Motion made, and Question proposed.
That a further sum, not exceeding £20, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Shipping, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, namely:—
|Class X, Ministry of War Transport||£10|
|Class VI, Mercantile Marine Services||£10|
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
In the midst of stern and critical events which arouse our interest and anxieties, we turn aside to consider the future of one of our great national services. This course is justified by past events. We have no desire to witness a repetition of the depression that pursued the British Mercantile Marine after the last Great War. This is a duty we owe to the gallant officers and men of the Merchant Navy, who deserve our highest 223 praise, and whose sacrifices must be repaid, not in fine phrases but in tangible gifts. It is an earnest of our resolve to prevent a return of the blight that overwhelmed our shipbuilding centres and brought depression into the lives of thousands of skilled shipyard artisans and labourers in the inter-war years. Moreover, it is a necessity imposed upon us by the gigantic tasks that await the whole nation in the revival of trade and commerce and in the growth of living standards for the people. There can be none, either in the House of Commons or elsewhere, who can dispute the need for a virile, adequate and highly efficient Mercantile Marine.
Let me make it clear at the outset that this is a Debate on post-war shipping. We are not concerned at this juncture with the present position. We are not to consider either shipping losses or replacements. Those are subjects, as we well know, that are reserved exclusively for secret Debates. It has been the desire of some hon. Members, including myself—I frankly confess it—to discuss in open Session the matters to which I have just referred, but the Government have thought otherwise, and hon. Members are in duty bound to acquiesce in that decision. Therefore, I repeat, we are concerned with the future and not with the present situation. Let us, to begin with, consider the facts, and consider them frankly and fearlessly, however unpalatable they may appear to be. This is a great island and maritime nation. We have been proud of our great Mercantile Marine and its achievements, and in the past as a maritime nation we were supreme. There was at our command, in numbers of vessels, in marine efficiency, of which there was an ample supply, and in the type of vessel we were capable of producing, the greatest volume of tonnage in the world. We were, in short, the greatest maritime nation.
It is deplorable, but we must face the fact that the position has undergone a serious and unpleasant change. We began the war with, roughly speaking—I shall use only rough figures—20,000,000 tons of shipping. On the most optimistic estimate, we cannot expect to have more than about 9,000,000 tons of shipping at our disposal at the conclusion of hostilities. On the other hand, the United States of America, which has never been re- 224 garded either from the standpoint of numbers or from that of maritime skill as a great marine nation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The facts are well known to all who have studied these problems. I say that the United States of America, who began this war, or to put it more correctly who entered the war, with roughly 7,000,000 tons of shipping, much of it not of high quality—I disregard for the moment the shipping used on the Great Lakes, which amounts to almost z,000,000 tons—will at the end of the war have between 15,000,000 tons and it may be 30,000,000 tons of first-class shipping. There would appear to be a wide gulf between those two figures of 15,000,000 and 30,000,000.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is too early for interruptions, and I would ask the hon. Member to allow me to proceed. No doubt the Committee will, later on, be glad to hear the hon. Member's view on this important and intricate subject. That margin between 15,000,000 and 30,000,000 tons is attributable to the fact that there are so many maritime spokesmen in the United States who claim to represent the true position in that country. But from the statements that have been adduced and the figures that have been advanced, it is fair to say that the amount of tonnage that will be available to the United States at the close of the war should vary between those two figures. Indeed a spokesman for the American Maritime Commission said the other day—and this, I think, is worth quoting—that at the present rate of shipbuilding and under the projected programme of new construction, the United States will have about as much merchant tonnage at the end of 1944 as all the rest of the nations of the world combined, according to the American Mercantile Marine Institute. Those are, as hon. Members will agree, very significant facts, and they bear serious implications, unless the position, in some form or other, is corrected, and corrected speedily.
I think it would be useful to devote a little time to considering the position of the other Allies. They have lost a great volume of the shipping which was at their disposal at the beginning of the war. Much of it has been replaced out 225 of our shipbuilding programme. Incidentally, we have provided for some of the Allies some of our best ships, in addition to providing them with higher freights than our own shipowners receive, but I do not want to make too much of that, because there are, perhaps, special difficulties concerning the Netherlands Government, the Norwegian Government, the Greek Government and others. But it is just as well to point that out, because they may find themselves at the end of the war with a large fleet of fast motor vessels, and there are experts who believe—and there is some justification for their belief—that the future of the Mercantile Marine is bound up, at any rate to some extent, with the construction of motor vessels. We have to face these facts. We are no longer supreme. We shall be supreme no longer at the close of the war. The ball has passed to the feet of the United States of America.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he is referring to shipping or shipbuilding?
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is very difficult to separate shipping from shipbuilding. The ships are being built and the shipping will be available at the close of the war. There will be losses, of course. Even the most optimistic of American spokesmen accept the view that huge losses will be incurred in the course of the war. But the speeding up of American shipbuilding at an unprecedented rate must be taken into account. They claim that this year they, will have constructed 19,000,000 dead weight tons which means about 12,000,000 or 13,000,000 gross registered tonnage and that of course will put them in a very strong position at the close of the war.
When these facts are presented, there is the immediate response that all these problems and complications can be dissipated by international co-operation. I am all for international co-operation. Like other hon. Members, I desire to see the nations of the world co-operating, working and living in amity and concord, economically, socially and it may be politically a great international brotherhood. But we are not speaking in terms of idealism. We must be realistic, and those who speak glibly and largely about international co-operation as a possible solution of our maritime problems in the 226 future, must be called upon for their definition of international co-operation and their explanation of how it is to be applied. Is it suggested that there will be an international shipping control at the close of the war, regulating and controlling the ships of all maritime nations, or, to put it on a lower level, is it suggested that there will be an Anglo-American shipping control at the close of the war, and that Anglo-American control will have the exclusive charge and administration of vessels owned in the United States and in this country? Is that suggested? There is no evidence—I beg hon. Members to believe this—of any desire on the part of those associated either with the American Maritime Commission or with American industry for anything of that sort.
We are not speaking of the America of President Roosevelt or of Mr. Henry Wallace. If we had that to contend with, our problem would be of comparatively easy solution. We are dealing with the America of big business and of Wall Street, the America of those who believe they can use the huge reserves of the United States of America in order to adopt an investment policy all over the world and to enable their shipping facilities to respond to that policy. It is that America with which we have to contend. Hon. Members had better face that fact. Is it suggested that there should be what are called conference arrangements? Those were in operation before the war, as hon. Members know. Certain companies in this and other countries came to agreements about freights and passenger rates and the like, but, even with the inclusion of the United States shipping interests, such conference arrangements—which promoted a great measure of stability, I agree, and eliminated competition—were not in accordance with the British methods of providing rebates. As a result there was always a good deal of undercutting. I should like to know whether that is what is meant by internatoinal co-operation. Is it suggested that we should eliminate competition between the two countries? Those who make that suggestion must be prepared to amplify what they say by affording practical illustrations of how it is to be achieved. It is no use getting up into the air on this question. We have to keep our feet on terra firma.
Moreover, is it suggested that there should be an allocation of trade routes, 227 for example, that the United States should be responsible for the Pacific and we for the Atlantic and the Mediterranean? That would strike such a deadly blow at the British Mercantile Marine that we should find it impossible to maintain our position at all. The British Mercantile Marine, like the Mercantile Marine of other nations, must be permitted entry to the oceans of the world. It cannot be excluded from any of them. I ask this question, because it is necessary to clear the decks and to understand exactly what is meant when we speak about international co-operation, which is, I repeat, an excellent ideal. We should try to promote its growth everywhere, but let us be quite clear what we seek, in applying that excellent principle to the practical situation which confronts us.
In any event, if we agree that there is a possibility of promoting some measure of international co-operation, we must at the very least put our own affairs in good order. We must be—I regret having to use the phrase, because it always sounds capitalistic—in a strong bargaining position. Is it not obvious that 9,000,000 tons cannot talk on equal terms with 20,000,000 tons, particularly when the 20,000,000 are very speedy and efficient, and moreover, are highly subsidised? There is no doubt as to United States' intentions on that head. Mr. Carmody, a member of the United States Maritime Commission:noting that a movement was already afoot to discredit Government subsidies declared that the anti-subsidy campaign must he met and defeated in the United States if America was to maintain a strong and well-founded merchant fleet in the post-war world.He elaborated that theme at great length in order to show that subsidies were essential. It is very doubtful whether we, in our financial position at the close of the war, will be able to provide subsidies to the extent that they can be provided in the United States of America. Those are some other facts of which we must take notice.
I want to ask the Government a few questions. I want to know what their plans are. Have they any plans? Has this question of the future of the Mercantile Marine been under consideration? A further question I want to put to them is one which may sound somewhat 228 peculiar coming from these benches, but as I develop the theme I think my hon. Friends will understand. The question is this: Do the Government intend at the end of the war to revert to private ownership of shipping?
§ Mr. Shinwell
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, That one small head could carry all she knew.We have even heard that society dames are behind the Government. Who can tell? In the United States they are flirting with this question. [An HON. MEMBER: "With the dames?"] No, with the subject of the conversion to private ownership at the close of the war. Admiral Lane, one of the greatest authorities on maritime affairs in the United States, has expressed the view that after the war the United States merchant service should be privately operated and privately controlled. He added—and this is worth noting—that if private ownership could not do it, the Government would. There is no doubt about their intentions. I want to know whether the Government intend to hand over the whole of the shipping, now requisitioned and largely nationalised, to private owners at the close of the war. I ask that question from the standpoint of the shipowners themselves. [Laughter.] Yes, and I do so because it is desirable to remove uncertainty. Shipowners do not know where they stand or what is going to happen. They sometimes suspect that the Government contemplate the nationalisation of shipping. They are not prepared to purchase Government-owned shipping, and they have been very chary in that regard. They have not availed themselves of Government offers; that is well-known in shipowning circles. Nor are they prepared to say whether they are going to embark upon a privately-owned shipbuilding programme at the close of the war.
There is uncertainty for other good and sound reasons. I shall enumerate some of them. First of all, shipowners want guidance on the Government's air policy. Will shipowners contemplate the provision of large liners to carry passengers across the Atlantic or elsewhere if they are to be confronted with excessive air competition, 229 which obviously would affect their position? The Government ought to say what their air policy will be in relation to shipping after the war. Shipowners also desire to know—this provides also a large measure of uncertainty among them—what plans the Government have in hand in order to deal with competition among the maritime nations. Have the Government entered into discussions with the United States, or with the Netherlands Government or with any other Government on this question? Is there any intention of promoting a scheme which will eliminate competition both as regards freights and passenger rates? They also desire to know how long the control will last. Shipowners have agreed with refreshing generosity that they do not expect that control will be removed for at least 12 months after the war. Thereafter they hope, of course, that the Government will respond to their wishes, but they want to know how long control will last and what are the Government's intentions. There is an element of uncertainty which arises from the fact that shipowners are not aware of what the Government's trading policy is to be after the war. Is it to be a tariff policy, because obviously such a policy might strike a deadly blow at shipping interests, as it did before the war? In all these matters there is considerable uncertainty, and the Government are called upon to remove that uncertainty by developing their schemes and stating them to the Committee.
On the other hand, if it is the Government's intention to continue State control as a settled policy, I ask hon. Members to note that, as a permanent policy, they ought to say so. The country ought to be made aware of what their intentions are. Here I want to interpolate by directing the attention of Members to this fact: Practically the whole of British shipping is now nationalised. A large amount of our shipping tonnage at the beginning of the war, practically the whole of it, was owned by private owners. Much of it has been lost and replaced by ships built on Government account, owned by the Government, controlled by the Government. The Government direct the policy, and all the shipowners do is manage the ships. So, strictly speaking, the shipping of this country is now nationalised. Is it the intention of the Government that that will continue after the war? If so, they 230 should indicate what is to be the method of administration, how the shipowners will fit into the scheme, and whether they intend to continue building ships on Government account.
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he must not go into detail on anything to be done after the war, which will need legislation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In my view, for what it may be worth, as shipping is now nationalised it does not require legislation to continue Government control of ships after the war except under the Emergency Powers Act, which is merely a continuation of existing legislation. I will not pursue that point, but it is quite clear that unless we are able to extract from the Government information as to their intentions, this Debate is not worth having at all. We ought to know, the country wants to know in short, Are you going to revert to private ownership, which may or may not require legislation, or are you going to continue the existing position, which may require legislation? I think on these heads we are entitled to some information.
I want to ask a question which has certainly nothing to do with legislation. What are the Government's intentions about the type of ships and the speed of ships that are to be constructed? We have had controversy in this Committee about the speed of ships. At first the Government resisted the request made by many Members who were aware of what was happening in the United States and of what was happening in Japan before the war, when fast ships were being constructed. Now we are told that the Government have a programme for the building of fast vessels. How many, we do not know. We accept what they say, but do they intend to continue building fast vessels after the war, of what speed and of what type? Notice what is happening in the United States. They embarked on a shipbuilding policy which provided for the construction of a large number of what were called "Liberty" ships, which were intended for emergency purposes, with a speed of between 9 and II knots. But the American Government have now decided to embark on another policy of building what they call "Victory" ships, no longer vessels of 9 to II knots; they are now 15 to 18 knots ships, with tankers of even greater speed. None of these ships are coming over here. They 231 may be available to us for war purposes, but they are not to be handed over to the British Mercantile Marine. If we have to compete with vessels of that calibre, we are going to be in a very difficult position. The Government ought to say—this does not involve nationalisation—whether they propose to build under their Mercantile Marine policy fast or slow ships or ships of moderate speed.
I come to the question of what policy, in my view, should be adopted. In the first place, it is essential, in my judgment, to continue State control after the war. It is necessary first of all because of the relief and the rehabilitation measures which will be required, and it is necessary also because we shall have to contend with competition from other maritime nations. It is also necessary because I think the time has arrived—I hope I am not ungenerous to the ship-owning fraternity—when we cannot afford to allow individual shipowners to run the British Mercantile Marine regardless of national interests. The Mercantile Marine is too important to have its policy decided on by private interests. Therefore my view, and I think I represent the views of my hon. Friends, is that it is necessary to maintain State control and State direction.
Moreover, it appears to me that wider transport interests must be considered. I cannot discuss details of them to-dayroad, rail and civil aviation—but certainly an efficient Mercantile Marine cannot be promoted in isolation. Regard must be had to other transport facilities and other transport needs. It may well be that we shall require a Minister of Communications after the war, even embracing the postal services and telegraphs. That may be necessary. I understand that will involve legislation, so I merely throw out the suggestion. One thing is certain. There can be no more building of large luxury liners like the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth." They are the white elephants of the sea. I agree that during the war they have been very useful for troopship purposes, but from the standpoint of troop facilities your intermediate liner is just as valuable and is less costly to run. In view of the prospect of competition from civil aviation, it seems to me absurd to continue the policy of building the large luxury liners.
232 As regards the tramp trade, here we are presented with a difficulty. I am not going to suggest, much as I should like to do it, that we should nationalise the tramp shipping trade. I believe that this is much too difficult a proposition at this stage and may present difficulties immediately on the close of hostilities. I suggest that the time has arrived or is rapidly approaching when it is necessary to reduce the number of units in the tramp trade, to a concentration on fewer companies, to promote greater efficiency and to eliminate so far as is practicable the competition which to a large extent frustrated the efforts of the industry in the past. It is necessary also for the purpose of controlling freights, which can only be controlled effectively when you have rationalised the machinery of tramp shipping. I suggest that the Government might experiment—I do not know whether this will involve legislation; perhaps I am not permitted to argue it at length, but I throw it out—that in some of the liner trades that are concerned with regular routes, for example the meat trade and the fruit trade, in which vessels are sailing between ports of this country and ports abroad regularly on a regular schedule carrying food intended for consumption in this country, there is an opening for nationalisation, where the Government could step in, take possession of the vessels themselves, and, I believe, run them just as efficiently as they were administered before the war.
But be this noted. I do not propose that Civil servants at the Ministry of Shipping should run them, however capable those Civil servants are. If the shipping industry is to be administered nationally under a form of national ownership or State control after the war, it must be administered by those who understand the business. It does not always follow that Civil servants, however efficient they are in administration, understand the running of industry. It might be necessary to set up something in the nature of a public corporation with Ministerial direction answerable to Parliament.
I turn to the conditions of the men. There is no use paying tributes to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine merely for the purpose of paying tributes. These men want to know what is to happen to them at the close of the war. They had a raw deal in the inter-war 233 years. There were scores, running into hundreds, of efficient Mercantile Marine officers, many of them with first-class certificates, who were deprived of the opportunity of a livelihood. I have known of some who were compelled to apply for employment as vacuum cleaner salesmen. Many of them were beggars and would have taken any kind of employment at all; some were compelled to take any kind, however badly paid it was. We must not return to that condition of affairs after this war.
It is all very well to indulge in high falutin' phrases about the services the men have rendered, but give them security after the war. That is better than all your kind words. We had better speak bluntly about this matter. The first thing is to provide regular employment. I hope the Government are going to provide for a continuance of what is known as the continuous pool, a reservoir of officers and men available for service, and paid during the period of unemployment for which they are not responsible. Anyone who knows anything about the Mercantile Marine is aware that men may be discharged and out of employment for several months. Some men are luckier than others. That should not continue. Whatever the cause may be, we must afford a real measure of security to those men whom we praise so highly during the war.
Secondly, we must ensure the very best accommodation. I am quite willing to agree—it is only right to say it—that the shipowners have gone a long way in this matter. There was a time when shipowners were very recalcitrant on this question; they spoke in terms of cost. I think they are more enlightened. Public opinion may have assisted in enlightening them; Debates in this House have been useful. Nevertheless, though there has been a vast improvement, there are still a large number of British vessels that are dirty, verminous and lacking in sanitary conveniences, and certainly not fit for decent sailor men to live in, and the Government are well aware of that.
