I venture to suggest that the Amendment is not out of order, in as much as the Bill, according to the wording of the Financial Resolution, is
for the purpose of helping the owners of vessels registered in the United Kingdom to compete with foreign shipping"—
and so on. That necessarily involves the ships used having crews on board; and, seeing that the general purpose of that provision is to improve the opportunities for the use of merchant shipping, and thereby necessarily to improve and increase the opportunities for the employment of seamen, and since these purposes are necessarily incidental to and inseparable from the purpose of the Bill, I suggest to you, Sir Dennis, with great respect, that the extension of the definition of the purpose would not thereby extend any of the commitments under the Bill, but would only be an amplification of the purpose which the Bill itself clearly involves.
I am afraid I must take the view that it is exactly that amplification which puts the Amendment out of order. I put to the right hon. Gentleman his dilemma: If what he says is the case, the Amendment amounts to nothing, and is quite unnecessary. If, on the other hand, it amounts to anything, it amounts to something that is outside the Bill.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, at the end, to insert:
(2) The Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee shall consist of persons having no direct financial or other interest in the shipping industry.
One of the difficulties in the Debates that we have had on this Bill has been the very small amount of information that we have received from the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary. We have never been informed as to the subsidies which we are told are operating against British shipping, and we have never been told anything about the composition of this Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee. In the White Paper issued with the Financial Resolution the only reference to the committee was in paragraph 4:
It is proposed to appoint a statutory committee, under the name of the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee, to advise the Board of Trade as to the administration of the subsidy, and in particular to examine claims and make recommendations to the Board of Trade regarding them.
Within the next year, £2,000,000, and probably some larger amount subsequently, if the £2,000,000 does not have the necessary restorative effect on tramp shipping, is to be distributed to the tramp shipowners of this country. It is in a way a public dole handed out by the Exchequer to an industry which, so it is alleged, is destitute.
We take the view that where public money is being distributed—whether wisely or not it is not for us now to say—it should only be distributed in accordance with the recommendations of a body independent of the persons who are likely to profit by it. In other words, we are anxious to avoid anything in the nature of a local goose club in this business. This is not the money of the shipping industry; it is the money of the State; and in our view it would be most improper if this committee were to consist of people who, directly or indirectly, might profit financially from the recommendations made by the committee. It is not unusual, I think, in cases of this kind, where public money is involved, to have a committee which is independent—not that it is very easy to appoint an independent committee, but at least we could appoint a committee of people who were not concerned in any kind of way with the shipping industry, and particularly with the tramp section of it. I should hope that the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to meet us on this Amendment. He has not shown a great spirit of conciliation so far; indeed, he has shown no conciliatory spirit at all; and on this last evening before the House rises for the festive season he might at least admit the claim that we make that it would do something to improve the texture of the Bill if we had an undertaking that the committee to be appointed would be one which had no interest whatever in the shipping industry. I know that many technical questions are involved, but I am sure that in the right hon. Gentleman's Department there are people who have a certain amount of technical knowledge and who could act as assessors and advisers to a committee of independent persons. I hope that the Amendment will meet with the approval of Members in all quarters of the Committee, and that the right hon. Gentleman will throw out an olive-branch to us, in order to facilitate the passage of the Bill, by accepting the Amendment.
The reason why I have not shown what the right hon. Gentleman calls a conciliatory spirit in the earlier Debates was that I am afraid he himself imported a combatant element into them which very speedily affected the House; but I am quite prepared to be full of sweet reasonableness, and I wish, therefore, to discuss with the Committee in the utmost of good temper the best way in which we can administer a Bill the principle of which has been granted by the House. It is quite true that we are making a new departure in a grant of money of this kind to one very important section of a great industry. The amount that will be expended throughout the year will approximate to £2,000,000. It cannot exceed £2,000,000, but it will approximate to that amount. The main object that we wish to attain involves the following considerations. We wish to see more British vessels employed, particularly in the trades out of which they have been driven by their subsidised competitors. It is true that, for the purposes of that change-over from the foreigner to British trade, we are going to hold the one against the other, like for like, and are going to do what we can to make it clear to those countries which have embarked on a subsidy system that there is nothing gained by it. Two can play at that game, and the attempt to rest our shipping on an equality with foreign shipping is a justifiable policy which we intend to pursue in this practical way.
In doing this we are, naturally, most anxious not to disturb what, for want of a better word, one might call the technique of chartering. The policy can only be operated by combination between those who believe in the object to be attained, and who are able by their knowledge to provide the best of advice, and I hope the best of guidance, to those who have to give the ultimate sanction for the distribution of this money. Let us see how the thing will actually work. Mr. Smith has a vessel which he wishes to charter, say from South America. He will be required in the first place, if he is to fulfil the conditions laid down, to put his vessel on that route and charter her without detriment to the cargo liners, which may be doing exactly the same service. I am not expressing any judgment on that matter at present; I am merely giving an illustration. On the other hand, he might do so at a rate of freight below that which would appear to be reasonably fair and worth taking. He might, therefore, blackleg on the freight side. He might, moreover, be inclined, if he were a person not of good intent and good will, to blackleg on the side of payment of wages, and, as I explained on the Second Reading, we want to safeguard that point as much as the other.
In doing that, one has to remember that time is a most important element. No charter is negotiated on the Baltic leisurely. It is no use doing that. Shipowners and merchants are perhaps pence, or it may be shillings, apart, but the time arrives when they come a little nearer; and when they actually fuse, and the transaction is completed, it may be done at a few minutes' notice. In order to make sure that that time shall not be ill spent, and that we should not impede the operation by an extension of minutes into hours, it is essential that those who are operating on the cargo side of the transaction should know the whole technique of chartering. I need hardly tell the Committee that there is probably no side of British management which is more difficult to operate than that of the chartering of tramp vessels in competition with the tramp steamers of the world. It really involves a lifetime of experience and knowledge, and very great skill. I need hardly say that those of us who have had experience of work on the Baltic, as one or two of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House have, are well aware that the clever broker can very often secure business for his client that would slip through the hands of a clumsier or more indolent man. As time is of such great importance, and as the means of attaining the main object we have in view are highly technical, we thought it was as well that we should obtain the most skilled knowledge that we could for the purposes of this work.
There is a precedent for our wishing to obtain that knowledge from within the shipping industry itself, and that is the experience of the Ministry of Shipping. If the Ministry of Shipping had consisted entirely of first-rate civil servants, or individuals who had no interest whatever in shipping, it would have been impossible for it to carry on its operations. The majority of those who composed it were able to lay claim to the knowledge and skill of men who had spent all their lives in the industry, and they were able to conduct the Ministry of Shipping with the success which it ultimately attained. With that experience, and with the necessities of the present case emphasising the experience of the past, we came to the conclusion, after very carefully considering what were the alternatives, that the best we could do was to secure the services of highly skilled men engaged in the industry, who know it in its most complicated form, whose character would be a most important asset in their qualifications, and who could be trusted both by the Government Department and by the shipping industry and those engaged in that industry. I am very glad to say that there has always been a readiness on the part of the controllers of British shipping to participate in any Government operations of this kind, and, indeed, in almost all the activities of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and I think we shall be able to obtain from them nominations which will meet with our general acceptance.
Now I come to the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He says that he thinks it wrong that on a committee administering a scheme of this kind there should sit men who themselves as individuals, or through the companies with which they are connected, are concerned in the industry, and that they should be entrusted with national money. I am afraid that is inevitable. I do not see how it is to be avoided. If we employed on this committee only men who had passed out of the trade and had no interest in British shipping, those men would not know the tricks of the trade in its most modern form. We must, therefore, have men who know from their daily experience exactly against what they have to safeguard; and I do not see how it is possible to do that unless we obtain the services of men who themselves are daily engaged in these operations. The qualifications we require them to fulfil are that they should be men of integrity who are trusted by the industry itself, with all the knowledge they can acquire by daily contact with it. I quite agree with the view that has been put forward that we are bound to use men who are now engaged in the industry, and that we are bound to ask for the assistance of men who themselves will be, to some extent, large or small recipients of portions of this subsidy. In these circumstances, having considered the matter purely from a working point of view, and taking no other principle into consideration, I am bound to come to the conclusion that this was the only way in which we could work the scheme well.
I am very much surprised to hear the President of the Board of Trade say that it is not possible to find men outside the shipping industry with the requisite knowledge of shipping and whose integrity would be beyond reproach, to serve on this committee. It seems to me a unique proposal that we should have on such a committee persons concerned in this industry, which is in extremis from a financial point of view, when their function will be to bring about an adjustment in the competition which may arise between tramp ships and cargo carrying ships. It seems strange that it should be beyond the capacity of the Board of Trade to pick men outside the industry who would know the ins and outs of the business. I am sure that there are many such men who can be found. We always find competent men to serve on the many Commissions which are appointed by this House, and they are only too eager to come forward and render any service which they possibly can.
We on these benches are not anxious to hamper the shipping industry, but we do say that when it is proposed to give to that industry huge sums of money, it should be possible to find men of the necessary integrity and knowledge outside the industry to carry out what this House wishes to do. I certainly think that this is a reasonable proposal to put forward. Why should we not have a say in the distribution of this money? Why is it not possible to give this experiment a trial? The question of making arrangement in regard to cargoes and competition one against another will unquestionably take time, even with the men expert in this particular business. If that be so with the experts surely it should be possible to get a body of men who could be brought together as an emergency body to deal with any emergency that might arise. In these days of radio it should be quite possible to get reliable information for any body of men that might be set up.
I support this Amendment because I believe there is reason in it. I feel it will be more just if this proposal were accepted and the country would be better satisfied. I do not wish any shipowner to think that I am saying anything against shipowners, but the tricks of the trade to which the President of the Board of Trade referred are many, and it would be much better that this scheme should be administered in a way that would be above suspicion. If the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House again for any supplementary amount, we should like to get a proper statement of account and to know that this distribution of public money has been made fairly and squarely. I think that on second thoughts the President of the Board of Trade will admit that we are not so devoid of men of integrity and knowledge, even in the City of London, that it would not be possible to meet the proposal made in this Amendment.
I am sure that the shipping industry will be glad that the President of the Board of Trade has resisted this Amendment. I think perhaps that on further consideration, and having thought over the words used by the President of the Board of Trade, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that the Bill as it stands is most likely to assist the British shipping industry. Important as is the work which it has to do, this is an Advisory Committee and, as is stated in the Bill, the last word as to whether money should be paid or not does rest with the Board of Trade. The amount of the subsidy is already fixed, or at least it cannot be exceeded, and there is no question of this Committee—which I, personally, hope will eventually consist very largely of shipowners—scratching round and asking for a larger sum. The whole basis of the White Paper upon which this Bill is founded, is that there should be inaugurated a scheme to assist shipowners and run by shipowners. I was very much surprised to hear what was said just now by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). If I understood him rightly, he has changed his views considerably since he last spoke on the subject in this House. Speaking on the Financial Resolution upon which this Bill is based, he said:
Our eminence in the past has been owing to the personnel of the British Mercantile Marine, the perfection of their seamanship and the management of the whole industry.
A little later he said:
I do not know anyone better able than those in the shipping industry, the shipowners, to manage this business."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; cols. 1454–36.]
I have not been inconsistent in any statement that I made. I still maintain that from the point of view of seamanship there is none better in the world. From the point of view of management I do not know that there is anything better. But now we find an application made to the House to distribute money, not out of the funds of the shipowners, but out of national funds and I want to see national protection of national funds.
I had hoped that I had shown that there is protection for national funds. I cannot see that that which has just fallen from the lips of the hon. Member is in any sense in agreement with his expression of opinion only a few days ago. If it is true, as I believe it to be, that our shipowners are the most efficient managers of the shipping industry in the world, surely they are best able to assist the Government in making this Bill the success that we hope it will be.
I would like to inquire what steps have been taken to see that technical and scientific people, not necessarily engaged in the carrying on of shipping, but men who will be acquainted with the principles involved, are going to be appointed to this Committee. It seems to me that we are, in a way, to develop quite a new principle. We are going to assist this industry and we do want to make sure in this new venture that everything is done in such a way that we shall be satisfied later on that we have taken all the care we could. If this is to be purely a commercial Committee—and I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend indicated that this would be so—I cannot feel that it will then take the wide view that should be taken in matters of this sort with regard to the types and classification of ships, the engining of ships and so on. The general idea lying at the root of all this is to bring ships of this type up to the highest state of efficiency, and I do beg my right hon. Friend to appoint to this Committee somebody in whom we technically trained people will have full confidence, so that no point is overlooked in this new and important venture.
The right hon. Gentleman has been, as always, sweetly reasonable in meeting the arguments of my hon. Friends above the Gangway. On the technical side of the question he built up a very strong case, but I think he would be the first to recognise that there is a very big principle at stake. To begin with, subsidies are very objectionable. You cannot defend them in principle and you can only justify them in cases of emergency. To pick out one particular industry for financial assistance is always unsound and the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that. I do not pretend to have the knowledge or experience of the right hon. Gentleman, and although I recognise the tremendous difficulty of distributing this new fund in a way that will be to the best advantage of the shipping industry, I do think we are going to make a failure of this business if we allow a committee composed of men, who are directly or indirectly gaing to gain an advantage by the distribution of this money, to decide who is to get it and how it shall be distributed—how much and to which particular owner.
We think that the right hon. Gentleman must try to exercise his ingenuity to see how he can overcome this difficulty and set up a committee that can at any rate give the impression of being disinterested and impartial. They should be men with a knowledge of shipping, perhaps men who have retired, or who for various causes no longer have a direct financial interest in the industry, and who can, at any rate, claim to have no financial interest in the distribution of the subsidy. It has always been one of our first principles that no one should be allowed to decide who shall get public funds who has any direct financial interest in the expenditure of the money. That is of even more importance than the principle of not giving subsidies. The right hon. Gentleman must try to get round this corner. I am sure there is a way. If he cannot meet it, I shall be compelled to vote for the Amendment.
I am sure that the Committee, before coming to a final decision on this question, will appreciate what the duties of this Committee are. One is the making out of the formula by which the subsidy will actually be given. That is not a question of long negotiation. It is one that must be applied almost on the spur of the moment. An owner who is undercut by a foreign competitor by a shilling, if he knows he can get the shilling through the subsidy, may secure the contract. The formula, surely, can only be worked out to real advantage if it is devised by people who know the business, and those who know the business are the people in the business. The only Blight criticism that I would make is as to the composition of the Committee itself. I do not believe that the tramp shipping nominees will do other than act perfectly fairly, but it can be used as an argument that, if they have a majority on the Committee, they are influencing the payment of money from which they themselves may benefit. If the majority on the Committee could be the representatives of other shipping interests and the tramps fill up the remainder, I think that would be a fairer division. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) said it was necessary to have men of zeal and integrity, and all the other virtues. But, in addition, they must have knowledge, and I cannot see how that knowledge can be put at the disposal of the Committee unless it includes people within the industry itself.
The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) said that in his opinion the shipping trade would be very glad. I am sure they would. They ought to be very glad. Not only have they obtained a large sum of money to help them in their business, but now it is proposed that the money should be administered by themselves. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last said that the people who know the business best are those in it. That sounds a good slogan, but it is not always applied. You might say that the people who know most about those who need relief are the unemployed. Why not put them on the public assistance committees? Who knows more about poverty than those who need relieving by the public assistance committees? But if anyone on this side of the House put that idea forward, imagine the talk that there would be about demoralisation. If the principle is a good one, what about the depressed areas? Who knows more about the needs there than the people who are distressed themselves? If we submitted that the money should be allocated in each area by a committee composed of out-of-work miners, I can imagine the outcry about lack of moral fibre, sapping independence and jobbery.
