HL Deb 18 May 1906 vol 157 cc750-69


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am glad to say, when again introducing this Bill, that though it has been defeated in; this House on previous occasions I now find that the principle of one of the two most important clauses has been accepted by the present Government. The President of the Board of Trade has agreed that pilotage certificates for British waters should not be granted to aliens, and providing the Law Officers are of opinion that there is no constitutional difficulty, he has expressed his willingness to accept an Amendment to the Merchant Shipping Bill which will put an end to the practice.

I am now asking your Lordships not to be satisfied with half measures but to ensure that, in addition, British ships shall be commanded and officered by British subjects and British subjects only. This, according to my view, is much the most important proposal contained in the Bill. Of course, I cordially approve of pilotage certificates being confined to Britishers. That is provided for in this Bill. But, all the same, we have always to remember that, though we can prevent the granting of pilotage certificates to aliens, we cannot possibly prevent them from securing British charts or from familiarising themselves with the navigation of British waters through practical experience in command of their ships. Were it not for compulsory pilotage regulations merchant vessels would, in practically all cases, be navigated by their own officers, just as is the case in the Royal Navy.

Then, in a numerical sense, the grievance of our captains and officers of the Merchant Service—looking at it from their aspect at the moment—is a much more serious one. According to the latest Returns obtainable we find that there are 511 aliens acting either as captains or officers of British merchant vessels whilst, in British fishing vessels, there are forty-eight alien skippers, and thirty first or second hands. Then, my Lords, we have always to remember that there are many aliens aspiring to such positions, the most likely of these being of course the petty officers of our ships and the apprentices. There are 2,991 alien petty officers in our merchant service and, even though their number is small as yet, the practice of employing alien apprentices on our merchant ships is growing, and it is almost a certainty that when the term of their apprenticeship expires, these apprentices will seek to obtain British Board of Trade certificates.

Then, again, we find that whilst there are 176,975 British seamen, showing an increase of 455 on the previous year, still 39,832 of our sailors are aliens, and this at a time when we hear of so much distress through our own countrymen being out of work. It is true that the number of foreigners shows a decrease of 564 on the previous year. Though this is a decrease it is so small that it must give us very little satisfaction, especially as, were it to continue at the same rate, it would require over seventy years to eliminate the foreign element. Again, lascars are figuring more and more in connection with the manning of our ships, their number having increased by 1,661 in the previous year. They are now in number 42,682. That lascars should be treated as British subjects is, I think, unquestionable, although personally I should very much prefer to see our own countrymen nearer home increasing to the same extent in the manning of our merchant service.

Last year, when I introduced this Bill, I pointed out that the percentage of aliens in the merchant service was approximately 23 per cent. It is now 22½ per cent. But I do not hesitate to say that these percentages give nothing like an adequate conception of the serious state of affairs which exists. We have to realise that all our leading shipowning companies already employ British subjects only, with the result that it leaves so many the less British subjects for our merchant tramps (which represent over 80 per cent, of the merchant service) and for our foreign-going sailing-ships. We have it from official figures that the percentage of aliens on foreign-going sailing-ships is over 50 per cent., and if any one will analyse the lists of the crews of our merchant "tramps," as they are called, I think he will form the same estimate as I do, that at least one-half of their crews are, on the average, foreigners.

The evil is of such great magnitude that it must be dealt with in a very careful and judicious manner. I am not revolutionary in my ideas, and I have certainly no desire to unfairly hamper the British ship-owner. He has no greater well-wisher than myself, and I think I have shown this on more than one occasion in this House. Accordingly, I am bringing forward this measure which I would strongly urge your Lordships to accept, as it will mean the first start towards effecting reforms which are bound to come sooner or later. It will be the acceptance by the Legislature of a great principle, and it will inflict no hardship. When I say the acceptance of a great principle, I should say that the last Government most decidedly adopted the principle of the Bill in their agreements with the Cunard Line, the American Combine, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and others. In these they stipulated for British captains and officers. Therefore, your Lordships will appreciate the fact that the principles of my Bill have been approved of, in one case by the late Government, and, in the other, by the present Government. On the ground of consistency alone I cannot see why either side should now oppose the Bill.

