asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the number of British-built ships, some of them flying the British flag and insured by British underwriters, that have been recently lost under circumstances of grave suspicion of intentional scuttling or stranding; whether any of these ships were at the time of their loss manned exclusively by foreigners although flying the British flag; whether he can state what inquiries were made by his Department, before sanctioning the transfer of ownership, for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the person applying to be registered as the owner was a trustee or representative of an alien, as required by Section 1 (3) of the Transfer Restriction Act, 1916; whether any of these ships were the nominal property of British limited liability companies whose shares were mainly held by foreigners of the same nationality as the officers and crews under whose care the ships were lost; whether his attention has been called to the recent judgments of naval courts of inquiry at Alexandria and Marseilles; whether the Board of Trade has any financial interest in any ships under the British flag so manned and owned, and, if so, how many; and whether the Government contemplate the introduction of legislation to prevent ships being sailed under the British flag unless officered and manned by British subjects?
The Board of Trade have read reports of cases which have recently been before the Courts, but the hon. Member's question is a very general one, and it is therefore only possible to make a general reply. There have been, and are, cases of vessels flying the British flag which are manned entirely, or almost entirely, by foreigners, and it is probable that if complete British manning were insisted on, these vessels would leave the British register, which would not increase employment and would not be to the, national advantage. Transfer of ships to foreign-controlled companies is not refused provided the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts are complied with, at this precaution is no longer required now that transfer to foreign flags is allowed freely. The Board of Trade, as successors to the Ministry of Shipping, were interested as mortgagees in the two vessels which recently came before Naval Courts at Alexandria and Marseilles. Five other ex-German ships in which the Board of Trade are interested as mortgagees are foreign controlled, but are required to have the master and chief engineer of British nationality. The question of excluding aliens from British ships was dealt with by the House in the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act of 1919, and I do not think there is sufficient reason for proposing further legislation.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether-some of the ships that have been lost, as stated, by intention are ships in which my right hon. Friend's Department has a financial interest, and does the right hon. Gentleman intend to claim against British underwriters for repayment of the value of ships lost by the intentional act of foreign crows sailing under the British flag?
I should require notice of that question, but if my hon. Friend who is interested in this matter cares to see me at the Board of Trade I shall be pleased to go into the question with him.