It seems to me extraordinary to suggest that the only people who can effectively distribute this £2,000,000 are the shipowners. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that those who had retired from the industry would be out-of-date and obsolete, but they have not all retired for as long as 20 years. There must be many who have retired in the last 12 months who would not be very much out-of-date. I am convinced that it must be possible to find men apart from those who are going to receive the subsidy who know something about the industry. In any event, the public would have much more confidence in the right hon. Gentleman and the officials of his Department than they would have if those who are going to have this £2,000,000 are the persons who themselves distribute it. We have just as much reason for regarding with suspicion the allocation of the money by those interested as hon. Members opposite would be suspicious if we proposed that those who are destitute should relieve destitution. I believe it would be quite possible to find a committee of 12 competent, honest people who could distribute the money as efficiently and fairly as the shipowners themselves.
I heartily support every word uttered by the President of the Board of Trade, and I say that as one who has had very considerable experience in bringing commodities from all parts of the world to the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman made one remark which I will not say was ill-advised, but which was capable of being misinterpreted when he spoke of the tricks of the trade. That might be regarded as a somewhat unfortunate expression. I should have preferred the words "intricacies of the trade." I remember in 1914 giving evidence at the Colonial Office on the matter of subsidies as between Germany and this country. I do not think it is possible for the lay mind to have any conception of the extraordinary methods that are used by foreign countries in subsidising their shipping. It is only those who are directly interested in shipping who can deal with those intricacies and, by the form of subsidy that is now proposed, be able to place both our shipping and our manufacturing industries on a fair and equitable basis.
I heard the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to be more sweetly reasonable than usual. I have always looked on him as one who is capable of being sweet but never reasonable. I have no recollection of his ever making any concession to the Opposition on any Bill that he has been associated with. I do not expect that he is going to give way on this, but there will be a public reckoning. I look on this as one of the greatest public scandals that the House has witnessed for a long time. What would have been said by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends if it had been suggested by any of us that the committee of inquiry into the amount of tax to be paid by co-operative societies should have consisted entirely of co-operators? I know nothing in our history which will appear worse in the eyes of the public outside than that their money shall be handed over to a committee of this character to be distributed in their own interest to themselves. It is an amazing suggestion.
Another amazing suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is that there is no one, either in his Department or in any of the other business industries of the country, who has the ability, and can acquire the knowledge sufficiently quickly to use that ability, to distribute the money equitably and fairly. I cannot believe any such thing. If that is true, and if the tricks of the trade are so closely guarded within the industry that they are not known even to the officials of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, I am afraid there is not much value in the suggestion that the committee is to make recommendations to them and that they will act or not act as they think fit. If they do not know the tricks of the trade and do not know the value of the suggestions put up to them by the committee, what on earth is the use of having them there at all? You might as well hand the money over right away to the tramp shipping industry and say: "Appoint your own committee, do what you like with it, and we will make no further inquiries into the matter at all. Any inquiries that we make will be made without knowledge, because we have no one competent to make those inquiries or to assess the value of any information that you give us, and therefore we allow you to carry out the transaction in any way you desire."
The public outside will not view this transaction as an honest one. Like many other Members of this House I have served on public bodies. I know what would be thought of members of public bodies if it were known that they had large financial interests in certain concerns and that when big contracts were to be given, the committee responsible for giving out the contracts were to be composed of such members. Would the Minister of Health accept such a procedure as being a legitimate and satisfactory way of doing business? Anyone knows that such a practice would not be tolerated by the Ministry of Health and that they would not sanction a contract under those conditions. Here are a body of people who have failed in their own business. They have created a set of conditions in the business with which they are associated which shows that they are unable to manage that business successfully. The Government come along and offer them £2,000,000 as a subsidy, and there is no doubt that when that money has been spent further money will be made available. The right hon. Gentleman refuses to give us any promise that when the committee is set up other than financially interested persons will be appointed upon it, so that reports can be given to this House as to the nature of the evidence given in support of claims for assistance and of the reasons influencing the committee to come to certain decisions. I am afraid that public opinion outside will rightly say that this is one of the most disgraceful transactions ever put before this House.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN:
I do not agree with the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) when he says that the subsidy is being given because of the failure of the tramp shipping industry, owing to inefficiency. It is owing to foreign competition and to foreign subsidies that this course has to be taken. Apart from the merits of the Amendment, I would call the attention of the Committee to its wording. It says:
The Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee shall consist of persons having no direct financial or other interest in the shipping industry.
That wipes out immediately all importers and merchants, all exporters, marine underwriters, bankers, shipbuilders, port authorities, trade union officials and representatives of seamen. The only people to be admitted, according to the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), are "dug-outs," persons who by the very virtue of their name have left their business. No shareholder or director of any shipping company will be able to take part in the work of the advisory committee. I am not sure that the general taxpayers, simply because they have contributed to the subsidy of the White Star-Cunard merger, will be allowed under this Amendment to become members of the committee. I hope that on every ground the Minister will reject such a ridiculous Amendment.
I know enough about trade to appreciate the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman is trying to get round by his proposal. Indeed they are inherent in the scheme. I pointed out some of these difficulties and dangers on the Second Beading, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman quite appreciates the feeling of uneasiness that there is in the Committee, particularly among those who do not know the trade as intimately as he and I do. The right hon. Gentleman is not doing himself justice. He has given the impression to the Committee that the proposed advisory committee is to consist entirely of tramp shipowners sharing out the spoils. I do not believe for a moment that that is his intention, and I am certain he will have representatives of other branches of the shipping industry on the advisory committee. He should tell us how he proposes to set up the committee and what its composition is to be. Some of us would have far more satisfaction in letting the proposal go through, if we were satisfied that the actual recipients are not going to decide upon the distribution of the money. There must be representatives of cargo liners on the advisory committee. An hon. Member suggested that there should be representatives of technical interests on the committee. In that case the tramp owners would be in a minority. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something about the composition of the committee, and particularly to give us an assurance that it will not be a committee which can be described as a committee of the recipients of the spoils.
I wish to reinforce the appeal made from the Liberal Benches. As occupants of the benches below me nearly always oppose the Government, I do not want the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to feel that no voice has come from the ordinary back bench Member on this particular point. Many back bench Members are willing to support the right hon. Gentleman in his general contention that the people in the industry know best how to run it, but there is some misgiving that perhaps the people in that position might find it very difficult to give confidence to the public, as well as have confidence in themselves that, when behind the closed doors of the advisory committee, they are acting in the interests of the country generally. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton), who is a technical man, put forward a most important point, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman could give the House some assurance on the point. We are not only concerned with the commercial men, but with the technical engineers, who, from the point of view of the ships, know a good deal more than some of the commercial men. The right hon. Gentleman did not give the impression, as was suggested by an hon. Member, that the tramp owners wanted to share the spoils. I did not get such an impression. But he did give the impression that there were to be mainly tramp shipowners on the committee. I am sure he did not mean to imply that only tramp shipowners should be on the committee, and I therefore support the appeal that he should give us a reassurance on the point.
I also support the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman. It would be most unfortunate if the committee was so composed that a majority of members were in the position of being able to determine what proportion of the subsidy they themselves should receive and also the conditions under which the subsidy should be paid. The right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading of the Bill, in response to speeches made from these benches, promised to give some consideration to the question of the wages, accommodation and welfare of the seamen. If that very desirable object is to be obtained, it is rather unreasonable to put the power into the hands of the shipowners to determine the conditions under which their employés should work. I think that the right hon. Gentleman hardly realises the very big principle that underlies the Amendment. I have not been in this House very long, but I have heard on many occasions right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House complain of the undesirability of allowing people with a financial interest in a certain matter to have the governing voice in such a matter. My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) mentioned the case of the local councils. Those of us who have sat on local councils and have taken part in local affairs have always endeavoured to carry out the good principle that, when we had public money to handle and distribute, we should not allow anyone likely to benefit from the distribution of the money to have a voice in the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman, who knows more about the technical side of shipping than I do, has suggested, and he has been supported by an hon. Gentleman opposite who, in some measure, I understand, represents the shipowners, that it is impossible for people who do not understand this particular industry to be able to advise the committee. This sort of thing is contrary to the traditions of the great Civil Service. I have been astonished in my own trade and industry to find that men who have not had particular inside knowledge have proved to be far better judges than people inside the trade. It would give tremendous satisfaction to Members on all sides and to the public outside, if the right hon. Gentleman could give us some assurance about the constitution of the proposed committee. Whether he intended it or not, he gave the impression in his speech that, willy-nilly, this must be a committee composed in the main of those interested in tramp shipping. I hope that it was a wrong impression and that he will reassure us. He said at the beginning of his speech that he wanted to approach this matter to-night in a spirit of sweet reasonableness. Although my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow has suggested that the right hon. Gentleman can be sweet without being reasonable, I hope that he will realise that there is a very important principle here and one of great public interest upon which we are entitled to receive an assurance.
It would be most unfortunate, in the interests of Members of this House who want to do what they can for the shipping industry in the present circumstances, if it went out to the public and to our electors in the constituencies that we were prepared to give millions of public money to a particular industry, and leave that industry to cut it up among themselves. That is wrong and against the best traditions of public life and of this House, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman may be able to meet in some measure all the arguments which we have produced.
I hope that between now and the Report stage the right hon. Gentleman will make the position clear with regard to this important matter.
I have been thinking of the various subsidies in my recollection that have been granted by this House, and I cannot call to mind any precedent for the proposal in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was rather hard up for a precedent. The only one that he called to his aid was the Ministry of Shipping. In the Ministry of Shipping you did not have the shipowners there with their hands, so to speak, in the public purse and helping themselves by putting up the freight rates, and the rest of it. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there were prescribed rates which had been carefully and critically examined and they were actually lower than some of the freights that were being obtained by those who were let loose for a time. What about the beet sugar subsidy? That is a huge subsidy. We are all guilty parties in respect of that, more or less.
The hon. Members below the Gangway cannot wash their hands of it. They were Members of the Government, or they supported that Government. Certainly some of them were Members of it. If they like to hug the sweet consolation to their souls that they are not responsible for it, they are welcome, but most of us are responsible in one form or another for the continuation of the beet sugar subsidy. There is no doubt about that. What is the case there? There is a Committee but it is not a committee of the men who are going to help themselves out of the public purse. It is a Committee which contains those who are experts in the matter, and, as I know to my cost, the conditions which are prescribed for the receipt of the beet sugar subsidy are exceedingly technical. They are argued out by representatives of the Treasury, with great detail, and public servants administer the subsidy. In regard to the other subsidies that are now being handed out, whether in regard to bacon or meat, it is the Minister of Agriculture who is in charge of the purse. One can well imagine the outcry which the right hon. Gentleman in his unregenerate days would have made if the Labour party had made a proposal like this for some of their friends. We should have had public headlines an inch long in every leading newspaper. Now, there is not even a whisper in public about this proposal.
I do not want to misrepresent the shipowners, but I understand that they are going to make suggestions and nominations, and I suppose that out of that list the right hon. Gentleman will appoint the committee. Whether he will or will not add to it, he did not say. I have never known a case, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to produce a precedent, where millions of public money are handed out by a committee so constituted. I am sure that there is no such committee.
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to produce it. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman will have to give his sanction, but the committee will prescribe the conditions and it is very likely that they or some of them will receive the benefits. I am sure that there is no precedent for that.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know why I shook my head, I will tell him. The precedents are to be found in the list of advisory committees. The right hon. Gentleman himself has been responsible for setting up advisory committees and having advice given to him, and I am sure that when he desired advice to be given to him he took good care to get men who knew something about the business.
Certainly. I plead guilty to having appointed a lot of advisory committees, but I have never appointed an advisory committee the members of which were going to help themselves out of the public purse, according to their own prescribed conditions.
I do not wish to interrupt, but it is advisable that we should get down to facts. The committee will not have the handing out of public money. The committee will have the duty of advising. That is so stated in the Bill. The advice given to the Board of Trade will be for the final decision of a Government authority, which can be arraigned in this House.
I am aware of that and I do not wish in any way to misrepresent the position, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot quote a case where an advisory committee has itself to frame the conditions under which, subject to the consent of the President of the Board of Trade, members of the advisory committee may profit in their own business. I do not believe that there is any such precedent to be found anywhere, and I hope, without in the least wishing to make difficulties for the Bill or difficulties in regard to the proper administration of the subsdy, that the right hon. Gentleman will accept our Amendment. I cannot see that he has anything to lose, indeed I think he has very much to gain, by setting up an advisory committee of persons who are not interested financially in the results of their advice.
Now I come to the question how the work is to be done. The right hon. Gentleman said that these deals on the Baltic are done on the nod. We do not wish to do anything that would interfere with the rapid transaction of business. The last thing in the world that we wish to do is to prevent business being done in a businesslike way. What will the committee do? They will make representations as to the conditions, etc., upon which the subsidy should be granted. The President of the Board of Trade before they are allowed to operate will have to approve the conditions, but the men on the Baltic will know perfectly well what the conditions are. The brokers will know whether an offer is or is not within the limits of the conditions prescribed by the Advisory Committee and sanctioned by the President of the Board of Trade. Does the President of the Board of Trade suggest that this highly expert technical committee, composed of people who are in the business, would so far as that transaction is concerned, do anything different from any other Advisory Committee? The nature of the transaction is a prompt business deal and whatever the Advisory Commitee was, the thing could not work unless there was a prompt deal. Therefore it makes no difference to the promptitude of the deal whether Mr. A or Mr. B is on the Advisory Committee. They would not telephone to the headquarters of the Advisory Committee or to the Board of Trade or anything of that sort. The thing would be worked out. They would be perfectly conversant with the conditions and they would know whether or not a particular deal was in accordance with those conditions.
The question is, who is to prescribe the conditions? I say that the persons who prescribe the conditions should not be those who are interested in receipt of the subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, and no Department knows it better than his own, that you can lay your hands any day on a number of men of rectitude and knowledge who will advise the Board of Trade on this or any other matter. There is no Department of State which has been better served in that way than the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and there is no necessity whatever to have an Advisory Committee composed in the way suggested of persons who are themselves, or who may become, financially interested in what happens. Whilst I see that there may be some technical objections to the working of our proposal, I suggest that the House of Commons is entitled to know what is to be the machinery of operations and the personnel of the committee. It is going to hand out £2,000,000 of public money.
It is, in fact. The right hon. Gentleman will be no more cognisant of the day to day, minute to minute transactions of the committee than any of the chief officers of the board. The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, expect that branch of his Department to be properly administered, and he will deal with it if it is not. The work will be done in accordance with the advice of the committee on the scheme of operations. It would be easy enough to get men that this House could trust, and the public would then be able to say, "That is sound enough; that is right." It is easy enough to get men who are not themselves interested in the receipt of the money, or may not be interested. One hesitates to consider what is to be the long-distance ricochetting effects of a precedent of this kind. I am sure that it is a precedent and a very dangerous precedent, and I hope that before the right hon. Gentleman comes to the Report stage he will, in justice to himself and his reputation, and in justice to the House, put us in a position where we can know under what responsible guidance this public money is to be distributed. We are entitled to know that in the interests of the Bill, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to tell us.