I have given your Lordships some statistics, and with your permission I propose to give a few reasons why this Bill should be allowed to pass. The personal side of the grievance I put as a comparatively minor matter, though I cannot see why 511 British captains and officers should be supplanted in their own sphere by aliens, especially when it is a fact that all the other leading maritime Powers confine the commanding and officering of their ships to their own subjects. I have previously informed your Lordships of cases of the sale of large companies to foreign flags when their British captains, officers, and engineers received short shrift, and had to give way to subjects born under the new flag flown by the vessels. It is a healthy sign that we see so much attention being given, and so many efforts being made now-a-days, to improving the manning of our ships. We see new training establishments mooted or promoted, but it is the height of absurdity to endeavour to promote the supply of British boy-sailors, and to instil into them a proper spirit of patriotism and pride in their country, when, quite possibly, these boys when they go to sea will find themselves under the authority of Dutchmen, Dagos, or other aliens.

What wonder, then, that respectable young Britishers become rapidly disgusted and throw the sea up at the first available opportunity? These British boy sailors are wanted not in our liners, but in the forecastles of our merchant tramps and sailing ships where the alien captains and officers figure. As a sample of the scandalous state of affairs which prevails, I will read from a letter which I have received from an officer in the merchant service belonging to North Shields. He writes— I joined the S.S. '—'of Newcastle as second officer and, after sailing, was surprised to find that I was the only Britisher on deck. The master was a Dane, the mate a Norwegian, and I am sorry to say I had to leave after a short voyage, for I found I was not there as an officer but to take my coat off and knock the bo's'n round. Such treatment I never had from a British shipmaster. Such a thing as keeping the bridge—except at nighttime—was out of the question, and by all accounts she has a second officer every voyage, sometimes two. As far as I could see, when they got a young British officer there, they would do their utmost to make him commit himself. I was sorry to see before leaving London that all the new crew were from the Scandinavian Home. I will now read an extract from a letter from a captain of a steamer regarding a company which he has lately left— At the time of my leaving, the company owned fifteen steamers, of which five were commanded by Englishmen properly certificated, and the rest by uncertificated foreigners, mostly Greeks and Italians. There were only two English chief officers in the service, and no English second officers. The engine-room department was, if anything, in a worse condition, as there were only five certificated chiefs, and no certificated second or third. In the vessel I commanded, my chief and second officers were both uncertificated Greeks, spoke no English, knew nothing about navigation, and, in fact, possessed neither navigational instruments nor books. The chief officer could not even speak sufficient Arabic to run the crew, so that I had to run the show practically single-handed. I am thankful to say that they kept thoroughly awake when on the bridge, but their ideas about the rule of the road was very elementary. My case was by no means exceptional. There are several officers in the company who can neither read nor write their own language, let alone English. A chief officer's log is a thing fearful and wonderful to behold. I think your Lordships will take it that this displays an astounding state of affairs. I should inform you that it applies to a company whose vessels very rarely, if ever, come to England. If they did come to England they would, at least, be required to carry a Board of Trade certificated captain and chief officer, but even then they might be aliens.

In passing, as showing the grave perils of alien seamen, I would remind your Lordships of the extract that I read to the House earlier in the session from the Report of the Court which investigated the wreck of the "Ordovician." They called attention to the fact that there had been three inquiries into wrecks at that port within a month, in which the dock hands had been chiefly foreign seamen with no knowledge of the English language; and commenting on the loss of the "Bavaria," where many lives were sacrificed, they said that the only deck hands who gave evidence were Russians who had no knowledge of English, and who endeavoured to cast an imputation on the reputation of the captain, who had lost his life in gallantly endeavouring to save his vessel. Though on previous occasions on which I have brought forward this measure it has been dragged within the realms of the fiscal controversy, it is, I think, a most unjustifiable form of opposition. You cannot compare national safety with changes in the fiscal policy. It is high time that this country began to realise the national character of our merchant service.

