HL Deb 29 June 1908 vol 191 cc296-315

rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the Return issued recently in response to an Order of this House agreed to on 28th May, 1906, showing the legal obligations of the owners of merchant vessels trading under the flags of Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Denmark, Austro-Hungary, Netherlands, Greece, and Belgium, towards their captains, officers, and seamen with regard to the following:—Old-age pensions, pensions to widows and orphans, accident compensation, Sunday labour, daily hours of labour at sea and in port, payment for work performed in excess of fixed hours of labour, medical treatment, accommodation, and passages of distressed seamen; also including in such a Return the regulations of these different countries for the preservation of discipline on board their merchant ships; to ask whether His Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of issuing a similar Return at periodic intervals of, say, five years; whether they will take into consideration the necessity for amelioration of the conditions of captains, officers, and seamen of British ships on lines similar to those already provided by certain foreign maritime Powers in the direction of the preservation of discipline on board ship, Sunday labour, daily hours of labour, and payment for extra work required beyond the ordinary recognised hours of labour; and, further, to ask the reason of the long delay in issuing the Return under notice.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think the simplest course is for me to deal first with the last part of my Notice—namely, my inquiry as to why it has taken such an undue length of time to issue this Return, which was agreed to by your Lordships as far back as 28th May, 1906. I am not complaining that the Foreign Office were not reasonably prompt in communicating with His Majesty's representatives abroad asking for the necessary information for framing this Return. This request was made by the Foreign Office on the 18th June, 1906. His Majesty's representative at Vienna furnished the necessary information in connection with Austrian ships after a space of about five months. But it took the British Consul-General at Buda Pesth over twelve months to furnish the Ambassador at Vienna with similar information regarding Hungarian vessels, and even then his report only embraces a couple of pages.

The various Reports were, I presume, forwarded to the Board of Trade, as the Return is dated "Board of Trade, January, 1908." It was not, however, ordered to be printed until February 17th following, and it was not until towards the end of April that it was issued for your Lordship's information. To be of any value, and to justify the trouble and expense incurred in issuing a Return of this kind, your Lordships will, I think, agree with me that it should be issued with the utmost promptitude, and contain the latest and fullest information possible. If a modest Return of this kind occupies nearly two years in preparation, it is time some inquiry was made into the lax methods which prevail by which Parliamentary Returns may undoubtedly lose the greater part of their value.

What the shipping world thinks of the belated nature of this Return will be found in a leading article appearing in the leading daily shipping paper printed in this country. I refer to the Shipping Gazette, which says that— When we find a publication of this description thrown at the heads of the House of Lords and the public in a fashion which would disgrace a struggling country newspaper, the question naturally arises whether it is not possible to introduce some improvements in the method of Foreign Office Reports. I will not pursue this matter further, but I hope we shall get some satisfactory assurance that future Returns moved for and agreed to in this House will be dealt with in a much more expeditious and satisfactory way.

Coming to the contents of the Return itself, I venture to think that, despite the delay I have referred to, your Lordships may glean from it some most interesting and valuable information. It is a practical endorsement of my own convictions and of contentions oft-times expressed by me in this House, that, in many respects, foreign maritime countries treat and consider their sailors far better than we do in this country. I find from the Return that, although the British shipowner so bitterly complains of cheap foreign competition, it is the foreign shipowners, in certain particulars, who make much better provisions for those who serve in their ships, and who are labouring under legal obligations towards their seamen from which British shipowners are immune. Whilst we, in this country, have apparently less regard for our sailors than for any other class of the community—principally, I suppose, because we make no provision in order that sailors may exercise their franchise—I find that other maritime countries appear to take the interest of their seamen into special regard, and do not allow them to be treated in anything but a just, proper, and reasonable way.

If a Bill which is before the present Parliament succeeds, I presume that we shall not exclude our sailors from the provision which grants a pension of 5s. a week at the age of seventy. Assuming that the Bill does succeed, it will be interesting to find how many seamen reach the age of seventy in proportion to those who follow their occupation ashore. I think the strain upon the public funds in granting pensions to seamen will not be likely to be a source of much anxiety to His Majesty's Government. Other maritime Powers have already set us an example which we might well follow in respect to their treatment of seamen in their declining years, and in respect also to widows and orphans whom they may leave behind.

