HL Deb 27 November 1906 vol 165 cc1350-90

Order of the clay for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I have the honour of bringing to your Lordships' notice to-day is based mainly on the recommendations of three Committees appointed by the late Government, and I do not think it would be out of place if I were to say how much indebted we were to the Reports of those Committees in framing the present Bill. The Bill is in no way, I think, a contentions one, nor is it one in any way of a party nature. It is an honest attempt of the Government of the day to improve the conditions of the shipping community as a whole. I do not think your lordships will find that the Bill in any way favours any particular class, and I think that I shall be able to show that the Bill helps all those classes who follow the sea as a trade. It will benefit the shipowner by protecting him from unfair competition, it will help the sailor by improving his comforts when at sea, and it also helps that very deserving body of men, the British pilots.

The Bill is the result of numerous conferences held between the Board of Trade and the various interests concerned; nothing has been done without first obtaining the opinion of those interests, and I think that it is mainly owing to these meetings that the Government have been able to frame a Bill acceptable to all parties. In some cases it has not been possible to see the representatives of every class, but when this was the case a copy of the Bill was forwarded to them for their remarks, and some of their suggestions are now embodied in the Bill. The Bill has somewhat grown since it was first introduced into the House of Commons, for then it only contained forty-three clauses and now it contains eighty-five. I sincerely hope it will not grow with equal vigour in your Lordships' House. But most of these new clauses have been suggested by the shipowners, seamen, or by Government Departments.

The Bill is divided into six parts. Part I. deals altogether with safety, and what we propose to do is to extend our safety regulations to foreign ships; these regulations are, compulsory load-line, defective hull, equipment or machinery, proper life-saving appliances, and rules as to the carriage of grain. I do not think that any of your Lordships will take exception to our imposing our load-line on foreign vessels, for at present it often happens that foreign vessels come into our ports carrying 200 or even 300 tons more cargo than our own vessels would be allowed to carry. Surely this is unfair competition. Our ships have to conform to our regulations as to load-line, and surely we can very well say to the foreigner, "If you want to trade with us you must observe our safety regulations." These regulations have certainly been a success as far as we are concerned, for the loss of life in our mercantile marine has been reduced from 4,171 in 1874 to 1,113 in 1904. I have reason to believe that some foreign countries are moving in our direction, and that they will soon introduce regulations of their own dealing with safety.

With regard to overloading, the law at the present moment allows us to detain in our ports a foreign ship which is overloaded or improperly loaded, but we have no power to detain a ship if she is unsafe by reason of defective hull, equipment or machinery. Your Lordships will readily understand that it is somewhat difficult to enforce this provision. Foreign ships have at present no load-line, and if afterwards it is found that we have detained a ship without good cause we are liable to pay damages, and the Board of Trade officials are naturally often rather disinclined to take this risk. We have never had any power to punish a vessel entering our ports, no matter how overloaded she was. By the present Bill we propose to take the same powers that we have over our own ships, and we shall not allow a foreign ship to leave or enter our ports unless she is safe according to our regulations, and considered by us safe to undertake the voyage she proposes to make. Another very strong reason for legislation on this subject is that it often happens that ships which our Board of Trade officials refuse to pass as safe are sold to foreigners and come back to our ports still in an unsafe condition and compete against our own ships. This is a state of things which in my humble opinion should cease, as it will if your Lordships approve this Bill. It is intended to give foreigners a liberal time to consider these proposals, but after the date fixed any foreign ship coming to or leaving our ports must conform to our regulations and carry a marked load-line.

I now come to the question of grain cargoes. These cargoes are certainly of a dangerous character when they are not properly stowed, for they frequently shift and cause a ship to take a list and become very dangerous. We have regulations for the stowage of this class of cargo for our ships and they have certainly worked wonderfully well, for the loss of life from carrying this class of cargo has greatly decreased since they were introduced. We intend to apply these provisions also to the foreigner. The same remark also applies to life-saving appliances, with this exception, that if foreign Governments have rules approximating reasonably to our own we can accept them as alternative. Your Lordships will see that by this part of the Bill we are anxious to place the foreigner on equal terms with our own ships; we do not want him to have an advantage over us, as he appears to have had in the past. I have one more point to state before I leave this part of the Bill, and it has reference to the clause by which we prohibit any foreigner from being engaged on a British ship without a sufficient knowledge of English. I regret to say that of late some accidents have occurred which have been attributed to a sailor's want of knowledge of our language; when orders have been given to him he has not understood them, and the consequences have been disastrous. We, therefore, propose to instruct our superintendents not to sign any foreigner on to a ship unless they are satisfied that he has sufficient knowledge of English and is able to understand the orders given to him in that language, and when a man is engaged it will be marked on his papers that he is sufficiently acquainted with the English language.

I now turn to Part II. of the Bill, which virtually brings the existing law as regards passenger and emigrant ships up to date; for the parts dealing with this subject in the present Act are so very antiquated and were really enacted for ships and conditions which have now long passed away. There is very little to trouble your Lordships with, except to say that by the provisions of the old Act all foreign emigrant ships calling at our ports were obliged to conform to our emigrant regulations; this was not the case as regards foreign passenger steamers calling for cabin passengers only. This, we think, is an anomaly, and we propose to subject foreign passenger vessels to our passenger regulations. So much for Part II. of the Bill.

I now come to Part III., which in my opinion is certainly one of the most important parts of the Bill. It carries out the recommendation of the St. Helier Committee and deals with sailors' food. We propose to introduce a compulsory food scale. I fear that in the past the sailors on some ships were very badly fed. I am not, of course, referring to the average steamship, but there are black sheep in every flock, and I fear that the sailor who had the bad luck to sign on one of these ships had a very moderate time. There was a scale which was known as the Board of Trade scale, but in reality it was nothing of the sort. It was a kind of skeleton scale, upon which the Board of Trade expected shipowners to put the flesh, but it often remained a skeleton, and the fare was salt meat, biscuits, tea, and sugar; this was, of course, very poor, although I am sure very few shipowners gave their men such bad rations as these. But it happened that if a man complained of his food he was told "Well, if you don't like it I will give you the Board of Trade scale," and this as far as the seaman was concerned was like getting out of the frying-pan into the fire. What the St. Helier Committee recommended was that owners should of their own accord settle on a certain food scale and abide by it, and the Committee, which sat in 1903, considered that two or three years should be given to the shipowners to make up their minds. We have now reached the year 1906, and nothing very effective has been done. Consequently, we have decided to bring in a compulsory food scale. Comments have been made that this scale is not as good as the St. Helier scale, but your Lordships must remember that this is a compulsory scale, and is therefore a minimum scale. On a great many ships the men are now fed on a higher scale than we propose. There is another most important clause in this part of the Bill, namely, Clause 26, which deals with the inspection of provisions. At the present moment the Board of Trade officials have only power to inspect provisions on emigrant ships and on long-voyage ships going round the two Capes or through the Suez Canal, and it has been our experience that stores rejected by our officials on these ships have found their way into other ships which are not at present subject to inspection. We propose to stop this by giving our officials power to inspect the stores on any vessel. We say that they may inspect them. Of course, it would be obviously impossible to inspect all ships, as we should require an army of officials to do so, but I feel sure that this regulation will have a salutary effect.

We have been up to now talking of food and inspection of provisions. These are all very good things, but to appreciate them thoroughly we require a good cook, and that is what we propose to give the seamen under Clause 27. After the 30th of June, 1908, any ship going to sea from the home trade limits must carry a certificated cook. There are at many ports now schools of cookery, and I hops soon that they will become more general. As far as the present cooks are concerned they will be given certificates of proficiency provided that they have been acting in that capacity before the passing of this Act; but after the passing of the Act other cooks will have to produce certificates of proficiency from one or other of these schools of cookery recommended by the Board of Trade before being allowed to serve as a cook. I have great hopes that this part of the Bill will have the effect of increasing the number of British seamen on our ships, as I feel confident that if we make the conditions of life of a sailor more comfortable we shall attract more men to take up the sea as a profession. I am glad to say that from the last reports we have to hand the number of foreigners on our ships shows a tendency to decrease.

