HL Deb 09 May 1904 vol 134 cc722-34


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I am about to ask your Lordships to read a second time to-day has been framed to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee appointed by my right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade, in 1902. The reference to the Committee was to inquire into and report upon the following matters —

  1. "(1) The causes that have led to the employment of a large and increasing proportion of Lascars and foreigners in the British merchant service, and the effect of such employment upon the reserve of seamen of British nationality available for naval purposes in time of peace or war.
  2. "(2) The sufficiency or otherwise of the existing law and practice for securing proper 723 food, accommodation, medical attention, and reasonable conditions of comfort and well-being for seamen on British merchant-ships.
  3. "(3) The prevalence of desertion and other offences against discipline in the mercantile marine.
And to make such recommendations with respect to these matters as they may think fit.' The Chairman of the Committee was Sir Francis Jeune, and he had associated with him Mr. W. F.G Anderson, Chairman of the Anchor Line and President of the Chamber of Shipping; Captain H. Acton-Blake, Elder Brother of Trinity House; Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P., late Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade; Captain A. J.G. Chalmers, of the Board of Trade; Colonel John M. Denny, M.P., ship builder, of Dumbarton; Mr. Walter J. Howell, of the Board of Trade; Vice-Admiral R. M. Lloyd, C.B: Mr. W. Milburn, junior, and Mr. J. Havelock Wilson, head of the Seamen's Union.

The recommendations of this Committee have been formulated in the Bill now before your Lordships. I think your Lordships will recognise from the few figures which I shall quote to the House that my right hon. friend had good reason for appointing this important Committee. The total number of persons employed in the British mercantile marine in 1902 was 253,540. Of these, 174,538 were British, 39,825 foreigners, and 39,177 Lascars and other Asiatics. This represented a percentage of 68.84 British, 15.70 foreigners, and 15.45 Lascars and other Asiatics. The Committee came to the conclusion that there had been a distinct decrease in the number of British seamen employed in the British mercantile marine, and the recommendations which they made had in view the attraction back to the mercantile marine of British seamen, so as to largely reduce the proportion of foreigners. I have heard it said that the legislation proposed is grandmotherly legislation, but if grandmotherly legislation is represented by an attempt to promote the greater happiness and comfort of the merchant service, I am very glad to introduce the measure as such. Clause 1 of the Bill provides that every British foreign-going ship of 1,000 tons cross leaving a port in the United Kingdom will be required to have on board a competent cook, in the same way as such a vessel is compelled to have on board properly certificated officers. A certificate of competency may be granted by any approved school of cookery in this country. The rights of men now serving at sea as cooks are safeguarded by the recognition of certificates of discharge as cook for two years previous to 3lst December, 1907, as equivalent to certificates of competency. It came out clearly in the evidence before the Committee that the food was good enough but was spoilt by bad cooking. This clause, I venture to believe, will rectify this state of affairs as far as it is possible to do so.

Clause 2 of the Bill is also concerned with the food of our mercantile marine, and it provides for the inspection of the provisions of any British foreign-going ship the duration of whose voyage is likely to exceed twenty-one days. It may be said that this is a drastic clause, but I would call the attention of the House to the fact that its application will not he general. Under it the Board of Trade are given power, if they choose, to inspect the provisions of such vessels where occasion may require, and I do not think such a provision would inflict any serious inconvenience on the mercantile marine, but would, on the contrary, prove of great advantage. Clause 3 practically explains itself. It demands what I think is quite necessary, namely, an elementary knowledge of the English language on the part of seamen. That will be interpreted, of course, very generally. A superintendent will find out before he ships a man that he understands the simplest possible orders that may be given him—that he fully appreciates the meaning of such words as "port your helm," "starboard your helm," "go astern," and so on. Clause 4 will, I think, obtain general approval. It provides that where it is shown to the satisfaction of the superintendent that a seaman lawfully engaged has wilfully failed to join his ship, the superintendent shall report the matter to the Board of Trade, and that Board may direct that any of his certificates of discharge shall be withheld for such period as they may think fit, the object being to check the large number of desertions and refusals to join. The scale of the provisions set out in the schedule of the Report of the Departmental Committee has been adopted by the Board of Trade, and is recommended to all shipowners. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"."—(Lord Wolverton.)


