§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Despite the limited time at our disposal, I am sure that no one would grudge me a few moments to take the opportunity to pay a well-deserved tribute to the Merchant Navy. This is the first time in this Parliament that any Measure of this description has been introduced. I think that, to a very small extent, it expresses the deep feeling of gratitude which the people of this country developed as a result of the services of the Merchant Navy during the war. I should like my tribute to cover all ranks. During the war many shipowners served in my Ministry. Their experience and knowledge were invaluable in carrying out the gigantic operations then necessary. I do not need to remind hon. Members of the heroism and endurance of the officers and men. I must confess that I could not rise adequately to the occasion. The fact that the losses of the Merchant Navy amounted to about 30,000 men and tonnage losses amounted to over 10 million tons indicates how great and far reaching were their services.
I am glad to say that the form of co-operation between my Ministry, the shipping industry and the seafarers' unions during the war, has continued. This Bill is an example of that co-operation. It represents complete agreement between all sides of the industry and it comes to this House with general support from the other place. The purpose of the Bill is to enable His Majesty's Government to ratify four of the Conventions adopted at the 28th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference at Seattle in 1946. The fifth Convention which is dealt with in this Measure is not to be ratified, but I assure the House that although it will be dealt with in the main by regulations, nevertheless, with one or two major exceptions, the purpose of the Convention is being carried out.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen interested in the details will find the particulars of the Conventions and certain resolutions in Command Paper 7273, and the full text 831 of the Conventions in Command Paper 7109. To complete this summary, I wish to acknowledge the debt I owe to my former Parliamentary Secretary who is now Minister of Supply. He did a very good job of work at Seattle in bringing the Conference to a successful conclusion. I also wish to acknowledge the debt I owe to the late Mr. Charles Jarman who was then secretary of the National Union of Seamen. His devotion to the cause of seamen and his experience enabled him to bring to bear a practical mind on matters of this character. He made a direct contribution to the success of the International Conference at Seattle.
The Measure will enable the Government to ratify four Conventions: food and catering, certification of able seamen, certification of ships' cooks, and social security. It will also substantially apply the provisions of a fifth Convention relating to crew accommodation. To give effect to these Conventions the necessary Amendments to the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894 and 1906 are undertaken in the Bill. I will deal first with the method which we shall adopt regarding crew accommodation and will mention briefly the Clauses dealing with the other four Conventions.
The first four Clauses deal with powers to make regulations. The regulations specify the ships to which they will apply, the procedure of inspection of crew accommodation and the consequential Amendments to the Merchant Shipping Acts. The first four Clauses of the Bill, will, in fact, cover this particular Convention as far as we intend to cover it. Although we are not ratifying the Convention, I should not like the impression to get abroad that the standards of British ships are in any way inferior to the standards which it lays down. As a result of agreement and initiative between the owners and the men in this country, the standards of crew accommodation in British ships are in many respects in advance of the Convention.
The main reason we do not feel able to ratify the Convention—a reason which has the support of both sides of the industry—is that one provision specifies that not more than four deckhands or four engine-room ratings should be accommodated in a single room. In the case of our large passenger liners that provision, if 832 carried out, would have the effect of depriving a large proportion of the crew of ventilation and lighting. It is a practical difficulty of that kind which prevents our ratifying the Convention although, in view of the regulations that will eventually be put into operation, both sides of the industry are satisfied that we shall go as far as is necessary.
The food and catering Convention, which we propose to ratify, needs no new legislative proposal and will be more or less taken up and covered by the regulations dealing with the problem of crew accommodation. Clause 5 deals with the certification of able seamen, which is now granted on the basis of three years' service. Under the Convention a proficiency test will now be applied and this is covered by Clause 5. The certification for ships' crews, in Clause 6, at present applies to foreign-going vessels of 1, 000 gross tons or more. Under the present arrangement they are covered by certificates of competency issued by the Minister of Transport and Clause 6, as far as the Convention is concerned, will enable the Minister by Order in Council to cover other classes of ships as cases occur, and by agreement and discussion from time to time with both sides of the industry.
Clause 7 covers the Convention on social security. With one exception, the provisions of that Convention are more or less embraced in our existing laws, particularly in the National Insurance Act which comes into operation next July and by industrial agreements. The one main difference is the imposition of an additional legal liability on the shipowner when a sick or injured seaman is left abroad. The liability of the shipowner, which now extends until the seaman is cured will in future extend until the seaman obtains employment or is repatriated. Clause 9 enables the Minister by Order in Council to extend to other countries under His Majesty's jurisdiction the various provisions of the Convention.
I refer now to the dates and method of the bringing into force of these Conventions should Parliament give the Government the necessary authority. Clause 10 gives the Minister latitude to determine the date of the bringing into force of the various Conventions. While the British shipping industry is anxious to lead in these matters, both sides of 833 the industry, as well as the Ministry of Transport, take the commonsense view that we must not unduly permit ourselves to be governed by international Conventions unless they are endorsed by a sufficient number of other maritime countries to establish some form of reasonable international standard. Therefore, the Minister will be able to satisfy himself on each particular Convention that a sufficient number of member States have also agreed to ratify and that they represent a sufficient tonnage of shipping to make the Convention effective as a competitive factor.
While adopting that precaution, we do not want to limit in any way the power and capacity of the shipping industry, with the Ministry of Transport, to take the lead and initiative on these matters, as we very often do. If at any time the Minister is satisfied, after consulation with both sides, that the industry is willing, and that circumstances are reasonable, he may ratify any of these Conventions where we have secured the agreement of a sufficient number of States representing a sufficient gross tonnage.
The Bill, which is not a very large Measure in itself, arises from the first major I.L.O. discussions on maritime affairs since the war. I am sure that all sides of the House will give generous support in getting this Measure through so that the Government and the British shipping industry can take the lead in international standards in the future as they have in the past.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I can assure the Minister that we on this side of the House welcome this Bill. Indeed, it is rather refreshing in the present world situation to be discussing something in which there has been so large a degree of international agreement. All the same, it is typical of the high traditions of this Service and industry that the discussions at Seattle should have been so friendly and should have shown so much good will towards the officers and men of this great Service. I should like to add my congratulations, on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House, to the congratulations which the Minister of Transport extended to his right hon. Friend the present Minister of Supply, who led the 834 United Kingdom Delegation at Seattle with considerable skill. I should like also to congratulate the other Members of the delegation who played a very conspicuous part at that Conference.