In Austria I find there is a charitable fund, which is officially administered, for the relief of old or disabled officers and seamen and their widows and orphans. This fund, which is principally supported by voluntary contributions, amounted at the end of last year to approximately £89,000, and at the present time is granting relief to 1,386 persons. The Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company, the largest company of its kind in Austria, compels all its men drawing £24 a year or over to pay a subscription of 3 per cent. of wages for single, and 5 per cent. for married men. From these subscriptions a fund is provided ensuring its members and their widows a small pension. In Belgium, owners of merchant ships must pay to the Seamen's Benevolent Fund 1½ per cent. of the total amount expended on wages of all the seamen they employ, whilst all officers, seamen, and others must subscribe to the fund 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of their wages according to rank. Out of this fund pensions of from £9 to £30 are granted in case of inability to work on account of old age, or on account of an accident met with whilst in the exercise of their calling. Widows of seamen who are members of the Benevolent Institution receive pensions varying from £9 to £24, and an additional sum of from £2 to £3 for every child under eighteen years of age.

In Denmark there are no legal obligations on shipowners in respect of pensions, but the United Steamship Company, which possesses 125 steamships, has established a pension fund. Whilst their captains, officers, and seamen pay towards it 6 per cent. per annum from their wages, the company double the amount paid in. Out of the fund thus raised pensions are paid to captains, officers, and seamen in their old age, and to their widows and children. On reaching sixty years of age seamen are, in the same way as all other Danish subjects, entitled to old-age relief under the Danish law.

It is hardly necessary or desirable for me to take up your Lordships' time in going into further particulars so far as they affect seamen's pensions existing in other maritime countries. It is sufficient to say that old-age pensions and allowances towards captains, officers, and seamen, and to their widows and orphans, exist in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Sweden. Of course, there are certain specified conditions laid down in each country in respect to these pensions. The manner in which the necessary funds are usually raised is by enforcing contributions from the shipowners and the seamen, and from sources such, for instance, as fines which have been imposed in connection with offences on board ship.

Turning from pensions to another subject, we heard a great outcry against the extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act to seamen. Our shipowners complained that it was a very unfair burden to impose upon them, especially in view of the foreign competition with which they had to contend. On looking over the present Return, I find that other leading maritime countries have for a longtime recognised the justice of a seaman's claim upon his owner after injury sustained in the course of his employment. In Austria, a charitable fund, under official control, exists for the relief of disabled officers and seamen. In Hungary similar provision is made. In Denmark, an Act of Parliament concerning the insurance of sailors against accidents came into force on 15th January, 1906. Other maritime countries where seamen are bound to fall back on their own slender recources in the case of injury in course of their employment are France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia, and Sweden.

So far as the British mercantile marine is concerned, we have always been proud to claim that it was in the van of shipping progress. From a pecuniary point of view, or from the improvements in our ships, this may be so. But it has been very mistaken pride in so far as the treatment of those who man our ships is concerned. In their case the Return which I have commented upon seems to clearly indicate that our pride is not justified. On the question of hours of labour, there is nothing in law which prevents the British shipowner from working his seafaring employees in a most unreasonable way. I do not say that he does so knowingly or deliberately; but, owing to the strenuous way in which British shipping business is carried on, and to very limited crews, there is no doubt about the overwork that goes on.

Officers, after attending to the loading of their ships all day, must go on the bridge at night-time to keep watch whilst the vessel is steaming to her next port. Eighteen hours' continuous attention to duty is an experience well known to merchant service officers. The ordinary British sailor works, week in and week out, day after day, at the very least twelve hours per diem. Saturday and Sunday make no real difference in the case of either officers or seamen. When we take these matters into consideration, in conjunction with other hardships with which our sailors have to contend, we can hardly marvel at the discontent I prevalent amongst the officers, and the insubordination which exists amongst the crews of British ships.

What do other maritime countries show us this respect? Though there are no legal restrictions upon them to do so, the Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company, which, as I have said, is the largest company of its kind in Austria, prescribes special hours of labour, both at sea and in port, as well as on Sundays and special holidays. Special payment is also granted for work in excess of these fixed hours. In Hungary, I notice from the Return that the regulations of Hungarian shipping companies prescribe hours of overtime in a similar way. In Denmark, the law, I find, is that in case the master finds it necessary, in emergencies, to let the crew work at loading or discharging on Sundays and Danish holidays—which clearly implies that it is not to be imagined that they should be expected to work on Sundays except under very exceptional conditions—then any member participating in such work shall, if nothing else is agreed upon, receive extra pay of half a day's wages for each two hours over and above working hours, or fractions thereof. Though it is not mentioned in the Return I understand that the French Government have, of late, adopted legislation which will prevent Sunday labour on board their ships except under special conditions.