I should like here to point out how greatly our tonnage has increased since 1870. In that year we had 5,500,000 tons; in 1904 this figure had increased to 10,250,000 tons—very nearly double. It must also be borne in mind that a great increase has taken place in the Navy. In 1864 our Navy consisted of 64,000 men; in 1904 of 129,000 men. I firmly believe that if we were to forbid the employment of foreigners in our ships we should ruin our mercantile marine. I do not think that there are enough men willing to go to sea to man our huge mercantile fleet, for as it is, by returns recently compiled, one out of every thirty-six of our adult population follows a seafaring life. Our carrying trade is enormous; it is 54 per cent, of the trade of the whole world. Many of the ships engaged in it never return to this country for years, and it is very hard, indeed nearly impossible, to keep British seamen on this class of vessel. The question of lascars is often raised, but they, I think, are on quite a different footing. They are British subjects whose profession is the sea. We have virtually destroyed their trade by introducing our large ships into the coasting trade of the East, and I think it would be very hard if we did not allow them to serve in our ships. They make admirable firemen and are well spoken of wherever they are employed.

Part IV. of the Bill, to which I now come, lays down that, in the event of a man deserting, the effects left behind by him can be used for making good to the ship the just expenses caused by the desertion, and the surplus above this sum goes to the Exchequer. This provision was introduced to prevent a master from having any interest in forcing a man to desert. At the present time the effects of the deserter are retained by the ship; a deserter can claim them in a court of law, but he rarely does so. We propose to insist on an account being rendered to a public officer of the effects left behind by each deserter, and the expenses caused to the ship by the desertion. We, however, intend to allow the shipping company to pool all these different cases, and if in the aggregate a company can show us that they are at a loss by the total desertions they will not be required to pay anything into the Exchequer; but if, on the other hand, they lose on some cases and the balance works out in favour of the shipowner that balance must be paid to the Exchequer. We do not want to make money for the Exchequer, but we want to secure that shipping masters gain nothing by the desertion of their men. Another clause is introduced into this part of the Bill amending the present Act. The law at present is that if a sailor receives injury in the service of the ship he shall receive medical attendance and be sent home at the expense of the ship. It was pointed out to us that this section, was rather hard in the case of a man who, say, caught malarial fever, for in this case the man had his expenses in hospital and his passage home deducted from his wages; the consequence was that a man often arrived home in a destitute condition, We think this is a hardship, and we propose to make the shipowner liable for the expenses and repatriation of a sailor who-contracts an illness which is not caused by his own fault.

I now come to Part V. of the Bill, which contains clauses inserted at the instance of the shipowners, sailors, or Government Departments. For instance, Clause 54 allows a shipowner to deduct from the net tonnage of his ship any spaces set apart for water ballast; this all tends to the safety of the ship, and we think it right to absolve the shipowner from paying dues on these spaces. Again, in Clause 64 we give the shipowner for the first time power to appeal from a decision of a court of inquiry to the High Court.

Now I turn to one or two clauses which are to the advantage of the seamen. For instance, a sailor will not be entered on the ship's books as an A.B. unless he can prove his rating, and the term of service has been reduced from four to three years. Clause 58 is, I think, most important. At present a master can disrate a seaman and reduce his wages without telling him; and it has happened sometimes, when a man is on, say, a two years engagement, that he has been disrated after the first month and had his wages reduced, but he has never been informed of that till the end of the voyage. Thus a man expecting to get, say, £60 at the end of the voyage only gets, say, £40, and has no redress. This we intend to change, and in future no disrating will take effect until after the man has been informed that he has been disrated. By Clause 60 we make it obligatory upon masters in all cases to allow a seaman to allot part of his wages in favour of his near relatives or his savings bank, and sailors will not be asked whether they want to allot until after they have signed on. We also increase the minimum crew space for the men from 72 cubic feet to 120 cubic feet. We also give the seaman or any person aggrieved another advantage—namely, the right to appeal from the finding of a naval court, and this is done by Clause 66. After the passing of this Act we intend to restrict the issue of pilotage certificates to British subjects, but foreigners who have had certificates granted to them before the 1st of June, 1906, will be allowed to retain them.

I have now, my Lords, virtually outlined the main provisions of the Bill, and in thanking your Lordships for the kind hearing you have given me, I do not think I am end better than in the words used by Mr. Austin Taylor, of the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, on Friday, the 23rd instant, in another place. He said— This Bill is not a shipowners' Bill, but it is mainly a Bill for improving the conditions of employment at sea and generally regulating and facilitating the management and employment of ships. With those words I leave the Bill to your Lordships' earnest consideration.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."(The, Earl of Granard.)


My Lords, I welcome this Bill as an indication that at last the importance of our merchant shipping is beginning to be recognised. The Government can certainly claim some originality, and, I am bound to say, courage in bringing forward this Bill. But there is no originality in most of the proposals contained in the Bill, for they are chiefly a legacy of the recommendations of certain Committees which were appointed to inquire into shipping matters by the late Government, who, however, did not invite Parliament to consider them.

The Government have been given great praise for the introduction of this measure, and have had no serious opposition to contend with. We had the more confidence because it was said that representatives of the various shipping interests had been consulted prior to the launching of the Bill. But I must say that at least my own confidence has been rudely disturbed in this respect. I put a perfectly reasonable question asking the Government to inform us who these representatives were. Their faith in the representatives they consulted is shown by the fact that they were afraid to tell us who they were. That is not the way to command sympathy and support for a Bill of this kind. As a student of shipping affairs, and as one who knows the views of the great organisations connected with shipping, such as the Merchant Service Guild, I am sorry to say that this Bill only touches the fringe of the serious evils which exist in regard to our merchant shipping. The measure before us looks bulky and comprehensive, but when we know that the Merchant Shipping Act embraces 748 sections with 21 schedules, it is not so comprehensive as it appears, having regard to the magnitude of the subject.

I am sorry to strike a discordant note, but this Bill is a patchwork arrangement, all the most serious rents in the fabric being left severely alone. For instance, there is the question of aliens in our merchant ships—a great national evil, and the only attempt of the Bill to deal with it is to direct our shipping superintendents to require alien seamen to show some knowledge of English as it is spoken in the way of orders on board ship. Aliens will still be free to command and officer British ships, and things in reality will go on in the old way. The President of the Board of Trade said recently that there were 27,000 desertions from British ships in a year. Yet the Bill appears to contain nothing which will check the frightful indiscipline which is disclosed by such a startling statement. From the Memorandum of the Bill as it appeared in another place, I find that its object is to carry out the Reports of three Committees. But why three Committees only, when other shipping committees have made much more important recommendations? It seems to me that there is an air of strong partiality evident, and that the framers of the Bill have simply picked out here and there such, recommendations and suggestions as personally appealed to them.

When we travel on the high seas, we do so in the fond belief that those to whom we entrust our lives are fully certificated, competent, and responsible men. I do not doubt but that the vessels in which we travel from time to time are as safe as human beings can make them in this respect; but there are plenty of ships with lives on board of them—and I am not disposed to say lives of lesser importance—which are in charge of uncertificated and quite incompetent men. After searching inquiry into this matter the Manning Committee reported as follows— A ship is in an unseaworthy state when she leaves port without sufficient officers, or with her responsible officers unfitted for their duty by reason of prolonged overwork, and no ship of large size or power should be permitted to go to sea without provision having been made that the deck shall always be in charge of some person who has given proof of his qualification, by service or examination, for such a position. The Manning Committee decided that this matter was one urgently demanding legislation. There is not one amongst us who could find fault with such a decision, yet it is still an undoubted fact that no matter what the size of the ship may be, so long as she is outside the three-mile limit there is nothing incumbent on her in law to carry one single certificated and competent man on board. This also applies to any vessel in our home trade when not carrying passengers. Where in the present Bill do we see any attempt to grapple with this enormous flaw? Under the Bill cooks are to be certificated, but a similar requirement seems quite unnecessary in the case of the men responsible for life and property. As another sample of how this Bill makes for efficiency in the merchant service we find now that it will be permissible for a man to qualify as an able seaman after two years service——


After three years service.


I have been reading the clause, and I cannot understand whether the period is two or three years.


Three years.


