§ LORD MUSKERRY rose to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House an inquiry should be held into the constitution and administration of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade in the interest of safety of life at sea and the welfare and efficiency of our mercantile marine."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the early part of this year the people of this country were startled and shocked when they heard of the foundering of the "Titanic" and the great loss of life which had taken place. When the first news came—that is, the day after the foundering of the "Titanic"—the Marine Department of the Board of Trade wrote to the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee saying that the recommendations which the Committee had addressed to the Board in July of the previous year as regards the supplying of boats had not gone far enough. I would impress upon your Lordships that though the Department had had the Report of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee before them for nearly ten months they had done nothing towards adopting the valuable recommendations which had been made to them on this question of boat accommodation. The President of the Board of Trade was severely blamed in the public Press in connection with this disaster. This blame, I think, was most unjust, and for this reason—that no man, however able, who is placed in the position of President of the Board of Trade and is there for so comparatively short a time can possibly make himself fully conversant with all the numerous intricate and highly technical conditions which exist in the various departments, dealing with interests of a totally different character, which go to comprise the body which is called the Board of Trade. There are noble Lords in this house who have held the position of President of the Board of Trade, and I am sure they will agree with what I have just said. Naturally, the gentleman holding this position has to depend in a great measure for information on the permanent officials who are at the head of the numerous departments that are under his sway.
§ Now, my Lords, I have to make a very serious charge. I do so fully realising the gravity of it, but I also realise that it is my duty to make it. It is that the Marine 91 Department of the Board of Trade has shown gross neglect—I might almost say criminal neglect—of the safety of the lives of our seamen, and I think I shall be able to show that I have sound reasons for the charge I make. In the first place, Lord Mersey, in the course of his decision on the "Titanic" case, dwells upon what he terms an "outstanding circumstance"—that is, the omission on the part of the Board of Trade during so many years to revise the life-saving rules adopted in the year 1894. This Lord Mersey considered blamable, notwithstanding the excuses and explanations put forward by Sir Alfred Chalmers, the then Nautical Adviser to the Board of Trade. For a great Government Department to be blamed in this way is a serious matter, and one which, in the interests of good government, demands thorough investigation.
§ But from the Report of the Court in this case we can go further back than even the year 1894. In 1886 a Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade considered that the boats required by the Merchant Shipping Act should be increased 100 per cent., and, in addition, that the owners should be induced to carry sufficient collapsible boats and approved rafts, so that each ship should have sufficient life-saving gear for all on board at any one time. I would ask your Lordships to mark this in view of what has happened. Then again in 1887 a Select Committee of the House of Commons, presided over by Lord Charles Beresford, expressed the opinion that all sea-going passenger ships should be compelled by law to carry such boats and other life-saving apparatus as would best provide for the safety of all on board in moderate weather. Have the Board of Trade discharged their responsibilities in this way? I say, emphatically, No, they have not done so.
§ I propose to refer to other matters which, in the interests of safety of life at sea, are of just as much importance. In the year 1903 this House agreed that a Select Committee should be appointed to investigate the dangers incurred through ships being allowed to go to sea with insufficient ballast. Prior to this Committee sitting the then permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade, Sir Francis Hopwood, assured the late Duke of Devonshire in my presence that the Board of Trade intended to be perfectly impartial in the matter. 92 My Lords, the Committee sat. In support of my case—that many lives had been sacrificed at sea owing to insufficiently ballasted ships—amongst those witnesses expressing themselves in the strongest way were nautical assessors, who are appointed by the Home Office to sit on Courts of Inquiry in connection with disasters to ships occurring in the mercantile marine. They are not appointed by the Board of Trade; therefore we can look upon them as thoroughly independent witnesses. Amongst others to support me were merchant shipmasters, underwriters, naval architects, marine engineers, and other expert witnesses, all of whom were in absolute accord as to the necessity of a light load line.