This Bill gives us a chance of remembering—and I think we should welcome the opportunity of remembering—that we are dealing with an industry in which the relations between the owners, the officers and the men have been exceptional. That is the case today, and it has been so in the past. I think I am right in saying that, except for the brief but unofficial strike on Merseyside last October, there has not been a dispute for 36 years which has even led to arbitration, and during the long period going back to before the 1914 war official strikes have been unknown. That is a very remarkable record. It seems to us to be confirmation of those happy relations which the Minister mentioned, and to which I have referred, which exist between the owners and the men who man their ships, and of the improved conditions afloat, that of the nine Conventions agreed at Seattle the Government have found it necessary to legislate only for four.
The fact that this Bill is so small is proof in itself that the majority of the recommendations of the international Conference, if not in operation already, are capable of being carried out by the National Maritime Board within the framework of the existing Merchant Shipping Acts. While we have every right to be proud of the high standard of the British Merchant Navy, it is important, especially from the employment point of view, that international Conventions should not be ratified by the United Kingdom Government when they are not ratified by other countries possessing a sufficient volume of shipping to deprive our own ships of their share of the world's trade.
This House should not forget that the terms of ratification have already been reduced from what were considered necessary by the United Kingdom Delegation when they went to Seattle for this Conference in the interests of British shipping. In the case of Convention No. 75, which is covered by the first three Clauses of the Bill, and which deals with accommodation for members of the crew, I think the Delegation went too far in the con- 835 cession which they made. The concession was that it was necessary for only seven countries instead of nine to ratify the Convention to enable it to come into operation. If we accept operating conditions more onerous to our shipowners than those of foreign countries, the result can only be a loss of business, which in itself will destroy the stability of employment in the industry.
Therefore, from everybody's point of view, it is no good agreeing to make the standard of conditions so stringent that a high level of employment cannot be maintained in the industry. I hope the Government will see that in future we do not go any further in concessions of this kind, which not only make conditions hard for the industry but which will affect employment of the men in the industry itself. We lead the world, as indeed as we have always done, in the quality of our ships, in the skill of our crews and in the conditions of their service, but it is no less important that we should continue to be in the forefront in the volume of trade which we carry.
We particularly welcome Clause 5 which provides for promotion to the rate of able seaman by merit rather than by length of service. We agree with the statement made in another place by a Government spokesman that it is a reform long overdue, and it can only result in raising the status of the men and the efficiency of the Service. It is only fair to the industry in general to say that the social security provision in Clause 7 for the maintenance of men in ports abroad after illness does no more than—and the Minister made this point himself—confirm very largely a voluntary agreement already in operation. I agree with the Minister that there is an advance in the Bill on what up to now has been a really satisfactory agreement in the industry itself. The remainder of the Bill is mainly administrative, and does not seem to require any further comment from me.
On behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House, I should like to say that both the owners and the men deserve our warmest congratulation not only for the trust which they have shown in each other, which is evident throughout this Bill, but for the co-operation which they have shown at all times on the National Maritime Board. It would be a fitting 836 tribute to those who serve in the Merchant Navy if the reward for their heroism and self-sacrifice during the war years were to show the postwar world, by their example, the way to international good will as well as to industrial peace.
Therefore, we on this side of the House give our blessing to this Bill—or perhaps I can more fairly call it this child of the industry itself. We believe that it will give to the shipping industry a still greater opportunity to play its part in the recovery of our seaborne trade and of our national prosperity.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
Having spent 30 years at sea in the Royal Navy, I should like to take the first opportunity of supporting the Minister and the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) in their tributes to the Merchant Navy for its services in the war. Time is short, and therefore I must confine that part of my remarks to one sentence.
As the representative of East Hull, which includes the docks area of the third largest port in the country, I welcome this Bill as the first attempt of this great Labour Government to improve the lot of the merchant seamen and the other members of the crews. I think it should not be unduly long before a Bill is introduced to deal with the whole of the Merchant Shipping Acts, a large number of which are overdue for reform, and need bringing up to date. That can only be done by large-scale legislation. Hon. Members opposite have owner interests, although I do not say anything against them for that. They may have been born into it, and not have walked into it by choice, but it is unfortunate that on this side of the House there are no actual representatives of the crews—that is to say, there is no representative of the National Union of Seamen—to give their actual experiences. Nevertheless, hon. Members on this side will at all times see to it that their case is fully represented.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Hereford that the fear of losing traffic as a result of making conditions more onerous for our ship owners is exaggerated. We ought to lead the world not only in trade, not only in ships, but also in accommodation and other reforms for our crews. We are all agreed on that, but 837 apparently there may be some slight difference of opinion as to how far we should go. I want to say to hon. Members opposite that the merchant seaman's life is one of the most hazardous and most uncomfortable in the world and, moreover, he probably spends a longer time away from his family than anyone else. There is little or no privacy in a merchant ship. Conditions are bad enough in a warship, where steps can be taken to have cinemas and various other things to improve the crew's conditions. I say frankly that the conditions of the crews in a number of our ships still lag behind those in American and Scandinavian ships and the ships of other more progressive countries.
Turning to this question of not being able to reduce to four the number of ratings accommodated in a room, because of lack of ventilation and natural light, there is something in that argument; but if, when those ships were being designed, more concern had been given to this aspect, to see whether it is not possible to give them accommodation for feeding with natural light and ventilation, such facilities could have been provided for them. Too often in the past the construction of a ship has been decided in terms of cargoes or passengers, and the crews' spaces have been fitted into any odd corner which was left. Often the larger the ship the less suitable was the accommodation. In some of the medium-class ships the crew are much better off.
This Bill deals with crew accommodation, food, catering and other things which, omitting pay, are the main factors of the seamen's life at sea, and everything should be done to improve them in new construction. I realise that the industry has that in mind. I want to make a plea this afternoon for improvements in existing ships, because the argument that there is no room for them, and that space cannot be found, is just nonsense. When it was a question of defence in the war, and it was necessary to find positions for guns and other defensive equipment, space for ammunition and other requirements, the space could be found. Similarly, when these ships which are of a low standard are in for refit, improvements in conditions should be taken in hand. It is not only a ques- 838 tion of living and sleeping accommodation, but also of very poor bathing facilities and awful sanitary accommodation. There are some cases where conditions are so bad that no one else would put up with them, in the way in which our merchant seamen have put up with them; and they would not have accepted them but for the fact that it is a seaman's privilege to grumble and carry on.