In Germany, the law is that so long as a ship is in harbour or lying in a roadstead, service may only be demanded on Sundays and holidays as far as is absolutely necessary and incapable of postponement. The ship's crew may not be employed in any case in loading or unloading a cargo within the Imperial territory—not even with their own consent. On Sundays and holidays only absolutely necessary work may be demanded from the crew whilst the ship is on a voyage. The German holidays must be kept on board ship just as they are on shore, and an owner or captain, should he by his order disobey the regulations respecting Sunday work, is liable to a heavy fine. When German ships are in harbour, or in a roadstead, a seaman, except in pressing cases, is only allowed to work ten hours daily, and in the tropics only eight hours. Whilst this does not apply to the captain, the officers can demand a period of eight hours rest during every twenty-four hours whilst a ship is in harbour or lying in a roadstead. Overtime performed in excess of the recognised hours on German ships must be paid for whether a man has done the work voluntarily or upon being compelled to do so.

According to the Return, it seems probable that Italy will adopt legislation fixing eight hours a day for the engine department and twelve hours for deck hands, any overtime to be paid at no less than one-eighth of the day's salary per hour. Working hours when in harbour are to be eight, whilst Sundays and holidays must be observed, unless there are very exceptional circumstances arising which prevent it. If the work is required, then it must be paid for. In Norway, the State officially supervises the hours during which seamen work. If a man has worked for eighteen hours or more, he shall have at least eight hours' rest, and on the departure of a ship the captain must see that the sailors who are on duty during the first watch have had opportunity of becoming sufficiently rested. Norway also imposes limitations on Sunday and holiday labour, and officers must be paid for overtime. In Russia, Sunday labour is not compulsory, whether at sea or in port, except in cases of absolute necessity. As a rule the working day is fixed at ten hours, and any work performed in excess is paid for extra. In Spain, Sunday rest is observed, although no law exists applying to it. If there is work to be done in port on Sundays or holidays a permit is applied for to the ecclesiastical authority at the port, and it is said that it is usually granted. In Sweden, it is enacted that the master of a ship shall not on Sunday, or any other days kept holy in the Kingdom of Sweden, impose on the crew any work which can be postponed.

Whilst it is not easy to draw a hard and fast scale of hours of labour on board ship, it is but just to our own officers and the seamen that there should be legal limitations. They should have reasonable opportunity for rest, and, if they are compelled to work beyond reasonable hours, they should be compensated for it. This is a matter which should be made obligatory by the Government. Also, we should take special precaution that the officers of merchant ships, who require to exercise so much care and vigilance for the safety of their ships and of life at sea, should be able to obtain adequate daily rest. This they most certainly do not get in those ships, and they form the great majority, where the pernicious two watch—four hours on and four hours off—system is carried on.

As to Sunday labour on board British ships, which has now become quite a usual occurrence in ports both at home and abroad, it is a stain on our flag that we should allow such a practice to continue. We profess to be a religious and God-fearing nation; we wrangle and dispute over such matters as the religious education of the young, and other questions affecting religion. Yet although this is essentially a non-sectarian question and easy of solution, we leave it severely alone. It is an elementary basis of all religions that proper opportunity should be given for religious worship and for the due observance of the Sabbath. Yet the unfortunate officers and seamen of our country but very rarely know the joys of one day's rest in seven, much less have the opportunity of paying their devotions on the Sabbath. These are the men who demand first consideration. They are tied to their posts for weeks and months on end, and, after all, it is our merchant service which is the life blood of our nation.

I will not dwell on this matter further, as I hope, with the indulgence of your Lordships, to bring it forward in a more direct way, when perhaps you will give your assistance in removing a great and unquestionable evil. There are many other matters in this Return worthy of the attention of this House, but I do not wish to trespass on your Lordships' forbearance, and will refer to one more subject only before concluding. Though I have left it to the end, it is none the less of enormous importance. In this matter I speak in the interests of British shipowners even more than in the interests of these who are responsible for discipline on merchant ships. What British shipowners lose through the insubordination of seamen and firemen on British ships it would be impossible to estimate. Their ships are delayed; they are in consequence subjected to endless expense and trouble, and the insubordination existing in the mercantile marine presents one of the greatest hindrances to the remarkable enterprise which has invariably been shown by our shipowners.