I have no hesitation in answering the question put to me from several quarters as to the way in which the committee will be composed, but before I speak on that subject I want to make it quite clear what a committee of this nature is to do. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that it might be possible to administer all that is required under this Bill without an advisory committee. If we had nothing else to do at the Board of Trade I should be ready to take the chair at a committee of that kind myself, but does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that a Government Department like the Board of Trade, efficient as it is, and staffed by some of the best civil servants, can necessarily know all the commercial side of business and all the details which are necessary in order that we may have this Bill administered with justice to the interests concerned, with advantage to the country, and to attain the main object, namely, fair play for British shipping throughout the world?
May I answer the right hon. Gentleman? Later on in the Bill he is entitled to appoint officers. Those officers can be appointed by him. It is done in a multitude of other directions in every Department every day, and he could do it.
The right hon. Gentleman is asking me to dispense with an Advisory Committee of those who have regular up-to-date technical knowledge of this business. I must tell the Committee at once that I am not prepared to undertake that responsibility. Nothing could be more destructive of the efficient running of the British Mercantile Marine than that it should on a very important technical matter, be taken out of the hands of those who every day are engaged in these matters, and managed by Civil Servants, however able they may be, or by politicians whose integrity is beyond reproach. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion as being an arguable proposition. He speaks as though this House were handing out coupons to certain shipowners for voyages, for various classes of vessels, and for freights and routes. I wonder whether he has in mind the White Paper which has been published, and whether he has looked at paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, all of them setting out in full detail the exact way in which these matters are to work.
With a good deal of knowledge of the working of Government Departments and of this industry, I say that the less a Government Department has to do with it the better. At the same time the one thing the Department cannot surrender is its responsibility for the distribution of public money. This will be a truly Advisory Committee, and the Board of Trade in 19 cases out of 20 will accept their advice. They would be foolish if they did not. They will also take full advantage of the technical knowledge which will be placed at the disposal of the Advisory Committee. When Lord Maclay and the right hon. Gentleman himself were in charge of shipping interests neither of them ever attempted to administer payments made to the shipping trade without using the knowledge of shipowners who were themselves receiving some remuneration of this kind. In that case it was not supposed to be wrong because the right hon. Gentleman was at the head of it. He cannot escape responsibility.
Let me describe in detail what actually happened. The right hon. Gentleman and Lord Maclay realised that they could not deal with all the shipping problems which came before them. Lord Maclay had more knowledge of tramp shipping than any man. He was in charge of one of the largest of the companies. Was he put at the head of the Ministry of Shipping because he was absolutely impartial, or because his boats were not going to draw any advantage? Not at all. He was put there because he was the man who knew best. Who were the other men? The chief executive officer on the liner side was Sir Kenneth Anderson, the Chairman of the Orient line, and who, therefore, would be receiving public money. There was no question then that it was improper for him to be there and give advice every hour of the day to the Ministry of shipping; advice that in 99 cases out of 100 was accepted. There was nothing improper in it.
If the hon. Member has anything orderly to say I shall be glad to answer it. I say that they were receiving national money; and were giving advice to the Minister which he accepted in 99 cases out of 100. Let me come to the tramp shipping. What was done in that case? Did the right hon. Gentleman try to get advisers who had no knowledge of the tramp shipping; shipowners who had sold out, or had gone out and who, therefore, had no direct interest in the matter? Not at all. They appointed Sir Ernest Glover, and nobody who knew Sir Ernest Glover would suggest that it was improper for him to give advice because he was receiving some of the money.
The argument of the right hon. Gentleman is not good enough. He himself says that an advisory committee is necessary, and if it is necessary, may I tell the Committee how I propose to constitute it? Sir Vernon Thomson has been good enough to consent to act as Chairman. Everyone is aware that he has done admirable work for British shipping as a whole. He has been used by the Government in responsible positions on many occasions, and has played a large part in clearing up some of our shipping problems. He will have, I hope, six representatives of the various sides of tramp shipping. There are many aspects of tramp shipping, and they are not all alike. But as this will impinge upon the work done by cargo liners, I hope to have two members on the advisory committee to represent the cargo liners, who will be able to explain their point of view, and ensure that in the decisions which are reached by the advisory committee this aspect of shipping is considered. I hope to have also on the committee an entirely independent person who would know little about the technique of the business but who will be able to inform the other members of the committee how these things strike an ordinary outside person. Such a committee would be a good advisory committee, and I have no doubt would give its advice to the Board of Trade in such a form as would be acceptable to the Government.
The Government cannot surrender their responsibilities, and they are not going to do so. It may be asked whether such a committee is likely to work well. I wonder whether hon. Members have ever heard of the Documentary Committee, which to some extent provides us with a precedent as to the technical advice and guidance which can be given and also the penalties which can be imposed. The Documentary Committee of the Chamber of Shipping is concerned with the various sections of tramp shipping and the pressure they are able to bring to bear has been of great value in providing us with a precedent for the way in which we propose to work the advisory committee. If hon. Members will take the trouble to digest the White Paper they will see how responsible must be the duties of the Board of Trade, and how necessary it is that they should receive as much technical assistance as possible. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will be prepared to let us go forward and work it in this way. I am aware of the points put by hon. Members below the Gangway. They dislike subsidies, but the House has taken a decision, and the one thing about which I am anxious is that
I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, after "vessels," to insert:
which provide such accommodation for the crews as the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee may deem to be reasonable and satisfactory, and being vessels,
I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to Clause 3 of the Bill, where it sets out what is to be the duty of the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee. The Bill lays down there the particular duty—it is not a general duty but a particular duty—of the Committee as to the making of payments by way of subsidies under this part of the Act, and the terms and conditions upon which such payments shall be made. There is nothing set down as to the conditions under which the crew have to be housed on board a ship that gets the subsidy; and what we have heard of some of the tramp owners, and the conditions under which the crews of some of the tramp ships have to live, leads us to believe that unless some very specific statement as to the accommodation in the ships is embodied in the Bill, the probability is that the conditions prevailing in some of these ships will continue to be just those of which so many of the seamen's representatives complain to-day. Consequently, we hope that the President of the Board of Trade will accept the Amendment, which would make this part of the Bill read:
The vessels eligible for subsidy under this Part of the Act are vessels to which this Act applies, being vessels which provide such accommodation for the crews as the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee may deem to be reasonable and satisfactory, and being vessels,
and so on. We consider that to be a perfectly reasonable Amendment. It would provide the seamen with some safeguard as to the conditions under which they would live when they are sailing vessels on tramp voyages. We have heard at various times in this Debate references to these conditions. We have
had grievances and complaints brought before us as to the conditions in some of the vessels.
The Parliamentary Secretary may say that the Shipping Subsidy Committee in making its recommendations can consider, under the terms of the Bill as it stands, the conditions under which the men serve, and that they can go into them very carefully before making a recommendation. But that is not sufficient for us. It is too general in its wording. There have been many other general statements in Measures which have been passed by this House, and which, while being discussed, were pointed out to us by members of the Government as phraseology that was quite sufficient to ensure the safeguards that our Amendments were seeking. Yet when those Bills became Acts—the Government having had its way—we discovered that just those general statements to which we had objected were singled out as things through which the proverbial carriage and pair could be driven. Therefore we desire to bring the phraseology of this part of the Bill into such a form that the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee, when it is appointed, will have to see to it before recommending a subsidy to be paid to any particular ships or any tramp shipowning company, that the accommodation is such as we set out specifically in the Amendment that I move. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will see his way to embody this Amendment in the Bill.
I want to emphasise the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in regard to slum ships. It is a well-known fact that while the Board of Trade has the power of inspection and while ships are inspected and are generally kept up to a certain standard, yet there are ships sailing out of our ports to-day which are not in a proper condition. Those of us who sit on these benches feel that we should be most anxious about the safety of the lives of the seamen, as well as about any question of giving a grant to the shipping industry. The men who go down to the sea in ships are entitled to proper accommodation. I received a letter to-night from a captain in Liverpool informing me of the wretched conditions which exist in some exceptional eases, though I admit not in all. I am not going to say one word of a general nature about bad conditions. It is quite sufficient for me to know that any men, however few, may have to sail out of the port of Liverpool under conditions in which they risk their lives. If those men are lost, it is no compensation to the people at home to know that good conditions exist in other tramp ships. The loss of even one life with all the misery which it brings into a home is beyond all questions of dividends. I place human life higher than money.
If the hon. and gallant Member reads what I am dealing with, he will find that the question of accommodation enters very largely into the question of safety. If a ship has not proper accommodation for its crew, if the crew have to work under bad conditions, then I say that ship has no right to sail. If the crew have not proper accommodation below, they are not able to carry out their duties properly and that ship is not in a safe condition. That is my contention. The hon. and gallant Member probably knows what sleeping in a cubicle means and he know that if he has not proper accommodation he will not be able to sleep very well on board ship. He might sleep all right under bad conditions if he had had one or two, but if he has turned in without having had one or two he will not get very much sleep unless he has got a proper sleeping place.
I thought the hon. and gallant Member had had experience, otherwise I would not have said that to him. I know he has had the experience. I do not know whether he has had the one or two. Perhaps he has had both. But I am speaking about a matter of which I know something in regard to conditions in the shipping trade. As I say I am not dealing with it in any general way and I want to make it clear that my remarks do not refer to the major portion of the shipping industry of this nation. But I want to protect the good shipowners who give good conditions as against those other shipowners who compete against them under unfair conditions. I am asking that a restriction should be placed upon such people, not from a humanitarian point of view at all but from the point of view of business competition. Those men who do not carry out the rules, compete unfairly for the carrying trade in the markets of the world.
That being so, this is a reasonable Amendment. It is not going to hit the legitimate trader. It is directed against the kind of man who steals into and encroaches upon the business, employs illegitimate methods and introduces bad conditions. Such a man ought not to be tolerated in the industry and it is reasonable that a safeguard of this kind should be provided in the interest of the industry as a whole. No man who obeys the law need fear the law. Perhaps I am not without sin myself in that respect but the man who is a saint does not know anything about sin and does not want to know. The man who wants to act honestly in business is not concerned with any question of making profits by dishonest methods. It is pests of the kind to which I have referred who bring these bad conditions into the shipping world. The man who risks the lives of his crews has no right to be in the business. The mercantile marine deserves every assistance and it deserves to be protected against those in the industry who are not legitimately carrying on their business. Coming as I do from the city of Liverpool I know something of the dangers which these men run and the wonderful manner in which they do their duty. I regard this as a proper Amendment and one which it would be well for the Government to accept and it is in that spirit that I support it.
The hon. Member who moved this Amendment said he objected to the general statements contained in the Bill, but I think the Committee will agree that nothing could be more general than the Amendment. The two speeches made in support of the Amendment have conformed with the wish expressed by the President of the Board of Trade that we should take up an attitude of sweet reasonableness in considering these matters. I am bound to confess that both hon. Gentlemen opposite have been quite reasonable, but I am bound also to make some reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) on the Second Reading dealing with the subject of conditions. It has been said to-night that certain grievances have been brought forward by the representatives of the seamen. It has also been inferred that shipowners, by some process of reasoning, weighed up the question of higher or lower dividends as against the question of the safety of the seamen. Speaking, as I think I can, for the whole industry, may I say that we resent most strongly the suggestion that profits or losses on a voyage account are set against the risks which seamen have to run, or that seamen are asked to run greater risks or are subjected to conditions which lead them into greater danger, merely in order that a ship may show a greater profit.
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member would not wish to do an injustice to the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in his absence, but what he said was not of general applicability.
The right hon. Gentleman did make some very general statements, but fortunately, it is true, he referred to particular cases—fortunately, because it is possible in those cases to refute the statements which he made. I would like to dwell on one of the cases which he raised, namely, the loss of the "Millpool," which happened to be a ship owned by the firm of which I am a director. The right hon. Gentleman, who has now returned to his place, quoted a letter which he had received referring to the "Millpool," which was lost in the Atlantic early this year. He was trying to make out, I presume, that the ship was not seaworthy and——
Perhaps I may refer to this particular case later. It was not to the speech of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) that I referred, but to the speech which followed his. There is a paragraph in the letter which the right hon. Member for Wakefield read from the same correspondent which most certainly does deal with conditions on board the same ship. The letter read:
'I have been aboard one of the same company's ships, and I can assure you that the state of affairs on that vessel was appalling. Judging by appearances, the apprentices and some of the men had not washed during the voyage, and the officers were not much better. To put it mildly, she was a disgrace to the flag.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1934; col. 775, Vol. 296.]
The right hon. Gentleman invented, I think, the expression "slums of the sea." Just as it is possible to turn a well-built house into a slum by ill attention and neglect on the part of those who live in it, so it is possible in a short time to turn a good ship into one which might rightly be described as a slum of the sea. But I cannot understand for what purpose the right hon. Gentleman read that letter. Is it the duty of the shipowner to go and wash the whole of his crew, or does the right hon. Gentleman insinuate that those who manned that ship were dirty in their habits and should have been subjected to much stricter discipline? The only inference which can be drawn is either that there was an inefficient master——
I was trying to show that the very best accommodation, if you have an inefficient crew, can be turned into what could rightly be called slum accommodation, and I was wondering why the right hon. Gentleman, when condemning accommodation, drew attention to the fact that some of the crew had gone unwashed. As hon. Members opposite are well aware, the accommodation on every steamer is subject to-day to the control of the Board of Trade. There are Board of Trade regulations which must in every case be fulfilled and, so far as I know, in every case are fulfilled. They are the same regulations that were operative when the Government which the right hon. Gentleman supported were in power, and it seems strange to me and, I think, to the whole industry that some startling and new discovery should have just been made which leads hon. Members opposite to declare that accommodation is now inadequate. I am quite happy in my own mind that our latest ships and almost entirely the whole British mercantile marine do provide, where accommodation is properly looked after, decent accommodation and a reasonable standard of living. I have always said that when you get down to the oldest ships of any fleet in the world there will be ships which, had they been built to-day, would not reach the standard required, but surely it is wrong to condemn as is freely done, the whole British mercantile marine because in very exceptional cases you can find ships which do not meet the standards which we should desire to-day.
May I say that the conditions to which the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) has referred when the Labour party were dealing with the regulations for shipping, and the conditions which exist now, are hardly to be considered together? After all, you are giving £2,000,000 of public money to this industry, and you are proposing to lay down certain conditions under which that money shall be given, and adequate provision is being made to guarantee that all those interested as shipowners shall be well looked after. Is it too much to ask the hon. and gallant Member, who, I think, himself said he was interested in shipping, that on those few ships—nobody has referred to anything but a few ships—which are not providing adequate accommodation for their crews, that accommodation shall at least be up to a reasonable standard? I do not think he would say it was an unfair thing to ask or that it was not a legitimate request to make to the Government.
I had the opportunity when I was younger of going down to the sea in a ship and of experiencing the accommodation at that time, and I am well aware that if the accommodation that I was compelled to accept as adequate for me at that time were to operate to-day, it would be looked at by almost everybody as quite unreasonable. But there are ships to-day, although not many perhaps, where the accommodation is altogether inadequate and unsatisfactory. If the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash does not agree as a shipowner, I can tell him that there is a great number of people who are prepared to bring evidence, indisputable evidence, that they themselves are on such ships, are manning such ships; and if the Government desire to make an inquiry into this matter, there will not be much difficulty in satisfying anybody in this House and any number of the public too that there are ships going out from the ports of this country to-day that are a disgrace to the owners and a danger to the men. I wrote a few letters this week to two Departments of the Government, as I have written many before, in regard to the conditions prevailing on one job as against another in the industry to which I belong, the building industry, and I have always argued—and the argument has been accepted as logical and reasonable by all the Government Departments concerned—that when they entered into a contract they should place in that contract what is called a fair wages clause.
