HL Deb 03 March 1925 vol 60 cc328-38

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Employment of young persons as trimmers or stokers):

LORD MERRIVALE moved, at the end of Clause 2, to insert the following new subsection:— (4) The provisions of this section shall come into operation on such day after the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and twenty-five, as His Majesty shall by Order in Council appoint.

The noble and learned Lord said: I gave notice to my noble friend on the Second Reading of the Bill that I would ask him to consider whether it was proper to bring a Bill of this character into operation as an Act of Parliament before the conditions which were intended to bring it into operation are fulfilled. The Bill provides for changes in labour conditions on board merchant ships which have been recommended by International Conventions. As to the first of them, which is embodied in the clause added to the Bill by the last decision of the House, I have not thought it necessary to raise any question. It provides for the case of shipwrecked seamen and regularises a mode of dealing with their claims for wages, which I suppose all people of any experience on the subject think is very reasonable and proper, and to which I know there has been no sort of objection among persons interested in shipping.

The clause to which I move an Amendment is a penal clause, which deals with the employment of young men and lads under eighteen in certain departments on board a merchant ship, in particular in the engine rooms and in the stokehold. That, of course, is a matter of importance with regard to conditions of service on board merchant ships. But the thing comes to be proposed in this way. The League of Nations, by its International Convention, brings together representatives of States which are ship-owning States, mercantile States and representatives of other States, and at Conventions conclusions are arrived at as to the proper, or perhaps the best, conditions of carrying on the merchant service. There are three Conventions embodied in this Bill. I pointed out to my noble friend last week that of sixteen Conventions which have been put forward under the same conditions an exceedingly small proportion—I think I might say an almost infinitesimal proportion—have been ratified so as to bring them into general operation at sea. So far as I know, the Conventions here under consideration have not been ratified so as to give them any general operation.

Now what is proposed by this Bill, with its penal clauses with regard to new conditions of employment, is that British shipowners shall be subjected to those new conditions without any security for that general amelioration of conditions at sea, or that equality of conditions of service in. the mercantile marine at large, which is intended to be procured by measures of this kind. I am told, and I believe, that British shipowners are perfectly ready to come into line with any reasonable proposal which may be resolved upon by Convention for the amelioration of conditions at sea; but I know a great many shipowners are anxious lest Conventions should be agreed upon and brought into operation with respect to British shipowners, and should remain mere idle words with regard to shipowners at large. I ask my noble friend whether the best mode of dealing with this matter is not to add to the Bill some provision whereby, when ship-owning nations generally, or to a reasonable extent, have concurred in the proposals which are embodied in the Bill His Majesty by Order in Council may bring them into operation to affect British shipowners.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 27, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Merrivale.)


Supposing the Bill were to pass in its present form I understand that as soon as it has received the Royal Assent the law of this country will have been brought into conformity with the provisions of this International Labour Convention. Of course, ratification would have to take place, but under those circumstances ratification would only be a mere form. The point raised by my noble and learned friend is this. Here are a number of Conventions which do put a certain burden, though not I think a very heavy burden, upon shipping: Is it right that they should be carried into effect by this country only and that they should not come into operation at the same time for all countries which are parties to the Conventions?

I think it will be agreed that these proposals are, in themselves, very reasonable and sensible; they are, in fact, I think, proposals which might well have been brought into operation in this country without a general agreement. They are also, I think, proposals which throw a. very small burden upon ships and shipowners in this country. I understand that in most of these cases Great Britain does give the lead; that is to say that if Great Britain, as a great shipping Power, did not ratify this Convention probably the Convention would die altogether, and that other and perhaps less important shipping countries are rather apt to wait for, and follow, the example set by Great Britain in these cases. My noble friend wishes to delay the operation of this Act until such time as other countries have ratified the Conventions. I entirely agree that it is generally much better that these Conventions should be ratified at the same time, but in a case like this—a comparatively small case—I suggest that it would be a mistake for this country to lag behind and not. to take action at once.