I hope that the hon. Member for Hereford will realise when he stresses, as he rightly did, the good relationship in the industry and the fact that there have been no strikes, that it is not because the conditions have not warranted strikes. They have warranted strikes. One of the difficulties of organisation in this industry from the crew's point of view is that they are always on the move and are consequently difficult to organise. I would like here, as the Minister did, to pay tribute to the late Mr. C. Jarman, who did so much for the merchant seamen and the other branches. When I use the word "seaman" today I want it to be understood that it is inclusive of all members of the crew.
I do not want hon. Members opposite to run away with the idea that because there has been no trouble "everything in the garden has been lovely." I am not going to give any indication.of what may happen in the future because, particularly with a Labour Government in power, and with the present Minister of Transport, who are both out to see that the crews' conditions are looked after, I hope owners will be sufficiently sensible to see that they have to advance with the times rather than to lag behind.
The next point is the certification of able seamen and also of ships' cooks. As has been said, that is an advantage. The able seaman in the Merchant Service is a trained man and he should have something by which to show his capabilities. In the same way the fact that cooks for the smaller ships have to be certificated, is, a reform that is long overdue. The old idea that anybody could go to sea as a cook and murder the seamen's food has, I think, gone forever. It is no good my worthy friends the owners providing good food if they have incompetent cooks who murder the food so that the men cannot eat it. What the men wish to have is good food properly cooked.
839 As to social security, it may well be that men left ashore in hospital have been looked after by progressive owners, but in future such action will be compulsory and there will be none of the cases such as those that I dealt with during the Spanish civil war, where ships went into port, left men ashore in hospital and made no arrangements for their welfare and pay when they came out of hospital, during the time they were waiting for a ship to return to England.
Other hon. Members wish to speak in this Debate and I will take up no more time. I congratulate the Minister on being able to get this Bill into the legislative list and before the House. I hope it will have a speedy passage and be the forerunner of further Bills which will improve the lot of the merchant seamen, to whom we owe so much.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I think I understood from the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) that Members on his side of the House would watch the interests of the merchant seamen. May I say that we on this side will do the same? The other point he made to which I think I should refer is that on the subject of the owners. Perhaps the House would like to put on record that in 1936 the shipowners took the initiative and submitted to the Board of Trade a series of proposals. Effect was eventually given to these in 1937 by the Board of Trade and they were officially described as "second to none." The recorded view of the National Union of Seamen was as follows:The new Regulations may be termed almost revolutionary in character and mark a great advance in providing comfort, if not luxury, for crews in new vessels and existing vessels wherever the necessary alterations are practicable.May I add my welcome to this Bill which, as the Minister himself has told us and as is stated in Clause 10, is an enabling Bill, to enable action to be taken when the other ratifications have been made? I feel that nobody in this House, of whatever party, could possibly fail to welcome a Bill which deals with the Merchant Navy and questions of crew accommodation, food and catering, social security, certification of ships' cooks and certification of able seamen. In connection with this last point may I echo a 840 word of warning, which I think was given in another place, that the Minister should be very careful if regulations are made laying down the percentage of able seamen to be carried in certain classes of ships? As during the last war, when we were particularly short of manpower, we might find ourselves in a most difficult position.
There is another point not really covered by the Bill and that has to do with construction. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer Lo it for one moment. The Minister may remember in the last war the amount of time, dockyard space and labour that was wasted at a time when we needed all of it—wasted in con versions to special purposes, ships to carry special heavy cargoes, and for employment in connection with Combined Operations—to carry tanks, for instance. I do think that that should be borne in mind because as in the Royal Navy it is said that the ship of the future may not yet be known, so there may possibly be some changes in the design of merchant ships. I need refer only to personnel landing ships and ships for carrying and landing vehicles, and that type of vessel.
Tributes have been paid to the Merchant Navy, and I should like to add mine. Although I cannot claim quite so long service at sea as the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull, I had in the last war quite a lot of experience of the Merchant Navy in the ocean convoys, including those to North Russia and Malta, and in some of the little convoys sailing around the coasts of this country which, perhaps, have not had as much publicity as some of the others. In 1941 I was on the run from the South Coast to the Thames, when many ships, coasters, used to carry coal from Newcastle to the South coast, and so saved most valuable carriage capacity on our overloaded railways. In those little convoys we were nearly always the same teams of ships which, in addition to running the risk of the conventional forms of attack by the enemy in passing through the Channel past Dover, ran the gauntlet of the fire from the long-range guns at Cap Gris Nez.
I remember—I always shall—how a little coaster had a near miss, and how she seemed to disappear in a cloud of sparks, coal-dust and water. When it cleared again, there she was, plodding along at exactly the same speed as 841 she was before. A destroyer went up alongside and called her through the loud-hailing equipment, and asked, "Do you want a doctor?" The reply was, "No, but we could do with a bottle of whisky!" I am sure the House will realise that the attitude of the crews of the Merchant Navy was not just sheer bravado; they all knew when going back to sea what they would have to face, but there was never any hesitancy.
I think that at the end of the last war—and I feel my father, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Western Approaches for sometime would bear me out—the relationship between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy was probably as high and a, friendly as it had ever been. A great many of the misunderstandings and suspicions of both sides had been removed. I hope very much that on that foundation these good relations will continue to grow in the spirit of the great maritime nation that we are.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I rise to express my gratification that this Bill has been brought forward, and to welcome it. Speaking as one who has had some experience of service in the Merchant Navy, I feel that by this Bill today we are taking a great step forward in the way of improving the conditions of the Merchant Service. I must express a little disappointment at the fact that the Bill has been brought forward on a Friday. I should have liked it to have been before the House on a day when more adequate discussion could be given to it. After all, we spent some time recently discussing how to cook a herring, and yet we are to spend only a short time in discussing improvements in our great shipping industry. When one realises the great service that was performed in the 1914–18 war and in the last war by the officers and men of the Merchant Service, and when we have the opportunity of doing something to honour those who have performed so much in the service of the country, one feels that anything we can do to effect improvements in the Merchant Navy, must have the fullest and heartiest support of all hon. Members of this House.