The other day in this House the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary of State for War, very justly eulogised the splendid deeds of our Army beyond the shores of these Islands. Would those deeds have been performed but for the aid of our merchant ships? What use is our Army at the present moment without our merchant navy? I think, ray Lords, you will agree with me when I say that our merchant navy is the first and most important of our auxiliary services. Our Royal Navy is indispensable, but why is it indispensable? Mainly because it is required to police the seas and guard the vast ocean-going trade of the Empire. Without our merchant fleet, we should be starving in a few weeks time, or depending for food on foreign vessels.

I am astonished at the statements of the President of the Board of Trade, who in a recent speech in another place said that, in the opinion of the Admiralty, there was no grave danger in the fact of so many foreigners being in the mercantile marine. I would ask the Admiralty how they reconcile their present opinions, as expressed by Mr. Lloyd-George, with the following paragraph in the report of the Steamship Subsidies Committee— The British Admiralty point out that it is apparent that if this question of nationality is not recognised in time, British vessels, whenever occasion for their use by the Admiralty arises, will be extensively manned by foreigners, who would have to be largely, if not entirely, replaced by British subjects on the outbreak of war. How are the Admiralty going to get these British subjects except by securing them from our merchant tramp steamers and sailing-ships, and then we would be dependent for our food supplies on vessels manned wholly by foreigners? In referring to the Steamship Subsidies Committee I should state that this Committee also was quite in favour of the principle of my Bill. I quote the following paragraph from their Report— Importance is attached to the manning of ships by national officers and crews in Germany, Russia, Italy and Japan; and the British Admiralty hold that no postal or other contract should be given unless all captains and officers are British subjects and a certain portion of the men, while British-born apprentices and boys should be carried according to the size of the ship. This is also the opinion of your Committee. Perhaps it may be that the Admiralty now look at it merely from an Admiralty point of view, and that because they can get a sufficiency of men for the Navy the merchant service is not a matter for their particular concern. And it cer- tainly does not seem to be of concern to anybody when it is relegated to a sub-department of another Department with an Assistant Secretary as its chief responsible official.

I should like to know where this country would have been during the South African War but for the magnificent way in which a quarter of a million of our troops were carried over the high seas by our merchant vessels, without, I think I am right in saying, the loss of a single life. I turn from the extraordinary view of the Admiralty to the following declaration of an ex-President of the Board of Trade who, unfortunately, has not lived to take his place in this House as we had all hoped. This is what the late Lord Ritchie, speaking officially as head of the Board of Trade, said in another place— Take for instance the question of war—the question of a war where the, naval reserves were called out—that would be to deplete British ships of British seamen, and instead of being partially manned by foreigners they would, under existing circumstances, be altogether manned by foreigners. That, I think, is matter for very great regret, and if any suggestion can be made to remedy that state of things, or to endeavour to remedy that state of things, which the whole House regrets, then the House would do wrong not to consider any suggestions that might be made. There are more aliens in the merchant service now than when Lord Ritchie made this startling statement, and still we treat the situation with almost criminal apathy. Supposing some of these ships, it might be a good many of them, were bound to this country with, for instance, cargoes of grain to keep life in the bodies of our countrymen. Their crews would be composed wholly of aliens, and in many cases aliens would be in charge of the vessels. Can we view the position with equanimity?

A Member of your Lordships' House has lately written to the Press and commented on the serious mutiny which happened on a British vessel manned by a Chinese crew. In case of war, with aliens on the bridge and aliens in the forecastle, there would be no necessity for mutiny. Their paths would be diverted from this country, and their food stuffs would serve to feed our enemies. Even where the ships are actually commanded and officered by Britishers, an overwhelming preponderance of aliens amongst their crews would create a situation ripe for wholesale mutiny and insubordination. Another point in connection with the national character of the merchant service is to be advanced by the recent agitation on the subject of promoting more efficient inter-signalling between vessels of the Royal Navy and the merchant service. It has come to be clearly recognised that if things are allowed to go on as in the past this want of efficient inter-signalling might bring about defeats or disasters in time of war. I would ask —as did the Merchant.Service Guild— whether this efficient signalling is to be expected in those cases where merchant vessels are commanded and officered by aliens, apart altogether from the crows themselves?