My Lords, in making some comments upon this Bill and its Memorandum I recall a charge made against me by my noble friend representing the Board of Trade in this House when last session I myself introduced a Bill with a Memorandum to your Lordships' notice. I was accused of making inaccurate statements, and it is not a matter for surprise that on such authority your Lordships should have been influenced by it. Further inquiries have borne out my impression at the time that mine were the facts and the Board of Trade's the fallacies. Apart from inaccuracies, there are such things as "half-truths," and I would venture to call your Lordships' attention to the remarks in the Memorandum pertaining to Clause 1 of this Bill, viz.— If the Bill becomes law, every British foreign-going ship of 1,000 tons gross leaving a port in the United Kingdom will be required to have on hoard a competent cook in the same way as such a vessel is compelled to have beard properly certificated officers. Your Lordships would imagine from this that all was well in the direction of British ships being properly manned by certificated officers. You are not told of the defective nature of the law in this respect whereby large vessels under the British flag go careering over the sea, carrying perhaps passengers and mails, without a certificated officer on board. You are not told of the lamentable, disasters which have occurred in consequence. You are not informed of the recommendations, urging immediate legislation, by the Manning Commission, who commented so forcibly on the dangers of uncertificated and incompetent officers, and the fact of there being so many unseaworthy British vessels in consequence. No! in the eyes of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade a ship's cook should be certificated, whilst those who actually navigate our ships may be uncertificated and irresponsible, a common danger to themselves and to the ships upon which so tie of your Lordships might be passengers. When we know that, under Section 92 of the Merchant Shipping Act, the "Oceanic" or the "Campania" could put to sea with simply a certificated master and one certificated officer, we cannot accept the wording of the Memorandum as at least the whole truth of the matter.

This new Board of Trade Bill is an offspring of the celebrated Mercantile Marine Committee, the constitution of which I commented upon in this House. This Committee was undoubtedly constituted in a defective and unrepresentative manner, and was certainly not fitted for its purpose. It is proper to inform your Lordships that, owing to this, the Merchant Service Guild—the, largest and most influential organisation of its kind in the world—when invited, declined to have anything to do with the proceedings of the Committee. Owing, I presume, to the fact of two of the staff of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade being members of the Mercantile Marine Committee, surprising and remarkable promptitude has been shown in carrying out its recommendations. We may well ask why the same energy was not shown in regard to the really urgent and important recommendations of the Royal Commission on Unseaworthy Ships the Manning Committee, the Subsidies Committee, and the Light Load-line Committee, which have involved great labour on the part of public men and much expenditure out of the national purse. For all the good the Marine Department of the Board of Trade have done with them, the Reports of these Committees might as well have been put in the fire. Most of the recommendations of the Mercantile Marine Committee have already been carried into effect without legislation. One, at least, has met with a storm of protest and is likely to cause very serious mischief. I will, however, confine myself to the Bill.

With regard to Section No. 3 of Clause 1, I cannot see the need of the cook being a seafaring man. As to Section 5 of the same clause, I may say that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade do not appear to have the courage of their convictions, and ask your Lordships to sanction legislation to which they may or may not conform, as they please. Whether such legislation is in accord with the traditions of this House I leave for your Lordships to judge. Shipowners having become alarmed at the chance of a "corner in ships' cooks." the Marine Department of the Board of Trade are holding out the olive-branch in this extraordinary way. Section 6 institutes another penalty to which the unfortunate shipmaster may be liable. The total amount of the several penalties which may now be inflicted upon him under the Merchant Shipping Act is something over £7,000, whilst the amount of protection he receives under the Act is practically nil. He gets all the kicks and none of the ha pence. If ships' cooks are to be officially certificated on the same lines as certificated officers, which is the Memorandum's somewhat unhappy way of putting it, it is highly necessary and perfectly proper that then should be some official control over them. It is absurd to suppose that they should be certificated by a Government Department, and then be able to set that authority at defiance. Misconduct, incompetency, or negligence on the part of a ship's cook should most assuredly render him liable to the suspension or cancellation of his certificate. The absence of this power in the Bill is a serious omission on the part of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and I propose when the Bill reaches the Committee stage to move an amending clause to supply that omission.

The remainder of the clauses contain nothing of material value, relating simply to extension of powers in inspecting ships' provisions, a knowledge of English on the part of foreign seamen, and the withholding of the discharge of a Seaman who wilfully fails to join his vessel. It will, indeed, be a humorous situation when the superintendents of mercantile marine offices must perforce examine each of the multitude of foreigners signing articles in British ships in their knowledge of the English language; and especially so when the superintendent himself may be quite devoid of any knowledge of nautical idioms and terms. The power to withhold a seaman's discharge will be of no avail, for it must be proved that the seaman wilfully neglected to join his vessel. Seamen, as well as other people, can always make specious excuses, and the clause is practically valueless, especially as seamen can always resort to the "pier-head jump." The Bill, as a whole, is one of the weakest things Parliament was ever asked to sanction. I only wish the Marine Department of the Board of Trade would devote their time and trouble to something which would be of some real advantage to ships and seamen.