I accept my noble friend's correction. It is, at any rate, a reduction of the period, for it has always been held by the law that four years was necessary to qualify for such a rating. Then, again, nothing seems to have been done in legalising he recommendations of the Load-line Committee, and in view of the fact that disasters have happened since these recommendations were made I certainly think that the framers of this Bill should have had due regard to them. It is a very regrettable fact that, owing to the exigencies of their profession, the most important class of our seamen—I refer to our captains and officers—cannot obtain direct representation in Parliament. Consequently Parliament lacks the advantage of possessing the views of the men most competent to express opinions on the practical working of our merchant service. In view of this, it behaves us, not only to extend to them what sympathy and help we can, but to ensure that their views as experts are not ignored as is usually the case.

The captains and officers of our merchant service stand to gain little by this Bill, whilst they stand to lose a very great deal. In the case of captains they are to be rendered liable to a number of additional penalties, when under the Merchant Shipping Act their present liabilities in this direction extend to something over £7,000. I think the Government have done handsomely by the shipowners in imposing the safety restrictions on foreign ships, which is a proposal contained in this Bill, and by the reduction of the light dues and the alteration of the load-line, which increases the shipowners' freights by 5 per cent., and, of course, adds considerably to the risk of the lives of those on board. It is rather an illustration of what I am just saying that three steamers whose load marks were altered in August, foundered in the following month, September. One of them—the "Manning-tree "—under the new rules was only carrying 95 tons more cargo, but this extra weight seems to have made all the difference between safety and disaster. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but in the case of the "Manningtree" had it not been for the presence of another steamer near her, in all probability all hands would have been drowned. It is, of course, open to consideration whether the extra 5 per cent, freight is worth the increased risk which our sailors have to run.

The seaman will derive some benefits from the measure owing to the enforcement of the scale of provisions, increased living space, and one or two other matters, but the captain and officer stand to gain practically nothing. Much more tangible benefits would accrue to seamen of all grades had such important matters as discipline, hours of labour, Sunday labour on board ship, and others been dealt with in the Bill. For my own part I feel that the j Bill is open to so many important and necessary Amendments that to deal with them all is a very heavy task. I have already been informed by His Majesty's Government that the Bill which I introduced regarding alien captains and officers would have been more properly brought forward in the shape of an Amendment to this Bill. Acting on the advice of my noble friends in front of me, I withdrew my Bill in order to follow the course which was indicated. Early in the present session I also introduced another Bill having for its object the prevention of further sacrifice of j life through the carriage of dangerous deck loads in the winter time. As I take it that His Majesty's Government would consider that this also should be brought forward in the shape of an Amendment to the present Bill, I propose to adopt that procedure. There are also other Amendments which I propose to move, and I hope that in the interests of both shipping and seamen your Lordships will accord me your support.

This Bill I regard as an attempt to grapple with the situation, but I cannot by any means accept it as a final solution of the great problems which confront us in our mercantile marine. Still, it is a progressive and not a retrograde movement. I feel that I must have wearied your Lordships in so continually bringing shipping affairs to your notice, and, therefore, it is a relief to me now to find them being submitted by others with greater powers than I possess, and who can do so much if they choose. Though I regret to find that, as usual, our captains and officers have received the minimum of consideration, the Bill contains provisions which will benefit their subordinates, and it will be to the great advantage of shipowners in checking unfair competition. Therefore, as I said before, I welcome it as a step in the right direction, and I trust that the Amendments that may be brought forward will receive favourable consideration from His Majesty's Government as coming from practical men, strongly interested in the prosperity of the merchant service. I also trust that we shall be afforded a reasonable time for the consideration of the Amendments that may be brought forward.


My Lords, though I am afraid that I shall find myself in opposition to most of the measures brought forward by the present Government, yet I congratulate them on the Bill that is now before us. I regret, however, that alien captains are still to be permitted to command British seagoing ships, and that the Bill on many points does not give the merchant seaman all that I consider he is fairly entitled to get. If this Bill passes without Amendment, seafaring men will not look upon it as a final settlement of their claims. No provision is made for giving mariners an opportunity of using their votes. In some of the clauses, too, what is given by one hand is taken away by the other.

I am glad to find that this Bill does something towards equalising the conditions of foreign vessels frequenting our harbours with those of British ships as regards unseaworthy conditions and load-line. A great deal of dissatisfaction has been caused by the striking out of certain clauses dealing with the load-lines of foreign ships. The legal and diplomatic difficulties connected with these clauses appear to be insurmountable, but until they have been fully laid before the public, dissatisfaction will continue. Clause 13, requiring that foreigners shipping on board British ships should have some knowledge of the English language, ought to have been made law years ago. Railway guards and engine-drivers occupy positions analogous to those of helmsmen and look-out men. Passengers would cry out loud enough if any railway company were to employ men in those positions who were unable to understand English.

I wish to make it distinctly understood that there are many lines of shipping to which what I am about to say does not in any way apply, in consequence of the good sense of both shipowners and captains, and that the Amendments I intend to move will have little, if any, effect on their relations with seamen in their employ. In short voyage trades most of the men are employed continuously, and are paid at short intervals, whereas in long voyages the reverse is the case, and it is the position of the seamen on board of some of the long voyage ships and not that of those on board of the best lines or on short voyages that I wish to bring before your Lordships. As regards provisioning, I congratulate the seamen of this country on the circumstance that the barbarous pound and pint scale is to be definitely abolished. In future a seaman who makes a just complaint about the quality or quantity of provisions issued to him will not be told that he will be fed as a punishment on this mediæval scale nor be made to suffer from thirst by having his ration of water reduced to ¾ of a gallon for all purposes, whether in the tropics or not. Though the new scale is not so good as that used by some shipowners it is far more wholesome and healthier than the old one.

As the Board of Trade, with the assistance of an Order in Council, can change this scale without consulting Parliament, any defects discovered in practice can be eliminated by that Department, and therefore I shall not touch on the merits or demerits of the different scales recommended by various experts. But I hope that the Board of Trade will from time to time carefully consider the question of equivalents. For instance, there is a scale called the Shipping Federation scale, which is in use on board a great many ships. It is not by any means a bad scale when the provisions are of good quality, but owners and captains sometimes play fast and loose with it by making unfair substitutes, such as issuing an extra half lb. of flour in lieu of the ¼ oz. of mustard,¼ oz. of pepper and 3 ozs. of raisins. To make plum pudding with ½ lb. of flour in lieu of raisins would, I fancy, be outside the power of any cook, even of the new certificated variety with which merchant ships are to be supplied.

The chief cause of bad provisioning on board some ships is that it is the custom for many shipowners to contract themselves out of the responsibility of feeding their crews, more, I think, for the purpose of saving themselves trouble in account-keeping than for the sake of making a profit. That profit they leave to the contractor. The Australian Royal Commission, at page 77 of its Report, recommends that every ship should show its victualling bill for each voyage, a somewhat stringent measure. There has recently been a correspondence on this subject at page 51 in the July number of the Nautical Magazine. I hope that your Lordships will not think me tedious, and that you will allow me to read three short letters that appeared in this magazine, only one of which is anonymous. Captain W. H. Hood, of the s.s. "Trafford. Hall," wrote— SIR,—It should be made illegal for shipowners to escape their just responsibility in the matter of victualling and provisioning their ships by deputing it to the master of the vessel, or by permitting a store-dealer to contract to supply the necessary provisions and the person to look after them. In the first case, if the master is poorly paid he is likely to try and make some profit for himself out of the provisioning to the detriment of the crew. The second ease is quite deplorable, inasmuch as the barest possible will be given by those whose earnings depend upon results, as in the case on those Middlesbrough and Cardiff vessels, provisioned by store-dealers, who supply the steward who has sole control of the commissariat. This individual is placed on the Articles at a nominal wage of 1s. per month, and is therefore beyond the reach of any disciplinary measures (having no wages to lose), except those of the boot or the fist. His earnings depend upon the result of his economy, as decided by the store-dealer, who pays him accordingly. From the Marine Superintendent of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, Goole, appeared the following— SIR,—I am very strongly opposed to any system by which the responsibility of feeding the crew is removed from the shoulders of the shipowners and placed on those of the captain or a contractor. I do not assume for a moment that the captain would not, if made the contractor, endeavour to fulfil his obligations to the utmost, but his duties as captain are too onerous to permit him to pay personal attention to the matter, which, in addition to his lack of experience in catering, makes it necessary that he should leave the work in the hands of others Jess scrupulous, who undoubtedly in many oases try to make a profit at the expense of the crew. The cabin table does not suffer, the forecastle does! And while discontent is being bred in the ship, apparently through his action, the captain rarely hears of it until it has culminated in acts of open violence. It is an unsatisfactory principle in every way —open to great abuse at the expense to those who are least able to retaliate; and I am convinced that statutory powers should be invoked to make it illegal for shipowners to contract out of their obligations in this respect.—Yours, etc., Walter S. Atkin, Com., R.N.R. A Merchant Service captain wrote— SIR,—My own experience may perhaps interest your readers. Some years ago I had the feeding of the officers and engineers—not the crew. If I rightly remember, the allowance was 1s. (id. per head. Now, I got a fairly good name in the company for my feeding, and yet I made a considerable sum each year; exactly how much I should be ashamed to tell you. But some of the other masters cut it too fine— indeed, so fine that at last the feeding was taken away from us. These good things are always spoilt by greedy beggars who have no conscience. But, mark you! it is necessary to keep on the right side, for no man wants to lose in such circumstances. I therefore, answer 'No,' to your question. It wants a man of the very highest character to act fairly under such conditions, and for most of us, with our meagre pay and a family to bring up, the temptation to 'make a bit' is too great. I am intending to bring forward an Amendment to the effect that it shall be illegal for a shipowner to contract out of his responsibility for the feeding of the crew, and I hope that the Government will be able to accept it.

