HL Deb 10 May 1906 vol 156 cc1443-7

rose to ask His Majesty's Government if their atten- tion had been called to the "Report of the Federal Commission on the Navigation Bill," a summary of which appeared in The Times of the 26th April, and if they would cause the whole of that Report to be printed, and issued as a Parliamentary Paper; and also to inquire of them if they were in possession of the evidence upon which that Report was based; and, if not, whether they would cable to Australia for a copy of that evidence, so that if thought desirable they could reprint and distribute as a Parliamentary Paper such portions of it as were of general and not merely of local interest. The noble Lord said: My Lords, In the summary of the Report as it appeared in The Times of the 26th of April, there are forty-five findings or recommendations, I intend to refer to only the first seven of these, and mean to do so as briefly as possible. I shall, however, take the opportunity of remarking that the Report appears to me to concern the Board of Trade more nearly than the Colonial Office. The first of these findings says that the number of British seamen employed on British ships is declining, and that this is chiefly due to their unfavourable surroundings. Your Lordships will recollect that a great deal of evidence to this effect was lately given before a Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade, which reported in 1903.

The first recommendation of this Commission refers to the housing of the seamen, and recommends that they should be entitled to 120 cubic feet of air space per man. According to Section 210 of Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, 72 cubic feet is the minimum of space for the seaman, and in this confined space he has to keep all his personal property. But according to paragraph 107 of the Regulations for the Army Medical Services a soldier is entitled to 600 cubic feet when in barracks, 500 cubic feet when in huts, and to a great deal more when in hospital. Will your Lordships consider for a moment what 72 cubic feet of space actually means? It is 2 feet broad, 6 feet long, and 6 feet high. This is the seaman's or the fireman's bedroom, dining room, dressing room, his sole living room, and in it he has to keep all his belongings. Surely 120 cubic feet is not too much for these purposes.

The next recommendation is that this small space should be properly ventilated—;a very humble request. The third suggestion is that bath-rooms supplied with hot water should be available on steamships for engineers, firemen and others, when coming off duty. This may sound luxurious, but it is a necessity of health that men on leaving stoke-hole work should be able to cleanse themselves properly. Goal dust, when mixed with perspiration, grease and oil, cannot be got rid of without hot water. Men should not have to go to the small sleeping places I have referred to while still smothered in dirt. Who wants a chimney sweep coming off work in the dress of his calling as a fellow-passenger in a sleeping-car? Yet the sweep is by far the cleaner of the two, as he is merely a carboniferous creature and has nothing to do with oleaginous matters. A horse coming in from hunting is always given a good rub down, and a stoker is quite as much in need of similar treatment. All the bettor class of steamers have bath rooms already.

The next sections say that the men's quarters should be adequately lighted, that cooks should be certificated, that an improved scale of provisioning should be adopted, and that ships' victualling bills should be liable to examination. The Report also states that—; To obtain good work it has always been found profitable by shrewd employers to supply good food to their employees. An owner gets back the value of his money if he gives plenty of oats to his hard-worked horses. Most shipowners undoubtedly act with justice towards their men, but those who think that a new Merchant Shipping Act is unnecessary should read some of the evidence given in the Bankruptcy Courts as to the manner in which both officers and men are occasionally treated by shipowners.

The last suggestion to which I shall call attention is that men should be entitled to two-thirds of their wages on touching at any port. I have been informed that quite recently seamen belonging to thirteen of our principal ports have petitioned the Board of Trade to the effect that one-half of their wages may be made payable monthly as contemplated by Parliament in 1880, and in Section 141 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. I should like to see the substance of all these recommendations accepted by the Board of Trade and by Parliament as regards our own merchant shipping.

With reference to the rest of the Report, some of it concerns only Australia. It contains also several suggestions which, if acted upon, would, I think, put unnecessary burdens on shipowners and tend to throw our ships and men out of employment. But I consider that I have now said enough to show that this Report is worth obtaining and reprinting. With reference to the evidence upon which it is based, as I have not yet seen it I do not know how bulky it may be, but from the conclusions of the Commission I think it certain that some portions of it must be of interest to those concerned with the shipping of this country, and that it is desirable that some of it should be reprinted for their use and for the information of Members of both Houses. If neither the Colonial Office nor the Board of Trade are yet in possession' of copies of this Report and evidence, I hope that the Government will cable for them, so that they may arrive in time to be read by Members of both Houses who take an interest in the Merchant Shipping Bill which is now being discussed in another place.


My Lords, I have received the report of the Commission appointed by the Grovernor-General of Australia to examine into and report upon the Navigation Bill, but I have not yet received the appendices or the evidence. I will telegraph for copies of these documents, and I propose when the Papers are completed to place a copy of them in the library of the House. I cannot say at present whether it will be necessary to reprint the whole of them as a Parliamentary Paper, but I will give consideration to that matter when the Papers reach me. With regard to the observations which the noble Lord has made I am not quite sure, as they to a large extent deal with matters that are contained in a Bill now before the other House, that they were strictly in order. But I would like to point out that in the first paragraph of the Report it is stated that in view of the suggestion of the Imperial Government that delegates from Australia and New Zealand should attend a conference to be held in London at which the whole question of navigation as it affects the Empire might be discussed, its revision has been postponed for the present; and I am informed that in principle the Board of Trade is in substantial agreement with most of the recommendations and findings of the Commission, and that some of them merely supplement proposals for legislation now before the Imperial Parliament. Should the Australian Government agree to the conference proposed by the Imperial Government, the Board of Trade will have an opportunity of considering further what result legislation on the lines of the recommendations of the Commission would have on the shipping and commerce of this country.