Of course, you might have other Conventions of a much more important kind than this which might throw very heavy burdens on the shipping of this country. In that case it would be extremely unfair that our ships and shipowners should be weighted in this way, and that the same burden should not also be borne by the shipping of other countries who themselves have been parties to the Convention. While I ask my noble friend not in this case to press his Amendment, I should like to say on behalf of the Board of Trade that they do not consider themselves at all necessarily bound to make a precedent of a case like this, and that they reserve the right in reference to important International Conventions of this kind to delay or suspend ratification until they are satisfied that a number of other important shipping countries are also joining in the ratification. I hope that my noble friend will not consider it necessary to press this particular Amendment, as the matter is a small one and as I understand several countries will probably follow the example of this country. I should add that so far as the Government is concerned the ratification of these Conventions was mentioned in the King's Speech, and for that reason importance must naturally be attached to their ratification by His Majesty's Government.


I have no wish to be obstructive in this matter, but I think it is a matter of principle that the Board of Trade should determine whether, if no particular considerations arise, it is desirable to bring Conventions with foreign countries into operation in this country by penal clauses in an Act of Parliament irrespective of whether the foreign States who have joined with us in concurring in the proposals are ready to carry them into operation or not. My noble friend has said that these are small matters and my belief is that that is so; but it is not immaterial that, irrespective of ratification, this Bill proposes penal enactments not depending upon ratification but adding to the body of the Criminal Law of this country, whether the foreign States concerned take concurrent action with us or not. After what my noble friend has said probably my proper course is to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 5:


5. In this Act— The expression "young person" means a person who is under the age of eighteen years: The expression "ship" means any sea-going ship or boat of any description which is registered in the United Kingdom as a British ship, and includes any British fishing-boat entered in the fishing-boat register.

VISCOUNT DEVONPORT moved, after "ship," where that word occurs for the third time, to insert "other than tugs, dredgers, sludge vessels, barges and other craft whose ordinary course of navigation does not extend beyond the seaward limits of the jurisdiction of the harbour or pilotage authority of the port at which such vessels are regularly employed." The noble Viscount said: I move the Amendment standing, in my name on behalf of the dock and harbour authorities of the kingdom, not necessarily on behalf of London alone, but in the interests of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, the Glasgow Port Authority, and all those authorities who are members of the dock and harbour organisation and who, in sum, represent practically ninety per cent. of the harbour authorities of the kingdom. The object of the Amendment is, I think, clear. It is to exclude a class of craft which, unless excluded, will be deemed under this Bill to be sea-going craft and therefore subject to all the provisions of the Bill. The particular craft I seek to exclude are small craft—dredgers, hoppers, sludge boats, tugs and a miscellaneous assortment of craft which move up and down the waterways of the port authorities and which by no stretch of imagination can be deemed to be seagoing ships.

The limits of the ports are fixed by Statute. So long as these craft keep within those limits they do not come within the purview of the Bill. But from time to time these craft pass over the imaginary line in the Port of London which constitutes the seaward limits of our jurisdiction, and unless this Amendment is accepted those particular craft, as I said just now, will be deemed to be sea-going craft and will be liable to the pains and penalties laid down in the Bill. A precisely similar Bill to this was before your Lordships' House last year and an Amendment in precisely similar terms to this was moved on that occasion by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillimore. It was accepted without demur by Lord Parmoor who was in charge of the Bill. But ho went further and expressed his pleasure that the Amendment had been moved. He thought, I presume, that it was necessary that such a matter should be cleared away out of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord said this:— I appreciate the point that there is no necessity so far as the Protocol is concerned, or as regards the real purpose of this Bill, that such ships shall be included as will be in terms excluded if the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord is adopted. If he desires to press the Amendment, I shall not raise any further objection. I do not know what attitude the noble Viscount will take to this Amendment, but I have heard it suggested that he is not going to accept it.