As regards the question of seamen's wages, the report of the Australian Commissioners shows that the withholding of wages, on the plea that desertion is checked by so doing, is, on the contrary, one of the chief causes of desertion: With this opinion I entirely agree. I also look on this withholding of money already earned as being the chief cause of the dearth of long voyage British seamen. If seamen and their families cannot get their wages, why should they go to sea at all? There was far mor3 desertion in the Royal Navy when men's lives were made uncomfortable by withholding wages than there is now. At present our blue-jackets art; paid ones a month when at sea, and once a week when in harbour. The laws and customs under which merchant seamen serve are chiefly those of 1854, I first went to sea in 1854, and I have no hesitation in asserting that if the present seamen of the Royal Navy were to be treated in accordance with the laws and customs then prevailing, the whole Fleet would be in a state of mutiny in less than a month.

Clause 28, dealing with the wages of deserters, is bat a slight improvement on the present system. The best way to check desertion is to adopt the drastic plan of making the whole of the property of the deserter forfeit to the Crown. The effects and wages of a deserter should be treated in exactly the same, way as if he had died, with the exception that his property should go to the Crown, instead of being handed over to his relations. Forfeiture to the Crown is one thing, but forfeiture to a private person, who often has a financial interest in inducing his employee to absent himself for forty-eight hours, is another. No part of the "premium for desertion" should be allowed to enter the pockets of the employers. If Sections 3 and 4 of Clause 23 are allowed to remain, this part of the Bill will be of little use to merchant seamen. Section 3 of Clause 28 can unfortunately be interpreted in a manner which will render all payments to the Crown nominal. Any captain—and thank heaven there are only a few—capable of bullying a man out of his ship would be equally capable of sending in an inexact account, incapable either of contradiction or verification. For instance, a captain might say that he went on shore to look for the absentee, that he spent £1 on a shore-boat to land him and another £1 on a boat to bring him off, whereas he may have spent all his time on shore in amusing himself, and have paid nothing whatever for boat hire. Such expenses and similar charges would soon swallow up all that was due to the Crown, and the worst ships would make the most out of such transactions.

There are, I believe, no existing returns from which the amount of wages due to deserting seamen can be calculated. But as it appears that about 27,000 men desert in a year, if the amount due to them is taken at £10 per head, shipowners profit by desertions to the extent of £270,000. In addition to this there is the interest on the money owing to seamen which at present remains in many cases for a year or more in the hands of the owners to be employed in their business, whereas it ought by rights to go into the pockets of the seamen. Against this they have sometimes, but not always, to pay larger wages to the men shipped in lieu of them. If this Bill is a success, these sums will, I admit, no longer reach the shipowner, but he will be recouped by being served by a healthier and better class of men. With your Lordships' permission I will read a few sentences from page 13 of the Australian Report— By practice, as well as by law, the seaman is not entitled to demand his wage until the completion of the voyage, or of the period for which he has engaged. This places him in a position of dependence, and has a most demoralizing effect upon his fortunes and character. No matter what length of time he has been on the ship nor what he may require in the way of clothes or other necessaries, he cannot legally demand one penny. Other workers receive their wages when earned; the seaman, who works harder than most men, is not even entitled to payment at reasonable intervals. When ill-fed, badly housed, and sometimes even ill-treated, and, to crown all, unable to obtain a penny of his wages, it is hardly a matter or surprise if the sailor on such ships succumbs to the deteriorating influences of his environment. The effect, too, of this practice upon the masters and owners is in some cases not less deplorable than upon the seamen. Evidence was given before the Commission in Newcastle that one master of a vessel trading to that port-made it a boast that he had not paid a man for three years. The incentive to unscrupulous masters and employers to connive at desertion, or even to induce seamen to desert, is, under such circumstances, considerable. It is not con-tended that the practice is general, but that it is not unusual the volume of testimony given before your Commission at Newcastle clearly shows. As this matter is dealt with more fully under the heading of "Crimping," it is not necessary to enter into further particulars here. But it is thought imperative that these conditions should be altered at the earliest possible moment. It is, therefore, recommended that in the foreign-going trade seamen shall be entitled to receive at the expiry of one month from the time of shipment, and thereafter at intervals of a month, at any port where the ship calls for trading purposes, two-thirds of the wages earned by them. The one possible objection to be urged against such a reform is that it would lessen the hold of the master over the seaman, and so conduce to desertion. We think a careful perusal of the evidence given at Newcastle will show that such an objection is not well founded, and that hardly any alteration of the law can render desertion more prevalent than at present. In suggesting this Amendment, however, your Commissioners are very sensible of a strong opposition which a change of so radical a character will arouse in the minds of those who consider that their interests will suffer thereby. They are, nevertheless, convinced that the proposal is based upon justice, and in accord with common sense. Nor do they consider for a moment that the best interests of the shipowners will be prejudicially affected. Besides, the recommendation is supported by the experience and practice of other nations. For instance, the laws of the United States and Norway provide for the payment of one-half the wages earned; while in Germany a man may claim, after three months, half the wages due to him for that period; or, if on a time engagement, when he returns to the port of shipment, wages earned to that date. The evidence at the disposal of your Commissioners does not disclose any increase of desertions as the result of the adoption of this practice; on the contrary, they are assured that they rarely, if ever, occur. And at page 8— In some respects the British sailor has been treated as a child, and in others denied the rights of a free man. He has been the special object of legislation. The Merchant Shipping Act has made provisions of a most elaborate character intended to safeguard his interests, but these in most cases have proved a dead letter. Recollect that the owners get the benefit of the interest of the wages withheld sometimes for more than a year. Sailors sometimes sign for three years, and during that time have no legal right to any pay at all, though the captain occasionally doles out pocket money to them as if they were children. Sometimes, however, he issues clothes to them at a fancy price out of a so-called slop chest, or else he gives them an order on a clothier who supplies them with garments at a price far higher than the sailor would pay if he had cash with which to buy the necessary articles of his kit.

Imagine yourselves at a seaport town, out of the United Kingdom, walking with a foreign friend. You pass a dirty-looking man in rags. "Why is your fellow countryman in rags?" says the friend. You answer, "Because he has received no money for months." "But why is he so dirty?" "Because he has not even money enough to buy soap." "Why has he no money? Is he one of the unemployed?" "Oh dear no! He has done a hard day's work every day for the past twelve months, Sundays included." "Then what on earth is he?" "He is a British merchant seaman, ten thousand times more of a slave than any Chinaman on the Rand. But the treatment that he has received is, strange to say, in accordance with the laws of a country which boasts of its freedom." Try to apply such laws to a miner, a shipwright, or any other working man. Could any of your Lordships get a butler, a housemaid, a cook, or a gardener to enter your service on such conditions? Half the faults of the British seaman on distant stations are due to the irregular manner in which his wages are paid. British seamen are neither better nor worse than other people. They are the natural product of their treatment and surroundings. If men were paid once a month, or nearly so, that disgusting parasite, the crimp, would cease to exist. This Bill when passed will go a very long way towards remedying these cases. But still, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. Among other things the words ''a month's wages" should be substituted for "ten pounds" in line 32 of Clause 61. Ten pounds is in many cases three months' wages.

