HL Deb 09 June 1931 vol 81 cc7-37

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the history of this matter up to the present date enables me to put my points before your Lordships at no undue length. Your Lordships will recollect that in November last the Government introduced a Bill in order to obtain powers to enable them to ratify the Safety at Sea Convention, and that Bill passed a Second Reading. There were, however, certain matters mentioned in connection with it with which I shall have to deal at a little greater length by and by. The Convention started with a document signed by Sir Austen Chamberlain appointing British Plenipotentiaries to attend the Conference which was engaged in before the Convention was passed. It was not unnatural that we should take a leading part in a Convention of that kind, dealing with such questions as passenger shipping, because undoubtedly we have a foremost position in the world in connection with such matters, as regards both responsibility and knowledge.

The subject matter really began as long ago as 1913, and a Convention was nearly arrived at in that year; but the War period followed and the whole question fell for a time into the background, until British delegates were appointed for this specific purpose by Sir Austen Chamberlain in the year 1928. The delegates were appointed in the ordinary form; that is to say they were given powers to sign the Convention if they could get agreement, and as a matter of fact there was unanimous agreement. But, as your Lordships know, the question of ratification is a matter of the Royal Prerogative exercised through the advice to the Crown, and before we can go further in ratification there are certain powers which are necessary in order that we may make the terms of the Convention directly effective. That was the reason for the introduction of the Bill last November. We are rather late with the Bill because we ought to ratify the Convention by July 1 of this year and I am afraid that is rather impossible. There is, however, provision that we can ratify it later, and it comes into operation three months after ratification. It certainly would be a very bad example that we, the great country chiefly interested in matters of passenger shipping, should have initiated a scheme of this kind and yet not have taken what steps we could to bring about its subsequent ratification.

On the occasion of the introduction of the Bill last November two points were raised. I am only now giving the history of the matter. One point was with regard to the helm orders. It was said that the projected change in helm orders might involve risk of collision. Secondly, the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, representing I think the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, desired that the Convention on the safety of passengers at sea should not be proceeded with unless at the same time we proceeded with the Load Line Convention. He satisfied me and the Government that his suggestion was a good one, and the effect of that, of course, was to put off any further dealing with the Bill which had been submitted. There was long negotiation between the representatives of the shipowners, on the one side, and the Government through the Board of Trade, on the other, in order that there should be agreement as regards the terms of the Load Line Convention. Ultimately a satisfactory arrangement was arrived at, and if you have read the Bill your Lordships will know that what we propose is legislation to allow the ratification of the two Conventions. There is no longer any difficulty about one Convention being ratified before the other, and I think shipowners and the Government are now convinced that the proposal of the noble Earl is a fair one, and that the two Conventions should be dealt with together and at the same time.

When the question arose as regards the two Bills being brought into one, the procedure adopted by the noble Earl, not in any antagonism but in order to bring the matter to a proper issue, was this. He deposited one Bill containing both the Conventions. That, of course, was side by side with our Bill, which proposed the ratification of one Convention only, and when we accepted his proposition it was unnecessary, and in fact would not have been right, for us to proceed with our Bill. It was proper to wait until an arrangement had been come to for the ratification of both Conventions at the same time, and that is the purport of the Bill now before the House. When it was a question of introducing the second Convention the noble Earl proposed that when we arrived at the Committee stage the matter should be referred to a Joint Committee of the two Houses.

I want to say two things about that. In the first place the procedure of Committee in your Lordships' House is, as I think, far the best, both as regards the other branch of the Legislature and as regards the advantages that it allows of a quick decision on matters requiring prompt legislation. I recollect, more than once since I have been a member of this House, that the question has been raised of sending some of our Committee questions upstairs—of removing them from the floor of the House, as it is called in another place—but your Lordships have always decided against that by a large preponderance of opinion. I recollect the last time it was suggested by Lord Burnham what was said by Lord Lansdowne, who had great experience of such matters. He said that it would be a reactionary matter altogether and would weaken our real position as revisers of legislation if we allowed the Committee stage, without some special reason, to be dealt with other than on the floor of the House itself.

Seeing that this matter is agreed between the shipowners and the Government, that the two Conventions should be included in the same Bill, if I understand the argument addressed to the House on the last occasion by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, there is no reason for adopting a special procedure as regards the subsequent stages of this Bill. Of course the noble Earl will state his view of this, but it is very important, because no doubt the procedure in Joint Committee means a long period of delay, whereas if the matter is dealt with in this House—I will refer to particular questions in a moment—there is no need of any long or particular delay at all, and the matter could go forward, I hope with our assent, to the other House and before the Prorogation of Parliament the Bill might be passed. That is historically how the position stands, and I shall assume for the rest of my argument that so far as procedure is concerned we shall be able in this instance—and there is no very special complication of procedure at all—to show our power of dealing with public matters of this kind, which have no political significance, in a most effective manner, without delay, and allow the Committee stage to be taken in the ordinary way before the House itself.

On the Load Line Convention itself I have not heard of any objection at all. I understand that its form, its draftsmanship, and its principles are all accepted and agreed, at any rate as between the the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee and the Board of Trade, as representing the Government. No doubt it has taken some time, because we have now got a long way beyond November of last year, but we shall hope still to be in time if we have the assistance of your Lordships' House.

There is a second point raised, with reference to the change in the helm orders. That is a point of great importance. So far as the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee are concerned, I understand that they are in favour of the change in the helm orders, and if one were to go by authority, although there is some difference of opinion, there really is an overwhelming weight of opinion among those interested in these matters in favour of the change. I asked that the list of the authorities should be given me, and it is very striking. Let me read out the names of the authorities on the two sides. Those who are in favour of the change in the helm orders are the Honourable Company of Master Mariners—I am told, a very representative and important body—the Officers' (Merchant Navy) Federation, the National Union of Seamen, the United Kingdom Pilots' Association, Trinity House, Lloyds, the Liverpool Underwriters' Association, the Navigators and General Insurance Company, Limited, the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association, the Chamber of Shipping, and the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association. The two authorities last named between them really represent all the shipowning interests in this country. The organisations which are against the change are the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, the Mercantile Marine Service Association, and the British Trawlers Federation. I do not wish in any way to belittle the importance of any of those bodies. But there cannot be a doubt that a very large preponderance of practical opinion is in favour of the change in helm orders, as proposed by the Convention.

