HC Deb 15 October 1940 vol 365 cc572-4
7. Mr. Robert Gibson

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in what circumstances and on whose responsibility the "City of Benares," manned by lascars unsuited to the cold Atlantic route, was chartered to convey children who were being evacuated to Canada; and whether he will give an assurance that, on evacuation of children being resumed, vessels and crews familiar with and suited to the appropriate routes will be chartered and chosen, respectively?

The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Shakespeare)

Accommodation in the "City of Benares" for the conveyance of a number of children to Canada was offered to and accepted by the Children's Overseas Reception Board in accordance with the general arrangements made with the Ministry of Shipping. The fact that the crew consisted predominantly of lascars, whose qualities of seamanship have been proved by long experience, was not considered as justifying a refusal of the accommodation offered. As is the normal practice in the case of companies employing such seamen, the lascars were supervised by the usual complement of non-lascar officers and men which the owning company employs. The Ministry of Shipping has only offered the Children's Overseas Reception Board ships if they are found to be well equipped and suitable for the conveyance of children and if the scheme is resumed the same careful practice will be followed.

Mr. Gibson

Is the Minister aware that there is a great deal of concern in various parts of the country, because lascars are obviously not suited to the cold North Atlantic winds?

Mr. Shakespeare

The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that, about 2½ years ago, on the representation of the India Office that lascars should be used on the North Atlantic route, the Board of Trade held a very exhaustive inquiry and cross-examined all shipowners who had experience in the use of lascars, and that, as a result, the Board of Trade allowed ships to ply with lascar crews, because of their seamanship and dependability.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not true to say that the seamen's and officers' unions have always protested against the use of lascar seamen on the North Atlantic routes and that ordinarily lascar seamen are not employed on those routes? Why should the hon. Gentleman pretend, because there was a Board of Trade inquiry, that it is now appropriate to the circumstances?

Mr. Shakespeare

I am pointing out only that, after the fullest inquiry two and a half years ago, permission was given for the employment of lascars on the North Atlantic route.

Mr. Neil Maclean

Were the seamen's and officers' organisations called into consultation by the Board of Trade at that inquiry, and, if not, why not? Why say that a full inquiry was held?

Mr. Shakespeare

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put that Question to the Minister of Shipping?

Mr. Maclean

You know that the inquiry was not a full one.

Major Milner

In regard to compensation arising out of this accident, to whom should application be made?

Mr. Shakespeare

I should be glad if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would put that Question on the Paper.