The recently published Return of Allotments (Index No. 124) shows that the intention of the Legislature in 1880 and in 1894, that long-voyage seamen should be able to obtain possession of their own money by making allotments of half their wages to banks, has been frustrated. This document shows that under 9 per cent, of seamen make allotments, but, out of 983,000 agreements, only 276 allotments have been made to banks. If my information is correct, by far the greater number of these were made by petty officers and stewards, and not by bona-fide seamen and firemen. That this frustration of the intentions of the Legislature is not the fault of the seamen is clearly shown by the petitions recently sent by them to the Board of Trade from thirteen of our principal ports, asking that allotments of half wages be made compulsory. If the seaman has sufficient opportunities for sending his money home to England, and receives his wages as he earns them instead of being paid in lump sums at long intervals, he will never have enough money about his person to make it worth while for foreign crimps to rob him, and that detestable profession will tend to die out. The Australian Report, at page 17, recommends that, instead of allotments being made to banks, two-thirds of the wages of the seaman should be paid to him whenever the ship touches at any port for trading purposes. Clauses 60 and 61 of this Bill will certainly tend to remedy the grievances connected with wages. I hope that no means will be found of evading them. For instance, if three or four starving men apply for one vacancy the captain may ask, "Which of you may not want an allotment?" To get the berth, one of the men may say that he will not ask for an allotment. Then, after "signing on," when the superintendent asks him if he wants an allotment, he can only say "No," unless he breaks his previous promise; and if he does that he may expect to have a lively time of it with the captain when he gets to sea. In 1880 if the word "shall" had been inserted instead of "may" there would have been many thousands of allotments out of the 983,000 agreements instead of only 276. As it is, that part of the Act has remained a dead letter, and I am afraid that until allotments are made compulsory the laws dealing with them will continue to be evaded.

This Bill and other attempts to improve the condition of the seamen have been attacked on the ground that they partake of the nature of grandmotherly legislation. But this part of the Bill is for the purpose of rescinding grandmotherly legislation. Can anyone imagine anything more grandmotherly than to withhold wages from the seaman as if he were a little child unfit to have the care of his own money? It is this grandmotherly treatment which is one of the chief causes of the shortage of long-voyage British seamen; for this shortage scarcely exists on home voyages or on the best liners. One of the reasons which has hitherto checked the amount of remittances made by seamen when paid off and discharged in Continental ports has been the charge of 3d. in the £ on all money remitted. Seamen often preferred to carry it home themselves to paying so much money, but unfortunately they often failed to carry out their virtuous intentions. That 3d. in the £ was a most hateful tax, a tax on providence and on family affection. I congratulate the Government on having been able to reduce that charge to 1d. in the£.

Clause 37, section2, says that if a master shall knowingly deliver a false account of the wages due to a seaman left behind he shall for each offence be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds in addition in each case to the payment of the wages. Is not this far too light a penalty for a wilful and deliberate act of swindling? Recollect that a seaman often has more than twenty pounds due to him. As the captain himself keeps the accounts, it will always be very difficult to check his statements as to what may have taken place months previously at a distant port. A month's imprisonment and permanent deprivation of certificate would not be too great a penalty for a man who had disgraced his profession by knowingly delivering a false account of this description. Men who knowingly send in false accounts are a disgrace to the honourable body of master-mariners to which they belong. All professions exclude from practice the black sheep who disgrace them. Barristers can be disbarred, officer cashiered, and solicitors struck off the rolls. If a shipowner was contemplating a swindle he would look down the list of masters convicted of sending in false accounts with the view of finding an accomplice in his schemes. Such men should never be given a magisterial position of authority in command of a ship on the high seas, with no higher power within sight. It is unfair to all on board to be placed under the command of a swindler of this stamp.

Clause 62 of the Bill deals with the housing of the seaman. Unfortunately, what it gives with one hand it takes away with the other. Therefore, it requires amendment. At present a man may be required to live, dine, and sleep, and keep all his belongings, in a space 6 feet long by 6 feet by 2 feet which an Australian witness, referring no doubt to colonial burial laws, has grimly described as— the sepulchral accommodation to which a man is entitled at his own interment. The Bill raises this cubic space of 72 feet to 120 cubic feet. The evidence in favour of an increase, given before Lord St. Helier's Committee and before the Australian Commission, is overwhelming, but as it is somewhat lengthy, I shall not trouble the House with any of it, unless opposition is made to this increase in Committee. But Section 2 of Clause 62 contains a most objectionable sentence, which I believe was not originally in the Bill; it says that "bath-100ms and washing places" may be deducted from the 120 cubic feet pro-provided for the seamen, if the old sepulchral accommodation of 72 cubic feet is left to him in his sleeping place. That mess rooms should be deducted from the 120 cubic feet appears to be fair enough, for if the sleeping place be overcrowded, there will always be an overflow into the mess room. But the existence of bathrooms and wash-houses in which few men would spend more time than a quarter of an hour in a day would not prevent overcrowding in the sleeping place. Of course, at sea some men would always be on watch, but even that would not raise the cubic space to the quantity required for health.

Soldiers, I understand, are allowed 600 cubic feet in barracks, regardless of bath-rooms, wash-houses, or the number of men on guard. Lodging-houses are required to give 300 cubic feet. A seaman in the Royal Navy when in a cell under punishment is entitled to a, space 6½ feet long and 3 feet broad, which, with a deck 6 feet high, gives him a space of 117 cubic feet, in which he has not got to keep his belongings. If he has the good fortune to be on board that up-to-date ship the "Dreadnought" when he qualifies for cells he will have about double that space to live in. If the words "bath-rooms or washing-places" are allowed to remain in the Bill, one of its principal objects will be defeated, as the more cleanly and disciplined lads brought up on board training ships or in training schools will be far less likely to remain in the merchant service under such conditions. This Bill cannot be looked upon as final if this want of space, one of the chief grievances of the seaman, remains un-redressed, I shall therefore move an Amendment to strike the words "bathrooms or washing-places" out of Clause 62. If this House accepts it, I do not think it at all likely that the words will be reinserted in another place. If 72 cubic feet is enough space for a hard-worked man to keep himself and his wet clothes, let other people say so, and let this House have the credit of holding a different opinion.

The present Bill does not touch on the question of lighting and ventilation. Schedule 6 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 says that— Seamen's quarters should be properly lighted and ventilated. The Australian Report declares that these sections of the Merchant Shipping Act have proved ineffective. The responsibility for this should be thrown upon the officers of the ship. A clause ought to be inserted in the Bill requiring that all the iron in the quarters of both officers and men should be completely insulated, not by wooden linings which would harbour dirt and vermin, but by asbestos or cork varnish, in such a manner as to leave no interstices in which insects might congregate. This is done in the Royal Navy. The constant dripping from bare iron is a cause of great discomfort and is very unwholesome. It appears to me that these are questions that the Board of Trade are fully competent to deal with without further aid from Parliament. If this assumption on my part is correct, I should be glad of an assurance from the Government that the Board of Trade will i consider these points. If they will undertake to do this, an Amendment dealing with the questions of light and ventilation would appear to be superfluous. In the better lines of steamers the men's quarters are frequently inspected by the officers of the ship, and what we have to do is to level up to them. In some vessels I am told that such an inspection would be resented by the men, and that any officer who entered them would be-come a target for a marlinspike or a pannikin.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 represents chiefly ideas previous to 1854, when attempts at sanitary regulations for checking the spread of cholera were met with the maxim that, "An English-man's house was his castle." We have got beyond that on shore, and should get beyond it afloat. The rights and duty of the captain and officers to inspect the men's forecastle should be admitted on board every ship that flies our flag. I am in full sympathy with those who, like the noble Lord opposite (Lord Brassey), wish to train boys to be sea-men in the merchant service. But I look upon such attempts ass certain to result in failure as long as many of our forecastles remain small and. dirty. The very habits of cleanliness and orderliness inculcated at training institutions would cause these boys to look upon their surroundings with disgust, and to take the first opportunity of obtaining other employment on shore.