§ To my profound astonishment I found that the chief and most strenuous witness in the way of opposition was the Assistant Secretary at the head of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, who still occupies this position. In the course of his evidence he produced a number of figures which greatly impressed the Select Committee, who quite accepted them. A subsequent searching analysis of these figures both on my part and that of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, on whose behalf I was working, showed that these figures had manifestly been "cooked" so as to mislead in order to bolster up the case against the Light Load Line Bill. The Board of Trade were very naturally supported by certain of the shipowners, and thus you will see how the endeavours to ensure greater safety of life at sea were frustrated by the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. Is this, I ask, the attitude which should be taken up by this Department when matters affecting safety of life are under consideration? I must say that as a result of the Light Load Line Committee—though no thanks to the Board of Trade—there have been great improvements made in providing extra ballast tanks in the building of merchant ships, but as the law stands at present there are many ships still allowed to go to sea in an utterly unseaworthy condition through want of sufficient ballast. The Light Load Line Committee in their Report stated that they confidently relied upon the Board of Trade to use the powers already conferred upon them by Parliament to prevent improper or insufficient ballasting of ships. I do not hesitate to say that this confidence has been completely mis- 93 placed, for they have done nothing to prevent it. For instance, the Light Load Line Committee distinctly recommended that regulations as to securing loose ballast should be drawn up and enforced by the Board of Trade. This the Board of Trade have never done. Disasters involving loss of life through insufficient ballasting have occurred since this Report of the Light Load Line Committee.
§ I will now deal briefly with another important matter concerning safety at sea which has never been attended to by the Board of Trade as should have been the case. In the year 1874 a Royal Commission declared that "some additional nautical assistance is requisite at the Board of Trade." It is an astounding thing to think that, as matters stand at present, there is no more nautical assistance at the Board of Trade than there was in the year 1874. Ten years ago I brought this before your Lordships and before the Board of Trade. I pointed out that the surveying and inspecting staff of the Board of Trade was hopelessly insufficient, and I further pointed out that out of the whole technical staff of 136 of the Board of Trade only nineteen had had nautical experience. I showed that in any case it was impossible that the life-saving appliances of ships sailing from the United Kingdom could be efficiently inspected by nineteen surveyors, and I then stated that, as a result of this, the life-saving apparatus—that is, boats and other like equipment—was in very many cases inefficient and useless. The loss of the "Titanic" seems to have scared the Marine Department of the Board of Trade into some sense of their duty, and now after ten years, and under pressure, they appear to agree that the appointment of a large number of additional surveyors is necessary. In connection with this matter I hope that they are going to make it quite sure that all such matters as boats, navigational equipment, such as compasses, charts, and other essential material for safe navigation and safety of life shall be surveyed and inspected by nautical men who have had practical experience at sea in these matters.
§ And now, my Lords, for a still more serious indictment. I refer to the carriage of dangerous deck loads of timber and other articles, which has become a common practice nowadays. Nearly twelve years ago in this House I first drew the attention 94 of your Lordships and of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade to the grave way in which the lives of our seamen were imperilled through this most dangerous practice. I produced evidence of loss of life and serious disasters due entirely to the carriage of these deck loads. The Board of Trade took no action. In the years 1903, 1904, 1905, 1907, and twice in 1909 I endeavoured to impress these dangers on your Lordships and on the Marine Department, showing also what terrible loss of life had occurred; but all to no purpose. The Board of Trade declined to move. In another place the President of the Board of Trade has, I am glad to say, promised to furnish a Return giving the Reports of Courts of Inquiry into disasters at sea which have commented on the dangers of these deck loads, and I venture to think that this Return will prove very instructive and show what obviously grave dangers the Marine Department of the Board of Trade have allowed to continue with impunity. I will, however, give your Lordships some evidence of my own.