Commander Brahner (Hythe)
Old ships rather than newly constructed ones?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Of course. I agree that the newer vessels have shown improvements, though they have not been as good as the men might have expected.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Noel-Baker)
My hon. Friend does not forget the difficulty of labour and materials?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend must recognise that the Government have given great attention to this question and have done their very best.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was not aware that I was attacking the Government. If I were attacking the Government, I should be saying quite other things. Who would attack my hon. Friend, anyway? He is so mild and so very official that no one would dream of doing it. If some day I find that one of his speeches from that Box imparts a little colour into the proceedings, I shall have a very rude shock. I am not attacking the Government; I quite agree that there have been improvements, and perhaps there would have been a greater measure of improvement if the facilities had been available. All I am saying is that in the ships which are to be constructed in future the best accommodation should be provided.
I want to say a word about training. We had difficulty before the war in obtaining the number of men necessary to keep up the annual supply for the Mercantile Marine. We overcame that difficulty, but it is clear that after the war, if we are to have an adequate supply of personnel for the Mercantile Marine, we must train the men, and not pick them up as we have done in the past. I hope that to-day the Government will announce their intentions as regards the training of youths for the Mercantile Marine of this country. I want to say a word on the subject of manning. This afforded considerable scope for controversy in pre-war days, when the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine demanded better manning conditions: that more men should be provided on board ship, both above and below decks. During the war it has not been possible to do much in that connection, but I hope that the Government are giving the subject their attention. There are a great many other matters affecting the conditions of the men, but I think I have said sufficient to justify the claim that there is need for considerable improvement.
235 All I want to say in conclusion is that, in spite of all I have said about the unpleasant features of the present position, about the possibility of intense competition after the war, about the loss of our supremacy on the high seas, I am optimistic about the future, for these reasons. First, I believe that much that has been said by American spokesmen about the future of the American Mercantile Marine disregards certain important factors. One is the high cost of shipbuilding in the United States. No vessel of even moderate dimensions can be built in the United States, speaking in terms of our own currency, under about £400,000. That is far in excess of costs in this country. In addition, there is the high cost of seafaring labour. That is why Americans who speak for the Mercantile Marine are talking of subsidies; there is no other way. We can build ships. We have the best skill in the world, the best technicians in the world, the best craftsmen in the world, if only they get an opportunity. I hope that they will have an opportunity after this war is over, not only immediately after the war, when there may be a boom, but for many years after the war, when there may be unemployment. We can hold our own on the high seas, if we get a fair chance and if we frustrate the efforts of the individualists, who want to put their own considerations before those which primarily concern the nation.
Obviously, there must be greater enterprise. Even if there is a possibility of international co-operation, we cannot rely on that alone. We must be more efficient. I do not mean that in the sense of efficiency in administering the Mercantile Marine, because I do not think that any charge could be laid at the doors of the shipowners on the ground of inefficiency. They know how to administer the Mercantile Marine in their own interests. We have to consider it from a national standpoint, and I mean efficiency from a national standpoint. We were losing much ground before the war, we have lost a great deal during the war; after the war we must recover the ground we have lost. I think that I have put the case temperately, and that I have not overcharged it. There is no desire in this House to attack the Government extravagantly, but there is a desire, on both sides, to extract from the Government some 236 indication of what their plans are, of what their schemes are, for this industry.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
I have listened, as I always do, with the greatest attention to the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) on this subject. He has made very notable contributions during the war on the general problem of the Mercantile Marine, and, if I may say so, he has given in a very broad, admirable review of the situation. I desire to speak briefly on one particular type of British shipping, the type of ship referred to by the late Mr. Rudyard Kipling as the "dirty old coaster," always an important part of the British Mercantile Marine. In spite of constant bombing on the East coast, in spite of the depredations of the enemy in what is known as E-boat alley, in spite of a German order of the day in July, 1940, in which the then German naval commander-in-chief announced that, with their new motor torpedo boats, they were going to seal up the Thames estuary, and therefore the Port of London, for nearly four years the coastal steamers have supplied London River and the Port of London day in and day out. That might well have been impossible had the Mercantile Marine been supplied with less resolute men in the officers and in the deck hands.
I want to say to the representatives of the Ministry on the Front Bench that I hope they are not going to reward these officers and men by any attempt at this moment to overdrive them. This is a long war. Signs of strain are appearing ill coastal masters and deck hands. They are not easily replaced. For a long time they have turned round in 48 hours in the Port of London and gone straight out to sea again. I hope that no further attempt will be made to speed up the programme without taking this human element into account. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that it is easy for the official in the Ministry of War Transport to regard his convoy time table in terms of railway trains running on rails with a signal every half-a-mile—not that I do not appreciate the work of the railwaymen. I hope that if anything of this sort is attempted, the Ministry will consult with the Naval Control Officers, including some of the captains of the ships.
The hon. Member for Seaham referred to conditions. I want to make it clear 237 that, in the remarks I am going to make about conditions, I confine myself to coastal vessels. I was shocked when I returned to the Navy at the beginning of this war to find that conditions in coastal vessels had been practically unaltered, generally speaking, since 1918. In 1943 in many vessels a man who wants to wash in hot water has to pull it up in a bucket from the stokehold. The Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), was good enough to pay a visit to one of the coastal convoy bases, a gesture which was very much appreciated by the officers and men concerned. He was good enough to answer questions, and I think he will agree that he got a great many. He also went on board some of the colliers, at my suggestion. I think he will agree that the adjective necessary to describe those conditions is Shavian: it would be improper to use it in this Committee. I know that the new colliers and coastal vessels now taking to the water show great improvement in the crews' quarters. I know that the Ministry have done their best, and I think that there is an awakening con science among the owners, due to the factors which the hon. Member opposite stressed. The National Maritime Board have also made many representations, hut that Board cannot be other than an imperfect instrument. Whereas the owners' representatives on the Board are static, the representation of the seagoing personnel must be fluid and must vary from meeting to meeting, unless you are going to have union officials who are permanently ashore, and therefore out of touch with seagoing conditions. That is a difficulty for which there is no obvious remedy, but the Board are doing their best, and have made certain improvements.
We have been told that there is no demand from the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine for some of the things mentioned by the hon. Member opposite. The records of this House will show that when Samuel Plimsoll made his great load-line proposals, the suggestion was met with the argument that there was no demand for it from the seagoing personnel. "No demand" makes no impression on me. We are told that there is no demand for a uniform system; that they would rather carry on as they are. I have made inquiries, and I can assure the Committee that the men will agree to anything which 238 will make for better conditions in the vessels. So far as amenities are concerned, the coastal shipowners have fallen down badly on their job. I am one of those people who support private enterprise when it is working efficiently and humanely. I believe it to be the best system, but there always comes a time when one has to consider whether some form of control is necessary. I know that it is very easy to step outside the bounds of Order and make a remark about something which would require legislation. But one is continually asked by coastal officers and men, "What of the future? Will Parliament Act? What are you going to do for us?" I content myself with saying that I think it probable that this House will have to do for coastal shipping the sort of thing that it has done for factory conditions.
I am not going to take up further time of the Committee, but I would appeal to hon. Members on all sides to view this matter from the broadest possible aspect, without being tied to those forms of organisation or "isms" which may have affected them in the past. My own view is that some kind of public body is the best solution, laying down some broad provisions. But, in any case, let us tackle it in the spirit of that admirable broadcast which preceded the 9 o'clock news last Sunday, in which a tribute was paid to the men of the Mercantile Marine and in which the point was reiterated, "Let us not forget their services when victory is ours." Let us make practical recognition—not by the passing of resolutions, but on much more concrete lines—of the vital contribution to final victory of those who sail under the Red Ensign.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
There is no one who recognises and admires the magnificent services rendered by the Mercantile Marine of this country during the war, its faithfulness as an ally of the Royal Navy, its services on the Seven Seas and its phenomenal percentage of fatalities who will do other than welcome a Debate of this character. The fear is very often held that we may be faced, as we were after the last war, with a depressed ship-owning and shipbuilding industry. The fact is that there was no depression after the last war. On the contrary, British shipbuilding yards were fully employed in the main on orders of various sorts to last for at least a year or two. Shipping 239 freights were high, and profits were undoubtedly large, but that situation prevailed for a relatively short time. It was shattered by the British Government of that time. The introduction of Reparation tonnage from Germany was the means which we used for the purpose of destroying the value of British tonnage, and Lord Inchcape and three colleagues were employed by the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to effect this undesirable change. Anyone who had given due thought to the influence of Reparations would have certainly condemned that policy. It was condemned in shipping circles, and it proved to be the most fertile means of destroying the value of tonnage.
The Shipping Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Inchcape ordered German tonnage to be brought to this country. When it arrived here much of it was in a damaged condition. It was promptly repaired at the Government charge and placed, not upon a wide market where the highest prices could be obtained in fair and open competition, but upon a restricted market—restricted to British owners or British people. The result of that was that there was a prompt and rapid fall in value, and in a relatively short time the value of the average ship in Britain, apart from liner tonnage, fell from, what it then was at the termination of the war, £34 per dead-weight ton, the amount of charge for building a ship of a modern character, to some £8 10s. per dead-weight ton. The fruits of that policy were that many British firms that did not sell out promptly enough were ruined, and shipyards were cleared of their orders. Shipowners who had ships building paid substantial sums for the cancellation of the orders which they had placed, and, as though a mighty broom had been used, orders were swept out of our British yards everywhere. Skilled workmen were turned on to the streets, shipbuilding ceased, and shipping freights fell from reasonable paying levels to substantially lower than the possibility of profit-making. But the sequel was never reported in this House, and the story ought some day to be told.
In 1921 the Germans met the French and the British and other Allies for the first time in Paris. The purpose was to 240 fix a reasonable price for German tonnage that had been taken forcibly from them as Reparations for the Allies, and the German shipowners and representatives proved beyond question that a reasonable price for their tonnage was 20 per dead-weight ton. Thereafter the British Government agreed to the compensation of German shipowners at a price of £20 per dead-weight ton. When Lord Inchcape decided, what he should have done at the commencement if it was intended to seize German Reparation tonnage, to leave them open to the markets of the world, it was altogether too late. The German shipowners who had been advised by their Government that they could buy tonnage up to £20 per dead-weight ton came in and purchased from British shipowners and from Lord Inchcape large quantities of this tonnage at from £8 to £10 a ton, while they were credited with 20 per deadweight ton.
That was the cause of the depression in British shipowning after the last war. If we had not perpetrated that rank folly, I believe that the shipping business and world trade would have been prosperous for many years to come. I am convinced that with world demands, much in excess of those of the last war, which will ensue after this war, world trade will boom for several years to come, and it will be the business of the Government to restrict these booms to limited proportions, whether it be in regard to freights or with regard to a proper shipbuilding policy. It is well known that at least Members of the party to which I belong, in the days of depression, pressed the Government to engage in shipbuilding, if it were only to retain our personnel, the high quality and standard of which was admitted everywhere. But the Presidents of the Board of Trade that we respectfully and respectively interviewed were adamant against engaging in any such Socialistic enterprise, with the result that British shipowning fell to the low levels that have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell).
As far as the future is concerned, I disagree with certain findings of the hon. Member. As an ex-practical shipowner, it is a delusion to imagine that what Britain requires is merely a number of fast motor ships. Comparing the cost of building the ordinary coal burner, with a 241 speed of 11¼ knots, with that of the motor boat, with a speed of from 15 to 17 knots, it is all in favour of the coal burner, and the carrying capacity of these vessels is well exceeded by the cheaper vessel. While the period of transit on the high seas may be longer, yet the profitable undertaking of the old coal burner as against the oil burner for the transatlantic trade and shore trades with the West coast of Italy, Norway, Russia, the Atlantic, the Baltic and elsewhere is well in favour—and practical shipowners advise that—of the cheaper and somewhat slower vessel. State control certainly ought to be continued for some period at least after the war. Perhaps in the nature of things, being a capitalist country, a suggestion that it might be wise to nationalise, which could readily be done, certain liner trades is perhaps a sound one and certainly worth the attention of this Committee.
With regard to the seafarer, I agree that, just as we ought and must hereafter preserve the skill and capacity of our shipyards by the retention of these in shipbuilding for Government account where shipowners are not able or are unwilling or because the freight mark is too low to induce them to place orders for shipping, we must carefully preserve the personnel of the British Mercantile Marine. The present system of a pool of all who have served at sea and who are willing now to go to sea available for the shipping industry is admirable, but unless you can retain these men by payment during the time they are unemployed, the scheme cannot possibly succeed. It ought not to be too costly a scheme owing to the fact that you will have your labour available at any time and your vessels will not be held up in search for some of the lower-graded personnel. This has often happened during the war and should be avoided in future.
I feel optimistic with regard to the future of British shipowning. There may be an overwhelming ownership in the United States of America, but that has happened before. I am not satisfied that the United States Government will feel that it is desirable, merely to have the pleasure of having a Mercantile Marine, to continue paying heavy subsidies to preserve it. The fact that Great Britain will compete with this cheaper tonnage, with its lower paid—not relative)—personnel working these ships, 242 is sufficient to justify the nations for whom we have largely been carriers being satisfied that Great Britain is a mercantile nation and, for many reasons, should therefore be selected and be the agreed nation to carry the major portion of the tonnage of the world. I am certain that that will ultimately ensue without the intervention of the British Government or protests that America is unduly subsidising its tonnage.
With that belief I am satisfied that the Mercantile Marine of Britain can play a magnificent part in the economic development of not only this country but the rest of the civilised world. As regards air tonnage, British shipowners are certainly considering the desirability of air fleets, although at the present moment all that is contemplated is that the more costly goods might be carried by air. Whether the Government are alert to it or not, I am glad to think that the shipping industry is quite alive to the idea of aerial fleets. We may look to some substantial development in that direction through the enterprise of British shipowners with the advice—and not necessarily the monetary assistance of the Government. I am one of those who believe that, notwithstanding the greater development of communications, there are many other nations, with British owners, technicians, shipbuilders and the like, which are thoroughly alive to the possibilities of air transport in the future. That being so, I am quite satisfied that the future is, indeed, bright.
§ Sir Robert Rankin (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I am glad that this Debate on shipping, which might be said to be overdue, has been arranged, because I believe that the present condition of British shipping, our greatest industry, can only be understood by those who have a certain knowledge of the past, for the decline of the industry can be traced to the period after the last war. By 1925 the lead gained before 1914 had disappeared; wages were the governing factor in all maritime countries. Countries with high standards of living went in for nationalised shipping supported by heavy subsidies and, if they could, reserved trade for themselves. With the exception of the Dutch West Indies, there was no coastal or inter-Colonial trade which could be kept for our competitors which was not closed to 243 British shipping. Those countries which had not purchasing power of their own to enable them to divert cargoes to their own vessels went in for wage cuts. Countries with a low standard of living and cheap employment were in a very different position from that of the British nation. Finally, there were wholesale breaches of Conventions. International agreements governing conditions at sea, such as safety of life, the load line and so on, had been passed by the majority of maritime nations, but only a few conformed to them. A steamer, for instance, might regularly arrive in this country with more than 320 tons more cargo from the River Plate, under a foreign flag instead of a British flag. The reason was that we had no jurisdiction over foreigners beyond the three-mile limit. An alien steamer needed only to show her Plimsoll line on arriving at a British port, by which time she had burnt her coal or oil, whereas a British ship had to allow for cargo bunkers, stores and water and have her load line always visible, no matter in what part of the world she was trading.
One might ask why this state of affairs was not combated by the British Government. The answer is that there was apathy. The state of British shipping was of no interest politically or to the country and conditions went from bad to worse, particularly with regard to cargo steamers. The climax came in 1934, when British shipowners were forced, very greatly against their will, to ask the Government for a subsidy. After much negotiation they were given £2,000,000 a year, but it was hedged about with two administrative conditions. First, there was to be no dissipation of the subsidy by competition, and this simply meant that their competitors were stabilised in their gains. Secondly, they were required to form agreements in order to preserve the status quo with their competitors. Together with this procedure an astonishing plan was forced on the industry. The scrap and build scheme which was in force from 1934 to 1937 was, as was described by a shipowner, Mr. Watts, lunacy, because the Government would help owners to build new steamers only if they scrapped two tons of old shipping for one ton of new. At that time the Admiralty were preparing to rebuild the British Navy while the Government were encouraging, 244 in effect, the gradual elimination of the Mercantile Marine. At the start of this war the Admiralty and the Merchant Service struggled to get good seamen, because obviously the supply was limited. Some neutrals hurried off to safe and good trade, particularly to that which was vacated by British vessels which had to go on war service. Other neutrals were asking fantastic rates and conditions for the hire of their steamers.
Then the fatal consequences of the scrap and build scheme became apparent, because the Government were buying anything that would float in order to make good our deficiencies. When Allied Governments came to this country after the invasion of their own countries the majority had no sources of income with which to maintain their sovereign status other than the earnings of their ships. It was felt that they should be made independent but the result is that the rates of hire paid to them for their steamers are above those paid for British steamers. That does not, however, imply that the rates paid to them as Allies are as high as the rates paid to them when they were neutrals. It is general knowledge that Allied seamen are receiving more wages than British seamen. Thus there is a differentiation between British and Allied owners in respect of hire and British and Allied seamen in regard to rates of pay. There is also more than a suspicion that the replacement agreements are not identical. The Government have laid it down that part of the war risk insurance recoveries shall be withheld from owners until replacement, but the Government will not now allow shipowners to buy vessels which have been allocated to them for management, whereas the Allies can and do buy ships which have been allocated to them. It is hard to understand why there is this bias against British owners. At the present time other nations have the best of all worlds from the Government, namely, preferential terms in regard to replacement, higher terms of hire and better charter party conditions. British shipowners have raised this matter time and again, but have always been met with the suggestion that questions of high policy are involved. I submit that it would be more satisfactory if this policy were explained to them and the Committee.