My Lords, I was glad to hear from the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Heading of this Bill that he considers the measure one of importance. I agree that although the Bill does not appear to contain any serious provisions, it is in principle a measure involving matters of considerable importance. The Committee which sat in 1902, and of whose deliberations this Bill is the outcome, was a very strong Committee, and one which represented all classes of the shipping community. The shipowners were represented on it and also the seamen, and the result of the labours of that Committee is this Bill. It is not usual to find so much promptitude exercised in the introduction of legislation, and it is felt by most people connected with the shipping trade that it would have been a good thing if many of the recommendations made by other Committees had with equal promptitude been brought before, Parliament in a Departmental Bill. It seems to me that the matters dealt with by this Bill are worthy of careful consideration, and although it is no doubt possible that the clauses of the Bill may be improved in Committee, I trust it will pass into law. At the present time the shipping trade of this country has to face very great competition. It is not very long ago that the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade stated that it was not the desire of His Majesty's Government that anything should be done which would handicap British shipowners in competing with their foreign rivals. I was very glad to hear that statement. All that we ask with regard to shipping legislation is that whatever regulations are applied to British ships should be applied also to foreign ships coming into our ports. It has been pointed out over and over again that there are harassing restrictions applied to British ships which are not applied to foreign ships using our ports. and we feel that something should be done, not only to bring shipping legislation more up to date, but to enable British shipowners to compete with shipowners of foreign countries on exactly equal terms. British shipowners are not in the least afraid of meeting any competition that may come from any part of the world, but what we say is, that any regulation which is considered good for British ships, should be considered as equally good for foreign ships that come into our ports. There are a few Amendments to this Bill which we shall propose when the measure is in Committee, but they will not be brought forward in any spirit of hostility to the Bill, but rather in the hope that it may be rendered more effective in its working. I would therefore ask my noble friend in charge of the Bill to allow a sufficient interval to elapse between the Second Reading and the Committee stage to enable us to bring forward Amendments.


My Lords, having spent the earlier portion of my life at sea, I am glad to find that something is to be done towards improving the health and comfort of the long-voyage seaman. Hitherto in our worst-found merchant ships, if a man was too timid to go aloft, too feeble or too lazy to work on deck, it was always considered that nature had intended him to be a cook, I think that your Lordships would prefer that I should leave the results to their imagination, instead of attempting to describe them. I look upon the Bill as a very good one as far as it goes, but I think that it might go still further in three directions—as regards cooks, foreigners, and provisioning—without injury to the real interests of shipowners. In the first place, as regards cooks, according to the Memorandum which accompanies the Bill, it has been framed to give effect to the recommendations of a Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade, which was appointed in 1902. The Bill does not come into force until 1908. Six years is a long time for the seaman to wait until Parliament and the Board of Trade have made up their minds as to how he is to be fed, and I think that some of the clauses of the Bill might be brought into operation at an earlier period.

The Memorandum says that the rights of man now serving as cooks are safeguarded by the recognition of certificates of two years service as cooks as equivalent to certificates of competency. The clause referred to safeguards rights that are not yet in existence, for it gives a man three years and a half in which to serve the two years qualifying service which is to relive him from the necessity of passing the examination required by the Bill. I think that this part of the Bill might very well come into operation a year sooner—that is, on 1st January, 1907. Secondly, as regards foreigners, Clause 3, which requires an alien to know something of the English language, is an excellent one. But why should a man who is not a British subject, and who is still in his own country, be given three and a half years in which to learn enough of that language to make him safe to go to sea with? It is safeguarding rights which do not yet exist, protecting the interests of aliens who have not yet reached our shores, and who I hope will be excluded from our harbours by the operation of the Aliens Bill which is being discussed in another place. This part of the Act might very well come into operation on 1st January, 1906 If the Board of Trade has not already got the power, a section might be added to this clause giving the Board authority to issue regulations as to the minimum amount of English required, so that the standard should not differ too much in various ports. A foreign seaman should. I think, know enough English to be able to take the helm, lead, and lookout, without endangering his shipmates. In sailing ships, it is a question whether the qualifications should not be considerably higher.

Thirdly, as regards provisioning, as there is to be an inspection as to the quality of provisions, it would cause very little additional trouble if such inspection included quantity also, as is done in the case of emigrants, under Clauses 298 and 299 of the Merchant, Shipping Act of 1894. A very good e scale of provisioning is to be found in the Appendix of a Report dated 7th May, 1903, which was presented to both Houses of Parliament. In Section 9, page 11, of this Report, the Committee recommend the universal adoption of this scale on board all British ships. This Report is signed by a very strong Committee. I think that the Board of Trade should have in the background the power of compelling ships in certain cases to adopt the scale I have referred to. I should not think of suggesting compulsion, if it were not for the exemption sections contained in Clause 299 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, which I think can in this case be still further widened by giving the Board of Trade power to grant exemptions for one year, or a lesser period, to all vessels owned by certain companies and by well-known shipowners, as well as to single ships. To prevent abuse of these exemptions the Board should have power to refuse to renew them, if complaints were substantiated on inquiry. If shipowners could be brought to understand the immense width of these exemption clauses, I do not think that the majority of them would object to the alterations in the Bill that I suggest.