§ When I first brought the matter forward in this House I referred to the case of the "Mobile" (carrying a huge timber deck load of 700 tons), which had been lost with twenty-six lives; and to the case of the "Huddersfield," which was very badly damaged through her deck-load breaking adrift, and I understand that two lives were lost in consequence. I will quote some more cases arising since then. The "Blenheim," with a large deck cargo of timber, foundered in the North Atlantic. The steamer "Cardinal," also carrying a deck-load, was lost at sea. All the following cases arose through vessels carrying great and cumbersome deck-loads, to which the serious loss of life was directly attributable. Steamer "Salopia," lost with all hands, twenty-two men; steamer "Nutfield," lost with twenty-four lives; steamer "Freshfield," lost with twenty-five lives. Then there are the cases of the steamers "Nemea" and "Coralie," which were lost at sea. In the case of the "Nemea" the master, three engineers, and three men were washed overboard through the bulwarks being carried away, but I believe they were eventually rescued. In the case of the "Coralie," her crew were fortunately picked up by the Norwegian barque "Alborga." Then we have the cases of the steamer "Yarmouth," belonging to 95 the Great Eastern Railway Company, lost with all hands a year or two ago—twenty-three lives, one a passenger; the "Axim," lost with thirty-three crew and four passengers; the "Eastern Counties," where there were five lives lost; and the case of the "Guillemot," belonging to the General Steam Navigation Company, which was lost in December of last year with sixteen lives out of a total crew of twenty-three. In each of these cases the Courts condemned this iniquitous practice of carrying dangerous deck-loads.
§ Are not these ample grounds for my indictment of gross neglect which I am bringing against the Marine Department of the Board of Trade? All these men's lives were lost through perfectly preventable causes. There was no outcry through the country, as there has been in the case of the "Titanic," because there were no passengers lost except the five I mentioned. They were only poor devils of seamen who lost their lives. But I do not think, my Lords, that there would be one in your Lordships' House or even one among the general public who would stand up for one moment and say that the lives of passengers are more valuable than the lives of our seamen. When the "Titanic" Inquiry was going on would any one have dared to say that there was no reason for doing anything because the percentage of life lost was so small in comparison with the vast number of passengers carried every year by the great number of passenger ships which are now running? Would any one have dared to say this? Yet, my Lords, this is the reason always advanced for doing nothing when I have brought forward the case of the unfortunate seamen whose lives are being unduly risked. The loss of the "Titanic" has been a terrible and costly lesson, but I trust it is not one in vain. It has opened up many matters concerning the mercantile marine which demanded ventilation and exposure, and I think it has most certainly enlisted the interest of Parliament and the public in the affairs of those who earn their living at sea. In a word, the loss of the "Titanic" accomplished in a single second what I have been endeavouring to accomplish in my own humble way for many years past.
§ To come to a further question, that of the deeper immersion of British ships, which was done without the sanction of 96 Parliament and, as one may say, by a mere stroke of the pen in 1906. The greatest indignation at such a step has been freely given vent to by all seafarers, notably by the Imperial Merchant Service Guild as representing those commanding and officering the ships of the mercantile marine, who contend with perfect truth that in the case of many ships their lives are being gravely imperilled in consequence. I do not hesitate to assert that many of the cases of missing vessels which frequently arise are due to this deeper immersion. This is a specimen of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade's administration for the past few years, and it is not one to feel proud of.
Another matter is that where large British merchant ships are allowed to be in charge of uncertificated and totally irresponsible men, a danger to themselves and to other ships properly and efficiently officered. I have emphasised the dangers of this in this House, and they have frequently been urged on the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. This Department knows full well the many cases of disasters where Courts of Inquiry have condemned such an extraordinary omission in the law with the greatest emphasis. So far back as the year 1896 the Manning of Merchant Ships Committee made the following recommendation—
That a ship is in an unseaworthy state when she leaves port without sufficient officers or with her responsible officers unfitted for their duty by reason of prolonged overwork, and that no ship of large size or power should be permitted to go to sea without provision having been made that the deck shall always be in charge of some person who has given proof of his qualification, by service or examination, for such a position.
Your Lordships will remark that in all these years such an obviously necessary recommendation for ensuring safety of life at sea has never received the slightest attention at the hands of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. It is true that now, under pressure, the Board of Trade have introduced a Bill which will deal with the subject in a small way, but it is characteristic of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade that as it stands, owing to the absurdly high tonnage limit embodied in the Bill, the Bill will really defeat its own objects; and, again, no restrictions whatever are being applied in the case of British merchant ships trading abroad.