I congratulate the Government on Clause 71 of this Bill dealing with alien pilots, but I must express my regret that alien captains and seconds in command are not dealt with in a similar manner. There appeals to me to be a sort of underlying assumption in our Merchant Shipping Acts that all our ships are commanded by British subjects, yet this is not so. By these Acts aliens are placed in a magisterial position over men of British nationality. That their existence should be tolerated is a blot on the Bill, and I am intending to bring forward an Amendment on the lines of the alien pilot clauses, allowing existing alien captains to continue their service, and permitting them to be temporarily employed on foreign stations so as to prevent British ships being unnecessarily detained in distant ports for want of a navigator. I hope that the Government will accept these Amendments; if not, I shall at all events have entered my protest against the continuance of the present system. If war broke out their being in command of British ships would constitute an additional risk to British commerce. The opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown as detailed by the First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday afternoon, show that it is uncertain whether under all circumstances such alien captains could be tried for high treason, or for communicating official secrets. I take this opportunity of thanking the First Lord for the congratulations personal to myself that he made yesterday, which were so unexpected as to leave me speechless for a time.

I should myself be glad to see some legislation carried which would ensure a preference being given to British seamen when it becomes a question of employing them or foreigners. But on many unhealthy foreign stations, it is for the benefit of the British seamen that kroomen or lascars should be carried. They can bear the heat of sun or stokehole far better than a European, and are also less liable to suffer from fevers. I should be sorry to see none but British-born seamen employed on board ships trading in the Bight of Benin, or in the Persian Gulf. The high wages that would probably be offered to them would be a poor equivalent for a large death rate and ruined health.

As regards Clause 72, I think it a mistake. The local marine boards were doing their work very well and no case had been made against them. At great shipping centres such as Glasgow, Liverpool, and the Tyne, all of which I have recently visited, the local boards have been of use. They were fully competent to deal with their own neighbourhoods, and were a check on over-centralisation. I believe in local government when competent men can be found to administer it. I will conclude by saying that I hope this House will show itself ready to support all reasonable claims of labour, that shipowners will accept my Amendments, so as to do away with legitimate grievances and disarm the trade unions by granting the seaman all that he is fairly entitled to receive, thus weakening the outcry that will certainly be made by Labour Members and others in favour of further legislation in accordance with the recommendations of the Australian Report. Some of the legislation suggested in that Report would, I think, in the face of foreign com- petition, be ruinous to our trade and injurious to the seamen themselves as tending to lay up ships and reduce employment.

As long as a man can be punished for a two days absence from work by imprisonment and the forfeiture of the wages earned during a year or more, there must be regulations to prevent his being half-starved and ill-treated during such service. We boast that our shipping trade flourishes under present laws, but unfortunately some few shipowners flourish at the expense of long-voyage seamen, who are demoralised by having their wages withheld, and by their unwholesome food and surroundings. Are not these men as much part and parcel of Great Britain as shareholders in shipping companies? Compare the Merchant Shipping Acts with the King's Regulations for the government of the Fleet. The latter book is full of orders dealing with the comfort of the seamen, yet they are not thought grandmotherly. Then have not our men-of-war admirals who inspect ships and keep the captains in order? With payment at regular intervals, sufficient space to live in and clean surroundings, many of the better class of men who now take to other work as soon as they can find it would, I think, remain in the merchant service to the exclusion of the foreigner.


My Lords, as a member of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships, upon whose recommendation regulations as to loading and detention were first established, I desire to offer a few observations. Those regulations were due to the stirring appeals of Mr. Plimsoll. He had a strong case. It was referred to a Commission over which the Duke of Somerset ably presided. Mr. Plimsoll proposed to place our mercantile marine under close and continuous survey, and to guarantee seaworthiness by Government certificates. The Commission reported that such proposals were impracticable. As they pointed out, seaworthiness depends upon the unceasing application of that skill and care which no Government Department can exercise. The Commission held that nothing should be done to relieve the shipowner of his responsibility. It should be enforced, in cases of disaster, by prosecution, or by taking criminal proceedings. To prevent glaring abuses, some regulations are necessary. All regulations impose charges on the shipowner and place him at some disadvantage in competing with foreign tonnage. It is just that that disadvantage should be removed, as it will be under the provisions of the Bill.

I may, perhaps, be permitted to say a few words on a matter with which this Bill does not deal, but to which the attention of the Commission on Un-seaworthy Ships was specially directed. If the law of marine insurance could be so amended as to make it impossible that the shipowner should derive pecuniary advantage from shipwreck we should have the strongest guarantee which legislation can give against recklessness in the management of shipping. Reform is difficult. It was attempted under the late Government by Lord Halsbury. With all the advantage of his authority and influence the Bill did not pass. It may, as the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships recommended, be desirable to begin by inviting foreign nations to concur in framing an international code. The loss of life at sea is diminishing. The over-laden sailing-ships, in which the casualties were lamentable in former years, are diminishing in number. The tables published by the Board of Trade cover a period of twenty-five years. In the first four years, 4,950 lives were lost in sailing ships, foundered and missing. In the four last years covered by the Return the number had fallen to 877. While sailing ships are disappearing, steam ships are growing in size and power, and these changes make for the safety of life at sea.

I turn to Part III. of the Bill. Its provisions will alleviate some of the miseries of the seaman's calling. As a scheme for dealing with the alleged denationalisation of the mercantile marine by the employment of foreigners it will not go very far. The latest Returns show that the number of British parsons, which had for many years been diminishing, is now increasing. In the home trade and the fisheries, in ocean liners, and in tramps, not trading with the East, foreigners are com- paratively few. They are to be found chiefly in sailing ships in the foreign trade, in which wages are paid on the lowest scale. Lascars are increasing. They are necessary in the trade passing through the Suez Canal into the hottest regions of the globs. On the whole, the position is satisfactory. The aid of the Government is chiefly required in support of some well-considered scheme of training for boys. Several training establishments maintained by private subscription well merit public support. I am glad that the Government have taken a first step by referring the subject to a strong Committee. In conclusion, I suggest that it would be well if some knowledge of first aid to the injured were required on the part of candidates for Board of Trade certificates.


My Lords, I claim that indulgence which your Lordships always extend to one who addresses you for the first time. I have not that special knowledge of this subject which is possessed by many of your Lordships, but no one could fill the office which I hold without taking the liveliest interest in these matters. In my diocese there is probably the largest amount of sea coast in any diocese in the United Kingdom, and at one time—thank God that time has now passed—there were more wrecks on that coast than in any part of the Kingdom. I have, just in front of the windows of my house, one of those training ships on which good and able men are working with might and main, and with a considerable amount of success, to bring up those, who, if left to themselves, would become dangerous hooligans in our towns, and make them self-respecting God-fearing seamen. Again, I have the advantage of intimate friendship with those engaged in the Missions to Seamen who, more than almost any others, know the real wants and wishes, as well as the hardships, of our sailors.

No one can look at this problem with out being struck with its great difficulty. First of all, one must remember that this is a time of intense competition and cutting-down of expenses, and if by our well-meant attempts we do anything to prevent the shipowner getting a fair and legitimate profit we shall drive away the shipping trade from this country and so lessen the employment of British seamen. We have also to contend with the inveterate prejudices, not only of owners and captains, but of seamen themselves, for it not infrequently happens that Jack views with disapproval the very best intentioned efforts of others to add to his comfort. An amusing case was given by the President of the Board of Trade in the speech in which he introduced this measure in another place. He informed the House that several lascars had petitioned that as they had done no wrong to Mr. Havelock Wilson, they hoped Mr. Havelock Wilson would not introduce certain measures adding to their accommodation. That may be taken as only one instance of how those who do not quite understand the sailor may wish to do him good, and yet at the same time receive opposition to their well-intentioned efforts from the sailors themselves.

But, allowing for all those things, it must be admitted that our sailors have a great deal of preventible hardship to undergo. The sea must be a hard life to those who follow it, and really one could hardly, in some instances, wish that it should be otherwise. Everyone is proud of the heroism and endurance of our seamen. There is a certain poetry about their life which we all admire, but there are hardships which we ought to do our best to alleviate and which we could do at little cost. Indeed, we have here a further instance of evil wrought by want of thought rather than by want of heart. I especially welcome in this Bill the provision that food supplied good should not be rendered uneatable by bad cooking. I also agree with the noble Lord who spoke last that ships ought to carry someone trained in ambulance and first-aid work. I have myself listened to pathetic stories of cases where injured men had to remain weeks before their injuries could be surgically treated.