That, of course, is mere rumour. I have not had an opportunity of testing his mind by personally interrogating him, but it will be a very great disappointment if he refuses to accept it. So far as we are able to judge there can be no justification for refusing to accept it, especially in face of the fact that Lord Parmoor, who is not only a distinguished lawyer but who knows all about these Conventions and has had some considerable experience in relation to them, accepted it. I hope that the noble Viscount will see his way to accept this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 1, after ("ship") insert the said words.—(Viscount Devonport.)


In reference to what the noble Viscount has said, when this matter arose last year I think he was absent for some reason and the matter was dealt with by Lord Phillimore and by the representative of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. He was the person who gave the instructions on which, after consideration, the Amendment was adopted. The Convention to which the noble Viscount has referred has relation to sea-going ships only, and I do not think that these particular vessels can be regarded as in the category of seagoing ships. It appeared to me last year that the effect of the Amendment was to make it clear that the matter raised was in accordance with the terms of the Convention. I will say no more than that, because the question was discussed last year and the statement to which the noble Viscount has referred was made after full consideration.


The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, seems to wish that I should speak before he speaks. I should rather like to have heard what justification His Majesty's Government have for the change of front since last year. I am told, and I must proceed on the supposition, that they are very anxious to ratify the Convention as it stands. Let them do so. But they have put their own construction upon a clause in the Convention. Every nation will put its own construction upon the definition of the word "ship" which appears in the Convention which is the first Schedule to the Bill. Article I provides: … For the purposes of this Convention the term ' vessel ' includes all ships and boats, of any nature whatsoever, engaged in maritime navigation, whether publicly or privately owned; it excludes snips of war. If that is to be the Convention, why is a fresh definition put into the measure?

The Bill now states: The expression 'ship' means any seagoing ship or boat of any description which is registered in the United Kingdom as a British ship, and includes any British fishing-boat entered in the fishing-boat register. I can understand there being no definition in the Act of Parliament and its being left on the construction of the Convention; but if you are going to put a definition in the Act of Parliament insert a proper one. Then conies the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, has raised. There are a certain number of vessels, especially in the Mersey, which are employed purely in dredging operations. They go outside the artificial, conventional limits of the port because it is desirable to get the spoil, or mud, deposited at a further distance: and, under a decision of the Courts of Justice in this country, they are, for the purposes of this country—I do not say that other countries would take the same view—sea-going ships. Thereupon the provisions of this Act which are not appropriate to vessels which are purely engaged in that sort of work, begin to apply.

There is a provision with regard to the medical examination of young persons which would prevent people on an occasion, when work in the docks was changed, putting in a ship which goes to sea some one who had not passed a medical examination, possibly some one who is unfit to go to sea but who ought not to be deprived of his livelihood in working on one of these vessels. Therefore I ask, if His Majesty's Government should follow the precedent set last year as to putting a definition in the measure, why not put a proper one?


The Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Devonport is, as it says, to exempt from the operation of the Convention tugs, dredgers, sludge vessels, and other small vessels of that kind. It is also true that an Amendment of this kind was accepted when the Bill was brought in last year. The question has been very carefully examined by the Board of Trade since that time, and they are of opinion that the operation of these particular words will be rather wider than possibly was intended, or, anyhow, was displayed in the speeches of those noble Lords who dealt with the matter in Committee stage last year. They found a very great difficulty in drawing a distinction between different classes of vessels and drawing some line between these smaller vessels and the larger sea-going vessels.

Their view also was that many of these pilotage areas were rather wide and in some cases took in a certain amount of what the ordinary person would call sea. Therefore, on the general equity of the case, they felt that it was, perhaps, unwise to exempt from the operations of this Convention these classes of vessels, especially when the burden, as I have already said in a previous statement, was so very small. I think they were actuated by another feeling, and that was that it would create a difficulty if this Amendment were carried, as they would probably have to ratify with reservation. Noble Lords realise to what difficulties it gives rise if ratification is to take place with reservation. If you ratify with reservation it is almost an invitation—especially coming from a great shipping Power like Great Britain—for other countries to ratify with other reservations; and the result is that these Conventions fall to the ground.