But there is another point of very great importance, which I hope your Lordships will have in mind, although I presume the decision will come at a later stage than the Second Reading of the Bill. We are dealing here with a Convention, not with an ordinary case of agreement between two bodies. The result is that at this stage we have to take the Convention as it is, or else all the procedures we have gone through and all the interest we have excited in this question of a greater uniformity and safety of passenger traffic at sea fail. That is surely a very important consideration. I am told that the matter was very thoroughly considered when the Convention was agreed to. Of course, there was a difference of view—I do not deny that—and difference of view in different countries. But the essence of an international convention is that after it has been agreed upon—and there is unanimous agreement upon this point among every delegation to this International Conference—you cannot change an important element of this kind without throwing open the whole terms of the Convention for further and subsequent consideration.


Hear, hear.


I am glad that the noble Earl appreciates and understands that; and he knows very well, because he has been the representative of the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, who in this matter have been the representatives of the shipowning interests and have dealt with the Board of Trade. If that is true it would be most unfortunate if in a matter of this kind, originated by ourselves, supported by two Governments, with delegations unanimously in favour, a disagreement were allowed at this stage to bring to nought all the work that has been done; it would, in fact, be in the nature of a wrecking Amendment.

I do not overrate the importance of this point, but, after all, it had to be decided by the delegates at the Conference, and they were delegates appointed by Sir Austen Chamberlain. I do not wish to lay stress upon that, because there is no question of politics involved, on one side or on the other. But if all the delegates appointed at the Conference are unanimous, I hope that on the Committee stage your Lordships will not be induced to adopt what really would, if adopted, be in the nature of a wrecking Amendment. I believe myself thoroughly that members of this House, particularly on non-political questions, are just as anxious to promote international arrangements for improvement upon this point as any other political thinkers. It is a very important matter. The original proposal for this Convention started, as I said, in 1913 after the great misfortune of the wreck of the Titanic, and since that time this country has been leading in the direction of improvement in order that the safety of passengers at sea may be further assured. Now all parties representing the different countries have come to a unanimous agreement upon this question of the helm orders.

There is one other point upon which I wish to say a word or two—the only point, in fact, in regard to which, as far as I know, there is any difference of opinion between the shipowners and ourselves. Of course, if a Government, or rather two Governments, supported by the shipowners, cannot carry a Convention of this kind I do not know what difficulty there may be ahead. But the point to which I want to refer is this. These Conventions require legislation before they can be practically adopted. No one would wish that any Government should seek to ratify a Convention unless they knew that they had the power to carry the same into practical application. These Conventions have never in the past, so far as I know, interfered with or touched national rights of legislation. That matter was very much discussed in connection with this Convention, and I know it has been discussed in connection with others. The result is that the power of any nation to legislate in reference to any matter covered by the Convention has never yet—I think I can put the universal negative—been interfered with. That, of course, is an extremely important point.

I should not like to stand here and suggest that at the same time as we adopted the terms of a Convention we deprived ourselves of any possibility of making future improvements. We are the pioneers of improvement in these matters. In the question of safety at sea, for instance, there is a very large number of matters in which we are still and shall be in advance of the terms of the Convention. But all you can do in connection with a Convention to which you have to get the agreement of a number of other Powers is, of course, to obtain agreement to the best terms to which they will give their adherence. That is an extraordinarily important point; it is not a drafting point or anything of that kind, and we must retain our power of legislation over nationals in the national interest, just as other countries claimed to retain that power. I should have thought that would not be questioned and I certainly think it ought not to be questioned. That being the principle, we want to bring everyone up to the highest level in this matter. We cannot bring them all up to the level we have reached but we want to make the level, which is a minimum level from our point of view, as wide as possible, leaving open to ourselves what we have always possessed—the advantage of dealing with these questions by our own legislation as a national matter.

One word as to how these matters are dealt with, as the process may not be familiar to every one of your Lordships. If some new suggestion for securing safety is sought to be imposed upon a British ship, an expert first of all ex, amines the question and the ship. As a rule, there is never any difficulty about the acceptance of his report because in this matter, most fortunately, the Government Department and the shipowners have always worked in perfect amity and understanding. But supposing for the sake of argument a shipowner does not like the report, there is an outside court called the Survey Court to which the matter can be referred. I am told that in the last twenty-eight years or more only one matter has ever been so referred and during that time, of course, a very large number of improvements have been brought about in our passenger service. What we want to ensure in this as in other Conventions is that we shall certainly conform to the same principles as those to which we ask other parties to the Convention to conform and take every opportunity of inducing other Powers to bring it into efficient operation. On the other hand, these Powers are not seeking to curtail our power of going further. I can say the same of other nations. This was considered and no country wished to give up its power regarding its own nationals in its own territory. I hope a principle of that kind will never be adopted because, in the case of such a pioneer country as this, it would have a very large effect in stopping future improvement.

When this question was before your Lordships' House on the last occasion the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, asked me about certain words in the Convention relating to the safety of passengers at sea. This is rather a drafting point but I mention it now. We made a change to meet him by making the crucial word "necessary" and not "expedient." As the matter now stands I think that just the same principle is applied in both Conventions. I know there is some question and the noble Earl shakes his head. I have looked most carefully into it as it struck me as a very important point indeed. I have had a good many consultations with people at the Board of Trade who know much better than I do, and I am satisfied that there is some misapprehension and that the same wide principle that I have enunciated applies to both Conventions. The difference really arises from this: in the Load Line Convention, which deals chiefly with timber and timber ships, the old code is thrown on one side and there is a new code altogether; whereas that could not be done in the Convention regarding the safety of passenger traffic and a very large number of the old powers of the Board of Trade had to be preserved. If they were not preserved we should lose the facilities we now have for bringing about improvements.

