HL Deb 26 July 1909 vol 2 cc715-28

My Lords, I rise to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the question of the amount of unnecessary Sunday labour which is imposed upon the officers and men of British merchant ships when lying in seaports both at home and abroad, and to refer to certain comments of the noble Lord representing the Board of Trade when opposing a Motion on this question which was debated in your Lordships' House on November 30 of last year; to ask whether, since that date, the Board of Trade have placed themselves in communication with the representative shipowners' organisations in this country with a view to ameliorating this serious hardship and undue physical strain on our merchant seafarers; if so, whether they will lay the correspondence on the Table of the House; also, to move to resolve "That this House is of opinion that it is desirable that this question should receive the attention of His Majesty's Government in order that legislative measures may be introduced to deal with it."

The amount of support and sympathy which certain of your Lordships were good enough to extend to me when dealing with this subject on a previous occasion encourages me in the hope that this time my effort may prove successful. I am renewing it because additional facts amply justifying my doing so have come to my notice. Amongst others deeply interested, the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, which is the largest representative body of captains and officers in the world, has urged me to continue to press forward this urgent question of unnecessary Sunday labour in the mercantile marine. I do not for a moment propose that the restrictions I am asking for should apply to ships when they are at sea, but only when they are lying in ports both at home and abroad.

I am anxious that the Government should act consistently in regard to this question of providing a day of rest for those who hitherto have seldom known what it means. In suggesting this consistency, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the statement of the Home Secretary in another place that, in conjunction with his colleagues, he had decided that effect could, and should, be given to the recommendations of the Committee which inquired into the question of a weekly rest day for the Metropolitan police; these recommendations they had decided to carry out as rapidly as practicable. Some fourteen or fifteen hundred additional constables would, he said, be required over and above the recruits normally needed each year to fill vacancies. The Home Secretary stated that it had, of course, been recognised that this privilege would throw considerable additional expense on the ratepayers of the Metropolitan Police District, but he hoped that the cost would be cheerfully borne.

Now, my Lords, I am urging the claims of a class of the community who, with due respect to the Police, are much more entitled to consideration and protection in respect to reasonable relaxation from their almost incessant and arduous work; and my suggestions can be adopted without entailing any cost whatever to the ratepayer. Some shipowners may object, but surely if other countries decline to allow unnecessary Sunday labour on their ships, there can be no ground for our shipowners complaining that forbidding Sunday labour exposes them to unfair competition from the foreigner. As it is at present the fair-minded and considerate shipowner who stops work on his ship when in port on the Sabbath has to meet with the unfair competition of the unscrupulous shipowner who does not. As competition has become fiercer and fiercer, the natural result is that Sunday labour is usually taken as a matter of course in ports abroad, whilst it is quite common in ports at home.

What is the position of our merchant officers and men in respect to work on board ship? With the men, it means twelve hours on duty every day. With the officers, in the great majority of cases their daily hours of duty amount approximately to fourteen or fifteen, Saturday and Sunday being just the same as any other day at sea. Therefore, in all reason, I appeal to your Lordships whether, when a ship does arrive in port, these men have not an undeniable right to every possible consideration if the ship happens to be in port on a Sunday? As cargo is worked on Sunday by stevedores and men from ashore—who, it may be remarked, demand and receive additional pay for it—it is very frequently the case that our seamen are not required to work on Sunday. If they are, they demand extra pay, and get it, simply because they are in an independent position, and as a rule know that they will leave the ship at the end of the voyage. In the case of the officer, however, if cargo is working he must be on the spot the whole time, supervising and taking notes, and, with one or two exceptions, which prove the rule, he gets not a halfpenny additional pay for work on Sunday.

When last year I introduced a Motion of this character I was astonished by a statement of the noble Lord who opposed me on behalf of the Board of Trade. He said that his information was that the articles of agreement which are signed by a ship's crew contain a stipulation that, in case Sunday labour is found necessary, a stated rate of extra pay, usually sixpence or eightpence per hour, should be allowed to the men. My noble friend the Earl of Meath thereupon interposed with the pertinent query, "What about the officers?" The noble Lord, in replying to this inquiry, stated that he understood that a similar arrangement was the rule with regard to officers. He did not say it was universal, but was informed that a similar arrangement was the rule, though, of course, the scale of extra remuneration in the case of officers was higher. Were this true the position would be much more equitable. I was not surprised to learn that this argument on the part of the noble Lord representing the Board of Trade carried great weight, and I have no doubt it was greatly responsible for the nonsuccess of my Motion.