§ My Lords, there are other serious charges which I could bring forward, but I must not trespass further on your Lordships' time. We ask for a full, searching, public and impartial inquiry into the administration of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. If the charges I bring against the Department are not correct, then it has no cause to fear such an inquiry; if they are correct, as I and many others believe them to be, then in the interests of the safety of our sailors' lives it is imperative that the inquiry should be instituted without further delay.
§ Moved to resolve "That in the opinion of this House an inquiry should be held into the constitution and administration of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade in the interest of safety of life at sea and the welfare and efficiency of our mercantile marine."—(Lord Muskerry.)
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, we always listen with great interest to any remarks made by the noble Lord opposite as regards the merchant shipping community of this country and the seafaring classes generally. But on the present occasion I venture to think that my noble friend has not in any way made out his case. He instanced, in the first place, the deplorable accident which happened to the "Titanic" this year, and attributed that accident, so far as I could gather, mainly to the Board of Trade. On that matter he has only to read the evidence given before Lord Mersey's Commission. That evidence does not, as far as I can gather, support his contention. Lord Mersey certainly expressed the opinion that the Advisory Committee with regard to safety at sea ought to have been called together after 1894, and he found that the Board of Trade were blamable as regards this; but he expressed the opinion, having regard to the recommendation of the Advisory Committee, that the Board of Trade would not have felt justified in making rules which would have required more boat accommodation than was carried on the "Titanic," boat accommodation which was utilised on that occasion to less than one-third of its capacity. But be added that that made no excuse for the delay of the Board of Trade in the matter. That is the only point which Lord Mersey made against the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade naturally rely on the expert judgment of their professional 98 officer, and there can be no doubt that Sir Alfred Chalmer's judgment was in this case in fault; but it is impossible to blame the whole Department for the omission or failure of one particular officer. As regards the other part of Lord Mersey's judgment, he found that no ease whatever had been made out against the Board of Trade or their officials. I will now deal with the definite points raised by my noble friend opposite. He said, in the first place, that the Board of Trade took no action whatever upon the Report of the Light Load Line Committee which sat in the year 1903.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I entirely disagree with the noble Lord. I have papers here which the Board of Trade sent out to their officers and to the owners of ships throughout the country, pointing out to them the recommendations put forward by the Committee and suggesting that they should be acted upon by the persons to whom these communications were made. The actual Report of the Light Load Line Committee is rather instructive reading, because the Committee consisted of men of undoubted ability, such as Lord Spencer, the late Lord Ridley, Lord Brassey, Lord Shand, and Lord Inverclyde, and, as far as I can gather, on every Amendment they were against the noble Lord, and one always finds, either under "Content" or "Not-content," Lord Muskerry by himself.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
Well, in nearly every case. I venture to think that if there was anything in the contentions of the noble Lord he would have been supported by the able men to whom I have referred. The noble Lord made another serious allegation. He said that the Board of Trade took the trouble to "cook" some figures with regard to the light load line.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I cannot imagine for one moment that the noble Lord is serious in making that statement,
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
Surely the noble Lord does not believe that an efficient and reliable Civil Servant would sink to the depth of "cooking" figures for a Return such as that.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I do not think any of your Lordships will support the noble Lord in that contention. The noble Lord admits that there has been a great improvement as regards under-ballasting, but he will not give the Board of Trade any credit for it. In fact, he will give the Board of Trade credit for nothing.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