As illustrating how positively dangerous it is that we should go on allowing aliens to command and officer our ships, I would refer your Lordships to the Board of Trade notice to the masters of British ships, who are informed that, in the event of relations becoming strained between this country and any Naval Power, an examination service will come into force at such ports in the United Kingdom and His Majesty's possessions abroad as are defended by means of mines or batteries, and that when this examination is put into force masters will receive confidential notice of the ports at which it is established. I believe that on at least two occasions the Merchant Service Guild have brought this notice before the Admiralty and inquired how they are to prevent confidential reports of the kind getting into the hands of alien captains of our ships. They do not appear to have had any satisfactory reply, and I would urge upon your Lordships whether, in permitting these aliens to continue in such positions, we are not making a whip for our own backs in time of war.

That the merchant service is something more than a private industry was clearly evidenced by the action of the Government when the advent of the American combine promised disaster to at least one of the leading lines of the country. At that time I placed a Question on the Notice Paper of this House asking whether the Government proposed to do anything to save the situation. Ultimately the Government advanced to the Cunard Line the sum of about 2½ millions of money at 2¾ per cent, to enable them to build two fast steamers which would eclipse anything owned by the Combine, and in addition they are given a subsidy, under certain conditions, of £150,000 per annum. I would ask whether this is not a remarkable testimony of the national importance of our merchant ships?

I notice that I have been subjected to a little criticism for commenting in the Memorandum of the Bill upon the advent of the American combine. I may say that the reason for that comment is simply this, that having received such gratifying support when the Bill was last introduced I have adhered to its Memorandum. At the time of the American combine it seemed almost certain that there would be a rush of young Americans to serve in the vessels, and as in their Agreement with the British Government the ships were required to carry British captains and officers it was obvious that these young American cousins of ours would endeavour to obtain British Board of Trade certificates. Though the American combine seems to be in very low water—with the exception, perhaps, of one section of it, the White Star Line— there will be some great changes next year, and my own opinion is that the competition of the American combine is still to be greatly feared. This is especially so when we realise the persistency with which the Americans are pressing forward their Shipping Bill, the object of which is— to promote the national defence, to create a force of Naval Volunteers, to establish American Ocean Mail Lines to foreign markets, to promote commerce and to provide revenue from tonnage. In striving to achieve this, the Americans, with commendable foresight, are ensuring that it is their own subjects who shall command and officer their ships, and as far as possible form their crews.

Then, again, I have it on the authority of the noble Marquess who was our late Foreign Minister that a British ship is British territory. Enlarging on this, I may say that the captain of a British ship, or an officer as his substitute, is an administrator of British law. We have only to turn to that voluminous publication, the Merchant Shipping Act, to see what his responsibilities are in this way. I think any system at sea which allows an alien to administer British law cannot be too strongly condemned. As an interesting illustration of what I mean I might mention that, only quite lately, a captain of a British sailing ship united two Pitcairn Islanders in the bonds of matrimony, even although the official log books issued by the Board of Trade state that such a ceremony is not to be performed on board ship. I am very pleased indeed to hear that, on the legality of the marriage being questioned, the Law Officers of the Crown have declared the ceremony to have been a perfectly legal one. I should like to know from the Law Officers whether there would have been the same satisfactory conclusion had the gentleman in command of the ship been an alien?

On the last occasion when I introduced I this Bill I was criticised by the noble and learned Earl who then sat on the Woolsack. The point which the noble Earl chiefly criticised was the statement in the Memorandum that— Under the present system British registered ships my be, and are, owned, commanded, and manned entirely by foreigners. I was told that this was a very misleading statement, but I am sorry to say that I am compelled to adhere to that statement. As the noble Earl is well aware, subterfuge can be brought to bear, and the law, often enough, is very easily evaded. Though the Merchant Shipping Act stipulates that British ships must have British ownership, there are ways and means of easily getting out of this difficulty.

