HL Deb 27 July 1908 vol 193 cc708-24

rose to call attention to certain modified regulations which have been adopted recently by the Board of Trade in respect to the qualifying time in charge of a watch required of those candidates for Board of Trade certificates as mate or master who have served an apprenticeship on approved sea-going training vessels; to refer to the protest against these new regulations which has been entered by the Imperial Merchant Service Guild; to ask why the opinion of the Board of Trade Advisory Committee was not firstly ascertained before the new regulations were adopted; and to move "That, in the opinion of this House, these modified regulations are a departure from assurances given in this House by the Board of Trade, and that it is desirable that the new regulations should be withdrawn before they can become in any way operative."

The noble Lord said

My Lords, in calling attention to the Notice which stands in my name, I am bringing before your Lordships what, I feel, is a very serious matter. We are all deeply concerned in the question of safety of life at sea, and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that we should discountenance in the strongest way any changes or alterations which may minimise the safety of our sailors or the seagoing public. If there is one thing more than another which is absolutely essential in promoting or ensuring safety it is that, the ships which fly our Red Ensign should be commanded and officered by the most competent, capable, and experienced men. At the present time, thanks to the efficiency of the certified commanders and officers of our merchant fleet, we can feel nothing but pride at the way in which our ships are navigated in all quarters of the globe. Therefore, I contend that the Board of Trade have no right whatever to tamper with the existing conditions, thus subjecting our merchant ships to greater risk and converting efficiency into possible disaster.

I know that the standard of the examinations for Board of Trade certificates of competency has been improved of late years, but I do not know that, even yet, it is by any means perfect. It may also be said, and I do not disagree with it, that the possession of a certificate does not necessarily ensure ability and efficiency in the particular sphere which the certificate enables the holder of it to enter. A good mathematician may not be a good seaman or vice versa. It is the same in all professions, whether the sea or otherwise. But I do claim that a certificate of the kind imbues the holder of it with a due sense of his responsibilities, and that he is directly answerable to the Government for any misdoings or for any culpable negligence in carrying out the duties and responsibilities vested in him. What makes the certificate of even more value is that it proves that the holder of it has had sound practical experience at sea for a number of years. And, in the case of certificates for the higher grades, they indicate that the owners of them have had considerable experience in sole charge of a watch—that is, they clearly understand what it means to be in charge of the bridge and de facto of the ship during certain watches each day.

I trust that your Lordships will agree with me when I say that no man should be granted a certificate as first officer or captain of a British ship until he can produce the necessary testimony that he has had experience of this kind, for it is only then that by practical experience he is thoroughly alive to the most serious responsibilities which devolve upon him in occupying a position of enormous trust on board ship. Until the present time the Board of Trade have evidently been of a similar opinion. Finding that their previous regulations were being evaded, the Board issued a special circular to their examiners laying particular stress on the necessity of candidates proving that they had been in regular charge of a watch, or watches, during each day. The Board state that, in the foreign trade, the time served in charge of a watch must amount to not less than eight hours of each twenty-four hours of service, and in their official regulations relating to examinations they say that it must be distinctly understood that occasional service in charge of a watch should not be accepted as qualifying service for certificates as first mate or master. The Board warn their examiners that great care must be exercised by them in regard to such service, and unless the candidate produces a satisfactory certificate, setting forth these facts, from the master or owner of the vessel in which the service was performed, it must not be accepted.

In years gone by the Board of Trade insisted upon candidates showing actual experience on board ship in a similar capacity to the certificate they held. For instance, before a candidate could be examined for a master's certificate he was required to produce proof of twelve months service as chief officer. But the Board of Trade have modified these regulations from time to time, with the result that service in quite junior capacities is considered sufficient to qualify candidates to take out a certificate enabling them to command a ship. The new modifications which the Board of Trade have introduced by a stroke of the pen, just as they did in regard to the deeper immersion of British ships, constitute a step which compels me to enter an emphatic protest.