When a horse is hard-worked, every ounce of oats that he eats, benefits the owner as well as the horse. This analogy holds good as regards the shipowners and the merchant seaman. Most shipowners are aware of this, and act accordingly. Lime juice will keep off scurvy, but men on board ship are constantly meeting with small accidents. Slight injuries in which the skin is broken would Seal more rapidly under the influence of the substitutes for vegetables which are contained in the scale I have referred to. Any expenses inclined by the owners would be recouped by the increased I calthiness of the crew. A sick list is a very expensive article. In addition to the expense, it has been objected that the additional weight of the improved ration would lessen the capacity of the ship for carrying cargo. An extra 1 lb. or twenty men for 112 days, would only; mount to a ton, and this Bill does not a fleet vessels of less than 1,000 tons. The additional expense which the Government has lately incurred in improving the rations issued to the Royal Navy, has been calculated at about five farthings per man per diem, which is a trifle compared with the wages which are paid in the merchant service. In conclusion, I would ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill not commit himself by refusing to consider my suggestions at the present stage of the Bill, but to leave it open until the House is in Committee, by which time he will have had leisure to consider them in consultation with others. The Bill is a very good one so far as it goes, but it is capable of still further improvement without ultimately causing any additional expense shipowners.


My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the introduction of a measure which, though of limited scope, deals with real evils. Great misery is endured on board ship from incompetent cooks. Some of your Lord-ships have read "Round the Horn before the Mast"—the book recently published by Mr. Basil Lubbock. It recalls Dana's well-know "Two Years before the Mast." Mr. Lubbock describes hard struggles with fierce gales; but the miseries of the voyage were chiefly from bad food, consisting of rocky loaves and some awful stuff misnamed "pea-soup." We can understand the joy of the crew when "Old Slush." the incapable cook, was disrated and ordered forward. Other provisions in the Bill, such as that requiring an adequate knowledge of the English language, are in conformity with the recommendations of the most recent Committee on manning. The Bill, in short, is good so far as it goes. It does not go very far. Nor is it possible to deal by legislation with the conditions under which, the manning of our mercantile marine is gradually passing more and more from men of our race into the hands of foreigners. In 1860—at the date of the Report of the Royal Commission, to whose recommendations we owe the Royal Naval Reserve—foreigners were 8.05 per cent, of the total number employed. The proportion has increased to 21.14 per cent.; and, as the Registrar-General pointed out to Sir Francis Jeune's Committee, the decrease in the number of British seamen and firemen is most marked in the later years. The causes are not far to seek. For deck duties in steam vessels few qualified seamen are required. In the stokehold—and especially in the tropics—the work is not attractive, and there are other causes at work for which the men are responsible. The evidence of Mr. Anderson, whose firm are managers of the well-known Orient-Pacific line, as given before Sir Francis Jeune's Committee, fully explains the changes which are taking place— The white firemen tried to make bargains with the commanders of the ships at sea, as to what speed they were to maintain. They had disgraceful scenes. They had to take men on board by force, handcuffed. They could not go on with it any longer. They decided to carry Lascars. Of the qualifications of the Lascars, especially for work as firemen in hot climates, the Committee reported in the highest terms. They said— They are temperate, and those who came before us made a most favourable impression. The evidence shows that they make most amenable and contented crews. On some great trade routes white men, and chiefly British subjects, continue to be employed. In steamships in the coasting trade the percentage of foreigners falls to 3.7 per cent. High pay attracts good men. In the coasting trade in America and Australia, wages for firemen rise to £10 a month. From Liverpool, in the fast mail boats, the wages for firemen are £5 a month with provisions. There are no foreigners in these well-paid trades. We cannot fix wages by legislation. There is only one thing that the Government can do, and that it should do. The numbers of our Naval Reserve should be largely increased and thoroughly trained. We should have on our muster-rolls, as the French have, not less than 100,000 men. The retainers and the pay when under retaining would supplement the wages which shipowners, under the pressure of severe competition, are able to give. Such a policy would make our sea service more attractive. The cost could be covered by arresting the growth, and by gradually reducing the numbers, of the permanent force of the Navy to not exceeding 100,000 men. By the policy which I am endeavouring to urge our resources for manning the Navy in an emergency may be increased, our expenditure in time of peace may be cut down, and the discredit which is coming upon us as a nation, as the owners of a vast tonnage manned by foreigners, may be removed.

On Question, Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


I may inform the House that I do not propose to take the Committee stage until after the Whitsuntide recess.