My Lords, I beg to move to resolve—That in view of the serious need that exists of insuring in time of war an adequate reserve for our Navy, and also a constant supply of food to this country, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take such measures as may be deemed advisable (1) to encourage and assist the British shipowners in their competition with foreign vessels to man them exclusively with British subjects; (2) to ensure that men shipping as seamen shall be bona fide of the class that their certificates and discharges would show them to be; and (3) to amend the law relating to such certificates and discharges.My Lords, I alluded last week to the subject embodied in this Motion, and I now bring it before your Lordships in a more extended form, in order to call your attention to a very important and a very serious matter—a matter of national importance which requires legislation. My Lords, I spoke of the mercantile marine as the First Reserve of the Empire, and I think, my Lords, I did right in so doing. It is universally acknowledged that the Royal Navy is our first line of defence; it is our first fighting force. The Royal Navy, my Lords, has no Reserve to fall back on, except the mercantile marine. It is on the mercantile marine that we shall have to depend for men to man our ships in time of war, and for the supply of food to this country. Since I mentioned last week that, in my opinion, the true granary of England was her ships, I have 96 been informed that England can grow enough corn to supply the country; but at the present time the country seems to, be dependent on the corn brought over the sea. The Reserve I am referring to—the mercantile marine—has been neglected. We have foreigners in command of British ships. We have men of all nations serving in those ships, and there are some British vessels that are not only commanded, but entirely manned by other than British subjects. We have men entering the shipping as seaman who know very little of their duties, and who really are not seamen. This is due, my Lords, to the present practice of granting discharges. It is an utter fallacy, my Lords, to say that in these days of steam you do not require seamen, and that a man can go on board a steamer and learn all that is required of him. So long as you have vessels afloat you must have seamen, whether they are steamers or sailing vessels, and to have those vessels you must have the shipowners. Therefore you must treat the question in its entirety—from the shipowner down to the ship's boy. I recognise that it is a difficult question, but it is one that must be dealt with sooner or later, and the sooner the better for the welfare of this country. It is a subject that must be dealt with in a thoroughly comprehensive manner. It is no time now to take half measures. When there is so much interest taken in the Army Reserve—when the Army Reserve is deemed of such great importance that there is even some talk of conscription—how very much more necessary is it to take in hand the First Reserve, a body to which in a great part England owes its existence as a nation, and which has helped largely to extend the Empire. I speak of the mercantile marine as part and parcel of the Royal Navy, just as you speak of the Militia and the Army Reserve as part and parcel of the Army., In the old days, my Lords, when our power was being built up—in Queen Elizabeth's days—the mercantile marine and the Royal Navy were one and the same; and in Nelson's day a great part of the men who served in his ships were merchant seamen. The merchant service was looked upon then as the nursery of the Royal Navy. We have a 97 number of officers and men of the mercantile marine who are embodied in the Naval Reserve, and who, when we go to war, will be required to serve on board Her Majesty's ships. Who, then, will be the Second Reserve? Who will be the men to man the ships conveying food to the United Kingdom? Who will be the men to man the ships required to carry coal to the Fleet, and to man the warships? The Royal Naval Reserve men are presumably picked men from the merchant service. When they are required, who will you have left? Very likely you will have a number of very good men; but I will ask you, my Lords, is it not of vital importance that we should see that the whole of this service is efficient and capable of taking its part in the defence and support of this great Empire? I think, my Lords, you can no longer look on the merchant shipping as a merely private concern. It is a public concern now, and the country must be prepared, my Lords, to assist the shipowners in their competition with foreign vessels, and, if necessary, to give them State aid. You will also require, my Lords, to have a certain number of sailing vessels to train your seamen. You will have to see that the men who ship as seamen are seamen. You will have to revise the whole of the present system of granting discharges. I know, my Lords, that all this will entail trouble and expense; but is it not far better to have that trouble and expense now than have greater trouble and far more expense hereafter? I know that these reforms will take some time, and that they cannot all be effected at once. I am sorry to say that at the present time it would be impossible for us to man all our vessels with British subjects, but I think, my Lords, that in time this could be accomplished. I would strongly urge the necessity of legislation tending in this direction. I now beg to move the Resolution.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Earl of DUDLEY)