Let us return for a moment to the American shipping combine. What is that but a vast concern of steamers flying the British flag and purchased by American money? It is hardly necessary to go beyond this, but I will just refer for the moment to the views of one of the largest shipowners of this country, Sir Alfred Jones. In giving evidence before the Royal Commission on food supplies, Sir Alfred Jones said that the British flag is a mere phrase so far as the beneficial ownership of the property of the ship is concerned. I am informed by the Merchant Service Guild that there are plenty of vessels, for instance, on the coast of China which are Chinese owned, but flying the British flag.

As a sample of the fatuous policy which our country often enough pursues, I would refer to the Turco-Greek and Spanish-American wars, where the merchant vessels of these countries made transfers of ownership and hoisted the British flag. They thus secured the protection of the British nation and were enabled to carry on their business which otherwise would in all probability have accrued to British shipowners. What I contended in the Memorandum of my Bill has really been admitted by the present Government, for, in the new Merchant Shipping Bill, I find a clause inserted whereby, when a doubt exists as to the title of any ship registered as a British ship to be so registered, a thorough inquiry can be made, and, if satisfactory evidence that the title of the ship to be registered is not given she shall be subject to forfeiture.

In the merchant service of this Empire we have a great and terrible responsibility to bear. We are apt to exult too much over Great Britain's supremacy on the seas, but we do not seem to realise how day by day we are faced by greater and greater difficulties in maintaining that supremacy. I am not posing as a pessimist, for I yield to nobody in the pride I have in our merchant service and our merchant seamen. Yet we have only to look around to see the unflagging energy and enthusiasm of foreign maritime Powers in promoting and nurturing their maritime trades, and though, of course, we are still far in the van, we must clearly understand that these foreign Powers are making wonderful progress.

Foreign shipowners do not complain, nor does it hamper them, that the commanding and officering of their ships should be vested in their own countrymen. I am absolutely convinced that their success is due to the loyalty and patriotism which pervade them. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long, but I hope that you will voice what is undoubtedly the opinion of the country and pass this measure. The passing of this Bill will tend to encourage that spirit of patriotism and loyalty which I am proud to say, in spite of the neglect with which they are treated, still exists so strongly amongst the British captains, officers, and seamen of our merchant service.

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


My Lords, I have heard many reasons in favour of this Bill and only one against it, and that is that it is contrary to the Act of 1854. Now the men who drafted that Act know all about small wooden sailing-ships. But steam was a novelty to them. Iron was coming in, but no ships had then been built of steel. There wore no ocean cables. The management of all the commerce of the world has been revolutionised by improved telegraphic communications. Since 1854 the boy has become a man and his clothes no longer fit him; it is better to amend such an Act piece-meal than not at all. Last year I asked this House to vote for the Second Reading of a Bill of which this is a copy. I also said that it would require to be amended in Committee. I do not think that any ship carrying the British flag should be allowed to leave any harbour in Great Britain unless both the captain and second in command are British subjects. I wish to get rid of that mischievous anomaly of its being possible that ships with nothing British about them except the flag, should nominally be owned by British subjects, and commanded y foreigners, although in most cases they put no money into British pockets.

I have held these opinions for many years. In 1864, during the American Civil War, I had to board all ships with British colours that anchored off the Rio Grande, the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. I well recollect the captain of the only British-built merchant ship at that anchorage saying to me— I believe that I am the only lime-juicer of the whole lot, there being present some twenty or thirty ships built, commanded, manned, and owned by Americans with nothing British about them except the flag. The people on board these ships were called Semmes's Englishmen, and were so named after the Captain of the Alabama. These vessels claimed the protection of British men-of-war, gave trouble to British Consuls, and put no money into British pockets, with the exception of some trifling fees for changing their flag. Even schooners with fruit from New Orleans flew the British flag. I believe that there is nothing in our laws to prevent such a state of things recurring. I have been told that there are at present only a few British merchant ships commanded by foreigners. Even if this is the case, there is nothing in our laws to prevent an increase of the mischief that I have referred to.