I do not wish to discuss this matter further to-day because I agree that it requires very careful consideration in detail. We have tried to give it that consideration and that is the conclusion I have come to. I do not think there is any other matter upon which there is any difference between us. I hope that the question of procedure can be easily settled in the way I have suggested. I presume that on the helm orders there will be a Division in Committee, at any rate a difference of opinion, and I am afraid that the question will have to be argued over again; but it is an extremely important point because if the Amendment was carried and kept in force it would be in the nature of a setback.

With regard to the last question of terms, I do not know of any difference between the noble Earl and myself. There may be a difference between the construction of words; that I admit and I should hope to meet him upon it; but I think there can be no difference on the point that our duty is to see that our ships and all ships that come from other nations to our docks or near our shores shall be subject to the terms of the International Convention. Beyond that, and outside of that, if we as the pioneer country desire to put any further improvement forward in order to ensure greater safety we must be allowed to do that. An essential feature of all these Conventions of every kind, as far as I know, is that that liberty is left.

That is all that I have to say in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I commend it to your Lordships and I hope it will be given a Second Reading. The other matters I leave to a subsequent period. I should just like, however, to quote one passage from the noble Earl's speech. Having pointed out the objections, which I think have been met, he said: I think your Lordships will agree that the sooner we can get both Conventions ratified the better it will be for this country. It is on that ground that I now move that the Bill be read a second time. There is no political issue involved, and I hope your Lordships will allow a Second Reading to be given.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Parmoor.)


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who leads the House has quoted me so much that I am afraid your Lordships will be more than tired of me before I rise to my feet at all. But I would like to tell your Lordships a little more about the origin of this Bill. The noble and learned Lord was quite frank about it, but naturally he did not point the moral of the tale. Your Lordships will remember that the Government introduced the Bill, as he stated, covering the 1929 Convention only. Your Lordships took the view, which was supported by all shades of opinion in the shipping world, whether owners or builders, masters or men, that the essential thing to do was to put these two Conventions together and form one great charter. That was the view your Lordships took. If it had not been for your Lordships this Bill would not be on the Table to-day. I think perhaps the House even now hardly realises how great a charter this really is. I do not propose to go into all the questions that are raised in this Bill, covering more than two hundred pages and full of technicalities in regard to shipping and many legal questions. Being only a landsman, and also not a lawyer, I feel I am likely to be shot at from all directions if I try to do so; but I might say that the whole idea of safety of life at sea has been not the work of this country since 1912, as the noble Lord opposite stated, but for more like fifty years, and at last, after great efforts, this Bill has been produced, giving all the countries of the world who ratify it—and a very large number, I feel certain, are going to follow our example and do so—a common standard, and a higher standard in most cases than they have already.

I should like to congratulate the officers of the Board of Trade on having produced this Bill. I think congratulations ought to be paid to Sir Norman Hill, who has spent many, many years in bringing this to fruition. I have a feeling that when this Bill, as I believe it will, finds its way on to the Statute Book, the Government will claim great credit for having produced this charter for safety of life at sea. I think they are entitled to do so. They happen to have the good fortune to be in office at the moment. I hope at the same time they will remember that it is due to the action of your Lordships' House that the two Conventions were put into one Bill, and therefore found their way on to the Table of the House.

As regards the question of a Select Committee, on the whole I agree with the noble and learned Lord that it would be best on this occasion to follow the normal procedure, and take the Bill on the floor of the House. There is one thing that can be said in the other direction, and it is that when rather technical questions, such as helm orders, come before a Select Committee, evidence can be given, and I think it would be quite easy to prove, after that evidence was given, that, as the noble Lord said, if you refuse to accept the change in helm orders you might just as well drop the Convention altogether. Under the normal procedure, we cannot call evidence. We get speeches made by noble Lords who know a very great deal about the subject, but we cannot satisfy the outside public in the same way as if the matter came before a Select Committee. On the other side, there is the overwhelming consideration of time. We have really very little time left before we approach the end of the Session, and I think those of your Lordships who feel that this is really an important charter, which should be ratified at the earliest possible moment, will agree that we must not take the risk of failing to get the Bill through both Houses of Parliament by the end of the Session. I see very little hope, if this Bill is referred to a Select Committee, of achieving that object. Your Lordships are already engaged on a large number of Committees, and members of another place, I believe, are even more fully engaged, and if we found that the Select Committee was only to meet once or twice a week any hope of getting the Bill passed into law by the end of July would be out of the question.

I should like to refer to the point which, perhaps, has raised much more controversy and received much more notice than anything else: I mean the change in helm orders. Your Lordships discussed it at considerable length on the last occasion when it, came before the House, and I think some of your Lordships were under the impression that only one or two nations which had a very small mercantile marine had accepted the change, and that the overwhelming body of opinion amongst those who went down to the sea in ships was opposed to it. My information is that both those statements are incorrect. Frankly, I personally regret that the change should have to be made. After all, probably the old helm orders came down from the days of the tiller. When you gave the order "starboard" you pushed the tiller over to starboard and the rudder went to port, and the ship's helm went to port. Then, when the wheel came in, the order remained, and although the wheel was turned to port on getting an order to "starboard," of course the effect On the ship was the same as when the tiller was pushed to starboard.

I am not an internationalist, and I feel considerable pride in the fact that when a pilot comes on board a ship one of the first questions that he asks is: "Do you use the British or take the Continental helm orders?" I like the feeling that a ship of this country goes under one designation, and the ships of other countries go under another, and I regret that that should have to come to an end. If it was only a question of change for the sake of change, I should be speaking in opposition to the noble and learned Lord instead of in his support. I am strongly in his support for this reason. The advantages that we get by having uniformity throughout the world in regard not only to the load line but to such things as radio telegraphy, constant watch on wireless for receiving messages and S.O.S. as well as being able o send them, and in regard to the subdivision of ships, water-tight doors and all the subjects referred to in these Conventions, are really of such importance not only to the owners but to the officers and men who go to sea, that if I cannot get these Conventions without agreeing to the change then I am in favour of the change.