245 The British Mercantile Marine is greatly exercised about post-war conditions and prospects. It has been through more bad times than any other industry. No other commercial industry has been subjected in the same way to 100 per cent. foreign competition. The present position is that many British steamers are on lend-lease, whereas in the United States merchant ships are being completed. The policy seems to be that British yards are concentrating more and more on warships, whereas in America the industry is mainly concentrating on the production of merchant shipping. The Government have consistently refused to make any declaration that there will be an adequate Mercantile Marine at the end of this war. It is also understood that a member of the War Cabinet has declared that there will inevitably be a smaller Mercantile Marine at the end of this war than before. That can only mean one thing—a repetition of the neglect which the industry received after the last war. The vital importance of the Merchant Navy in the post-war world is not generally appreciated. We are hoping that there will be no economic warfare but if there is such a conflict, and we have no adequate ship-borne transport to carry our exports and imports, then any foreign cartel which controls shipping could take our life blood from us.
I would like to point out, in conclusion, that the shipping industry, which has helped to save this country during the war, has been built up by private enterprise. The management and control of shipping are of extreme complexity. Each individual trade and route brings its own problems, to which not only shipowners and merchants but also freight and loading brokers and forwarding agents have to make their special contributions. I do not myself believe that the State through civil servants, without previous knowledge of the industry and without the personal stimulus of competition, could operate with equal efficiency. Speaking as one who has no financial interest in shipping and whose private firm sailed merchant ships before the Battle of Trafalgar was fought, I would hate to see the disappearance of private enterprise. I trust that through public companies and private firms, of which there are only too few at the present, the Government, with the accord of all parties in this House, will give favourable support in the difficult years which are to 246 come to the Mercantile Marine. It has served the nation well. The sacrifices which have been made by officers, engineers, seamen and firemen of the Merchant Navy who have given their lives in this war should not have been made in vain.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I feel that the whole Committee will agree that the Debate was opened by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) in a very well reasoned speech, one with which I agree to a very considerable extent, but when it comes to a question of the nationalisation of shipping he and I part company altogether, because if there is one industry that is utterly unsuitable for nationalisation, it is shipping, and anyone who goes into the matter of shipping in all its complexity cannot fail to come to that conclusion. What interests me about the hon. Member's suggestion is that he takes the easy part and leaves the risks of the tramp industry to be taken by the private individual. He wants to take what has taken generations to work up by private industry arid leave anything in which there is a risk to private owners. Who is going to benefit from nationalisation? Will the consumer benefit, is the employer to benefit? We never hear a word of these things.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
Nationalisation is not the subject of this Debate. I mean that it cannot be the main objective of a speech but only an illustration.
§ Commander Galbraith
I agree to your Ruling, Mr. Williams, but the matter was introduced by the opener of the Debate. I have no intention of making it the main theme of my speech, but it seemed to me that some reply to the hon. Member was called for.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwc11) definitely made that the main theme of his speech, according to my impression, and I submit that Members on this side must have an opportunity of replying to it, otherwise the Debate has no meaning at all.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I was not in the Chair at the beginning of the Debate. I understand that we are perfectly in Order in discussing the control 247 of shipping by the Government to-day and in suggesting that it may be well to carry on that control for a further period, but, as I understand it, we are not in Order in making the main subject of a Debate which concerns a vast quantity of things in connection with shipping and not the question of whether nationalisation is right or wrong.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Member's arguments seemed to be self-destructive. He spoke of the efficiency of British owners, but he was going to replace them by someone whom he did not specify. It would be interesting to know who these persons are to be. The hon. Member also spoke of fast ships, and it seemed to me that he was suggesting that private owners were slack and behind the times in not producing fast ships, but the question is whether we are building for peace or for war. If we are building for war, fast ships are naturally essential, but if we are building for peace, it is the economic ship that we require, and it seems to me that if the Government insist on having fast ships, they will have to meet the additional cost which those ships demand. The hon. Member also spoke of there being too many small units in the industry. The whole strength and life of the shipping industry comes from these small units, which provide an opportunity to young men of initiative to go in for shipowning on their own, which gives drive to the whole industry. If the hon. Member is going to do away with these small units, he is going greatly to interfere with the whole efficiency of the industry.
I have always felt that if there is any one industry more than another which deserves the gratitude of the country, it is the shipowning industry, on which in times of peace the prosperity of the country so very greatly depends and without which in time of war we could certainly not continue to exist. The years between the two wars were not normal years. Trade did not boom except for short and restricted periods, and slumps in international trade were frequent and severe, and were the rule rather than the exception. During the whole of that time we had to contend with unfair foreign competition, which continually grew in strength, and by that I mean competition subsidised by foreign Governments. The industry had to face these conditions with 248 out adequate support from the Government, and that resulted in many companies being unable to cover their depreciation and the employment of officers and men being haphazard in the extreme. Enclosed waters such as the Clyde were full of idle ships, and we were allowing ourselves to be driven off the seas, yet the Government stood aside and allowed men and ships essential to our security to waste in idleness. I feel that these are conditions which the country will not tolerate again.
In that connection I would say that where an essential industry finds itself in difficulties as the result of conditions over which it has no control, particularly when those conditions arise out of the deliberate policy of foreign Governments our Government must take action even to the imposition of sanctions of one kind or another. In the pre-war years we failed to do so; in the post-war era we must not fail, for then more than ever before British industry will require a fair field in which to operate. It speaks volumes for the efficiency of British shipowners that in spite of these difficulties they managed to maintain their fleets at such strength as has actually enabled us to meet the demands of war. Since the war began the industry has been the main prop in our defence. Even before the war it placed itself unreservedly at the disposal of the Government, and owners have operated under Government instructions and have accepted Government conditions of hire with the utmost loyalty. There is no tribute too high for us to pay to the officers and men who man those ships; their courage and endurance have been beyond all praise and the wonder and admiration of all thinking people.
I feel, however, that it is to the future that we should look, particularly at this time. It is realised on every hand that an adequate Mercantile Marine is essential to our survival. How is that to be achieved? I should like to consider first of all the human factor, for that is not the least important for without a contented personnel I do not see that any industry can operate efficiently. The shipping industry is very fortunate in having at its disposal the National Maritime Board, which I believe to be the most efficient and successful of all industrial councils. The final test of harmonious and effective relations in any industry is surely the absence of strikes or 249 resort to outside arbitration. Since the inception of the Board in 1919 there has been no strike and no resort to arbitration. These facts are, in themselves, a tribute to the success of the work of the Board. If other tributes are required, they are to be found in the unreserved praise which Government after Government have paid to their work. Besides the Board's greatest achievement in maintaining happy relations between employer and employed, it has to its credit a number of very great advances. It succeeded in reaching agreement with the Ministry of War Transport on the question of the construction and equipment of crew quarters. A statutory food scale was recently introduced as the result of its proposals, and its recommendations regarding the comfort and cleanliness of crew spaces have been adopted. In the matter of wages they succeeded by agreement in obtaining very great advances in 1936, 1938 and again in 1940. They have been responsible for the introduction of a general pension scheme for all officers and for the substitution of the three-watch for the two-watch system. That is a record of which the whole industry may well be proud. It is a record of such value to the country that I feel that this Board must be allowed to function in post-war years as in the past free from all Government control.
To the outsider looking at this industry one of the most unsatisfactory features has been, particularly in the tramp section, and to a lesser degree in the cargo liner section, the casual nature of the employment offered. Men signed on for the round voyage, and on the ship's return to a United Kingdom port they were discharged, and they might never again serve with the same line or the same owners. They remained ashore without pay until such time as their savings were exhausted, when perforce they had to find another ship, or until they felt inclined to do so. The inefficiency and waste of such arrangements in war-time, with the resulting difficulty in finding crews as and when required, led in 1941 to the coming into being of the Merchant Navy Reserve Pool, concurrently with the industry being taken under the Essential Work Order. The coming into being of these arrangements was due to a great extent to the work of the National Maritime Board. It revolutionised the conditions of employment for seafaring people. While men were prohibited from leaving 250 the industry, they were assured of pay and adequate leave between engagements. The casual nature of the employment had been removed from the industry.
Control and management of that pool are vested in the Shipping Federation, which works in the closest co-operation with the officers' societies and with the National Union of Seamen, and it is due to that harmonious co-operation that the pool has met with such complete success, which has enabled us to meet efficiently and smoothly the manning requirements of our shipping. Naturally no one would desire that in days of peace men should be prohibited from leaving any industry, but, that apart, it seems to me that continuity of employment should continue and that the industry should not go back to those casual conditions of which I have spoken. I believe that is the wish and desire of all concerned—owners, officers and ratings.
The question of finance is however a big one, and I believe the Government ought to assist. The present position is that the owners pay the administration costs of the Pool in the United Kingdom, while the Government pay the Pool outgoings, that is, the Pool pay travelling expenses, and lodging allowances. If the industry, as it desires, is in the future to provide continuity of employment, it would not be fair to ask it to bear the full cost itself. That would be to inflict upon it a double burden, for, like all other industries, shipping contributes to the Unemployment Fund. If the industry is in future to carry a large share of its own unemployment—and that is substantially what the continuation of the Pool would mean I would suggest that the Government should pay into a Pool fund a sum bearing some relationship to the contribution which the industry makes to the Unemployment Fund. What we want at sea is the very best we have to offer. If we want to have them they must have the very best conditions. The National Maritime Board has already established higher rates of pay and better living conditions, and I have no doubt that in future they will make further improvements as the condition of the industry warrants. If we add to these improvements continuity of employment, then at last will the sea offer an attractive and stable career. It is in that hope that I would ask the Government to give 251 generous financial support and so enable the Pool to continue, for that to my mind is in the best interests not only of the industry but of the country. On the side of personnel this industry can fairly claim that it has proved itself entirely capable of self-government.
I will now turn to what I would call the financial or the business side of the industry. I indicated earlier that the years between the two wars with few exceptions were years of depression. Following on the last war owners acquired tonnage from the Government at the Government's request, it being put to the industry that it was their patriotic duty to do so at very greatly inflated prices. The low freights ruling in the period did not enable the industry to set aside sufficient funds out of current earnings to enable them to write the values of those ships down to economic levels. They were unable to accumulate reserves so that they could replace tonnage as it became obsolete. On top of that they have had more losses.
For the purpose of war risks insurance British shipping was valued shortly before the commencement of the war. That valuation was in general fair, and the increases which have subsequently been granted are sufficient in the liner section of the industry to enable replacements to be made at the prices which were ruling up to about 12 months ago. In the tramp section of the industry the situation is not SO satisfactory. It appears that there will inevitably be a gap between insurance recoveries and the cost of new tonnage, and that apart altogether from the fact that in the tramp section in particular there are heavy arrears of depreciation which have still to be made good.
For the safety of the country our total post-war tonnage must be retained at least at the pre-war level. It is difficult to see how that is to be achieved when, as a result of bad trade, owners have been unable to build up reserves and when insurance recoveries fall short of replacement costs. Indeed the situation which faces the industry is simply that while replacement is essential funds are not available in the industry to carry it out. The Government will require to come in and bridge the gap either by loans secured on mortgage over the vessels at low rates of interest, as was envisaged in the British 252 Shipping Assistance Bill of 1939, or by some other method agreed between the Government and the industry.
I suggest that assistance of that nature would not be unreasonable because, after all, shipping is essential to the defence of the country, that the industry finds itself in difficulties through circumstances over which it had no control, and during the war the rates of hire, taken in conjunction with losses, are insufficient to enable funds to be accumulated. By that I mean that if one has a fleet of 10 ships the normal rates of depreciation allow one to replace one ship every two years. If as a result of war losses the fleet becomes only five ships, one will be able to replace only one ship every four years. And here let it be remembered that the question of replacement is not a question of gradual replacement, but of replacement in the shortest possible space of time after the conclusion of hostilities. That greatly aggravates the whole problem. In that conection I would like to put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Why should not owners who have contracted to buy ships from the Government under the disposal scheme have the ships transferred to them at once instead of at some indefinite date after the cessation of hostilities? The Government's policy of retaining ships in their own ownership and merely giving them to owners to manage at very modest fees, which are inadequate to more than cover their expenses and out of which nothing can be set aside, is not at all helpful to the industry; whereas if the ships were transferred to the owners depreciation charges would begin to run at once, and funds for replacement would accumulate. It is impossible to-day to tell the scale on which we will have to replace shipping after the war. So far as the passenger liners are concerned the whole thing is bound up in the future of civil aviation and the Government's policy in that direction. Until that policy is announced no programme can be laid down. I want to plead that the liner companies should be given an opportunity to take their place in the management of post-war civil aviation. They have behind them three generations of experience in the handling of passenger traffic. They have at their disposal full statistical records of seasonal traffic throughout the world. They also have a world-wide network of agencies. In these circumstances it would not only be uneconomic but even criminal if they 253 were to be excluded from the development of this great new industry to which they can bring such a wealth of experience. I am told in regard to the situation of the cargo liners that as far as one can see at the moment about one third of their prewar tonnage will have to be replaced after the war, and that without taking into account any increase which may well be anticipated in this section if backward countries are to be developed, as was envisaged in the Atlantic Charter and as also appeared in a paper which has recently been issued by the United States National Resources Planning Board entitled "A Post-war Plan and Programme for the United States of America."
The whole future of shipping rests on the Government's policy. The industry cannot plan ahead until that policy is known. On the other hand, I rather imagine that the Government's policy depends on what agreements they can make with our Allies. It is hoped that these agreements are well forward in the course of development. What we want—and the hon. Member for Seaham stressed this point strongly—is that the industry should know at the earliest possible moment what the Government's policy is to be. I would suggest that they should specifically indicate the part which the industry is to play in civil aviation, the assistance which it may expect in regard to replacements and the continuation of the pool, and what steps they intend to take to eliminate unfair competition. There is another matter on which I also suggest information should be given. What is the Government going to do about the stabilisation of freights, if anything? By international agreement it should be possible at least to fix minimum rates of freights so as to prevent these slumps that have been so disastrous to the industry in the past. These freights might well be arranged so as to leave a fair field for competition and a reward for efficiency.
This great industry only requires a fair deal. It neither requires nor desires a subsidy, and it certainly does not need to be controlled. It only needs to be allowed to work out its own salvation. It has proved itself quite capable of managing its own affairs, and I would say to the Government that if they will give it a fair field in which to operate I am convinced that the nation in the future as in the past will receive from it that economic and efficient service which only a free and contented industry can give.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Coming from the Merseyside, I must pay my tribute to the wonderful manner in which the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) brought this subject before the Committee. The sailors of our country owe him a debt of gratitude, and I pay that tribute, because on the Merseyside this is our special problem. It is a great problem for the Ministry, but I do not think the question which has been asked to-day should be as problematical as it would appear to be on the surface. The purpose of the Debate, as I understand it, is to ask the Ministry to let us know what they intend to do with shipping. Is it to be maintained after the war, for a period as it is to-day, or what changes, if any, are to take place? It would occur to one to go back in one's mind to the period when Liverpool and the other great shipping ports had to suffer the results of the inefficiency and want of forethought on the part of Ministers. The period 1914–18 brought many problems to the shipping centres, and none greater than the problem of the dispersal of our merchant seamen, and therefore I do not give a tinker's damn—(HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I think that is Parliamentary. If anybody can explain what the term means, they may be out of Order, but I do not want to know what it means.
§ Mr. Logan
The destitution that we saw in our great ports after the Great War calls for action now on the part of the responsible Minister. He should let us know, not what was done yesterday, but what the Government intend to do in the future, because that is of primary importance to these men who "go down to the sea in ships." Looking back on the past and on the problem which then confronted us, though it was then on a smaller scale, I will tell the Minister from my actual experience what happened in those days. Sitting on a Poor Law committee in Liverpool, it was my unhappy privilege to have before me some of the ratings from the Merchant Service of Liverpool, and I was never more surprised in my life than when there came before the committee one day a ship's captain. His three years' savings had all gone and even with his training—he had had a secondary school and university education—he stood as a pauper before that committee in 255 Liverpool to ask for relief. It was most nauseating. We had before us men of the Merchant Service who had gone down to the sea in ships, who had sailed out of the port of Liverpool risking their lives and now had to stand in a queue to seek relief because there was no employment for them. Any officer in this House today will know that in many cases masters and chiefs of many of the greatest shipping lines sailed out of the port of Liverpool as common seamen because they were not able to get the type of job to which their rank entitled them.
I hear great shipping interests asking how they are going to be treated. What we ought to be concerned with here is the common good of all and what is for the benefit of the whole nation. The Minister responsible must avoid the mistakes of the past and place before Parliament better plans for the future. We hear flowery speeches and rhetoric about our men who sail the Seven Seas, and the wonderful services rendered by our captains and first mates, but I want to know what security we shall have to offer them when the war is over—not only the captains, but all down to the lowest rank on board. What security of employment shall we provide for them in the future as a tax, as a cost, on this industry? To me it is the personnel who are of primary importance, not any shipowner or shipowners. I am more interested in flesh and blood than in the question of dividends. Dividends are very nice, but today we have been paying the price of dividends. When I see the loss of life that is going on, when I hear of men coming home after having been torpedoed two, three or four times, and still ready to give their lives in defence of this country, I want to know what we are going to do to see that in the general interest we organise the shipping industry for the benefit of the nation. All ranks in the nation, men of all creeds and parties, demand that these men who sail down to the sea in ships shall not suffer the want and penury they endured in the past.
Any industry, whether shipping or any other, that is not able to make proper provision for those whom it employs, has failed in its responsibility. The first call upon any business is that of the personnel engaged in it. Unless we have decent homes we cannot have decent families, unless we have decent wages we cannot 256 have contented people, and if we are to have a new era this nation has to rise to the occasion through its representatives here, not shirking responsibility but accepting responsibility for these men who have sacrificed so much for our welfare and given us so much peace and comfort in this war. When peace and security come I do not want to find people taking things easily and saying, "It is not my responsibility; I am not my brother's keeper." That has been said in the past, but surely we are not going to live the past over again.