I think His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on the attempt they are making to reduce desertions. I am convinced that this is a step in the right direction, and that the provision that it should not be to the interest of anyone that seamen should desert is a wise one. One cannot shut one's eyes to the urgency of this subject. In the county in which I live there are fewer men following a seafaring calling than in past years. Thirty years ago nearly every small farmer around the coast was also a good boatman. That is no longer the case, and we find that we have not the same multitude of people to draw from as we had before to man our lifeboats. I can only hope that this Bill, when it goes back from your Lordships' House—in which there are many noble Lords with practical knowledge of the subject, because they themselves have fallen under the spell of the charm of the sea, some of whom are themselves qualified by examination to act as masters of ships—and becomes law, will improve the conditions of life of our seamen and attract fresh recruits to the profession upon which, after all, depends not only the wealth but the very food and nourishment of our country.


My Lords, I desire to join with the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords in congratulating His Majesty's Government, and especially the noble Earl who introduced it, upon the measure which lies before us. The subject, I know, is a most complicated one, and I admired the lucidity and skill with which the noble Earl steered his way through all its difficulties. Undoubtedly the Bill is a very long and complicated one. It does not, however, entirely satisfy the ideals of my noble friend Lord Muskerry. He, as I understand, would like it to embrace even a far larger number of topics than are now dealt with. But, perhaps because for a short time I was in office at the Board of Trade myself, I am tempted to be content with a certain amount of progress at a time and not to defeat the ends either of the Government or of Parliament by asking for legislation on too great a scale on a matter so difficult and complicated.

I do not think the Government would have had much chance of passing this Bill as it is but for the circumstance that it is in nearly all its provisions a legacy from ourselves. That is the most happy position in which legislation can stand. A Bill which has been drawn up by one Government and introduced by another is likely to be opposed by neither side of the House, and, therefore, there is more probability of such a measure passing into law. I need not add, for this very reason, that I have nothing much to say by way of hostile criticism of the proposals in the measure. On the contrary, I believe that these provisions on the whole will commend themselves to all Parties, and, with certain very small exceptions, to all noble Lords in this House.

Perhaps the matters which have engaged more attention than any others in the discussions on the Bill have been the questions with reference to the load-line. I do not intend to say much on that point on the present occasion, but there has been a certain amount of difference of opinion exhibited in another place as to whether the load-line provisions went far enough in their application to foreign ships. I fully recognise the difficulty the Government have felt in dealing with this subject. The difficulty may be insurmountable; but that only makes it all the more necessary that we should consider whether there is not some other way by which the same end can be achieved. I think that road is indicated by the promise which the Government have made that they will endeavour by negotiation to obtain the assent of foreign Powers to the adoption of a more stringent law on this subject. That, I believe, has been the policy of successive Governments, and I should like to ask the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what prospect there is of such negotiations bearing fruit within a reasonable time. It is especially these minor topics in the business of the Foreign Office which are likely to be left out of sight. The Foreign Office are engaged upon topics of enormous importance, and very often these smaller matters are allowed to go on from month to month and year to year without any definite steps being taken to press them on foreign Governments. Yet the matter is one of great importance, and it would be satisfactory to numbers of persons if they knew that some vigorous steps were being taken to press it on the attention of foreign maritime Powers, and to get them to approximate their load-line regulations to those which have been for many years established in this country. I will say no more on that head.

I turn for a moment to the provisions of the Bill designed to raise the standard of comfort of the crew and to increase their safety. Those provisions have been received with universal approval by almost every commentator upon the measure. We were very pleased to hear from the noble Earl that the number of British seamen, according to the last Returns, showed a marked tendency to increase. That is a very satisfactory piece of information. Undoubtedly the problem which is presented of adequately manning the enormous mercantile marine of this country with British seamen is a very formidable one, and I think the noble Earl was fully justified in saying that no better means for solving it could be adopted than that of adding to their comfort and their safety by such provisions as are found in the Bill. Those provisions deal with food, space, wages, medical attendance, and repatriation. I do not, of course, desire to say that these provisions are in all respects perfect. My noble friend Lord Ellenborough called your Lordships' attention to many particulars in which he thought changes might be made for the better, and I suppose there is nobody in your Lordships' House who speaks with greater authority on this subject than the noble Lord. There is also my noble friend behind me (Lord Muskerry), who, I think, has pages of Amendments in his mind, and perhaps already on paper, and which no doubt on a suitable occasion he will explain to your Lordships. But, even as they stand, the provisions for the seamen's comfort are very various, and, I hope, well designed.

I think we must not leave out of account the observations made by the right rev. Prelate, in which he pointed out that it is not only their comfort and safety which must be sought, but also that their character should be raised by means of training on ships and in schools such as he himself is interested in. is I have said, these provisions are very numerous and go a considerable distance. I think there is a danger lest we should go too far. It is quite right to do everything possible to add to the comfort of our seamen and to maintain their safety, but in a great profession like the merchant service some danger is involved if too heavy a burden is laid upon those who are responsible for its conduct. Just as we do not desire to discourage seamen from entering the profession, so we do not desire, on the other hand, to discourage capital and the energy of capitalists from being employed in the merchant service; and there is no doubt that if we were led into imposing too great burdens upon that service we might in the long run do more harm than good. Moreover, in imposing restrictions in the interests of seamen and in passing legislation in the interests of shipowners, we must not forget the interests of other persons concerned. Your Lordships will be aware that considerable attention was drawn to this particular matter in another place, and it was pointed out in the House of Commons that as the Bill stood the provisions made in respect of space and the calculation of tonnage were likely to affect adversely the interests both of pilots and dock owners. I think I am right in saying that some sort of compromise was arrived at on this point in the other House and that the Government were willing to abandon part of their original provisions, whilst, on the other hand, those who spoke on behalf of the pilots and others were willing to go a certain way to meet them, in order that part of the burden involved in these changes should rest on themselves as well as on the shipowners. If that be true, and if that compromise was agreed: upon, I have no doubt your Lordships would be unwilling to disturb it.

There is one other direction in which, I think, there is danger of doing too much. I refer to the question of the marine boards, which has interested a great many people in certain parts of England. I should not like to claim to speak with any competence on this point. Possibly after the noble Earl has explained the matter to your Lordships, it may be found that the policy of the Government in this, respect is fully justified; but, speaking prima facie, it certainly seems to me that the change was rather uncalled for. The Government appear to have thought that it was of great importance in the interests of the seamen that they should have assistance when they appear before the superintendents in the questions which have to be tried before that tribunal in the matter of wages and so forth. That has an outward semblance of fairness, and no doubt commands superficially a certain amount of support; but, as a matter of fact, I am informed that the seaman's friend in whose interest this appears to be brought forward is generally a very undesirable person indeed, and that the only effect of this provision, which is advanced, no doubt, with the very best intentions, will be to put those individuals known by the name of crimps in a far more powerful position than they are at present. I, therefore, rather regret that the change was introduced. That feeling of regret was shared vehemently by the marine boards themselves, who resisted the change to the very best of their ability. The only thing they got from this resistance, which I suspect was in the public interest, was that the Government in another place put in a provision by which they to a large extent abolished the power of the marine boards in so far as the superintendents are concerned. If, as I think, the marine boards took the action they did in the public interest, it was rather unfortunate and bad policy that the Government should have taken the opportunity of this Bill, which is otherwise quite non-contentious in the broad sense of the word, to attack the marine boards. Taking a broad view, we must all admit that the Bill is a very good Bill, and I think both His Majesty's Government and the country are to be heartily congratulated on its introduction into your Lordships' House.


My Lords, in rising to say but a very few words on this Bill, I ask for that indulgence which your Lordships always extend to those who address you for the first time. As I have had some practical experience in the mercantile marine, perhaps a few remarks from me might not be out of place. I listened to the observations of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, and I thoroughly agree with all that he said in moving the Second Reading. I was also glad to hear that my noble friend Lord Muskerry does not regard the Bill as a bad one. I have had the opportunity of speaking to owners, captains, and seamen, and they have all told me that they thoroughly like the Bill, and think it is the right thing in the right place. If it is passed, men will go to sea under conditions which have never before obtained, and the cry of a "hungry ship" will be no more. I am perfectly certain, therefore, that all those who follow the sea will believe that the words of Dibdin have again come true, and that Mr. Lloyd-George in another place and Lord Granard here, like the little cherub that sits up aloft, have looked after the needs of poor Jack.


