HL Deb 03 June 1907 vol 175 cc244-9

rose to call attention to the desirability of requiring candidates for Board of Trade certificates of competency to show knowledge of ambulance work and of first aid to the injured; and to inquire whether the Board of Trade were taking any steps in the matter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during the totally inadequate discussion of the new Merchant Shipping Act while in the Committee Stage in this House a suggestion was made which, without doubt, had the general sympathy of the House. This suggestion took the form of an Amendment moved by my right rev. friend the Bishop of Bangor, that a British ship should carry at least one officer or seaman duly certificated as to proficiency in first aid and ambulance work. The right rev. Prelate to a certain extent anticipated me, as I had given notice of my intention to bring the subject forward, though in another, and, I venture to think, simpler form.

Though the right rev. Prelate's Amendment was unsuccessful—which was no surprise to me, having regard to the hostility of the Government towards most of the Amendments to the Bill—I was glad to find that its principle) was so generally approved of. From the remarks of the noble Lords representing the Government a clear impression was given to the House that the question would not be neglected. The First Lord of the Admiralty remarked that the Government looked with favour on the proposal, and the right rev. Prelate's Amendment was consequently withdrawn. Yet the short and sympathetic debate proved barren so far as the Merchant Shipping Act is concerned, and I venture to submit, with all respect, that if your Lordships were to apply a little more direct force to your unquestionable sympathy with the seafaring fraternity it would be voicing public opinion and would command the everlasting gratitude of those whoso occupation prevents them from applying this direct force themselves.

To revert to the desirability of a knowledge of ambulance and first aid at sea, I feel that it is hardly necessary to dilate upon its importance. The Bishop of Bangor pointed, in touching and eloquent terms, to the serious risks to life and limb inseparable from the calling of the sailor. Ho dwelt on the misery, pain, and distress of men grievously maimed at sea, with no immediate attention at hand in the shape of medical skill in its highest forms. And no additional words of mine could make the situation clearer. But for the dilatory tactics—to use a very mild term—of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade something would have been done long ago to alleviate the miseries of injured seamen. It is no less than seven years ago that a Medical Committee appointed by the Board of Trade recommended that— Mates presenting themselves for examination for masters' certificates should be required to produce evidence that they have passed through a course of instruction in the subject of first aid to the wounded. That was the recommendation of a Committee of their own appointed seven years ago, and nothing has yet been done. During the discussion on this subject on the Committee stage of the Merchant Shipping Bill some anxiety seemed to be felt as to the attitude of shipowners, my noble friend in charge of the Bill stating that at the present moment the Board of Trade put so many burdens on shipowners that they did not desire to add any more. I will, therefore, read to your Lordships opinions which have been expressed by shipowners on this matter. The following Resolution was passed at a Committee mooting of the North of England Steamship Owners' Association— That the Executive Council of the Chamber of Shipping request the Board of Trade to pass an order that in all future examinations for certificates of competency for officers in the Mercantile Marine, it shall be imperative that every candidate shall possess an ambulance certificate. The Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom, which is the representative body of the shipowners of this country, in reporting their opinions to the Board of Trade stated that it would be very desirable for candidates for first mates' certificates to be compulsorily examined in ambulance work, with the proviso, which is a perfectly proper one, that any now regulations should not be retrospective in their action.

The Merchant Service Guild, which is the representative body of the captains and officers of our merchant service, have, I think, on two occasions informed the Board of Trade that they fully realise the value of knowledge of this kind, and they have urged the Board to require proof of ambulance training and knowledge of first aid from all candidates for second mates' certificates. It will be a source of surprise to your Lordships that with the knowledge of all this the Board of Trade did not accept the Amendment of my right rev. friend.