I recognise the force of what has been said by the noble and learned Lord opposite, and by the noble Viscount. I was going to make this suggestion that, if they would withdraw this Amendment now and put down an Amendment upon the Report stage, I would endeavour with the Board of Trade to consider whether it were, possible to deal with it more favourably, either in that form or in some other form; but I should be very much obliged to have the opportunity of considering carefully the points raised by the noble and learned Lord opposite.


May I ask the noble Viscount whether we are to understand by the statement he has made that he will consider some Amendment, which would give exemption to this class of ship, on the Report stage? I do not wish to part with my rights at the moment, whatever they may be, under any misunderstanding. But, of course, if that is what he says, I am perfectly satisfied.


I hope the noble Viscount, or the noble Lord, will give no such pledge without very careful consideration. This is an opportunity which presents itself naturally for bringing within the beneficial scope of this Bill the large areas which are covered by the ports in various parts of this country. I asked the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill, in the course of the debate on the Second Beading, whether the Board of Trade had ascertained that the bulk of the shipping interests were favourable to this Bill, and he answered in the affirmative. I do not wonder that there are in the case of the Mersey, and no doubt of the Thames also, a great many vessels where those employed require just as much to have their health protected as in the case of sea-going vessels. For that reason I hope the Government will not be deterred, merely by this question having been raised, from giving it the closest consideration in the shape of social advance such as this Bill gives an opportunity for making.


I do not think it would be possible for my friend Lord Peel to give a pledge to accept this Amendment on Report, because if that were so there would be no need to postpone consideration of the matter. What has happened is this. The point of the noble Viscount has force, but in addition to what he said my noble and learned friend Lord Phillimore has put a point which also, to say the least of it, does require consideration, and it may be that it would be possible to find a form of definition which, while satisfying such real grievance as Lord Devonport and his friends may have, will not really diminish the effect of the Convention as regards genuine sea-going ships.


Hear, hear.


The Government want to consider the whole question, and when the Report stage comes they will be ready either to accept the Amendment of my noble friend if he puts it down, or to produce an Amendment of their own, or, possibly, to say that no Amendment is required.


I think the course suggested by the noble Viscount, supported by the Lord Chancellor, would be a very good one, and for my part I am content to reserve my Amendment to the Report stage and to accept anything the Government may suggest which will meet the real grievance. I want to make two observations. First of all, with regard to what the noble Viscount has said about pilotage. As I read the section it is not a pilotage authority generally but a pilotage authority of the port. I am told that the words are taken from another Statute. I agree that "a pilotage authority" has a very wide limit; pilotage authority of a port is a very different thing. The second observation is that I want to press my point that you have in your Bill given a different definition. Not being content with the definition in the Convention, you have put in a definition of your own. While you are about it, just make that definition a little clearer.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7:

Short title and construction.

7. This Act may he cited as the Merchant Shipping (International Labour Conventions) Act, 1925 and shall be construed as one with the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1923. and those Acts and this Act may be cited together as the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1925.

LORD KYLSANT had an Amendment on the Paper to add the following new subsection:— (2) This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-fire: Provided that His Majesty may by Order in Council from time to time postpone the coming into operation of this Act for such period not exceeding on any occasion of postponement one year as may be specified by the Order.

The noble Lord said: The Amendment of which I have given notice is almost identical with that which has been proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale, and in view of the undertaking given by the Government I do not propose to proceed with it. Although the Chamber of Shipping feels that it is a bad precedent to propose that something should apply to British shipping which does not apply to other shipping in the world this is such a small matter that I am quite satisfied with the undertaking the Government have given. I do not propose to move the Amendment.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.


I suggested to Lord Devonport that he should put his Amendment down for Report stage. As there will be no Report stage on the Bill, he can put it down for the Third Reading, when we shall be able to consider it.