Members of our own party are now sitting on the Benches opposite. Why are they there? They were placed on the other side of the House that they might form part and parcel of the Government, to work in the interests of this nation and to show that in this crisis men of all parties in the British Parliament were united in one common effort. No matter who may sit on those Benches, whether Labour or the orthodox form of Government, they have no right to sit there unless they have the support of the people outside. The people demand that their voices shall be heard, and we ought to back the hon. Member for Seaham in the case which he put forward, in a most cautious fashion and diplomatically, avoiding the breaking of the Rules, getting over them very nicely with the dexterity of an old Parliamentary hand, just as you, Mr. Williams, used to do when you were sitting on this side of the House.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. I do not think the past of any Member is really relevant to the present Debate.
§ Mr. Logan
I do not wish to say anything that might be considered to be a reprimand on the Chair. I must not speak of the past, because I dare not speak upon your past, and mine would not bear speaking about. I do not wish to say anything for which the Chair could call me to Order, but I would be perfectly in Order to speak of my own past.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member will have noticed that I said "the past of any Member," and that I deliberately avoided connecting the remarks in any way with any past that I may have had.
§ Mr. Logan
I always take your admonitions in good part, Mr. Williams. You are perfectly justified in what you have 257 said. I do not wish to lose the trend of what I have been talking about, though I like these interruptions as much as anybody, and what I wish to do is to appeal to the Minister, because I know that a Minister who has come from our Benches will deal with the matter in the sympathetic way that one from these Benches must deal with any matters with which he is so intimate. I want to put the question which was put by the hon. Member for Seaham and ask the Government what they intend to do for shipping. Is it possible to give us an outline of what the conditions will be after the war, and for how long they are going to continue, whether for a year or two years, or for how long? Has that matter been considered? I have heard a great deal about the building of ships, but the question of personnel is of greater importance than the building of ships. We must have the men to man our ships, and unless conditions are favourable we are not likely to get them, and if industry here is going to bustle up I do not know that there will be such a demand for men to man our ships as there was in the past. I have lived in Liverpool all my life, 70 years, and I pretty well know the dockside, and all the stories of sea shanties, and of the taking of men from courts and alleys there, and of their "taking sea jumps." The men only went to sea when they were down and out, and I do not want to see any of the down-and-out business in connection with our seamen. They used to go to the moneylenders or to the pawnbrokers. They only had a matter of 30s. to carry them on for a week, and when they came back after a month's trip they were in debt, even although they had been working, and they had to seek Poor Law relief.
After my 12 years' experience in this House, I want to know what the Government's policy is, in regard to the shipping industry. Is it possible for the Government to deal with the sailor—in which term I include everybody, from the captain downwards—in such a way that his wages will be sufficient and that he will be safeguarded from destitution? Can we have a subsidy that will remove the poverty of the sailor and guarantee, when he is ill, that his income will still be available for his home and his family, so that he will not have to seek poor relief? These men have been prepared to risk their lives in our hour of danger; 258 we should therefore make provision for them, and whether the subsidy is to the men or to the shipowners, I do not care, so long as the result is the same. Can we not have a Minister of Transport who will give us a full statement about the future of shipping? I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport to let people know what responsibility is carried by the shipping industry, and that it is of the first importance that the men who work on our docks and in the industry should have proper status. Let him get a tip from the Minister of Labour and give the men proper reserve pay, so that they will have security in their homes. By doing these things he will make a name for himself in labour annals.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Noel-Baker)
I join with my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and whose speech I greatly enjoyed, and with other hon. Members, in expressing my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) for initiating this Debate, and thus performing a very useful service. No member of my Ministry or of the Government would deny that in war-time the Merchant Navy is the key to security against defeat, and that in peace-time its carrying trade is the greatest of our export industries and the foundation on which our social progress and industrial greatness has been built. Shipping is a national interest which far transcends the sectional and material interests of those who own, operate and sail the ships. Hon. Members have already paid their tribute to the services which the Merchant seamen have rendered to the nation in the last four years, and I must do the same.
The officers and men of the Merchant Navy are civilians, but they have been the target of Hitler's most vicious and most sustained attack. You would think that only a lunatic could hope for stormy weather in the North Atlantic if he had to cross it in a small or medium-sized vessel, built for tropic seas, yet the bravest seamen have often wished for gales, with all the difficulty and danger they would bring, because those conditions would make it harder for Nazi submarines to hit their trail. Even the bravest of them were sorry to leave the bridge, however black the night or cold the wind, because 259 they felt they might be trapped below if a torpedo caught them while they were asleep. Despite this unceasing conflict and unceasing strain for 46 long months of war, Mr. Jarman, the seamen's leader, can proudly claim that there has not been one case of a British crew objecting to a voyage because of danger. They have not only faced danger but they have had adventures of a most incredible kind: A crew cast away on Devil's Island escaped to Australia and went to sea again; a crew landed in rafts in Africa and were nursed back to health in very primitive kraal; a crew was cast away on a deserted island in the Arctic Circle.
It is not of these things, their battles, dangers and adventures, that seamen like to talk. The stories they like are about how they got their cargoes home: of a vessel with 250 holes near and below the water line made by bomb splinters and of how they plugged every one and saved the vessel and cargo; of a ship with an immense rent torn in its side by a torpedo, navigated precariously 200 miles to a Pacific island, where the crew cut down trees and made planks and patched up the rent, and so brought their cargo safely home; of a tanker cut in two, one half sunk and the other half towed L000 miles back to the Tyne, where a new second half was built and joined on. The heroism and bravery of this Service can be measured by the fact that its members have already had more than 4,000 naval and civil decorations and awards, including four G.C's, 17 D.S.O's, 144 D.S.C's, and others too numerous to mention, while there are more medals and more awards to come. At this present moment, hundreds of merchant vessels, manned by many thousands of their officers and men, are in the front of the front line, and, together with Allied Merchant Navies, to whose services we can never pay enough homage, they have played a major part in the invasion of Europe which has just begun.
While operations are in progress, I cannot of course reveal the numbers of ships or the numbers of the troops they carry, or the tonnage of armaments and supplies, but I can say that under the Red Ensign a vast stream of stores and equipment has gone in recent weeks to Africa, that large vessels have been converted into troopships and others to the carrying 260 of tanks and guns, and have been loaded secretly in British ports and sailed direct from home to the shores of Sicily. I can say that great passenger liners have been converted to carry the assault barges and other landing craft and that, for the second time in eight months, the Merchant Navy have been in at a mighty landing operation which the military experts have always thought the most hazardous and difficult in the art of war. When we talk of the future of the Merchant Navy we must never forget these men. We must never forget that if they had failed us, we should certainly have gone down before the Nazis. We must never forget that we owe them a debt which it is a national obligation to repay.
In this Debate, therefore, there are two basic propositions on which I think every hon. Member is agreed. The first is that, for us, the Merchant Navy is a vital national interest and will remain so in peace-time as it is in war. The second is that to the officers and men we have made pledges that we are bound in honour to carry out. Those propositions the Government fully and unreservedly accept. In large part the two propositions overlap. Someone has said that the merchant seamen are afraid of nothing but unemployment; certainly it is true that whenever I have to meet them it is not very long before they begin to ask what is to happen to them when the war is over. What is the future of the Merchant Navy going to be? That question brings me to the main declaration of Government policy, which I have been authorised to make to-day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sea-ham asked me whether the Government had had the question of the Merchant Navy under consideration. I answer: Yes, we have, for long and with great care. The main part of my declaration, apart from details with which I will deal, consists of three basic principles on which the action of the Government will be founded. The first of them answers my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan). It is that this country must—I ask the Committee to observe the word "must"—continue to serve the world with a large and efficient Mercantile Marine. The word "must" is fundamental. It governs all the rest. It declares the general object of our policy which we are determined to achieve. 261 Secondly, His Majesty's Government will be prepared to collaborate with other like-minded Governments in establishing conditions under which the shipping of the world can be efficiently and economically carried on. It is plain to anyone who thinks about it that shipping is and must be an international affair. There are more than 60 nations engaged, in some degree, in international trade. The major shipping nations number nine or 10, and on the nature of their co-operation or their competition the efficiency and the economy of shipping must evidently depend. The third is that when the Government speak of the efficiency of the Merchant Navy they include in that term the best attainable conditions of employment for the officers and men who are now serving the country so well. I hope that hon. Members will take that declaration of principles as seriously as the Government intend them. I hope they will recognise that, within the limits of general principles, what I have said is both a programme and a pledge, a programme to which the Government are committed and a pledge by which they are bound, and from which they will have in future no desire to recede.
I must try to show the Committee how we believe that those principles and policy can in practice be applied. Hon. Members have said a good deal about the mistakes and blunders of the Government, the shipowners and the shipbuilders in the years between the wars. No doubt Governments and others in many countries did make many blunders in those unhappy years. It is no part of my present task to defend or to explain what was done or left undone. If we look back over the history of the last 30 years, it is plain that the major causes of disaster to British shipping lay outside the sphere of shipping policy proper. They were slumps and wars. Let me give the Committee a very few simple figures which show this point. Between 1914 and the end of 1918, the total tonnage of British ocean-going ships was reduced by 25 per cent. In June, 1914, the United Kingdom share of world shipping was nearly 42 per cent.; by June, 1919, it was only 34 per cent. In 1913, the United Kingdom was building close on 2,000,000 tons of shipping, while the rest of the world was building about 1,000,000 tons. After the war, there was a short but disastrous boom, and then building fell to 600,000 tons, and for 262 nearly ro years it did not get much past the 1,000,000. The war proved a first-class economic disaster to those who live by constructing, operating and sailing British ships. After a decade, by 1929, shipping had more or less recovered. We never got back our pre-1914 predominance in the world; but we were doing pretty well. Ships were busy, and for five years our net average earnings on shipping services to other nations were £130,000,0040. Over the three years 192830, our shipbuilding averaged 1,500,000 tons.
Then came the slump, the world economic earthquake of 1929. It was a smashing blow to British shipping. Our earnings for shipping services fell from £130,000,000 to an average for the next five years of £70,000,000. Shipbuilding fell from 1,500,000 tons to 133,000 tons in 1933, and only once again before this war did it touch 1,000,000. The first lesson we must draw from the past is that if we want British shipping to maintain its position in the world and furnish a good life and good living to British seamen, we must abolish wars and slumps. As my hon. Friend has rightly argued, when this war is over we shall face the same problems as we did last time, but there are some mistakes which I hope we may avoid.
It has often been said that during the last war freight rates and insurance values were allowed in the early stages to go far too high, that great profits, both revenue and capital, were made that led to speculation, to unsound amalgamation, to far too high a capitalisation. I do riot want now to endorse it. It is controversial. I want to say that I think that the Government have this time foreseen such dangers and I hope averted such evils which might result. By the requisitioning of all tonnage early in the war, by the control of war risk value and by the tonnage replacement scheme we have averted the risk of mushroom growth and speculation. We have formally recognised the great importance of the replacement of ships lost and of giving a powerful incentive to those who lose their ships not to take their capital out of shipping as some did last time. We have given them an inducement not to break up the expert organisation for controlling ships and for which I should like to pay them this tribute—under the 263 leadership of the shipowners it has rendered splendid and devoted service in the conduct of the war.
We remember also that last time things were made a good deal worse by a feverish burst of ship construction, to which I have already referred. I hope that this time everyone will work together to ensure that the replacement programme is more wisely and more temperately planned. There is another difficulty which has been suggested, which I hope is quite unreal. One hon. Member said that Allied owners were getting better facilities for purchasing ships than were British owners under the tonnage replacement scheme.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member says it was he. There was what I might venture to call a tendentious letter in "The Times" a little while ago. I would like to assure the hon. Member that there is no foundation for that suggestion. Both in the principles of the Allied White Paper and in its working the system is indentical with that which we operate for our own shipowners, and there is no difference or divergence of any kind. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asked "Why not, under this scheme avoid the difficulties which will arise after the war by transferring the ownership of the ships immediately to British owners?" I reply that that was not the arrangement which was come to between the Government and the industry, the arrangement which was embodied in the White Paper, the arrangement to which my Noble Friend is quite clear he must now adhere.
But, of course, even if we do avoid some of those difficulties that happened last time, that have been foreseen, we shall have new and serious, difficulties to face. Some people believe that the competition of civil aircraft will be among them. It is certain that many people who used to cross the oceans in surface liners will in future go by air. I share the doubts, I will not say more, of my hon. Friend as to whether more "Queen Elizabeths" will be built in time to come. I am sure that he will agree with me that there will in future be a great travelling public who for many reasons will prefer the surface to the air. But 264 apart from other things there will be for some time, at least, the important question of the cost. Unless civil aviation is over-developed by competitive subsidies by national Governments the cost of sea travel must continue to be less than the cost of travel by air. That is far more true of cargo-carrying, which forms so very great a part of the total shipping traffic of the world. Not long ago an expert calculated that the whole of the United States domestic airlines, which were the most developed in the world, carried in 1940 rather under 120,000,000 ton miles. But a single cargo vessel of moderate size carried three times as much as that in a single peace time year. The cost per ton-mile was about 30 pence by air; it was one-thirtieth of a penny for the cargo vessel. There is a fairly ample margin for the ships in that. But it must be our purpose, and it is our purpose, to ensure that civil aviation shall take its place in a rightly balanced system of up-to-date efficient transport. If it does that and no more, we may be confident that our Merchant Navy will still have lots to do.
There is another problem from which my hon. Friend seems to foresee great difficulties in future years, and that is the competition of the United States. It is true that the United States have developed their shipbuilding on a scale which my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham thought at least was quite incredible. I recall that in January, 1942, he said in the House:To rely on the shipping programme of the United States of America would be sheer folly. Naturally many vessels will be turned out, in American yards, but the American programme is vastly greater than their capacity for performance."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1942; col. 794, Vol. 377.]Fortunately for the country and the world, the Government did not share his opinion. Acting on the advice of my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, to whose services in Washington I hope that some day I shall be free to pay a proper tribute, the Government did rely on the American shipbuilding programme. They pooled their shipbuilding and other resources with the United States, and each country constructed what it could do the best. In consequence the Allied shipping problem has been immeasurably less acute than it was before, and Hitler's dream of victory by U-boat is fading fast. Throughout all our dealings the United States have 265 treated us in shipping matters with a generous understanding, of which the principle of the Lend-Lease Act was but the precursor. We can never say enough to express our gratitude for this shipbuilding programme, that programme without which the war could not have been won. As I know the Committee will desire, my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will deal more fully with this aspect of the matter later, arid it is right that he should do so. I only say this: We recall and we endorse the wise words used by Mr. Sumner Welles of another economic problem:There can be no surer road to disaster than for the United Nations to enter the post-war period as rivals and opponents.Together we can solve this gigantic problem. We believe that we can work with the United States in peace-time as we do in war. It may happen that thanks to the American building programme there will be more shipping, perhaps much more shipping, in the world than there was in 1939. Even then the shipping available was not properly used. How can we hope that the larger post-war fleets can prosper? I answer—and I submit to my hon. Friend that it is realistic to do so—that the main hope for the prosperity of every Merchant Navy, our own included, lies in the expansion and the great expansion of international trade. I believe that that expansion will come about, indeed it must follow, from the application of the pledges of the Atlantic Charter.
People sometimes talk as though there were a fixed minimum of international trade which we reached some time in some past millennium, say, in 1929 or 1913, which we shall never exceed. This amounts to a modern version of the old "Work Fund" theory, which worked so cruelly for so long on our economic life. Nothing could be more unrealistic than that. We have only begun to apply science to production. Scientific production is constantly expanding and multiplying the advantages to be derived from international exchange. Consider the terms of Articles 4 and 5 of the Atlantic Charter, or the first Lend-Lease agreement, or the resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference on nutrition. No one can read these without believing that if they are carried out as all the Governments declare they intend to carry them out, there will be an immense increase in 266 transoceanic trade. What is it going to mean in the advance of the nation?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, I think my hon. Friend will be here, and I hope that science will keep him alive much longer than he otherwise might live. Before the war it was happening every year, now it will happen much faster, that science is going to increase the food. I beg my hon. Friend to consider that these policies of expansion of trade, of getting rid of mass unemployment, of developing the resources of the backward countries of the world, will mean, must mean, a very big expansion of the cargoes to be carried by the shipping of the world. Consider the imports of some of the developed and undeveloped countries.