I was happy in my service in the Merchant Navy in having reasonably comfortable quarters aft the ship, but I used to think of my colleagues who had to sleep forward, the engine room and the deck 842 staffs, and of how closely confined they were together "in such a small space. I always thought that if there should be a collision they would be the first to be in danger. For many years the seamen have expressed their desire for improvements, and have sought them through their associations. I sometimes feel a little despondent when I remember the 1914–18 war, and realise what happened to the men who served when I did, and the luck they had after that war.
When the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) raised the question of the competition between our merchant marine and foreign merchant navies, and how that must be closely watched, I rather gathered he was hinting that at some time we should have to consider some reduction in seamen's wages. He may not have meant that. Perhaps, he did not. However, that was the impression in my mind. While he was speaking I remembered how, after the war of 1914–18, the wages of the merchant seamen went gradually down and down. I can speak from experience, because so many of our merchant seamen live in the constituency I represent, and I remember their conditions, and how they fell out of employment, and how even those who were fortunate enough to secure a voyage were, nevertheless, forced into such a position that the board of guardians had to make up their wages to assist their families at home, so that they could have a decent subsistence. I challenge contradiction on that.
I think of the struggles of that period. When I do I am apprehensive about the future. Although it is now three years since the war ended, and although there is not any sign of those misfortunes recurring now, yet I feel that, unless we focus attention on conditions in the shipping industry, and unless we are determined, each and every Member of the House, no matter to what party he belongs, to see that those misfortunes do not recur, there is the danger that they may. I hope also that there will be no pressure of factors which will compel the ship owners to take up such an attitude. I have great admiration for a number of the large companies, which I know well, and many of them do their best for their employees.
Finally, we must pay more attention to our coastwise shipping industry, the conditions of which are deplorable. After 843 finishing a four or eight hour shift, men have to cook their own food. We should pay more attention to that and bring in further legislation to improve their lot. I believe this Bill will go a long way towards doing that, and so I welcome it, but I hope that it will not be long before further legislation will be introduced which, once and for all will abolish the old Sections of the Merchant Shipping Act, and give us one comprehensive Measure which will be of benefit to the industry.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I am pleased to find myself on the same side as the Minister, having spent a large part of last year arguing a good many other subjects with him on another Bill. There are one or two points that have been made today on which I would like to touch. The hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) referred, understandably, to the extremely difficult days between the wars when so many seamen were out of work. May I assure him that everyone in the industry, on the owners' side as well, felt strongly about it throughout the period, but it must be recognised that shipping is subject to all the fluctuations in world trade. Every one of us hopes, with all the efforts being made through the policies for full employment throughout the world, and the efforts of the Havana Conference, to see that we do not fall back into world depression, that world shipping, and British shipping above all, will continue on a much steadier line than was possible in the past. I can assure the hon. Member that owners, particularly tramp owners, were racking their brains throughout that period to find voyages to, any corner of the world which would keep their men at sea. There can be nothing worse from the owners' or the industry's point of view than to have men drifting away from the sea, and we hope sincerely that will never happen again.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) seemed to be sympathising with hon. Members on this side of the House who have been born into or have drifted into ship owning. I am one of those who was born into it, and may I assure him that I cannot imagine any finer or more interesting industry with which to be connected. It 844 has everything that is of interest and, from the British point of view, it brings one into touch with the finest traits in British character. To work with the men, masters and others, is immensely encouraging at all times, because every one connected with the industry is of necessity exercising the maximum of ingenuity and enterprise in everything they do; whether it is the owner, trying to think out a new design for a ship with a ship builder, or a master trying to get through a hurricane, the same tradition of enterprise and initiative is there which we must have if we are to keep the British Merchant Marine in the forefront of events in the future.
There is one remark of the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull which I would like to put into proper perspective. I think he hinted that a possible reason why there had been no strikes throughout that long period in shipping was the fact than men were scattered all over the world, and that it was not easy to organise them. That is really rather a misleading thing to say because, looking at the experience of other countries where precisely similar conditions prevail, there are few other countries with the same record. It must be realised that for many years past there has been a steady, useful co-operation in the discussions between employers and unions through the National Maritime Board. While each side has had certain strong views to express, and has argued these views strongly, the ultimate objective of both sides has always been the progress of the British Merchant Marine. That, above all, has been what has produced this very good feeling over this long period.
§ Commander Pursey
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, may I say that I agree with him. I only wanted to make the point that the reason why there has not been trouble in the industry did not necessarily mean that there had not been cause for it. The cause has been there but, first, because of the difficulty of organisation and, secondly, because of the tolerance on their part, the men have not taken strike action. I do not want it to go out that because there had not been any trouble, there was no justification for any trouble.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think the hon. and gallant Member has fallen into the same 845 heresy again because he has emphasised the lack of organisation, and I have just been saying that if that was the primary reason, what about all the other countries which have had much trouble with strikes? I agree, however, that there have been bad conditions, certainly in older ships. We must realise that one of the difficulties in keeping ships up to the best modern standards is that, once a ship is built, it is extremely difficult to alter her in any substantial way, particularly as regards accommodation, and the British seaman himself—I am not talking of his politics—is apt to be conservative-minded.
I remember well, when the firm with which I am connected was building some new ships, we were contemplating whether we should try to arrange accommodation in the poop or amidships in place of the old foc'sle up in the bows. We first talked about it with the local union representatives and, after that, we discussed it with any seamen whose ships were in port. There was a marked difference of view among the men. Some of them said, "If we go off to the poop there is the propeller, and that is not much fun when the propeller comes out of the water underneath you every time a wave goes under the ship." When we came to consider amidships, there were difficult problems of ventilation. The accommodation is near the engine room, and if the ship is trading in warm climates, there is a great problem in keeping the accommodation cool enough. So there are many balancing factors in trying to arrive at the ideal. My own hope is that, with improved efficiency of engines and hull and reduced consumption, even with coal bunkers, we shall be able to get accommodation ultimately amidships because that is the best place for it, particularly from the point of view of cooking, to which the hon. and gallant Member also referred.
I will close with one word of tribute to Mr. Jarman. Many years ago I was privileged to serve with him on a local panel of the Maritime Board in Glasgow. We had some magnificent arguments and Mr. Jarman fought valiantly for what he believed to be right. We fought equally valiantly, and I do not recall any occasion when, out of those discussions, did not come a conclusion which both sides were completely convinced was right, and the industry owes a great debt of gratitude 846 to the work of Mr. Jarman during his years of organisation.