My Lords, it seems to me that the propositions laid down by my noble Friend rest, to a certain extent, upon the supposition contained in the early part of the Motion, that the present reserve of seamen for our Navy would be inade- 98 quate in time of war; and the chief part of my noble Friend's speech has been directed to establishing that contention. My Lords, that, of course, is a very large question, in which the Department that I am connected with is only indirectly concerned. It is, therefore, not for me to argue that point with my noble. Friend. All that I can say on that score is that the Board of Trade fully realises how important it is that the supply of British seamen for the Naval Reserve should be fully maintained, and my noble Friend can rest assured that no means for advancing that object is ever ignored or lost sight of by that Department. Now, my Lords, what does my noble Friend ask the Government to do? In the first place, he desires that encouragement should be given to British shipowners to employ British seamen exclusively upon their ships. Well, if he had omitted the word "exclusively" I should have been prepared to sympathise with him to a great extent.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
Well, that is much the same thing. Everyone, I suppose, my Lords, deplores the fact that the proportion of foreign seamen in our mercantile marine is excessively large, and I am afraid the proportion tends to increase every year rather than the reverse. If, then, the Government saw any equitable means of discouraging that increase, I think it is perfectly safe to say that they would readily make use of it. The great difficulty, however, is to find a means of discouraging that increase which is equitable. I confess that I listened with great attention to my noble Friend's speech to hear if he suggested any means by which that object could be attained, and I, personally, was not able to gather from his speech any definite plan. I do not know whether my noble Friend contemplates any return, or any partial return, to the Navigation Laws, under which, as your Lordships know, certain proportions, varying in different instances, of British seamen were compelled to be carried on British ships. If that is his opinion, at any rate, it seems 99 to me that that would be rather drastic encouragement to the British shipowners, even if it can be carried out; and I confess that in my opinion I do not think it can be. In the first place, it would entail the absolute reversal of our policy during the last 40 or 50 years, by which we have sought to remove restrictions upon trade and commerce; and, in the second place, it would, I think, create such an agitation among shipowners that I doubt if any Government would attempt to persevere with it. Moreover I would point out to my noble Friend that if it is his desire, as he states in his Motion, to encourage the British shipowner and to help the British shipowner against the competition of the foreign shipowner, the last way in the world to set about it would be to place restrictions on his trade, and to hamper him, and prevent him carrying on his business in the way which he considered most advantageous and profitable to himself. As my noble Friend knows very well, this large proportion of foreign seamen that are now in our mercantile marine is not due to any scarcity of British seamen. There are plenty of British seamen in our ports to man our ships if made use of. The large proportion of foreign seamen is due to other causes which I do not care to enter into at the present time. There is no doubt that in many instances the shipowners employ foreign sailors deliberately, in preference to English seamen, and, although I deplore that fact, no doubt as much as my noble Friend does, I confess that I do not see how, by legislation, you can interfere to prevent the shipowners taking advantage of their undoubted rights of discretion in that matter, or go back to a state of things which existed 40 or 50 years ago, under totally different conditions. The next thing my noble Friend wished the Government to do is to take measures to ensure that men shipping as seamen shall be bonâ-fide of the class that their certificates and discharges would show them to be. Well, my Lords, that is by no means a new question; it has been brought before the Board of Trade for many years past. The Royal Commis- 100 sion on Loss of Life at Sea reported in 1884 that—With respect to the rating of able seamen it is now the law that no man is entitled to be so rated unless he can prove four years' service at sea before the mast. There is, however, great laxity in this matter. Men are constantly rated as 'A.B.' without any inquiry as to their past service, and without sufficient qualification. Practically it rests with masters of vessels; nor does it appear to us that there is any certain method by which this can be prevented.The state of the law as defined in the Report of the Royal Commission is still the state of the law; but since