The Board of Trade have done all in their power in the last few years to suggest to owners and builders the provision of water tanks on ships. As regards the question of deck-loads, on which subject I have in this House frequently spoken, the Board of Trade have lately received a letter from the Merchant Service. Guild, and the President of the Board has asked that society to send to him any specific cases they know of, and has promised that all the cases will be thoroughly gone into. The next point raised by the noble Lord was the question of certificated officers. As regards that, the noble Lord is well aware that at this moment there is a Bill before Parliament dealing with that matter. I am speaking from memory, but my impression is that the law at the present time only insists upon a master and one mate being carried on foreign-going ships.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
The Board of Trade have made inquiries into this matter and find that most ships carry a great deal higher complement than is required by law. In fact, 84 per cent. of the ships of this country carry more than the requisite number of officers required by law. The noble Lord also referred to the Manning Committee, and said that the Board of Trade of late years had done nothing. Let us take the case of the Manning Committee. The noble Lord must remember that the recommendations of that Committee were not in any sense unanimous. Well, on the only recommendations upon which the Committee were unanimous the Board of Trade took immediate action. The noble Lord will remember the Bill which I had the honour of conducting through your Lordships' Rouse and which is now the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906. That Act did an enormous amount to improve life at sea. 100 It increased the pay of the crew, it increased crew spaces, and did away with a great deal of the insanitary conditions which undoubtedly existed up to that time. It also had an effect which I am sure your Lordships will be heartily pleased with—that is, it led to an enormous increase in the proportion of British sailors employed in the British mercantile marine. I have the figures here, but I do not know that it is necessary to trouble your Lordships with them.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I know the noble Lord's point, and I will come to it in a moment. In 1905, there were, as I have said, employed on British ships 180,492 persons, and in the year 1911, the last figures available, the number was 205,065—that is, 72.9 per cent. of the total, as against 68.5 in the year 1905, before the Act to which I have referred became law.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I know that the noble Lord will say that in our figures sailors comprise stewardesses and all kinds of people who work on board ship, but I will give the noble Lord the figures of the quinquennial census of actual seamen. These reports show the number of seamen actually under articles on a given day. In the year 1901 there were 120,412 British seamen—that is, actual seamen; in 1911, the latest census, this number bad risen to 136,580.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl quoted certain figures a moment ago. I am not referring to the last figures he quoted, but to the 180,492 and the 205,065. My noble friend, Lord Muskerry, interrupted the noble Earl and asked if those were actual sailors, but the noble Earl did not answer. Great ambiguity was felt on the last occasion as to whether a large proportion of these were sailors at all in the true sense of the word, although they were sea-going persons. Perhaps the noble Earl will make the matter clear.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
The first figures which I brought to your Lordships' notice—the 180,492 and 205,065—include virtually all people employed on board ship, but the census figures which I gave are those of seamen under articles and comprise sailors only. I think I have now touched on the different points raised by my noble friend, and I have only, in conclusion, to say that the Government and the President of the Board of Trade are very much against any inquiry such as the noble Lord suggests. The noble Lord has made out no case, as far as I can see, for such an inquiry. An inquiry of this nature would hamper the Department, and a Committee such as the noble Lord suggests would not be the sort of Committee which would be of any use in determining whether or not there were any grounds for the complaints made. I can assure the noble Lord that it is the earnest wish of the Board of Trade to do all that they can to ameliorate the conditions of life at sea. In these circumstances I sincerely trust that your Lordships will not assent to the noble Lord's Motion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Earl opposite really found fault with my noble friend for taking, as he does on so many occasions, every pains to induce public opinion and Parliament to take interest on behalf of the British seafaring population. I think, if I may say so, that my noble friend does good service to the State in calling our attention to these points. There is, of course, no direct representative of the merchant service in your Lordships' House, and. but for my noble friend it is highly probable that many of these points to which attention ought to be called would altogether escape notice.
