HL Deb 05 July 1906 vol 160 cc163-72

rose to call attention to the increasing numbers of foreigners and Asiatics serving in British ships as shown in the latest Returns; and to the Reports of recent Departmental Committees on the manning of merchant ships and on Naval Reserves, making recommendations as to the training of boys for the sea service, on which no action has yet been taken.

The noble Lord said

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the manning of the mercantile marine, and the need for further means of training. I have confidence that your Lordships will give favourable consideration to suggestions having for their aim the securing of a supply of well-trained British seamen for our vast mercantile marine. Our shipping rivals in tonnage the combined merchant navies of the world. When we turn to the manning of our ships, as shown in the latest Returns, we see to our regret that the crews required for our increasing tonnage consist in ever-growing proportions of foreigners. In the ten years 1894–1904, the number of British persons in ships belonging to the United Kingdom fell from 183,000 to 177,000. Lascars and Asiatics increased from 26,000 to 43,000, and foreigners from 31,000 to 40,000, or from 17 to 23 per cent, of the total number. The figures for the last six years are ominous for the future. Lascars have increased by 6,000, foreigners by 4,500, British seamen and firemen by 2,000. There are various causes for the increasing employment of foreigners. The point on which I now desire to insist is this: that in the opinion of many authorities, including all the superinten dents of the Board of Trade who appeared before Lord St. Helier's Committee, there-are not enough capable British seamen to man the mercantile marine. The sailing ships, and especially the small coasting vessels—formerly our best nursery for seamen—are disappearing. New means of training are required. Every Royal Commission and Committee on Manning has recommended the establishment of training ships.

The first Report to which I shall refer will be that of the Commission on Manning. It was appointed in 1859. Its recommendations in their main features stand good for to-day. Lord Cardwell was a member of the Commission. His name is chiefly associated with reforms in the Army. It is less generally known that the Navy owes to his initiative the recommendations of the Manning Commission in favour of continuous service. There was a further recommendation, to which I desire especially to call attention, also made on the initiative of Lord Cardwell. As the best means of creating reserves for the Navy and providing for the manning of the mercantile marine, the Commission recommended the establishment of school ships. They describe a practical and well-considered scheme. I will not enter into details. If Parliament approves of State-aided training for seamen the management will be with the Board of Trade. The total cost of training should not exceed £60 per head, including an ample amount for premiums to ship owners. Nor should the numbers be more than sufficient to give a supply of 1,000 to 2,000 well-trained men. The cost should be charged to the Votes for technical education. The State would be fully compensated, indirectly, by the improved manning of our merchant service; directly, by the reinforcement of the Naval Reserves, and by utilising the schools at the Ports for the training of boys for the Navy. As a result of their recommendations, the Manning Commission anticipated considerable economy in the training establishments of the Navy, and, further, the creation of those kindly feelings between boys destined for both services which it is of the utmost importance to encourage.

I pass on to the Report of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships. It was appointed in 1874. The Duke of Somerset was Chairman; the Duke of Edinburgh and Mr. Milner Gibson were members. Efficient manning being an essential condition of safety at sea, the Commission, in their final Report, called attention to the deficiency in the supply of seamen. They recommended strongly the adoption of the plan proposed by the Manning Commission. Recommendations in favour of training-ships were renewed by the Committee on the Manning of the Merchant Service appointed by the Board of Trade in 1894. The Chairman of the Committee was Sir Edward Reed. Among its members were Mr. Forwood, Secretary to the Admiralty; Sir Digby Murray, for many years the able nautical advisor of the Board of Trade; and Mr. Havelock Wilson, M.P., secretary and founder of the National Seamen's Union. The Commission dealt at length with the training of seamen. They thought it— extremely desirable that training ships or schools, with a small vessel attached, should be established at many ports round the coast, where boys, intending to adopt the sea as a profession, could obtain the necessary rudimentary technical instruction. The manning question has recently been examined by Committees appointed in 1902 by the Board of Trade and the Admiralty. The late Lord St. Holier was Chairman of the Board of Trade Committee. Shipowners were represented by Mr. Anderson, shipbuilders by Colonel Denny, labour by Mr. Burt and Mr. Havelock Wilson. The Committee made those recommendations for the amelioration of the lot of the sailor which have been embodied in the Merchant Shipping Bill. They dealt also with the training of seamen. As the best means of increasing the number, they recommended that every encouragement should be given to training ships and to the training of boys on merchant vessels.

I turn lastly to the Committee on Naval Reserves, appointed by the Admiralty. Sir Edward Grey was the Chairman, and with him were associated Admirals Sir Edward Seymour and Hedworth Lambton, Sir Francis Mowatt and Sir Alfred Jones. The Committee were of opinion that the establishment of training ships for boys should be encouraged, but not paid for by the Admiralty.