It is not necessary for me to go into all the different details as to qualifying time required for Board of Trade certificates. To put the matter shortly, before a candidate can present himself for examination for a first mate's certificate he must show that he has had at least twelve months experience in regular charge of a watch. Candidates for masters' certificates must show at the very least two years—usually it is two and a half years—experience of a similar kind, twelve months of which must have been in a grade not lower than second mate. To show you what has been the Board's view hitherto, the words "in charge of a watch" are emphasised in the regulations in order to lay special stress on them. To make my point clear it is, that under the latest regulations issued by the Board to meet the case of a few favoured ship-owners owning very large ships, those who have served in what are to be known as "approved sea-going training vessels" will be permitted to sit for a master's certificate without ever having had charge of a watch. Their experience need only have been in very junior capacities on board ship where, when on watch, they have been subordinate to the officer actually in charge. It is proper for me to say that such candidates, after passing their examination, will not be given their certificates as master until they can prove that they have had twelve months service in charge of a watch, though candidates for certificates as chief mates need not show any experience in charge of a watch whatever, and their certificates will be granted on completion of the examination.

I say without hesitation that it is a very serious and a very wrong thing for the Board of Trade to make such drastic changes when, as usual, they have not consulted those who are chiefly affected—that is, those who are responsible for the efficiency and safety of our merchant ships. When candidates of very limited and immature experience have obtained certificates of the highest grades they are not in any way bound to remain in the company in which they have been serving. It is quite open for them to transfer their services. And it is very likely that they will do so on the ground of better prospects or higher inducements elsewhere. The Board of Trade are thus a party to creating a supply of officers possessing by no means the same practical experience in responsible capacities as those we have at present, and what the dire results of this will be in due time will be perfectly obvious to your Lordships. I do not say that the youths serving in these new "approved sea-going training ships" will not get a very good training in the technicalities of their profession, but I do say that it is just as essential with them as with others that they should be compelled to show that they have had actual experience in responsible capacities on board ship before being granted the higher certificates from the Board of Trade.

Under the new scheme of the Board these favoured applicants need only have served in very junior capacities provided their service has been on vessels of not less than 8,000 tons gross making an average speed of sixteen knots and upwards and carrying a crew of not less than 130 men, including six deck officers besides the master. I do not think that the term "deck officer" is a proper one for the Board of Trade to use, for an officer is an officer of the ship from truck to keelson and his duties and responsibilities extend over all parts of her. I may say that in very large ships, such as those of over 8,000 tons, it is all the more important that the very best and most experienced officers should be carried. Presumably more officers will be created by the shipowners through the medium of these training ships when, as a matter of fact, there are already more than an ample supply of officers in the mercantile marine. Even up to the present time shipowners have usually required applicants for junior positions on board ship to hold certificates of the highest grades from the Board of Trade, and thus ensure that they have had good practical experience in charge of a watch.

Now, thanks to a hollow and absurd cry about a shortage of ships' officers, the Board of Trade and shipowners are going on the other tack, and officers of the most limited experience will be considered as amply sufficient to act in responsible capacities on board ship. My Lords, there is no shortage of officers for our merchant service. I have it on the best authority that there are a large number of highly qualified captains and officers out of employment at present and that much distress exists in consequence. But there is a shortage of British seamen in the forecastle of our ships, and this does require the attention of the Government. I do not say that training schemes should be discouraged, although the efficiency of our present-day captains and officers seems to indicate that there is no immediate necessity for any such schemes.

The Board of Trade's new concessions to shipowners are, of course, of advantage to, for instance, the American International Combine comprising the White Star and other lines who, on their new training-ship "Mersey" intend taking cadets and charging high premiums for so doing. I may say that as the "Mersey" is a sailing ship this is a very much better scheme than any of those that propose to train boys on steamers, where they cannot learn all the details of their profession, and therefore can never become thoroughly efficient officers. I have worked it out and estimate that, providing a youngster first puts in two years on a stationary training-ship such as the "Worcester" or "Conway," and then three years in an approved seagoing training-ship such as the "Mersey," it will take from eight to ten years before he—or perhaps I should more correctly say, his parents—will be able to show a single halfpenny on the credit side of his account. The cost of his training up to obtaining his first Board of Trade certificate will be. not less than £400, and then after it has taken him five years to get his certificate he may consider himself lucky if he starts to earn £8 a month, upon which he has to keep up the position of a gentleman on it, and pay for the expensive uniforms he must wear. This, my Lords, is what is held out as in ducements to go to sea nowadays in the merchant service.