My Lords, the favourable reception which this Bill has received does not make it at all necessary, I think, that at this stage any prolonged statement should be made in reply to the friendly criticisms which have been made; and in regard to those criticisms, such as they were, dealing essentially with matters which relate to the Board of Trade, I think that in all probability it will be more natural that my noble friend who introduced this Bill in what I think has been generally acknowledged to have been a very able speech should reply.

But the noble Marquess opposite, Lord Salisbury, made an appeal to me in regard to certain matters which relate not merely to the Board of Trade but also to the Department which I represent in your Lordships' House. I allude more particularly to what he said in regard to the establishment of an international load-line. That, I am sure, is an appeal which must find a ready response in the heart of every member of your Lordships' House, for it would be impossible to conceive of any international decision which could be of greater benefit to humanity than the consent of all the great maritime nations to one load-line. It is perfectly true, as in all these cases, that the negotiations on these questions are to a certain extent in the hands of the Foreign Office, but in this matter there is a more than divided responsibility between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, because upon the opinion of the great advisers of that important Board the real decision depends far more than upon us at the Foreign Office. Subject to that observation, I may state that the question has not been at all lost sight of, and that at this moment we have made some satisfactory progress in negotiations, especially with Germany, in regard to this matter, and also with Norway; and in regard to another Power with which we have very friendly relations—Spain— the adoption by them of the same load-line as we have is, I hope, a matter which will be secured in the not distant future. I can assure the noble Marquess that the matter is not being at all lost sight of.

I may further remind him that subsection (b) of the first clause of this Bill distinctly puts what I may call a premium upon engagements of this kind, because it to a certain extent may be said to enable this country to exempt from the regulations and penalties which otherwise are imposed on foreign vessels the vessels of any country which can show to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade that they have adopted regulations for a load-line of equal value to that which will exist under this Bill. That, indeed, is not altogether new, for I may remind the noble Marquess that in Section 445 of the old Act of 1894, which was in itself a great consolidating measure, the first step in that direction was taken. I was glad indeed to hear what fill from the noble Marquess, and I am quite convinced that it is far more desirable to move in the direction of attempts to secure agreements of this kind with the great commercial Powers of the world than to attempt to extend the purview of our laws and regulations outside our own immediate territorial jurisdiction, because any attempt of that kind would be quite ineffectual. How, I venture to ask, would it be possible, supposing even that it was desirable, to enforce in an English Court rules and regulations in regard to a state of things which might have existed in a foreign harbour outside our own jurisdiction or even upon the journey of the ship to this country? It would be a matter of criminal jurisdiction, and the proof of any such offence outside our jurisdiction would in itself be most difficult. Bearing in mind that in criminal law you must have not merely surmise, but exact proof before you can expect a Court to condemn a man, it stands to reason that to attempt in an English Court to convict on such' uncertain evidence would be practically useless.

But, apart from that, I must point out that any such attempt would raise very difficult questions of international law, because if there is any well established principle of the law of nations it is that a nation must confine the law relating to its own subjects to its own territorial jurisdiction, or to its own subjects beyond that jurisdiction. No nation must assume to punish the subjects of a foreign State for an offence committed against the laws of that nation outside its own jurisdiction. Any attempt to bring pressure on foreign nations to alter their own law and to penalise them until they altered their own law with regard to what happens in their own ports would be a distinct attempt to violate the principle which I have tried to sum up in these few sentences. Therefore, it was with great satisfaction that I heard from the noble Marquess that it was not to these attempts that he looked to obtain agreement. He realises, in fact, that it is not to the pressure of legislation in matters which our legislation really cannot touch that we must look to obtain real progress in this direction. For that reason I welcome what fell from the noble Marquess, and I can assure him that he may be quite certain that both the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade will act in the spirit of his observations.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words on this Bill as a practical shipowner. I made it my business to get to know the feeling of those concerned on the main points of the Bill, and I have the authority of the representatives of the seamen to say that they are perfectly satisfied with the provision with regard to food. That really is almost the most important provision in the Bill. One noble Lord has said that we shall not have any more "hungry ships" going to sea—a very practical way of looking at it.

But there is one point upon which I am not perfectly satisfied. I refer to the interference with foreign ships. Why are we to interfere with them? It must be either for the protection of life or property. Protection of life is a matter for their own countrymen, and protection of property appears to me to be principally a matter for the underwriters I will explain how you may cause irritation and difficulty in this matter. For a great many years the mercantile marine had a load line, when suddenly the Board of Trade found that that load line was entirely wrong. I telegraphed to Hull to-day to ask what had been done in regard to the alteration of the load line, and one firm—perhaps your Lordships may imagine it is my own— replied that 4,365 tons had been added to the dead-weight capacity of the fleet by the new load line. But if the load line in the past had been inflicted on foreign shipping we should have been doing them an injustice. We do not know what injustice we may do by interfering with their own regulations. And what does it bring in? It brings in a word that has been favourably received by noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House—the word "retaliation"; and what is more open to retaliation than the British mercantile marine? I am chairman and vice-chairman of companies owning 150 steamers at the present time, and I know the jealousy there is in every country of our mercantile marine. We cannot be too careful. We have nothing to fear from foreign ships. Statistics, which I do not propose to go into, show that our mercantile marine has increased in spite of every effort of other countries. I know very well how foreign competition comes in, and I wish to give this warning—interfere as little as possible with foreign shipping and do not provoke retaliation. There is another provision which I do not like to see in the Bill. Masters are made liable in twenty-one cases to heavy fines for misdemeanour. What does misdemeanour mean? I do not quite know, but I know what the fine is. It is from £2 up to £500. This is rather a criminal way of treating masters of British merchant ships, and I hope the Board of Trade will consider the matter and make this provision less hard upon them.

There is going to be put upon the British mercantile marine by this Bill a tax which is not inflicted on foreign merchant navies. I should think that this measure, especially with the increased food scale, will cost the British mercantile marine an extra £100,000 a year at the least, and, in view of the increased burden thus imposed on the shipping industry, I hope the Board of Trade will help the shipowners in return by placing the light dues on the National Exchequer. I know a great many of the difficulties attending the British mercantile marine, and my advice to the Board of Trade is, leave it alone as much as possible, and also do not attempt to legislate for foreign shipping; leave them severely alone. It has been satisfactory to hear two noble Lords on the Opposition side express sympathy with the sailors, and perhaps not the game sympathy with the shipowners, but may I, in entirely approving of their kindliness to the sailor, say that my practical knowledge makes me feel that it is sometimes somewhat sentimental and not practical.


My Lords, I think I might just state the facts in regard to the alteration of the load line which took place last year. By the Act of 1894 the Board of Trade had power to fix a load line after consultation with the various registering authorities, but the Act also provided, in sub-section (4) of Section 438, that in any modification of the load line the Board of Trade should have regard to any representations made to them by any corporation or association for the survey or registry of ships for the time being appointed or approved by the Board of Trade. Since the load line was originally settled there have been great improvements in shipping and the class of ships have been greatly improved. It was thought right to make a change in the position in which the load line was put on the ship, and the change was made with the full concurrence of Lloyds' and the other registering associations whose consent was required, and it is believed, greatly to the advantage of the shipowners of the country.


It is quite correct that there has been an immense improvement in modern steamships, but the altered load line applies also to the very old steamers.


My Lords, having had experience in connection with shipping, and being a member of one of the principal trusts in the United Kingdom, I desire to congratulate the Government on having brought forward a Bill which, in all the circumstances, is an honest effort to meet a great want and difficulty. There are undoubtedly very many points in it of a practical nature that are capable of Amendment. Other Amendments may also be introduced judging from the interview which the President of the Board of Trade had with the dockowners of the United Kingdom, who suffer great hardships from the mode in which the tonnage of ships is registered. The present state of affairs is unfair to dockowners and also unfair between shipowner and shipowner, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to amend the Bill in that particular.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole. House on Tuesday, the 11th of December next.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.