I want to show that the principle of fair conditions or accommodation is recognised by every Department of the Government. They recognise it for two reasons. One is that if the accommodation provided is not sufficient and reasonable, it is unfair to the men themselves. The other reason is that if it is specified in the contract that it shall be provided, it is unfair to those people who are willing to abide by the contract if somebody else does not do it. There is competition between ships as there is in ordinary commerce. The provision of good accommodation means expenditure, and it will be heavier than if the accommodation is bad. When we give away large sums of public money it is not too much to ask that the owners who get it shall provide the best conditions for the crew. I have seen some of this accommodation recently. If I were asked to express an opinion on the recent conditions of ships, I would say without hesitation that they are not fit for human beings to live in. The sleeping accommodation is in the worst part of the ship, up in the bow, with very limited air space. Lavatory accommodation is unsatisfactory in almost every case and would not be tolerated in any factory. Speaking generally, the accommodation is lower than the cheapest accommodation which can be engaged by a passenger. We have a right to ask that the people who are manning the ship shall have at least as good a standard of accommodation as the cheapest passenger.
I will not follow the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who did not say very much about the Amendment. This is just a question of the eligibility of shipping. This Sub-section relates to the conditions under which ships shall be eligible to qualify for the subsidy. That is the only question with which the Sub-section deals, and it defines the conditions of eligibility. The only condition in this Amendment for which my hon. Friends are contending is that we should not pay any of this public money for a ship unless it provides such accommodation for the crew as the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee may deem to be reasonable and satisfactory. That is not a great lot to demand, but it does mean that the subsidy committee or someone on its behalf will not only take account when they advise the subsidy of the qualifications of the vessel as to rates, cargoes and the competition with foreign owners that it has to meet, but will also take a look at what the ship itself is like in order to see the accommodation in which British sailors have to live when on the ship. I will admit that when we put the Amendment down we did not contemplate a Tramp Shipping Advisory Committee on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman described earlier this evening. A committee of that kind would prompt me to qualify rather the form of the Amendment, but let that go. We say that this committee which will somehow or other manage to be formed into a trustworthy committee, should take account of the conditions on the ship when they recommend that a subsidy should be granted. It is a perfectly reasonable demand and there is nothing excessive in the form in which it is expressed.
The object of the Amendment, as the Committee will realise, is to ensure that the question of accommodation of the crew is one of the matters which the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee shall take into consideration in determining whether or not a vessel is qualified for the subsidy. No member of the Committee will quarrel at interest being maintained in questions of accommodation, comfort and safety any more than they will with interest in questions of wages, manning, nationality, and other matters. The only point is whether, in a temporary Measure providing a subsidy for the specific purpose of fighting subsidies given by other nations, it is the right moment to embark upon something which is really an amendment of the merchant shipping law. The question of accommodation is a matter of daily statutory attention by the Board of Trade and does not require to be inserted in general words in a Bill that has a different object. The President of the Board of Trade spoke just now of no one wanting to see any blacklegging in freights or in wages, and I am sure that he will authorise me to say that no one wants to see any blacklegging in accommodation either.
The accommodation in British vessels is a matter of statutory provision. When a ship is built the crew accommodation has to comply with statutory minimum conditions. During her building the vessel is inspected, and she is inspected at other periods of her life by inspectors of the Board of Trade, whose duty is to see whether from the point of view of accommodation of the crew the statutory provisions are complied with. This Amendment either wants the Board of Trade to see that the statutory conditions are complied with, or wants to alter the statutory conditions. If a vessel complies with the law to-day nothing short of an amendment of the law dealing with accommodation would be of any service. If the vessel does not comply with the law, the inspectors of the Board of Trade have already adequate power to deal with it. You cannot improve the accommodation on a ship by giving the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee the power to say whether or not the accommodation is in their view reasonable and satisfactory. That is not the statutory minimum and means absolutely nothing.
Either the vessel complies with the law or she does not. If she does not comply with the law, the proper way to deal with the matter is for any hon. Member who knows of an instance, or for the Seamen's Union, to call the attention of the Board of Trade to it and to have the circumstances investigated. I assure the Committee that the Board of Trade has adequate power to deal with an owner who does not comply with the law, but neither the Board of Trade nor any Government Department has power to alter the law or insist on a higher accommodation than is provided for by the Merchant Shipping Act.
The right hon. Gentleman says that that is the point, but it is not what the Amendment says, or anything approaching it. The right hon. Gentleman is speaking to an Amendment which asks that accommodation for the crew should be reasonable and satisfactory to the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee. I am pointing out that either the accommodation complies with the law, or it does not. If it complies, there is no greater obligation on the shipowner, and nothing that the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee could say could alter the law because that would have to be done by an overhaul of the Merchant Shipping Acts generally. It is a matter of knowledge that the accommodation in ships is progressively improving. I do not in the least deny that there may be some vessels in which the accommodation is very bad. We find that state of affairs in any industry. There are black sheep in all trades. That is not in the least disputed. But the way to deal with the matter is to bring the facts to the attention of the officials and inspectors whose statutory duty it is to see that the law is complied with.
If the accommodation on any vessel is such as is described by the Parliamentry Secretary, and application is made for the subsidy, I take it that it would not be granted.
I do not want to intervene, but a great deal of this discussion is trenching somewhat on an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) which I wish to call. He has put down an Amendment to say that the subsidy shall not be granted in certain cases, and I do not wish to cut out that Amendment; but I must warn the Committee that if the discussion goes much further along these lines I may not select that Amendment.
What I wished to make clear to the Committee was that the constructive way of dealing with this matter of accommodation is for the representatives of the Seamen's Union to meet the officials of the Board of Trade by deputation. It is within the knowledge of hon. Members opposite that such a deputation was received quite recently, and that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade gave a full and complete and, indeed, a sympathetic reply to the deputation. Specific instances were asked for, and as far as I know they will be communicated to the officials who have the duty of investigating them and ordering them to be put right. According to the speeches of hon. Members, what they now ask for is some improvement on the standard of accommodation as at present fixed by law. That cannot be secured by inserting an Amendment to impose a condition as to qualifying for subsidy. That is a matter to be remedied by the appropriate legislative method, which would have to deal with sections in a series of Merchant Shipping Acts from 1894 onwards.
This is a matter of very great concern, and one on which the Board of Trade are continually logging information and experience. The instructions to our surveyors and inspectors are not out-of-date instructions issued 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They are kept up-to-date. The right hon. Member for Swindon fell into an error in one of his speeches recently in suggesting, after quoting some promise made by the Lord President of the Council when he was President of the Board of Trade in 1922, that nothing had been done. I have looked up the records, and I find that in the following year there was an alteration in the accommodation on the lines which the Lord President of the Council had promised. I only mention these matters in passing to show that they are a day-to-day concern of the Board of Trade, and that the constructive way to deal with this matter is not by inserting an Amendment in a temporary Bill for a year, but by dealing with the industry as a whole and for all time.
May I also point out that we are dealing here with a limited class of ships? Is there nothing wrong with the accommodation in any tanker? Is there nothing wrong with the accommodation in any coastal steamer? Is there nothing wrong with the accommodation in any liner? We do not propose to suggest that regulations which apply to the industry as a whole should be altered for one section of the industry only, and that in a Bill which endeavours to put that particular section on a better competitive footing with foreign subsidised ships we should start by imposing a particular handicap which does not apply to the rest of the mercantile marine. The way to deal with insufficient accommodation is to call attention to any points that ought to be dealt with administratively. The way to alter the law regarding accommodation is by an overhaul of the Merchant Shipping Acts. In the circumstances I ask the Committee to realise that sympathetic though the Government are towards a continuous modification of the standard of shipping accommodation, this is not the way to bring about reform.
While congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on the very clear explanation he has given, I would put forward a point of view from another angle. The hon. Members who support this Amendment take up an extraordinary attitude. We have discussed the composition of this Subsidy Committee and it is agreed that the majority of the Members will be tramp shipowners; and we who have listened to the Debates on this Bill have over and over again heard the accusation that the tramp shipowners, are worsening the conditions for the men in order to obtain bigger dividends; and yet hon. Members support an Amendment which would put those very people above the Board of Trade. That is neither sensible nor logical. The three constituent parties are the owners of the ships, the Board of Trade and the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee. Do hon. Members expect the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee to say to the Board of Trade that their regulations are either not sufficient or are not carried out? If they submit that they are not being carried out—these conditions which every ship has to fulfil before she is permitted to go to sea—who will go on board to investigate? The Board of Trade's own official. He is to go on board and report, to the Board that, possibly, their own regulations are not being carried out. If the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee say to the Board of Trade, "The conditions on this vessel are not those which you have laid down," the Board of Trade will have to send their own official on board to censure themselves. The whole House would wish to see the conditions under which seamen live brought up to the highest possible standard. Certain conditions are laid down. Whether they are carried out depends on the Board of Trade. If the ship does not carry out the conditions she is not allowed to go to sea. If she goes to sea and the conditions get worse, complaint can be made through the usual channels. But to say that the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee are to override the conditions which the Board of Trade themselves have laid down is, to my mind, so foolish that I feel certain the Committee will reject the Amendment.
We are dealing here with vessels which do not provide proper accommodation for the crew, and the Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that there are vessels which offend in this respect. As I understand this Amendment there is no question of altering the law. We say that if there is a case where proper accommodation is not being provided on a ship, and the allegation can be substantiated, there is no necessity for an alteration of the law.
I honestly think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we disposed of this Amendment now and raised the question of whether the subsidy should be granted on the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean). That really raises the point
Further on that point of Order, may I inquire whether the Amendment is out of order because it is considered to increase the charge to the Treasury; because in fact this Amendment is not calculated to have that effect. In Clause 1, Sub-section (3), these words appear in the Bill:
It shall be the duty of the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee to advise the Board generally as to the operation of this Part of this Act, and in particular as to the making of payments by way of subsidies under this Part of this Act and the terms and conditions upon which such payments should be made.
The Amendment which I have on the Paper is directed to those conditions, and it is on that point that I respectfully submit that the Amendment is in order.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment would enable vessels to be eligible for subsidy which have been British ships since the first day of November instead of the first day of January. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must bear in mind that this Bill is founded on a Financial Resolution and that therefore both the amount of the subsidy and the terms on which it can be granted are governed by the Financial Resolution. The House of Commons has already approved the Resolution in the following words:
which have been British ships since the First Day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-four,
and therefore no Amendment which tends to alter that time would be in order, because it is outside the terms of the Resolution.
The point I am endeavouring to make is that Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 contains the words:
the terms and conditions upon which such payments should be made,
and my Amendment is directed solely to those conditions, one of which is that the ship must have been registered under the British flag on the 1st January, 1934. It is that particular condition that I am anxious to criticise.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert:
(4) No subsidy under this Part of this Act shall be paid by the Board of Trade unless the Board are satisfied that—
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in answering Members who supported the previous Amendment, pointed out that we were seeking to amend the law. If, he said, we were not seeking to amend the law, our last Amendment had really no point, because the powers which we were seeking to confer upon the Committee which is to advise and recommend were already included in the powers given to the Board of Trade, so that, if any of the things which have been suggested were likely to happen, or were happening, those matters could be easily remedied by making application to the Board of Trade and leading evidence that would substantiate the points that were being made. That may be all to the good, but I understand that there are conditions on board a vessel which the present Amendment would affect, because there is actually no statute law, as far as I know, to force a shipowner to carry out the particular point dealt with in this Amend-
ment. The point is that, while it is correct and legal to enforce upon him that the complement of the ship on deck must be a certain number of men, according to the classification of the ship, no such statutory injunction is placed upon him as regards the complement below deck, and it is not necessary for him to keep a specific number below deck according to the classification of the ship, and, as was pointed out in the Second Beading Debate, in certain cases men had to be taken from above deck to assist in the work of those below deck so that the vessel could proceed on its voyage in a proper manner.
While it may be true that the Seamen's Union and other organisations concerned with the men and officers can make representations to the Board of Trade if the scale of wages laid down by the National Maritime Board is not being paid, we have also to bear in mind a fact which was admitted, I think, about a year ago, when a Debate on the question of subsidy first took place, on a Motion by one of the Members for Newcastle. That was that certain officers and men employed in ships had voluntarily agreed to a reduction in their wages some time before the issue of a certain document by a body of shipowners in this country; and I take it that the fact of their having agreed to a voluntary reduction might place the vessel in question and its owners outside the scope of the maritime law as regards the enforcement of the standard of wages laid down by the National Maritime Board. We say, however, that, where the House is asked to give £2,000,000 to the owners of a certain class of ships, they ought to pay the Maritime Board's rates of wages, and ought not to ask their officers or men to agree to a voluntary reduction in their wages—that the Maritime Board's rates of wages should be strictly observed, and that no reduction, whether voluntary on, the part of the men and officers or enforced by the owners, should operate on board a vessel which is in receipt of a subsidy.
In the White Paper we are told that one of the reasons for the subsidy is to secure the stopping of the competition which exists between tramp owners—"blacklegging" is the word actually used—the blacklegging of one tramp shipping company upon another, black-legging so far as freights are concerned, in order to get cargoes by reducing their freight rate below that of some competing shipowner. Nothing is said, however, either in the Bill itself or in the White Paper, about the blacklegging that goes on by reducing, not freight rates, but either by getting the men voluntarily to agree to a reduction or by enforcing a reduction upon them. When we are discussing the granting of £2,000,000 to shipowners of this class, and when a specific committee is to make recommendations upon it, we are justified in endeavouring to secure, to the crews who are working such vessels, the best conditions possible, either by the law laid down in the Acts which govern shipping, or, where no such Acts prevail, by laying down a standard that will be observed as one of decency and comfort. If the tramp shipowners are entitled to get a subsidy, the seamen and officers on board their vessels are entitled to see to it that their standard of life on board such vessels is not reduced.
The President of the Board of Trade was very anxious that my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) should study the White Paper. I have studied the White Paper, and I find that while it contains many references to the shipowners, there is not a single reference to the men who man the ships. No reference whatever is made to them, from beginning to end. The President of the Board of Trade might reply that this is purely a case of granting a subsidy to the shipowner and that it was, therefore, unnecessary to say anything about the seamen. But we maintain that under the conditions of shipping to-day as regards wages paid and conditions of employment aboard the vessel, and as regards the vessel being fully and sufficiently manned, the seamen are entitled to have regard paid to these important aspects of their employment. The President of the Board of Trade is here to look after the conditions of the seamen as well as the seaworthiness of the vessel. It is his duty to look after the standard of the ship, and it is also his responsibility to look after the standard of life of the crew. We trust that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to accept our Amendment, and that he will put it into operation as one of the conditions which this advisory committee must bear in mind. If they do not take this into consideration, if they pass for the subsidy a vessel which does not comply with the conditions laid down in our Amendment, then we hope that the President of the Board of Trade, who is to have the last word regarding the grant of a subsidy, will see to it that no subsidy is paid to such an applicant. I hope that he will accept our Amendment.