Mr. Lloyd- George made provision in the last Merchant Shipping Act for a Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee, and it was expected that the Board would seek the opinion of this committee of i experts when any important questions arose which affected shipping interests. It seems to me a very curious thing that on this particular question the advisory committee was not asked to express an opinion, though matters of comparatively minor importance have been brought by the Board before this com- mittee from time to time. I cannot see what use it is to have a committee of the kind and put the country to a good deal of expense in connection with it when, in a matter of this sort, it is never consulted. Affecting, as they do, the position and the interests of the commanders and officers of our merchant ships, surely they have a perfect right to be allowed to express their views when such changes are suggested. I may say that I am chiefly moving in this matter on the urgent representations of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild. The guild, on learning of the new regulations, addressed a vigorous protest to the Board of Trade, characterising the change as one most injurious to the profession which it represents and most certainly calculated to reduce the high standard of safety and efficiency which is at present such a distinguishing and gratifying feature of the merchant service of this country. I am with them entirely in this view.

There is another very serious aspect of this question. Some little time ago I had the honour to bring to the notice of your Lordships a proposition of shipowners that, under certain conditions, the qualifying time shown by candidates for the lowest Board of Trade certificate—that of second mate—should be reduced from four to three years. It was with very sincere gratification and appreciation that I found that the spirit of this House was entirely with me in strongly opposing a proposition of this kind, and I was equally gratified to receive the assurances of my noble friend who then represented the Board of Trade, that the Board had no intention whatever of departing from the present rule as to sea service before a man is able to take up his certificate. The noble Earl, as I thought, very properly supplemented this by saying that the only way to get boys to go to sea was to make the calling of the sea attractive, and until that was done he was afraid that we should find it very hard to increase the number of British subjects serving in the mercantile marine. My noble friends the Marquess of Lansdowne and Lord Ellenborough welcomed this assurance on the part of the Board of Trade, and the noble Marquess warned the Board of Trade as to being extremely careful not to in any way relax the requirements in regard to the efficiency and competency of ships' officers.

I want to know why there has now ' been such a distinct departure from the Board of Trade's assurance as given in this House? A change as to qualifying time for responsible positions on board ship has been made, and it is most certainly a relaxation of the requirements hitherto existing in regard to the efficiency and competency of ships' officers. I do not at all like these tinkering methods of the Marine Department' of the Board of Trade, especially when i they are so dangerous, and done so, quietly. Your Lordships will inflict no hardship on anybody in expressing the ' opinion that the new regulations I am referring to should be withdrawn. Approved sea-going training-ships have not as yet started, and the regulations, therefore, are not operative as yet. The Marine Department of the Board of Trade have informed the Imperial Merchant Service Guild that they do not consider it necessary to modify the regulations in question in any way. Fortunately, the Marine Department are not the final court in matters of the kind. There is no need whatever for the new regulations, and there is no reason why favouritism should be shown to candidates who have served in seagoing training-ships, where the service would be much more pleasant and congenial, whilst the less favoured ones going through their apprenticeship in the ordinary way—though decidedly none the worse off in the end—must comply with the old regulations as heretofore.

I trust your Lordships will support this Motion. I must repeat that it is our duty to prevent any mischievous or dangerous propositions or schemes which tend to minimise the efficiency and safety of our merchant ships. We must have men to command and officer them who have had the necessary practical experience in responsible capacities, and no man should be granted a certificate of competency as chief officer or captain of a British ship unless he can produce proof of real experience in responsible capacities. On these grounds and on the ground that assurances given in this House have been departed from by the Board of Trade, I submit my Motion for the consideration, and, I hope, for the support of your Lordships.

Moved to resolve, "That, in the opinion of this House, the modified regulations which have been adopted recently by the Board of Trade in respect to the qualifying time in charge of a watch required of those candidates for Board of Trade certificates as mate or master who have served an apprenticeship on approved sea-going training vessels are a departure from assurances given in this House by the Board of Trade, and that it is desirable that the new regulations should be withdrawn before they can become in any way operative.—(Lord Muskerry.)