Earl Winterion (Horsham and Worthing)
Why should what the hon. Gentleman says be correct? Has he noted recent events, for example, in Sicily? Why should they be carried by sea?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If my noble Friend had heard some of my earlier remarks, he would have heard me say that in any possible foreseeable future the margin of cost of the carriage of goods by sea must be far lower than the cost of goods carried by air—incomparably lower—and that if only for the reason that the carrying of cargoes on water is far cheaper in power and other ways than the carrying of cargoes by land and still more in the air.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Do the hon. Gentleman's figures refer to ships mass-produced by the welding process in America? Are his figures in relation to the cost of the ships being built at the moment?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I believe that ships being built in America are more expensive than our ships. However, the cost of shipbuilding will come down. It is certain that the vast bulk of the carrying trade of the world will be carried by sea. As regards Sicily, I would say that hundreds of tons have gone by sea for every ton by air—mach more than that. The 267 whole thing has depended on the Merchant Navy and could not have been done without it. There is an enormous margin in the development of the resources of the backward countries of the world whose Governments are determined to raise the standard of their living. In 1929, when international trade was at its peak, India with 350,000,000 population imported 2.6 American gold dollars' worth of goods per head; China, with 450,000,000 people, imported 1.5 dollars' worth; Poland imported 11.9 and Sweden 78.3 dollars' worth of goods, Belgium 119, this country 117. It is evident that if these policies are fulfilled—and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham believes as ardently as I do that they must and will be carried out by the common determination of the peoples of the world—there will be a tremendous increase in the value and the volume of transoceanic trade. However great the increase in the volume of trade, our ships will not get their proper share unless they and their personnel can give the world the efficient and economic services which are required. Everyone is agreed on that, and no one more strongly than all sections of the shipping industry. How can we do it? How can we keep up to the higher standards which alone can do it? Some of my hon. Friends will argue that we cannot do it unless we change our system, unless the whole industry is reorganised more or less on the basis of public ownership and control. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham asks, "Are we going to hand the Merchant Navy back to private enterprise or not?" My hon. Friend's plan, as I understand it, is to keep the ships which have been built on Government account, to replace other ships which have been sunk, in the hands of the Government. He called it nationalisation. I call it, with respect, a cock-eyed scheme.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I understood my hon. Friend to say that keeping the ships in the hands of the Government was a cockeyed scheme. Is not that the present position? Is that a cock-eyed scheme?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am talking of the peace-time organisation of industry, not of what it is necessary to do for the conduct of the war. My hon. Friend suggested that what he wanted done could be done under the Emergency Powers 268 Act. I think that, if he will look again, he will find that he is wrong. I cannot discuss this matter further within the rules of Order, but if we change the organisation of the shipping industry, we shall have to nationalise the thing properly, to deal with all classes of ships, with the organisation which the shipowners maintain, with their obligations to their employees, and all the rest. Of course, if it is to be done it will have to be done, as my hon. Friend knows, by a new Act of Parliament, and, as he knows, the power of Parliament to pass that Act is, and will remain, supreme. If the British Merchant Navy, or the Merchant Navy of any other country, is to serve the world efficiently and economically, there will have to be international co-operation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, because I am anxious to hear his case. It is very important, and I am listening to everything with great attention. But he has posed the question which I put to him; that is, what are the Government's intentions at the end of the war? Do they intend to hand back the shipping to private ownership? He seemed about to answer the question, but now he has left it. Would he be good enough to answer it?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend will recognise that I cannot deal with the question of nationalisation under the rules of Order.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We seem to be at cross-purposes. I am not raising the matter of nationalisation. I am merely repeating the question which I put when I addressed the Committee, namely, Do the Government intend to hand over the ships in their possession to private enterprise at the end of the war?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If the Government keep the ships in their hands at the end of the war, that will be nationalisation of those ships. Of course, the Government will have to pay the people who have lost the ships the insurance money, and no such major change of policy could possibly be proposed without an Act of Parliament. The Government are not now proposing it. They have not made any decision either way. The question is in the discretion of Parliament, who have power to decide it when they wish.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not think my hon. Friend is in as good form as usual. I put 269 a question to him, and I am sorry to have to repeat it. I hope that hon. Members will not think I am trying to weary them. At present the ships are owned by the Government, they are controlled by the Government, they are managed by the shipowners. What is the Government's policy for the close of hostilities? Do they intend to hand over ships which are now under Government control and ownership to the shipowners? In other words, are they going to revert to private ownership, which does not require legislation—they can do that by a stroke of the pen?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Under the White Paper, the Government are going to hand them over at the end of a fixed period unless a new decision is reached by Parliament. Since my hon. Friend has raised the question of the White Paper, about which he came with a deputation to see my Noble Friend a year ago, I would say that the Government are putting shipowners who have lost ships by enemy action on the same footing as those who have not. Not to do that would have been to discriminate against certain shipowners as compared with other shipowners, and as compared with other classes of the community. But the Government have also stipulated in the White Paper that the property in the ships shall not pass until a fixed period after the end of the war, in order that the question shall not be prejudiced in any way, and if Parliament desires a new organisation of the shipping industry, that issue can be considered.
In order that this complicated problem may be cleared up, will my hon. Friend inform the Committee that the bulk of the shipping belongs to private enterprise and must be handed back?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, at the beginning of the war the whole of the shipping belonged to private enterprise. The Government took it up, sent it out to areas where some of it was sunk, and I think the shipowners would have a grievance if they were treated in a way different from that in which any other classes of the community are treated. I was saying that 270 you cannot have efficient and economic operation of the shipping of the world unless you have international co-operation, both in the immediate post-war period and in the long-term future. That is why I have said with some emphasis, and why I repeat, that the Government are prepared to work with other like-minded Governments in establishing the conditions under which the shipping of the world can be so carried on. What does that mean in practice? Let me take first the period immediately after the war. We shall then need arrangements for the joint control and use of the shipping of the world, of a very close kind. No one will expect me to describe the actual agreements to be made or the institutions to be set up, but the collaboration among the United Nations must be comparable to that in the war itself. When you think of the problems of getting food supplies to the occupied countries and China, the supply of manufactured goods, of machinery, of raw materials, of livestock, of oil, of everything that is required to restart the economic life of those countries, the demobilisation of the Armies, the movements of the refugees, and so on, it is plain that the strain on our shipping will be very great, and the pressure of our priorities will be only less great than in the war itself.
We are determined to avoid the blunders that were committed in the immediate post-war period last time. We are glad to remember that the Governments of the United Nations have already committed themselves to the principles of collaboration, and have agreed that control shall be continued. They said, in a resolution adopted in September, 1941, that that should be done, and they gave instructions that detailed plans should be prepared. I am glad to assure the Committee that those instructions have been obeyed, a great deal of preparatory work has been done, and the principle was reiterated at Hot Springs a month ago. During this interim post-war time, British shipping will be ready to play its part in a scheme which distributes common shipping tasks fairly among all the United Nations; and it is the firm intention of His Majesty's Government to seek such a scheme by discussion with the other United Nations maritime Powers.
What will that mean in the immediate future? Again, Members will realise that 271 it is still impossible for me to outline agreements or to describe institutions which will be needed. When the hon. Member for Seaham asks what we are going to do about subsidies and about conference arrangements, and other hon. Members ask about stabilisation of freight rates, I say that these are, of course, questions which will need long and difficult negotiations. If I tried to lay down a rigid policy, I should complicate those negotiations and make the task more difficult. But I can say that His Majesty's Government are resolved to play a leading part, and in everything they do they will be guided by the sense of the heavy responsibility that will lie upon the shipping powers to ensure that their policies shall serve the interests of all the traders and all the customers of the nations of the world. That means that there must be co-operation among the shipping Powers themselves and co-operation between the shipping Powers and the rest. I endorse what was said by the President of the Chamber of Shipping a little time ago, that a narrow conception of individual success, without regard to others, would be wrong. Whatever arrangements may be made, they must not be arrangements to exploit the producers, the traders or the consumers. They must be arrangements to help that expansion of prosperity to which we are pledged. It is not irrelevant to add some words used by Mr. Jarman:We intend to see that the seamen of one country shall not be used to depreciate, one against the other, the wages and conditions of employment in the Merchant Navies of the world.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That means that you are going to ratify some of the maritime conventions arranged at Geneva?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am not at present authorised to go into details, but my hon. Friend may rest assured that the question has received very close attention and that the Government have no intention of shirking the issue which those conventions involve. I come to the question of what we are going to do to secure the best obtainable conditions of employment for the officers and men of the Merchant Navy. We have to consider that question 272 against two factors which are new since 1929. First, there is the improvement in conditions since the war began, and, secondly, there are the proposals for improved social conditions, the Beveridge Report, the State medical service, advances in social services and the rest. I take first the question of entry into the Merchant Navy and training for boys who want to go to sea. Running away to sea may still be romantic, but it is out of date. We believe that entry should be controlled and that every boy should have some training before he enters.
Hon. Members have heard me speak before of the Merchant Navy Training Board, which is representative of the industry and is spokesman of my Ministry and of the Board of Education as well. With the full co-operation of the industry, and I might almost say under its leadership, I want to express gratitude for the work they have done. A report has been drawn up on entry and training and it would repay the careful study of hon. Members who take an interest in the subject. It contains an outlined plan covering both entry and training. Under that plan no boy will enter the Merchant Navy unless he has the necessary qualifications and unless he has been trained. There will be both pre-sea training and training in ships at sea. The scheme applies both to apprentice officers and to deck ratings alike. For apprentice officers there will be, the report proposes, a nine months' course at a nautical college and for deck boys a six months' course at an approved residential sea training school. The education will be vocational, not merely education for a career or profession, but education also for citizenship and the like. The report deserves the study of hon. Members, as I have said. It lays down two fundamental principles accepted by everyone—that no boy will be debarred from any part of this training on financial grounds and that selection shall be on character and ability alone, and that nothing shall stand in the way of any suitable deck boy or rating becoming an officer if he has the qualities and the experience required. I hope that I have said enough to show the Committee that this scheme, which we are anxious should be carried out, or something very like it, would be a most notable advance and would make of our profession of the sea something of which we could rightly be proud.
273 I turn to conditions of employment, which several hon. Members have raised to-day. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) spoke of the Merchant Seamen's Reserve Pool which, since 1941, has been operated by the Shipping Federation with the help of the trades unions and societies and which has ensured to officers and men the benefit of continuity of employment and of wages, holidays with pay and other things. A year ago my Noble Friend asked the National Maritime Board —the Whitley Council of the industry—to consider how these improvements could be continued in the time of peace. The Board have prepared a detailed and ingenious scheme under which the majority of the Merchant Navy personnel would become, so to say, established so that they would have a permanent job, fixed holidays with pay, and other privileges as long as they chose to stick to the sea. Hon. Members will see that such a scheme has to be dovetailed into the general arrangement which might be made in pursuance of the Beveridge Report or otherwise for dealing with unemployment, with pension rights and other things. My Noble Friend is now in consultation with the Minister of Labour on the financial and other questions which the dovetailing of this report into the general scheme would mean. For that reason I can say no more, but I hope that hon. Members will agree that the existence of the scheme is in itself a most important fact and that we have not lost sight of the question of continuing in peace-time the improvements we have made in war.
I come to the vital question of accommodation in ships. There is nothing which means more to the seaman in his daily working life.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The accommodation at sea is even more important. Nobody denies that there are ships in which the accommodation for the crew is far less desirable than we should all desire. I agree with what the hon. Member for Seaham said, that there is now a general desire that any such bad accommodation should disappear. In the old days it used to be a question of crew space against cargo space, and often cargo space would win. Nowadays, faced with that test, I 274 believe that everybody answers "Crew space." In fact, in an ocean-going tramp or cargo liner of about 7,000 or 8,000 tons the crew space represented—it is a very rough approximation—is about 5 or 6 per cent. of the total tonnage and the difference between good and bad accommodation is perhaps 1½ per cent. In any case we are determined to go on and, as hon. Members know, progress is being made. The new Board of Trade instructions in 1937 greatly raised the minimum standard which the law requires. Many owners since then have voluntarily gone above those standards in constructing new ships. In the Government ships which we have built during the war we have done better still. For example, the square feet provision per man of space required for rest, messrooms and wash places and sleeping rooms under the existing Merchant Shipping Acts is only 27. In the new Government ships the standard space is 52. We give better furniture and better fittings in the bedrooms. The space in washing places is increased by 50 per cent., hot and cold fresh water has been laid on to wash basins and showers, ventilation, heating and lighting have been improved. Refrigerators for food—very important—are being supplied and, most important of all, the accommodation is not being built in the fo'castle; it is being put amidships or aft. After the war there will remain the problem of the larger ships. Many of them will need large scale reconstruction to bring them up to these standards. That raises difficult questions of various kinds but I can only say to the Committee that these questions are being faced and I promise the Committee that they will be faced with energy and with determination in order to get results. I promise the Committee that we shall not weary in well-doing and that in new construction we are now considering how, after the war, it may be possible to do even better in regard to accommodation than we have done with regard to the ships that we are building now.
One word about health. We have made vast progress since war began. We have improved the supply of drugs in ships. There is a scheme for training stewards, to whom it falls to look after the sick. We have issued pamphlets and leaflets of instructions, and we have established—this is a precedent—an anti-malaria officer in a West African port. We have still a long way to go, and I believe that this is a 275 field in which international co-operation might perhaps produce big results.
I would say a word about clubs and welfare. During the war scores of seamen's clubs and hostels have been opened in this country and round the world. Some are run by voluntary hospitals and some by the Government themselves. The Treasury has given most generous help. I will not now attempt to say what it may be possible to do after the war is over, but I express the ardent hope that not all of this progress will be lost. I believe there is ample scope for work of this kind in ports all over the world, in clubs where British seamen can play British games, including football, meet fellow Britons, and make British and other friends. Much has been done by voluntary societies in times gone by, but there is still more to do.
I have tried to review the general problem of the Merchant Navy as we shall see it after the war is done. I have tried to answer questions which my hon. Friends have put. I have argued that the Merchant Navy is of vital importance to the nation when the war is over. I have declared the Government's firm intention that our Merchant Navy shall remain large and efficient. I have explained the reasons why we believe that this can be done to the general advantage of the world. I have stated the broad principles of policy by which we believe that international arrangements about shipping can be made. I have sketched the general lines of action by which we hope to fulfil our pledges of a better life to the men of the Merchant Fleet. Having done all that I end where I began. Officers of the Merchant Navy who have just arrived from Germany came to see me the other day. Three weeks ago they were in a prison camp. Like their 3,000 comrades in that camp, they had incredible adventures when their ships were sunk. They had in that camp masters who had gone grey before their time, men who had lost limbs from frost bite in the Arctic Ocean, and men who had been torpedoed three or four times and had gone to sea again. They told me that in the long months and years of their captivity they had met every kind of Nazi. In their camp they had only seamen, but seamen who belonged to 36 different countries—all the great Dominions, all our gallant Allies, Norway, 276 Greece, Holland, Belgium, Crete, Denmark and the rest. These men had dared everything in the cause of freedom, and the captains told me that in their camp the morale of all these men of every nation had been magnificent from first to last. We hope that when war is over we can make the calling of the sea worthy of these loyal, gallant men and that under the leadership of Britain we can make shipping an instrument of friendship, peace and happiness for all mankind.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
We have listened to a very long recital of what is alleged to be Government policy, and I am prepared to guarantee that there is not a Member of this Committee any the wiser now than he was before the Minister spoke. We heard nothing but a mass of windy generalisations that will not put one ship to sea and will not give the slightest guarantee for the future to one member of the Merchant Service. The mendacity of the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) could not be surpassed. "Shipping is essential to this country," he said. I think there will be general agreement about that, but would he or anyone else suggest that the shipowners are essential to this country?
§ Mr. Gallacher
There is no limit to the hon. and gallant Member's mendacity. The seamen of this country have a record that cannot be surpassed by any body of men in any field of work or action. I had a short experience at sea. It was in the days of peace a hard life, with very harsh conditions. I have even had the experience of being shipwrecked, also in the days of peace when there were no steel sharks seeking to destroy those who were in difficulties. To-day I think of those lads who are convoying and of what they have to endure. The Minister has spoken of the thousands of decorations, but did he realise when he was speaking of those decorations the unspeakable sufferings not only of the men at sea and men who were adrift day after day but of those who are at home, and whether there had been any consideration given to them? I remember when I was a lad reading the story of the old Highland mother and her son, her only boy, who went out on the Jacobean rising, and one day he was brought home dead. I remember reading how she sat 277 by the bedside caressing the dead face, while from her grief-stricken heart came the words, "My beautiful, my brave." Think of the mothers of these lads who go out time and time again in convoys. These lads show courage which nothing is able to overcome. While they are away their mothers sit at home, waiting for their return. Then one day one of them receives a message, "We regret to inform you that your son is missing." Day after day and week after week the mother waits, hoping that he has been picked up and will come back. The weeks pass into months; the lad has gone, never to return. There is no dead face she can caress, she can only caress a memory, "My beautiful, my brave." From the Government all she gets is a message telling her that her son is missing. There are many of these mothers. These seamen have a record which no section of the community can surpass.
But what of the shipowners? They have a record which would bring the blush of shame to an Al Capone or a Charles Peace—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] If the hon. Member had read the history of the last war, when millions were made and taken out of the shipping industry, he would realise the truth of what I am saying. What about the right hon. Member who was a President of the Board of Trade, whose family was in the shipping industry and who rose from the Front Bench one day to propose a subsidy for shipowners. You will find in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement made about the record of his company and the millions they made out of shipping before it was left desolate. The Minister has given us some so-called original sentiments. What has he said? "The Government are resolved to play a leading part." Wonderful! "The Government have no intention of shirking the issue." Have you ever heard anything like that before. What is the issue? It is whether the Government are to retain control of the shipping industry or leave it to what is called private enterprise, the robbers. Private enterprise destroyed our shipping before the war. Is the shipping industry to be handed back to them, or are the Government to take control? Did the Minister face this issue or answer it? No, he dodged all round it and then said that the Government will not shirk the issue.
§ Commander Galbraith
Would the hon. Member tell me how shipowners destroyed the industry, because it would be interesting to know?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member who spoke on a brief from the shipowner—
§ Mr. Gallacher
—does not know something about the industry. If he will read what happened towards the end of the last war and the years immediately following, he will know something of the way the transfer of shipping was carried on and the black marketeering, which resulted in many people making enormous fortunes out of the sale of ships and then walking out, leaving the industry more or less derelict. This sort of thing was notorious.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The widow of one man was left £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 from shipping, and it will be remembered she went to the Channel Islands in order to escape taxation. As I have said, a former President of the Board of Trade introduced subsidies five or six years ago. His family, by a piece of the sharpest practice imaginable in the transfer of ships, made over £2,000,000 and walked away with it. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not believe it."] What was the situation of the shipping industry before the war? Terrible. The issue that is before the Committee and the country is whether the Government are to retain control of the industry and see that it is properly run or leave it to the black marketeers. The Minister says that we cannot replace our seamen and that the future of our Merchant Navy men must be cared for—
§ Mr. Gallacher
No; sit down. Unless the Government keep control of shipping, what the Minister has said has no meaning whatever. To hand over shipping to private enterprise means that the fate of the men who are giving their services to the country is at the mercy of the shipowners, who have no mercy when it is a 279 question of cargoes and profits. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok says that shipowners, having been all their lives accustomed to good profits out of the industry, should now get a dig in at civil aviation.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss civil aviation in this Debate.
§ Mr. Gallacher
But the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said that the shipping industry must get representation on civil aviation. He said that they will bring a wealth of experience to civil aviation.