In supporting this Amendment I wish to make a personal explanation. When we were discussing this subsidy before I made a certain statement regarding the Clan Line and also regarding the firm of Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine & Company, Limited. I have written to the hon. Member for Chester asking him to be here, and I see that he is in his place. He wrote to me asking me to be here last Friday, but it was quite impossible for me to be present then; otherwise I should have been delighted to be in the House. But as the result of his communication to me, and after reading the report of his statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I got the executive of my union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, to make further investigations into the statement I made. The hon. Member said:
As a matter of fact the firm of Cayzer, Irvine and Company, Limited, and the Clan Line of the Clyde are one and the same, because Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine and Co. are managers of the Clan Line."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1934; col. 739, Vol. 296.]
What I had said was:
Those firms systematically ask engineers, after agreeing under the National Maritime Board Agreement, to sign in their contract that at the end of their voyage they will forego so much of their wages to the firm."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1934; col. 1470, Vol. 295.]
That is not true. I was misinformed, so far as Messrs. Cayzer, Irvine and Co. are concerned and the Clan Line. The name of the firms that do that have now been sent on to me by my executive. The names of the companies who endeavour to get their engineer officers to make contracts to refund part of their wages, and who also endeavour to get them to sign on under the National Maritime Board scale were Messrs. Common Brothers and Messrs. Dalgleish, North-East Coast shippers. That is the statement signed by Mr. Bradley, the member of our executive, whose business it is
to negotiate, on behalf of marine engineers connected with our union, with the Shipowners' Federation, etc.
Having explained that, I come to the question of wages and conditions raised in this Amendment. The hon. Member for Chester was not satisfied simply with that; in dealing with these two firms he wanted to gloss over conditions obtaining under other firms as well. Dealing with the statement that they have done away with the fifth engineer, he went on to tell the House that it was something peculiar because, he said, in some ships they have six or seven engineers. We engineers know all about that perfectly well; but the fact that they have done away with the fifth engineer meant that they have done away with the sixth and seventh engineers and replaced them with probationary engineers and staff at £2 a month. The hon. Member for Chester admitted that in his speech.
I knew that the hon. Member would be willing to withdraw when he had the true facts, and I wish to say how much I appreciate the way in which he has withdrawn that statement. With regard to engineers, I said that five engineers are the ordinary number, but that some ships had seven. I said, as regards ships carrying five engineers that we certainly did do away with the fifth engineer and carried four, but that under the Board of Trade rule we were only required to carry three; so that in taking four we were taking one in excess of the requirements. Then I said that we looked round to see if we could do anything regarding the unemployed and regarding probationers, so that they might be able to keep their hand in. We made up a scheme for taking on probationers, supernumerary, auxiliary, and in excess of the establishment, and gave them £2 a month, plus food and accommodation, which works out at about 35s. a week. In this way we have given employment to a great many probationers, who are only too will- ing and anxious to get that employment instead of going on to the national insurance, which they did not want to do. They get a chance of keeping their hand in, of getting sea sense and of getting taught, and I can assure the hon. Member that if he asks us to drop that scheme he will get no thanks from the probationers who have had the good fortune to make use of it.
You can see, Sir, how easy it is for the hon. Baronet and myself to come to an amicable arrangement across the Floor of the House, but it is quite a different matter with the folk that we are talking about. I know what it is to be down below in the engine-room, and the conditions that the hon. Baronet has explained are the very opposite to those that appertain. I have four letters from the probationers about whom he speaks, to our union, and I will show them to him privately. I have another letter from a chief engineer in my constituency who has worked for the hon. Baronet's firm for years, and he tells us the conditions that hold good. He says he does not believe that the Cayzer family really know what is going on in their business. If they did, he is quite sure they would put a stop to it. I am going to hand the letter to the hon. Baronet. The conditions for the engineers in some of these tramp steamers are nothing short of hellish. Talk about being driven at the point of the bayonet! They are driven at the point of starvation.
What I am saying is irrefutable. If we can get the big firms to toe the line, we shall get the small ones. The big firms will back us, because the tendency to-day is to crush out the small man, and we want to crush him out because he is not fit to compete, and he is crushing the worker worse than the big firm. The Parliamentary Secretary has a very lucid way of explaining things. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland always assures us, when we move any Amendment, that if we would just examine it carefully, after due consideration and deep deliberation we should find that it would not accomplish what we set out to do, that it would have the very opposite effect. That method of procedure is as old as the hills and we are not going to be "kidded" by being told that we require to get the Act of Parliament altered, that ships as now run have to conform to the rules and regulations of the Board of Trade and the Maritime Board.
You are complaining because we are raising this question at this time. This is a subsidy to put the shipping industry in a better position to compete with the foreigner, and it is said to be unfair of us to take advantage of it to ask that humane conditions should be enforced upon whoever is going to participate in the subsidy. I do not see why the Parliamentary Secretary should object to our doing this. It is our duty to avail ourselves of every opportunity that presents itself to us, and this is an opportunity. We were told on the last Amendment that we have no right to make a demand for betterment for the men. It is to be betterment for the shipowners, who with this £2,000,000 are going to recondition their ships. We are going to build better ships, faster ships, ships which will be more able to compete with the foreigner. Surely the most important thing on board ship is the men. The reason that the men join a trade union is to protect themselves against the shipowners, and our union is continually quarrelling with the conditions that prevail on the ship.
I want the President of the Board of Trade to assure me that it will be intimated to the firms I have named that do these most despicable things and do not observe the conditions laid down by the Maritime Board, that they will have to do so, and, if they do not, they will not participate in the subsidy. Surely, there is nothing outrageous in that. I am not taking any mean advantage. It does not matter a button to me whether the foreigners run away with trade or not, if we have to reduce our folk to the level of the Chinese, to the Coolie level, in order that England may compete with the foreigner. We are going to do nothing of the kind. That is the logical conclusion of your argument. If not what does it mean? We are not asking for anything out of reason. There is no exaggeration, and nobody knows better than hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, about the conditions which obtain particularly in the tramp ships. Six beds, 20 men, that is the accommodation in many of your tramps. I have many documents here which have been sent to me from our union giving chapter and verse, names
and everything else. Here is the Clan Line. The hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) said in his speech on Friday that the Clan Line engineers sign off and sign on again the same day when the ship is in the home port. That is quite true. Why? You should always ask the question:
If I'm design'd yon'd lording's slave,
by nature's law design'd
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow'r,
To make his fellow mourn?
You shipowners have the power, and you are exercising it, to make your fellows mourn. Here the engineers mourn. The crew of the Clan Line other than the officers are all coloured people, and therefore they cannot be paid off in the ports in the United Kingdom. As the crew have to be fed, it is cheaper to sign on the engineer on the ship's articles and feed them; otherwise they would have to be paid in the terms of shore pay, which would be a good deal better for the man and more expensive for the shipowner. Also, when the ship is in port and the engineers are on articles, the company can keep the engineers working overtime when the ship is being discharged, to look after cranes, etc., and no overtime payment is made. Supposing they keep them, as the stevedore on many occasions does when discharging cargo, working right through night and day, there is no extra pay. That is the reason why they sign on again whenever they are discharged. It was made out that this was something good—making of honesty a virtue.
Will the hon. Member tell the Committee what charge he is making against my firm now, because I am getting a little tired of the various charges. If the hon. Gentleman continues to make them—I do not want to have to do it, but it is only fair to my firm—I hope that he will repeat them outside this House. He enjoys the privilege of this House, and I ask him to respect that privilege. If he has a case I will try my best to answer it, but to keep on making charge after charge is not very fair to me. I say again that we do employ these engineers. They sign on the day they sign off, and I do not see anything wrong in that. What does the hon. Member ask us to do? Not to do it?
It is wrong. It is done in such a scientific fashion. The marine engineers used to get a fortnight's holiday, and if they did not get it they received pay. My union distinctly deny the statement that the men, in the event of having to work right through the year without getting that holiday, get double time. In many cases they are not paid extra and the allowance is not made. That is their reason for making the statement that the men are signed on right away. If they were liberated the company would have to pay them for the fortnight they were on shore.
I replied to that the other day and said that the men got 14 days' leave, but that owing to the exigencies of the service you cannot guarantee every year automatically, but that we always try to make it up. I said it distinctly—and if we cannot make it up we try to make it up to them by giving double pay for the fortnight they did not receive. It does not come all at once, but that is the system, which works out over all in that way.
I will not pursue the matter further. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If hon. Members treat the matter in that fashion I will pursue it. I have any amount of evidence, but I have no desire to take any advantage. The hon. and gallant Gentleman challenged me to make the statement outside. I was challenged once by a Secretary of State in 1926 to repeat outside a speech that I had made in this House. I went outside and made it, and they fined me £25. I am anxious to withdraw any statement that I cannot substantiate. I would withdraw it root and branch. I would withdraw it in toto. Anything which I believe to be true I would state here, and I would state it, and I would state it at the court of Heaven, never mind the circumstances. I resent the idea that I am taking advantage of the privilege of the House of Commons. It is a privilege which I appreciate and something we should all guard very carefully and very jealously. Therefore the House may rest assured that I will not take advantage of any privilege.
Our objection is that the hon. Member makes wild statements, finds them to be untrue and then withdraws them. On this occasion he is making statements which I am sure he will find to be untrue when he tries to confirm them. Those statements are given publicity in the Press. It is unfair to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Sir H. Cayzer), because he may not have a chance of refuting what the hon. Member says to-night.
I have safeguarded myself. I have given the name of our executive man, Sam Bradley, who empowered me to make this statement. I am not making it merely on hearsay. He is our executive man.
I am asked if he gave me the last information, which I found to be inaccurate. No, I take the responsibility for that. I am not blaming anyone for that. The statement that I am now making is signed by him, and he is our representative. He is the accredited representative on the executive, with 250,000 members in Great Britain. When the hon. and gallant Member spoke about the provisional engineers, he was asked by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) about this great, handsome salary of 35s. per week. He must be reckoning their keep, all-in, and so much for lodging. The wage that they actually draw is £2 a month. They are down to the level of a servant lassie's wage, although they are highly skilled engineers. The hon. Member for Wentworth asked him, Are they adults? The answer of the hon. and gallant Member was "No." That statement is found in column 741 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December.
I will do so.
No, they have been apprenticed, but they have finished their apprenticeship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1934; col. 741, Vol. 296.]
It is in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I can only deal with the OFFICIAL REPORT. I want the President of the Board of Trade to weigh up the situation very carefully in regard to these provisional engineers. These young men make applications. Firms are able to take them direct from the shop up to the position of third engineer. They have to pass the Board of Trade examination before they can go in as second engineer or chief engineer. These young men who made application had already served their time. They had served their legitimate apprenticeship. Before they have finished their time they must be 21 years of age. The employers of labour in this country when they formed the Federation of British Industries laid it down in a manner that had not previously obtained in this country, that before a youth could be apprenticed as an engineer he had to be 16 years of age and he had to serve five years. That meant that they had to be 21 years of age before they were journeymen. These young men who have made application to the different shipping firms to get on as engineers have gone through that apprenticeship. I want the House to understand that it is not simply a case of working at a trade through the day. A young engineer apprentice who is going to be a marine engineer spends every winter at the night school while he is an apprentice. He has the ambition, every young engineer in a marine shop has the ambition, to get to sea, because it has always been a better paid job, and because the highest type of men have gone to sea.
I am trying to establish my claim for better wages than are paid by certain firms who will be making application for the subsidy. I am appealing to the President of the Board of Trade to see to it that any firm that does these things will not participate in the benefit of the subsidy. I am perfectly satisfied—I will not pursue the matter too far, because it will not do me any good—that if the Committee understood this thing they would agree with me. Here are these young men, who are imbued with the idea of getting into a better class, with better wages and the highest standard. Instead of that, the situation has arisen that when they go to sea there is blacklegging of the very worst type. Our trade union has protested time and time again against the idea that they should be sent to sea for nine months and all that they get is £2 a month, 10s. a week. It is simply ridiculous. Then we are told on the face of all that that they are supernumeraries. It is all nonsense. There is no shipping firm that carries supernumeraries.
Does the hon. Member imply that I am not telling the truth? He is absolutely contradicting me. I really must protest. He keeps talking about blacklegging and low wages, and then he refers to these probationers. He is trying to infer that my firm are paying wages below the scale, that they are not conforming to the conditions. I challenge him to say outside what he is saying inside the House. He has not a leg to stand upon. We pay wages above the scale; and this is a purely voluntary scheme in order to help the situation. These young engineers are losing their skill, they have to go on national unemployment insurance. We have hundreds of them waiting to be taken on, and we say: "We will do it voluntarily. We do not require you, we have already one engineer more than we require, but you can come on as a supernumerary, and we will give you enough to keep you going up to 35s. per week. If you do not want you need not come, but if you come we hope you will be able to learn your trade, keep your sea sense and you will not be losing your skill." It is a purely voluntary scheme to try to help engineers, and if the hon. Member objects to it then I can tell him that the probationers want us to continue it. You may have two or three who object, you will always get a number who will object, but the vast majority are only too glad of the opportunity of keeping their skill and their sea sense.
I am quite prepared to say outside what I have said in the House. The challenge of the hon. and gallant Member does not cut any ice. He says that these young men get £2 per month instead of £13 per month. If that is not driving down the level of wages I do not know what is. He also says that his firm pay engineers above the standard rates laid down by the National Maritime Board agreement. That is true; but why? Because they save £9 per month on these engineers and can afford to pay the other engineers 5s. or 10s. per week more than the standard rate.
Excuse me, we have saved nothing. There is no need for us to take up this voluntary scheme at all, and we are saving nothing. Indeed, it is an extra expense to us.
I will not pursue the matter any further. I appreciate the fact that the Committee has allowed me an opportunity of placing these facts as far as I know them before the Committee, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will give the union representing these engineers an opportunity of placing before him what are given to me as facts, and if they are facts I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to give a subsidy to firms which act in the way I have tried to put before the Committee.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) on the manner in which he apologised for the mistake he made at the beginning of his speech. He then went on to make grave and serious allegations against two firms in the North of England, to which it is impossible to reply at the moment. I have no doubt that an inquiry will be made into them and a reply given in due course. I desire to say a word on the Amendment, if only because I interrupted the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when this matter was last under discussion. I am sure the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs will excuse me if I do not follow him in his somewhat rambling speech and confine myself to the Amendment. It appears to me to be a matter of grave concern when the Government are engaged in an attempt to do something to help one of our vital industries, which is passing through such a period of depression at the moment, that shipowners should be subjected to such grave allegations as have been made during the Debate this evening concerning the manning, the victualling and the accommodation of British tramp steamers. It seems to be forgotten that all these matters are regulated by the National Maritime Board which, although it is a voluntary body, is working very well.
I have grave doubts whether it would make for smoother working that this House should attempt to give statutory authority to the regulations of a non-statutory body. Wages are governed by the National Maritime Board, and the statement issued by the Board of Trade only yesterday clearly shows that the wages paid in this section of the British Mercantile Marine compare favourably with those paid by foreign countries. I have put my name to an Amendment regarding wages, but I confess that I did so with considerable diffidence because of the principle involved. I doubt very much whether tramp shipowners themselves would object to the payment of the National Maritime Board's wages being made compulsory, except on account of the principle involved. It is already being done voluntarily in the great majority of cases. May I remind hon. Members of a striking passage in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade on the 14th of this month:
The shipowners' committee which will act in an advisory capacity with regard to these matters will, of course, have to take into account each case which comes before it. I am already assured from such consultation as I have had in conference that they would not regard blacklegging in wages as being less penal an offence than blacklegging in freights, and they would
refuse to advise the grant of a subsidy to an owner who did not pay National Maritime Board wages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1934; col. 783, Vol. 296.]