Now, our Government has given notice that confidential information about defended harbours will be given to captains of British merchant ships in time of war, or strained relations with a foreign Power. If a British subject was to divulge such secrets to an enemy he could be tried for high treason or for aiding and abetting the King's enemies, and could be hanged or shot. We could not, however, punish a neutral for such an offence without getting into trouble with his fellow countrymen. If, however, the foreign captain belonged to a belligerent nation, he would only have been acting loyally towards his own countrymen, and we could scarcely do more than retain him as a prisoner of war, and curse ourselves for our own folly in giving him such information. Recollect that when the British ship "Cheltenham "was sunk by the Russians in defiance of every principle of international law, its foreign crew cheered this insult to the British flag.

I am in agreement with all the clauses in this Bill except section (a) of Clause 2, which I think requires amending so as to admit of foreigners being occasionally shipped at foreign ports, and at some of the smaller colonial harbours, so as to fill up vacancies caused by sickness or death. For instance, at any of the anchorages between Sierra Leone and the Cape of Good Hope it would be very unwise to expect to find British officers awaiting employment. It would be unfair to the owners to keep their ships in harbour, and a cruelty to the men on board if they were kept waiting for a long time in such unhealthy places for such a reason. I had intended saying something on the question of foreign pilots, but as my noble friend says the Government have agreed to deal with the matter, I shall defer my remarks until some future period of the session. I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and afterwards amend it in Committee.


My Lords, the Bill which my noble friend has, brought forward for Second Reading today has been before this House for the last seven years. The late Government invariably opposed the Bill, and it is the intention of the present Government to take the same course. The Memorandum which the noble Lord has attached to this Bill is the same as that which has been issued with previous Bills, except in one particular. In his previous statements the noble Lord has always made the assertion that the percentage of aliens on British ships was increasing. I see that that statement is not made this year. I suppose it has been omitted because there has been a slight decrease in the number of foreigners employed in our merchant service. The noble Lord also told us that the object of the Bill was to prevent aliens getting full control of British ships, but this would not be carried out by the Bill in its present form. Some Amendment of Section 1 of the Merchant Shipping Act would be necessary.

The noble Lord asserted that the principle of the Bill had been recognised by the Subsidies Committee, but, on looking the passage up, I find it is only recognised in a very minor way, and only in regard to actual subsidised vessels. The noble Lord also referred to the Cunard subsidies. That is quite a different thing. It is an Admiralty contract, so that in time of war the country can call on these vessels for use in war or for the carrying of mails. Another statement which the noble Lord made was that all maritime Powers restrict the commanding and officering of their ships to their own subjects.


I said the leading maritime Powers.


Last year the noble Lord said that no foreign captains or officers could be employed on Gorman ships according to the law of that country, and he questioned the accuracy of the statement which was made to the contrary by the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade. This year the President of the Board of Trade has been in communication with His Majesty's Ambassador at Berlin, and he finds that foreign officers hold certificates and are employed in the German merchant service to the number of about 2 per cent.; and in this country, of the total number of successful candidates for certificates, only 1.6 have been foreigners. Again, I do not think the statement of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill as to a large influx of foreigners into the British merchant service is borne out by the facts. From 1897 to 1905 the total number of successful candidates for masters', mates', and engineers' certificates was 42,000. Of this number only 776 were foreigners.


I do not think it is fair to take in engineers. My Bill does not deal with engineers.


I think the noble Lord treats engineers very badly. He only legislates for masters and mates. In 1897 the number of certificates taken out by foreigners was 130. In 1905 the number of foreign officers who got English certificates had fallen to 77. According to the census returns, in the Report of the Registrar-General, of the 32,000 foreigners serving in the British mercantile service in 1901, 5,000 were Germans, 2,000 Russians, and 600 French. I really think my noble friend exaggerates the danger in case of war. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord was ill-advised in introducing his Bill at a moment when His Majesty's Government have a very comprehensive measure on merchant shipping before the other House. It seems to me that he could have met his purpose by bringing forward Amendments to the Government's Bill when it came to your Lordships' House. I would further point out that if the Bill now before your Lordships passed this House it would have very little chance of getting through the other House. I must ask your Lordships, for the reasons I have given, to refuse to grant the Bill a Second Reading, and I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment moved— To leave out the word 'now' in order to insert these words 'this day six months.' "— (The Earl of Granard.)