The occasion, of course, which has particularly led my noble friend to ask the attention of the House to this subject is the Report of Lord Mersey's Commission on the loss of the "Titanic." Undoubtedly that awful disaster did call public attention to this subject in a terrible manner, and although the loss of life was deplorable, yet in one sense, and perhaps in one sense only, there is a certain advantage to be set off against the disaster if it does make the Board of Trade more careful in these matters in the future. The Board of Trade is, of course, a Public Office of great distinction, but it is not perfect. No doubt it could do its work, like every other human 102 institution, better than it does. But before those of us who sit on this Bench would support a Motion for an inquiry into the working of a great public Department like the Board of Trade, we should require to be satisfied that my noble friend had made out a good prima facie case for such an inquiry. I confess I do not think that, although he has made some criticisms, and I may add some well-founded criticisms, he has yet brought together a body of evidence sufficiently important to justify such a Motion. It is quite true—and that, I think, is the main charge which he made out against the Department—that in the year 1894 there was great delay on the part of the officials of the Department in bringing up to date the provision to be carried upon ships for the safety of life at sea. That was admitted by the noble Earl opposite, and I think we must agree that a certain amount of blame in the matter is to be attached to the Department. But I think there must be set off against that blame the plea which was put in by the responsible official and which appears set out at length in Lord Mersey's Report—the plea that the improvement in design in modern ships rendered the provision of boats less urgent than it had been under former conditions. At the time when the "Titanic" was lost public opinion was so exercised that perhaps there was not that coolness of judgment brought to bear upon the disaster which would be the case if the matter were reconsidered now, and though I am very far from saying that everything was as it ought to have been, yet I do think that if the matter was reconsidered now there would not be the same demand for drastic changes in the regulations which was displayed at that deplorable moment. I therefore think that, although we must admit that the delay of 1894 was regrettable, there is something to be said for the other side.
I should like to ask my noble friend whether he does not think it requires great care in making these charges against a public Department. I will notice one instance. He stated to your Lordships that the Board of Trade had taken no action until after the "Titanic" disaster in respect to the recent advice of the Advisory Committee to alter the provision of life-saving apparatus. My noble friend nods his head. He has acted literally, but he has not acted within the spirit; and he will find that is so if he will read carefully Lord Mersey's Report. Lord Mersey first of all gives the reason for the delay—namely, 103 that certain experiments had to be carried out before definite regulations could be agreed upon—and he goes on to say—But I have satisfied myself that the determination to write a letter in the sense of the published letter, which was elated after the 'Titanic' disaster, bad really been resolved upon before the disaster had taken place.The noble Lord did not tell your Lordships that finding of Lord Mersey's Commission, yet it is essential to the forming of a judgment on the matter. I happen to know that the noble Lord was inaccurate in that respect, and I merely give that instance to your Lordships in order to show how careful you must be to sift charges against a great public Department before you accept them without comment.
I have said enough to show why we upon this Bench do not feel that a case has been made out for an inquiry. The real substance of the matter is this. If you leave out of account the "Titanic"—and that, of course, is a very great exception—the loss of life at sea is, I am glad to say, not only very small compared to the enormous number of British seagoing ships, but, as the noble Earl opposite said, is diminishing, or certainly over any reasonable period of years diminishing. That is a great fact, and I do not think you are entitled to bring a charge of neglect against a great public Department whose business it is to protect the lives of seamen in the merchant service if it can be shown that, as a matter of fact, loss of life is very small and that that loss of life is diminishing. I say, of course, leaving out of sight the "Titanic" case. The circumstances which led to that awful disaster were so peculiar, so unprecedented, and such a combination of accidents not likely to occur again that I think it is only fair that that should be left out of account in arriving at a general conclusion. For these reasons I do not think my noble friend has produced enough prima facie evidence to justify an inquiry. But I think he has produced enough to show that there has been a certain want of vigour in certain departments of the administration of the Board of Trade, like the administration of any other Department; and I am quite certain that the Department which the noble Earl opposite represents have taken to heart the findings of Lord Mersey's Commission and will also take to heart the observations of my noble friend and do their utmost to remedy that which ought to be put right.
My Lords, I do not agree that there has been an answer to what I have put forward, and I would point out that, though under providence the number of lives lost has not been large, lives are being risked every day through the carrying of deck-cargoes. There was an inquiry last week into the loss of a vessel through the carrying of a huge deck-cargo. This is still going on. Is that not to be stopped? Are no precautions to be taken against undue risk of life in this way? Precautions are taken against loss of life in connection with every other trade in this country. Why should this not be so in the case of the merchant service? After what the noble Marquess has said I do not think it would be any good pressing my Motion to a Division, and therefore I ask permission to withdraw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.