My Lords, the noble Lord has been for many years a regular questioner of the Board of Trade in this House, and the Department had come to look upon him, if not as one of its oldest friends, at all events as one who understood them and whom they understood. It came, therefore, as rather an unpleasant surprise that the notice of Motion which he had placed on the Paper should contain an accusation of breach of faith against the Department. I would submit to your Lordships that the modified regulations which have been introduced cannot be so described, and I hope your Lordships will agree to that view.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


I said that the modified regulations are in no sense a departure from the assurances which have already been given. I gather from the letter which was written by the Merchant Service Guild to the Board of Trade that the particular assurance which the noble Lord and the Merchant Service Guild have in their mind is one which was given in this House by ray noble friend Lord Granard on 10th July last year. That assurance was given in a discussion upon a Motion which had been made by the noble Lord, in which he called attention to the alleged shortage of officers in the merchant service and asked that in any steps which might be taken to remedy that deficiency, the existence of which Tie did not admit, the Board of Trade would not include amongst those remedies any curtailment of the period of service at sea which is necessary before candidates can present themselves for examination for second mates' certificates. The Board of Trade had no, intention of doing anything of the kind, and therefore, my noble friend had no hesitation in giving the assurance which was asked for. My noble friend is here, and I have no doubt is ready to answer for himself. I merely mention this for the purpose of saying that the Department thoroughly endorse everything which was said by my noble friend on that occasion, and also maintain that these new regulations are in no sense a departure from that assurance. In fact, if does not matter what assurances were given, because the modified regulations, where they alter the period of service which candidates for these certificates must undergo, in every case lengthen that period and in no case shorten it; and, where the nature of the service is varied, I hope to show your Lordships that something is substituted for it which is at least as valuable as, if not more valuable than, that which was required under the old regulations.

These modified regulations have been issued in order to adapt the regulations to a new system of training which has recently been instituted by one of the great steamship companies—the White Star Line. That system was alluded to by my noble friend Lord Brassey and my noble friend Lord Granard recently in this House. It has been adopted after consultation with the Board of Trade, and it has the full approval of the Department. I will describe, very briefly, how it differs from the old system of training, which consisted, as your Lordships are aware, of four years' service at sea, either as an apprentice or as a deck hand in any capacity. The defect of that system undoubtedly is that in these days of steamships it is very difficult for the officers of the ship to devote very much of their time to the teaching of apprentices. Under the old system of sailing ships they had more leisure to do so, and I think it is universally acknow- ledged that the apprentice system is more valuable on a sailing ship than on a steamship. In order to carry out a new system of training on a sailing ship the White Star Line have recently purchased a sailing ship of, I think, 1,800 tons. She has been fitted up to carry sixty apprentices, who will work the ship with the assistance, I believe, while it is necessary, of ten deck hands. Besides a full complement of officers and a doctor, this ship will carry two schoolmasters who will instruct the cadets or apprentices in various subjects extremely useful to them in their career in the merchant service, such as foreign languages, navigation, nautical astronomy, and other subjects of a technical character. The more, technical part of their education will be undertaken by the officers of the ship, and I believe there will be included in the course instruction by the surgeon in ambulance work. In fact, the instruction which will be given will be of the most complete character, and it has the thorough approval of the Board of Trade. This is the new system of instruction to which the modified regulations are to be adapted.

I quite agree with what the noble Lord has said, that there is no finer body of men in the world than the officers of our merchant service. I quite agree with him that we are all very proud of them and that they command the greatest confidence and respect; and it is quite fair to say that a system of training which has produced such good results cannot have very much the matter with it. But even the best of systems is none the worse for being brought up to date, and that is what this new system of instruction will do. The new modified regulations deal with the qualifications necessary for candidates for the three certificates issued by the Board of Trade. The noble Lord has correctly stated what those modifications are. In the case of second mates' certificates, they allow the necessary qualifying period of four years at sea to be spent on one of these approved training-ships, on which I think there can be no doubt that the instruction which will be received will be very much superior to what is likely to be received by a man who serves as a deck hand or apprentice.