It is difficult to avoid recalling that the National Maritime Board, which has been so much responsible for the steady progress of the industry, came into existence only through my own father's efforts during the last war. My father is still alive and is in his 91st year, and I know that the Bill will give him great satisfaction, because it is fulfilling upon an international scale much of the work in which he took part himself.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Miss Colman (Tynemouth)
I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which repays a very small part of the debt which we owe to the Merchant Navy. I, too, regret that the Bill is taken on a Friday afternoon when time is limited and the attendance is small. A good deal has been said during the Debate about the debt that we owe to the Merchant Navy in peace and in war. Too much cannot be said about it. It is a truism to say that without the Merchant Navy we could not have won the war, and I think I am right in saying that during the war no ship ever failed to go to sea for lack of a crew.
I speak with special interest in this matter, because the two harbour boroughs, North and South Shields, one of which I represent, suffered as much as any other port from Merchant Navy losses. In peace the Merchant Navy is as important as any other industry in the country and we must have enough men of the right type, which means that we must offer them good conditions. This depends to a very large extent upon the work of the seamen's organisations and the co-operation of the owners. But, it also depends upon legislation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) in hoping that this Bill is only the forerunner of a bigger Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts and to bring them up to date. We hope that this Bill and the bigger Bill forthcoming will provide much better conditions in the Merchant Navy than existed there before the war.
I particularly welcome that part of Clause 2 which improves accommodation in existing ships. New ships and ships being built are much better in this respect than old ships, many of which leave much to be desired. The Clause gives the Minis- 847 ter power to bring older ships up to standard and I hope he will use it to the greatest possible extent. On Clause 6 I need only echo what has already been said —we can have very good food but we can ruin it by bad cooking. Anything which improves the standard of cooking in the Merchant Navy will be very much appreciated.
The coming into operation of this Act depends very largely on the action of other countries. I hope that everything possible will be done through the International Labour Organisation to speed up ratification by other countries and that where we can without risk take unilateral action, we shall do so. I appreciate the danger of going too far ahead but we can take unilateral action to some extent, and as the Bill makes provision for that, I hope we shall do so.
As to the Conventions agreed to at Seattle which are not included in this Bill, while I fully understand that it is not possible to ratify some which are contrary to our practice here, that is, 72, dealing with vacation holidays, and 71, with pensions, it has been decided not to ratify convention 75 which deals with accommodation. According to the White Paper, that decision is taken on the basis of what appears to be a comparatively small disagreement relating to the number of men who can be accommodated in one room. I fully appreciate that we shall carry out the remainder of this convention in practice but my worry is that if we fail to ratify it, we may hold up the coming into force of the convention itself because the implementation of the convention depends upon ratification by seven countries. If we fail to give ratification, that is one from that total, and I am afraid that by withholding our ratification, although in fact we carry out the convention, we may hold up the coming into operation of the convention.
I hope some means will be found whereby we can ratify the convention without going contrary to the agreements and wishes of the National Maritime Board. If we fail to ratify and thus hold up the implementation of the convention, we may suffer from the undercutting of other countries. Good conditions in the British Merchant Navy depend very largely on international agreement and this Bill is 848 a small step in the direction of securing that agreement.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
For many years I lived with and came into daily contact with merchant seamen and on very many occasions I had to deal with subjects which agitated them and brought them before the courts. I would not say that the suggestion that merchant seamen have nothing to complain about or would not have taken certain action had they been constituted otherwise than they are, is correct. The important point about the merchant seaman is that he is one of the best kind of workmen it is possible to get. He grumbles, but I believe he invariably puts first the interests of his own industry and of the country. We ought not to take advantage of that, but on the contrary we ought to do everything we possibly can to remedy the grievances under which he labours.
I have said that I have come across the merchant seaman when he is in trouble. I believe that much of that trouble is due to the fact that the Merchant Shipping Acts want consolidating and improving. There are many Sections in these Acts—I do not propose to go into them this afternoon—which are out of date, and there are many provisions that ought to be made for the welfare and comfort of the seamen and which should be incorporated in a new Merchant Shipping Act.
§ Mr. Maclay
There has been a good deal of talk about bringing these Acts up to date, but in point of fact, it is correct to say that a certain amount of modernising is necessary to bring the Acts into conformity with present practices.
§ Mr. Janner
There have been improvements but I might make my point by giving an example to this House of what happened on one occasion. The food on board a ship was particularly bad or badly cooked. The sailors went ashore at Port Elizabeth and they did their best to effect some remedy. They approached the agent of the shipping company and actually took some of the food and put it on his desk. They were told to clear the food out as it looked horrible. They then complained to the captain that the food was not fit for a dog to eat. From the evidence it appeared that it was not very fit even for a dog and it certainly was not fit for 849 a human being to eat The master informed these men that if they continued the voyage he would get them better food and that no action would be taken against them in respect of the matter. However, as soon as they arrived in port proceedings were taken against the men under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts. It appears that in some circumstances the assurance of a master cannot be accepted. This illustration shows that the present Acts are not suitable for certain maritime purposes. That type of example could be multiplied ad nauseam.
I am very pleased that the Labour Government, in spite of the tremendous amount of work they have on hand, have seen fit to take a lead in this matter so that the other countries which are concerned with these conventions shall realise that we consider them of importance. I do not think the matters contained in this Bill are of tremendous size, but they are an indication that we are serious about the Conventions and that we propose to tell the rest of the world that we are prepared to go on with the job and that they must follow suit. Mr. Jarman, whom I knew personally, and his predecessors in the National Union of Seamen have, together with the full personnel and officers of the union, served a useful purpose in the affairs of the seamen of this country right from the union's inception. They are very pleased that this subject is being taken up.
I should like to pay my tribute to the services rendered by this excellent set of men, the Merchant Service, who in spite of their justifiable complaints continued their services so splendidly to this nation throughout the war, and what is more important are continuing their services in a similar manner in peace time. Sometimes they work under conditions which no others would tolerate, but they do it in order to help to advance the interests of our nation. I hope this Bill is only the commencement of what is to be done in remedying difficulties under which seamen suffer. I hope my right hon. Friend will say that, in spite of the heavy legislation we have before us, and in spite of the heavy legislation with which we have already dealt, he will consider introducing a new Merchant Shipping Bill to consolidate and improve considerably the present Acts. They are 850 very complicated, and, although codified, they are not very easy for the average seaman to understand.
Mr. David Janes (The Hartlepools)
Or the average lawyer.