§ Mr. Gallacher
They will experience an abundance of wealth out of civil aviation if they get their claws into it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I will leave that, but the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok did raise it. The Government must face up to the question of an institution such as that which existed before the war—Shipbuilding Securities, Ltd. This company was formed by shipowners and bankers, not to build ships and provide tonnage for goods across the seas, but to destroy shipping. It is almost unbelievable that a company with any amount of capital, supplied by big monopolists, were not concerned about the development of shipping, but only about profits. They went about destroying shipyards on the Clyde, the Tyne, and elsewhere. Are we to have a repetition of that? We are bound to have it if you hand shipping back to the shipowners. It is no use paying tribute after tribute to the men of the Mercantile Marine and then neglecting them and leaving them at the mercy of private enterprise.
Mr. Hamersley (Willesden, East)
Would the hon. Member reinforce his argument by giving us some examples of how the shipping industry was successfully run by the State?
§ Mr. Gallacher
It was very successful in the Soviet Union. There was practically no shipping industry until the workers took over. Now there is a magnificent industry, and I guarantee that if you were to make an examination of the ships that have been constructed there, you 280 would see that the conditions of their seamen, compared with ours, are much better. I can give any number of examples about the way in which shipowners could not run the industry. Since the war started the Government have been doing a very good job in running the industry. There is no question about that. Convoys have been sailing across the seas, and there has been the great work of marshalling the fleets for the invasion of Sicily. If the Government can do all these extraordinarily difficult tasks, which some time ago would have been considered impossible, surely they can do the much easier task of running the shipping industry in peace-time. If they can run shipping successfully when it is menaced by U-boat packs and bombing aeroplanes, does any Member deny that they could not run peace-time shipping? I cannot see why there is need for getting profits. Let us have less talk about our seamen and a little more action and consideration for their future.
The Minister said—and I have never heard anything like this in all my life—that the conditions in some of our ships were far less good than many of us desired. Apart from the conditions in the new shipping which is being constructed and even there, it is far from what it should be—the conditions generally for seamen are worse than in the slums of Glasgow or London. I know, because I have slept in some of these ships and smelt them. Can anybody imagine us discussing housing in Glasgow and the Secretary of State for Scotland getting up and saying, "There are some houses in Glasgow far less good than some of us desire." Why does not the Minister come out honestly and say that the conditions in many of our ships are appalling? Just as in the slums of Glasgow you get a high percentage of tuberculosis, so in many of our merchant ships there is a high percentage of that disease. Will the Minister take the necessary steps to ensure that the terrible plague of tuberculosis is ended?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I have not the figure in my mind at the moment, but I have used it on previous occasions. It is a commonplace—even Ministers would have to face up to it—that tuberculosis in the Mercantile Marine is very high. We want the necessary steps taken to ensure that the greatest possible shipping is maintained at sea, and the only way to ensure is to retain Government control. We can build the ships, and we can sail them. Some of us have had experience of officers. Most of us have had experience of the ordinary seamen and firemen of the Mercantile Marine, and you cannot find their superiors anywhere. We can build the ships and we can man them, and I ask the Government and Members of the Committee to get rid of the one great obstacle, private ownership, the men whose only concern is profit. Let us build the ships and man them and see to it that every possible care is given to the men, from the smallest lad on the ship of the captain on the bridge, and every conceivable thought and care are given to those they leave at home, and we shall have a Mercantile Marine worthy of the sacrifices that are being made by these lads to-day.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I do not think I should have risen had it not been for the speech that we have just heard. It seemed to me to be entirely political in character and not calculated to help in the present situation. I can understand that there may be people who believe that private enterprise is all wrong. I do not share that view, because I believe that the greatness of this country has been built up on private enterprise. How far it should extend in the future is another matter, but I have always held that private enterprise should be utilised to benefit the community and that the duty of the State is to see that it is carried on to the best advantage of the people; to see that the Mercantile Marine, or whatever it may be, is run on lines which are in the interest of all who work in it, and that no unfair advantage is taken by those in authority over those who serve.
It seems to me that the real point in a Debate on the future of merchant shipping is how we are to contend against the competition to which we shall be subjected after the war. I should like to think, 282 as the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) did, that we were going to live in a world of perfect amity, where every one would work to the best advantage of every one else in the purest Christian frame of mind. I belong to a generation which does not quite expect that the world will be very different in the future from what it has been in the past, or that human nature will change to the extent that some people believe. I realise that we shall be up against the most tremendous competition in all our industries, commerce, shipping and everything else. Therefore what we are considering to-day is how best to face up to the conditions that we are likely to meet. I represent a constituency which is intimately connected with shipping and I realise that the whole future of the northeast coast is very much bound up with the question of shipping. What I am concerned in is what the Government are doing with regard to the future of shipbuilding. I am certain that there will he tremendous changes in shipbuilding and what I want to find out is what methods are being adopted to help it in the future. I am not expert enough to know, for instance, whether the new welding processes which are in force to-day will come regularly into the shipbuilding programme—whether welding will supersede riveting—but, if that is to come, it is clear that we shall have to recognise that a great deal of our machinery is out of date and that, if we are to compete with our rivals, we must see that the necessary new machinery is brought into existence before the war is over, and that we are ready when the time comes to reequip our Merchant Navy and make it efficient in all the seas.
When it comes to the conditions of those who serve in ships, I am equally certain that in any international agreement that is made we have to see that our people are not subjected to rules and regulations which are not enforced everywhere else. As I understand it, half the trouble before the war—and one of the causes which reduced our shipping considerably—was that ships which were tolerated in other countries, were not tolerated in this. The conditions of seamen in other countries were infinitely worse than the conditions that were made necessary by law in this country. I should like to have an understanding from the Government that, if there is to be any 283 international control of shipping, we shall see to it that international rules and regulations are the same for all and that it will not be possible for ships which could not be used in this country, to be bought by other countries and utilised against us in commerce. It would be a very good thing if hon. Members behind me realised that, although conditions in this country may not be all that they desire, they are better than those in a great many other countries and that, if the Government see to it that our shipping companies are made to carry out certain regulations, those regulations should be equally applicable to other people.
Although conditions may not be ideal to-day, they are infinitely better than they were some years ago. Public opinion is now tremendously forceful and I do not believe it possible that bad owners can really have the influence suggested by hon. Members behind me. You only have to bring any fault or unfairness to the notice of public opinion and it will be remedied at once. When we have the knowledge also that the Government are behind us and realise how essential it is to the country that the Mercantile Marine Should be kept up to date and proved efficient, I feel that there is a future before us. What happened after the last war must not be allowed to happen again. We must see to it that our Mercantile Marine is kept strong, efficient and up to date, and that is the duty of the Government. We must leave the actual direction of the whole business to those who are in it. It is clear, if you put it at the worst, that those engaged in industry of any kind are mainly concerned in making profits. Our task here is to see that those profits are not too great and that those who make them look after the men who serve them. I do not think there is very much more that the Government can do. But if you place the Government in charge of the whole machinery and make them entirely responsible far shipping and for the carrying on of the trade of the country then, I believe you are doing something more likely to ensure future wars than anything else. Governments cannot do things which private traders can do. You cannot expect to preserve amity amongst nations if Governments are competing directly in the field of commerce, industry and trade. You have to see that the Government do their duty, in looking after 284 those who are actually engaged in the conduct of these things and leave it to those who know the business to carry on the industry.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I have always thought that Scotland lost a great comedian when the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) took to politics. Like all other great comedians however he is no good as a dramatic actor. His comic interlude was an interesting relief in this Debate, which I think has been far from inspiring. I found very little to inspire me in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and I am hoping for better things when his colleague winds up. It was a joy to listen to the able and informative speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). He knows a great deal about shipping and I should like to join in the tribute which the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) paid him for the work that he has done for the men in this great British industry. He can take great satisfaction from the work of the National Maritime Board. It has brought into being many of the things for which he and others have fought on the Floor of the House and it has had a wonderful record during the past 25 years. I feel that many of the incidents referred to by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division can never occur again. I am certain that shipowners would never allow them to occur again.
In dealing with the American building situation I think the hon. Member for Seaham took a very poor view of the wonderful efforts that our gallant American Allies are making in supplying us with the tonnage which is essential for victory and in assuming that buccaneers in Wall Street would be able to operate that tonnage against Britain and the other United Nations. I think that is a very poor view. I do not think it is possible. America is still the country created by our forefathers. It is the America of Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton and Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, and the people of America would never allow anything of that kind to happen. American battalions are fighting alongside ours in Sicily to-day, and if one was wiped out, a British battalion would take its place at once. That is the kind of spirit we must have in regard to the post-war American building programme. I have no fears for the future in that regard. If we regard 285 the matter from the lower economic plane the hon. Member for Seaham told us, of the double cost of American building and the double operating costs and he is correct, but with these disabilities how could America successfully compete against British and other European shipping. Rich country though she is, the U.S.A. could not stand the huge subsidies required. It is a complete fantasy and I wonder if my hon. Friend, who was so skilful and so cautious in riding his horse of nationalisation, raised that bogy as a means of furthering his pet schemes.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member makes a mistake in assuming that I derided American efforts in shipbuilding during the war. I founded my case in relation to the possibility of international cooperation, on the declared statements of American spokesmen of the American Mercantile Marine. If those statements are repudiated, well and good, but, as far as I know, they have not been challenged.
I agree that my hon. Friend did not desire to deride the American efforts, but I will ask him to pay little heed to speeches made by minor public men in America about what they intend to do. It is what the American people and the United Nations intend to do that counts, and if we make the Atlantic Charter work, as we must do, those things will be impossible. In this Debate, many essential facts have not so far been brought out. In spite of all the years of depression, the restrictions on world trade, subsidised, foreign competition and the self-sufficiency practised by so many nations, the British Mercantile Marine was well found and ready to render this country services vital to the community when war broke out. Although created and paid for by private enterprise, it was in a better and more efficient state than the Royal Navy which was created and paid for and controlled by public enterprise. When I say that I cast no reflection on the personnel of the Royal Navy, but I lay the blame where it belongs—the House of Commons, which is responsible for the security of the State. Immediately war occurred the British Mercantile Marine was able to carry on our essential sea services to maintain the life of the nation and, in addition, provided the Navy with armed cruisers, transports, minesweepers, escort vessels and auxiliary vessels of all kinds. Many of 286 these naval requirements should have been provided by the Navy. The nation's food supplies were jeopardised by using so many refrigerator ships as transports and by the commandeering of all modern fishing trawlers representing four-fifths of the nation's fish catching power. The blame lay with Parliament, and I believe that to a large extent it lies with the self-same people who are demanding that the British Mercantile Marine should be nationalised or be a public corporation.
The enemy has waged a savage and relentless U-Boat warfare against us for four years, yet Allied shipping is still able to meet our essential needs, including the gigantic operations carried on all over the world and the major operations in Tunisia and Sicily in the last few days. Of course British and American shipbuilding and repairing have played a major part in that situation, but the foundation stocks of shipping were and still are ships of the British Mercantile Marine. On many occasions just tribute has been paid to the gallant officers and crews, but the nation owes a debt it can never repay to British shipowners, investors and managers for providing this great fleet which carried on during the dark years when they never earned their depreciation, let alone profits. The nation is also indebted to the industry for providing the experienced tradesmen who run the Ministry of War Transport so well. The Minister is a product of the P. and O. group and the personnel of the Liner, Tramp and Coastal shipping committees are all shipping men who in co-operation with the skilled civil servants have built up a most efficient Ministry.
There are no war profits in shipping. Vessels are requisitioned at low rates of interest on capital and depreciation. Craft are being overworked, imperfectly maintained and subjected to war risks which must diminish the lives of the ships. Even the hard hit British farmer has been treated much better than the shipowner. His property has not been requisitioned but it has been improved. He is selling his produce at satisfactory prices and he is guaranteed a market for some time after the end of the war. When a shipowner loses a vessel through enemy action he is repaid the pre-war value less depreciation, and he may be permitted to acquire after the war Government built ships at infinitely greater war-time cost. In 1919 287 when the Government sold standard ships built during the war they charged shipowners £23 per ton dead weight. In 1920 the market price for those ships fell to L13, and in 1921 to £9. That should never happen again.
§ Mr. David Adams
Is the hon. Member aware that that was due to bringing in the German reparation tonnage and selling it on a restricted market in this country?
I heard the hon. Member make that point in his speech, but I cannot agree with him that the low prices were due to the German tonnage which we brought over as part of reparation and for which, he said, the late Lord Inchcape was responsible. He was only the machine for carrying out the Government's orders. Surely the low prices of ships were due to lack of foreign and world orders and the self-sufficiency of other nations which we had taught to build ships. A similar state of affairs may well occur in which there will be a huge drop in market prices and shipowners are undoubtedly taking a great risk in paying high prices. No one can forsee the future with certainty and shipowners are taking serious financial risks in paying for new tonnage at about double the price they are receiving for their better pre-war ships.
Now about the future. Parliament's job is to legislate and not to trade. Some Members appear to think that the war factories created and run by the Government provide a model and an inspiration for seizing the British Mercantile Marine and running it as a Department of State or as a public corporation. Even if the owners were willing to permit the seizure, which I doubt, I can hardly see the taxpayer being willing to undertake the risk. He must know the disastrous results which overtook Australia, the United States and other countries which undertook State trading in shipping. He must know that there is no possible comparison between the running of war factories and the complex international trade of shipping. Acts of Parliament do not apply outside the three-mile limit. A great part of the cargoes carried have no connection at all with the British Isles. Heaven forbid that we ever have another war, but if the British Government become shipowners I can foresee diplomatic ruptures occurring.
288 Ship owning and managing is a highly specialised job. In this country it is carried out by many companies from single ship companies to the great liner companies owning a number of ships, but not an excessive number. The average number of ships per company is about six. The work of managing such a fleet is considerable and it is interesting to note that when amalgamations take place the acquired companies continue to be separately managed. That is of material interest to the Committee to-day when we have heard so much about creating post-war semi-Government institutions. The experienced practical shipowner, the successor of generations of those who have built up the Mercantile Marine, do not run vast numbers of ships trading to foreign countries. When there are amalgamations for the mutual benefit and to prevent excessive price-cutting, shipowners leave the management in the hands of the company taken over. They carry on their respective businesses. Let that be a warning to those who see in an undertaking like the London Passenger Transport Board any parallel with the shipping industry carried on by the Government for the people. Parliament's duty is to help to make the Atlantic Charter work and to break down the barriers restricting world trade. It must legislate for prosperity and full employment. If that is done the British shipowners, their captains and crews will forge ahead holding their own against all corners and maintaining the proud record of the British Mercantile Marine.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
The Minister started his speech by telling us about the heroes of the Mercantile Marine and said that there was only one thing which they feared and that was unemployment. That is a big mistake, because the working class do not fear unemployment a bit. It is God's present to them at times, for it gives them a rest. It is not unemployment they fear, but the starvation that follows as a result of it and being denied the right to earn a living. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) told us of the disaster that would happen to the country the world, and the British Commonwealth of Nations in particular, if the Mercantile Marine were taken over and run by the Government.
§ The Chairman
That is clearly a question for legislation. It is true that, to a 289 large extent, the Government now run the Mercantile Marine, but any question of nationalisation, which I gather the hon. Member is thinking of, would clearly involve legislation. On the question of the continuance of public control, if there be public control, the hon. Member may, possibly, be in Order.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I was about to say something in reply to the hon. Member for Streatham, apart from his sarcastic remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who is the hon. Member's friend outside politics.
I made no sarcastic remarks. Any remarks I made were made in good humour and with respect.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I am sure that will delight the heart of the hon. Member for West Fife. To-day we are falling foul of one another. Two distinct points of view are being put in the Debate. The hon. Member for Streatham said it would be a disaster if the Mercantile Marine were to come under Government control. How an intelligent man can say such a thing is beyond me, when he is surrounded by Members who belong to the Navy. Is the Navy under private enterprise? Dare we trust private enterprise to defend the interests of the British Empire? We have more sense. Is not the Navy well run? We have advocated time and again that there should be the same conditions in the Mercantile Marine as there are in the Navy under Government control. It does not require the Minister to tell us about those heroes in the Mercantile Marine. He ought to be fired with inspiration when he speaks about the heroism of these men, which is unprecedented in history.
I am full of admiration for the great work that has been done by the Mercantile Marine, but I am full of regrets for what Parliament failed to do in regard to the Navy, and the party to which my hon. Friend belongs has some considerable share of blame for not keeping the Navy in a proper state of efficiency.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I was not referring to the hon. Member for Streatham. He is not yet standing at that Box. Possibly coming events are casting their shadows before. He was not reading any essay at the Box to-day. We, to-day, ought to be paying tribute to this great service and I was saying, See the types in the Navy—well 290 fed, well clad, well housed, not only at sea but at home. See them in the streets. I have drawn attention to this when they have been bringing in a new Member from the working class to take his seat here, after being practically all his life in the pit. Branded. With the mark of the beast. But see the Members of the ruling class and how they walk that Floor. It is the same with the Navy. See the Mercantile Marine. Tuberculosis rampant, the conditions of accommodation, a scandal beyond compare.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
No. It is the members of the working class who have come here and who have forced the shipowners and the shipbuilders to make conditions in the Mercantile Marine more endurable. It was this House that gave us the Plimsoll line. Did that come from private enterprise? No fear. Do not let us raise another bone of contention. Every improvement which the workers of this country have got they have had to fight for. Men have been driven out of the country for fighting for better conditions, fighting for them on the Floor of the House of Commons, and then people tell you "Blame it on this House." We should not have been the Empire that we are, the power for good that we are in the world at large, if it had not been for the British House of Commons. I have always held that the British House of Commons is the greatest anvil for forging the emancipation of the working class that there is in the world to-day. As I sat listening to the Minister giving us such a lengthy report, I had hoped that we should get some little concession, that I should see a ray of hope, that I should hear something that would enable me to go before my rebellious engineers in every district in Britain and tell them, "It is quite true now. The Government have definitely said on the Floor of the House, on the 14th day of July, that things are not going to be as they were after the last war. We now have a guarantee, a statement made on the Floor of the House by a responsible Minister."
