the crews and officers of the trawlers are still partners in the industry, and entirely dependent on the catch which they bring into our ports. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to pass this burden on to the men engaged in the industry whether they are owners or the crews. I trust that the Debate has been of such a nature that the Minister will be able to visualise that, however short or long the conditions of war may continue, he must still see to the personnel, the equipment and the maintenance of the fishing fleet, which is so essential to the well-being of the country as a whole.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Shipping (Sir John Gilmour)
The House will agree with me when I say that on the subject of shipping we have had a not uninteresting and, if I may say so as Minister, a helpful discussion. I appreciate the tone and temper which the House has chosen to use on this occasion, and I re-echo those expressions of good will towards my hon. Friend who has undertaken to work with me. I welcome his assistance, and I trust that with the valuable experience he gained in the last war we may be able to meet the difficulties which lie ahead of us. This is a large field and perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not go into every detail. I can assure hon. Members who have raised particular points that they will be most carefully looked at and considered. We have succeeded to a Department which was started originally in the Board of Trade, carrying on in peace-time a very large part of the necessary organisation for the well-being of the industry and having established machinery for dealing with a great variety of problems which affect the industry and the personnel. One of the first things which I did when I took over this office was to find out for myself what 675 was the skilled advice which I could depend upon in dealing with problems which I realised to be very highly technical; and in that regard, I have listened to certain criticisms to-day as to whether the Ministry has at its disposal those who are skilled in shipping and shipbuilding. I am satisfied that we have got that advice and that support, and I believe that it will be found, as time goes on, that as and when it is necessary to strengthen the Ministry in any way, the opportunity-will be taken to do so.
The broad duties of the Ministry of Shipping are to deal with the control of ships of great variety and character, pursuing in peace time a great variety of different trades, and enedavouring to find a practical scheme which will take the fullest advantage of all these varieties of shipping for the common purpose of serving the country and the Empire in this time of war. It is with that desire that those who were responsible in the Board of Trade, before the Ministry of Shipping was created, took certain steps for the preliminary organisation of the Ministry. Among other things, I would emphasise particularly that it was recognised by everybody concerned that one essential thing was to prevent a disproportionate rise in rates of freight and to prevent, by practical methods, a repetition of what has been repeatedly referred to in the House to-day, that is to say, unfair and excessive profits by any part of the industry. I do not think we shall be faced with some of the difficulties we were faced with in the last war. Some of the conditions are quite emphatically different, and at any rate, I can assure the House that this main principle is the principle of the Government and of the Ministry of which I am in charge, to see that in so far as it is humanly possible we shall endeavour to give to those who are serving the country a reasonable and proper return for expenses incurred and prevent any improper profits being made.
I will add that in the main I think that has already been achieved, but I think it is clear that, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have said, when one comes to deal with the delays which are inevitable under war conditions, when one has to face the convoy system and the diversion of ships from ports on one side of the country to those on another side, one inevitably places a greater strain and a 676 greater expense upon those who are responsible for managing the ships and a greater strain upon the crews. It is for that reason that my Department has recently issued a notice which has told those connected with British shipping that we are prepared to reconsider the rates of freight, and that reconsideration is now in progress. On this great main question, let me say that we desire to do this work, as far as we may, with the assistance of the practical people upon whom we depend to carry out the duties which we have asked them to perform. For that reason we shall discuss these problems with those who are concerned and, if we can get an amicable arrangement, so much the better.
We are dealing with shipping by two methods. One is the system of shipping licences and the other is requisitioning. As I understand the problem, we have, so far, used requisitioning in the main and perhaps entirely, for supplying that form of shipping which has to carry out the work of the fighting services. If I may say so, it appears to me that the work of transporting our armed forces across the Channel, with all the subsidiary duties which have been imposed upon the captains and crews of the ships, has been performed in a very excellent manner. It has led, naturally, to a great interference, even in some cases with the structure of the ships, because of the necessity of making special provision for such things as the heavy mechanical vehicles which form such a large part of the army. I think I should fail to do what I desire to do if I did not express appreciation on an occasion like this of the readiness and rapidity with which all the workers in the yards undertook the duties which they were called upon to perform at very short notice, and the very good way in which that work was done.