this Report was issued a circular has been sent by the Board of Trade to their superintendents, in which those officers are instructed to add the letters "N.P." (which mean "not proven") to the letters "A.B." in every case where a seaman has failed to produce his discharge showing that he has four years' service. And I am afraid, that although that may seem a very inadequate provision, it is the only thing that can possibly be done under the existing law; for, although the law lays down that a man shall only be entitled to the rating of "A.B." after he has served four years at sea, still, under the Act, there is no penalty against a man rating himself as anything he chooses. There is no penalty on the master for giving him an "A.B." rating, nor is there any power to prevent the superintendents allowing men to sign, themselves as "able seamen," "excellent seamen," or anything they choose. Moreover, my Lords, there is no provision to compel ships to carry able seamen at all. They can carry ordinary seamen or seamen; and therefore, as long as that law exists, I cannot see what use it would be to insist upon any qualifications of able seamen being more fully observed. I daresay my noble Friend will ask, "Why not amend the law in this respect?" In my opinion, although I hesitate to express one on this subject, it would be impossible to amend the law with satisfactory results, for it is obvious that so long as a ship is not required to carry "A.B.'s" at all, it will serve no useful purpose to insist on a certain number of men being rated as "A.B.'s." Moreover, the case is different as regards masters and mates. In that case, of 101 course, the law does lay down that every ship in the foreign trade must have a certified master and a certified mate, but the law, so far as I understand it, does not make it necessary for a ship to carry seamen at all.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
The law merely says that no seaman shall have the qualification of "A.B." unless he has served four years at sea, but it does not, as I have already explained, place any penalty either upon the master or the seaman for misrepresentation as to rating. Therefore, as the law at present stands, I am afraid that we have not been able to do anything more than issue the circular to which I have alluded. Now we come to the advisability of amending the law, and I would point out to my noble Friend that if we amended the law we should have, I think, to make the condition that every ship should carry so many "A.B.'s." That would necessitate the introduction of a manning scale; it would entail the classification of every crew; and, in my humble opinion, I do not think it would be possible to do that. I may tell my noble Friend that last year, during the discussion on the Under-manning Bill, it was considered whether it was possible to produce a manning scale, and I think the overpowering preponderance of opinion of the shipowning interest was that it was impossible, taking into consideration the varying circumstances of the shipping industry, to attempt anything like a satisfactory or adequate manning scale. Therefore, so long as you are unable to produce a manning scale, I do not see how you are going to secure the object that you aim at by insisting upon the rating of "A.B." being in all cases observed. Now, my Lords, if the House will bear with me, I will go back to the point which I was alluding to when the noble Lord interrupted me—namely, that the case differs altogether from that of master and mate. In that case the law does lay down that a ship shall 102 carry a certified master and a certified mate, and, of course, the superintendents of our mercantile marine are able to prevent a ship going to sea unless she has a certified master and mate, but the superintendents have not the power to detain ships that do not carry a given number of able seamen. There are, however, I think, two safeguards against the evil to which the noble Lord has referred. The first is that, in my opinion, if a master uses adequate care in looking over the discharges which are presented when men "sign on," he can always judge what are the qualifications of the various seamen. That is the first safeguard. The second is that, under the Act of last year, the surveying officers of the Board of Trade have power to prevent a vessel from going to sea if she is not adequately manned, and I think it will be found in practice that in cases where men have "signed on" who are not competent seamen, and who are not fit to take a vessel to sea—that in those cases the surveying officers would consider that the ship is under-manned, and consequently unsafe, and prevent her going to sea in that condition. My Lords, I think I have been able to explain the position, so far as we understand it at the Board of Trade, to my noble Friend. I confess I think that probably the intention of the original framers of the Act of 1880 was to give compulsory power to the superintendents to prevent men "signing on" as "A.B.'s" who have not served for four years, but the law does not give that power, no matter what the framers intended. And I am informed at the Board of Trade that no useful purpose could be served in amending the law unless you can find some means of framing an adequate manning scale.