The Imperial Merchant Service Guild, the recognised body representing the captains and officers of the merchant service, have informed me that this is a subject which is eating at the very vitals of the service, and one need not feel surprised at this when we have it from Board of Trade figures that during last year no fewer than 14,000 men who had signed articles agreeing to serve in their ships failed to join. Imagine the delay, trouble, and expense thus caused, and the composition of the crews of many British ships compelled to take anything they could get at the last moment in order to make up their complement and put to sea. Then, again, the late President of the Board of Trade told us, not very long ago, that there had been 27,000 desertions from British ships in one year. These figures alone are appalling, yet they do not by any means disclose the whole situation. Insubordination and defiance of authority go on even more than ever, and if we do not endeavour to put a stop to this we shall suffer for it later on. Whilst I am a firm believer in the utmost consideration being shown to seamen or firemen, I am still a more firm believer in placing in the hands of their superiors some real authority that will enable them to preserve that effective discipline which is essential in every walk of life, and particularly so on board ship.

The chief secret of the efficiency of the Royal Navy is not so much its armaments, or its number of ships, but the men who serve in it, and the stern discipline which is maintained. In the merchant service, if a man uses insulting language to a superior officer, he may be fined 5s. In the Royal Navy he would probably be imprisoned for twelve months for a similar offence. A personal assault on a commander or officer of a merchant ship usually means prosecution of the offender in a police court, and he generally escapes with a punishment of possibly seven or fourteen days imprisonment, or, in some cases, the infliction of a fine of 20s. or 40s. and costs. We know what the result would be for an offence of this kind in the Royal Navy. Or even if we look at the example of Swedish merchant ships, we find that an offence of this kind is punishable by penal servitude not exceeding two years or by imprisonment.

It is evident from the Return that the ships of foreign maritime countries have far more satisfactory and ffective means at their disposal for the preservation of discipline, and this accounts for the fact that it is so rarely that we ever hear of trouble amongst crews of foreign ships. I believe that the Shipping Federation endeavour, so far as they can, to prosecute delinquents on British ships, but they find it an extremely difficult matter to deal with owing to the defective means at their disposal. It is not right, however, that the settlement of this serious national evil should be saddled upon British shipowners. I would earnestly submit that it is only by legislation and by a very strong attitude on the part of the Board of Trade that a remedy can be effected.

Foreign countries recognise that abuse of disciplinary powers should be looked upon very seriously, and this is a proviso which I myself would strongly support. Were there salutary means at hand to stop insubordination, we should find that it would be checked automatically, and it would be very seldom necessary to have recourse to the more severe forms of punishment which might be available. In place of endless trouble and discontent we should find rest and quiet, and the lot of the men themselves would be so improved as to attract boys to the sea. This would go far, in the end, to solve the problem of the manning of the mercantile marine. The efficiency and paramountcy of the Royal Navy has been very much to the fore of late, but it should not be forgotten that without our merchant service we should very quickly take a back seat amongst continental or even other Powers.

Whilst it is our duty to ensure the efficiency of the Royal Navy, it is equally the duty of our nation to ensure the efficiency of our merchant service. If we do nothing to encourage and support the British shipowner or to improve and put right the material conditions of our officers and seamen, our unpardonable sin of omission in these respects and neglect of the true interests of the country will find us out sooner or later. I trust therefore, that your Lordships will take into serious consideration the national character of the merchant service and support any measures which may be taken to improve it, thus enabling it to withstand the fierce and rapidly-growing competition which is presented by the merchant services of other nations.


, who had the following notice on the Paper—To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will obtain a return from His Majesty's Consuls at San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Rosario, Nagasaki, Sydney, and Newcastle, of the number of desertions from British merchant sailing vessels, which took place in their respective ports in the year ending 1st June, 1908, and in the three preceding years, stating the percentage on the total number of seamen visiting the port.—said: My Lords, as I wish to support generally what Lord Musketry has said in his interesting speech, it may save the time of the House if I am allowed to put my Question as a kind of rider to the Questions of Lord Muskerry. I am, of course, in the hands of your Lordships, but I think this would be the better course, as I do not think my Question requires more than a simple answer "Yes" or "No." It would, I think, be interesting to know whether the Act passed by His Majesty's Government a year or two ago has answered its expectations and succeeding in reducing the number of desertions among seamen. In accordance with a Return moved for in the House of Commons when Lord Salisbury was in power, sixteen authorities sent in very interesting reports dealing with the causes of desertion, and I ask in my Question that some at least of these authorities should be communicated with in order to learn whether the Act has been successful in removing the causes and in reducing the number of desertions.

