HC Deb 30 January 1941 vol 368 cc669-70
34. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Home Secretary why 1,600 Greek seamen, on strike at British ports have, in certain cases, been arrested, and the charges made against them; how many have been on hunger strike; and against how many deportation orders have been issued?

Mr. H. Morrison

My hon. Friend's suggestion that 1,600 Greek seamen are on strike in British ports is mistaken. The situation has much improved lately, and there is no longer any widespread refusal of labour. I am informed that the wages of Greek seamen are fixed by the Greek Government, and understand from my right hon. Friends the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Shipping that the wages of Greek seamen are much in excess of those of British seamen or of seamen of other Allied nationalities. Greek seamen are mobilised by the Greek Government for service in the Greek Merchant Navy, and the Greek Government have asked that those Greek seamen who refuse to serve in Greek ships should be deported to Greece; but they have given an assurance that men thus deported will not be punished on arrival in Greece merely by reason of their refusal to accept employment. I have made Deportation Orders in respect of 12 men, about whom I was satisfied that they were engaged in activities prejudicial to the war effort; and the question of making Deportation Orders in other similar cases is at present under consideration. Four of the men detained went on hunger-strike for a time, but have since abandoned it. It is clear that a number of Greek seamen were misled into a position which I hope will be avoided in future by proper methods of explanation; but if in future others should be misled into refusing to play their part in the Allied war effort, I shall feel it right to use my powers of deportation in any case in which I am satisfied that a Greek seaman in this country has refused to accept employment which was open to him in a Greek ship

Mr. Sorensen

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there was a sincere and conscientious difference of opinion on the part of many of these seamen regarding the interpretation of certain wage scales? Would he not view the position sympathetically, and see that no man who is on strike for conscientious reasons is punished or treated adversely in this country?

Mr. Morrison

I think that my answer gave the facts. The Ministry of Labour is satisfied that the rate being paid to the men, which is materially in excess of British or Allied rates, is reasonable. In those circumstances, it seems that the matter is primarily one for the Greek Government. If sailors of that nationality are not willing to play their part in the Allied cause, I do not think we should be over-sympathetic.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman avoid taking any steps to support the employers of these men by punishing or detaining the men for refusing to accept wages which they think are unsatisfactory?

Mr. Morrison

I do not want to enter into controversy, but the facts are really very much against the seamen in this matter. In any case, we must take account of the wishes of the Greek Government in the matter.