For a first mate's certificate and for a master's certificate certain further modifications have been introduced in order to meet a difficulty which arises. The gentlemen who have introduced this new-scheme of training officers at very considerable expense are naturally anxious that those officers should be able to serve the whole of their service on board their ships. The old regulations did not permit of their doing so, and I will show-why. In the case of a candidate for a first mate's certificate it was necessary that he should show that he had been in complete charge of a watch on a foreign going vessel for a space of one year. As your Lordships are aware, on these great liners watches are invariably kept by two officers, and it would follow, therefore, that in order to comply with the regulations the officer would have to leave the service of the company and engage on a smaller vessel where only one officer kept watch. A similar difficulty arose with regard to the examination for the master's certificate. What has been done is this. The period during which the officer must have served in possession of a second mate's certificate has been doubled. He now has to serve two years instead of one; but it is provided that if he is on board a ship complying with certain conditions as to size, speed and number of crew, that is to say, a liner of considerable size, he may put in that service as the junior of the two watch-keeping officers instead of being in sole charge of the watch. The modification with respect to the master's certificate is of a very similar nature. It is considered—and I think considered rightly—that the fact that the period of service is twice as long, that it must have been passed on board a ship where the standard of efficiency and discipline is so high as it is on these great liners, and that the candidate must have had in the first instance the advantage of the very complete system of training I have described, makes this qualifying period fully equal, if not superior, to what was required under the old regulations.

Then the noble Lord asks why it is that the Advisory Committee was not consulted. My answer to that is a very simple one. In the first place, the time of the Advisory Committee was fully occupied. It has been fully occupied ever since it was appointed. In the second place, Mr. Lloyd-George, the then President of the Board of Trade, in the exercise of the discretion which, I think, is invariably granted to the head of a great Department, considered that this was a matter which he could quite well settle himself. I have given details of the new regulations and an outline of the new system of training which they have been adapted to meet, and I have only one word to add. The purchase and fitting up of this ship has cost the White Star Company a very considerable sum of money. I am informed that, in spite of the fact that the ship will carry cargo and that apprentices will pay fees, she will be run at f n annual loss of several thousand pounds. This very considerable expenditure can only have been incurred with one object—namely, the provision of officers who will have had a better training, and will, therefore, probably be even more competent than those who fill the positions of officers on these, ships at the present moment; and I contend that for that reason, if for no other, the Department are thoroughly justified in the course they have taken, and in the encouragement which they have given to this very valuable new undertaking.


My Lords, in regard to most things connected with this mercantile marine I am in full agreement with my noble friend Lord Muskerry, but to-day I am sorry to say I cannot agree with him. For a long time past there has been great difficulty in getting officers in the mercantile marine who have a thorough knowledge of sailing ships, owing to the large number of steamers now afloat. Your Lordships have heard how Mr. Ismay, of the White Star Line, formed a committee to consider the question, and these gentlemen decided that the best course was to purchase a full rigged ship of 2,000 tons, in which sixty cadets could be carried,, with a large number of instructors. Then a difficulty arose as to what could be done when the cadets had completed their term of apprenticeship. It is the rule in the White Star and similar lines, that all officers should have master's certificates; and when an exception is made it only applies to the junior officers of the watch. Thus the regulations of the Board of Trade could not be complied with, as, according those Regulations, the candidate must have had full watch on the bridge. The Committee met the officials of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, with the result that the concessions referred to which only apply to these training ships were made. These concessions enable cadets to pass from the training ship into such steamers as junior officers, and to go forward with a continuity of employment to the examination for mate's certificate and master's certificate after a proper interval. This variation is not intended in any way to make it easier to obtain these certificates, but to provide for those who are specially trained passing to steamers where two or more officers are engaged and going forward to a higher certificate under all the advantages appertaining to a modern liner. My friend Captain Reedman, of the S.Y. "Argonaut" told me the following story. An uncle who wished to see his nephew once asked the quartermaster on the bridge: "Is my nephew, Mr. Smith, on board?" "Mr. who?" inquired the quartermaster. "Mr. Smith, a fair-haired boy," was the reply. "Oh, you mean young Carrots. He is in the galley with the cook, peeling potatoes. Where else do you expect an apprentice to be?" That was the sort of training apprentices received in the old days. Seeing the splendid training these boys will receive on these ships I think the slight concessions in the regulations are justifiable, and I hope no alteration will be made. I feel sure it would only hamper these young men who are doing the best they can to get a thoroughly good education to qualify them for the position of officers in the mercantile marine.