In justice to our sailors, I submit to your Lordships that we cannot allow this matter to drop, and if the Board of Trade still intend to present a hostile front we must take some stronger measures to deal effectively with it. Not a single reasonable argument can be adduced for declining to agree to the proposal that a knowledge of ambulance work and first aid should be required of those obtaining their first certificates of competency from the Board of Trade. I hope to learn that the Board arc now taking the necessary steps whereby something practicable in the direction I urge will be carried into effect, and, furthermore, I trust that your Lordships will give your support in this matter, if only in the cause of humanity. It is a disgrace to the country, a disgrace to the nation, that more care, more consideration, and more solicitude are shown to the criminals in our prisons and penal establishments than to the British merchant sailor, to whom the country owes so much. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, the matter to which my noble friend has alluded has received and is receiving the attention of the Board of Trade. As the noble Lord will remember, on the Third Reading stage of the Merchant Shipping Bill last year I gave a promise, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that regulations should be framed by the Board of Trade to deal with this question, so that in the course of the next few years every ship going to sea should have on board a man who had passed an examination in first aid. I will tell the noble Lord what has happened since that time. We are naturally anxious that the smallest amount of inconvenience or expense should be put on officers undergoing examination for these certificates. We have consequently asked the St. John Ambulance Association and the St. Andrew's Ambulance Association whether they can see their way to make special terms for these officers, and the answers received have been wholly satisfactory. It naturally takes some time to settle and bring into force regulations, but I hope that at the beginning of next year the Government will be able to give effect to their intentions in the matter. The only outstanding question, it seems to me, is that regarding expense, and we hope that the total expenses of officers for examination purposes will in no case exceed a guinea. We intend to impose the obligation of passing an examination in first aid on every officer going up for examination after the new rules come into force—say, a mate who wishes to take out a master's certificate, also on men who are going up for their examinations for second mate.


My Lords, I should like to say a single word on this subject. It seems to me to be one of those matters which one is a little surprised not to have heard more about outside. It concerns so very large and so important a section of the community who are always supposed to be specially dear to the English people that one wonders that a grievance so real should not have been dealt with and remedied before now. I confess to some little disappointment at the answer which has been given by the noble Earl on behalf of His Majesty's Government, after the statement which was made when the matter came before the House last year. I then understood, from what the noble Earl said, that by the time the Bill came into operation these regulations would be in force. The suffering to which an ordinary seaman who has broken his leg or his arm, or has met with some other serious accident, may be subjected owing to the absence on board of any one with a knowledge of first aid, is such that the matter does call for the issue, in a peremptory form, of the regulation which has been asked for, and it will be exceedingly unfortunate if there should be any continued delay in this matter, which, if public attention were prominently drawn to it, would, I am sure, evoke very marked feeling among the people of this country. I understand that there is a regulation that there must be a certified cook on every ship. I do not want to draw a comparison between the advantages to men on board of the services of a certified cook and of the man who understands first aid, but I do not think there would be any doubt on the subject when an accident occurred. This is a matter which urgently calls for attention, and I hope it will be pressed forward.


My Lords, I cannot refrain from joining in the expression of disappointment at the delay which has taken place in carrying into effect the undertaking given last year by the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade. I certainly understood from what the noble Earl then said that the instructions wore to be issued at once, and that mates going up for their examination certificates of competency were to be examined in first aid as soon as the Merchant Shipping Act came into force. That Act came into force last week, but the regulations have not yet been framed. I notice that the Board of Trade have issued several circulars with regard to subjects to be added to their syllabus for examination, and I am surprised that there has been no hint in any of the circulars that a knowledge of first-aid to the injured will at any future time form a subject for examination. I inquired of the principals of a number of marine academies where officers are prepared for examination for certificates of proficiency as to whether they knew anything about the matter, and so far as I can gather from the replies they are in complete ignorance as to the likelihood of first aid forming any part of future examinations. I do not think it is a very difficult matter. Numbers of policemen, railway guards, and men employed in mines find no difficulty in passing the examination, and my nephew tells me that ho passed it when he was a boy at Eton. I hope the Board of Trade will see their way to issue regulations at an earlier date than that mentioned by the noble Earl, and I trust that when they are framed they will be laid on the Table of the House.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade can carry this matter a little further after the appeal which has been made to him. Ho will remember that a statement was made on the Third Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill that instructions would be issued on the subject almost immediately; but, though six months have elapsed, no instructions have been made public, and we are told that the matter is still under consideration. This is not a new matter; it has been under consideration some years, and I hope the Government will be able to give some further assurance that it will be dealt with without delay.


Your Lordships must remember that the object of the Board of Trade has been as far as possible to save officers inconvenience and expense; and for this reason we have approached the ambulance societies I have mentioned to see if they will give officers preferential treatment. Officers are frequently out of port and abroad, and in a great many of the places at which they touch they do not have the time or the opportunity of going up for this examination. In view, however, of the appeals made to the Government, I will do everything in ray power to secure that the regulations shall come into operation as soon as possible.

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