§ * THE EARL OF RAVENSWORTH
My Lords, no noble Lord, I think, in this House can have read the terms of this Motion without being struck with its extraordinary importance, particularly at the present time. I do not think your Lordships can have failed to recognise not only the importance of the Motion, but the admirable purpose for which the noble Lord below me has brought it forward; and I must say that 103 I looked, as many of your Lordships probably looked, with, great anxiety, not unmixed with curiosity, to the terms of the answer which would be given on behalf of the Board of Trade by the noble Earl who represents that Board so ably in this House. Now, my Lords, I speak as a landsman, and I do so with due respect to my noble Friend below me [Lord Muskerry], who speaks as a sailor. This question has occupied my attention for more years than I should like to tell your Lordships, and, as I represent, to some extent, the northeast coast of England, I feel justified in troubling your Lordships with a few remarks on this subject. One thing is certain—no Government could possibly attempt to deal with this question except with the full and friendly assistance and co-operation of the shipowners themselves. I have sufficient confidence in our shipowners, and in their ability to conduct their business, to agree entirely with what the noble Earl has said, that the best thing we can possibly do is to let them conduct their business in their own way. This is a very difficult question, and one which I can easily understand the Government is rather nervous about handling. In looking at it, it is very necessary to draw a distinct line between the different trades, and the tendency of different trades to draw different races into them. Now, we will divide the two great trades of this country into two parts—the Western trade and the Eastern trade. In the Western trade you will find a large proportion, I think, of the foreign element, composed of Scandinavians (Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes), some few being Dutchmen and Germans. If you talk to a shipowner on this subject, I apprehend he will tell you that these men are very excellent seamen. Some shipowners, I am almost confident, would tell you that they actually preferred to employ these men; and for this reason—they are obedient, and more easily satisfied than our seamen. They are more amenable to discipline, and above all, they are more temperate in their habits. I do not wish to be understood to say anything against our seamen, but I think I am justified by fact in making that statement. We now come to the Eastern trade. There you find a different class of seamen altogether. The seamen in the Eastern trade 104 comprise Orientals of various kinds. I am not for a moment attempting to say that you can compare a Lascar with a trained British seaman, but I would remind the House that in voyages to and from the East—through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, for instance—the climate is a very serious consideration, and it must be admitted that any Oriental is much more capable of bearing the extremes of heat than a British sailor. I can conceive it possible that even in Eastern ports the presence on board of a certain number of Orientals may not be without its advantage. Therefore, I am quite alive to the hesitation which has been shown by the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade, and which has been aroused by that unfortunate word—if the noble Lord will allow me to say so—"exclusive" employment of British seamen.
§ * THE EARL OF RAVENSWORTH
Very well, I will accept that. I do not believe—and I say it not without conviction—that it would be possible at the present time to man our ships exclusively with British subjects. It will be necessary to refer, in dealing with this matter, to the larger question—namely, the Royal Naval Reserve. I should always desire to regard the two Navies—the Mercantile Navy and the Royal Navy—as one harmonious whole. It is absolutely necessary that we should do so; and we have gone a long way in the direction of uniting the two services through the personnel of the Royal Naval Reserve. You have got under the control of the Admiralty, by the payment of a retaining fee, the cream of the merchant service—men who are found mainly on the great lines of steamers trading all over the world. There has, however, always appeared to me to be a defect even in that carefully-considered organisation. We are every day learning how suddenly an outbreak of war may occur, and therefore it is impossible to press too strongly upon the attention of the Government the absolute necessity of having something in the shape of a complete organisation of our maritime population. I do not believe that any such organisation exists. I want 105 very much to know what will be the position of our great shipping companies when they find a large proportion of their best men transferred into the Royal Navy on the outbreak of a great naval war. I very greatly doubt, indeed, their means of filling the places of these men on an emergency. I am not able to speak with accurate knowledge on that subject. I apprehend that many of our great steamship companies have something in the nature of a Reserve, by means of which they could lay their hands on a certain number of able seamen; but what I want particularly to impress upon the mind of the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade in this House is that the time has come when the country should possess a firmer grip upon the whole of its maritime population. There are hundreds and thousands of men who have spent the whole of their lives on the sea available, but there is no organisation, as there is in France, by which you can lay your hands upon them. France can command, I think, something like 100,000 men at any time, and they are trained men. We want an organisation of that kind. We want something behind the Merchant Navy—something analogous to the Volunteer Force behind our Army. No doubt that would imply a word which is very offensive, I am afraid, to English ears. It. would imply something in the nature of compulsion; but, my Lords, in my humble judgment the time has come when the country will be forced