In the first place let me inform your Lordships that in the usual articles of agreement which are signed there is no clause whatever relating to Sunday labour. Let me also assure you that where an officer is granted extra pay for Sunday labour in port it is one case in a thousand. I do not make this statement on my own responsibility only. I have been assured of its accuracy by Mr. Moore, the secretary of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, who, representing, as he does, a vast number of officers of merchant ships, should surely know something about this subject. Then I have in my possession a number of very significant letters from members of the nautical profession which have been written since the previous debate took place in this House. They all deal with this question of Sunday labour. I have taken extracts from some of them which I propose to read; and I may say that all these writers hold similar views.

I will quote from the letter of a merchant shipmaster of thirty years standing. He says, referring to Sunday labour, that with the exception of two months last summer when his ship was laid up in Calcutta, he could only recall a very few Sundays that he had had free. In all his experience he never knew a case of necessity for this Sunday work; it was always "a case of £ s. d." He states that "Sunday night work and paying despatch money have grown ever since managers were paid on the gross earnings of the steamers." Another officer, who has had a good deal of experience in service on British vessels in the East, says that the question is one of great importance, and from his personal experience, extending over seven years, he verifies many of the statements I have made. He informs us of the fact that unless very big changes have been made Sunday labour is rampant on the Indian coast, and it is seldom that it is necessary except for the profit of the shipowner. He not only worked on more Sundays out there than he had free, but Bank Holidays, such as Christmas Day and New Year's Day, were never recognised. As to extra pay for this labour this officer says that the officers would have been considered mad to have asked for it.

Another officer, mentioning three big steamship companies in which he has served for the past nine years, says he has never been paid a "red cent" for overtime work, including Sundays, Christmas Days, and other public holidays. As an instance he quotes his own experience where, in the space of the six months prior to the date of his letter, officers have had one Sunday to themselves, and that was because the naval authorities at a port abroad would not allow their crane to be used to discharge the cargo. He states, however, that this free Sunday was made up for by working from 6 a.m. on Monday to 2.30 a.m. on the following day, twenty and a-half hours without a stop. Another officer in a big steamship company writes— Sunday work in port has been the rule and not the exception during my eight years experience in steam, and I never yet heard of officers or engineers getting overtime for it. Another officer in a steamer writes from a port abroad— To-day (Sunday) we have, of course, been working coals all day. See what good Christians we are! However, he supposes the men who allow them to work will be answerable, and not the officers. Another officer, writing from Valparaiso, says— Lord Hamilton of Dalzell's statement in the House of Lords, that officers receive extra remuneration for work on Sundays in harbour unconnected with the safety and navigation of the ship, I contradict without qualification. I will only read to your Lordships one more extract. It is from a communication I have in my possession from another shipmaster of very many years standing in the mercantile marine. He writes as follows— Regarding Sunday labour, my experience is that our men will not work on Sunday in port unless overtime is paid. But the officers do not get a cent. I question whether we could compel our men to do unnecessary work in port, but the firemen have to maintain steam while cargo is working at Philadelphia, which is done frequently. The shore labour Italians are paid overtime. A Suez Canal pilot, who has much opportunity of observation, writes that he is very glad to find that this subject is being brought to the fore, and adds that it is a great pity that there was no one to correct there and then the misstatement of the Board of Trade representative in Parliament regarding extra Sunday pay for officers. I did at the time deny the accuracy of the statements regarding extra pay for officers and the stipulation in the articles of agreement. I do not for one moment hold the noble Lord personally responsible for these misstatements. The information was placed in his hands by the Department he represents, and naturally he thought it was correct. But I think the Marine Department of the Board of Trade deserves censure for supplying such inaccurate and misleading information.

My Lords, I do not bring this subject forward from a religious so much as from a humanitarian or utilitarian point of view. But I may say that divine worship in the merchant service would be a mockery under such conditions as exist, and who can wonder that it has become decadent? If we are honest in our desire to promote and foster worship of the Creator in the merchant service legislation on the lines of that adopted already by the leading maritime Powers will have to be carried out. The amount of daily labour which has to be performed by very many of our merchant officers and men is at times simply staggering. But it is not my wish to appear to overstate the subject; otherwise I could give more evidence in this direction. As I have previously informed your Lordships, practically all other leading maritime countries enforce limitations with regard to Sunday labour and hours of work of the officers and men of their merchant ships. It is we, professedly the greatest Christian maritime nation, who are the last to follow suit. It is truly an unedifying spectacle to find two merchant ships lying in port on Sunday, one a foreigner with all work shut down and the other a Britisher with work going on just the same as on a week day.