§ Mr. Janner
Or the average lawyer. I hope iffy right hon. Friend will produce such a Measure, and will also pay regard to the facts which have been brought to his notice, in the course of this Debate.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
Everyone will welcome this Bill as one step forward in improving the conditions of the men in the Mercantile Marine. But let us be clear about the Bill. The majority of shipping firms are not just coming up to this standard, but are ahead of it. During the war I saw a tremendous amount of this state of affairs. Probably I have been on board more merchant ships than anyone else in this House. I have seen the way in which the merchant seaman lives his daily life. I had to put naval ratings on board such ships, and sometimes I was horrified at the accommodation which was provided. I remember one ship on which I was arranging to put naval ratings. I asked where the men could wash and the chief officer seemed surprised that they should want to wash. He said, "There is a bathroom." It was far from their accommodation and consisted of a tap under a shower bath. That is a most unsatisfactory way of washing. I had to insist on proper washing accommodation being put in.
That is one extreme, but on the other extreme there are many ships with good accommodation which has been made unpleasant or uncomfortable, not through the fault of the owners or officers, but of the men, for not looking after it. On a great Cunarder the men asked me to see their accommodation. The lavatory was a most objectionable place, all swimming with water and paper. I said, "That is all very well, but whose job is it to clean it?" I looked at the bunks and found the beds untidy and unpleasant. There again, it was the men's fault. Whenever a community of men live together without any women near, the way they look after themselves is intolerable. I do not know whether you ever look into the Members' Smoking 851 Room, Mr. Speaker. In your high position you probably would not. Lady Members occasionally look in. Newspapers are strewn all over the floor, cigarette ash everywhere—hopeless.
Once there is authority, and once there is some form of control, things very much improve. Under Clause 1 there is a possibility of a big fine for the master of the ship, which puts the officers and the master in a very difficult position. They may have to go into the men's quarters and insist on things being done, and the men do not like that. I hope that, in future, the position between the master and the ship's company will be better defined, I am glad to see that something is being done about the cooking. I have always maintained, with some knowledge of the sea, that if a man has a clean, warm bed in which to sleep and good food, I do not pay much attention to the rest of his grievances. Good food is provided by the owners, but the way it is messed up by the cooking is terrible. Let us have good accommodation and good food, and then there will be no complaints.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I would like to express my appreciation of the very good work done by the Minister and the other British representatives who attended the 28th International Labour Conference (Maritime Session) in Seattle. I regret that this Bill is not as comprehensive as it might be. It does not go so far as I would wish. I am sure that the House will agree that the seamen deserve the very best, not only for their services in two wars, but between the wars. Nothing but the best is good enough for them.
I cannot hope to compete with those who have spent so much time at sea. I never have had the honour of serving in the Merchant Navy, but, if I may strike this personal note, I know a good deal about it, because my father spent a considerable time at sea. I know that in his days, and I think in these days, the Merchant Service was called, very properly, the Cinderella of industry. It has not kept pace with industry ashore in any respect, certainly not as regards health, hygiene, hours, wages, food, accommodation, security or contracts of 852 service. I have another claim to say a word on this matter. Some time ago the National Union of Seamen asked me to draft a Bill dealing with the personnel in the Merchant Navy and I did so. That Bill has passed from their hands, and is before the Officers' Union, in the hope that it will secure the support of all sections of the industry, and come before this House, possibly at the instance of the Minister, in a way which will meet with the approval of the House.
I have said that the present Bill does not go far enough. There are a great many aspects of life at sea which should be dealt with, but I suppose in this matter, as in others, we must be thankful for small mercies, and I am glad that the Bill ratifies at least four of the conventions of the International Labour Conference (Maritime Session) at Seattle. In particular, I welcome the manner in which it deals with the certification of ships' cooks. I am informed, on good authority, that there is a great deal of stomach trouble in the Merchant Navy, due, not to bad food, but to the manner in which good food is badly cooked. I welcome that provision. I also welcome the one dealing with the social security of seafarers. It is right that when a seaman falls ill abroad he should have adequate attention, and Clause 7 deals with that matter.
The certification of able seamen is a step in the right direction. I look to the time when there will be a better system of graduation and better opportunities for the cabin boy having in his prospect a master's certificate, just as a soldier is said to have a marshal's baton in his knapsack. Accommodation, food and catering are attended to in the Bill, and it is right that they should be. It is right that every care should be taken. I am hurrying over what I wish to say because time is so short. I content myself with thanking the Minister for this Bill and expressing the hope that he will see his way at a later stage to introduce a fuller Bill which will do greater justice to the Merchant Navy.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)
I ought to preface my remarks, as I invariably do when Bills dealing with shipping matters are under discussion, by proclaiming once more that I am a ship- 853 owner. In the view of some—perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) is one of them—that may be a disqualification, but in the view of others, perhaps more generously minded, the fact that I am a shipowner may lend some little weight to the remarks which I have to make. I do not claim that I am speaking for shipowners or officers of the Merchant Navy or the National Union of Seamen, but as has already been pointed out today, the shipping industry is peculiarly united. Although we may occasionally drop into the jargon of talking about the two sides of the industry, it is much more true to say, or it reflects our views much more accurately when I say, that the two sides of the industry regard themselves rather more as partners in the industry and not as opponents within its ranks. I believe, therefore, that while I speak for my party, anything I may say will not be in conflict with the views either of shipowners or of officers and seamen.
I am glad that we have not had this afternoon a repetition of the sort of flamboyant "tosh" which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) used to address to the House in pre-war shipping Debates, or the rather pernicious invective with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) used to try to stir up strife within the industry. The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull is, of course, quite right when he says that there have on occasion been causes for disputes within the industry, but one of the facts in which we all take pride in that industry is that those disputes never have to go to arbitration, never go before a court of inquiry, but are invariably settled by negotiation within the industry itself. Both employers and employed have the good fortune to find themselves led by responsible men, the representatives of the employers and the employed who give wise guidance in these negotiations.