The inquiries to which I have referred extend over a long period. Able statesmen and administrators, assisted by men of the widest experience as shipowners or in the command of ships, have been engaged in these inquiries. They have been unanimous in their recommendations. The statistics which I have quoted show that the time for action has come. It would be well to begin by giving aid to existing institutions. In the Port of London we have the Marine Society. Their training ship the " War-spite," has a long and a good record, largely due to the part which a succession of naval officers have taken in the management. For the Port of Liverpool a sea-training home has recently been established by a few public-spirited owners, among whom Sir Alfred Jones has taken a leading part. Training should be gradually extended to the principal ports, as recommended by Sir Edward Reed's Committee. The homes should be on the model of the Admiralty school at Greenwich, but on a smaller scale.

In this country we are generally prompt to take action when a foreign country gives us a lead In the United States it has been necessary to create training establishments. Barracks have been erected for the training of recruits and apprentices to the sea, at Newport, San Francisco, and on the great lakes. There will be objections in certain quarters to State aid for the training of seamen. It will be contended by some that the shipowners are not entitled to such assistance, by others that the merchant service will be distasteful to well-trained boys. I have already shown that the training of seamen would be for the public advantage. If men are well treated they will not leave their employment. There are other considerations beyond those of utility. If in foreign countries means exist for the training of seamen, if under the liberal regulations of the French Inscription Maritime inducements are offered to follow the sea as a calling, which in our own country are lacking, and if, as the result, sailors increase under foreign flags and diminish under the British flag, and the manning of our ships falls more and more to the foreigner, it will be a change tending to lower this country as a maritime Power.

I close with the words borrowed from Lord St. Helier's report — It would be impossible not to feel great regret if we thought that foreigners were driving out British subjects. The feeling of regret would not be the less real even if it was based on patriotic and even sentimental, rather than on strictly economic, grounds. If by a great increase in the number of foreign seamen in its mercantile marine, the characteristics of the British as a sea-going race should gradually deteriorate, it would be impossible to regard such a change with acquiescence or equanimity. The Returns placed in our hands by the Board of Trade are giving timely warning. We must, as other nations have done, take in hand the training of seamen. "When we consider that the fate of our country is in her Fleet and Merchant Navy, that the earnings of our shipping have been estimated at over £90,000,000, and that the number of men employed in shipping is greater than in any other industry except agriculture, and further consider the incalculable benefits to trade and commerce resulting, from economy of transportation through the keen competition among shipowners, the cost of any scheme of training must appear a light burden, and the advantages more than commensurate.


My Lords, I do not think that there is any Member of your Lordships' House who will not agree with me when I say that there cannot be two opinions as to the desirability of increasing the number of British sailors in British ships, and I think every effort should be made to attain such an end. The noble Lord has given us some figures with regard to the number of British, Foreign, and Asiatic sailors serving on British ships between the years 1894–1904, and during those years there is no question that the number of British seamen has tended to decrease; but I am glad to inform your Lordships that this decrease has now been arrested, and if we turn to the figures for 1905, we find that in that year there were employed on British ships 180,492 British seamen, 39,711 foreigners, and 43,483 Lascars and Asiatics, against 176,975 British seamen, 39,832 foreign, and 42,682 Lascars in 1904. Consequently, your Lordships will perceive that the number of British seamen employed in 1905 reached a higher figure by some thousands than it has reached since 1894. The number of I Lascars is still increasing, but I feel your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord that these men are on a totally different footing from the foreigner; they are mostly British subjects and excellent seamen.

The noble Lord calls attention to the Reports of various Commissions, one of the Reports dating back to the year 1859. The Manning Commission of that year proposed the establishment of twelve State supported training ships for the purpose of training boys for the Navy and mercantile marine. Those who entered the latter were to be enrolled in the Navy reserve and to be employed in the coasting trade mainly. But this scheme was really intended to provide a reserve for the Navy, The Commission on Unseaworthy Ships, of which the noble Lord was a member, did not go very deeply into the subject, but they favoured State grants to training ships. The Manning Committee of 1894 favoured the establishment of training ships by the State, but the Reports of the Mercantile Marine Committee of 1903 and the Naval Reserves Committee of 1902 do not appear to have been so favourable to the proposal, as it would appear from the noble Lord's remarks. The Mercantile Marine Committee, while in favour of every encouragement being given to training ships, were of opinion that — an increase in the number of British seamen in the mercantile marine may be looked for rather in an improvement of their conditions than in the increase of facilities for training boys for the sea, and they were also of the opinion— that there is a better prospect of obtaining an increase of British seamen by means of the employment of boy sailors than by means of training ships. I may here say that I think His Majesty's Government have gone a long way in the direction of improving the comfort of the sailor by the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Bill now before the other House. A good food scale is to be made compulsory; the inspection of provisions is to be extended; the accommodation is to be increased to 120 cubic feet; ships of over 1,000 tons must carry a certificated cook; and there are other Amendments. The noble Lord has also quoted from the Report of the Naval Reserves Committee, but I will not trouble your Lordships with any remarks with regard to that.