So far as I can see there is only one objection—if it can be called an objection —and that is that cases are liable to arise where Sunday labour in port cannot be avoided. If other maritime countries find that this difficulty can be easily got over, surely it is not beyond our power to solve it also. If we are to be reasonable with shipowners, then it is our clear duty to be reasonable also with our officers and seamen. Personally, I would not have the remotest objection to saving clauses in a Bill which would permit of work on Sunday under certain very defined and necessary conditions, but with the proviso that such work should always command extra pay.

Your Lordships will observe that up to now I have confined myself to the Motion which I have brought before you. I would now draw your attention to a Question which I am also addressing regarding certain steps which, I understand, have been taken by the Board of Trade since I brought this matter forward last year. It is authoritatively stated in the Press that the Board, no doubt influenced by the result of the previous debate which I had the honour to initiate, have placed themselves in communication with the different shipowners' representative organisations on this question of Sunday labour, and that the shipowners have returned unfavourable replies. Now I think that, in the interests of our seafarers, and, indeed, in the public interest, these things should not be carried on secretly. If the Board of Trade have taken any such action, then it would strengthen their hands considerably did they acquaint the public of the nature of it, and also of the nature of the replies received. I hope, therefore, that this correspondence will be laid on the Table for the information of your Lordships so that we may know exactly what view British shipowners hold on this question.

I would ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the position of the men in whose cause I am appealing. I would ask you to imagine their feelings at being robbed of the one day's rest in seven which they should be able to command as their legitimate birthright. I would ask you to consider what it would mean had we ourselves to pursue our labours day after day, sometimes for months on end, without one single afternoon or one single day upon which we could claim the right to be free from duty, labour, and anxiety. We have in this matter a public duty to perform. The subject is one which strikes at the very heart of the religious convictions of our nation, and it is one in which reasons of humanity alone should make us take action. Your acceptance of this Motion would, my Lords, be a step from which, I can assure you, most beneficent results might arise, and one which would, once again, illustrate that your Lordships' House is ready to protect a class of the community who are voteless and are what may be termed "political outcasts," to whom is given no facility or opportunity of representation in the councils of our nation. I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that it is desirable that the question of the amount of unnecessary Sunday labour which is imposed upon the officers and men of British merchant ships when lying in seaports both at home and abroad, should receive the attention of His Majesty's Government in order that legislative measures may be introduced to deal with it.—(Lord Muskerry.)


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, who generally replies on behalf of the Board of Trade, is, I am sorry to say, too unwell to come to the House to-day. It has therefore devolved upon me to reply to the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. This question has been frequently discussed in your Lordships' House and was before you as lately as November 30 last, when my noble friend Lord Hamilton dealt with the subject. At that time the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, spoke upon the matter. He said he did not think it would be possible to introduce any useful legislation, but he suggested that the Board of Trade should communicate with the parties concerned and endeavour to come to some arrangement. The Board of Trade immediately acted on that suggestion, and the result is that we have received replies from the different shipowners and shipowners' associations on the subject. In reply to the request of the noble Lord, I may say that we shall be pleased to lay on the Table our letter to the shipowners and the replies received from them.

The point with regard to Sunday labour is that it is very difficult to lay down what work is actually necessary and what a crew should do on a Sunday. I gather from my noble friend's remarks that he only wishes to limit Sunday work on ships to the time when they are actually in harbour, and he has quoted on that point the different laws in force in foreign countries. He quoted the case of France. If my memory serves me aright, in that country a day of rest is enforced by law, but the master of the ship has power to fix the particular day. That is the French idea. The letters that we have received from the different shipowners' associations are all very much against putting any actual binding contract into their agreements. The noble Lord asks us to bring in legislation dealing with the subject. The Government at present do not see their way to some clauses will be inserted with this introduce legislation on these lines.