to look in the face that which is too often considered to be an interference with individual liberty. I deny that any able-bodied subject of Her Majesty ought to be allowed to claim liberty when the safety of the country is in the scale. It is the fashion among a great number of people—well-informed people—to tell you that love of the sea is innate in the British breast. That statement has been based upon the experience of former days, but I do not think it is safe for the Government to rely on the existence of that feeling to the same extent now as formerly. Many noble Lords have had some acquaintance with our school ships, and I think those who 106 have had the privilege, and many of them the pleasure, of visiting these vessels will bear me out when I say that nothing could be more perfect than the drill and discipline on board these ships, and the work done by these young boys; but you have no security whatever that those boys will go to sea. A large number of them do not. That is the defect in the excellent system of school ships. As I said before, your great neighbour—friendly neighbour, I trust, but your great rival, your most powerful rival at sea—has got an organisation which, I think, you would do well to imitate. It will imply a certain amount of compulsion, but I think a scheme might be worked out by which you would be able to lay your hand on a larger body of your maritime population. It will cost money, but the people of this country will back you up. They have set their minds upon maintaining the supremacy of the seas, and it is the duty of the Government to leave no step untried, even at the risk of introducing something like compulsion, which would help them to lay their hands on a larger number of their maritime population as a Reserve, not to the Royal Navy, but to the Merchant Navy of this country. The Government should, by judicious steps, forward a movement of that kind. My Lords, every year adds to the responsibilities of this country. I say it with, anxiety; and I want to ask the Government this question: Are you certain that the means at your disposal, that your Army and that your Navy, are able to meet these responsibilities? I have the greatest doubts in my own mind on the subject, and, unless you have some carefully considered scheme by which you will be able to command the services of your maritime population, you will not be in a position to meet these responsibilities. I speak with earnestness, and with the belief that some of the points I have ventured to bring before your Lordships will bear examination, and will be found to be true. The thanks of the House are due to the noble Lord who has brought his experience to bear on the question, and who has pointed out the 107 importance of this matter, and the desirability of paying more attention than we do to our Reserves. The noble Lord says it is the duty of the Government to assist British shipowners, in their competition with foreign shipowners, to man their vessels exclusively with British subjects. It is one thing to encourage, but another to assist, and I very much doubt whether the shipowners themselves would say that to debar them from the employment of foreign seamen would assist them largely in their competition with their rivals. I believe it is necessary that they should have some foreign seamen. I will not detain the House longer. I think the country will be grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this question before their minds, and I trust it will be taken up in the country, and that some scheme in the direction of a more complete organisation of our maritime population may be the result.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I do not propose to enter at length into this subject. I rise rather to apologise, or to explain why I do not discuss it at any length. The subject is divided into two parts. The first part relates particularly to the Royal Navy, with which Service I had the honour of recently being connected; and the other part of the subject relates to most important questions connected with the management of the mercantile marine. Now, my Lords, I rather deprecate the discussion of abstract Resolutions of this kind without a concrete proposal being formulated, either by the Government or by a noble Lord, which the House, as a whole, could discuss. My noble Friend who has just spoken has made a most interesting and very able speech. With a great deal of what he has said I concur, but I must at once say I fear he is wrong in supposing this country will be prepared to depart from the voluntary system in connection with the enlistment of sailors for the 108 Fleet. During the time I had the honour of being in the Admiralty, I received, on several occasions, deputations on the subject of the manning of the mercantile marine, and I admitted to two deputations that I conceived it to be of the highest importance to the Royal Navy that the Merchant Navy should be well manned and prosperous. The two Services must go together. The happiness and success of the mercantile marine must be bound on to that of the Royal Navy. But, my Lords, the subject is so intricate and so difficult that I really must refrain from going into it on the present occasion. I am quite sure that the question is of great importance, and if, on a later occasion, either Her Majesty's Government, or any individual Member of this House, submits some concrete proposal on this subject, I for one should feel it then my duty to take part in the Debate, and I should do so with the greatest possible pleasure.
My Lords, I want to ask a question which fifty years ago I could have answered myself. Is a sailor entitled to the rating of "A.B." if he serves four years at sea, whether on a steamer or a sailing vessel? There is mighty little seamanship about now, and I think it is incumbent on the Board of Trade to see that the ships are better manned.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
In reply to the noble Viscount, I will read the section of the Act of Parliament—A seaman shall not be entitled to the rating of 'A.B.'—i.e., of able-bodied seaman—unless he has served at sea four years before the mast.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at 6.20.