I have referred to the problems and the difficulties of the convoy system. I think I am right in saying that the House is in agreement with the system and regards it as a proper system to be used, because it gives security to the ships and to the cargoes which they carry. Perhaps it may interest the House to know that 3,070 ships have been convoyed under the system, and that only seven ships out of that total were lost. That is. I think, a striking example of the co-operation between the Navy and the Mercantile 677 Marine. There is, of course, another side to that success. There have been delays, there have been difficulties in connection with some of the duties which shipping is asked to perform.
Let me refer for one moment to the problem of coal. I have listened carefully to what hon. Members on both sides have had to say on this subject and I appreciate the fact that the problem of finding a quicker and a better solution of the delays connected with the carrying of coal is an urgent one. But I can say to the House that this question has not been un-thought of and the situation is, I hope, being improved. Already arrangements are being made to increase the number of convoys and I trust that as we are able, gradually, to get more escorts there will be a great improvement. Then there is not only the hope of getting an outlet for coal, for ordinary internal purposes in this country, but there is, undoubtedly, an opportunity which I hope will increase, of sending coal to neutrals. On that subject of neutrals, I will only say that it is hoped that we shall gradually obtain larger assistance from neutral tonnage, but there are demands, which one can understand, and which have to be met in regard to the neutral freights. At the same time, I look forward hopefully to an improvement in that situation.
Reference was made to the bringing of cereals to this country. I am well aware of the difficulties of these problems, and for the present it is clear that we must concentrate upon making use of whatever shipping we can command on the shorter routes rather than on the longer routes. For that reason we have been able to set aside a considerable number of ships to bring us cereals from Canada before the St. Lawrence is frozen up. That is in progress now, and I trust that it will be found to be of considerable advantage in the months ahead of us.
There was raised the question of shipbuilding, and it is, of course, at once clear that we must make up our minds to make use of every available building yard in this country. I am very well aware of the criticism which over a number of years has taken place about this or that yard being closed. In so far as I am concerned, and as indeed this House is concerned, we are in a position to-day of having to deal with the problem as we rind it, and it is, therefore, essential 678 that we should so lay our plans as to take the best advantage of all skilled enterprise and of every possible productive yard. There is, of course, a heavy claim upon our building capacity on the part of the Navy, but at the same time I would like to say a word of thanks to the President of the Board of Trade, who at an early stage took steps to ensure that a proportion of whatever was available should be set aside for the purpose of meeting the shipping programme other than that of Naval production. That has been done.
One hon. Member to-night raised the question as to whether we were going to give orders in Canada, and I think he said he understood that orders to build ships in Canada had actually been given. I am not aware that that is yet the fact. It is true that in the last war there were ships built in Canada, and it may well be that we shall find some opportunity of getting that done again. That means that we have in this country orders which will occupy in the main all available yards for production.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he has not yet made up his mind to give orders for certain ships to Canada?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I will make very careful inquiries, but no order has yet been placed in Canada, though it may be that something of that kind may be done.
§ Sir P. Harris
Would such orders be given by the Ministry of Shipping or by private companies? If they were given by the Ministry of Shipping, surely the Minister must have knowledge of it?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
That again is a matter which has to be explored but so far as the Ministry is concerned, as far as my information goes, although I am always willing to be corrected, no order of this kind has been placed.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to get over the conditions that were set down by Shipbuilding Securities, Limited, that the yards could not be opened inside 40 years?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
We are living in time of war and in circumstances in which whatever may have been said in previous years can be reviewed. I go into this problem with an open mind, and if there is a demand to build in some disused yard or on some site where a yard has ceased to exist for a time, I must be satisfied, first, that the yard is available and can be developed, and, second, that there is a possibility of securing labour of the skilled kind able to do the job and to do it quickly. Under these conditions I am prepared to investigate any of these suggestions.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of replacement of shipping, can he give some indication as to the type of shipping which he contemplates, so far as he exercises control. Will he do something to avoid the indiscriminate construction of tonnage, some of which may be of no value for the purposes he has in view?