At the last Conference in 1929 there was a unanimous expression of opinion from every country represented, with the exception of Japan, that England should change her helm orders and conform to those of other countries. I do not know how many nations are at present of that opinion, but at any rate it is a very large number. It was then found that this not being a new question, having been brought up at every single discussion between foreign countries whenever safety of life at sea was talked about since 1889, and having been pressed more and more strongly each year that they discussed these matters, it became quite impossible to refuse them again in 1929. I think your Lordships will realise why. The merchant shipping navies of France, of Germany, of Norway, of Italy, of the Netherlands and of Sweden all are now using direct helm orders. Denmark stated clearly at the Conference that whether the Conventions were ratified or not, she intended her ships to use direct helm orders. I have in front of me the orders which have just been issued in Belgium bringing direct helm orders into effect as from midnight, the 30th of June, 1931. Therefore your Lordships will see that the merchant navies of all those great countries have already accepted direct helm orders, or are about to do so. The United States Navy has already accepted such helm orders, and it is proposed that their mercantile marine should follow suit in the same way. Therefore the great nations, with their mercantile marines spread over the seas and visiting British ports not only in this country but throughout the Empire, are every one using direct helm orders. We, on the other hand, are not.

As regards the views of those who go down to the sea in ships, it has been suggested very widely that all masters and a very large number of their crews are absolutely and directly opposed to the change in helm orders, considering it to be dangerous, and that, so far from promoting safety of life at sea, it will do exactly the reverse. I am aware that the Mercantile Marine Service Association and the Imperial Merchant Service Guild have opposed the change. They are not very large bodies. I think one has a membership of something like 3,000, and the other a membership of 2,000. I asked both of those bodies by letter whether they were so opposed to the change in helm orders that they would prefer to see the Conventions dropped rather than that a change should be made. One of them did not answer the question and the other—the Mercantile Marine Service Association—replied that it was unthinkable that the omission of Article 41 should wreck the Safety Convention. It is not unthinkable that it should wreck the Convention; it is absolutely certain, because we know that it was only with great difficulty that some nations were persuaded to agree to the wireless clauses of the Convention, imposing constant watch on ships of anything over 1,600 tons gross register, and other nations were opposed to the changes in the load line.

We imposed rather more severe conditions in regard to load line than some other nations. Therefore, it was with some difficulty that we got them to come up to our standard, we on the other side dropping in regard to timber and oil ships from the position we held before, not because it made ships less safe but because, owing to modern construction, it is possible to modify these rules. Realising that if they did not accept the change in helm orders the Convention would come to an end, the most important bodies in the shipping world are prepared to accept the change in helm orders. They say that on the whole they would rather the change be not made, but realising that if it is not made then the Convention will certainty not come into operation they are prepared to accept it. The noble and learned Lord quoted a very large number of them and I do not propose to go through the list again. He might have added that the Admiralty also agree to make the change. When I was a member of the Board of Admiralty I well remember the discussion going on. The same view was taken there. Members of the Board said they would rather the change were not made, but, if it meant that the Convention would not come into operation unless it were made, they were prepared to come into line with the Mercantile Marine.

Perhaps I may be allowed to read to your Lordships some of the reasons which have been given in support of the change. Here is a letter I have received from the Officers Federation of the Merchant Navy. It is a body—well, your Lordships will be able to judge of it for yourselves. The secretary writes in the course of his letter: (1) We have a voluminous correspondence with over 11,000 navigating officers (our total membership, including engineers, is 13,000)"— the two bodies opposing have a total membership of 5,000— and on the average, over 40 officers call at this office daily. During the last three years less than 30 officers have, of their own volition, raised this matter of helm orders, although we are approached on every conceivable matter in which officers are interested. (2) We have agents and representatives in all the principal ports and they report to us periodically. They are all agreed that little or no interest is taken in this helm order controversy. (3) We circularise federated officers bi-annually, and have set forth our declared policy in the matter of helm orders in these circulars since 1929.) Had our views not correctly expressed the feelings of the Service, there is no doubt that we should speedily have been advised of their disagreement, and our membership would have been adversely affected. On the contrary, many officers have expressed their full concurrence with our policy on this matter. Then here is a resolution from the National Union of Seamen. At a meeting of their Management Committee which took place on December 10 and 11, the following resolution was unanimously carried: That whilst the National Union of Seamen sympathise with the feeling that change in the traditional British practice of giving helm orders is to be deprecated, they are firmly of opinion:

  1. (1) That there is no reason to anticipate that British sailors cannot carry on under the proposed change efficiently and without danger to life and property.
  2. (2) That as to reject or amend the portion of the Convention relating to helm orders may lead to other reservations by other countries and lessen the great advantages to be gained by international uniformity in matters relative to safety at sea, the provision as to helm orders should be accepted."
I could quote also from the Chamber of Shipping, the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association and other bodies, but I do not wish to weary your Lordships. I hope that no noble Lord will be under any illusion on this matter. If the change in helm orders is not accepted lie might just as well vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, and if he does so let him understand that he is voting against the considered judgment of those representative bodies which have been quoted by the noble and learned Lord opposite. I am aware that my noble friend the Earl of Inchcape takes a different view, but I think he will agree that a very large body of those with whom he has worked for so many years are not in agreement with him on this one subject at any rate, and that he is rather taking a solitary line and—if I may use the expression in regard to shipping— "ploughing a lonely furrow."

It may be asked, my Lords, why is this Bill not a short Bill merely saying that here are two Conventions which are to be ratified and brought into law? Perhaps I ought to explain very briefly the reason. The Conventions only deal with ships engaged on international voyages, and it is therefore necessary to bring into line with them British ships that are engaged on coastal voyages arid do not go from a port in this country to a port in any other. Secondly, it is necessary to bring into line ships under foreign flags which use our ports. In regard to both these questions amendments of the law are necessary. Further, under the Convention a good deal of discretion is left to the Administration. It is therefore necessary to name some Department which shall act for the Administration—in our case, of course, the Board of Trade—and to give to that Department the powers which are allowed to the Administration, the discretionary powers allowed under the Convention. Further, we had to make it quite clear that in accepting the Convention we intend to give them full force and full ratification, and that a ship which obtains a Board of Trade certificate shall, in effect, be a Convention ship and be so recognised in foreign ports. That is a matter about which I understand there is some little doubt with regard to drafting, but it is a legal point which I hope the noble and learned Lord will deal with at a further stage of the Bill and I do not want to go on with it now.