I may say that I have been told, not by any member of His Majesty's Government but unofficially, that the answer is likely to be such as we all desire. It is true that no amelioration in the conditions under which seamen work would altogegether abolish desertions, but it would be a great tribute to that Act if it could be shown that increased conditions of comfort for seamen had tended to lessen desertions. That is simply my Question, except that instead of saying "consuls" with regard to those two ports in our own dominions, I ought to have said "the Colonial authorities.'' Speaking generally, I should like to associate myself with the purport of the speech of my noble friend opposite. I think that the class for whom we plead have special claims upon your Lordships; and for this reason. These men have no one to champion their interests in the other House, they have no powerful union, and practically no political power behind them. I am aware that there is a seamen's and firemen's union, but that organisation does not trouble itself much about the class of men whose grievances are named in the consular reports to which I refer. In this respect, therefore, these men should be the special objects of the protection of your Lordships. When the Merchant Shipping Act was passing through this House I moved a small Amendment to the effect that a man after four months hard work and on arriving at a foreign port might be able to draw a small portion of the wages he had earned instead of waiting for another five or six months until he returned home. But that request was refused by His Majesty's Government. I ask whether that Amendment would not have been treated with much more respect if these men had had a powerful union behind them.

There is another question of very great difficulty, which, I think, appeals to your Lordships in your judicial capacity. It is a very difficult one, for this reason. We who take an interest in this subject know that the profits of the shipowners are not excessive, and that if any step were taken which would render it impossible for shipowners to carry on their trade a very ill service would have been done to the men for whom I speak, and a greater ill service to the whole commonwealth. That, I think, is plain. Again, those noble Lords who speak for the shipowners in this House come here with very clean hands and easy consciences, because the lines with which they are connected are managed in such a generous, fair, and humane spirit that employment in those lines is very eagerly sought by merchant seamen.

But very hard cases do exist. There are the cases especially of those seamen who go for long voyages round Cape Horn in sailing ships, and who especially require the protection of the Government. I was just looking at this Return and I noticed the case of a ship which, after a four months voyage from Cardiff, arrived at Nagasaki. The captain kept the ship anchored half a mile from shore, and the men were compelled to work for a month in the broiling sun without any protection and without leave to go ashore. May I ask whether the sweating in the east end of London, of which we hear so much, presents any worse features? There are, of course, cases where the strong competition renders it difficult for a shipowner not to work his men during the Sunday; but, while there are those cases, there are many others where rest might be afforded. It is for these reasons that I venture to support what my noble friend opposite has said and to express the hope that your Lordships, and especially His Majesty's Government, will extend to the case of these sailors, many of whom are absolutely friendless and have no power of any kind behind them, that protection which your Lordships' House is ever ready to give.


My Lords, I think it matter for regret that the Return which was moved for by my noble friend was not laid before both Houses of Parliament much earlier. It was asked for in May, 1906, and if it had been presented in six months' time it would probably have had a considerable effect in the negotiations and the eventual compromise which took place before the Merchant Shipping Bill was allowed to go through in another place. I do not say that all the replies could have been sent in within that time, but a good deal of the information could have been collected. I hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to accede to what I consider the reasonable request of Lord Muskerry, that every five years a similar document should be published. But I would also ask that, regardless of any stated period, whenever any rival nation makes any considerable or important alterations in its maritime laws, a document embodying those alterations should be laid before both Houses without delay, so that when the Merchant Shipping Act comes up again for revision our legislators will have fuller information than they had before them in the year 1906.


My Lords, the Return which is the subject of the original Question was a very comprehensive and elaborate one. It had to show the legal obligations of the owners of merchant vessels under the flags of Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Greece, and Belgium towards the captains, officers, and seamen of their mercantile marine in regard to a great number of matters; and your Lordships will understand that a Return of that kind must necessarily occupy a considerable time in its compilation.