§ Sir J. Gilmour
Yes, certainly, and for that purpose there is a special department in my office which is studying this problem. I am aware that in the last war there was a great deal of building done and that some of the ships, when the war ceased, were not the most suitable for competing with other nations and retaining their place in commerce. Undoubtedly, it is essential that in any construction movement which is to be put forward the type of ship must be such that it is not only capable of carrying what we require during the war, but, after the war, can be used, altered or modified if necessary, with advantage in the trade of the world.
The House may feel assured that we have practical people advising us on this problem. I agree with those who have said that in the construction policy great care must be taken to see that the accommodation for the crew and those who have to work the ships is reasonable and fair. I have been interested in one aspect of this matter. With modern developments communications with a large number of ships has to be done by wireless. One of the first things that was brought to my notice when I went to the Ministry was the necessity of trying to improve that communication. I am happy to say that I think we are now well on the way to being able to replace the conditions which existed on a considerable number 680 of ships, where there was only one wireless operator. Steps have been taken in conjunction with those who can give us the best advice, both shipowners and representatives of the officers and men, to increase the number to two, and, as far as possible, to make the accommodation suitable. Hon. Members will understand that in some of the smaller ships it is not possible to give the same kind of accommodation as would be absolutely essential in peace-time, but, on the other hand, I am convinced that from the point of view of the security of the ship, the well-being of the crew and the proper running of the service this step will be of material advantage.
Let me say a word about the Advisory Council. I felt very strongly that it was essential that I should have at my service to advise me those who have practical knowledge and with whom I could have conferences. At the present time conferences are taking place once a week, and at them I have found a complete readiness to assist not only on the part of the shipowners but of those who speak for all the interests of the crews. Incidentally, the new arrangement about wireless was raised at the first of those conferences. I think the House will agree that I have set up a council upon which both sides of this industry are equally represented. It does not, of course, attempt in any way to override or to take over the ordinary machinery which has long been in existence for settling any difficulties and disputes between owners and crews, but at any rate it provides the opportunity for raising any questions which they desire to bring forward, and I am most grateful to its members for the way in which they have assisted me.
It is clear that the conditions of war, the delays arising from convoy have lessened the ability of our merchant fleets to carry out without great interruption the work which we desire them to perform, but I am in the position to say, after discussions with the First Lord, that I think we shall be able to hasten many of the convoys, and that being so there should be considerable advantages. [Interruption.] An hon. Member opposite says, "Stand up." I have always found the First Lord one with whom I could work and to whom I could speak perfectly frankly, and I am certain that I am being met in a very proper naval 681 spirit in regard to all these problems, and I trust that the result will be of advantage to all.
Another point was raised about the fishing fleet. As I understand it, the control of the fishing fleet remains with the Ministers responsible, that is to say with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and with the Secretary of State for Scotland. On the other hand, of course, some of these ships are being used by the Admiralty. I will make the closest inquiry into the problems which have been mentioned, and I am satisfied that we shall be able to give the fishing fleets a fair deal. It is-essential that we should keep this country as well supplied with fish as possible, and I feel that concessions have already been made by the Admiralty which will permit of that being done.
I was asked a question about the control of materials. That is again a matter that is of the greatest importance from the shipbuilding point of view, and it is being gone into most closely by the coordination committees which are dealing with these matters. I think every practical step is being taken to see that that is carried out.
§ Mr. Mander
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the specific point that I put with regard to the responsibility of the Minister of Shipping, if it is his responsibility, for controlling of tankers and shipping on rivers which might not be employed and might have to be laid up?
§ Mr. Mander
Quite recently I was informed by the Ministry of Economic Warfare that it was a matter for the Ministry of Shipping. I do not know or care which Ministry it belongs to but the House and the country would like a definite decision as to who is responsible.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I will communicate with my hon. Friend who is responsible for that Department and will go into the matter at once, as I realise the importance of it. I hope the House will believe that, whatever mistakes we may make, or may have made, we are all of us at the Ministry of Shipping desirous of giving our very best service at this time to the country and, above all, we recognise that, if that service is to be in any way effective, it must be done with the good will and the support of every one of the executive officers, engineers or deck hands or whatever else they may be, and it is on that ground that I hope we shall get the confidence of the whole service and, I trust, be able to give a good account of ourselves in the weeks and months that lie ahead of us.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he has not given one specific answer to any one specific question that has been put?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes after Ten o'Clock.