That is as definite an undertaking as the Committee could expect from a Minister, short of a provision in an Act of Parliament. There are grave dangers in trying to incorporate wages in an Act of Parliament, as the miners found out during the discussions on the Minimum Wage Bill in 1912. The other parts of the Amendment cover victualling and accommodation. I would point out to the House that the dietary scale is already governed by the National Maritime Board, and is better than the victualling of similar vessels sailing under foreign flags. So far as I am aware, there is very little complaint on this ground, and if there were I have not the slightest doubt that the Sailors' and Firemen's Union is to-day in a position quite strong enough to defend the interests of the men in that particular direction.
Now with regard to the general conditions. The right hon. Member for Wakefield said that the conditions in the tramp section of the mercantile marine were the worst in the world. I said on Friday last that that was definitely untrue, and I repeat to-night that in our vessels the accommodation is superior to anything provided in similar vessels under any foreign flag, while even the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) has admitted you cannot do impossible things with existing ships so far as accommodation is concerned. The conditions prevailing in the tramp section of the British mercantile marine, the section of the industry with which this Bill is dealing—which seems to be forgotten in certain parts of the House—are better in these three directions of accommodation, manning and victualling than are to be found in similar vessels sailing under any flag in the world. No one is going to deny that there are black sheep among the shipowners. It has been mentioned more than once to-night that there are good shipowners and bad shipowners. There are good sailors and bad sailors, good employers and bad, good workmen and bad. There are good Socialists and there are bad Socialists: a sentiment to which my hon. Friends below the Gangway opposite would very cordially subscribe. My hon. Friends on the other side are picking out a few isolated cases. It is all very well for the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) to say that no doubt there are exceptions, but Members on that side imply that what they say applies to the whole of the British mercantile marine. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is the inference to be drawn from the argument.
We isolate them. But that has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. I find it very difficult to understand the connection. I have already mentioned that the President of the Board of Trade has definitely laid down that if the conditions are not complied with, the subsidy will not be granted.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has not been in the House very long, or he would have heard the reply given, that the matter is dealt with in the Merchant Shipping Acts. The Member for Dumbarton Burghs had a great deal to say from personal experience. Let me give the House a litle personal experience, and let me ask the House if I should be justified in building the same case on my experience as he seems to build on his. When I was engineering we went to Savannah, in the Southern States, to carry cotton to Germany. Then we went round from Bremen to Cardiff. Incidentally I may mention that at Cardiff—for this has a bearing on the subject, too—because we were going to the other side of the Suez Canal, we changed from a British white crew to a Lascar crew. We went to New York. We went from New York to Philadelphia. From Philadelphia we went to Japan. From Japan we went to Australia. We come home from Australia with a cargo of wool. When we were being paid off the owners' representative came on board and we were summoned to the saloon—officers, engineers, sailors and firemen—and told that since the voyage had been very profitable we were each to receive a bonus of a month's wages in recognition of our work.
I wonder what hon. Members opposite would say if I claimed that because of that exceptional case shipowners generally were generous, open-hearted philanthropists ready and willing, indeed anxious and looking for opportunities to share their surplus profits with their workers. The parallel is complete except that the boot is on the other foot. There is no validity in the exceptional cases which have been quoted from the benches opposite. There is another point which has already been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner). Hon. Members opposite are continually acclaiming themselves as defenders of their own class and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in his speech last week quoted this expression from a letter:
Judging by appearances the apprentices and some of the men had not washed during the voyage and the officers were not much better.
These officers and men are presumably of the class of which we hear so much from hon. Members opposite. That statement which the right hon. Gentleman quoted is an aspersion on a hard working and respectable body of men who are engaged in one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. Yet we did not hear one word of protest from the benches opposite against an accusation which stigmatised these men as scallywags who had not even the decency to keep themselves clean—an outrageous accusation. I hold no brief for the shipowners or for anyone. I am not here to defend the shipowners. As an hon. Member opposite remarked there is a sufficient number of them in the House and they can defend themselves. But I do hold a brief for fair play and although it may appear a strange doctrine to hon. Members opposite I hold the view that the shipowner is entitled to a fair crack of the whip just as much as the sailor or the Socialist, or anyone else.
We are giving a subsidy after mature consideration, after long and profound inquiry and after resistance to the proposal by the President of the Board of Trade. No one likes subsidies, but this is one of our basic industries and it is in a position of such grave danger that unless the State comes to its aid not only the shipowners but officers, engineers, sailors and firemen as well are going to suffer. Numbers of these men are unemployed to-day and they cannot hope to regain their employment until the mercantile marine is restored to something like its former prosperity. In my judgment, there is no justification for the violent, extravagant, and exaggerated talk to which we have had to listen, of coffin ships, of convict accommodation, of slums of the sea, of under-feeding and of under-manning. I speak as one who knows, and I say there is not a word of truth in these wild allegations.
The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in introducing this Bill, referred to Kipling. Those who have been the other side of the Canal know that the India of Kipling has practically passed away, but it is not the only thing that has passed away. The vivid description given by Kipling, in one of his best-known poems, of a tramp steamer which put out to sea in the old days, overloaded, undermanned, and meant to founder, is as much a thing of the past as is the India of Kipling to-day. There are no "Bolivars" to-day. I believe the charges which have been made against the shipowners generally are utterly and absolutely unjustified, and that they are inspired only by political opportunism. The voluntary methods of adjusting these matters between the trade unions and the employers have worked well, and they ought to be maintained, and for that reason I hope the Government will not accept the Amendment.
I feel rather as if I am butting into a family party, which this discussion appears to be, a family in which there seems to be a certain amount of acrimony, but I make no apology for saying something on this question, because anyone who represents Merseyside must be interested in the distressing conditions of those who earn their living at sea. I am neither a shipowner, nor have I been before the mast. If I were a shipowner, I should probably be bankrupt, and if I were a sailor, I should likely be unemployed. There does not seem to be very much attraction in either side, but I have interested myself in the case of the officers of the mercantile marine. I presented to the House a monster petition some months ago with regard to these men and their grievances, and after a certain amount of ceremony it was put in a bag behind you, Mr. Speaker, and, as usually happens with petitions, nothing was done. But to-night and in all these debates, when the questions of wages and conditions have been referred to, we have always been referred to the Maritime Board, and it is on that point that I want to say a word or two. It is intended that it should be representative of all interests, but on the officers' side it is not well represented. There is representation of an organisation that has about 3,000 members, but the Officers' Federation, which numbers no fewer than 12,000 members, is not represented thereon, and if the right hon. Gentleman is going to rely on the Maritime Board as being really a reprseentative body, bringing in all the interests concerned, he cannot do it by Statute or by anything but influence and moral persuasion, and I ask him to see that that particular organisation should be represented on that board in order that the board should be thoroughly representative.
I am concerned with the question of men on deck and below deck. Although the Board of Trade insist on proper deck manning, there is no corresponding power with respect to manning below deck. I make no imputations that I have not been able to verify. I make no imputations against any shipowner except to say that, as far as conditions are concerned in exceptional cases, there is a fault to find. I know the Mersey well. I have worked on the river and in its ships. I have taken tramp steamers from Langton Dock to Brunswick Dock and over to Birkenhead to the coal pits. I have been on the river night and day for nine months and I know all the tides. I now represent one of the most congested shipping areas in the country. We make a complaint here that a protection is not inserted in regard to manning. I am going to take two cases in point. I am going to call attention to an hon. Member who is facing me in regard to two of his ships, namely, the "Saxilby" and the "Millpool".
It is very unfortunate that no explanation can be given for the loss of either of those boats. I do not impute anything, for I have no proof and I cannot say anything in regard to the hon. Gentleman, but he spoke in the Debate when we raised the question of bad conditions. What explanation can the hon. Member and his firm give that two of his boats were total losses with all the crew in a period of nine months? What explanation can he give of that peculiar coincidence? A boat which is considered to be satisfactory sails out of port with a crew, and all are lost. I received a letter written by a widow of one of the men thanking me for raising the matter in the House of Commons. The "Millpool," a very able ship I am told, a trustworthy and most reliable ship, goes out, and she is lost nine months afterwards with the total loss of everybody on board, with the exception of one, I believe, who left the ship and who I have been unable to trace during the week. When I inquire into the loss of the "Millpool"——
I am willing to abide by your Ruling, but may I point out that I was contrasting the statements made on the question of manning, and I was making particular reference to manning on deck and below? I want it to be understood that I am not making any imputation in regard to anything being wrong about these boats. I am stating an absolute fact, that two such vessels were lost.
The hon. Member is quoting these cases as examples of vessels not having been fully and sufficiently manned. It may be that up to a certain point he is in order, but I do not think that he is in order to discuss the loss of a ship in details which go beyond the question which is really the issue on this particular Amendment. This is hardly an occasion for advocating an inquiry into the loss of a particular ship.
To put myself in order it may be, or it may not be, that those ships were properly manned—that is for the purpose of my argument; and if that is so, then I think we are perfectly justified, knowing that there has been a loss of life, and to prevent anything of the kind happening in future, in asking the President of the Board of Trade to accept our Amendment. I deal with the Amendment from the point of view of life. I am not concerned one tinker's toss of a button whether a shipowner makes money or loses it. I am concerned with the widows and children who may be left behind and who have to be provided for by the guardians or from charity; and it is because I sincerely feel that justice can be done by the President of the Board of Trade accepting this Amendment that I stand up in the British House of Commons to ask for it to be accepted. It is a fair Amendment. It is an Amendment for the men who go down to the sea in ships. It is they who make the demand, and I think I am justified in asking the Minister to say that no subsidy shall be granted unless these ships are in a worthy condition.
We have had what I venture to say are two very unfortunate examples of the kind of discussion which does not enlighten debate. The personal controversies of hon. Members and the accusations which are made, with or without foundation, are matters which one can only hear with the greatest possible regret, and I think the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) has not done very good service to the better governance of the mercantile marine by making what appeared to be a charge that someone was gravely at fault in the case of the "Millpool" and the other vessel he mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman must not do me an injustice. He has enough common sense to know that that was not so. If he remembers what I said it was this: that to put myself in order I had to make an imputation. Otherwise, I should have been ruled out by the Chair.
It is no doubt as well that the Committee should turn its attention to the Amendment before it, and may I point out what it is that it really demands? It seeks to prevent the operation of this Bill unless the Board are satisfied that
The wages paid to persons employed on the vessel during such tramp voyage were in accordance With the rates recognised by the National Maritime Board.
Let me take that first section of the Amendment first. I wonder if the Committee really knows what happens when a crew is signed on. I am sure that hon. Members will be surprised to hear, especially after some of the speeches to which we have listened in this Debate, that in the signing on of the crews and the methods which are adopted there is a remarkable amount of harmony. I go further and say that there is not one industry in this country which has been so free from labour disputes as the shipping industry in the last 20 years. I put that down entirely to the working of the National Maritime Board, and I am sure I may express our great gratitude to those who are on both sides of the Board table and who have done so much to make it possible for us to face
this extremely difficult and troublous time, and to secure justice to the men.
An hon. Member on this side of the House asked a question with regard to officers' representation on the National Maritime Board. I find that the very subject that he raised is now under the consideration of the board. The board are a voluntary and not a statutory body, and invitations to attend the board are arranged for on a representative basis. I think it will be possible for that very large section of the Mercantile Marine to be represented on the board, and if that is so, it will be found that the board really covers in the main those who are employed in our merchant ships.
I was saying that it might be as well if the House realised what happens in the ordinary signing on of a crew. Some hon. Members may not know that the crew of a ship are signed on by the master and not by the shipowner, but the master obviously acts under instructions. I have here a very typical set of instructions to the master and they are as follows:
We expect you and your chief engineer to ship a British crew whenever this is practicable and to give suitable British men preference at all times over those of other nationalities.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am sure that the House will agree that that is a good start. At all events it clears away one point which has been made, as to the unwillingness of shipowners to ship an entirely British crew. That was a figment of somebody's imagination. This document goes on:
In signing on always sign on…through the National Maritime Board. Obtain and fill up the requisition form which they issue and hand it to the Shipping Federation Board consultant, or the Shipping Federation Board registered office at the port of engagement, giving as long notice as possible.
There the Shipping Federation comes in on one side of the table.
The Federation will then arrange with the Union"—
that is to say, the Seamen's Union—
and with others in a similar position to have suitable men at the Federation Office from whom ships' officers will select the crew. Men should produce their P.C. 5 cards stamped by the Federation and by the Union at the time of selection and signing on.
I wonder how many industries there are in this country where there is such complete
collaboration between employers and employed. That is the ordinary process going on six days a week in all the ports around our coast. Let us go a bit further:
If you have provisionally engaged any members of your previous crew"—
that is to say, kept them on from a previous voyage—
enter their names on the requisition form and send them to the offices of the Seamen's Union"—
the Seamen's Union have more than a finger in this pie—
to receive their P.C. 5 cards with which their engagement should be ratified"—
and so on. Those are the instructions which are carried out in the case of all well-conducted firms.
I noticed in the course of the Debate a tendency in some quarters to speak of tramp ships as though they were a sort of inferior article. Far from it. The vast majority of them have been more or less recently built, and most of them have been built since the beginning of the War. Their accommodation is in many cases almost luxurious, and in the average ship it is certainly quite comfortable—a good deal better than much accommodation ashore with which hon. Members are satisfied. These vessels are, on the whole, large vessels, up to 12,000 or 14,000 tons. They have a very large margin of freeboard, they are full-powered, admirably manned, and well fed. They are called "tramps" because they do not run on a regular route, according to a time-table, like a train or an omnibus. They may go anywhere. The hon. Member for Consett gave an instance of the way in which they travel all over the world, in the most unexpected directions. That is why they are called "tramps." I think it is scarcely fair to such an admirable section of the British Mercantile Marine that, because they are called "tramps," it should be supposed that they are a sort of inferior article, that their men do not get fair play, that their food, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), is hot in hot climates and cold in cold climates. That is the sort of description of the way in which these ships are run which excites the amusement of those who sail them, and the disgust of those who believe that the Parliament of a great maritime Power ought to be better informed.
What is the actual question before us? Is it the question whether our men are properly paid or not? If that be the question, I say they are better paid now than they have been at any previous time, that they have, during very nearly a generation, got their secured customs which no shipowner wishes to disturb; and I venture to say that such progress has been made in that direction that we should be very slow to disturb these voluntary arrangements which are working so well.
The engineers agreed to a 10 per cent. reduction in 1931. How, therefore, can the right hon. Gentleman say that they are better paid to-day than they were before that?
There has, of course, been a reduction during the time of the depression, and that has been done by arrangement. How much better is that than the one-sided conditions which have given rise to so many labour disputes. It is because there have been arrangements like that that for 20 years there has not been a single instance of a strike between the seamen, firemen, engineers and officers of the Mercantile Marine and their employers. There was one very serious dispute in which they were concerned—the General Strike; and what happened in the General Strike? They refused to come out, because their voluntary arrangements were working so well. If the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) wishes to interrupt——
It is true that on a previous occasion I interrupted, and the right hon. Gentleman was very angry. I apologise. But just now I was merely talking to one of my hon. Friends, as I have often seen the right hon. Gentleman do. I would ask him not to be so nervous, but to get on with the business.