The former Bill, as the noble and learned Lord said, was so drafted that the Board of Trade reserved to itself the right to make such regulations as it considered necessary or expedient. I said earlier in my remarks that the present Bill is not only a better Bill because it contains both Conventions, but it is also a better Bill in other respects, and it is a better Bill in that respect because the words "or expedient" have been left out. I agree that it is necessary. unless we are always going to have to resort to Courts of Law, that somebody shall decide what it is necessary to do to give effect to the Conventions. Therefore, I am not objecting to the Board of Trade having power to make such rules as are considered necessary. The only other way of doing it would he by bringing the matter into Court, which would be expensive to shipowners and to everybody else.

But the Government, unfortunately, have not yet realised the real point of an International Convention. The noble and learned Lord opposite said that he believed it was unknown that we should have a Convention and therefore lose our national powers. That is only partially true because when it comes to such things as treaties—the Naval Treaty for instance—nothing is left to be decided and everything is definitely put into the Treaty. With regard to Conventions there is some difference, and I am prepared to admit it. But there is this very real difference between this Convention and such a Convention as the Washington Hours Convention. Although both of them attempt to do something in the way of obtaining uniformity, the real difficulty is that the Washington Hours Convention deals with something that merely occurs inside the nation with regard to hours of work of people employed in Great Britain. These Conventions impose regulations on ships which go not only between British ports but between British and foreign ports, and they also effect foreign ships.

It is, therefore, an international question, and not only is it necessary to get uniformity from the point of view of safety, but also from the point of view of fair play, or you will have foreign countries becoming extremely doubtful if you use the Conventions merely as a further jumping off place for imposing further conditions on shipping. If your Lordships will turn to Clause 1 and some other clauses of the same kind, you will find that the Board of Trade are given power to make regulations which shall include such requirements as will in the opinion of the Board of Trade secure the provisions of the Safety Convention. That means that the Board of Trade would have the power not only to impose the regulations of the Convention but to go beyond that.


Only as regards our own national ships.


Exactly. I am going to come to that point. The present law is that since 1906 we have taken power not only to impose regulations on our own ships but to apply those same regulations to foreign ships in British ports. There has been some difficulty in administration, and that is not an absolutely universal order of things, but speaking generally it is true. Under the Convention this comes to an end, because any ship which obtains a certificate given by the country to which it belongs which satisfies the regulations of the Safety Convention has what is called a Convention certificate, and this country pledges itself to accept that Convention certificate in place of any regulation of the Board of Trade. Therefore you would have British ships with additional regulations imposed on them by the Board of Trade, whereas foreign ships coming into our ports, instead of having the same regulations as is the ease now, would have lesser ones, and would therefore he at an advantage in comparison with our ships. The view of the shipowners is that, if the Government insist on maintaining this position, they are placed in a worse position if this Bill is passed into law than they are in at present, and so seriously do they think of the matter that they are inclined to say that they would prefer that the Convention should be dropped altogether rather than that a provision of that kind should be made in the Bill. It is a Committee point, I admit, but a very big one, and therefore I think it is only right that it should be mentioned now.

Your Lordships will hardly be surprised that the shipowners should take a very strong line in regard to discriminatory burdens being placed on British ships. Let me remind your Lordships of the condition of British ship- ping at this moment. Let me remind you that 2,500,000 tons of British shipping are at this moment laid up, and that even those ships which are running in many cases have only 50 per cent. of their cargo space occupied, and that the numbers of passengers have been very seriously reduced since last year. So serious is the situation in Liverpool that the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association report that owners of ships are finding great difficulty in obtaining accommodation in which to lay up their ships, because so many ships are lying idle in that port. Nor is it necessary that the Board of Trade should be given these additional powers. I do not want to weary your Lordships, but let me be permitted to give you a very few figures in regard to the safety of life at sea, which are very remarkable. In the ten-year period from 1880–1889, for every million net tons on the register of British shipping, the total number of lives lost was 265. Twenty years later, in the decade from 1900–1909, the number had dropped to seventy-nine lives per million net tons, and by 1920–1929 it had fallen to twenty-one. Therefore it was four times as safe to travel at sea between 1920 and 1929 as it was twenty years earlier, and twelve times safer than it was in 1880 to 1889. The average number of deaths at sea by wrecks and casualties in 1920–1929 was the extraordinarily low one of 245, of which 232 were crew and thirteen passengers—and this in spite of the fact that the figures of the "Vestris" disaster are included, and that in that disastrous wreck no fewer than sixty-eight passengers lost their lives. Your Lordships will see that without it the figures of passengers would be reduced to six or seven per annum. Compare that total of 245 lives lost with the deaths from street accidents, which in 1929 were, for Great Britain alone, 6,505, or twenty-six and a-half times as many as all the deaths from wrecks at sea in ships under the Red Ensign. That is a magnificent record.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord that England has always led the way, and I understand his feeling that we should not now crystallise the position and refuse to go further. But we do not propose to crystallise the position, because we do not propose to abolish private enterprise. The shipping companies are always trying the way, the British Mercantile Marine as a whole is going ahead and masters, officers and men are always attempting to make British ships safer year by year. What they do ask is that, where a Convention provides regulations for the safety of life at sea, that Convention should remain the limit to which burdens can legally be imposed by the Board of Trade; that in matters not covered by Conventions, the Board of Trade should continue to have the same power that it has now to impose such regulations as it thinks necessary while Parliament will always retain complete control, as Parliament always must. If the Board of Trade thinks that, on account of some great disaster or through the increase of knowledge or something of that kind, a further advance ought to be made, it should be necessary for the Board of Trade to come to Parliament and receive ad hoc powers from Parliament for that purpose. Then we hope that the Board of Trade will arrange to have further International Conventions, which is not after all a very difficult, matter, and will say: "We all agree that we have now come to the stage when we can make a further step forward. Let us make that step forward together. If we fail to do it, the whole purpose of this Convention, which is equality of opportunity and burden, is thrown overboard and the whole essence and reason of the Convention is destroyed."