My Lords, I am sure those of your Lordships who have listened to this debate will agree with the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade, that it is for the advantage of the country and of the merchant service that the methods of training should be brought up to date, and in much that he said on that head I think your Lordships will be disposed to concur. W e can all agree that a superior kind of education and a more scientific training are all for the best. I confess that when I came down to your Lordship's House this afternoon I had hoped it would not be necessary for me to say anything in criticism of the statement to be made in reply to Lord Muskerry; but I must say I do not think that in. every respect my noble friend behind mo will be satisfied with the answer which the noble Lord has given. I quite understand, and I think he probably will agree, that the effort which the White Star Line has made is a patriotic effort which they intend to be of great advantage, not only to themselves, but to the great service of which they form a part; but I do not think personally I should be disposed to deny that the period of service which is exacted falls short of what ought to be expected. There is, I understand, rather longer sea service provided under the new rules than under the old rules.


Twice as long.


Well, that is, of course, so far very satisfactory; but it seems to lack one particular quality—namely, that a second mate who comes up for a first mate's certificate will never have been in a position of absolute responsibility. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, but that is what I took to be the case, that owing to the new arrangement he is never in sole charge of a. vessel. He undoubtedly is one of the two officers in charge of the watch, but he is to be the junior of his rank. I do not profess to be an expert in this matter, but I certainly should have thought that the matter above all others in which training and experience are required by officers of the merchant service is in the exercise of that complete responsibility which sole charge alone can confer. I do not mean to say that the new regulations will not produce a very fine article, but I confess I question whether anything in the way of scientific training or of longer sea service will make up for the experience which is conferred by the knowledge that you, and you alone, are responsible for the fate of the ship. I gather from my noble friend, that, although the-examination may take place before a chief mate has ever been in sole charge, yet before he is actually certificated he must have been a year in sole charge of a vessel. So that there is a concession made with regard to the master, though the sole charge even in his case is not so long as has hitherto prevailed.


It is quite as long.


Then I am reassured to that extent, but as between second mate and first mate the criticism I have ventured to make seems to hold good. I think your Lordships would have been happier if the noble Lord had been able to inform the House that the Board of Trade had acted in this matter with the complete assent of the Advisory Committee. The noble Lord himself will admit that on that his answer was not complete, because all he had to say was that the President of the Board of Trade, in the exercise of his discretion, thought there were some subjects which he ought to decide himself, and that this was one of those subjects. For my part, I should have been happier if Mr. Lloyd-George had thought it right to consult the Advisory Committee. Then if he had come to Parliament and said that what he proposed had the unanimous support of his Advisory Committee, a better case would have been made out for it. However, these matters are very technical. I only rose to make that one observation. I cannot say that I think this is quite a matter upon which it would be wise for your Lordships to override the decision of the Board of Trade. There are very few men in this House who are really capable, if I may say so with great respect, of appreciating the point, and, therefore, I hope my noble friend will not press his Motion to a division, though I think he was fully entitled to make the criticisms he has made to your Lordships.


My Lords, after what my noble friend who has just sat down has said, I will not press my Motion to a division; but I should like to say one or two words. The noble Lord who answered me did not quite grasp what I was driving at. I fully admit that the lads in the new White Star training ship will get a very admirable training. I think I said so in my speech; but no amount of training will give them the practical experience that a man must have if he is going to be a really trustworthy officer. The Board of Trade seem to imagine that a junior officer on board a big steamship, by just being there, will absorb this experience. They do not know the usual place the junior officer occupies. He may be on the bridge going down, channel, but after that he may be anywhere but on the bridge, and when he is on the bridge he is a perfect cipher. Though I am not going to press my Motion to a division, I cannot help saying that the innovation which has been made is a dangerous one, and I think it will be found that the whole of the sea-faring community are with me in that.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.