That never happened to-day. I have nothing to go to the shipbuilding workers with—nothing—and yet there are many concessions which could have been made that would have been helpful in the winning of the war. This is the greatest of 291 all Governments—well, it is supposed to be—with ever so many powerful Labour representatives in it, and I thought "Here is an opportunity for them to make their presence felt." But again, No. Not a crumb. We are disappointed again, just as we were a fortnight ago when we were reviewing conditions in the coal industry, which is the lifeblood of the nation. The British Empire cannot continue without shipbuilding and without ships, and the shipbuilding workers to-day are seething with discontent. I have stood here for a year and a half appealing for a small concession from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for "pay as you go" in connection with the Income Tax.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I am only giving that as an illustration, Major Milner. There has been no concession. The hon. Member for Streatham said that it was not as a result of the Versailles Treaty that my fellows—and I was one of them then—were thrown on the streets, that the whole engineering and shipbuilding industry of this country was disorganised. But it was so, because we not only commandeered the German Navy but we commandeered the German mercantile fleet in its entirety. And what did the Government do? What I am going to tell hon. Members is irrefutable. The British Government took all the ships from the Germans. Did they give them to the boys who had fought for their country? No fear. They gave them to the friends of the hon. Member for Streatham £5 for a ton, and we could not build ships in this country at that time for less than £28 a ton. Shipowners got the benefit. Who made that statement? Bonar Law, at that Box, in my hearing. He was ashamed, he said, at the profits that he was reaping upon £30,000 that he had invested. What has brought me to my feet is that the building workers and the engineers, in fact, the working class throughout Britain, fear that their fate will be the same at the end of this war as it was at the end of the last war.
That is why I have appealed to this Government, that is why I have fallen out with some good friends that I had—in order to get some concession. Give us some concessions, give us some indication, so that we shall be able to go to our fellows and give them the guarantee that 292 what happened after the last war will not happen after this war. We have had no indication, none whatever. We might as well never have had any Labour men in the Government as far as that is concerned. The working-class point of view, which is most important at the moment, seems to be forgotten. You cannot win the war without the workers. Hon. Members around me say, "And the managements." I pay all respect to the managements. In all my broadcasts I have appealed for team work. I am always appealing that we should play as a team. When I hear individuals telling of what the shipowners have done, what the employers have done, and what the managers have done I always think of what happened during the coal strike in 1926, when I got fined £36 for a speech. I had made that speech in the House of Commons and the then Secretary of State defied me to make it outside. I did make it outside, and that is the price I paid for it.
We have to get something to-day. It is important that we get something from the Government. We have striven here, but it does not matter what case we put up: one would think we were appealing to the enemies of the country instead of our own fellows. We are told what the management and the employers have done. My point is that when there is a strike on, all the talk is about "these absentees" and "these ragamuffins of workers." That is the phraseology used—but not at this moment, of course. When the worker stops work there is no production. When the miners stop, no coal comes out of the pit.
It is the same with the shipworkers and the engineers. I want the Committee to realise that we are now talking about the most important section of the community, the workers. The Minister is young, and he has a great future before him if he cares to make it. There is no future going to be made for him more than has been made up to the moment, but there is a great opportunity. I see the First Lord of the Admiralty sitting on the Government Front Bench. If he had as much courage as he has ability, he would make a mark in the same way. We are waiting for the man who will be big enough to view matters from the workers' point of view. The workers are determined not to be treated in the same 293 way as they were after the last war, when engineering workers on the Clyde received lower wages than scavengers on the streets of London. That was what private enterprise did, and will continue to do, until we are strong enough to stop it.
We are a very fortunate generation. We do not need to wait upon things to happen. This is the age of speed and not just of energy; of speed and change. Change is the only thing that is with us, and "now" is the only important word on the face of time. We are fortunate to have had it demonstrated again beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people who have stood up to the most mighty military machine on which the sun ever shone have been the Russians. They never feared, and that was because of their Socialism; the nearer we get to that system, the better it will be for the British Empire. Civilisation as we know it is British civilisation. We made it, I want to see it carried on. I want the British point of view to get a chance. I do not want progress to be retarded, and there is a hope that we will yet win through—I do not mean in the war, because I have no doubt that we shall win it, but I mean in the great war that will follow. I mean the liberation of the working class from wage slavery.
§ Commander Brabner (Hythe)
I cannot pretend to make a speech as dramatic or as long as the hon. Gentleman who has just finished. I should like first of all to pay my Tribute to the officers and men of the Merchant Service for the work that they have done in the war. I do not think anybody in the Navy would deny that they must not be treated in the way they were treated in the last war. Everybody who has served with them knows of the very severe actions in which they have been called upon to play their part, and must have been impressed by their steadfastness and courage. I would remind the Committee of a jingle, which I think comes from the time of James I, and which says:God and the Navy we adoreIn times of danger, not before.The danger past, all is requited;God is forgotten and the Navy slighted.That is what happened to the Merchant Navy after the last war, and it will be for this House to make sure that it does not happen again after the present war.
294 I was a little depressed with the report made by the Parliamentary Secretary. While it was unexceptionable, it was uninspired, although he had an inspiring subject to talk about. What I think knocked the bottom out of the Government's declaration was the absence of any indication of the size of the Merchant Navy which the Government envisage for after the war. It is all very well to say that we shall have la Merchant Navy, but of what size and scope? We must realise that more than a million men depend upon the Government's idea of the size of our post-war merchant fleet. Are we to have the pre-war standard, or 25,000,000 tons, or are we to standardise on what is left to us at the end of the war? I do not think the Government would be giving away any secrets if they mentioned the sort of figure which they have in their minds, particularly in view of the probability of American predominance having a Merchant Fleet three or four times the size of ours, assuming that the war lasts for another two years. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give us any indication of the size of Merchant Navy which the Government contemplate after the war.
On this figure obviously will depend the prosperity or otherwise of the shipbuilding industry of this country. Hon. Members have talked of the work done by that industry and have very rightly said that we build the finest ships in the world and man them with the finest men in the world. What those hon. Members have not pointed out is that other people fill those ships with goods and that we have to compete for their custom. That is the big stumbling block which our Merchant Navy has to face. The customer will still put his goods into the ships with cheapest rates and which get there at the right times. It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about nationalisation, but they will still have to get the great mass of customers to put their goods in British ships if the British Mercantile Marine is to be a success.
Another point which has not been mentioned up to now is the part which the Dominions are playing in shipbuilding. We had a depressing and unenterprising attitude taken during the Debate upon civil aviation about the Dominions' share, and it was the same to-day. The Parliamentary Secretary did not say one word 295 about the position of Canada in shipbuilding after the war. Australia and New Zealand are all building ships at an unprecedented rate and with great skill. This point has a bearing upon the first point which I have tried to make, and which is whether the Mercantile Marine is to be an Empire or a British Mercantile Marine. What attitude are we to take in our negotiations with America? Presumably we shall have to negotiate with them on the size of the various Merchant Navies. What part are the Dominions to play in this matter? Have we started negotiations? Are we reviewing the position? Are we doing nothing, as apparently we were in regard to civil aviation?
I hope I shall not be out of Order if I bring up the question of civil aviation again, because it is closely connected with the question of merchant shipping, as it affects passenger transport by the Merchant Navy. It should be pretty clear that no owner will build luxury passenger ships until the Government have settled their policy with regard to civil aviation. It is extremely important that that policy should be announced or indicated at the very earliest opportunity. Until that is done, I do not see how any shipowner, however progressive or enterprising, can contemplate the provision of fast luxury liners. The point has been made that the cost of civil aviation will always be greater than that of ships. I do not believe that for a minute, because there is such a thing as cheap speed. So much increase of speed will be available by air that the extra cost will automatically cancel out in the time saved by the man who uses it. Although the initial cost may be greater by air than by shipping, the final cost in the business done will make aviation worth the extra money. Moreover, the costs of civil aviation will come down extremely rapidly.
I therefore want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some indication on the Government's policy on these three things: The post-war size of the British Mercantile Marine; what part the Dominions are going to play; what and how soon we can expect some indication of the Government's civil aviation policy. There is one last point which I would like to make about shipbuilding. In company with other hon. Members, I am extremely grateful to the Americans for the figures which they have achieved in 296 shipbuilding production. They certainly have brought home the goods and have saved us from very severe difficulties. But there is such an amount of advertising going on of the quickness and speed and efficiency with which they build ships that I sometimes feel that we are allowing the case in this country to go by default. We in this country are building ships, not as speedily in terms of days and weeks and months as the Americans are building ships, but American ships are three times more expensive than ours are, and two-and-a-half to three times more man-hours are going into those quickly built American warships and cargo ships than are being put into the ships being built in this country. It is only fair to the shipbuilders of this country to say that. We do not want it to go out to the world that we have lost our ancient shipbuilding skill. British shipbuilders get credit everywhere, including America, except in England. I think it is time that something on those lines came from the Government benches, and that some tribute was paid to the immense and fantastic effort being put into shipbuilding in this country, and the efficiency and success being achieved.
§ The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell)
made one detailed point to which I should like to reply. He is always talking about fast ships. I think there is a great error in assuming that a fast ship is necessarily what we want in this country. What you do want if you are building your Mercantile Marine for wartime are sufficient escorts to cover slow ships. The provision of fast ships will make your Mercantile Marine unworkable in peace-time, because we above all countries have to bring more really raw materials like iron ore and grain to this country than is probably the case with any other country in the world. The rates for this sort of cargo will not stand the extra is., or 2s. per ton, which the provision of an extra six or eight knots costs. Other countries are not in that position.
§ Commander Brabner
I do not think they do. I have tried to work this thing out. It seems to me we are compelled more than any other nation to rely on the most economical ship rather than on a fast ship. The answer to that, it will be said, is that in war-time those ships 297 are no good, because they are an easy prey for submarines. My reply to that is that they are the ships for peace-time, economical ships of something between nine and it knots, but for the purpose of making war you must provide the Navy, a publicly-owned concern, with the right amount of escorts and men to protect the convoys. So I would like other considerations to be given to the provision of ships in England after the war than that of speed only.
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I think it was, and also the hon. Member who preceded me, spoke of conditions in the Mercantile Marine. We all wish they were better. He also spoke about conditions in the Navy. It is no part of my job, being in uniform, to talk about the Service in which I am serving, but I will say that there would he a mutiny in the Mercantile Marine if conditions were anything approaching the conditions in the Navy to-day. There is absolutely no comparison at all. No merchant sailor, seaman or officer would stand for one second the sort of conditions which ratings in the Royal Navy are standing cheerfully and willingly to-day in time of war. That ought to be said and realised by those democratic demagogues who go about preaching the very reverse of what is the case. Also, to take the question of the pay of men serving side by side, merchant seamen and naval ratings, the former are receiving anything from two to three times that of the naval rating. This is something which need not be shouted from the housetops, but in view of statements made it does need saying. Conditions in the Merchant Navy are better than conditions in the Royal Navy. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies—and I think it is of the most fundamental importance—will see particularly whether he can give some figure as to the possible size of the Merchant Navy which the Government will have in mind when they enter into negotiations with other countries.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I always feel that sympathy should be extended to a Parliamentary Secretary replying for his Department in this House when the head of the Department is in another place. He is always in the position that he has little say, I imagine, about policy in ordinary times, and when he is here to reply to a Debate he is more 298 or less tied to what has been discussed between him and his chief and the civil servants, and is more or less tied to his brief. But never in all my experience of this House have I seen such an exhibition as that before the Committee to-day. There was a Debate on a major subject. There were very pertinent questions put by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). There was no attempt whatever to debate. The Parliamentary Secretary just stood reading a prepared document. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who called attention to one part of it in particular. I can well understand the Minister having to turn to his brief for figures or dates or any particular circumstance which has been discussed between him and his Department and to which he is tied by his instructions beforehand, but a large part of the opening of that speech made from that Box dealt with some of the finest stories in the long history of this land. The hon. Member has been since February, 1942, Joint Parliamentary Secretary in that Ministry, hearing, I suppose, daily these amazing human stories of courage, fortitude and endurance, and instead of being full of his subject, bursting out to tell the public the great epics, he had to read it as if he was reading something from the "Fortnightly Review" or the "Quarterly Review." I have rarely heard a greater conglomeration of abstract nouns, clichés, and the sort of writing we used to associate with copy books until I began to feel that I was listening to someone who had been educated at what in Victorian and Edwardian days we used to call a finishing school for young ladies.
Here, in dealing with this mighty subject of shipping and supply, and in an account of the stewardship of the year with a view to explaining why this Committee should be asked to vote the necessary sum for the coming year, we have heard not a word about the policy of the future. Definite questions were put. Not only that, but references were all the time made to the past and queries put, "Have you learned your lesson from that, and what is going to be your attitude in the future?" All that we heard was that the Government are determined to inquire, that the Government are taking this matter into very serious consideration, that the Government have been considering that matter 299 for a long time. In the meantime, there is not only the question of the nation waiting to hear what the policy is going to be—and everyone is concerned about it—but there are three sets of people directly concerned in this industry who are left in suspense as to what is to be the future—the shipowner, the ship's officers of the Mercantile Marine and the men of the Mercantile Marine. Those are the actual people working the ships. Then there are the shipbuilders, both the employers and the employees, still waiting to hear what is likely to face them in the future.
May I remind the Committee of what our position was when the Mercantile Marine saved this country between 1914 and 1918, as it has saved this country again from 1939 onwards, and is doing today? At that time we had had nearly 40 per cent. of the shipping of the world sailing under the actual flag of these Islands. Out of 49,000,000 tons, over 19,250,000 tons were owned in these Islands. By 1939 the world tonnage had gone up, but British tonnage had gone down; the world trade had gone up, the population of the world had increased, but British tonnage had gone down. In 1939 the world tonnage was 69,500,000 tons and the British 17,900,000 tons, or 25.9 per cent., as against 39 per cent. in 1914. Or, to put it in a more convenient form, assume that those figures can be translated into a token figure, and that the token figure is 100 for 1914. By 1939 the world tonnage had gone up to 141, and British tonnage had gone down to 93.
Those are the figures for ownership of ships: see what has happened with regard to building. At one time not only were we building, as we are building to-day, the best of ships, but we were building far more than half the ships of the world. In 1913 we built in this country 1,932,000 tons, out of a gross tonnage for the world of only 3,332,000 tons. We were the major builders of the world. If I only give the figures for the very bad period of 1931–35, they are startling. In 1931 we were building only 500,000 tons; in 1932, 187,000 tons; in 1933, down to our lowest, only 133,000 tons; in 1934 there was a slight rise to 450,000 tons. Then came the subsidy, and quite a considerable rise. But, even with the subsidy, we built only 1,000,000 tons in 1938, out of 3,000,000 tons for the world. So, instead of build- 300 ing two-thirds of the world's shipping, we were building only about one-third. Another set of figures, and perhaps the one that matters most, is that of the number of people employed in shipping. In 1911 there were 136,000 British people employed in ships. By 1921 the number had gone down to 96,000. The numbers fluctuated, naturally, but by 1938 they were down again to 107,000. There has been a fall, in comparison with the rest of the world, in shipbuilding, in ship-owning, and in the number of British seamen on British vessels.
In the last war we were called upon to do duties that we had never contemplated. We entered the seafaring industry as young people. A wonderful story could be told about that Welsh coast all the way down from Flintshire to Glamorganshire. There is not a cottage, there is not a smallholding, all along that long coast that does not send its boys to sea. Invariably one comes across ordinary sea tragedies, but still they go, the call of the sea is so strong. In 1914 they had to meet another peril. Throughout that period from 191.1 to 1918—and we now know how near disaster we were in 1917–18—the words of praise that are being used to-day in this Committee for the bravery and endurance of the Mercantile Marine were being used. Yet in 1919 and 1920 those men were forgotten, and the numbers had gone down. The men who had been called upon during the war were not wanted by 1921. That is the position that has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham and by other hon. Members. What are you holding out for these people? I will not transgress the rules of Order, but I think it is only right to make passing reference to two other matters. Only the week before last we were discussing another vital matter where so much turns upon the people who are actually working coal. Last week we were discussing forests. The Committee voted Supply without knowing what was going to be the Government's policy with regard to either of those subjects. To-day, I suppose, we shall be voting Supply without knowing what is going to be the Government's policy, or without knowing the future of the shipping industry.
In the last war the shipbuilding industry were called upon to increase the number of yards, and they did it amazingly. Then, unfortunately, because there was no 301 policy except just to leave it to chance, we passed through that period when not only were the new shipyards closed, but a number of old shipyards that had been working for a century were closed. Men who had been brought up beside and worked within those yards, as had their fathers for five generations before them, had to stand idle and then seek work elsewhere. Even to-day—though one cannot enter into figures—there are many of those yards that have not been opened. Men have been called back into the shipbuilding industry. The process has been quickened up. What is to happen to these people when the war finishes? They were not even thanked at the end of the last war. Are they to be told at the end of the present war—"Thank you very much for what you have done but we have not the slightest idea of what is to be your future"?
Linked up with shipping is the welfare of this country—the whole of its industry and its trade with the rest of the world. How often has one to emphasise that we are dependent upon our world connections. This is an island. We have to import food and raw materials. These people enable us to be fed to-day. In spite of all the tribute we can pay to the farming community, they have worked in safety, but these people have gone out again arid again after being torpedoed in order to keep us going. Upon them also has depended the success of the great undertakings of the Army. They have enabled our great armies to be kept in the Middle East, and to enter Tunisia and to-clay they have carried the armies into Sicily, bearing not only their ordinary duties as seamen but the brunt of battle as well. They are entitled to ask the Government "What are you going to do for us when this war is over?" What is the position of the shipowner? An attempt was made to get an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary to this simple question. To-day you have Government-built ships and Government-chartered shins, being run by the shipowners as managers for the Government. What is it proposed to do with them when the war ends? No clear answer comes. Do you mean to hand them back, or to keep them under control, or to run them yourselves? What do you propose to do? Some shipowners have ceased to give private orders. Some are taking 302 that very big risk to-day. Some of them are in the position that they remember what took place at the end of the last war, and you cannot blame them if they say, "We will get out as early as we can, put that in reserve and come back again at a time when we can see what is likely to happen." They are people accustomed to taking risks. They are the successors of the merchant adventurers of old, but, after the experience which some of them had at the end of the last war, they see not a risk, but an inevitable loss, and they want to know where they are.