I apologise to your Lordships for having to refer to the point, but it is one of very great importance and I feel that, when the Government think the matter over further, they will realise that we are right in saying that we ought not to impose a further burden on an industry which is already so severely hit and make it even more impossible for us to compete with foreign ships than we find it at the present time. I think that is all I have to say to your Lordships at this stage. Personally, as I said at the beginning, I look on this Bill as a great charter for the safety of life at sea, and I hope that, with the amendments which I have suggested to your Lordships, it will rapidly pass into law. I believe that, when it does so, British ships will still continue to lead the way in regard to the safety of life at sea, and it will be recognised that we have done a very great deal, not only for our own ships but for the whole world, in making it safer to travel on that element.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl who has just spoken that those who were responsible and had a chief part in helping to frame these Conventions are to be congratulated on the work which they have accomplished. The Bill now before us deals with the two Conventions. It is unnecessary that we should deal with the separation which was at one time proposed, and I do not intend to take up your Lordships' time by reference to those earlier proceedings. I find myself almost in complete agreement with what has been said in introducing the Bill, and very largely in agreement with what fell from the noble Earl, evidently with very great knowledge and insight into this matter. With regard to the procedure, I am prepared to agree with that proposed by the Leader of the House, and I think that, in the circumstances, it is the wisest course to adopt.

Except on one point, to which I will refer very briefly, I am not going to discuss the general position at this stage. I confess that the conservative instinct in me, which I often have to correct, is so strong that I am inclined to prefer the old-fashioned method with which we are all familiar, since we are a very great shipping community. We have been leaders and we are still leaders, and it is perhaps not exactly unenviable that we should have held this position and should cling to what we have been accustomed to. But I do not regard this as a vital point, and I shall be prepared to change my view and to take direct orders, if I ever find myself at the wheel, rather than cling to that to which we have been accustomed and which I understand, if insisted upon, would really ruin all the prospects of carrying through this Convention. To my mind, speaking with all respect, I cannot but think that that ought to be a complete answer to the point which has been raised. Once we know that if we refuse to pass Article 41 of the Convention we shall lose the enormous benefit of the uniformity which has been introduced, I think we must decide to put up with any inconvenience and gradually get ourselves accustomed to the direct order.

There is one thing which gives a little comfort to me, and also perhaps to some not as old as I am, but who nevertheless have had experience of orders which I may call indirect. It is perhaps not as difficult to change as may be imagined. Many of us have been accustomed to driving in foreign countries, where we have to get accustomed to keeping on a different side of the road. There is no such convention as here, but what I am pointing out with regard to it is that it is workable, and where you have at stake the existence of Conventions so important, I confess, for myself, guided as I usually am content to be by my noble friend Lord Inchcape, who knows so much about these matters, and whose word I accept without question on anything to do with shipping—especially when he tells me on which side of the ship I ought to seek my cabin—I cannot on this occasion follow him, because I know that I am imperilling the Convention. I am sure he will forgive me for saying that I am not sure whether, if he thought that by insisting upon an Amendment maintaining our present helm orders he would imperil the Convention—whether, persistent and determined as he is when he has taken a view, he would adhere to it up to the last minute.

I pass to what I consider a very important point raised by the noble Earl. I am not speaking my own opinion in this matter, but I am guided very largely by those who understand these matters, and especially by the British Ship Owners' Parliamentary Committee. As I understand it, the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, was that it is very necessary that we should keep in our own hands the right to change regulations and laws as we may think fit for the preservation of the safety of ships. Of course, no one can dispute that, and, so far as I have understood him, nothing has been said by the noble Earl which would in the slightest degree militate against that argument. Of course, we are not to be bound by the Convention to the extent that we cannot change laws as we think necessary. Having regard to our position as leaders in maritime affairs, we must be the supreme guide in these matters, and therefore I raise no question as to the statement that our right to change regulations and laws must be preserved; but I earnestly ask the Government to consider carefully whether they think it necessary to insist with regard to matters which arise out of the Convention—such questions as would interfere with the agreements embodied in the Convention—that the Board of Trade and the Government should have the right to change any part of the regulations without bringing the matter before Parliament.

That, as I understand it, is the critical point. I think I understood the noble Earl correctly when he spoke, and his view was the same as mine, that in these respects the Board of Trade ought not to have this power. It has its powers to issue and change regulations—we know all that was done after the inquiry into the loss of the "Titanic"—and we want to preserve that position, particularly with regard to the safety of ships. Nevertheless, it is also most essential that you should, where possible, get uniformity. We have after many years, and great difficulties, by this Convention succeeded in getting uniformity with regard to a, great number of ships, which may be called Convention ships, but if a change is to be made in those, in regard to some matter which comes within the Convention, then do let us keep the supremacy of Parliament and do not let us entrust such a matter to a Department. It is necessary, no doubt, that a Department should have these overriding powers, to which the Leader of the House has referred, and with which we are not intending to interfere, but, where it is a question of dealing with matters which come within the Convention, then do let us have an Amendment to the Bill accepted by the Government, which would have this effect, that such a matter must come before Parliament before the change can be made.

You have made Parliament supreme, as it must be, for the purpose of ratifying the Convention. Parliament is now going to enact all the various essentials required, and there is very little more that is necessary, but that very little more is so important, as I understand it, that anxious as the British Ship Owners' Parliamentary Committee are to have the benefit of this Convention and of the uniformity which is introduced, I believe they would rather imperil the Convention than surrender the power entirely to what I may call without offence a bureaucracy, instead of keeping it within the hands of Parliament to determine a question which cannot often arise. When we get to the Committee stage and an Amendment is moved to that effect I would urge the Government to accept it, and so enable us thus to get the proposals of these Conventions placed on the Statute-book with the assent of all Parties.