What we wish to do is to make sure that the men who serve in our ships shall be fairly treated. How is that to be attained? I believe it is to be attained, not by the action of the House of Commons, but purely by collaboration in the industry outside the House. Once we start interfering in these matters by Statute, it does not stop merely with this interference; there might be a reaction, a rebound. I have noticed that some of the greatest industries in this country are very shy of allowing Parliament to decide whether their wages shall be subject to statutory conditions, and how shy they are about compulsory arbitration. The shipping industry is so much better off in its relations between employers and employed that we should be rash to disturb that condition of things.
How are we to make sure that these arrangements, which have been arrived at after very full consultation and discussion, will be applied all round? It is suggested that a shipowner who does not pay the Maritime Board's rates of wages should be refused any subsidy. Let it be remembered, however, that the subsidy will only be granted on the advice of the Committee. The initiative will not come from the Board of Trade, but from the Advisory Committee. That committee, in accordance with the instructions contained in the White Paper, which have been circulated to, and I hope digested by, hon. Members, will do their best to prevent shipowners from going into the freight markets in such a way that the level of freights, which we wish to raise, will be depressed. The principle which they will comply with and which we shall expect them to comply with is that they shall not recommend the payment of subsidy to ships whose owners have not complied with the National Maritime Board scale. There is no need to have this inserted. The better way to work it is to do it through that advisory committee. That committee will see to it that there is no blacklegging in wages any more than there is black-legging in freights. The hon. Member would prefer to put it in the Statute. I prefer it to be kept out of the Statute. He thinks that if it is put in it will assure the scale of wages. I say that the arrangement at present working has produced a higher level and has maintained that higher level. I do not wish to see it disturbed. I venture to suggest that the method we recommend, through the committee, is better than the method he recommends.
I come now to the second section of this Amendment. It refers to the conditions of employment on board vessels. I do not know whether my hon. Friend referred to conditions of employment or to sanitary and hygienic conditions, but from what I gathered he referred to the latter. Let me point out to the House exactly how these problems are dealt with. The Board of Trade is charged with the duty under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which was amended at a later date, of seeing that the condition of the forecastles and the sanitary equipment of the ship are fit and proper for those who sail in the ship. If a ship is under construction, almost every rivet that is put into it is under the control and supervision of the Board of Trade surveyor. So far as the construction of ships is concerned there is no doubt that we have reached a higher standard of construction and provided a greater degree of comfort than at any previous time. That is the ordinary everyday duty of the Board of Trade. As the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, this has not been begun merely when we brought this Bill before the House or when a point arose with regard to wages to be discussed before the National Maritime Board. This is a duty which must be performed every day of the week by the representatives of the Board of Trade. We have a very efficient set of surveyors and I am confident that they look after the conditions under which our men are employed with the greatest care, and that their standards year by year improve.
As to the health of the men employed in the Mercantile Marine, there can be no doubt that there has been continuous improvement during the past 30 or 35 years. I can remember when I was very young in shipping affairs finding many vessels which used to come under the censure of the Port sanitary authority. Unfortunately, in those days, that was very common. But I have not heard of a single case during the past three years that needed to be reported to me as President of the Board of Trade. That is an improvement for which we ought to be grateful—and it has not been obtained by tacking on provisions to Bills to which they were quite irrelevant, but by a continuous improvement of administration. I beg the Committee to realise that there are two ways of doing this. One is by the way of administration and one is by way of Statute. If you do it by Statute you still require officials to supervise, but if you do it without Statute, under the general powers of the Merchant Shipping Act, that is the best way of doing it. Hon. Members opposite prefer to do it on this occasion—though not always—by Statute. I prefer to carry on the duties of the Board of Trade under authority already given to us, and for that purpose the authority is ample and sufficient.
I do not know whether, in speaking of the conditions of employment, the hon. Member included the food given on board ship, but reference was made to food supplies by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenweed). The instruction under that heading reads:
The crew must be properly fed. We bargain for the best of everything and we insist that there should be no cause for legitimate complaint on the part of the men. The owners cannot do more than that. With this in view, you will take particular care in selecting your steward and cook and giving proper supervision to your catering department at all times. It is possible to be economical without being in the least mean and much may be done by care and forethought. Order your stores carefully and not as a matter of mere routine. Consider the probable employment of your ship, the climatic conditions and the opportunities of obtaining good provisions cheaply in foreign ports which you may visit. Conversely, avoid having to buy stores where they are dear and bear in mind your vessel's capacity for holding perishable stores.
After what we have heard on the subject of food, to read this out is quite refreshing. The instructions, which are obeyed by our officers, our captains and our stewards, are there set out. There has not been a single case that has been challenged in the last 10 years in the whole mercantile marine. The food scale is fixed by Act of Parliament. They have had to vary and give elasticity to the scale from time to time. Certainly in foreign countries where it is possible to get fresh food the more fresh food they get and the more they get rid of tinned and preserved the better. They have to pass through very trying climates, and elasticity is all to the good. That is an example of the way it is worked now,
and I beg the Committee not to imagine that things are as bad as has been made out. The truth is that by these means, by the administration of the Board of Trade Marine Department, one of the best Departments in the State, by the work of their surveyors, the most skilful men who can be obtained for the purpose, by the National Maritime Board, which was brought into existence on a voluntary basis and has worked on a voluntary basis to the total exclusion of strikes and finally by the good sense of those who want to make their men comfortable—that combination of circumstances is far better than attempting to do these things by Statute. In these circumstances I ask the Committee to pass the Bill as it stands, and not to accept the Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman has really put up a most extraordinary argument with regard to these safeguards. He first of all says he does not consider safeguards as desirable attached to legislation. Does he realise that the condition of the mercantile marine to-day depends upon statutory safeguards which have been enacted by the House? Everyone will admit that had it not been for these Statutory safeguards and their administration by the Board of Trade, they would have been infinitely worse. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is rather a bad basis for an argument to say that statutory safeguards are undesirable. He gives away his entire case by relying on his own Department. No one is accusing the Board of Trade of not carrying out the duties which they have to perform. As to new ships, no doubt the surveyors make the surveys as regards the quarters for the crew, but that does not apply to old ships.
They cannot reconstruct the old ship. They have to go through it, but they cannot reconstruct it. The quarters are those which were constructed many years ago. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were improving. Of course, they are improving in modern ships, but the old ships are still afloat and people have still to go into those ships. However good a surveyor you may have, he cannot alter the structure of the ship. All he can see is whether the structure of the ship is giving the best accommodation within the structure.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the question of the State regulation of wages is a, very awkward one. No one has suggested the State regulation of wages. If he had read the Amendment he would have seen that precisely the opposite thing was suggested, that wages planned by the National Maritime Board should be accepted and not that wages fixed by the State should be made the rule in this industry. The right hon. Gentleman claims a sort of Elysium and makes one wonder why we are not spending all our time before the mast. It savours of good health, fine food and all the rest of it. It makes my mouth water.
Yes, it would do me a lot of good, but, unfortunately, I have an interior which suffers when it goes on the sea, and perhaps that might counteract some of the pleasures. Does the hon. Gentleman opposite want to make an interruption?
That seems to be a cheap and rather poor gibe, and rather worthy of the hon. Member. Let me turn to wages. It is not a question of laying down some Statute by which to regulate the tramp shipping. The question is, if you are to give a subsidy to tramp shipping, are you going to see that all the ships you subsidise have the higher standard which you say the majority of them have? Are you going to allow ships to benefit by this subsidy which do not have that higher standard? The right hon. Gentleman is not prepared, as I understand it, when this House is voting money, to put in the very meagre protection asked for for the wage-earner. Precisely the same thing happened in all the agricultural schemes. Doles were handed out—the right hon. Gentleman opposite points to my right hon. Friend here. He knows perfectly well that no marketing scheme was introduced under his regime at all. These schemes have been introduced solely by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman. He knows that we have pressed for the protection of the wage-earner on every occasion when Government money has been handed out to any industry, and that it is the right of the wage-earner as part of the policy. If all these regulations are so easy to comply with and so simple, why is it that in this case there is an objection to making them a condition for the grant of Government money? The right hon. Gentleman does not suggest, and cannot suggest, that there are no tramp ships in which these conditions are not carried out. He says that in the great majority they are. Then that will not interfere with his scheme at all, but in the ships where they are not carried out to-day, they will be a real protection and will help the right hon. Gentleman to get that higher standard which he wants, because ships that do not comply with the conditions will be automatically ruled out of the subsidy. No greater inducement could be offered to the right hon. Gentleman to help to raise all the ships to the high standard which he says exists in many of them to-day. Unless he can assure the House that there is not a single ship in which there is a danger of these conditions not being complied with, then we say that he has no right whatever to refuse this protection, which cannot interfere, on his own statement, with anything, and that when the nation as a whole is giving a subsidy to a particular industry, it is the right of the workers in that industry just as much as the owners, to get the protection of this House. We shall therefore certainly vote in favour of the Amendment.
I am extremely sorry to delay the House at this hour and to make a speech after the speeches from the two Front Benches. I had intended to say something about the maintenance of wages which might have pleased my hon. Friends opposite rather more than some of my friends in the shipping industry; but at this hour, and because of some of the speeches which have been made on this Amendment, I would ask the permission of the House to deal only with the question of the conditions covered by paragraphs (b) and (c) of the Amendment. I would like to refer once again—I referred to it in an interruption—to the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). The other day he came to the House and made some very wild charges against shipowners, and against one particular firm. To-day in a very generous manner he admitted that some of the statements that he had made were entirely wrong, and he apologised to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir H. Cayzer). But he went on to make further wild statements against shipowners, and once again he made specific charges. When contradicted by my hon. and gallant Friend he hid his head behind letters and admitted that he had no personal knowledge of the facts which he was discussing. He could only say that he had received letters referring to these matters. I think those hon. Members who were in the House at the time the hon. Member made his speech will have made up their minds how much importance to attach to the allegations which he made against shipowners.
I should like also to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). The most contemptible way of calling a man a fool is to say: "I do not insinuate that you are necessarily a fool." Everybody knows that when you make a remark of that sort, you are really insinuating that the man is a fool. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division in talking about the loss of two ships owned by my firm said that he made no allegations against the firm, and that he did not know—and as far as I can discover he had made no efforts to find out—whether those ships were properly manned or not. It seems to me extraordinarily odd to come to the House of Commons and make a speech which the whole House has interpreted as being a charge against the firm in question, and then to say, "In point of fact, I have made no definite statement or charge."
I made no imputation against the hon. and gallant Member or his firm. I cited two cases, unfortunately both ships belonging to his firm, and I made the definite statement that I was not able to get any proof in regard to their not being properly manned, except tthat the two ships became a total loss within nine months. If that could happen in connection with the hon. and gallant Member's ships then I placed my contrast with regard to other ships.
If the hon. Member specifically states that he makes no allegation of these losses resulting from their being otherwise than efficiently manned it shows quite clearly that the whole thing is entirely irrelevant.
I am glad to have your Ruling, Mr. Chairman. I hope the Committee will now allow me to deal with statements which have been made in the Debate and which have received great publicity. The newspapers in several East Coast towns have had headlines referring to the speeches which have been made, and it is important that the Committee should have the facts.
If it will ease the mind of the hon. and gallant Member I will give him my word that there is no accusation. I have no proof of anything against the hon. and gallant Member, and I do not impute anything.
I am glad to have that statement from the hon. Member. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) also made some wild accusations against all shipowners and once again referred to the loss of the "Millpool." He said:
Whosoever sent that ship to sea should be severely dealt with.
I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman has the slightest idea of what he is talking about when he speaks of the shipping industry. I very much doubt
whether he has ever been on a tramp ship, at any rate for any length of time, or knows even the difference between the blunt and sharp end of a ship. I suppose, that as usual, he was arguing from a brief in which he was given certain statements and made the best use he could of them. He referred to the loss of the "Millpool." I have a letter here, and I should like to read the first five lines. The letter comes from an ex-captain of the "Millpool." It was written on 5th October, a, long time before these Debates were thought of, and was entirely unsolicited. It as interesting to note from the notepaper that this ex-captain was sufficiently fond of the firm he had served as to call his house after one of the ships of the company. He says:
I do not know how to express myself about the missing 'Millpool.' I do not give up hope yet. I was master of her for four years, as you know, until I left her to become a pilot. I went through many heavy winter Atlantic storms and a finer sea ship never floated.
That is the statement of a fine ex-officer, who commanded the "Millpool"
for four years. I should have liked to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, had he been in his place, whether he has ever heard of Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Shipowners are subject to the direct orders of a much more powerful organisation than any shipowning firm. In the construction of their ships, and in the maintenance of their ships, they have to obey, and to obey implicitly, Lloyd's. The "Millpool" and the "Saxilby," which were unfortunately lost at sea, were classed Al at Lloyd's, and that is the highest compliment you can pay to any ship. I am very sorry indeed to detain the House about this somewhat personal matter, but I thought it was due not only to my own firm but to the whole shipping industry to refute the outrageous; and irresponsible allegations made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
|Division No. 32.]||AYES.||[11.17 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Dobbie, William||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Banfield, John William||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Grundy, Thomas W.||Milner, Major James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||John, William||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Buchanan, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||West, F. R.|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, David|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||Mr. Paling and Mr. D. Graham.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Albery, Irving James||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Cooke, Douglas||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Copeland, Ida||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cross, R. H.||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Blinded, James||Dickie, John P.||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Elmley, Viscount||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Levy, Thomas|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Gower, Sir Robert||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Grimston, R. V.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Burghley, Lord||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Burnett, John George||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Harbord, Arthur||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenn'gt'n)||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Orr Ewing, I. L.||Slater, John||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Palmer, Francis Noel||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Pearson, William G.||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Penny, Sir George||Smithers, Sir Waldron||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Somervell, Sir Donald||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Procter, Major Henry Adam||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Stones, James|
|Rea, Walter Russell||Stourton, Hon. John J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Strauss, Edward A.||Captain Sir George Bowyer and|
|Remer, John R.||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Sir Walter Womersley|
I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert:
(4) No subsidy under this Part of the Act shall be paid by the Board of Trade unless the Board are satisfied that during such tramp voyage a reasonable proportion of the crew were British domociled seamen.
In view of the statement of the President of the Board of Trade in reply to the last amendment, I gather that we have his good wishes, but that he is unwilling to do anything to implement them. It seems a very reasonable request that when the nation is asked to give £2,000,000 to help a particular branch of the shipping industry, we should require that the Board of Trade should be satisfied that during such a tramp voyage a reasonable proportion of the crew should be domiciled British seamen. It is not much to ask, but I expect we shall be referred to the great difficulties of finding out whether they are or are not domiciled, what the proportion should be, and all manner of other difficulties. As a matter of fact, they will leave us all completely cold. The President may give us a charming picture of what happens on these ships, of their all being happy and all born Britishers, but if that be so, what is the trouble about accepting the Amendment? We are well aware that you would not have to hunt very far in the ports of the United Kingdom to find ships under the British flag not carrying a reasonable proportion of domiciled British seamen, and all that we ask is that a condition of the granting of a subsidy should be that we should secure that on all these ships there should be a reasonable proportion of our own fellow-countrymen who belong to the mercantile marine.