Since 1939 there have been numerous tributes paid to the bravery and devotion to duty of the Mercantile Marine during the war. I remember that the last time upon which I spoke in this House on matters relating to shipping—it was very early in the war—I made the claim, of which I was justly proud at the time, that "Ropner's navy" was just about as well 854 known in the Admiralty as that of His Majesty the King. At that time the score stood at two all. The Fleet with which I am connected had sunk two German submarines and had sustained the loss of two ships. But a tragic tale unfolded itself in succeeding years. From a fleet of 47 at the beginning of the war, only nine remained at the end, and 38 were at the bottom of the sea. I have ventured to mention the figures relating to the loss of ships and, even more tragic, the loss of life sustained by one company because I thought that that would illustrate once again the appalling incidence of the loss of men and ships, and the dangers from bombs, submarines, shells, bullets, and fire. All these were dangers cheerfully faced by seamen in addition to the ordinary perils and hazards of the sea. These men and their successors deserve the very best conditions of employment which are practicable and with which can be combined an assured future for the industry.
The provisions of this Bill are based on a number of Conventions adopted at a special Maritime Session of the International Labour Organisation. I repeat what has been said already by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) and other hon. Members on this side of the House, that we welcome this Bill; but I would like to issue a few words of warning. I suggest that the Government should not be in too much of a hurry to ratify or to bring into force all Conventions adopted by conferences of this sort. In fact, I think that the Government appreciate the danger for, of the nine Conventions adopted at Seattle, the Government in this Bill are asking the House to clear the ground for the ratification and bringing into effect of only four.
Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to explain wherein I think the danger lies in precipitate and what may well be almost unilateral action. It has been pointed out—and I will not dwell upon it for it is self-evident—that the shipping industry is open to worldwide competition and that, in times of low freights, British shipping may be handicapped if the cost of running British vessels far exceeds the cost of running foreign vessels. If this country goes too far or proceeds too quickly in advancing the costs of operating vessels, it may well be that when bad times return to this industry, as they will sooner or later, we may find ourselves in a position 855 where British ships are tied to the buoys in our rivers and estuaries while foreign ships are able to compete and run at low rates of freight. Even this does not give the complete picture, for other nations have introduced—as they still are and will continue to do—measures of flag discrimination, trade reservation and subsidies to their fleets which will put the British Mercantile Marine in a position of disadvantage.
Moreover, when this Country ratifies such a Convention, the Government intends that its terms should be strictly adhered to; and the shipping industry, as with any other industry affected by similar international agreements, would wish to abide loyally by the terms of the Convention which had been ratified. That is not always so with other countries. In some cases they are not as honest in their intentions and, even if the intentions of their Governments are strictly honest, they are not as able to enforce the Conventions on their nationals. We on this side, however, realise that international Conventions, if genuinely accepted by all maritime nations, would tend to eradicate unfair foreign competition by bringing the standard of the more backward countries up to the level achieved by British shipping.
There is another danger from over-precipitate action. There is no bar to any member State of the I.L.O. attending one of these maritime conferences, even if it has only a negligible, or even no, mercantile marine. I suggest that the Government should have advocated at Seattle, and should advocate at the next Conference, a change to bring the voting power of nations into relation with their respective responsibilities. I am told that at Seattle seven of the nations represented did not have a total mercantile marine to equal the tonnage of either the "Queen Elizabeth" or the "Queen Mary." A story went around that the fleet of one South American Republic consisted of four ships; one was sold to pay the expenses of the delegation at Seattle; one was chartered to take the delegation to Seattle; and two were kept tied up in a home port in case they sank; so that the delegation could claim that their country owned a fleet. The House will recognise that voting is at present widely divorced from responsibility. The 856 Government should also consider the question of delegations to these conferences being complete and able to express a balanced view. Of the 32 countries represented at Seattle only 23 had a complete delegation.
A most serious mistake was made by the predecessor of the Parliamentary Secretary in allowing this country to be jockeyed into the position of agreeing that these Conventions should be ratified and enforced when only seven nations were taking similar action and only four of which must have a total tonnage of not less than one million tons. The world tonnage is 60 million tons, and it is altogether wrong that Conventions of this sort should be enforced by nations representing as low a figure as 7 per cent. of the tonnage of the world. Of course, I know that if they are ratified and enforced in this country, that 7 per cent. is greatly increased, but surely the whole purpose of Conventions of this sort is to ensure world co-operation. The purpose of the Conference and the utility of the Conventions is, therefore, to a very large extent destroyed when an agreement is entered into providing that they should be enforced, when only a very small proportion of the world's shipping is represented by those nations which enforce them.
We welcome the scheme, and I am sure I am speaking for employers and employed in the industry when I say that we welcome the innovation agreed at Seattle and embodied in the Bill that Conventions can be carried out by national collective agreements as well as by legislation. The consequence of this is that it will now be possible for a government to ratify the Convention and leave it to be applied by collective and effective agreements within the industry itself. I am sure that is within the tradition and practice of the shipping industry, and I wish to congratulate the Government on having effected that very great advance in the procedure of ratifying Conventions.
While I am only too ready to repeat that we welcome this Bill, I do not want the Minister of Transport or the Government, or, indeed, the Labour Party, to get away with any claim that this Bill will bring any direct benefit to the officers or men of the Merchant Navy. The standard already set by British shipping is, for the most part, well in advance of the provisions of this Bill or of the Con- 857 ventions. Let me give an example. I have made inquiries, and although I cannot be completely certain or dogmatic, I believe I should be right in claiming that if the whole of the provisions of the agreement on accommodation were to be brought into effect at once, it would not change in any way the design of any ship building in a British port today. Every ship building is in advance of the Convention. So with social security. The Minister will know that although there is some slight modification, the voluntary act by British shipowners in making the special payment which they have made for some years is almost completely in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. All that the Bill really does is to confirm and endorse an existing practice.
I would like to echo the words used by the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor at Seattle. He advanced the view thatmy country will be able to give a lead, as it has clone so often in maritime matters in the past.It ought to be noted that the lead was-given in the past by private enterprise and under a Conservative Government.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)
I think that the number of Members—about a dozen—who have taken part in this short Debate has at least demonstrated that it is not necessary to make a long speech in order to make a useful speech. The suggestion of my hon. Friends, the hon. Members for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) and Tynemouth (Miss Colman), that we should have had more time and should not have taken this on a Friday, rather reminded me that in the old days seamen always had an objection to going to sea on a Friday. I do not know whether their objection is a hangover from that, but I want to say that it is a superstition which went by the board a long time ago and nowadays we think we can always send a ship to sea on a Friday; a good many of them go, they come home safe to port at the end of the voyage. I have a feeling, from the send-off which this Bill has had in going out of the river estuary on the first part of its course towards its destination, that we shall bring, this Bill safely through, also, with the aid of both sides of the House.