The process which has to be gone through, of course, is that the Board of Trade communicates with the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office, in turn, communicates with His Majesty's representatives in those various countries. They collect the information, which returns through the same channel, and, if everything goes absolutely right and there is no hitch in the matter at all, it is inevitable that a considerable time should be occupied in the preparation of such a Return. Unfortunately, in this case there was a hitch, because the Return which came from one of the countries—from Hungary—was not exactly an answer to the questions which had been asked, and it was, therefore, necessary that that process should be repeated in the case of that country. The result of all this was that the complete replies were not in the hands of the Department until the autumn of last year. They were then put into shape and were laid before the House at the commencement of this session. I quite agree that the noble Lord has cause for complaint at the time which has elapsed since the Return was ordered, and I can only express great regret that it was not issued sooner. I can, however, assure him that it was not delayed from any desire to suppress or burke the information which it contained. The delay really arose from a desire that the Return should be issued in a complete and comprehensive form.

Then the noble Lord asks whether His Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of issuing a similar Return every five years. Of course, we are in the hands of the House with regard to that matter, but it is not thought desirable to multiply unnecessarily the number of these periodical Returns. Their preparation causes an enormous amount of trouble, and in this case it has entailed considerable expense; and it is thought that, except in cases where it is really necessary, it is better that the Returns should be moved for when they are thought to be wanted. As I say, we are, of course, in the hands of the House in this matter; but I would suggest to the noble Lord that the better course would be that if in four or five years time he considers that such a Return should again be made he should make a Motion to that effect, when I am quite sure that whatever Government may be in office at that time will be only too glad to accede to the request.

Next the noble Lord asks whether His Majesty's Government will take into consideration the necessity for amelioration of the conditions of captains, officers, and seamen of British ships on lines similar to those already provided by certain foreign maritime Powers in various directions, amongst others in the direction of the preservation of discipline on board ship. It is a little difficult to imagine what measures might be concerted for the preservation of discipline, which would be considered to be for the amelioration of the conditions of each of these three classes. Captains of ships might conceivably think that their condition would be ameliorated if they were given additional powers of discipline over the officers and men composing their crew, but it is not so clear that that view would be shared by the other two classes. I would say, generally, that this matter of discipline was very extensively discussed and dealt with to a considerable extent in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906. That Act has not very long been in force, and it would seem that it would be better to give it a chance to see how it works before introducing any further legislation.

The noble Lord went on to ask whether similar measures will be taken in regard to Sunday labour, daily hours of labour, and payment for extra work required beyond the ordinary recognised hours of labour. Those questions present very great difficulties. The conditions under which the merchant shipping of this country is conducted vary so enormously, that industry being carried on in every part of the globe, that it is very difficult to frame any rules capable of universal application; and up to now it has been thought better that these matters should be arranged between the employers and the employed. I know that certain countries have dealt with these matters, but I think that a study of the Return will show that the regulations which have been made have not been very stringent. They allow of a great number of exceptions, and they are more in the direction, you might say, of advice than of actual command.

I may also say that this question of hours of labour is very intimately connected with the question of manning, because it is obvious that where a ship is under-manned it is a great deal more likely that the crew will be called upon to work unduly long hours than would be the case where a full complement is carried. This question of manning is now under the consideration of the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade, and I am sure that my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade will welcome any suggestions which one so intimately connected with the industry as the noble Lord may have to make on the subject. I think I have answered generally the Questions put to me by the noble Lord. I think the House intimated that they wished me also to answer the Question of the right rev. Prelate now. I can do so in a few words. We have not at present the necessary figures and data to give the answer for which he asks, but we will endeavour to obtain them and will lay the result on the Table as early as possible.


My Lords, the concluding remarks of the noble Lord who has just sat down are, no doubt, fully justified. It is too early yet to draw any very safe conclusions from the working of the last Act. But I think the noble Lord will agree that the request of the right rev. Prelate was a very reasonable and modest one—namely, that these matters should engage the careful attention of the Government so that any amelioration in the lot of the seaman which is advisable and possible might be carried into effect.

The noble Lord was in the position of many Ministers in having to apologise for the great delay in the presentation of the Return. I am quite sure the House does not think that he himself is in any degree personally responsible for that delay, but, undoubtedly, the delay was a very great one. It was due really to a very well known cause—that it was a Blue-book prepared, not by one Department, but by two. When that is the case the correspondence and communications which pass between the two Departments have a tendency to be almost indefinitely prolonged, unless pressure is applied by the responsible Ministers at the head of the Departments in order to produce a rather quicker pace. I think it is just those Returns that require the closest watching on the part of Ministers lest they should disappear altogether in these endless communications.