My noble friend stated that there was an excessive amount of Sunday labour in the mercantile marine. From that opinion I entirely dissent. I believe that the average shipowner does not insist upon his men working on Sunday if it can possibly be helped, and when they do work on Sunday I know that, as regards the men, all the big associations, such as the Liverpool Shipowners' Association, pay them overtime at the rate of 6d. or 8d. an hour. As regards the statement made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell that the officers are paid, my noble friend was in error in that. Officers are not paid for Sunday work. This, briefly, is the position of affairs at the present moment. While we all deeply sympathise with the noble Lord and are very much averse to Sunday labour, yet it is difficult to see what legislation could be usefully brought in; and for these reasons I am afraid that, as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, they must ask your Lordships not to accept the Motion.


My Lords, the total abolition of Sunday labour while ships are in harbour would lead to a number of vessels being laid up, and this would involve interference with trade and increase unemployment. There is one class of Sunday labour which can scarcely be avoided in harbour. I refer to the number of small repairs that are constantly necessary. There are screws, nuts, and valves to be attended to, and it is almost impossible, for instance, to avoid working the engine room staff on Sundays when in harbour. But I claim that they have a right to extra pay for so doing. The noble Earl has told us that in many cases the seamen are able to insist upon extra pay for Sunday labour. Although it is too late to introduce a Bill this year, I hope that when the Mercantile Marine Act comes up for revision, clauses will be inserted making it compulsory to give extra pay to officers as well as men for Sunday labour, with the exception—and here I disagree with my noble friend Lord Muskerry—of the captain, because he very often has the opportunity of checking Sunday labour. This would act as a palliative and deter shipowners from employing their men unnecessarily on Sundays. I hope, therefore, that the next time a Merchant Shipping Bill is brought in some clauses will be inserted with this object.


My Lords, I take great interest in the subject which the noble Lord opposite has brought forward. I have lived most of my life at ports and in connection with seamen, and therefore the subject is one with which of necessity I have had something to do in former years. Whatever may be the result of this discussion, whether legislation is introduced hereafter or not, I cannot feel that a discussion of this kind in your Lordships' House is altogether thrown away. I believe that a great deal may be done by bringing public opinion to bear upon shipowners and all who are concerned in this matter, and I believe further that this reform will have to be a very gradual one. I am certain that it would be impossible to wholly stop Sunday labour throughout the mercantile marine, and I do not think anybody really seriously proposes that. What we do desire is that there should be an effort to reduce it to the smallest possible amount. It is not creditable that foreign countries should be able to introduce comparisons between British ships and their ships with reference to this matter, and if a comparison is now made it is not in favour of British ships. I think something should be done to try and remedy what is generally considered a serious grievance.

There is a further point of view I should like to bring before you. My own experience of Indian ports is one of thirty or forty years ago, but for some time I lived at Calcutta and was more or less cognisant of the shipping there at that particular time. I had to do with a large number of seamen, and I have the keenest recollection, I am sorry to say, of a particular court in the Presidency jail which was entirely occupied by European seamen. When I acted for the chaplain I asked the men how they came there. In nearly every case it was owing to drink, and again and again the drink was the remedy, as they supposed, for the very hard kind of life they led; they took refuge in drink from the continual stringency of seven days labour. The point of view I want to bring out is that if seamen had more rational hours, if they had one day's rest in seven, I do not think there would be the same inducement to yield to this temptation. Therefore I venture to say that one rest day in seven would certainly conduce to the greater sobriety and temperance of the seamen of our mercantile marine. That is a point of view which I do not think ought to be left out of consideration.

In the port of Karachi Sunday labour has been reduced to a minimum, and I do not see why what has been done at Karachi should not be done at Calcutta and other ports in the East. While I do not for one moment attempt to dictate or to say what ought to be done in reference to this matter, I do desire, if I can, to strengthen public opinion in the direction of reducing Sunday labour to the smallest amount; and I am sure that whatever may be the result of this discussion noble Lords on both sides of the House will desire that this object shall be attained.


My Lords, I deeply regret to hear the decision that His Majesty's Government have come to. I cannot say I expected any other decision, but I hope the time will come when we shall hear from the Ministerial Bench that means have been found to put a stop to seven-day labour. All industrial occupations now, both in this country and abroad, are striving to minimise the amount of labour. I approach this subject, not from the religious point of view at all, but from the utilitarian. How is it that France is able to give one day's rest in the week, and we are not?

