HL Deb 24 February 1925 vol 60 cc274-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill had the honour of mention in the King's speech. Its object is to make the necessary amendments in the law of the country to give effect to three international Labour Conventions relating to seamen, which were made in 1920 and 1921. These were the results of Conferences of the International Labour organisation of the League of Nations, held at Genoa in 1920, and at Geneva in 1921. The three Conventions that I have alluded to are scheduled to the Bill. The first provides that the seaman's wages shall continue during unemployment due to shipwreck for a maximum period of two months from the date of the loss of his ship. The second provides that no boy under the age of 18 may be employed as a fireman or trimmer on board ship; and the third provides for the medical examination of young persons under 18 before they serve on board ship.

The adoption of these Conventions involves the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Acts, and the present Bill seeks to make the necessary alteration. The three Conventions were signed, among others, by the British representatives at the respective Conferences, that is to say, representatives of the Government, employers, and seamen; but they have not been ratified by His Majesty's Government pending the necessary legislation to give effect to them. Under the late Government this Bill passed through all its stages in your Lordships' House, and was only prevented by the Dissolution from passing in the other House. I think it was awaiting Report at the time of the Dissolution. I do not think it is necessary for me, therefore, to go into the details of the clauses. On the Committee stage I shall be ready to answer any questions that may be asked. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I have gone through this Bill, as I try to do with all the Bills that come before the House, and, naturally, it is a Bill which I look upon with very considerable regard. It was a Bill with which we were more or less familiar during the last Parliament. But one has to watch these things closely, and there is one piece of information that I would like the noble Viscount to give us, if not now, on the next stage of the Bill. The Bill does three things. It deals, first, with the wages of seamen when the contract has been interrupted by the loss of the ship. That, I think, is all right. That has been discussed a great deal before the Courts, and it is reasonable that the seamen should not suffer altogether in a case of that kind. Then there is another provision which I think is quite right, and that is that a young person, defined as one under 18 years of age, should not work in a stokehold or other insalubrious part of the ship.

But there is a third provision on which I should like to hear from the noble Viscount that the business world is satisfied, and that is the medical examination of young persons in distant parts of the globe. I think it is very right that you should see to the health of these young persons. What I am more concerned about is whether it is always practicable or possible. It may be that a ship, particularly if she is a tramp steamer, is on a voyage to some place where it is not possible to make these examinations. Has the Bill been drawn in such a way that those who are interested in the ship are satisfied that, in those circumstances, they can work the voyage? Very likely there is no reason for misgiving about that, but, although the noble Viscount says that employers were represented at the International Conferences, I should like to know upon that point that the matter has been looked into, and that they are satisfied that the scheme is workable. That is all I wish to say, and I desire to raise no more objection to the Second Reading.


My Lords, I wish to make some observations not with regard to the provisions of the Bill, but affecting the policy which underlies it. The matter has been brought to my notice by shipping interests, and ought, I think, to be under the consideration of my noble friend Lord Peel, who is in charge of the Bill, and of the Government. This Bill is the outcome of international consultation, and no doubt with the various other measures which have been presented to Parliament, is intended to introduce into the maritime world as a whole by international consent proposals which are highly beneficent in the interests of seamen. I think nobody who reads the Conventions in the Bill will doubt that they mark an advance on existing conditions, and they have been received very cheerfully and readily by the shipping interests of this country. But I am not sure whether His Majesty's Government, in the mode in which it proceeds with this and other Bills, is taking count of the possible outcome of this method of legislation, which may rather damp the ardour of men of philanthropic minds interested in British shipping.

I do not know, but I think this Bill is intended to come into operation promptly after receiving His Majesty's Assent. A number of projects have come forward after the like process of international consultation. His Majesty's Government—and I speak of His Majesty's Government generically—has ratified the proposals from time to time and has taken legislative steps in regard to them: but among other nations who have been parties to the international consultations there has not been that prompt action. The matter was brought to my notice recently in a report made by, I suppose, the most important individual body of shipowners in this country, the Steamship Owners' Association of Liverpool, in which they say:— Up to now our experience of international Conventions has not been fortunate. Great Britain was the only nation to ratify the Convention on Safety of Life at Sea. At Conferences held under the auspices of the League, sixteen Conventions have been adopted of which Great Britain has already ratified seven, and it is understood that the present Government proposes to ratify another three, making ten in all. Neither France nor Germany has yet ratified a single Convention, while the United States has not been a party to any of them. What is brought to my notice is that the working costs of British shipping are increased by Conventions of this kind, as they must necessarily be and as the shipowners recognise they will be. But if a process of that kind is continued piecemeal without taking any security that those who are parties to international consultations will place their shipping upon the same fooling as that on which British shipping is placed, there is a prospect ultimately of detriment to British shipping.

I desire to ask my noble friend Lord Peel if His Majesty's Government have considered whether it would not be more in the interests of the general scheme of international amelioration and world wide benefit to shipping and to seamen that a clause should be introduced in each Bill of this kind providing that it should come into operation at the time when concurrent measures of the other parties to Conventions come into operation, or that its coming into operation should he directed by His Majesty in Council. I do not desire to take up the time of your Lordships' House in discussing this matter, but my noble friend will see that this matter is of cumulative importance to shipowners. British shipowners regard these matters with a degree of generosity which contrasts very strongly with much that one has seen in times past, and I am sure His Majesty's Government would not desire to imperil that feeling by taking action which might not invoke a proper and intended response among the other shipping nations of the world. The shipping community is, after all, one great community and legislation in regard to it should be concurrent legislation.


My Lords, I have been asked two questions, the first by the noble and learned Viscount opposite as to Clause 3. The information I have is that there is no objection among the shipowners to Clause 3 which deals with the medical examination of young persons. The noble Viscount said that he has already made himself acquainted with some of the details of that clause. It provides certain exceptions to the necessity of securing the certificate of a medical practitioner, which may be dispensed with in some cases on the authority of consuls and in other cases the superintendent of a Board of Trade mercantile marine office. If the noble and learned Viscount desires it I can get further information on that particular point.

The second point was raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale and was as to whether in the case of these international arrangements Great Britain was not forward very often in ratifying them where other countries were not so forward, with the result that there might be some disadvantage to British shipping. I suppose it happens in the case of a great many of these Conventions that they are not ratified by all parties to them at the same time My noble friend is aware, of course, that after the Bill becomes an Act ratification does not necessarily follow; but, it may take place, at any time, I understand, after the passing of the Act. It is interesting to note that in this case Great Britain is not, in that sense, leading the way. I have before me a list of other countries which have already ratified these three Conventions. Some of them have ratified one, others have ratified two, and some have ratified three. I must confess that some of the countries who have ratified them have not a very large mercantile marine, as, for instance, Bulgaria, Esthonia and Poland. But among the names of the other countries are Spain, Italy and Japan. Japan has specially ratified Convention No. 3 which deals with the compulsory medical examination of children and young persons. As to the general question of the date of ratification and its connection with ratification by other countries, I should be very glad to ask the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Cave, to consider that, and probably he will make a suggestion to my noble friend.


It might be useful if I placed an Amendment on the Paper for the Committee Stage of the Bill. This is a matter which needs serious consideration by the Board of Trade.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.