I now turn to the question of State aid, and any scheme on the lines in aid of training ships depends, of course, on the amount of aid given, and I very much fear that any scheme of this sort, to have any appreciable effect, would mean a very considerable additional expense. I understand that a boy on a training ship costs from £20 to .£25 a year. The Manning Commission of 1859 estimated the cost of twelve training ships at £40,000 a year, and the total cost of their scheme at £200,000 a year. I am led to believe that in many of the training ships at present in existence, it is found very difficult to get the boys to sea on leaving these ships. The noble Lord suggests that premiums should be paid to shipowners during the first two years served by boys at sea. Here, again, I fear there would be additional expense. There is another grave difficulty, and it is this: If the State spend money on training ships it is essential that there should be some guarantee that the boys will not leave the sea service after the first year at sea, and I confess that this appears to me to present the greatest difficulty.

The noble Lord suggests that His Majesty's Government should begin by giving aid to the " Warspite," and the Liscard Sea Training Home, but such a course would appear to me to be open to grave objections, as it would be giving preferential treatment to one or two institutions. I may, perhaps, be permitted to say that His Majesty's Government have the very greatest sympathy with the object the noble Lord has in view, that British ships should as far as possible be manned by men of British nationality; and the President of the Board of Trade decided some time ago to appoint a Departmental Committee— To consider and report upon the most practicable scheme for the supply and training of boy seamen of British nationality for the mercantile marine. I am glad to be able to inform your lordships that the President has been able to secure the co-operation of distinguished representatives of the several interests concerned. This Committee has been appointed, and the chair will be taken by Mr. Kearley, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I may also say here, on behalf of the Board of Trade, how very grateful they would be if the noble Lord would give them the advantage of his great experience by giving evidence before the Committee. I am particularly sanguine that the results of the deliberations of this Committee will be of the greatest value to the subject raised by the noble Lord; and if any workable scheme can be evolved—and I feel confident it can be— His Majesty's Government will, I am sure, give effect to any recommendations brought to their notice by so representative a body as the one just appointed. In conclusion, I must thank your Lordships for the kind consideration you have given to me in listening to what I am afraid has been a somewhat long statement.


My Lords, my excuse for rising to say a few words on this occasion is that I have brought this subject very often before your Lordships' notice. What my noble friend has just said has been very much like the general reply I have received from those representing the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, with this exception, that he has told us that the Government are fully in sympathy with the desirability of manning the merchant service with British subjects. The noble Earl referred to the new Departmental Committee as likely to be of great value, but I must say I distrust it thoroughly. I am led to that conclusion from the result of former Departmental Committees, which really have not done any good at all. When the Merchant Shipping Bill comes up to your Lordships' House and we have an opportunity of discussing it, and, I trust, of inserting some Amendments, I hope some good will result.

I do not think any one on either side of the House will deny that it is a serious evil that there should be such a large foreign element in our merchant service. We have been told that if we could indicate any means of remedying that evil, our suggestions would be considered. When you are dealing with a matter of this importance you naturally take the line of least resistance. There are nearly 40,000 foreign seamen in our merchant service, and 511 foreign captains and officers. Which is easier, to legislate for the 40,000 foreign seamen or the 511 foreign captains and officers? According to my noble friend Lord Brassey, the Report of the Superintendents of the Board of Trade was to the effect that enough competent seamen to enter our merchant service could not be found. When men entering the merchant service find themselves placed under alien captains and alien officers, I contend that that is enough to discourage any young fellow who is fond of his country and proud of his profession, and I think that if you insist that British ships are to be commanded and officered by British subjects there will be no occasion for State aid. The men will be forthcoming without it. There are one or two matters in which concessions might be made to shipowers, such as light dues, which would not be much loss to the country. I am sure that if our merchant ships were officered by British subjects there would be no difficulty in getting seamen of our own nationality.


Do I understand that the Departmental Committee will be confined to the consideration of the most practicable scheme for the supply and training of boy seamen of British nationality.


That is so, according to the terms of reference.


I presume that this Committee will sit at once.


The names of the Members will appear in to-morrow's papers, and the Committee will begin to sit immediately.


My Lords, I think the chief difficulty is to get British sailors to remain in British ships after they have been trained for the sea. They will not live in the present dirty dog-holes, mixed up with a number of foreigners of the lowest class, and with their wages sometimes withheld for twelve months. They are, indeed, the only people who are liable to have their wages withheld in this way. I think these points can be bettor dealt with in the Merchant Shipping Bill, which will shortly be before us, and all that I am rising for is to ask noble Lords opposite to use their influence with the gentlemen who sit in another place to send that Bill up to this House as soon as possible, so that we may have ample time for discussing it and not have it crowded out by the Education Bill. I have several Amendments which I am afraid may take up a little of your Lordships' time, but all of them are in the direction of increasing the comfort of seamen, and, therefore, of their retention in British ships.