What is being asked is very reasonable, and, I cannot but think, very modest. It will only interfere with the present powers of the Board of Trade to a very small extent—small in extent, that is, as regards the number of cases on which it would arise, because the matter itself may be of great importance. If the Government can see their way to accept an Amendment of that kind there will be no difficulty. But on the whole and speaking for myself and those whom I have had the opportunity of consulting, I think it is eminently desirable that we should pass the Bill which embodies the results of these Conventions, and that we should make it law as soon as possible.


My Lords, I am not a sailor, but, associated as I have been with shipping for well over sixty years, I would ask your Lordships' permission to say a few words on Clause 29 of the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House, which alters helm orders. I see that it is amongst those headed "Miscellaneous Provisions for furthering Safety of Life at Sea," but how the reversal of helm orders in British ships is going to further safety of life at sea it is quite impossible to imagine. Indeed, common sense would appear to indicate that quite the reverse will be the case. I view with the gravest apprehension the proposal to reverse the existing helm orders and to render officers liable to a penalty which may run up to £50 if a helm order contrary to Clause 29 is given.

The words "starboard" and "port" have been in existence from time immemorial, and are well understood by captains, officers and seamen. When a helm order was given in the days when the rudder was moved by the tiller, before the introduction of the wheel, "starboard" meant that the man at the tiller was to walk over to starboard, bringing the rudder to "port," and when "port" was the order that he was to walk over to "port" and bring the rudder to "starboard." When wheels came to take the place of tillers, the order "starboard" meant that the wheel was to be moved to "port" and the order "port" that it was to be moved to "starboard," following the old custom. This rule has been in operation for generations, all captains, officers and seamen having been brought up with it, and they all understand it. To put it in another way, when an obstruction appears on the "starboard" or right hand, and has to be avoided, the order "starboard" is given, the wheel is turned to "port" and the rudder is brought over to "port," so as to bring the vessel's head away from the danger. The same rule applies if the danger to be avoided is on the "port" or left hand: the order "port" is given, the wheel is turned to "starboard" and the rudder moves to "starboard," and the vessel's head moves to "starboard," away from the danger.

There has been no case of accident, so far as I am aware, with the present arrangement, and this is entirely borne out by several Judges who have had many years experience in the Admiralty Court. Further, I know of no Board of Trade inquiry where a casualty has been attributed to a wrongly given helm order under the helm orders as they at present exist. Mr. Justice Hill, of the Admiralty Court, prior to his retirement, stated that "he had tried something like 800 cases of collision, but he could recall no single case in which it could be proved that the collision was due to any confusion of helm orders. So far, therefore, as his experience went, no change was called for." Lord Merrivale, President of the Admiralty Court, when the first Bill was brought forward for Second Reading not long ago—embodying the Safety of Life at Sea Convention only—spoke very strongly indeed against the proposition contained in the Convention to reverse helm orders in British ships. Lord Atkin, now a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary—who has had great experience in Admiralty cases—especially in the Court of Appeal, denounced in very strong terms the reversal of helm orders in British ships at the annual meeting of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, held on March 11 last. I am afraid the change, if persisted in, may lead to serious consequences. The many thousands of our seafaring men will have to forget what they learnt in their boyhood, and what they have been accustomed to all their lives.

There is another extremely important factor which, so far as I know, seems to be either quite ignored or forgotten. In many British ships, especially those trading permanently abroad—say in Eastern waters—the quartermasters, steersmen, "sea-cunnies," or whatever other name they may be called, are natives, and for the most part British subjects, and their knowledge of the English language is confined to "port" and "starboard" in their existing sense. At present they are skilled and reliable steersmen, but I ask your Lordships to imagine the position which would arise should they be instructed that at midnight on a certain date they must do exactly the opposite to what they have been accustomed during all their seafaring lives. Any such change would be quite beyond their ken, and chaos would prevail.

The proposal has created grave and widespread concern amongst those reponsible for the safe navigation of our merchant marine, whilst a similar feeling exists amongst British pilots. As to the latter, the United Kingdom Pilots' Association voted against the change at the conference at Trinity House, and I understand that other representative bodies of pilots, that is, the London Trinity House River Pilots, and the London Trinity House Channel Pilots have petitioned Parliament not to agree to the change. The Imperial Merchant Service Guild and the Mercantile Marine Service Association, the two recognised representative bodies of captains and officers of the merchant navy, are against the change, and have already presented Petitions to this House and to the House of Commons praying that the Conventions embodied in this Bill be approved subject to the deletion of Clause 29, which seeks to reverse helm orders in British ships. I am also informed that a Petition to Parliament against the proposal has been in course of signature for some time past. It has been organised quite irrespective of any particular nautical organisation or organisations, and I understand that over 8,550 fully qualified and competent shipmasters, navigating officers and pilots in active service have signed this Petition. Surely this is striking proof of the feeling of alarm which exists amongst the responsible officers of the merchant navy.

I understand that the object of the change is to ensure uniformity of helm orders in the different maritime countries. But I find that the next biggest maritime country to our own, with a tonnage of 14,045,808, that is America, is still, in her merchant navy, using the "indirect" system of helm orders as it exists in this country. Nothing has as yet been done in America to ratify the London International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea. That part of this Bill which embodies this Convention is, according to Clause 38, to come into operation on the 1st day of July next. I am informed that even consideration of the ratification of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention by the United States is delayed definitely until next December at the earliest. If Clause 29 of this Bill is ratified by the British Parliament, it will amount to a revolution in a time-honoured practice, and I am safe to say it will involve great danger to the safety of ships' cargoes and life at sea.

The late Mr. Thomas Gray, at one time Assistant Secretary of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, penned, many years ago, a formula for our captains and officers which they all know by heart. In it he said:— If to your starboard red appear It is your duty to keep clear To act as judgment says is proper To port or starboard, back or stop her But when upon your port is seen A steamer's starboard light of green There's not so much for you to do For green to port keeps clear of you. I sincerely hope there may be no change, at any rate for British ships, in the helm orders which have served us so long and so well.


My Lords, I wish to ask a question. I know nothing about shipping but, as I understand it, from listening to the debate the giving of the helm orders in British ships as they are given now in no way leads to loss of life. If that is correct, I understand that the only reason why we should alter them is that other nations will not confirm the Convention if we do not. Why should we alter because other nations ask us to do so? Why should not other nations come to our method and navigate their ships in the same way that we do? I do not see why we should always give way to other nations. Let us stand up for ourselves for once.