858 Most comments that have been made bout this Bill—I can hardly use the word criticism—have been directed to two things. If there was a general thread running through them, these were the main questions: first, the question of accommodation and, second, the question of food and cooking. These two matters were at least mentioned by most hon. Members, as I see from my notes on the speeches running through this Debate. If I may say so respectfully, I think those are two extraordinarily important matters and I am very glad indeed that we have concentrated on them.
I am not entering into competition with the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) as to how many merchant ships we have both been aboard, but I can tell him I have seen quite a few in the last few months. As I was going round one recently, looking at the crew accommodation—it was a new ship—someone said to me, "This is as good as the passengers'." That is as it should be. It should be as good as the passengers get. After all, the passengers live aboard a ship for only a week or two, but these places are the men's homes and they spend five or six months aboard on a voyage to Australia and back. It should, therefore, cause no surprise that the accommodation given to the crew out of which they have to make their homes should be as good as that given to those aboard the ship for a week or two in a journey from one place to another.
I want to emphasise that in the case of many new ships the standard of accommodation which I have seen is extraordinarily good. As the House will know, my first experience of going to sea was in His Majesty's Navy during the war, and that probably set my standards, which are pretty low. I cannot help, therefore, contrasting the accommodation which we had, admittedly during wartime, with some of the accommodation now to be found in these new ships in peacetime, and it is very comforting indeed to see the standards which are being attained. As the hon. and gallant Member for Tyne-mouth very acutely said—
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. lady is gallant; all women are gallant—the major problem we have, and I think the in- 859 dustry has, is in raising the standard of the existing ships—those ships which have already been launched and are at sea, the construction of which has been already fixed but which require a major refit if they are to be altered. Within the limits set by the original construction, one cannot do a great deal. I am bound to say—and I think this is admitted on all sides of the House—that some of the accommodation in some of our existing ships is very poor indeed. It is nothing of which we can be particularly proud. I feel that we must make every effort to improve that accommodation and, indeed, I am bound to say that I find every disposition on the part of the owners to do so, within the limits which are open to them—limits set by material and shortages of one sort or another.
Our own marine surveyors, as the ships come in for major refit, take them in hand and survey them closely indeed to see what alterations and improvements can be made. I think there is a genuine disposition on every side to make the best of things—and it is a question of making the best—in some of those ships that do not match up in any way with the standards we find in many of our newer ships. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) made that point. I am glad to tell him that, in fact, surveyors are doing the very best they can, in co-operation with the owners.
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) referred to the difficulty of finding the appropriate place for accommodation for the crew. He told a story which illustrated the difficulty graphically. In looking over some of the new ships I have found that the accommodation is being provided amidships. I think that on the whole, taking the balance of advantages and disadvantages, that is a good part of the ship for crew accommodation, and ratings and the catering staff and the engineers are finding their places amidships. I am sure it is a useful development, indeed.
I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey that the men spoil their accommodation. I would put it the other way. I think that the accommodation with which the men are provided reflects, and reacts upon, the type of men attracted to the service. I 860 think it is the experience of the best of the shipping companies today that they can get the best type of men if they provide the best type of accommodation; and the men look after it; and it is noteworthy that shipowners find they can attract and keep a good type of man if they give him a good type of accommodation.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think Members of Parliament are beyond redemption. As to the matter of cooking, I agree with much of the comment that has been made. Those who have suffered from conditions at sea know how important it is to have good food properly cooked, and I am glad hon. Members concentrated on that point. I think we shall be in a position, when this Convention on cooking comes into force, to be able to report some progress. In order to give effect to the provisions of the Convention we shall have to make certain changes. There will have to be a minimum age fixed for a ship's cook and the training period must be extended, too.
According to the present proposals—I must emphasise that these are proposals: they have not yet been finally agreed—our training syllabus will be divided into two parts. First, there will be a course of 10 weeks, of which eight weeks will be devoted to elementary cookery and two weeks to stewards' training. Then there will be a gap of one year's sea service in between. The second part of the course will comprise cooking, instruction in food values, the buying and care of stores, and, sick bay cookery and nursing. When we contrast these proposals with the conditions of the past, I think it will be agreed that, if anything like what is proposed is introduced, we shall indeed see a very great advance in the standards required for ships' cooks in the Merchant Navy.
Of course, it is true to say that a number of ships' galleys now are a delight to enter. Many of them are, of course, run extraordinarily well. It is the general level with which we are concerned. I should like to see improvement particularly in the cooking and provisioning arrangements in coasters, in which, I think, there is room for improvement. This out-of-date and wretched system of the men provisioning themselves, all 861 scrambling round a galley trying to cook their meals, should go. Both sides of the industry are agreed upon it, and I hope they will press on with this reform, which can do a great deal to increase the comfort of the men on board.
Let me emphasise one point which has not been emphasised enough. In the course we are taking in this Bill we are placing ourselves in the forefront of the world because, by its passage, we put ourselves immediately in a position to ratify these Conventions and, as far as I know, only Sweden so far has ratified any Convention at all, and that is the one dealing with crew accommodation. That is extremely important, and it should be recognised that as these Conventions will come into force when a sufficient number of nations have ratified them, we are leading the world in introducing this legislation.
As far as the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) is concerned, I regret that he spoiled a thoughtful contribution by speaking slightingly of past speeches made by two of my right hon. Friends. If he had come to my own constituency before the war and found 40 per cent. of the seamen of Cardiff unemployed, as they were, he would have had some fierce things to say about the position. I am glad we have not gone back to those times in Cardiff and in the other ports of this country, and I trust we never shall. His point about our being wide open to world competition throws into sharp relief, and emphasises the importance of the efforts His Majesty's Government are making in connection with European recovery and in their endeavours at Geneva and Havana to keep up the maximum possible level of world trade. I am glad to have the hon. and gallant Member's support in the Government's efforts in that way because, as he says, it will affect the shipping industry considerably.
He referred also to the voting at conferences and the fact that only seven nations were required to ratify a Convention. He thought it was a mistake made by the Minister of Supply. He certainly said that there must be tonnage ratification as well as a number of the nations and, surely, that is the significant thing here. However, the two Conventions he criticised because seven nations only are required to ratify them are social security 862 —which in this country is above the level of the rest of the world—and crew accommodation, which we are not ratifying anyway, so I do not think that criticism has much force.
I commend this Bill to the House, and I am grateful for the reception it has had.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.