We know now that we are not the only shipbuilders in the world. We owe a tremendous debt to America and to Canada. Without that aid I dread to think of what would have been our position, with the increased submarine warfare that went on, and the tremendous losses we were suffering at one time. Only recently—some months ago—was our power of replacement greater than the losses that we were suffering. One is glad to know now that not only have the losses gone down, but that the power of replacement keeps on increasing. That has been due in a major degree to the great efforts which America and Canada are making. But what of the future? They built in the last war. They became, if I remember rightly, second to us as the greatest mercantile owners in the world but they are not, as we are, marine-minded, and naturally so because the distance from New York to San Francisco is about the same as the distance from London to New York. They are, naturally, more land-minded and will become more air-minded, and although they have that long sea-board East and West, the desire, I suppose, would be to stay on the land and not as in this country to go to sea. It may be that that influences them. Unfortunately, they had some pretty bad experience of trying to run their mercantile marine and made a very heavy loss, as did Australia, Canada and France, but the heaviest loss of all, was suffered by the United States.
It is a truism and a platitude to say that shipping is an international matter. It is a platitude to say that there has to be an agreement between the various shipowning countries of the world and that we ought to arrive at an international convention. But surely we ought to be entering that convention with suggestions 303 and plans already prepared, sufficiently elastic to enable us to listen to all the suggestions and plans that have been made by others. We are asking: Tell us how you are working this out. Do you mean to leave it exactly as it was in 1939? Do you mean to make the position worse, as you did in 1919, by bringing over the German mercantile marine and placing them on the market at cheap prices? Do you intend to exercise control for a while or do you intend to adopt a long-term policy and exercise control for a long time; or do you mean to allow certain types to be freed and to keep control over others in the interests of the nation?
These are the matters which are exercising the minds of all of us. We are all glad to welcome back the hon. Member the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Sir A. Salter), who is to reply. We would like to congratulate him on the very magnificent job of work he has done in America. He has had a long experience of this work not only in this war, but in the last and we would like to nay him this tribute—we are grateful to him for the way in which he has handled this most difficult situation. I hope that when he comes to reply he will be able to give us something more specific than his colleague has done with regard to how he visualises things, especially after his long experience in America.
I would like to join with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner) in paying tribute to Canada, which has now become a really big shipbuilding country. How do we intend to work with them? This Debate was initiated in order to get the kind of information we have asked for, and I hope we shall not part without getting something more definite than we have had so far. All of us pay tribute to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine, and I would also like to pay tribute to the shipowners who have gone to the Ministry of War Transport to work with Lord Leathers, who has carried through this work with great success. They have worked with him, and while they could not guide or influence Government policy with regard to the future, they have been of valuable assistance during this period of this war. What is to be their position when it is over? We are, undoubtedly, now approaching what I might call the 304 last phases of this war; they may take one, two or three years or longer, but as we enter these phases these problems, which we shall have to face when the war is over, ought to be tackled now. We are entitled to guidance from the Government, and the country is waiting for a declaration of policy.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Sir Arthur Salter)
A year ago when I was back here on a short visit from America I was privileged to take part in a Debate in this Chamber. I turn back in my mind to that moment; it was a time of the gravest anxiety. The Government, Parliament and the country realised that the fate of this war might turn on the position of our merchant shipping. We had a Debate which was in secret and had to be in secret. Now, this year, it is perhaps significant of the change in our fortunes, and in particular of the very considerable improvement in the shipping position, that not only are we here debating in public, but the mind of the Committee has turned to the extent to which it has turned to post-war, as distinct from war, problems. I am not sure that the change in outlook and in subject is not perhaps a little too complete or too quick. Certainly, I think it is premature to expect at this moment a complete and comprehensive policy worked out and proclaimed by the Government as to the post-war shipping position. To illustrate what I mean by a change of tone I think that when the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) in opening this Debate referred to the scale of American shipbuilding it was almost with a shade of regret that that building should be on so vast a scale.
§ Mr. Shinwellindicated dissent.
§ Sir A. Salter
I am near enough in my preoccupations to the time when the increase of that building was something on which the fate of the war seemed likely to turn to be quite unable for a moment to look at the figures of present output with anything but gratitude and joy. But is it really possible to expect at this moment that the Government should not only have framed, but should now think it expedient to announce, the kind of policy which has been asked for by hon. Members here to-day? Whatever be the solution of our shipping problems, it is quite clear that it cannot depend upon 305 policy within the sphere of shipping alone, that it cannot depend upon decisions taken only by this country and without reference to the policies being developed by other countries and the negotiations that must take place between us and those countries. This is immediately relevant, I think, to the question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner), who asked what was the size of Mercantile Marine the British Government had in mind after the war. Should we be increasing the chances of a successful conclusion to the discussions which must, of course, follow with other countries if we started by announcing a figure?
§ Sir A. Salter
Has the United States Government stated that it is the policy of America to have a mercantile marine of a certain size?
§ Sir A. Salter
The Committee will, I think, be aware that there is a rather different tradition in America from that which prevails in this country, both as to collective responsibility and as to the freedom of individual officers to express individual opinions that may or may not ultimately prove to be the considered and final opinions of their Government. In any case, I am not in a position to state anything so definite as the policy of the British Government. I believe Members of this Committee will realise that the British Government would be unwise to state here and now, "This is the Mercantile Marine we intend to have after the war, and these are the methods by which we intend to secure that the Mercantile Marine is kept up to that figure."
I would ask Members to take a figure in their own minds, to work out the consequences and then to ask themselves what would probably be the reactions on the minds of other Governments and the peoples of other countries of announcing such a policy and whether what we all desire to achieve in the long run would be likely to be facilitated by that course of action. I do not believe that Members of the Committee, if they put that question to themselves, would have any doubt as to the answer. Here, perhaps, I should 306 say at once that while I greatly appreciate what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said about my particular work in this war, I must disappoint him, if indeed he expected that I could add anything substantially to what my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), said earlier in the Debate on behalf of the Government and about which my hon. and learned Friend commented with not only great but unmerited severity. I think it. is clear to Members of the Committee that we are still removed, if indeed we are permanently removed, by too short a space of time from anxiety about our war shipping problem for us to apply the different criteria and standards we need to apply in framing after the war policy. It is unfair to expect the Government at this moment to anticipate discussions with other Governments and to prejudice those discussions by announcing the kind of policy which has been asked for to-day.
For reasons which are, I think, sufficient, I am not authorised to add substantially, on the questions which have been mainly raised to-day, to my hon. Friend's statement. But there are one or two short comments that I might make on some points which have been made after he spoke. The hon. Members for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) both suggested something more in the way of an eloquent tribute to the heroism of the men of the Mercantile Marine. Speaking personally, I feel that I am now disqualified for paying such a tribute, for two reasons. The first is that, as has been said by several Members, what they rightly expect is that the Government will do something in the future to help them to avoid the disasters which followed the last war, and not just fine words. Tributes should, indeed, be paid, I feel that they come very much better from those in authority, for example, in the sister Fighting Services who have shared their hazards and hardships than from one like myself who happens to be in a position of safety in civilian employment. To my mind it would be impertinent for me to try to speak eloquently of the courage of these men. It is not, heaven knows, because I do not feel strongly enough about it.
The Debate has covered a very considerable range, both of subjects and of 307 time. I hope hon. Members will not judge its value solely or mainly by the character of the answers they have had from the Government Bench. I think the utility will consist very largely in the questions that have been put, the arguments that have been used and the considerations that have been urged. When one is in a transition from a series of war problems to post-war problems, there is a great deal to be said for two Debates at some interval of time, in the first of which the questions are more important than the answers, and in the second of which the answers may be more important. Anyhow, for the reasons I have mentioned, we are not able to say more in substance than has been said by my hon. Friend on the questions which have been raised.
Because I think so much will necessarily depend upon the relations between ourselves and America, and the negotiations which will take place between us with regard to shipping matters, I should like to say something as to the character of the American contribution. In the first place, as one who has been at every stage in intimate and close contact with those who took the decisions to increase the American building programme, I want to say with conviction that whatever ambitions may now be suggested by the existence of a great Mercantile Marine, there is no doubt that the motive for the construction of that Mercantile Marine was clear, simple and definite. It was simply to create a vitally needed instrument of war and as such it has been used. That, I think, is something we should all remember when we pass to the consideration of what may be the secondary, and at the time unintended, consequences of the existence of that great building capacity and of that great Mercantile Marine.
I do not now propose to say anything about the British contribution to the solution of the shipping crisis. Many statements have been made. Members of the Committee realise and appreciate fully both the British contribution and that of those European Allies whose Governments have been situated in this capital. I should however like, taking that ass a background, to say something as to tie transatlantic contribution. I say 308 the transatlantic contribution because, as I have been reminded, not only the United States but Canada, too, has made a very great contribution. While I have been stationed at Washington I have had the privilege of seeing very closely the Canadian shipbuilding and shipping effort in close association particularly with Mr. C. D. Howe, but also with other Canadian Ministers. I have also been in touch with my British colleagues who have been concerned with other aspects of the Canadian effort. I believe we all feel that that effort has been one of the most remarkable things in the history of the British Commonwealth. Take the shipping side only. Canada between the two wars built no ocean-going ships at all. She is now building, in addition to corvettes and other protective craft, approximately the same merchant tonnage as we in this country. She has shown an astonishing capacity to adapt her industrial production to what is most needed in the war. She has combined this with a broad visioned policy, both in the allocation of what she has produced and the financial terms on which it has been put into the war effort. I think the unadvertised but, I hope, not unappreciated generosity of the conditions and terms on which Canada has placed her shipping at our service, in the closest collaboration with us, is extremely remarkable, but it is paralleled by what she has done in other spheres of the war.
I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe in remarking upon the efficiency of British shipbuilding, measured either by cost or by man-hours. When we are thinking of the difficulties of future competition we must, of course, remember that the share of world shipping will not depend solely, or perhaps mainly, upon the amount of tonnage which happens to be under the flags of different countries at the time when peace comes. It will depend upon the comparative cost of building and of operation, and the policy of the different Governments with regard to support and subsidy, and the general framework of international trade and agreement in other spheres.
That being so, it is as well to remember that we shall have the advantage of lower costs of production and operation. It will be necessary to enter into negotiations to attempt to arrive at agreement 309 on quite a number of things with America, such for example as the position of shipbuilding after the war, which was the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for North Newcastle-on-Tyne (Sir C. Headlam). American shipbuilding this year will be somewhere in the nature of 20,000,000 tons deadweight. It is clear that if we take that and add to it the shipbuilding capacities of other countries, including our own, capacity must not only be greater than but must exceed by many times, perhaps 10 times, the normal capacity required for peace-time replacements of obsolescent ships. Therefore, we must discuss with America and some other countries some of these problems before the time of peace. The figures I have mentioned, both as regards the amount of building and the cost, show that the interest and motive for such negotiations are not an interest and motive confined to ourselves. Other countries and certainly America will have an interest in coming to some arrangement with us.
I have been asked by several Members to refer more fully to what has been the nature of the contribution of America to the shipping crisis of the last few years. I would like to tell the Committee the history of that contribution. There have been two periods in this war when the shipping situation has been so serious as to threaten the whole issue of the war, and twice the balance has been restored (to use a transatlantic slang phrase, twice we have got out of the red) by the efforts of the United States. The first of these periods was in the spring of 1941, and I would like to remind the Committee of what the shipping situation was when in March of that year the Prime Minister asked me to go to Washington. Our imports of dry cargo goods amounted at that time to little more than half the rate of our pre-war imports. They were falling rapidly. We were losing several times as much as we were building, so that, bad as the situation was at the moment, the prospect was very much worse indeed. Our stocks were dangerously low and falling rapidly. It was quite clear that we were not only in grave danger but in fairly imminent danger either of famine conditions here or of closing our factories through lack of raw materials or being unable to supply adequately and enlarge our Armies in the Middle East and elsewhere. It was clear that action quite outside our own resources 310 at that time was essential if these dangers were to be avoided. There was only one possible place from which aid on the scale required could conceivably come, and that was the United States of America.
The United States, however, had at that time quite a small Mercantile Marine, as the hon. Member for Sea-ham has reminded us. More important than that, it was building on a very small scale. Between the two wars America had practically gone out of the shipbuilding business until shortly before the present war. I believe that in the 10 years before 1936, apart from some tankers, only two ocean-going freighters had been built in America. Even in the Spring of 1941 the building was at the rate of less than 1,000,000 tons a year. It was clear that if the grave situation was to be met, that amount of building needed to be increased, not doubled or trebled or quadrupled, but multiplied at least by five. That was not all. America was a benevolent but a neutral country. The action of her Executive was restricted by the Neutrality Act, which made it illegal for any American ships to go into a war zone. The President had also to deal with a political situation at a time which we shall all remember and which certainly added to the difficulty of giving us the aid we required. He himself ardently desired to give it, and he was advised and assisted by such principal advisers as Mr. Hopkins and Cabinet Ministers, such as the Secretary of State for War, who is now in this country. He was also ardently supported by the heads of the Departments, true friends, such as Admiral Land and Admiral Vickery, who was entrusted with the building programme, and the Petroleum Administrator, Mr. Ickes, and his Deputy, Mr. Ralph Davies. It is astonishing how quickly, so advised and assisted, the President met our dire need.
Up to this moment, April, 1941, except that we had bought for cash a few old ships from America, we had no ships at all from the American Government, and the resources of the American Government were limited, as I have explained. Within a few months the President had removed the Red Sea from the war zone, and immediately large numbers of American ships under the American flag, with American crews, were carrying our stores to the Middle East. Almost at the same moment 311 he directed the Maritime Commission to put no less than 2,000,000 tons, over 200 ships, into the war service, and shortly afterwards that figure was increased. By the early autumn we had had such assistance from America that our anxiety was completely relieved. Our 1941 imports, both dry cargo and oil, exceeded our consumption. Our stocks were higher at the end of the year than at the beginning. More than that, the prospects of the future looked assured. The American building programme for 1942 had been raised from the 1,000,000 tons of 1941 to no less than 8,000,000 tons. That 8,000,000 tons, with bur own and Canadian building, gave us then a rate about double the current rate of loss. So that we had the ships we needed, we had the prospect of additional ships as we needed them, and there was between ourselves and America a rate of building greatly in excess of the rate of loss at that time. In a word, the shipping crisis, which had been of the utmost gravity in April, had found the real solution, which looked as if it would have been and probably would have been a permanent solution for the scale and character of the war as it then was, that is to say, a European war and not a global war, as it became with the entry of Japan.
Then came the second period, which ultimately proved quite as serious, even more serious. Japan entered the war, losses increased immensely and now extended to American ships. In the spring of 1942, with the great losses off the American coast particularly, not only were we losing several times as much as we were building, but the United Nations as a whole were losing more; indeed, in spite of the increased American building, America herself was losing more than she was gaining. And from her diminishing fleet America had also to meet the demands of the Pacific war. By the summer we were again in an extremely grave crisis. America then raised her building from 8,000,000 tons to 14,000,000 tons. By the autumn, as the situation had grown for the moment even more serious, the losses continuing, and the strain of the North African expedition being added, the American programme was raised to nearly 20,000,000 tons. That increase was accompanied by a declaration of policy negotiated by Mr. Douglas with us and endorsed not only by Admiral Land but by the President, under which the increased mercantile building was declared 312 to be regarded as available not for the American war effort only but for the war effort of the whole of the United Nations and allotted wherever it was most required. Following up that declaration of policy and that increase of building, schedules were worked out. Early this year we received a definite schedule meeting our needs and covering provision for the whole of the rest of the year, so that as far as can be humanly foreseen we have passed from the sphere of major negotiations to the sphere of daily co-operation in carrying out an agreement, formally made, sufficient for our needs, and with a definite duty resting upon the War Shipping Administration to carry it out in accordance with its letter and spirit.
That agreement has further been relieved of any danger it might have met by the great improvement in the general shipping position and the dramatic diminution in losses which has recently taken place. Doubtless we must expect losses again to be serious. We have not finished with the submarine yet, but we have a reasonable hope that month by month we shall continue to have more ships at the end of the month than we had at the beginning. The Prime Minister has indicated the great extent of our net gain in the month of June. That was an especially fortunate month, but it is not the only month in which the net gain has about reached seven figures. We have a reasonable hope now, I think, that month by month we shall not only have more ships, but as many more as are required, not only to carry what we are now carrying but to meet the extra needs of our expanding Forces. Indeed, if the situation continues to improve rapidly—and this is one reason why I was so happy to have an opportunity of speaking to-day—at no very distant date it may seem that what America did in increasing her building and in allocating her ships to us was both easier and less important than it was. I think it is well to realise that when she took that decision, when she increased her building to a scale beyond what the best experts both in this country and hers thought was possible, she acted in circumstances of extreme difficulty, and she did what has proved to be absolutely of crucial importance for the conduct of the war and our fortunes in that war.
We shall have, doubtless, many difficulties in the future, many extremely 313 difficult problems to solve, and agreement will often be difficult. But I think we can all draw hope and encouragement for the future, and for the problems of post-war settlement and agreement, from one successful example of collaboration, that happily does not stand alone, in strengthening what was for so long the weakest link in the whole chain of the Allied war effort.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again"—[Mr. James Stuart]—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.