My Lords, might I add a few words to what has been said with very much greater weight by the noble Lord, Lord Incheape? It would be impertinent of me to profess to speak with the authority with which he speaks, but, after all, we are only discussing the question as to whether a Second Reading shall be given to this Bill. I suppose there is nobody in the House who is not prepared to agree that a Second Reading shall be given. I rise for the purpose of letting it be understood that the question of the helm orders will not go by default. On the contrary, there will be the most uncompromising opposition to that clause in the Bill, and for this reason. The Bill is a Bill to promote safety of life at sea. That is the object of the Convention which includes this clause. Nobody can suggest that safety of life at sea is imperilled by the present form of helm orders. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, asked a very pertinent question in that respect and the answer has been given by those very distinguished Judges who have presided for so many years in the Admiralty Court, that no one's safety has been imperilled by the present orders. After all, what does it matter to foreigners or to anybody else in what language or in what terms helm orders are given in a British ship, so long as that ship takes the course which the navigating officer intends her to take? The whole object of the helm orders is to ensure that the ship goes to the right, to use a landsman's term, when the navigating officer wishes her to go to the right and to the left when he wishes her to go to the left. That is secured efficiently, accurately and promptly by the present orders.

The next question is whether or not safety of life at sea will be promoted by changing the helm orders. Upon that your Lordships will have sufficient evidence on the Committee stage that, in the opinion not of the shipowners but of those who go down to the sea in ships, their safety and the safety of the passengers entrusted to their charge will be grievously imperilled by this change in the helm orders. It is not a question of adhering to ancient and traditional terms. It is not a question of whether or not, during the transitional period, there will be immediate danger to life and property. I venture to assure your Lordships that the overwhelming majority of the persons who go clown to the sea in ships are of opinion that, during the transitional period, there will be a vastly increased and real danger to life. It is for that reason, I am told, that some 8,500 navigating officers in active service, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, are violently opposed to this change. They have no other reason, political or otherwise, for that opinion. Their interests are, if anything, against coming out into the open and advocating a view opposed to that expressed by the majority of their owners. The reason they are of that opinion is that they are satisfied that their lives and the lives of those entrusted to them will really be endangered during the transitional period by this change.

What they say is that the present orders are so engrained in the minds of old navigating officers that it. will be impossible during the transitional period, when the time of emergency comes, to change quite suddenly the whole of their psychological arrangements and say "Starboard" when in the old days they would have said "Port." They say that it is riot merely a question of the navigating officer but of the helmsman, and it is not a question of the up-to-date quartermasters whom we would find in the American liners and, if I may say so, in the P. and O. boats. It is a question of craft in narrow waters and in foreign waters where the crew, including the steersmen, are foreigners, who have been trained with great difficulty to take the helm and have been taught that when they are told to "starboard" they must put the ship's head to "port" and when they are told to "port" they must put her head to "starboard." Somehow or other those men will have to be made to unlearn the only meaning which has ever been given to those words in the whole of their existence, and the lives of the people on board of that and other ships will be risked if those orders are not carried out.

My noble friend Lord Inchcape was not taunted with, but it was suggested that he was, ploughing a lonely furrow. On the contrary. If the ships which hold the officers who desire the change were compared with the ships containing the officers who are afraid of the change there would be an extraordinary disproportion. The latter ships would cover the ocean; the other ships would be numbered, I venture to think, upon the fingers of one or two hands. It is a very important question. Your Lordships will not have to consider merely the question of these helm orders as a bargaining counter for securing other advantages in respect of safety of life at sea or of the load line, wireless telegraphy and so on. What you will have to consider is whether or not there can be any justification for exposing the people who actually go on the ships to a real danger.

It is suggested that the Convention will be lost if this clause disappears. It is a little difficult to follow that suggestion. If it be really true that this change in the helm orders will not secure the further safety of a single foreigner on any foreign vessel, it is a little difficult to understand how it can be that the Governments of foreign countries will ignore the other provisions which it has been unanimously agreed do make for safety because one clause is abandoned which has nothing to do with safety of life at sea. I doubt very much whether either the Legislature or the Executive in foreign countries could possibly take such a narrow view as that. I will say no more about the matter at the present moment except to emphasise once more that it is one which vitally concerns safety. They are not conservative in the sense of seeking to avoid change merely because it is change. These are the very men who showed themselves absolutely fearless in the sight of danger not so very many years ago, and these men are now really afraid of this change. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the matter will have to be very carefully considered when it comes to dealing with this particular clause in Committee.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord one question? What happens when a foreign pilot goes on to a British ship to take a British ship into a foreign port? Or, similarly, what happens to a British pilot when he goes on to a foreign ship to bring that foreign ship into a British port?


I shall not give an answer to that as an expert. All I can say as a matter of fact is that no lives are imperilled under the present condition of things. I believe what happens is that if there is any difficulty about it the foreign pilot gives his orders through the British officer.


May I supplement that answer, because I can speak from experience? In the Suez Canal there are a certain number of British pilots and a number of foreign pilots; and there are British pilots taking foreign ships through the Canal and foreign pilots taking British ships through the Canal. There has never in my experience—and I have been connected with the Canal for something like twenty-five years—been a single case of danger of not understanding the orders given.


My Lords, I understand that so far as the Second Reading is concerned, there is really no objection in any part of the House. I do not want to follow what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, but I think I ought to say this, that the whole information which I have, and which comes from the most accredited sources, is entirely in opposition to the statements that he has made. But that will have to be further considered when the matter comes up for discussion on the Committee stage. I only wish to say that now, because we are dealing with a Convention that was originally dealt with by the best experts that could be obtained in all those countries. We are dealing with a matter on which the shipowners in this country, through their Parliamentary Committee, are agreed, and I think the argument used by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, is unanswerable, that this is not an occasion to go into that particular matter. I therefore ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, and allow the matters which have been mentioned to stand over for the Committee stage.

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