The noble Earl has made no reference to the question of foreign pilots, which, in my opinion, is the most important part of the Bill.


That question is being dealt with by the Government, and the noble Lord will see the result when the Merchant Shipping Bill comes up to this House.


My Lords, I do not think my noble friend behind me need regret having again introduced this measure into your Lordships' House, because he has been enabled to deliver a speech in which he has called attention to what is, after all, a matter of very grave national importance, and one which I think cannot be too often brought to public notice. But, having regard to the fact pointed out by the noble Earl opposite at the close of his remarks that a Government Bill is pending in another place, I think this is scarcely an opportune moment to press my noble friend's Bill forward, and I agree that my noble friend would be well advised to rest satisfied with the discussion that he has raised and the answer he has elicited from the Government, and not to press his Bill at the present moment.

I may remind him that the noble Lord opposite has suggested a method by which he may get still further discussion of the important points raised in this Bill— namely, by producing Amendments to the Government's Bill when it reaches us from another place. No doubt my noble friend, who is a very experienced Parliamentary hand, will avail himself of those opportunities, and at a later date we shall be able to discuss in detail, at the instance of my noble friend, these various points. In mentioning the Bill pending in another place my noble friend in charge of the measure now before your Lordships' House told us—and I understood that the noble Earl opposite confirmed this —that the President of the Board of Trade had promised to legislate on the question of foreign pilots.


I stated that the President of the Board of Trade is dealing with the question of pilots. I think that there will probably be some mention of it in the Government's Bill when it reaches this House.


I understand that the Government are favourably considering the question. The subject is, I admit, a difficult one, but if the Bill in another place reaches us with a clause in it providing that pilotage certificates should be confined to British subjects, I assure the noble Lord opposite that we on our part will give it careful and favourable attention. I do not deny that there is a great deal to be said on both sides. I received a deputation, when I occupied the office of President of the Board of Trade, from the pilots of this country, who placed their case before me with great fulness and great moderation, and I am bound to say they made a considerable impression on my mind. It was not that the grievance was a very large one in extent—that is to say, there are not a very great number of individuals who are legitimately aggrieved by the fact that foreigners receive pilotage certificates; but it is true that a certain number are aggrieved and deserve the sympathy of your Lordships' House.

It makes a considerable difference to the pilots on the Humber and on the Thames that foreigners should hold these certificates. No doubt that would not be a conclusive reason for legislation; but it is an important and significant fact that, although we grant such facilities to foreigners, in most cases there are no reciprocal advantages of this kind granted to Britishers by the foreign countries whose subjects enjoy such hospitality at our hands. I do not know that the party opposite and noble Lords opposite have shown themselves very favourable to the principle of retaliation and reciprocity, but, apparently, in this case they are inclined to make an exception, and I can assure them that when their clause appears we shall consider it favourably.

The more important part of my noble friend's Bill undoubtedly is that which deals with certificates of masters and officers in the merchant service. I was glad to hear from the noble Earl opposite that an improvement is taking place in regard to foreigners holding masters' and officers' certificates and that there are now fewer officers and masters of foreign birth in our merchant service than there were formerly. That is a change at which I think we will all rejoice. The enormous number of foreigners in our merchant service is a formidable fact. It may be inevitable. I do not desire, at the present moment, to pronounce any opinion upon it, but it is a formidable fact; and if it were true that the crews as well as the officers were increasingly of foreign birth, and that year by year fewer British subjects became seamen, then the fact would be so formidable as to call for a remedy from Parliament.

It is a matter of vital importance to this country that we should have a sufficient number of our population following the profession of the sea, in order that we might have what is necessary to fall back upon in order to replace the losses which would undoubtedly incur in time of war in His Majesty's Navy. Therefore it is of the greatest possible importance that the number of those who follow the calling of the sea should be kept at a high proportion, and at an increased proportion, if that be possible. Having been at the Board of Trade, I know that the matter is not so simple as all that. We have to consider, on the other hand, the interests of the trade of this country, and no violent measure which would hamper trade could, in my humble judgment, be properly considered and agreed to by your Lordships.