The noble Lord who spoke for His Majesty's Government said that they had carried out the desire which had been expressed from the Front Opposition Bench, that inquiries should be made to ascertain the views of those concerned. The noble Earl tells us that the Board of Trade applied to the shipowners. Are the shipowners the people who suffer? Is it the shipowners who have to work seven days in the week? I think not. It is the officers and sailors, and I should like to ask the representative of His Majesty's Government whether they have applied to the officers' organisations and to the sailors' and stokers' unions, because if they have not the answers they have received are worth nothing at all. I do not suppose for a moment that His Majesty's Government have any desire that sailors should be forced to work seven' days in the week. I cannot believe that they have, but from the answer that has been given to-night it would seem as if that were so.

Each time this subject has been brought forward overwhelming sympathy has been forthcoming, but no action has been taken. On all hands we hear that we ought to do everything to encourage Britons to enter the British merchant service, and that it is a danger to the country that aliens should man the mercantile marine. Yet when we say that the sailor should be allowed what every other working man in the country has—namely, one day's rest in seven—we are told that it is impossible. I do not believe it. I believe that if His Majesty's Government chose to do this thing, it could be done, and I hope it will be done very quickly.


My Lords, it is rather difficult for your Lordships to continue this discussion in the absence of the Papers which the noble Earl opposite has been good enough to promise shall be laid on the Table. When we receive them we shall see the fruit of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn last year. The Papers are, I hope, full; that is to say, that the shipowners' answers are not merely expressions of opinion on their part that the proposed mitigations which have been urged are a mistake, but contain facts and arguments sufficient to satisfy your Lordships that such is the fact. The mere ipse dixit of the shipowners I do not think would be satisfactory.

After all, we are face to face with this remarkable circumstance, that it has been found possible for other nations to proceed further in the direction of the mitigation of Sunday labour in their mercantile marine than we have, and in order to overset that example I think we shall look for something more than a mere assurance from the shipowners that any change in the present practice would be a mistake. I use the word "practice" on purpose, because I am not at all sure that it is a matter for legislation. I was struck by what fell from the right reverend Prelate just now when he urged that what was really required, apart from everything else, was a change in public opinion. No doubt that is the most important and the best method by which such an alteration can be carried into effect.

It may be necessary for your Lordships to proceed further in this matter. Of that we shall judge when we see the Papers. There is no doubt that primâ facie your Lordships would desire to see the same practice extended to the merchant service which belongs to every other trade and profession throughout the country. Therefore we are grateful to the Government for their promise to lay these Papers, and probably in these circumstances my noble friend will not desire to press the matter further until he sees the Papers. It will then be entirely open to him to bring the matter again before your Lordships in the event of his not being satisfied.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has brought this question before the House appears to me to lose no opportunity of disparaging shipowners, and I am sorry, from the remarks which have followed from other noble Lords, that his statements to-night have been taken as facts. I entirely deny that Sunday labour on board British ships is carried on to such an extent as the noble Lord has insinuated. He has not brought any facts forward to prove his statement, and I emphatically deny that Sunday labour is common in home ports. Sunday labour on board British ships in home ports is the exception and not the rule. The noble Lord referred to shipping in the East. I admit I have no acquaintance with shipping in that part of the world and do not know whether his statements on that point are correct or not; but I felt that, as a shipowner, I could not allow his remarks to pass and the statement to be accepted that shipowners encouraged Sunday labour on every possible occasion. I know from my own experience that the contrary is the case. I desire, therefore, to protest against the view going forward that shipowners encourage Sunday labour.


My Lords, I hope you will allow me a few words in reply. The noble Lord who has just sat down stated that I had not brought any facts before your Lordships in support of the statements I had made. I can only read extracts from letters. This I have done, and I hold in my hand a letter, dated the 19th of this month, in which a captain mentions having passed a vessel lying in the Manchester Canal on which work was proceeding on a Sunday. It is not my own opinion that I voice on this question. I have stated the opinions of the captains and officers of our merchant service. They have no other means of putting forward their views. I have a large bundle of letters here, and they are all to the effect that there is a large amount of unnecessary Sunday labour imposed upon the officers and men on British merchant ships. Most of it is at ports abroad, I admit, but home ports are also included. I have one letter in which the writer, alluding to my Motion which includes foreign seaports, says "We ought to look at our home ports first." I am sorry that the noble Lord who has just spoken thinks I have a bad opinion of our shipowners. I can assure him that that is not the case; but there are some shipowners, of course, who are not so good as others. After the remarks of the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench, and after the promise of the noble Earl to lay these Papers on the Table, I propose not to press my Motion. I will wait until the Papers are published; but I hope that when I bring this matter forward again, as I certainly shall, I shall meet with your Lordships' support.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.