I was a little sorry that the noble Lord held out no hope that these Returns would be kept up to date. The noble Lord's reply was that this was an inadvisable request. I do not think it was au inadvisable request, or one that it would be difficult for His Majesty's Government to comply with. All that is really required is that an instruction should be given to the Consuls and representatives of His Majesty's Government abroad that in the course of the annual Reports which they make to the Home Government these particular matters should not be lost sight of; and all that the noble Lord has to do is to move down to the end of the Ministerial Bench to where the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sits and suggest to him that a general instruction should be sent to His Majesty's representatives abroad that any change in the conditions of the merchant service of those countries should be notified to His Majesty's Government. Then all the information would be available in England, and it would be merely a matter of a few hours work on the part of a clerk in the Department to put it together so that it could be laid before Parliament as often as may seem good. I, therefore, think my noble friend will find on inquiry that the request is not a difficult one, and that the matter might easily be arranged between himself and the Foreign Office and, to some extent, of course, the Colonial Office.

With regard to discipline, may I say I think the noble Lord misconceived the nature of the inquiry which my noble friend made to the Government on that subject, and the effect which complying with his request would have; because he seemed to think that to increase the powers of discipline in the merchant service might be for the advantage of the masters or of the officers but could not be for the advantage of the men.


I said the men might not agree.


It is not asked that the noble Lord should take a plebiscite of the views of masters, officers, and men in order to come to an agreement. The promotion of good discipline on board ship is not only good for one class; it is good for everybody concerned. Therefore, it would not be at all correct to suppose that, in urging that this question of discipline should be considered, my noble friend was advocating the interests of one class of those engaged in the merchant service rather than another. The truth is that the more we can improve the conditions of the merchant service the better it will be for everybody all round.

And that brings me to the heart of the question. The real difficulty is the one which was referred to by the right rev. Prelate. Owing to the very small margin of profit at the disposal of many of those engaged in the merchant service, it would not be for the benefit of that service, or those concerned in it, if unduly heavy obligations were imposed. At the same time, the more the conditions can be improved within those limits the better it will be for the men and for the country at large. It is of the most vital importance that we should keep the merchant service popular in this country. There have been symptoms that its popularity is waning, and that we are inclining to become less of a seafaring nation than we used to be. Such a change would be very disastrous, and anything in reason which can be done to prevent it ought to receive careful consideration. Therefore, I venture, with great respect, to add my voice to the request which has been made by my noble friend behind me, and by the right rev. Prelate, that all these matters should be kept continually before the Board of Trade, and His Majesty's Government. The more information we can get as to what is done in foreign countries the better it will be for us, and the more able shall we be to form a just conclusion on the subject.


My Lords, this is mainly a Board of Trade question, but I would ask your Lordships' permission to say one or two words in regard to what fell from the noble Lord who introduced this subject, and from my noble friend opposite as to the position of the Foreign Office in the matter. In the absence of further proof, I cannot plead guilty, on behalf of the Foreign Office or of the Board of Trade, to there having been any delay in the real sense of the term. Nor do I admit what my noble friend Lord Salisbury said just now, that, granting delay, the excuse was to be found in the fact that this was a complicated Return in which two, if not three, Departments were concerned.

I quite agree—indeed it is obvious—that where a Return does affect two or three offices, the operation of getting it must be a longer one; but if noble Lords will look at the nature of this Return they will see over what an immense field it travelled, and how absolutely necessary it was, if the Return was to be worth anything and to be accurate—and if it was not it obviously would be worth nothing—that the information should be obtained in a full and accurate shape. The subjects dealt with were old-age pensions, pensions to widows and orphans, accident compensation, Sunday labour, daily hours of labour at sea and in port, payment for work performed in excess of fixed hours of labour, medical treatment, accommodation, and passages of distressed seamen, and also the regulations for the preservation of discipline on board their merchant ships. The nations concerned were Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, the Netherlands, Greece, and Belgium. I venture to think that that is a very large and extensive field of inquiry. Of course, if our Consular officers only had this Return to prepare, they could have done it more quickly; but the staff abroad is not a large one for the enormous work they have to perform, and it was their desire to present a Return which would be completely satisfactory to your Lordships. Bearing these facts in mind, I do not think there is any real ground for complaint. At the same time I shall be quite willing to inquire into the circumstances; and in regard to the further appeal that was made by my noble friend who spoke just now that these facts should be borne in mind year by year in the preparation of the annual Consular reports, that is a practical suggestion, and I feel perfectly certain the Secretary of State would be quite ready to carry it out.