Though it is undoubtedly of vital importance that the seafaring population of this country should be maintained, yet it is also of vital importance that the trade of the country should be maintained, and we have to steer our way carefully between the two extremes of sacrificing the seafaring population and sacrificing the interests of trade. I hope His Majesty's Government are seised of all these difficulties, and that when the Merchant Shipping Bill reaches us from another place, and my noble friend produces the Amendments which he has been invited by the noble Earl opposite to move, His Majesty's Government will be in a position to guide aright the wisdom of Parliament, and that, as a result, the two political Parties in your Lordships' House may produce legislation which will be for the benefit of the country at large.


My Lords, I should like to know exactly how the question of foreign pilots stands. I was under the impression that the President of the Board of Trade had almost given a definite pledge that the question should be dealt with in the Bill. So far as I understand now, it is only under consideration, and that makes a considerable difference. This question is a most important one for us on the Humber. The granting of pilotage licences to foreigners, enables foreigners to learn our waters, and prevents numbers of our own men from becoming efficient pilots.


My Lords, the question before your Lordships' House does not, in the first instance, touch the Department which I represent to any great extent. I think that there is common agreement in all parts of the House that it is desirable that our mercantile marine should be manned, as far as possible, by men of our own country. That is an opinion we can all hold, but we also have to consider the interests of the shipping trade, and it does seem to me that it would be a very strong measure indeed, in a Bill of this kind, to place restrictions on the shipping trade in regard to the employment of foreigners on board British ships. You cannot simply say, in this matter, that the practice of employing foreigners, whether as officers or as seamen, on board British merchant ships must stop; but it is quite clear that, so far as we can justifiably encourage the employment of British subjects, we should do so.

What I really rose to say was this, that so far as the Navy is concerned the noble Lord need be under no apprehension that there is any danger of a shortage in the supply for the Naval Reserve. At the present moment, we, at the Admiralty, are not troubled by the want of desire on the part of the mercantile marine to enter the Naval Reserve; there is, as a matter of fact, an overplus of candidates. So much so, that when my noble friend Lord Cawdor was First Lord the Admiralty were obliged to suspend the entry of candidates for the Naval Reserve, otherwise we should have more men than we want. I may also say that we have greatly increased the Fleet Reserve, which is made up of men who have been trained in the Navy itself.

I was glad to hear the noble Marquess opposite advise the noble Lord in charge of this Bill not to press it to a division. I think that the legitimate encouragement that may be given to British subjects to enter the mercantile marine can be abundantly provided for in the Bill which has been introduced by the President of the Board of Trade in the other House. The noble Lord referred to the question of special regulations with regard to pilotage. I am afraid I cannot go further than my noble friend Lord Granard did in that matter, but I can say that the subject is one of importance, and one which we are considering. We shall be ready to listen to any suggestions that may be made on that particular subject from either side of the House. I hope the Bill will not be pressed.


My Lords, the noble Earl who replied on behalf of His Majesty's Government simply told me that it is their intention to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but he has given no reasons why that action is taken beyond the vague statement that they will listen to any Amendments that I may bring forward to their Merchant Shipping Bill when it reaches your Lordships' House. Am I to understand from His Majesty's Government that they will give favourable consideration to Amendments to carry out what is embodied in this Bill? This is not a commercial matter; it is a matter of national safety; and I have had absolutely no reasons given for the opposition to the Bill. As to what the First Lord said about the number of the Royal Naval Reserve, that is exactly what I contended in my speech —namely, that in time of war all these men would be called into the Navy and would leave so many the less Britishers in the merchant service. If His Majesty's Government will undertake to give favourable consideration to my Amendments later on, I shall be most happy to withdraw the Bill.


You cannot ask that.


On the advice of my noble friends near me I withdraw the Bill, but I would again point out that no reasons have been given by the Government for their opposition.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn. Then the original Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) with drawn.