I understand from previous figures given that there are over 40,000 coloured seamen employed on British boats, most of whom are Lascars and Chinese, at the same time as roughly, I think, 50,000 sailors are unemployed. I think the Parliamentary Secretary gave as a sort of extenuating circumstance the fact that the numbers of foreigners employed were declining. I think he said that some few years ago they were 8 per cent. of the total and that in 1933 they were only 5 per cent. That might be more convincing a figure if we knew how the British total of sailors had declined in the same period, and if the number of British sailors has gone down by 20 per cent. since 1929, the argument that coloured seamen have gone down from 8 to 5 per cent. loses its strength. At any rate, when there are nearly 50,000 sailors out of work, it is extraordinary that there should be so many coloured seamen employed.
The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to think that for Labour Members to object to the employment of these coloured seamen was contrary to our professions as to the brotherhood of man, as he termed it, but we have tried to point out that it is not a question of the brotherhood of man. We believe it to be true that the main reason why these 40,000 Lascars are employed is that they are so very much cheaper than British sailors. I do not know the exact figures, but I believe it is true to say that it costs three times more to employ a British sailor than it does to employ a coloured seaman. If that be true, the fact that they are so much cheaper is the real reason for their employment. I cannot understand why there should be any objection to giving coloured seamen the same wages as British sailors if they are as efficient.
One reason, perhaps, why so many British seamen are unemployed is that so many ships have recently been transferred to foreign flags. Some 2,000,000 tons of shipping have been transferred in the last three or four years to the Greek and Italian flags because under those flags they can employ foreign sailors at much lower rates than under the British flag. Hon. Members opposite profess to be as keen as we are in giving employment to British people. One of their chief arguments for tariffs is not that they want to help their friends, the vested interests, but that they want to give employment to British men and women. Why do they not extend that principle here? They have a first class opportunity of putting their principle into practice by saying that wherever possible tramp ships shall employ British sailors at British rates of pay. I therefore expect hon. Members opposite, who are so patriotic and so keen on Britishers coming first in all the things that count, to put their principles into practice by voting for the Amendment.
May I ask the mover of the Amendment what he considers "a reasonable number of the crew"? If 40,000 coloured seamen are employed and 50,000 British seamen are unemployed, the hon. Member ought to argue that no number of coloured seamen would be reasonable, but that only when all the British seamen had been employed could he allow any coloured seamen to be employed. The Amendment should therefore be that only British domiciled seamen should ever be employed in British ships.
I should not have intervened but for the speech of the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West). I observed in the discussion on the previous Amendment that I have served with both white and Lascar crews. Several reasons why Lascars are employed have been given by the President of the Board of Trade. It is purely a question of climate.
That Amendment refers to seamen of British nationality, which includes Lascars. There is a colony of them in South Shields and they are British subjects. Anybody who has been east of the Suez Canal, whether in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, Malaya, the Indian Ocean or Northern Australia, knows that there is certain work which white men were never intended by nature to do and which they should never be expected under tropical conditions to undertake. Included in that is the work of marine transport. It is bad enough on deck, but it is infinitely worse down below. It is bad enough when the stoking is done automatically or when the boilers are oil fired, but when it is a case of firing a marine boiler with coal by hand, as I have done, and as I have seen it done, in a temperature of 110 or 120 degrees, no one who knows anything about it would suggest for a moment that that is work which a white man ought to undertake.
If the right hon. Member knew a little bit more about shipping he would not ask such a foolish question. The conditions on a 20,000 ton Orient liner are totally different from those in a tramp steamer. I say that an ounce of my practical experience is worth a pound of the theories we have heard so much about from the other side. I have helped to pull white men out of the engine room and stokehold when they have been in a state of collapse through doing hard manual labour for which Nature never intended them or equipped them.
It is more than I can listen to—to be told that at any kind of job, even trimming in the stokehold, a Lascar can defeat a British trimmer or a British fireman, or ever could, because it is not true. The British Navy is the outstanding proof of what I say. It defeats all the other Navies on earth and it is not manned by Lascars.
I am very glad that the hon. Member has brought me back to the point made by the hon. Member for North Hammersmith. The number of Lascars who have to be employed on this work on tramp steamers is very large—greater that the number of British who would be required on a vessel of the same size. Therefore, it is of no financial advantage to a shipowner to employ black men instead of white in tropical climates. I have stood at the rail of a tramp steamer and seen white men launched on their last long voyage—committed to the deep with a couple of fire bars at their feet. They were the unhappy victims of working under conditions for which Nature never intended them and did not fit them. The position is put before the House by the President of the Board of Trade on 14th December he said:
When Lascars are employed they are employed in places where to substitute white labour for Lascar labour would be an expenditure of human life as well as of human health."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1934; col. 784, Vol. 296.]
From actual experience I know that to be the case. Lascars are employed in special jobs for which British labour is not suitable. Anyone who knows anything about the other side of the Suez Canal knows that that is so. Nothing is to be gained by refusing to recognise this remarkable fact; all that matters is that when these conditions are being considered and when subsidies are being given, there shall be a stipulation that coloured sailors shall at least be drawn from within the British Empire, and not from outside.
We have just listened to an interesting speech, but I suggest that it had nothing to do with the Amendment, which does not bar a British-born lascar or coloured man from serving. The hon. Member is not the only one in the House who has seen the things of which he spoke; I have not only seen them but experienced them, and I disagree with him fundamentally. The Amendment says "reasonable proportion of British-born seamen."
Well, British domiciled, then. I do not think that the Minister would argue, or that any other hon. Member dare argue, that tramp ships on the seas to-day whose owners may get this subsidy, and no doubt will apply for it, are manned entirely by foreign seamen. The party opposite are always protesting their desire to employ British seamen and it is not unreasonable to ask them to agree with this Amendment. I expect the Minister will be as utterly unreasonable on this Amendment as on others, but British seamen who are out of work—50,000, or whatever the number is—will note the result of hon. Members protestations when put to the test. The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that certain ships are not complying with the conditions mentioned in the pamphlet, or whatever it was, read by the President of the Board of Trade, and that are observed by the best firms. It is reasonable to suggest that such firms should not get the privileges accorded to those who employ British labour and give good conditions.
I am glad this Amendment has been moved, because it ma help to get us out of a difficulty. The Bill was promoted, I understand, to help British ships; this is a considerable advance. We have not heard much about the British ship before. The stress has been laid on the international function of our shipping trade. This Amendment may help us to know what a British ship is. I must confess that I have always found considerable difficulty in knowing what a British ship might be.
In a later Clause a British ship is defined as one registered at a port in Great Britain, and again, later, as one constructed in Great Britain. What is to prevent a foreign firm from registering its ships in Great Britain and manning them with foreigners, or even with British seamen? What is to prevent, say, an American firm buying an old British ship, manning it with Finns, registering it in Great Britain, and flying the Red Ensign? It is almost impossible to say what is a British ship and what is not, and I believe that that is why the fluctuations in the numbers of British-owned and foreign-owned ships are so considerable. When we went off the Gold Standard, an amazing number of ships which had been flying the Dutch, French, Greek and other flags suddenly became British ships once more. This Amendment is going to help us, because at any rate we shall know that the ships are manned by British seamen.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) that Lascars and Chinese are only used for climatic reasons. Eight years ago I was in the Far East on a ship of the Blue Funnel Line, which prided itself on manning with British seamen. The summer before last I went on a Baltic cruise in a ship of the same line, and it was manned entirely by Chinese. It cannot be pretended that that alteration was caused by climatic reasons. Here we are definitely out to assist British ships, and I submit that the fact that a ship is built in Great Britain and registered in a British port, or even that a number of its shareholders or directors are British, does not make it a British ship. But the fact that it is built in this country, combined with the fact that it is manned, as the Amendment says, by at any rate a proportion of British seamen, is of importance, and I humbly suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should either accept the Amendment or give assurances that the Board of Trade will give it favourable consideration.
I begin by assuring the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) that there is no difficulty whatever in defining a British ship. It is a vessel registered in a British port, and belonging either to a British subject or to a company whose principal place of business is in the United Kingdom or the British Dominions. It would not be possible to deal, in answer to this Amendment, with the whole question of policy as to what should or should not come on to the British register, but the Committee may rest assured that there are substantial advantages to this country in the policy of easy access to the British register which has been adopted for many years. It is the desire of everyone that as many British seamen as possible should be employed in the tramp shipping industry. That is the desire of the Government, it is the policy of the Board of Trade, and it is the policy of the tramp-owners. The proof is that the number of aliens employed in British ships has been steadily declining, both in the aggregate and in percentage.
The President of the Board of Trade read out the model directions from owners to masters in selecting crews, and the Committee will remember that they were:
We expect you and your chief engineer to ship a British crew whenever it is practicable, and to give suitable British men preference at all times over those of other nationalities.
Those are sample directions which represent the practice in the shipping industry.
This Amendment speaks of British domiciled seamen. The expression is not an apt one, and has no accurate meaning, because nationality and domicile are distinct conceptions. The real misconception underlying many of the speeches in favour of the Amendment has been in seeking to make a differentiation between a coloured British subject and a white British subject, and between a British subject whose domicile is somewhere outside the United Kingdom and a British subject domiciled within the United Kingdom. No such differentiation is possible. A man either is a British subject or is not a British subject. The question of domicile does not and cannot come into the matter at all. It is a question of law and fact linking a person to a place, and has nothing whatever to do with nationality, while nationality is as regardless of domicile as domicile is regardless of nationality, There are stringent rules against the employment of aliens on British ships. The matter is governed by the Aliens Restriction Amendment Act, 1919, Section 5. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) referred to the Arab born in Aden, the Chinaman born in Hong Kong and the Lascar born in Calcutta.
No alien shall be employed in any capacity on board a British ship registered in the United Kingdom unless he produces to the officer before whom he is engaged satisfactory proof of his nationality
and any person who engages an alien for employment on a British ship in contravention of the provisions of that Section is guilty of an offence under the Act. British officers do not lightly undertake their task of administering the Aliens Restriction Amendment Act. They regard it as a very serious part of their
duty and, if an Arab is engaged because he was born in Aden, he is a British subject as much as any Member of this House.
If the hon. Member will consider a little closer the question of the employment of coloured and white British subjects he will find that there may be a different rate for a different grade or rating but he will not find that one Arab and one white man do the same work. He will find that his suggested equation and wage does not work out in the way he expects.
The Amendment speaks of a reasonable proportion. How is the owner of a tramp vessel to know the destination of his ship? What is reasonable for one voyage may be quite impossible or impracticable for another. When the vessel sails, how is anyone to know just where the tramp, in the real sense of the word, may be going? Who is going to define this reasonable proportion? What is the sanction if it is not observed? Is the shipowner who is applying for the subsidy and may want it to enable him to make a voyage and to oust a foreign vessel, to have a doubt as to whether the percentage of British seamen is or is not reasonable? It reduces the whole administration to a farce. It makes the whole of this a contested question of fact. No one could know whether a voyage could or could not be undertaken. Hon. Members forget that the object for which the Bill is introduced is to enable this section of the shipping industry to contend more successfully with world conditions and foreign subsidised shipping than would otherwise be the case. Certainty is the essence of the matter. One of the reasons for our being unable to accept an earlier Amendment dealing with the constitution of the Tramp Shipping Committee was that you had to have people on the spot who knew exactly what they were dealing with so that their decision went; and the owner knew, when he had got the decision, that he could rely on it and knew whether the voyage would be profitable and whether he could undertake it.
The hon. Member who supported the Amendment referred to the number of Lascars employed on ships. Has he given any consideration to the question how many of the total number of Lascars, the great majority of whom are British subjects, are in liners and how many in tramps? Would he be surprised to know that by far the larger number of them are engaged in the liner services and not in the tramp section at all? My information is that only a comparatively small number are engaged in tramp ships. The greater number of the coloured seamen are not engaged in connection with ships which will ever come within miles of this subsidy. The hon. Member's information is only partial, it is inaccurate and it is wrongly applied. [Interruption.] I think not. Figures were givon on 4th December dealing with the subject of alien labour on British ships in some detail. The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West) asked if I could tell him the way in which the numbers of British seamen had declined during the period of depression as well as the number of lascars. In 1929 there were: British, other than Lascars, 133,606; foreigners, other than Lascars, 16,383; and Lascars, 53,571. That is a total of just over 200,000, roughly a quarter of whom were Lascars, and 8.1 per cent. were foreign seamen other than Lascars. That is the figure that the Board of Trade are anxious to see reviewed. The percentage is steadily falling and the numbers are falling. In the year 1933 the British figures had fallen from 133,000 in 1929 to 96,916. The hon. Member suggested that they had fallen by a little more than 20 per cent., but it is more than that. The number of foreigners, other than Lascars, had fallen from 16,383 to 7,661, or more than 50 per cent., and the lascars, British and foreign, that is, the small percentage who are neither Indian nor East African, from 53,000 to 42,475. Those are the facts. There is no mystery about them at all. The lascars are mostly British subjects to whom, therefore, it may rightly be conceived, no Amendment ought to apply. We entirely decline to differentiate between the citizenship of British subjects.
The question of wages is not the relevant consideration. No amount of repetition of a fact will impress certain hon. Members. They have to learn by experience in some other form. I am endeavouring to state the case as I understand it. Wherever Lascars are employed, there is good reason for it. Either the British ship does not come back to a United Kingdom port at all, or the vessel puts into ports where there are no British seamen available and has to sign on a crew. In many of the cases where Lascars are found on British tramp ships, it is because the vessels ply to ports where there is no available supply of British labour other than lascars. The hon. Member asks, "What do they do when they sign them off? He knows the Repatriation Clauses. If not, I will recite them for him. There are climatic conditions and other special reasons at the ports to which a vessel plys. I will conclude with the observation I ventured to make on 4th December that if you go too far with the practice that you shall not in any circumstances employ aliens on British ships, you may find that, instead of increasing the number of British seamen whom you employ, you may put out of work the remainder of the crew because of boggling over a few. The Amendment is quite impracticable and contains words which have no signification in law or any exact meaning, and for that reason cannot be accepted.
The foreign figures declined by over 50 per cent. We shall make no point merely by throwing figures across the Floor of the House. I will give the figures to the hon. Member, and he must look at them. There is no dispute as to the facts; it is the deduction we draw from them. The wish of everybody is that more British seamen shall be employed, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, as long ago as 3rd July, when the matter was raised for the first time in this House, said that very few British shipping companies are covering their round of expenses. It is not a shipowner's problem, but it concerns thousands of engineers and seamen as well as the nation as a whole. The object of this legislation is to endeavour to secure more employment.
|Division No. 33.]||AYES.||[12.4 a.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Banfield, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Batey, Joseph||John, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Buchanan, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||West, F. R.|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||Mr. Paling and Mr. Duncan Graham.|
|Dobbie, William||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (P'rtsm'th, S.)||Harbord, Arthur|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cooke, Douglas||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Copeland, Ida||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Blindell, James||Cross, R. H.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Dickie, John P.||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Elmley, Viscount||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Levy, Thomas|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Goff, Sir Park||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Burghley, Lord||Grimston, R. V.||Mabane, William|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Burnett, John George||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hanley, Dennis A.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Marsden, Commander Arthur||Rea, Walter Russell||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Remer, John R.||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Runelman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Slater, John||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Warrender, Sir victor A. G.|
|Orr Ewing, I. L.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Palmer, Francis Noel||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Smithers, Sir Waldron||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Penny, Sir George||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Procter, Major Henry Adam||Stourton, Hon. John J.||Captain Sir George Bowyer and Sir Walter Womersley.|
|Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.